29 December 2007
Then again, I haven't done a whole lot to add to the resources, so I can hardly complain. (One book that I have finally found an artist for will be published as soon as she's finished -- but that's not a lot!)
Still, I have found some truly wonderful stuff, so I figured that I'd share what I know about, in hopes that other would do the same and we can all support the writers and artists who are supporting us and boost our kids libraries.
Pagan Books for Kids
For the real littles, I have found only The ABC Book of Shadows by Katie Lydon Olivares -- an alphabet board book full of pagan vocabulary and sweet art. (A is for Altar, B is for Beltaine, etc.) It's a nice start, but the book seems to be out of print and can be hard to find. (It took Amazon 6 months to find a copy for me.)
For the bigger kids who are ready for stories with chapters, W. Lyon Martin has written and found a publisher for two books aimed at early school-aged children: An Ordinary Girl; a Magickal Child and Aidan’s First Full Moon Circle. Ordinary Girl follows the adventures of a little girl called "Rabbit" as she explores her families paganism, starting with an explanation of what paganism means and continuing with Rabbit's own paganing ceremony. She briefly explores God and Goddess, Magic, Circles, the Wheel of the Year, discrimination and how to cope with it, moon cycles, and family magick like house blessings and banishing bad dreams. It's a sweet book and Jack and I enjoy reading it from time to time.
We only got Aidan this Yule and we haven't had a chance to slow down and read it yet, but the reviews say "Aidan and his parents have been solitary witches for as long as he can remember. At the rising of the Harvest Moon, his family is invited to a local coven’s Full Moon Esbat celebration. Aidan is jittery about joining a Circle full of strangers. While he is enjoying himself around the bonfire, the High Priestess and his mother cook up a plan to get him involved in the Harvest Moon ritual. Aidan learns he is an important member of the Pagan community." Sounds good to me. Of course, Jack has celebrated in community all his life, but the idea that not everyone does is a good thing to share. If Aiden lives up to Lyon Martin's previous book, it will be a treat for us to enjoy when life slows down in the new year.
Anika Stafford has given us Aisha's Moonlit Walk , in which little Aisha celebrates each of the eight Sabbats with her family a friends. It's similar in outline to Magickal Child, but different enough that Jack and I enjoy reading them and comparing how different families celebrate and comparing that to how we celebrate.
Finally, we come to A Witches Primer, Grade One by Lorin Manderly. It's not a story book but a young children's pagan curriculum for use by parents or children's circles. There are a little over 150 pages with no pictures at all, so it probably won't hold the attention of the very young. (Jack loves to read, but it doesn't really keep his attention yet at four and a half.) I do find it useful to read myself for ideas about how to explain some complex concepts for really little kids, though. Even when I don't entirely agree with her, Manderly helps me to find ways of explaining my beliefs that Jack can follow. I look forward to hearing that Grade Two is available, as well.
That pretty much sums up what I have found that is specifically pagan. Of course, there are plenty of less specific books that we enjoy.
Non-Pagan Books for Pagan Kids
I have no idea whether Ellen Jackson is "one of us"; probably not, but I find that hers is a name to look for.
So far we have Earth Mother, a lovely story about the balance of all the earth's creatures that seems like it might be based on a traditional African story. Man thanks the Goddess for giving him yummy frogs to eat, and complains about the pesky mosquitoes. Mother listens calmly and patiently, and then moves on to frog, who thanks her for the yummy mosquitoes to eat, but complains about the pesky and dangerous man. Mother listens calmly and patiently, and then moves on to mosquito, who thanks her for the yummy man on whom she feeds, but complains abput that pesky and dangerous frog who dines on her. Mother listens calmly and patiently, and then moves on, and nothing changes. The world is perfect just as it. The art is lovely, and the message is a very good one for teaching littles about the interlocking of all earth's creatures before we dtart trying to explain the ethics of magick.
Summer Solstice, Celebrating the Harvest/ The Autumn Equinox, Winter Solstice, and Celebrating the Greening of the Earth/ The Spring Equinox are mainly scientific and anthropological but it's good to have books that acknowledge our holidays and talks about the history of people celebrating them through time, anyway. ;)
In a similar vein to Jackson's seasonal books, Wendy Pfeffer's The Shortest Day explains what the winter solstice is and how it has been observed by various cultures throughout history. It is a more or less astronomical and anthropological review, but again, having books about one of "our" holidays is helpful and this one incorporates a few exercises you can do with your older children.
Eileen Spinelli gives us I Know It's Autumn. In it, the narrator, a child of six or seven, tells all about the signs in her (rather rural) life that Autumn has come, from the change in the light, to pumpkin muffins on the breakfast table, to the harvest at the market and the appearance of winter coats again. It's a simple picture book that younger children will enjoy and older children can read for themselves. Again, I like the fact that it focuses on the changing of the seasons, and although the scene isn't described in much detail, the family does go to what looks like it may be a Sabbat circle or a powwow at one point. It's kept vague enough that a child who is accustomed to those ideas will respond to the familiarity, but a child who isn't won' t miss much.
Chris Van Allsburg's The Stranger is just plain cool -- and my kids and I have long thought that surely the stranger is a weather sprite or a Pan-like god in charge of wild-life and weather.
Brother Eagle and Sister Sky A message from Chief Seattle isn't neo-pagan, and there is a great deal of controversy about how much resemblance it bears to anything Chief Seattle may have said, but Jack loves it and it certainly send a message of the importance of honouring the earth. That's good enough for us for the time being. I don't encourage Jack to think of it as representative of Native American spirituality, except, perhaps in spirit -- just as it's not neo-pagan spirituality, except maybe in spirit.
In a more classical vein, I highly recommend Mordicai Gerstein's Tales of Pan, a book of silly stories about the classical world's favorite mischief maker.
So, that's what I found one one quick perusal of the book shelves. What books have helped you to educate your baby witchling? Please do share, in comments or in e-mail!
28 December 2007
Grandma's gift was BIG and RED -- so, of course, it went first.
That was, evidently, a very good choice for surprising a boy.
Yep, good call, Grandma!
Next came a sweet little green package from Auntie Karen.
Jack was pretty sure he knew what it was, because Auntie K knows her boy and can usually be counted on for a ...
Wow! Jack had to stop and read that immediately, especially because he is very fond of the Rev Awdry's Thomas the Train anyway and having one named for him was a major bonus.
The next package was from Dad's mother, Mormor.
Later that evening, after a visit to Mark, we had a try at the ice cream ball.
27 December 2007
The Harrisons own one of the historic homes in nearby Saline, Michigan, and Calesta had dolled the place up right for a home tour this year, so she invited us over to enjoy it with a some Victorian traditions.
We started with a Christmas maze, in which the children followed ribbons with their names on them to their own little gifts under the tree.
Next we did Christmas Cones, which are essentially similar to the well-known Christmas stocking. They contain a few candies and fruits and a few small trinkets to unwrap.
It was a delightful afternoon! Calesta and Chad sure know how to throw a party! (I am not a big fan of huge parties and I usually find parties of any kind just exhausting. Somehow I found this Christmas Eve both fun and relaxing.)
26 December 2007
25 December 2007
Last year, Jack and I did the construction and it went very badly.
We like to claim that it's because Nerida is an engineer, but Rod and I may get some more materials and practice again this year -- just to see if we can't figure out where we're going wrong.
24 December 2007
As you may remember, last year he opened one gift and played with it for a long time, and then op0ened another and played with that. We were delighted but surprised that it took him five hours to open seven gifts!
This year, he opened one thing after another until everything he was allowed to open was in front of him. He took a few minutes to savor each gift, but then wanted to see what else there was to see.
Once he had seen everything, he spent several hours playing with his train set, to which Dad had added this year. He loves his Ikea train set, and the new module Dad added this year lets him make elevated track and bridges. Fun!!
Next he spent several hours playing with all of his babies. Mamma helped him to add two new babies (plus extra clothes and blankets and baby bottles) to his "family" this year. He now has five "children". There are, of course, "Baby", whom he got from Mormor, "Scarecrow" ,whom he got from Miss Bon, and "Bob", who came home with Dad from Belgium, as a gift from Mr. Jos and Miss Vivian. This holiday, Adam and Fallon joined the family. (He must be growing up -- as they join the family, the babies names are getting more and more name-like.)
book, music CD, puzzles, and videos all came in for a moments review, but they required more focused attention than he could manage on Yule, so they came into their moment of glory on Sunday.
There have been lots of other holiday adventures that I hope to write about later, but right now, I have Christmas Cones to make ... !
(*after a mad dash across town at the last minute for a missing ingredient or two.)
20 December 2007
On the North side of our house, we have an old Rock-Elm tree that bears the distinctive right-angled branch of a pre-european trail marker. The locals would pick a healthy young tree along their trail, choose a major branch, and splint it so that it would grow in a peculiar fashion. Once the growth pattern was set, they would remove the splint, and their trail was marked for the life of the tree.
Of course, the only people who would notice this marker are those who know how a Rock-Elm normally grows. The pre-european locals were very good at noticing such things.
The old tree is over by the boundary of our land, which has a creek and 40 acres of woods on the other side. Needless to say there is plenty of wildlife out there, and no shortage of birds.
Jack's computer sits right beside a large picture window which looks out at the old tree. A perfect spot for a boy who likes to notice things.
With the heavy snow, we knew our furry and feathered friends would be looking for food.
Misti and Jack took a large selection of seeds and grains out to feed the critters, and very shortly, the scene outside Jack's picture widow became a hive of activity.
"Look, there's Mrs Cardinal" he would cry out "... and there's Mr Cardinal ... and some sparrows... and... what are those little grey birds with white breasts?"
We looked them up in his bird book, and determined that they were Junco's otherwise known as Snowbirds. Apparently they winter in Michigan and summer in Canada.
A little later, the squirrel (resident in the Rock-Elm) showed up.
And, of course, Jack had to get out amongst it all. He had found an acorn which he was sure the squirrel wanted.
Slowly and surely, our little guy is amassing a working knowledge of his environment, all in the name of "noticing".
19 December 2007
In spite of my feelings flu-ish, today was the day.
We had a blast!
18 December 2007
Anyway, I am home from Mark's with a sore throat and a runny nose, while Rod and Chris (another friend of Mark's) take turns staying with Matthew for the rest of the week.
Last night, as I finished up the dinner dishes, Jack was explaining to me that his lungs were in his throat. We talked about that for a while, and it became clear that he thought his esophagus was his lungs.
I explained that his esophagus was the pipe that brought the air into his lungs, and I showed him how when he took a deep breath, his lungs expanded behind his rib cage. He looked dubious, so we went and got his atlas of the human body and looked it up, discussed it, and -- as happened in these matters -- went on exploring.
We came, soon enough, to the page about the reproductive system. Jack was captivated and before I knew it we were discussing what those parts were for and soon enough, we were paging through my 30-year old copy of Lennart Nilsson's A Child Is Born.
He was extremely curious, but in the end, his final remark was amusing and very telling.
"I'll bet crocodiles have fun coming out of eggs."
"Oh? Do you wish you were a crocodile?"
"Why is that? Do you wish you had been born from an egg?"
"Yes. That's less strange than babies."
mm hmmm. So much for the miracle of life. *laugh*
Jack was ready to go!
Then Jack played in the snow for another hour - -and looked very pleased with the experience!
17 December 2007
I got home to this yesterday evening! I don't think we got this much snow all winter last year.
More when the coffee kicks in.
05 December 2007
When TJ and Corey were growing up, I hated the holidays. I had never been particularly fond of them anyway, and so since Christmas is a BIG deal in my ex-husband's family, when we split up, it seemed like 'easy points' to send the kids with him to spend the holidays.
Corey and Bella
But it wasn't easy. Year after year, just as the intense focus on 'being together and celebrating family' would start, I would start packing the kids up to leave me again. It wasn't long before rather than "not particularly fond" of the holidays, I came to hate them with a passion.
Once I met Rod, I started to feel a little more warmly toward the season. First I started to notice the real beauty of the Victorian holiday decor that was so much in vogue just then. Eventually, I even started feeling less antipathy at the music and traditions, and I even started to be attracted to some of them.
When Jack was born, I actually found myself getting excited about creating new Yule traditions for ourselves as a family. But always there has been a sadness even so because I never got to share these things with TJ and Corey and now I also can't be there to make the house smell warm and yummy with baking cinnamon buns and cookies and hot chocolate for my grandchildren.
Family has always been important to me, but this year, the focus is sharper than it';s been for a while, because I am away from Rod and Jack and I can't busy myself in activities with them or for them when I start to feel wistful.
Instead, as I make Yule card after Yule card, I am thinking about the art of the long distance Grandma.
When your grandchildren live nearby and you can see them frequently, your relationship can grow organically out of who you are and who they are.
When your children and grandchildren live 8,000 miles away, and visits are 'every two years, assuming nothing goes wrong', if you want to be more than a name on a genealogy chart, you're going to have to put some conscious effort into creating a relationship.
When the children don'tshare your mother tongue and are not yet multi-lingual, it is even more challenging, because so much of relationship is based on language and the advise for long distance grandparents in books and on the web assumes at least a common language, if not somewhat regular access.
I think that the key to creating a relationship is make yourself present in the lives of your children and grandchildren on a pretty frequent basis. You have to "be there" a lot, even when you can't be there physically.
There is little you can do when they're very young, but as your grandbabies reach the toddlerhood, you can make sure that your kids have a photo (or two or three) of you. Ideally, you can put one in a baby-proof frame to be placed on a low shelf or table and give the baby a chew and drool-proof "baby's photo album" with photos of every member of the family -- including, of course, yourself.
As soon as they are old enough to understand what a letter is and not chew it up, usually sometime between age 2 and age 3, you can start to send them letters. At this point, the language and the contents matter less than the letter arriving with some frequency. Picture cards with appealing art and a one or two sentence note for Mamma and Pappa to read to them is ideal. (Even better, a photo of you or your home or a pet fastened to the front of a blank craft card, for the perfect "personal" stationery!)
It's important to keep the lines of communication open with your kids so you can hear about it when the children start to develop interests that you can refer to in your letters.
As the children approach three and a half or four, you can start sharing 'real' letters with them. A typed letter of 1,000 words or so will fit on one sheet of paper. Add a few photos, and send them once a month and you are well on your way to creating a relationship with these youngsters that you love from afar.
At this point, if you and your grandchildren don't share a primary language, make sure the letters are at least partly in their own first language, even if you have to hire a translator. It's important that you start to develop your own unique voice with your grand-kids. If they are struggling to understand you, or if your kids are doing the translating, a lot of your voice may be lost.
I was very, very fortunate in my search to hire a translator to come across a very lovely young professional at the local University who was willing to translate my letters for free in the interest of helping a Grandma develop a relationship with her far away grandchildren. But I don't want to create a false sense of my fluency in my grand-kids, so while I send one letter a month through the translator, I also do my best to write in their language in shorter notes and I occasionally send them letters in English as well.
I do send gifts sometimes. It can be tempting to buy lots of toys and gifts for the grand-kids, but I'm not sure that's a good idea. We want to be people that our grandchildren love, we don't want to become their own personal Santa Claus. The occasional small gift based on their own interests or on things that are important to the family are ideal and I don't think a large gift twice a year at birthdays and another gift-giving occasion is a problem -- but if they see you primarily as the source of loot, they are less likely to look past that and see who you are as a person, so keep the focus on your relationship and not on stuff. I send inexpensive colouring books or stickers, sometimes clothes, occasionally toys that I think will last and hold their interest for a long time, and most often, I send them hand made cards that I have created myself. Since I am a paper crafter, it serves as a way of sharing some of my own interests with them.
The most "important" gift I give them, though, is that I scrapbook every photo of them that I can get my hands on and once a year or so, I send those books to them. They are pleased to have books about themselves now -- but this is also a message to their adults selves. Some day, I dream, they will be flipping through the by then familiar and worn books and it will dawn on them that I must have spent hours thinking about them and looking at photos of them, trying to understand what was happening in their lives as I created those books. Maybe it will happen -- maybe it won't. But that's my dream. And should the books survive to passed along to their children, my presence will continue to be felt in a family far from me in time and space -- but a family that I had some small part in creating. Look for ways you can find a way to make your grandchild a part of your own hobby.
Phone calls, while they do happen, are not particularly satisfying for anyone. I understand little of what they're saying, and they understand little of what I say. (That isn't to say I would trade the phone calls for anything -- with practice will come understanding and nothing can replace the music of their sweet chirpings! But if I were counting on phone calls, we would have a strained and uncomfortable relationship.) Fortunately, the job of a Grandma is mostly to listen, so I listen and make encouraging noises and I respond more specifically if I catch a phrase I understand.
I think, I hope, that my regular letters arriving, telling them what I would share with them if I were there -- about my life, about the lives of their Pappa and their uncle (who lives nearby) when they were young boys, and about what I think is important, will help them to know me and to care enough about me to make the effort to develop the relationship from their side, too. Already they have started to send me their art and letters they have painstakingly hand written.
Recently, my daughter-in-law and I have started to compare notes about the books we are taking out of the library to read with our children. Knowing that "Bella and Leo just read this and they liked it a lot" seems to mean a lot to Jack and it helps me to feel closer to Wanja, TJ, Bella and Leo to know that we are haring the same stories. I hope it works the other way too.
So far it seems to be working. The stories I hear from TJ and Wanja and very encouraging, but I am always on the lookout for new ways to deepen the bond between myself and my grandchildren -- especially since visits are infrequent and the language barrier is large. If you have any ideas for me, please feel free to share in comments or by e-mail.
Family is important. It may be easier to maintain familial bonds from across town, but grandchildren need us, even from across the planet. Even with step-grandmas and borrowed grandpas, no one can replace you in the lives and hearts of your childrens children -- and they are worth the bit of effort it takes to create a relationship with them across the miles.