Air Travel Tips

I’m back in the Philippines after 45 days in the states, visiting three states, and sleeping at five different houses.
What with one thing and another my journey back home to the Philippines took me 52 hours from first take-off to final landing and I was in five airports. I slept in chairs and on a carpeted floor of a private lounge (they had sort of curved lounge chairs falsely advertised as comfortable but they were hard, the cushions hit me in the wrong places and the curve left my feet dangling below my heart and my ankles were already the size of melons even wearing compression socks). In random order here are a handful or tips which may or may not be useful to you:

Visit Bookmark it. Make it your friend.

When you get off the plane at an airport never, ever visit the first bathroom you pass. Everybody else on your plane is in that bathroom. Walk fast with your knees together and make it to the next bathroom, which will be empty and there won’t be a line which is good because by that point you are desperate.

Carry diaper wipes whether or not you have a baby.

Get a small atomizer/spray bottle of rubbing alcohol and add a few drops of your favourite essential oil and use it on armpits and other creasy places.

When you have to use a bathroom do wall pushups

There are exercises you can do from your plane seat that help with circulation and stiffness. I did the following:
Ankle circles- stretch one foot in front as far as you can, draw circles in the air with your toes (3-5 of them) then alternate.
Foot lifts- put your feet flat on the floor in front of you. Leaving your heels on the floor raise your toes and balls of feet as much as possible. Then put your toes on the floor and lift your heels.
Arm stretches: lock your fingers in front of you, back of your hands facing you, and lift your arms as high as you can
Neck stretches: lower your left shoulder while tilting your head to the right. Reverse and repeat.
Twists: While still in your seat twist to the left as far as you can and then to the right. Repeat. This is easier if your seatmate is sleeping and better still if you don’t have a seatmate.
Bend over and touch the floor, first to the left, then to the right- pretend you lost something if you need to.
Roll your shoulders forward 3-5 times and then back. Repeat.
Squeeze your buttocks, together, alternating.
Blushing when your fellow passengers stare at you is probably also good for circulation.

We all know we should walk more and use the moving sidewalk less. Put that knowledge into practice if you can, or walk on the moving sidewalk.

Wear Compression socks. I have done both of these:,

Airports are cold, even the one in Manila. Have something you can use as a light wrap, whether it’s a shawl, extra shirt, or sweater. You can also roll these up and use for extra padding for a pillow or arm rest on the plane.

Bring your own headphones. Mostly I find the ones provided by the airline do not work.

I bring a small bottle of mouthwash and dampen my toothbrush with this to brush my teeth- no need to rinse and spit and leave toothpaste residue on your face.

Eye mask or at least sunglasses to dim the lights so you can sleep.

Put your hair up while it’s wet and clean. Take it down 12 hours later and it will look fairly clean still.

Another reason to pack that small spray bottle of rubbing alcohol- if the passenger behind you sticks his bare foot up on your arm rest you can fake sneeze while spraying that offending foot at the same time.

Pack a couple of plastic bags and a change of socks and underwear at least.

If you have a chance for a massage (available at the Hong Kong and Manila airport) and can afford it, take it. It’s not a luxury. It’s a real health and wellness tool.

Keep a sense of humour.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Responses

Experts and the Science of Relations

A few years back Scientific American published an article on how experts are made, or rather, about how scientists attempted to discover how experts became experts.  It’s science, so they wanted something measurable, even though it’s hard to do that when working with the human mind. However, chess acumen provides a fairly measurable standard, so that’s what researchers looked at- chess champions. How did they get to be chess champions?

In one series of studies the players were blindfolded. The researcher posited that the players must have a near photographic image of the board and pieces, but he learned that this wasn’t true. What they had was a general idea of the pieces in relation to each other, and this idea was more abstract than concrete. The chess-master doesn’t have to remember details “because he can reconstruct any particular detail whenever he wishes by tapping a well-organized system of connections.”  Emphasis mine.

Of course, that brought to mind Charlotte Mason’s principle that “Education is the Science of Relations.” What researchers learned is that “the expert relies not so much on an intrinsically stronger power of analysis as on a store of structured knowledge.”  Think about that- it wasn’t analysis that mattered as much as having a good collection of knowledge organized in the mind.

In order to have a store of structured knowledge, of course, we have to fill the store-room. Charlotte Mason also addressed this when she said that children ought to have a wide and generous curriculum. She complained that many educators of her day believed that it is “more important that a child should think than that he should know. My contention is rather that he cannot know without having thought; and also that he cannot think without an abundant, varied, and regular supply of the material of knowledge.”  Emphasis mine again.

One interesting study tracked a mediocre player who rose to the level of master player over the course of nine years.

Neil Charness, professor of psychology at Florida State University, showed that despite the increase in the player’s strength, he analyzed chess positions no more extensively than he had earlier, relying instead on a vastly improved knowledge of chess positions and associated strategies.

Emphasis mine once more. Surely we have all experienced that confusing truth that the more we know the more we understand, yet the more we realize we don’t know!  And in spite of learning and knowing only to reach the point of realizing how ignorant we are, the more we also realize we can know. Read one well-written book and we learn new words, and new ideas are presented with new food for thought. Read a second living book, and even if it’s not on the same topic and has nothing in common with the previous book except that both are living (or so we think),  our knowledge base increases exponentially rather than additionally, because what we learned in the first book is broadened and expanded in the second, and what we read in the second sheds light on ideas from the first, and both combine to give us new insight into what we see and hear around us.  New words will have been used in one context in the first book, and they are used again in the second book with a slightly different context, adding nuance to our understanding.  Phrases, ideas, connections, concepts, these strike our brains with force- and which ideas strike us, which connections we make will be deeply influenced by who we are, where we are in life, and what we have read and experienced before (this is partially why vocabulary tests and ‘critical thinking’ lessons are not much use in real education).   We think we are adding information, but in reality, when in the realm of ideas and connections and the mind we are dealing in compounding square roots.    The connections we recognize multiply, expand, and stretch us,  and the sum is greater than the parts.

In order to get this rich, mental nourishment, notice the three components she mentioned: abundant, varied, and regular.

Regular servings of the mind food that comes from good books: Connections build this way.  You have to read broadly and you have to read in order to know to make the best of these connections.  We do make some important connections and expand our minds even through haphazard, careless reading (especially if we are reading great books), but reading to know, and providing the mind with regular servings provide for better understanding, healthier minds, and a better mental environment for thinking through the ideas and seeing the connections we are exposed to.  We want a steady diet rather than a gluttonous feast one month and starvation from books another month.  To quote a great book- slow and steady wins the race.

Abundant and varied: In addition to regular servings of the food for the mind (ideas, which are found in living books), we want abundant servings, and we want variety. We have to read many good books, and read broadly (that wide curriculum Miss Mason talked about).

It’s not the idea that doing well in Algebra makes you better at analyzing literature because

“ability in one area tends not to transfer to another. American psychologist Edward Thorndike first noted this lack of transference over a century ago, when he showed that the study of Latin, for instance, did not improve command of English and that geometric proofs do not teach the use of logic in daily life.”

Experts, it seems, don’t really know more, but they organize information in connecting parts and are better able to pull up those chunks of information. But it takes time and work to build up that knowledge base:

The one thing that all expertise theorists agree on is that it takes enormous effort to build these structures in the mind. Simon coined a psychological law of his own, the 10-year rule, which states that it takes approximately a decade of heavy labor to master any field. Even child prodigies, such as Gauss in mathematics, Mozart in music and Bobby Fischer in chess, must have made an equivalent effort, perhaps by starting earlier and working harder than others.

Since what we want is to give our children as many relations with as many topics as possible to establish this wide knowledge base and then to recognize the connections all around us, it’s more important that our young students, for example,  read and learn poetry than that they spend their time making uninformed judgments about  things like which poet has the ‘keener eye’ for nature than others.   This is why we give them a wide array of subjects to study- nature, botany, stars, poetry, hymns, Bible, history, literature, art, music, and more.   This is why they should spend more time reading and writing about what they are reading than in creative writing exercises where they ‘express themselves.’  I am speaking here of assigned writings- children who write creative stories on their own should of course be left to follow that muse in their free time and encouraged appropriately, it’s just not really an appropriate assigned topic for ten year olds, for instance.

Children (like the rest of us) express themselves as a matter of course. What they don’t do is inform themselves without a little practice and guidance as to what to read and how to direct their attention, as Miss Mason explained a century ago:

There are bird-witted people, who have no power of thinking connectedly for five minutes under any pressure, from within or from without. If they have never been trained to apply the whole of their mental faculties to a given subject, why, no energy of will, supposing they had it, which is impossible, could make them think steadily thoughts of their own choosing or of anyone else’s. Here is how the parts of the intellectual fabric dovetail: power of will implies power of attention; and before the parent can begin to train the will of the child, he must have begun to form in him the habit of attention.

Or, as one scientist explained in the S.A. article:

…what matters is not experience per se but “effortful study,” which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one’s competence. That is why it is possible for enthusiasts to spend tens of thousands of hours playing chess or golf or a musical instrument without ever advancing beyond the amateur level and why a properly trained student can overtake them in a relatively short time.

Emphasis mine again. Effortful study:  we read in order to know, and if we do not read we do not know.   Read in order to know.  Tackle challenges just beyond your comfort zone.  Whatever you or your children are reading or doing, try kicking it up a notch so it’s just a little harder. After that gets somewhat comfortable,  then kick it up again. And then again. We (by which I mean me) tend to reject that. We not only want to do things the easy, lazy way, we want to find some way to reinvent that as the more virtuous way. This shows that we are ‘relaxed,’ not driven, rigid, or ‘A-type.

‘Even the novice engages in effortful study at first, which is why beginners so often improve rapidly in playing golf, say, or in driving a car. But having reached an acceptable performance–for instance, keeping up with one’s golf buddies or passing a driver’s exam–most people relax. Their performance then becomes automatic and therefore impervious to further improvement. In contrast, experts-in-training keep the lid of their mind’s box open all the time, so that they can inspect, criticize and augment its contents and thereby approach the standard set by leaders in their fields.

Are we (meaning me) allowing ourselves (meaning myself) to be ‘impervious to further improvement?’ When we put it that way it sounds a little less noble, doesn’t it? I should so much prefer to believe that I just have no talent for playing an instrument, for housecleaning or for math than to believe, as the researchers suggest, that:

motivation appears to be a more important factor than innate ability in the development of expertise.

We must read in order to know.  Is that why we are reading, why our children are reading?

I’m not sure I completely agree with every single word and nuance behind that when it comes to becoming an expert musician or chess player, but I do suspect there’s more general truth to it that applies to reading and learning and recognizing the connections that make for real knowledge than I find comfortable.

Posted in Charlotte Mason | 1 Response

Rambling thoughts on mothering

“Oh, those people. I don’t know why they even had kids. I think it’s important to never have kids until you are sure about your reasons and never just because it’s the default choice.”

I agree that there are some very bad reasons to have children- and as a default certainly could be a bad one. But in the end, each of us knows our own reasons better than anybody else and I’m not sure it’s a good idea to assume others just had kids for no good reason just because we don’t approve of their parenting. So look at our own reasons closer than others.

OTOH, even when looking at ourselves, one can start something for bad reasons or less than noble and cerebral reasons and finish for better ones. It seems to me ‘why’ doesn’t matter, when you *are*. As long as those ‘bad’ reasons (and false expectations) aren’t coming into play I don’t know that I think we need to have some compelling, noble reason that would be generally recognized and received as socially acceptable.

I wrote this years ago when we had a large family, were used to hearing people ask us why or what we were thinking or whether or not we knew what caused it, but we seemed to be near the end of our childbearing years:

We like kids. We especially like our kids. We think they’re neat
people and we wouldn’t mind having more of these neat people around.
If no more happen to show up at our house, that’s a little
disappointing, but it’s still okay (I’m not going into major
depression over it). The ‘welcome’ sign is still out.=) That’s not
a line of reasoning many people think ‘good enough,’ but I don’t
care. It works for us.=) We have what we believe we need to have to
support any children we have- time, food, shelter, clothing, love,
knowledge, good growing space (not necessarily in that order, of
We don’t have them to fill our needs, to alter the balance of world
power, because we can’t think of anything better to do, because we
can’t define ourselves in any other way but as parents, or because
we’re going to raise children with our political views (an idea I
find shockingly disregardful of children’s rights as persons) to
counter those we disdain, or…. for any other reason that centers on

Sometimes I’ve heard people lament wasted time in careers they have put on hold and perhaps cannot easily return to later, or that they discover they don’t love after all, or aren’t really good at, or that they had to drop because somebody needed to be a full time parent, or whatever.

I’m not so sure it’s always wasted time. I’m a great believer in stages of life. I wonder if the previous things were the right things for a person to do
at a certain time in her life, and rather than fouling them up, you
fulfilled what you needed to do at that stage. Now it’s simply time
to do something else, if you’re not interested in returning to and cannot return to whatever went before. They weren’t ‘mistakes.’ You probabably learned things,
accomplished goals, and touched others in a way you couldn’t have
done any other way. But now maybe there are other things to learn,
do, accomplish- in other ways, in other fields, maybe in something
so ‘out of the box’ that you haven’t thought of it yet, that isn’t
even a traditional ‘career’ at all.
You probably dated other guys before you met and married your
husband. Were they all mistakes just because they aren’t the guys
you ended up staying with? Or did you learn important things along
the way? You probably studied other subjects in school before you settled on a major. Were all those studies a mistake or did you learn along the way?

It <em>is</em> important to learn from mistakes, but I think a lot of things
we call mistakes aren’t really mistakes. They were the right thing
for us at that time. Like diapers, you know? I mean, diapers are
not a mistake at a certain time in life, but there comes a point
where it’s time to be toilet trained and move on- no regrets, just
move up to the next stage.

It’s good to assess where we are and where we’ve been and how we got there and what we’re doing. But it’s also good to just accept where we are and not obsess and do what we are doing in the moment, since quite likely, what we are doing is what we are really called to do just at that stage of our lives.

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Connections All Around

Originally posted in 2007

     We began homeschooling in 1988. I had been brought up with poetry, classical music, and living books, so naturally, they were already part of our lives, as were folk songs and regular field trips to historical sites and science museums. My background combined with the fact that the very first book I read on homeschooling was Susan Macaulay’s For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School, meant that from the beginning, I included certain ‘CM’ elements in our homeschooling. However, it was many years before I took hold of it with both hands and started applying her principles rather than just many of her methods.

Along the way between our start and our full discovery of the riches of a Charlotte Mason education, we did many projects. We studied the colonization of American and built a diorama of the settling of the west on our dining room buffet. We had an egg carton mountain representing the Cumberland Gap, and small covered wagons to the east of that, and totem poles for the northwestern Indians away to the far left side of our buffet. It was lovely. It was elaborate. We spent months adding to it as we studied a new era in history and exploration of NOrth America. Visitors commented on it all the time.
My children do not remember much about this.

We studied the Middle Ages and had a full feast, complete with drawbridge made from a mattress box, costumes, and a rich collection of books and biographies of the major figures and events of the time. My children do remember the drawbridge and feast, and they loved it. They do not remember the other things.

As I read more of Charlotte Mason, we did fewer and fewer projects. I noticed that my children actually remembered more and more of what we studied. Not only that, they made connections and found relationships between subjects I would never have thought to bring together in my carefully planned and organized (and often quite contrived) unit studies of our early homeschooling days.

I really have found that with education, less is more- less of my specially designed projects, more of the child’s direct contact with the book itself; less of me dragging in all this extra stuff and forcing my own connections into the reading, more of my children making their own connections in a much more meaningful way; less extra stuff, more of what I believe is *real* learning. When I did all that careful planning and what Miss Mason calls the ‘correlation of lessons,’ I was the one doing all the work of the mindand so I was the one doing the most learning. I was feeding my children whirled, pre-prepared mind food, instead of letting them chew on it themselves and make their own connections.

We don’t do many involved projects anymore. I don’t make worksheets or vocabulary cards for games. I don’t create elaborate dioramas (although the children can if they want). Occasionally when we finish a reading I have asked my children to tell me about anyone or anything that the story we just finished reminds them of. Sometimes they tell me they can’t think of anything. That’s okay. Sometimes they will come up with a connection I would never have thought of- that’s really delightful.

Sometimes I don’t have to ask. One day many years  ago we went for a long walk through our woods. On our walk my then 7 and 5 year olds were sharing the connections they were making, and also showing me that studies do serve for delight, and that education is the science of relations.=) Our five year old told me that the woods made him think of Little House in the Big Woods. We found a large tree fallen over a stream outlet, and the top was hollowed out, making a space large enough for two small children to play in. They told me they were Vikings like Harald, only nicer. We found a pile of red fur and one of them wondered if it belonged to Reddy Fox (from one of Thornton Burgess’ books). They played Pooh sticks at the bridge. Our five year old found a hollow in the base of the tree and explained to us that this was one of the animal homes with a place for a door in it for animal visitors to knock on (ala Beatrix Potter).

IN church one Sunday the preacher referred to Genesis 1- as he started reading my 5 y.o. whispered in my ear “He’s going to start reading about Adam and Eve!” A little later in the sermon the preacher quoted a verse that my 7 y.o. has been working on- her eyes lit up and she nodded vigorously at me to show she recognized it- another connection made.

During that same time frame, we read the story of William Tell. When I read about Gesler putting the hat up on a pole in the market place and requiring people to bow to it, I asked my children if that reminded them of anything else they’d heard of- and one of them immediately remembered the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego being thrown into the furnace for refusing to worship the statue of the king.

Many years before this when young Pipsqueak was about ten or so,  we were sitting in church one morning and the preacher was teaching on a passage about the tongue and the destructive roaring fire it could become. After class, this child said thoughtfully to me, “That kind of reminds me of A Tale of Two Cities.” I was rather astonished, and asked what on earth she meant. “Well,” she explained, “in the French Revolution people were informing on other people all the time, and if they were mad at a neighbor they might spread lies to get them in trouble. They could get somebody else in a lot of trouble just by something they said without thinking about it. That’s pretty destructive.”

Charlotte Mason’s ideas of short lessons, alternating lesson types (two literature lessons not following quite back to back, but rather alternate *types* of studies so that one part of the brain is getting a rest while the other is working), and free time in the afternoons gives the children the time they need to make those connections.

Children need that free time for doing nothing but thinking, pondering, daydreaming. It’s just about as important as school and chore time, and I think it is more important than time organized for sports and outside activities.

Sometimes I will follow up a particularly meaty lesson with drawing, a simple craft, or something like sewing on buttons. I think that this gives them time to dwell over the reading more if they are doing something simple with their hands immediately afterward.

However it is managed and planned, do be sure the children have free time to think. Doing this will enable the children to make their own connections, and when they do this, the material is really theirs.
Postscript: I will also add that day in the woods was a particularly lovely day. We _do_ have days when the eyes glaze over, the frowns glower, and the narrations are dull and lifeless, or there are no narrations at all because there was no attentive listening. There is no need to feel discouraged if you have not gotten such feedback yet- sometimes kids are processing information and making connections quietly under the surface and it will come up at surprising times.

Posted in Charlotte Mason, the science of relations | 3 Responses

Military PTSD Documentary

Let There Be Light: The Censored Documentary on Traumatized WWII soldiers

A bit more about that:

 If you’re studying or discussing this with your kids, you might enjoy this as a supplement:

NCIS, season two, episode six, Terminal Leave, an episode about an Iraqui Vet with PTSD

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Response

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