Shelf Space

Today my daughter and I did a little bit of spring cleaning. Actually, we continued something we started a few weeks ago: our book cataloging project. At this point, I should probably mention that we might occasionally have a slight impulse control issue where the buying of books is concerned. As a result, with the amount of books we have lying about everywhere a clear picture of what we have in the way of reading material is much needed.

To be honest, my husband and I are both bibliophiles. The look of certain books, the feel, even the smell of them holds something enticing. Combine that with fairly broad interests and you end up with a severe shortage of shelf space.

We purge our collection every once in a while and weed out the books we don't feel the need to hold on to. We collect them – generally fiction of various genres – in bags and eventually end up taking them to the American Book Center for one of their trade-in days (where we get vouchers in return, which we promptly end up spending on more books; lather, rinse, repeat…)

About half the books I buy these days I buy with my children in mind: books that are fun for them now or will be fun for them when they're older, books that I used to love, classics that I hope they will read, books that will prompt them to think about issues and ideas, and books that reflect some of my own interests so that we can hopefully share them. Having these books for them gives me the opportunity to read with them and to them, and there's nothing quite like it. I can't really explain it, but there's a connection that comes from that that is unlike anything else.

But to get back to the spring cleaning, we finally decided to start organising our books properly this time, and actually cataloging the books we have has been very enlightening, as well as cathartic. I am finally beginning to get a clear picture again of what we have, and what I still have to read (no real need to buy anything new in the near future – not that that will stop me, of course).

After all this work, perhaps the only book I should allow myself to buy anymore is a book on how to exercise some self-control so I won't end up buying more books for a while.

Oh, and by the way: that dress is blue and black. It is so not white and gold!


Perseus, et al.

Today I read my daughter two chapters from Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. She wanted me to read her a lot more (we’re at chapter 17 now). My kid is 7. She loves this book. To be honest, I’m having a grand old time with it myself.

For those of you who are miraculously unaware of this Percy Jackson I speak of: he is the creation of Rick Riordan (last name pronounced rye-er-dan, sort of; it rhymes with “fireman”, as per his website), whose site contains a wealth of educational resources and background materials in addition to the usual info on the books and the author.

Percy, by the way, is the son of Greek god Poseidon and a human mother and must learn to come to terms with his origins and the dangers and responsibilities they bring.

Ah, those Greek gods: always misbehaving. As you might have guessed, Percy isn’t my first encounter with the Greek pantheon. My fondness of the gods, heroes, and their adventures and exploits actually dates back to when I was quite little. One day, my father brought me a book of Greek myths as retold by Gustav Schwab (in a Dutch translation). Initially, my parents would read them to me, then I began reading them myself. In fact, I read that book so often that it has literally fallen apart. Oh, it’s still there, tattered and torn and held together by endless amounts of scotch tape but it’s not much to look at these days.

Then when I was seven my sister, who is seven years older than I am, had to learn the Greek alphabet (she went to a school where one of the required subjects was classical Greek; I would later attend the same school) and I helped her study. By the end of the study session we both knew the Greek alphabet, and I knew that I wanted to go to that school, because I imagined they could teach me the language those myths were originally written in so that I could read them in their original iterations. Didn’t quite work out that way (as it turned out, I wasn’t great at ancient Greek until I got some help from a wonderful tutor who, incidentally, had been my sister’s teacher years before; once I got it, though, I ran with it!), but still, I appreciate my classical education.

Then, when I was in my teens, one of the Dutch public broadcasting channels aired Jim Henson’s “The Storyteller: Greek Myths” and I got a fresh helping of my favourite stories. Unfortunately, only four myths were ever filmed.

To make a long story short (too late!), I have a long-standing love-affair with the Greek myths, which I seem to have passed on to my daughter. I had already read her a few of them from this book before we discovered Rick Riordan’s books, so she’d had a decent introduction to Percy Jackson’s extended family before she discovered the stories.

From the way she can’t get enough of Percy’s adventures, I can only deduce that her love of the adventures of the gods and heroes is in no way second to mine. I hope it lasts and that she will enjoy these tales in all their versions and retellings for years to come the way I’m enjoying Mr Riordan’s books right now. He does a great job of bringing the myths to life. I know there have been criticisms, such as that his stories are infused with undue slang, but the familiarity with which he treats the subject matter seems well in line with the treatment of the gods in the classical tradition, just updated for a new generation of readers. Of course, offending the gods would never do, but the fun of the Greek gods is that they’re so human. They make mistakes, they engage in improper behaviour, they’re just so marvellously fallible.

Once we’re done with Percy Jackson and the Olympians, we still have Percy Jackson and the Greek Gods and Percy Jackson: The Demigod Files. No, we won’t be running out of these stories for a while yet and I’m glad the gods, demigods and mythical creatures are being brought to life for a new generation of readers.

I hope Mr Riordan keeps the stories coming for a long time yet!

Cookies for a Cause

There has been a lot of door-to-door fundraising going on in our neighbourhood lately; it feels to me like it’s more than usual around this time of year. That could have something to do with the fact that the government has decided to cut funding to certain charities, causing them to have to resort to finding funding elsewhere.

Because these days it’s hard to get people to part with their money – times are quite tough at the moment – some charities offer some incentive or some item in return. And that is how we ended up buying cookie baking mix from a non-profit organisation called Live Your Talents. They’re an organisation dedicated to encouraging self-awareness in teenagers in order to give themselves some room for exploring their talents at a time in their lives when they experience a lot of pressure to make choices in preparation for future careers. I had never heard of them before, but the idea is certainly something I can get behind.

coconut cookies raw spoons

I wouldn’t say that I have a talent for baking per se but I’m not too shabby, so with the very limited instructions on the accompanying card I managed to turn out a small batch of rather tasty honey-oatmeal coconut cookies.

And the best part about these cookies: I won’t have to feel guilty when I eat them. After all, it’s for a good cause.

coconut cookies baked plate

Confessions of a 40-year Old Mom

I have a confession to make, and it’s just a little embarrassing.

A little under four months ago, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy (no, that’s not my confession). His sister, who is seven years older, is thrilled with him, as are we all.

But for me, in addition to all the obvious delights of watching this little person grow and change and develop, there is a guilty pleasure that I now get to indulge in again: watching CBeebies.

We are a bilingual household, English and Dutch – at home, my husband and I primarily speak English to each other – but since we live in the Netherlands our primary language is Dutch and so initially when my daughter was little we would watch Dutch children’s television, which is very good. Dutch children’s TV consists of both original programming and a number of British (and other international) shows, dubbed in Dutch.

We noticed, however, that while our daughter could understand English perfectly she was very reluctant to speak it. To encourage her a little, I decided it might be a good idea for her to watch some English children’s television and that’s how we landed on CBeebies. Before you start thinking that we leave her entire verbal education up to TV viewing, rest assured that I have been reading to her since she could open her eyes. She’s always loved company and conversation, so there’s never been any shortage of interaction.

But like us, our daughter also loves film and television and if you love something you learn from it very easily. One great advantage to movie and television dialogue is that you don’t only learn words, but you learn words in context, making it easier to use them appropriately and correctly. This is especially true for children’s television, which is often geared towards that specific purpose.

Since I like to know what she watches, and which programmes she especially likes and why – it’s been very helpful in finding approaches to explaining things to her that she required some additional help with once she started going to school – I used to watch CBeebies with her. And I loved it!

Some shows are just funny, like the tales of the mischievous Timmy (I think he’s Shaun the Sheep‘s nephew) in Timmy Time. Some are educational, like The Octonauts – my daughter can spout some very cool facts about marine life these days – Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures and Numberjacks (math concepts, anyone?). Some shows appeal to the playful, like the educational dress-up show Let’s Play (you can find some episodes on YouTube; BBC is still very rigid about opening up content to users outside the UK). Some shows instill in children some useful social skills, like persistence, willingness to learn, the ability to take constructive criticism and understanding that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose; here I’m thinking of shows like Chuggington and Swashbucklers (again, YouTube).

There are the straight-up storytelling shows, like Driver Dan’s Story Train, Tinga Tinga Tales, In the Night Garden and 64 Zoo Lane, and of course the Bedtime Story. Some of our favourite children’s books are ones we first heard read during this segment of the  Bedtime Hour (I highly recommend Badly Drawn Dog – for the video, click here; and What Does Daddy Do? – for the video click here.).

And some shows are just brilliant in their observations of children, like Wooly and Tig, and Charlie and Lola, based on Lauren Child‘s equally brilliant children’s books. The latter is a particular favourite of ours. It speaks to children and adults equally: children recognise themselves, and we certainly recognise our children!

In short, there’s a lot of really good stuff on there and, frankly, it’s addictive. Or maybe that’s just because I’m a mom. Or still a child at heart.

Either way, thanks to our lovely little boy, I get to indulge with impunity for a few more years. And how I love my guilty little pleasure!

From the New World …

Before I start today’s post, a quick note on my frequency. Last week I announced “one post each day”. As it turns out, that may have been a tad ambitious. With our new baby in the house and a social life that is slowly beginning to resurface a little, I think it’s more realistic to publish one post each day, and to give myself one day off per week, simply to be able to keep up with my current pace of living, and also to give myself an opportunity, once a week, to relax and catch my breath.

After my day of rest, then, today’s post.

Lately, I haven’t been very good at managing my e-mail program’s inbox, and so – as was inevitable – my inbox overflowed today, and soon I was met with text messages and phone calls from friends and family who all saw their e-mails to me bounce.

It was time to clean up my inbox.

Enthusiastically, I set about doing exactly that, only when I sat down at my laptop and keyed in my password on pure finger memory, I didn’t get past the login screen and my password was rejected. Again, then again, and again. Somewhere in the back of my mind I vaguely remembered that my husband recently began practising typing on the Dvorak keyboard: an alternative keyboard that you can engage by adding the keyboard to your preferences in your settings. Surely, I thought, after practising typing in this totally different keyboard layout my husband would not have forgotten to switch back to the normal, US QWERTY keyboard, would he?

But, of course, he would.

Luckily, he keeps a “map” of the Dvorak keyboard next to his own computer. I found it and managed to translate the sequence of keys I needed to type in order to enter my own profile. Relief!

But what is Dvorak? For the complete story and logic behind it, you should check out this Dvorak website. Let me highlight a few things here already.

When the typewriter was first invented by Mr Christopher Latham Sholes, the keys were immediately next to each other, and simply placed in two rows directly above one another and alphabetically arranged from A to Z. One of the problems with the typewriter was the mechanism of the keys, which led to neighbouring keys often getting stuck if struck in quick succession. So Sholes rearranged the keys and placed them further apart in order to prevent this problem. How this led to the QWERTY keyboard is something I’ll leave you to read in the DVZine.

Some thirty years on, an educational psychologist and professor of education at the University of Washington in Seattle, Mr August Dvorak, decided to rethink the keyboard layout, and his research led him to the Dvorak simplified keyboard layout, based on logic and dedicated to fast and accurate typing.

(Mr Dvorak, incidentally, was distantly related to composer Antonin Dvorak, whose 9th Symphony is a work of staggering beauty and intensity.)

It turns out that the current standard keyboard layout, QWERTY, is remarkably conducive to repetitive strain injury, or RSI. The Dvorak keyboard would go a long way to preventing that ill, as typing fingers would no longer have to roam around the keyboard in order to type frequently used letter combinations. Rather, for the most part your fingers can remain on the home row – the central row of keys on the keyboard.

Using Dvorak would make typing faster, more accurate, and less hazardous to your wrists’ and hands’ health. Of course, QWERTY is so ingrained in everyone by now that Dvorak would be like learning a whole new language.

Still, with all the advantages to the Dvorak keyboard layout, that could very well be worth the effort. Perhaps you could motivate yourself by wearing this t-shirt

And no: I did not type this post in Dvorak.


Just a quick, brief blog post after a fun but busy day.

Visiting friends and family is always great, and today was no exception: good company, happy children, wonderful food, good conversation and some much needed relaxation.

But it was a long day, so for today’s post I’ll have to settle for telling you that I’m a tired mom who will get a good night’s sleep after a day well spent.

The Pink Shoes

Our daughter is a very energetic girl. She doesn’t like sitting still, and she loves to dance. What better option to help her out with both, while simultaneously helping her acquire a skill, than to enrol her in dance classes?

The dancing bug she gets from my sister, who used to do ballet with verve and elegance when she was younger. My mom saved most of our stuff, and when she heard that our little miss was starting dance classes, she dug up my sister’s old ballet shoes and gave them to our little dancer. She was thrilled to receive one pair of black velveteen ballet shoes and one pair of plain white ballet shoes in just the right sizes, with the black ones fitting her when she started classes and the white ones being there to replace the black ones once she’d grown out of them.

Being a dedicated dancer, and very enthusiastic during classes, our girl has actually managed to wear out the white pair, and had thus worked through her supply of ballet shoes. It was a sad, yet happy occasion, because it meant a brand new pair of dancing shoes were now required.

We went online and from a site specialising in ballet clothing we ordered a pair of pink ballet shoes (“Just like Barbie!!” Squee!!). They came in today. Since each pair of feet is different, the shoes come with elastic straps that need to be sewn on by hand; this in order to ensure that they fit the feet just right: not too loose, not too tight.

Pink shoes

I guess I’d better get sewing then!