Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How Do Our Children Define Wealth?

I recently followed a posting on Arrows Sent Forth that asked readers to comment on the merits of trips to theme parks vs national parks. Certainly the status and glitz of the big theme parks scream wealth to a child. In sharp contrast, I spent last week working with a team from Plainfield United Methodist Church in one of the most poverty ridden areas in the country, Frakes, KY.

I was as overwhelmed by the beauty of the setting as any child entering Disneyland. This begs the question: how do we teach our children to measure wealth?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Road Trips...Then and Now

                The Merrillville Gas Station story is urban legend in the Shaffer household and gains more popularity with each retelling. I think it’s the strong connection to the Griswold family vacations that gives the story its listening appeal.
                When the boys were in their elementary/middle school years we traveled to Chicago frequently to visit my husband’s mother. My husband approached these trips with all the focus of a road rally contest.  It was all about making good time. We (actually the boys and I) had a tradition to make traveling in the car easier on everyone. Every time we stopped, usually every three hours whether we needed a break or not, we would rotate seats. This meant that I only sat in the front seat for 1/3 of any trip. My husband always drove even though I offered to give him a break. Hmmm…wonder why!
                On the Chicago road rally challenges we made one stop: the gas station in Merrillville, just before connecting to the toll road to Chicago. On the occasion of the infamous event the boys and I hopped out to use the restroom, ever mindful of the rally time. I left from the front seat and would return to the back when we resumed. Our younger son would ride shotgun. When I finished in the restroom I couldn’t turn off the faucet when I washed my hands, so I stopped at the counter to tell the gentleman about the problem. The boys headed to the car.
                When our younger son got in, my husband took off. Someone was in the front and he assumed all were in their proper places per road rally stop time regulations.Thanks to reminders from the boys, the road rally was put on hold while my husband turned the car around to go back for me. 
                Traveling with children can be challenging and complicated, especially now when this generation doesn't have the option of rotating children to the front seat. The exuberance and optimism that marks the starting point can often be replaced with stony silence and impatience as the trip progresses. Fortunately, I have discovered a fun website that seems to be getting some attention these days (for good reason). Arrows Sent Forth provides some practical advice about places to go and things to see and do with children. I like it for two reasons: it's a good resource for parents and grandparents, and the author is one of my former students. I can trust both her and her suggestions.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


     Who would have expected that the tomatoes, squash, spinach, or brussel sprouts we grew in our gardens in the 40s would become the designer foods of the twenty-first century?  We are old enough to have seen the importance of eating vegetables come full circle. In our youth we ate them because they were fresh and free from our gardens. Today we eat them because the nutritionists have given them preferred status on the food pyramid and our physicians keep us accountable. It’s even fashionable to be a vegetarian these days.
     Vegetables aren’t always an easy sell, so it seems appropriate to discuss what I call resourceful camouflage: getting kids to eat vegetables without too much rebellion.  V-8 Infusion has left most of my less creative, more obvious techniques in the dust, but let’s face it; where were those fruit flavored veggie concoctions when we needed help in the 50s-80s?
     When I was growing up, aside from liver and onions which could never be disguised in any way, my mother prepared two foods I really didn’t care for: sauerkraut and turnips. Pushing food around on my plate to make it appear half eaten was never an option. We weren’t far removed from the depression and war rations, so clean plates were the rule.  Since I would never be permitted to hold my nose while eating sauerkraut, I would put my mashed potatoes on top of the offending sauerkraut so I really couldn’t see it. Plus the neutral potatoes (which I loved) soaked up some of the awful acid taste of the sauerkraut.
     With respect to the turnips, my mother automatically mashed them in with the potatoes. As far as I was concerned, that was unforgivable. I think she thought she was doing us a favor by disguising them. She never asked and I knew if I criticized I would become the full time family cook.
     When I had children of my own, I didn’t serve sauerkraut or turnips – mainly because no one could stand the smell. I let the boys try all the other kinds of vegetables, and one son loved them. The other son only ate food in the brown food group so I put mixed vegetables in his waffles! I’m sure he never noticed. Now, to my amazement he has jumped on the designer food bandwagon and loves sushi! Obviously the press is more influential than his mother.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Pilgrim for All Generations

     Pilgrim’s Progress has been #1 on my list of favorite books since 1961. While everyone else I know struggled and swore their way through Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and excerpts from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, I found my genre of choice: the allegory. Nothing beats a well written allegory with characters and places named for their defining characteristics: Doubting Castle, Talkative, Hopeful, and the piece de resistance Christian, the pilgrim.
     Although it was written in the 1670s, Pilgrim’s Progress is timeless, allowing the reader to apply its symbolism to the present for a perfectly crafted story of man’s struggles to arrive at the Celestial City in a state of worthiness; although, symbolically, I suppose any ambitious goal might be substituted. The challenges are universal.
     I try to read Pilgrim’s Progress at least once a year and have 4 copies – one in the original Old English, one modernized version, and a third pictorial copy. I even have a copy on my Kindle in case I get stuck in an airport with nothing of interest to read. Although my youngest son and I may share a common interest in the genre, I’m fairly certain no one in the family has read my all time favorite. I think it’s one of the best “Yes, you can!” motivational books that has certainly endured through generations. See me if you want to borrow a copy. Or, if you are waiting for the movie, YouTube comes through with an uninspiring read aloud video version.