TO READ OR NOT TO READ, by ELLIN CURLEY

I recently read an article in the New York Times about the efficacy of ‘bribing’ children to get them to read. The article was “The Right Way To Bribe Kids To Read”, by KJ Dell’Antonia and ran on Sunday, July 24, 2016. The article cited a study that showed that bribery does work. However it also showed that the kind of bribe determined the longevity of the positive result.

The study found that monetary or other material bribes worked only as long as the rewards continued. Once the money stopped rolling in, so did the reading. So parents have to find another kind of bribe to foster enthusiasm about reading in order to form lasting reading habits. The most effective form of bribe used in the study was the promise of one on one time with a parent. This time could be spent reading together or just talking about what the child had read.

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This reminded me of one of my finest parenting moments, which I would like to share with you. When my daughter was 13, she was obsessed with reading a series of books below her reading level, called “The Babysitters’ Club.” Neither I nor the teachers at her school felt this was a serious problem. She was reading and loving it and that was enough for the school and for me.

However, her father (my ex-husband) was adamant that we “make” her read more adult books. He favored the classics, like Dickens and Jane Austen. I had hated these books when I was 13 so I did not agree that this was the way to go with our daughter. He also favored the banning of TV and other ‘punishments’ as the means of ‘motivation’. I obviously was against this approach as well.

books james lee burke

My solution to this sticky family problem was brilliant, if I do say so myself! I conceded to my ex the goal of getting our daughter to read age appropriate books. BUT, I would be the one to determine the method used to accomplish this goal.

My daughter loved movies. So I proposed that she find books that had been made into movies. She would both read the book and watch the movie. We would then talk about how the two versions differed, which was more ‘successful’ and why. And how well the book translated to the screen. The first book she choose was Fannie Flagg’s “Fried Green Tomatoes” – a movie she had already seen and loved. She loved the book too. Without parental prompting, immediately read every book Fannie Flagg wrote. She took her library of Flagg’s books to sleepover camp with her and traded them with her camp friends for other books. She was off and running as a life-long, voracious reader.

netflix for books

My daughter is 31 now and is still an avid reader. She reads all kinds of books, fiction and non-fiction, covering a wide range of subjects. She particularly loves history and historical fiction. I feel that my creative solution to her reading ‘problem’ years ago allowed her intellectual curiosity to develop freely. I firmly believe that we could have destroyed that curiosity and squashed her love of reading had we mishandled that situation when she was 13.

I guess the moral of this story is that you have to nurture and encourage your children’s interest in reading. Making reading a chore or something to do for Mom and Dad is apparently not the right approach. You have to make reading something exciting that they can share with you and with their friends. You can always ‘make’ your child read. The trick is to create an adult who loves reading and learning and passes this love down to their kids.

FOR NEW BLOGGERS

Somewhere along the way during the past four years, I’ve gained a slew of new followers. Many of them fall into a group I call “baby bloggers.” Not only are they new to blogging, but they are new to life. They are children. Teenagers as young as 12 or 13 years old for some obscure reason actually follow me. Some are girls and boys who want to be writers or photographers– which makes a certain amount of sense. Others aren’t sure what they want, but have discovered blogging and follow me, hoping I’ll follow them back.

If blogging had existed when I was a teen, I’d have been doing it. For a creative kid, blogging is a godsend. So much better than keeping a diary which you have to hide under your mattress so your mom won’t read it, but she always finds it and reads it anyway. Or just writing stuff no one ever reads. When you blog, even if you don’t have followers, you can be pretty sure someone will read your stuff. Eventually.

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It’s hard to get a blog off the ground. There are weeks, months — even years — before it begins to come together. So when these kids ask me if I’ll follow them, I try to at least give them a read, a “like,” a comment, and some encouragement. I’m already following more blogs than I have time to read, so something has to really grab me to make me sign on.

Some of these baby bloggers are surprisingly good. Others — not so much. Some young photographers need to learn the rudiments of composition and stuff like focusing the camera.

In the writing department, many youngsters need to understand there’s a difference between writing and texting. For the wannabe writers, I’d like to offer some unsolicited advice:

  • Use real words, not internet abbreviations
  • Check your spelling. Spell checkers are one of the premium inventions of the past century
  • Write in sentences and paragraphs. You can break the rules, but first understand them
  • Leave white space on your pages. Too much text and graphics looks cluttered and is difficult to read
  • Punctuation is not optional. Discover how exciting commas and periods can be
  • Do not end every sentence with one or more exclamation points!!! Really, just don’t!!! If you do that all the time, it makes you sound hysterical!!!
  • Use emoticons sparingly🙂😦😀
  • Contractions require apostrophes. In other words — don’t, not dont, can’t, not cant
  • Use black text on a white background (not vice-versa) if you expect anyone over 40 to read you.

If you want grownups to read your posts — by which I mean people other than your texting pals — you will have to write in a way we old people can understand. It’s not just the words you use. It’s also subject matter. I’m mildly interested in what’s going on with your generation,  but I’m way past makeup and gossip. If you are going to write about things that only interest your high school friends, your only followers will be your high school friends. Fine if that’s what you want … but … if you want a broader audience, you’ll have to find other topics.

Most importantly, make sure that you write in a real language, not text-speak. Texting abbreviations are not English. They are something, but I’m not sure what.

WHEN NEWER ISN’T BETTER: PANASONIC LUMIX DMC-FZ200

I bought a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 12.1 MP Digital Camera with CMOS Sensor and 24x Optical Zoom from Adorama in September 2014. It cost me $457 two years ago and you can buy the same camera on Amazon today for $100 less. Since I bought this camera, it has been a constant companion. It isn’t my only camera, not by far, but it is my most versatile camera. If I’m unsure which camera or lens I may need — or I don’t want to haul a lot of equipment — this is the camera I choose.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200

I have a lot of equipment, both cameras and lenses — and I use them. But this particular camera remains a favorite. Simply put, it’s a keeper.

The Leica lens on this camera is spectacular. Not only does it go from moderately wide to amazingly long (in 35mm terms, 24mm to 600mm), but it delivers surprisingly good quality throughout its range.

It’s fast, too … f2.8 all the way, beginning to end. Amazing for a super-zoom. The camera focuses quickly, recycles fast. It has a good  built-in viewfinder and  flexible LCD screen. It has more controls and refinements than I will ever use. Some, I don’t even know what they do and probably will never bother to find out.

In the gallery of birds, most of these were taken from a considerable distance. The herons were on the other side of the river. The birds were a long way away and I was hanging out my bathroom window to take the pictures. Guess which camera I used? You betcha!

Does it give me the same quality as my best Olympus lenses? Not quite, but surprisingly close. In any case, I could never afford a telephoto lens of this quality for my Olympus rig. Not that Olympus makes a comparable lens.

If you need a super-zoom camera and you don’t have megabucks to spend, this is the camera to buy. There are newer models available — but none of the newer ones are better. Some have a longer zoom, but all the longer lenses are slower and not as sharp. This remains best-of-breed. I paid about $100 more for this camera in 2014 than it’s selling for now on Amazon. I have never felt I overpaid. I haven’t checked prices elsewhere, but it isn’t a the latest model, so you won’t find it everywhere.

If I have any criticism to make, it’s that the batteries don’t last as long as I would wish. If you use the zoom a lot, you need to have spare batteries. I have four and more wouldn’t be out of line.

It’s a great camera. If you are trying to decide between this and one of the newer Panasonic super-zoom models? Buy this one. It’s a better camera. It’s a bit big, a bit clunky, and wonderful.

I hope it lasts forever. So far, so good.

NOTE TO FRIENDS: We’re gone for the day. My cousins are in town, so we’ll be away until evening. Catch up with all of you tomorrow or late tonight! Have fun. We’re going to try, too.

FENCES, A MENDING WALL, AND OTHER BARRIERS

I hate to sound didactic, but I’m going to anyway. Robert Frost did not believe that “good fences make good neighbors.” That isn’t what the poem is about. His neighbor kept saying it, while Frost tried to tell him it isn’t true. His neighbor, however, had heard it from his father and would not listen.

Everyone quotes this poem. I often wonder how many people have actually read it all the way through.

Robert Frost says, in the first verse, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” among which Robert Frost could be counted. He agrees that sometimes, you need a wall to keep out wild creatures … or hunters … but finally, he gets to the end and points out ”

There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

His neighbor ignores him and Frost ends the poem by saying:

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Robert Frost doesn’t think good fences make good neighbors. He thinks good neighbors make good neighbors.


MENDING WALL

Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,

No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.

We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”


FENCE | THE DAILY POST

BELLWETHER – BY CONNIE WILLIS

Connie Willis_1996_Bellwether

I read Bellwether again. I finished it last night. Each time I read it — this is the 5th or 6th time — I learn something new. It is one of those books that doesn’t get old. Always funny, always wise. And always worth the effort and time.

Bellwether grabbed me from page one … from sentence one. Not merely was I highly entertained by the story, but I learned a lot about chaos theory, fads, sheep, and the meaning of “bellwether,” a term I’d heard and used — and misused — for years, but never entirely understood.

It was the bellwether and sheep connection I never got. What do I know about sheep? And why would I care? It turns out, sheep and people have an unnerving amount in common.

A bellwether is a leader of sheep, an über ewe, the sheep who the flock follows. There’s no discernible reason why a bellwether leads and nor any obvious reason why the flock follows. There is just something about that ewe.

What the bellwether does, other sheep do. The flock will follow her — mindlessly, blindly — over a cliff if that’s where she leads. The flock doesn’t know they are following the bellwether. They just do it.

Humans have bellwethers too. We no more recognize our bellwethers than does a flock of sheep. Still we follow them. An atavistic instinct, embedded in our DNA? Some are born to lead, others to follow. A very few will walk a unique path.

The book is laugh-out-loud funny. Erudite, witty, and replete with trivia guaranteed to upgrade your anecdotal skills.

Bellwether suggests answers to previously unanswerable questions. Why do people vote against their own self-interest? Why do we do so many stupid things? The answer? We’re following a bellwether. They are loose amongst us, invisible shakers and movers. Unaware of their effect on the people around them.

You should read this book. It also explains a lot of events throughout history which have never made any kind of sense. Even after you know all the facts of what happened, most of history still doesn’t make sense. When you add in a few critical bellwethers, it comes clear.

Human life, history and relationships are illogical. They just happen. We can explain them only in retrospect. That’s what historians are for, after all. To make sense of the past because it won’t make sense by itself. Human society is chaotic. The only predictable thing is unpredictability.

I found Bellwether original, insightful, amusing and thought-provoking. Highly entertaining and funny. I can’t imagine what more anyone could want from a book. I recommend it both in print (Kindle or paper) and audio. It is a book you will read and remember.

Then read it again. There’s more to it than you will get in a single reading.

NOTES FROM THE HOLODECK

For a long time, I followed writing prompts. I liked the challenge of finding something to say about a random topic. And I was interested to see the commonalities and differences between my thoughts and everyone else’s.

REUTERS/Noah Berger

REUTERS/Noah Berger

Lately, though, I want to write about other stuff. The crazy political stuff. The insanity of our failure to make any changes to our gun laws. The wild weather.

Talk about crazy. Insect plagues (not just here … all over the country) … and temperatures so high they turn forests to tinder. Flooding down the middle. Drought out west. Tornadoes threatening Chicago. Chicago? Mother Nature, like Howard Beale in “Network” screaming “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

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Network is a 1976 American satirical film written by the great Paddy Chayefsky. Directed by Sidney Lumet, it’s the story of a fictional television network willing to do anything and everything — including assassinating one of its own anchors on live television — to get better ratings. When the movie came out, it was almost science fiction. Now, except for not yet assassinating a reporter or anchor live during prime time, the rest seems tame compared to what’s truly going on.

Sometimes, I wonder if maybe Donald Trump was invented by TV network executives to get higher ratings for the news. It worked around this house. We hadn’t watched news on television — except for sports and weather — since Garry stopped being part of it.

Now, we watch the news every day just to see what new madness is in progress. “The Daily Show” seems more attuned to the surreal nature of current events than any of the standard stations.

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Not all that long ago, I had no trouble figuring out what was real and what was not. Now? There’s such a massive crossover between reality and “art,” I feel as if I’m living in the holodeck. In case you don’t remember (or never knew), the holodeck was a virtual reality facility on the Enterprise (especially on “Next Generation”). It was used to recreate environments — real and fictional — via “hard light” (solid and touchable) holograms.

holodeck

In our world, no such technology exists. Yet. So they tell us. Except that I’m beginning to wonder. Maybe this entire year is a creative exercise by some mad computer genius designing a world that could never be. Except … it does. Exist. And we are all living in it.

Or … maybe … we’ve slipped into an alternate dimension. Because this world cannot be real.

ANOTHER MIND-BLOWING DOCUMENTARY FROM MICHAEL MOORE – PART 2 by ELLIN CURLEY

This is part two about Michael Moore’s newest documentary, “Where To Invade Next.” In the movie, Moore travels around the world and reports about something wonderful from each country he visits. Last week, I wrote about the great working conditions for middle class Italians and Germans. Here I’m going to talk about some elements of the educational systems in Finland and France.

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Apparently Finland had a mediocre education system in the 1970’s. It ranked 29th in the world along with the United States. The Finns decided to make some extreme changes in their K-12 system and over the years they have worked their way up to Number 1 in the world in quality of education. We are still Number 29.

What did Finland do that worked so well? For one, they cut school hours and days back and now they have the shortest school week and school year. Yet they are Number 1 in performance. They also cut some other things – homework and standardized tests. This would be anathema in the U.S. But in Finland, the education system is now based on the premise that the best way to educate kids is to let them be kids. It is believed that kids need plenty of down time to exercise their imaginations as well as their bodies.

They also need to spend time playing with others to learn social skills and coöperation. Experimenting with music and art, baking, sports, carpentry, etc. are considered important parts of the curriculum. Why? Because they help kids discover what they like to do and what makes them happy. And that is the primary goal of Finnish teachers – to produce well-rounded and well-adjusted kids who have the ability to make themselves and others happy in life. It seems to be working. Remember, these kids tested highest of any country in the world.

Michael M FInland

Another amazing fact about the Finnish school system is that every school in the country is the same. There is no shopping around for good school districts. Private schools are prohibited so the wealthy have to make sure that every single public school is up to the standards they want for THEIR children. I understand that this is possible to achieve in a small, relatively homogenous population like Finland but is probably impossible to achieve in America. Nevertheless, the achievement is life changing for the Finns and truly enviable.

The French also have something awesome in their curriculum that made my jaw drop. Lunch. For all French children, even in the poorest school districts, lunch is a gourmet affair and a big part of the school day. Teachers and kids eat together around large tables set with actual china and glassware. Lunch is a full hour and consists of four courses – an appetizer, an entrée, a cheese course fit for a fancy restaurant and a dessert. Water is served with the meal (French kids rarely drink Coke.) The food is served at the tables to the children by the cafeteria staff. The dishes are all well-balanced and look and sound like they are from Michelin Star restaurants. Yet the food budgets in French schools are similar to school lunch budgets here. They do not spend more money than we do.

Michael M France

The faculty talked about the importance of teaching children what a balanced diet is and to be particular about what they put in their mouths. What a concept! No wonder the French have lower obesity levels, heart disease and diabetes than we do. No wonder they grow up into discerning foodies who see food as a sensual and enjoyable, as well as a necessary part of life. I don’t blame the average American as much now for being a food troglodyte – where are they supposed to learn anything about nutrition, vegetables or balanced meals? Certainly not in American schools. Good food is a major part of French culture. Fast Food is a major part of ours. Why should our schools be different than the rest of the society?

Michael Moore’s documentary gave me great hope for the world. Problems that we see as insurmountable, someone else has solved. Things that we think can’t be changed, have been changed for the better somewhere else. Moore shows that humans are capable of great things when the climate is right.

Opening minds is the salvation for the world – one issue at a time, one country at a time.