Tag: Childhood

Found Books


You know the feeling. You’re visiting a family or staying at a hotel, and you spot books. They draw you, and you pull out the most appealingly packaged volumes, start thumbing through, and read random interesting passages with no thought of discipline. Sometimes, you actually commit yourself to one. You sit down with it and read long sections, so absorbed that you stay up way past your bedtime. Case studies and examples are irresistible. Or you borrow the book, take it home, and read it from cover to cover. Can your found books and how you read them tell a story about your life?

My story away from home started with . . . well, no, actually, it goes farther back than that.  After I discovered reading, taught by my mom in our village home in Northeast Thailand, I always picked up books at friends’ houses. What else are you going to do when there’s no TV? One of my earliest memories was of a family visit with German friends in the mountains. In the kids’ room, I saw the row of colorful picture books and hesitated, remembering that this family spoke German. But I took a look anyway, and although the letters looked English, I realized I couldn’t decipher the text. My mom caused some momentary confusion when she said, “Did you see the books?!” And when I picked one up hopefully with the same indecipherable result, she laughed and said they were in German.

Mango Techniques and Coconut Graters


When I was a kid, the yearly calendar was a blur. I couldn’t predict when Christmas came, nor when mango season fell. Christmas arrived when my mom set out the plastic stable and snowman poster, and mango season was here when plates of fleshy ripe mangos appeared at our dinner table. My mom, all smiles, would point out her find and we would contemplate the fruit that were sometimes as long as my forearm.

A small orchard bordered our yard in town, a food source to which we’d given more thought to if we didn’t already have plenty to eat from the local open-air markets. As it was, we had a regular supply of fresh pork, chicken, and produce that made all the work of harvesting and preparing fruit unnecessary. Besides, the variety of mango from the trees that lined each side of our yard was not great for eating. When green, they were slightly sweet, meaning they weren’t the kind for slicing thin and plunging into fish sauce. I don’t remember them ripe, but if they had been as succulent as the market harvest during mango season, we would surely have gorged on them for weeks. The ones we brought from town, golden yellow and giving off a scent like warm honey, were the capstone to our evening meals.

That Summer I Lived on a Farm and Loved a Cat . . .


The summer I was twelve, our family lived on a farm in central New York. Our borrowed farmhouse days were sandwiched between two stints in town: we’d spent the school year in one side of a turn-of-the-century house with antique furniture, and the coming short winter days would find us–parents and four kids–in a small, spare apartment.

But for now, down a narrow rural road named after the owners of the farm, wildflowers and grass and airy summer blouses rippled in a warm breeze.  We sat on the porch steps, chatting with the grandmotherly proprietor as gentle sunlight slowly baked the land until the wind brought mellow scents of corn and hay.  There was a barn filled with bales to climb on, a cornfield across the street, and quiet woods beyond it.  A sway-backed horse named Susie cropped grass in a field–several decades old now, she was retired. And there was a certain tortoise-shell cat that ended up determining my feelings about the farm.

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Over on Jenna Stocker’s terrific post about Evil, the subject of my brother John came up. While I admit that the venue seemed apropos — and if you knew my brother like I know my brother, I’m sure you’d agree — I nonetheless resist the temptation to reply to the comments about him there, because […]

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Parenting Postscript: Our Best and Worst Decisions


In 1994, my dad introduced me to a friend of his and mentioned that I was engaged. My dad’s friend, with humor and kindness, told me, “Ah, yes. Marriage.  There’s nothing like marriage to show you who you really are.  Smokes you right out.”  All these years, I’ve  retained the image of a small frenzied mammal running back and forth in his tunnel until he finally pops out of his back door–heaving, exposed, and vulnerable–to gulp the fresh air.  Except in my case, it was not marriage, but parenthood that really smoked me out.

Christian blogger and author Tim Challies expressed it best when he described some challenges of being a parent as “muddling through.”  Yes–we can read all the books, survey parents we admire, attend Love and Logic conferences, determine to be kinder and gentler, ask for help on Facebook.  Yet, few children arrive as a neat, predictable package.  Each comes as a unique little creature, a complete person, yet pre-loaded with potential to be nurtured and developed over years.

Feasting Slowly, Part 2: Mountain Dreamer


In a previous post, I noted that I’d read only around half a dozen books in 2020. I always have something interesting going on my Kindle, so I was surprised to count 2020’s take and find it apparently took two months to finish each book. So to make myself feel better, I’ll say it’s not because I’m a slow reader. It’s that I savored these works, the way books should be consumed. Yeah, that’s it. At least I found satisfying items worth adding to your queue. Today I feature one written by a woman to whom I’m vaguely connected, a connection without which I might not have come across this story.

The Mountain Dreamer: (Published September 2020, by Rachel A. Steffen) This fictionalized account of the author’s real childhood in a remote mountain village in Thailand appealed to me on several levels. First, the writer’s parents preceded my parents’ cohort of missionaries to Thailand, working there since the ’60s. I had heard stories of how the country was less tame back then, that elephants figured into one’s travel plans, and I wanted to find out more about that life. Second, I knew the writer’s parents. They were classic figures of my growing up years–surely everyone in the world knew this couple, whom we called “Uncle” and “Aunt.” Occasionally, their pictures came up on Facebook, and they still looked the same. Encountering them in a book would be an experience, and fill in blanks for me about their early work and life. I had never known this oldest daughter of theirs; this story explains why she went back to the States at fourteen. Third, it was about an American child’s view of Thailand, something to which I could relate, having grown up there myself.

This account did not disappoint. The writer uses fiction to vividly tell a story of her childhood years in simple surroundings with much-loved village friends, and of the rustic means of doing everything from baking cookies to arranging a long ride on elephants’ backs to find medical care. I was pleasantly surprised at how the tool of fiction gave the story smoothness and momentum. It was a fitting choice for this narrative, even though I would not (probably could not) have done it myself. I learned a great deal about Uncle D. and Aunt J. and their work in that rugged region, enough to admire them even more. And I was surprised that although the author’s village was across the country from where I started life, many of our experiences were similar. We both went to school where the instruction was in standard Thai (although I never witnessed any beatings at mine). The lifestyle of the villagers, down to the basic clay stoves they used, sounded similar. And the candles and kerosene lamps at nighttime–yes. I spent evenings in their glow too, when I was little.

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A cheerful yet realistic summer blog entry I made when my daughters were little and giddy about getting out of school.  The first days after school let out, while my mind was full of deadlines and laundry, the girls were stoked about being out for the summer. So excited, in fact, that they went beyond […]

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Entertaining Angels: Life Comes Full Circle Edition


I had a peripatetic childhood, and by the time I finished high school I’d attended well over a dozen schools on three different continents, with time off for good behavior during a glorious year (in about third grade) where there wasn’t a school anywhere in sight. My mother, who was largely disinterested in her parenting responsibilities for most of her life, wasn’t really into the idea of homeschooling, and so I spent most of that year loafing with what few little English friends I had, and playing with the children of the Nigerian house staff. The following year I resumed school somewhere else, in the appropriate grade, with apparently no ill effects at all.

At some point though, when I was bored or lonely, I learned to find refuge in books.

I remember reading only one really childish picture book, although surely there were more. That book was Little Chick Chick, a tiny paperback about a small chick who disobeyed his mother, got himself lost, and ended up spending the night all alone in the pouring rain, hiding underneath an empty tomato soup can by the side of the road. Fortunately for my own mother’s sanity, his mother hen retrieved him the next day, slapped him upside the head with her wing, and all ended well. But before this happy outcome, and at each sight of poor Little Chick Chick shivering and desolate next to the tomato soup can, the two-year-old me would cry floods and floods of inconsolable tears.

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I ran across more of my posts from my old blogging days. This is from March 2007. My girls would have been about five and seven. I have blessedly forgotten some of these details, but am delighted to be reminded about the rest.  I’m lonesome this evening, with just my work deadlines and the pets […]

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QOTD: On Boyhood


“I have heard all my life long that boys should be encouraged to show their feelings, but they were mostly liars who said so. They never wanted me to show my real feelings. They are happy when boys weep, and when there is cause to weep, no man should look with scorn upon the boy who does so. They are content when boys say they are frightened. But if any boy should show the high-spirited feelings of disdain for what is mean and cowardly, or feelings of boyish anger against those who do wrong, or boyish contempt for mere softness and self-comforting, let alone boyish admiration for the hero, then all at once their care for feelings is nowhere to be found. Boys used to be taught to restrain the unruly and unhelpful passions and reject those that are unjust and foolish, and to nourish and direct those that are high-minded and generous and manly. Now it appears they are taught to repress the manly and nourish mere weakness. Voluble lies have replaced honest silence.”

– Anthony Esolen, Defending Boyhood

Getting Around in Thailand on Pedals


Thirty-five years ago, before helmets were ubiquitous and when bicycle passengers were the norm, a summons from my mother to ride with her to the market brought my own agenda to an end. I could be languishing in the shade, in my cool summer togs laying brick pathways in the dirt behind the flower beds. Or, we were entertaining friends, racing around the cement slab out back and trying not to stub our toes on a harsh metal pipe emerging from the middle of the patio. I might be reading when the call came, lying on my stomach on a wooden bench, sheltered from the sun by the overhanging roof, and re-living a Narnia volume or one of the many cheap Scholastic books we owned.

But I would drop everything when I heard the call. I’d trot into the garage, where my petite mom steadied the bike so I could clamber up onto the cushioned bench behind the seat. Then a couple of steadying pushoffs with her foot, a moment of balancing, and we’d sail out of the garage and down our driveway, navigating an unpaved road flanked by cinder block walls.

Silly Fears


All of us, regardless of how brave and rugged we may appear to others, have to deal with fears of all sorts throughout our lives. This post is about a fear I experienced. At its core, I think the fear I’ll be describing was about my being able to make it through what is a rite of passage in modern life: obtaining a Driver’s License and becoming a legal car driver.

At the time (late 1960s/early 1970s) and place (California) one could secure a Learner’s Permit at age 15-1/2 and a Driver’s License at age 16. The Learner’s Permit allowed you to drive a car only if you were accompanied by a responsible adult, while the Driver’s License allowed you to drive a car without any such restriction.

When Did You Learn About Santa?


I was a true believer in Saint Nick. After all, I had seen him with my own two eyes. One of my earliest memories was seeing the bearded one parading through our townhouse, clad in red and white, shouting “Ho! Ho! Ho!”

My sister and brother, older than me by three and five years respectively, were thrilled beyond belief. Four-year-old Jon-Jon was screaming in terror, hiding behind the second-floor banister. No idea why I reacted that way. I sat in Santa’s lap at the mall every year without issue and I was very pro-gift.

Seeing St. Nick in my own home still freaked me out. But at least I knew he was very, very real. As the youngest child, my family was determined to keep it that way.

When Did Librarians Get Woke?


Local Librarian // Image credit shutterstock.com

What image comes to mind when you think of or hear the word librarian? For me that image is of a conservative person (and truth be told always a woman). By conservative, I refer not to politics or ideology (I imagine librarians have always come in a variety of ideological flavors) but instead of one with a conservative sensibility or temperament which includes a certain respect for tradition and decorum. And, that makes sense (at least to me) for those who are charged with preserving and providing access to a significant portion of our cultural heritage. In recent years, however, that image is fading fast for me.

The Super Secret Hideout Fort


If you were anything like me growing up, one of your main modes of play with friends was identifying your super secret hideout, or at least get busy building one. Some of them were out in plain sight; no one was duped as to where you were playing. But other times, you might have managed to find a nifty clearing under low-hanging branches of a tree, or a little wooded area, or an old structure. These hideouts were often unsafe, of course. And although you talked it up often with friends who weren’t in on the secret location, most people over the age of twelve didn’t care a fig where you were playing, as long as you were quiet and stayed out of their way. Hideouts were good for that.

When I was seven, we commonly referred to a special location, which we believed was known to only an initiated few, as a “secret hiding place.” We built ours along one side of our house, next to the swing set on top of a large cement platform that covered the septic tank. I know what you’re asking: where was the supervision? They were glad to stay cool indoors, absorbed in their own tasks. The children could climb trees, launch off swings, and build secret hiding places on the septic tank with panels of sharp tin roofing as long as they played outdoors. There might be a ruptured kidney here and there, but that came with the territory.

A Little Local Color (Part 2)


Farewell, Colonel Brandon

My husband, observing several discrete piles of feathers behind our house, said, “Well, looks like something got one of our chickens.” It had been several years since a predator had made off with a chicken. Once, it was a fox. Our younger daughter thinks she saw it, boldly dashing away by daylight with a delectable hen in his jaws. Another time, we thought there was evidence that the thief had been a bear. We took action–played music near the coop, rigged bright lights that came on with movement at night–yet we could no longer feel at ease letting our chickens wander the property, an activity they seem to blissfully enjoy.

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I got inspired by an item I saw on Facebook. It would be interesting to get the Ricochet perspective with some light queries. You can choose to answer what you want and leave the rest.  Good advice from your father: Wash your hands with soap. (I was five and he did a whole walk-through with me […]

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I have a niece who’s five years old and a cheerleader. My wife wanted to see her perform, so yesterday we went a football game. Tiny boys of the same age, in shoulder pads, helmets, and uniforms with their names on the back, played a version of football (no kicking, passing, or keeping score) on […]

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I just finished Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean and the End of the Lane” for the second time. And I am left wishing that I could un-remember it as the protagonist does in the story.  This is just about as high-praise as I can give.  I want to forget the whole thing so that I can […]

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