I’ve been devouring my birthday present, a Kindle version of The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler. Instead of a list of top tens, he gives 200 suggestions from which to pick and choose – that’s my kind of book!  I love gathering support for my convictions from outside sources and ignoring what doesn’t jive.  Many ideas I’ve heard before (though he boldly predicted I would only know 25percent) but it’s always good to hear good ideas again.  I’ve highlighted in the Kindle along the way. Let’s see how easy that makes it to share my thoughts.  I don’t know how to put page numbers in, though!


On Agile in the Family

It bugs me to use “agile” as a noun, but it’s used that way in the business world, so Feiler uses it here to.  “In effect, what agile accomplishes is to accept that disorder and order live alongside each other.  By acknowledging things will go wrong, then introducing a system to address those wrongs, you increase the odds that the system – in this case the family - can work right.”

Hm, should that apply to my GTD system, too?


On the Weekly Family Meeting

I’d heard of this before, but our kids seem a little too young still.  That’s changing quickly.


““What works about the family meeting” he said, “is that it’s a regularly scheduled time to draw attention to specific behaviors.  If you don’t have a safe environment to discuss problems, any plan to improve your family will go nowhere.””


I like the format he proposes, short and simple (20minutes!).  Ask these three questions of each member of the family:

  1. What things went well in our family this week?
  2. What things could we improve in our family?
  3. What things will you commit to working on this week?


The stories of how this works in families and how children can contribute insights and innovative solutions are inspirational.


“The Agile Family Manifesto”

Feiler proposes these five points inspired by the original “Agile Manifesto” created by Jeff Sutherland and 16 other designers.

  1. Solutions Exist – we just have to go find them (and they might not come from anything directly related to family)
  2. Empower the Children – “Scientists at the University of California and elsewhere found that kids who plan their own time, set weekly goals, and evaluate their own work build up their prefrontal cortex and other parts of the brain that help them exert greater cognitive control over their lives.  These so-called executive skills aid children with self-discipline, avoiding distractions, and weighing the pros and cons of their choices.”
  3. Parents aren’t invincible – “’One thing that works in family meetings,’ David Starr told me, ‘is the kids are allowed to say whatever they want, even about the grown-ups.  If I’ve come back from a trip and am having trouble reentering the routine, or if Mom hasn’t been nice that week, this is their venue to express their frustration.’”
  4. Create a safe zone – “Every parent quickly learns that every child- and every adult- handles conflict differently.  Some push back when criticized, some turn inward, some break down in tears.  A key gift of the family meeting was to give us a designated space each week to overcome those differences.  It was a safe zone, where everybody was on an equal footing, and no one could leave until a resolution was forged.” (Emphasis mine. As someone who doesn’t like to leave unresolved conflict, I love this – both the safe part and the finish part.)
  5. Build in flexibility – The original “Agile Manifesto” states “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.”  Feiler notes “even the best designed system will need to be reengineered midstream.”  Oh so true! Why do I keep searching for the perfect system that will no longer need work?


More support for homeschooling and Dad coming home for lunch

“A university of Michigan report that examined how American children spent their time between 1981 and 1997, discovered that the amount of time children spent eating meals at home was the single biggest predictor of better academic achievement and fewer behavior problems. Mealtime was more influential than time spent in school, studying, attending religious services, or playing sports.”


The importance of telling your family history

This one we could work on.  I’ve internalized more of a “you are your own person” idea, which is also important, but we don’t come out of a vacuum.

“The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.”

Quoting psychologist Marshall Duke, expert in rituals and resilience: “The most healthful narrative is . . . the oscillating family narrative. ‘Dear, let me tell you, we’ve had ups and downs in our family . . . But we also had setbacks . . . But no matter what happened, we always stuck together as a family.’”

The other two narratives are a downward “we had it all and lost it” or the upward “we started out with nothing and made our way to the top.”  Honestly, I remember lots of stories, but no narrative.  We just – were.  Sis, if you get time to read this, do you remember?

 “Marshall and Robyn point out that dinner is an ideal time to give kids this family history.  Everyone’s together, it’s a safe environment; it’s easier for children to hear about their family’s ups and downs while they’re in a nurturing environment doing something reassuring.  And nothing is more reassuring than eating.”

Ah, that explains chocolate as a comfort food . . .

But Feiler makes the point that what you talk about is more important than when and where you gather.

Feiler gives lots of tips for encouraging dinnertime conversations (or breakfast conversations is dinnertime is chaos in your family).  The list alone is worth the price of the book.


Another one for homeschooling and socialization

“Since a primary goal of family meals is socializing children, try to get the kids to do as much talking as possible.” (as opposed to letting adults dominate the conversation.)  So, if kids do best academically if they eat more meals at home, and kids are more socialized if the eat at home, then . . .why shouldn’t I be able to keep my kids out of school altogether?


“Pass the Ketchup”

“By watching others, including Mom and Dad, navigate ups and downs in real time, children develp empathy and solidarity with those around them.”  Acknowledging that not everyone likes having to share the good and the bad, he quotes a response by Marshall Duke:

“First of all, I agree that if children are feeling a real trauma about something, you shouldn’t force them to talk about it.  We have good data on this.  Otherwise . . . the most important thing we can give our children, at dinnertime or anytime, is a sense of perspective.  Children take their cues from us.  When they’re young and they hear a loud noise, they don’t look where the noise came from, they look at us. If you’re not upset, they’re not upset. . . When a child tells you something bad happened at school, sometimes the best thing to say is ‘Pass the ketchup.’  It’s your way of saying, there’s no reason to panic.  You can handle this, just like I handled things like this.  Then, once you’ve taken the panic out of the air, once you’ve put the ketchup on your French fries, then you can begin the conversation.”


I love this. I don’t rush in when my kids fall, but with my sensitive empathy bone, I do rush in when someone has sustained emotional hurt.  I love that “pass the ketchup” and then being willing to talk about it can convey so much more empathy and confidence than trying to express it in a tumble of words.

Posted by harp on Saturday, April 19, 2014 at 9:51 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 638 times | Comments (6)
Category Family: [first] [previous] Review: [first] [previous]

This won’t be much of a review as two-handed time is scarce around here, but here are two quotes that struck me.  The whole book is an enjoyable read and well worth the time.  Rubin gets a lot of things right and her vulnerability makes her story approachable and inspiring.


On page 147 she quotes Simone Weil.

“Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring.  Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.”


Here’s a quote that supports the idea that kids learn best when they are interested, which is one of my main reasons for wanting to homeschool as the low student to teacher ratio allows for capitalizing on the moments when the child has interest and energy.

From page 228

“Samuel Johnson observed, ‘If we read without inclination, half the mind is employed in fixing the attention; so there is but one half to be employed on what we read.’  Science backs this up.  When researchers tried to figure out what helped third- and fourth-graders remember what they read, they found that the students’ interest in a passage was far more important that the ‘readability’ of the passage – thirty times more important.”

Posted by harp on Monday, September 2, 2013 at 8:52 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 757 times | Comments (3)
Category Review: [first] [previous] [newest]

With baby staying snug inside, I have a little time to catch up. Here another review of a book I read ‘way back in April.


I heard of this book from my brother-in-law (P) and am ever-so-grateful that he gave it to me as they lightened their possession before their move to Canada.  P warned me that Hodgkinson is a bit provocative, but I didn’t find him all that extreme (or does that just prove how extreme I am?).  Unfortunately, I read it back in April and my brain is in full-term pregnancy dysfunction, so I won’t be able to do justice to all the ideas I wanted to share from the book, but I highly recommend it if you still have kids.  He gives some good reasons not to go along with many unquestioned assumptions of our time, which could provide you with the strength you need to follow your gut rather than your peers (at least it did for me.)  Here I try to revisit it and pull out the main ideas that inspired me.


I should warn, however, that like the minimalist movement and Free-Range parenting, I find it inspirational to know how far you can go and still live a good life, but it doesn’t mean I want to go that far myself.  Someone lives well with 7 pieces of clothing, so that shows me that I can certainly get rid of half my clothes and do just fine, but I don’t feel any pressure to go as low as 7.  Just knowing it can be done breaks the mold enough for me to expand my thinking to include greater possibilities, and that I always appreciate whether I decide to follow or not.


Perhaps the main reason I love Hodgkinson is that he share my idea that I can choose what I want to do and find some study to support it, feeling free to ignore those studies that contradict it.  He puts is slightly differently, saying have no ideologies but rather use studies and philosophies to support your desires and laziness, but comes to about the same thing, doesn’t it?  He might go a bit too far in his pursuit of pleasure, but he has a good point that we’re too serious, work too hard, and have forgotten the pleasures for the whole family when we laze about at home rather than seek the latest entertainment thrill.


I definitely feel the pressure from society to attend to every need of my children.  I work hard all day I know my kids could do more, but I’m already making them do more than my peers do, so it’s hard to expand the imagination of what more they could be doing.  A good illustration of how Hodgkinson’s idea of “laziness” can crate competent children happened while I was sitting on the couch reading the book.  Joseph (2) cried “milk” as I read a sentence about being lazy, so I decided to try it out.  I said “sure, get it yourself” and sure enough, he went to the fridge, got the milk, poured it with only a minor spill, and I learned my lesson that laziness can help you discover what your kids are capable of.  I also have the great model from my sister’s family of what kids can learn if you give them the chance, but unfortunately, they live too far away to see them in everyday life to be regularly inspired.  Tapping into my laziness seems like another good way stretch the kids’ capabilities.


On to some specifics from the book that struck me – but don’t assume I agree 100 percent with them!


First a summary from the end of the book:


“My idle parent idea really is to bring back strength, well-being, fulfillment, satisfaction and happiness not just to children but to parents as well.  Disappointed parents are the worst, because they get pushy, hoping that their kids will succeed where they themselves failed.  Above all, I think, we need to teach by example, not with authority.” P221.


Posted by harp on Saturday, August 10, 2013 at 7:05 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 975 times | Comments (0)
Category Review: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

Note: I read the book and wrote this review in April but never finished the “processing” I claimed to need to finish the review.  With baby knocking at the door (no, I’m not in labor yet) I’m claiming GEIBTP and publishing the review as-is.


I have a tough time processing this one.  On the one hand, Pink is saying things that need to be heard and has a lot right, on the other hand, I can’t shake the feeling that he’s oversimplified things and has started to talk louder rather than address doubters’ questions.  I got that feeling from his TED lecture and was hoping the book would go into more detail.  Unfortunately, the book is a fluffier version of the TED lecture, with the same examples and repeated phrases “There’s a gap between what science knows and what business does.”  I didn’t need more proof that external motivators are often demotivating and that though all children are motivated to learn (walking and talking being magnificent achievements with no force or bribes necessary) and I’m willing to accept without detailed proof that schools are the ones that stamp out that internal motivation to produce the lazy adults we see in the world today, but the answer of what’s needed is far more complex than “just trust people.”  Pink admits that in a small subset of tasks external motivators work, but his analysis of when internal motivation flourishes is severely lacking.  He sites one study where offering money reduced the number of people willing to give blood but only acknowledges in the footnote that it only made a difference for women – the donation rate for men remained the same.  Why?  That seems to me to be an important question.  Also, he mentions how one company that moved to giving their employees a great deal of autonomy lost a few people because they couldn’t handle the freedom.  Why?  I think Pink would say that those people were Type X (externally motivated) and need to learn to be Type I (internally) but this very admission that some are Type X and some are Type I and even though we all were born Type I and most of us want to be there again doesn’t mean we can ignore the fact that many people are trained to be Type X and suddenly giving them autonomy will not make them Type I.  The problem is much more complicated than that.  The conflict between business and science is in part because the science is incomplete.  (As an aside, it drives me nuts that he assumes readers will see Type I and Type X as “type i” and “type ex” when it seems to my any educated reader would immediately see roman numerals.  I still say “type one” in my head when I read Type I.)


Posted by harp on Friday, August 9, 2013 at 8:03 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 625 times | Comments (0)
Category Review: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

Monica introduced me to the Project-Based Homeschooling blog and I liked Lori’s work enough to ask for the book for my birthday, which I got.  I read it through but I’m guessing it’s real worth will show when I actually try to implement some of the ideas and get stuck or need specific information and inspiration.  It’s easy to say “yeah, that makes sense” but then when you get your hands dirty all kinds of questions pop up.


It’s a little hard to sum up what Lori’s concept is, but I think part of that is because it is not a prescription for homeschooling or curriculum.  Her ideas can be used by any homeschooler of any age, though they line most strongly with the unschooling idea that children can be trusted to learn on their own with the proper resources and guidance.  The quote on the back says “Raising Relentless Learners. To connect with meaningful work, your child must become an expert thinker and learner.”  Lori’s project concept is fairly open-ended, but it has some important elements: the child picks the topic; the child leads the project, deciding how deep to dig and when to stop; the adult supplies the child with what he asks for and takes notes of the child’s ideas to help remind him of them later; the adult creates the physical space and the space in the schedule dedicated to project work, but the child is free to use the time as he pleases; the adult is more an observer and a resource than a teacher and is repeatedly told to stay out of it and let the child learn from his mistakes and come up with and try his own solutions.  Quotes might do a better job of giving a glimpse of what it’s about.


“Allowing children to learn about what interests them is good, but helping them do it in a meaningful, rigorous way is better.” P.11


Child-led doesn’t mean giving them “meaningless choices [like] ‘Do you want to be in this group or that group?’ ‘Do you want to do this activity or that activity?’. . . [Children with these choices aren’t] directing or managing the project or their own learning.  And they [know] it.” p.13-14


“Older children who are new to project work may be suspicious about your motives. Most children are familiar with how fast adults can suck the fun out of any subject by making it educational.” P.22 (emphasis mine)


“By starting with relaxed exploration, you’ve separated the process of learning about the material from using it for a purpose to meet a specific goal. This is an important part of project-based homeschooling: breaking down the learning process and getting to understand how it works. Before we create something important, there are a lot of smaller steps we have to take.  This is how we master a skill, a tool, a material, a technique – through play, through practice, through making and fixing mistakes.” P.37


“Without being told, she notices what gets your attention.  She sees that you care enough about her work to write about it in your journal, to photograph it, to talk with her about it seriously.  Where you focus your attention sends a clear message about what you value.” P. 41  This one is so true! We try to encourage our kids with praise, but what really speaks to them is how seriously we take their work and how we talk about it with others.  I see my influence – both good and bad – on Joseph’s love of numbers among other things, and it is abundantly clear that my implicit attention and focus is far more influential than my explicit attention.  Scary, but an important life lesson!  “Do as I say not as I do” doesn’t work for a similar reason.


More on Lori’s definition of “project-based.”

“In a non-authentic project, children might be required to design a pretend ad campaign, write a pretend newspaper article, or videotape a pretend news broadcast.  In authentic project work, the representations aren’t pretend. They’re real.  They aren’t assigned.  Your child makes something genuine according to his own ideas and plans.  He builds something because he wants it or needs it.  He does real work for a real purpose.” P.59

This rings so true to me. Part of why I dropped out of high school is that it was a lot of work making meaningful work out of the assignments I got, and having had six years of freedom to pursue meaningful work, I had a hard time putting the yoke of “just do it because I said so” on my neck.  Years later I learned the value of just doing something without having to work up a passion for it (who needs to be passionate about clean bathrooms?), but my best and most enjoyable work is still that which is full of meaning and has a purpose.  “Pretend ad campaign” – gag!


“Empty space is full of possibilities.” P.79 I’m working on it!!!


“Hopefully, everything you want for your child, you also want for yourself: intellectual curiosity, playful learning, passion, and purpose.  Let your life reflect your values, because your child will take his most serious lessons from the way you live.” P.98  It’s not over for me!  If I want my kids to do meaningful work, I have to do meaningful work.  The project challenge is for me as well!  And it be honest, it’s a little scary.  Waiting until Joseph is five and working through a curriculum sounds safer . . . but Lori says kids as young as 3 can do great project work – that means I have two months to fix myself before I have to worry about Joseph! j/k We will work on this together, and I have a feeling I’ll be learning a lot from him . . .


“Adults are in a hurry.  They like work to be linear and organized.  They like planned outcomes.  They enjoy making lists and checking each item off.  They like to tsk-tsk over children and their short attention spans, even when they themselves get bored almost immediately when a child wants to linger.” P.105-6 (emphasis mine)  So true!!  I’ve learned to slow WAY down since having kids and I LOVE it.  It’s required quite an adjustment, but it is well worth it.  Grocery shopping isn’t a chore, it’s an hour-long adventure, and we all enjoy it.  The key is making the time for it to take that much time (and then not feeling the need to take the kids to some other amusement that’s just for ‘fun’ and costs lots of money.)


“Rather than learning the same tired handful of common facts about a subject (and soon forgetting them), your child digs beneath the surface to learn exciting new things that not everyone knows – things he can then share with his friends and family.  Rather than remaining a novice, your child slowly acquires the understanding and authority of an expert.” P.107


“Children, even when very young, have the capacity for inventive thought and decisive action.  They have worthwhile ideas.  They make perceptive connections.  They’re individuals from the start: a unique bundle of interests, talents, and preferences.  They have something to contribute.  They want to be a part of things.  It’s up to us to give them the opportunity to express their creativity, explore widely, and connect with their own meaningful work. . . Rather than expecting children to seek out a balanced life all on their own, we can help them live it.  We can create an everyday life that prioritizes what we value most.  We can help our children grow up experiencing creativity, inquiry, and making ideas happen as part of their normal, everyday life, from their earliest days.  We can help them life a life based on learning and doing.” P.131-2


“The best way to increase the odds that your child will live a certain way is to live that way yourself.  The best way to raise readers is to read.  The best way to raise doers is to do.  The way to raise active, engaged learners is to be an active, engaged learner.  If you want to help your child learn how to finish – and it might be the most important lesson in this book – you must become a person who finishes.” P.134


So I will finish this post.


My own concerns revolve around how artsy the whole thing is since I am not artsy or craftsy and while I agree that quality art supplies are better than cheap ones, I wince at the idea of keeping recyclable and random materials around for project use.  I just don’t have the space!  For now, I’m still decluttering – I can build up a base of junk if Joseph gets strongly interested in doing projects this way.  I do understand at least a little that children use their hands to process and understand their world and that making physical things is a major component.  I lost that ability too early, but will have to rediscover it enough to feed it in my children.


UPDATE: Please note that due to spam I have had to close comments to this post.  Please contact me if you would like to make a comment.  I welcome comments, but 100+ spam in one day is too much to sift through.

Posted by harp on Wednesday, May 8, 2013 at 6:32 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 2426 times | Comments (8)
Category Review: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

As always, reviews get longer than intended, so I’ve put in headings to help those who would rather scan quickly than get all the details.




I am deeply indebted to David Allen, author of Getting Things Done (GTD), a concept of organizing every aspect of life into a system you can trust.  I used to constantly worry and could never take a break without feeling guilty, and my life is more organized, peaceful, and even hopeful than it was before I implemented many of his ideas.  Sometimes I think it was so helpful because I just didn’t know the first thing about what to do with the papers coming in and how to take notes and organize anything.  If you’re naturally organized I don’t think you can understand the stress it is for those of us who are organizationally challenged to hold an object or piece of paper, or look at an email or a to do list and not have the faintest idea where to put it or how to deal with it such that it won’t be forgotten.  But I’ve written much about GTD elsewhere and you know I am a big fan of the version for moms available at Power of Moms, so I’ll move onto my thoughts on Allen’s follow-up book Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and the Business of Life.




Allen has a lot of things right, but he has a great weakness, but that very weakness may turn out to be his greatest strength.  David Allen suffers from what is called “the curse of knowledge.”  It is important to understand the concept, so I will quote a good chunk of the Wikipedia entry:

“The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias according to which better-informed people find it extremely difficult to think about problems from the perspective of lesser-informed people. The term was coined by Robin Hogarth.  In one experiment, one group of subjects "tapped" a well-known song on a table while another listened and tried to identify the song. Some "tappers" described a rich sensory experience in their minds as they tapped out the melody. Tappers on average estimated that 50% of listeners would identify the specific tune; in reality only 2.5% of listeners could identify the song.  Related to this finding is the phenomenon experienced by players of charades: The actor may find it frustratingly hard to believe that his or her teammates keep failing to guess the secret phrase, known only to the actor, conveyed by pantomime.”

Allen has great ideas, and he knows that his ideas can be adjusted to any situation, but he has trouble getting out of his own head in order to express the full depth of his ideas.  He has a brilliant song in his head, but shares it in taps, and a great number of people see the potential in his tapping and a great number dismiss it as a racket.  The first few chapters of Making It All Work support my theory brilliantly, and with all due respect to a man who has changed my life for the better, I will illustrate this particular weakness to you, and explain why I think it turns out to be an asset.




Posted by harp on Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at 3:42 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 989 times | Comments (6)
Category Review: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

What happens when a smart, educated, but musically inept psychology professor attempts to learn guitar and write a book about it?  You get a fascinating glimpse of what it takes to learn music and the challenges it poses for the beginner, learn a whole lot about how and why humans learn complicated skills, and come away inspired that anything might be possible if you put in the time and effort.


As a professional musician who doesn’t even remember learning to read music, I was not once bored by this account that is accessible to people who know nothing about music.  Since Marcus learned even the basics of music as an adult, his take on something as simple as a scale is thought-provoking.  As one unfamiliar with the pop and jazz traditions, most of the names and songs mentioned were unknown to me, but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book (and the names I did know usually came with an explanation – go figure.)  Guitar Zero is an engaging account of Marcus’s journey first to find if it is even possible to learn music as an adult, and then inspiringly, to become a musician who could improvise and compose (if not make big bucks).  His story acts as a skeleton on which to hang all sorts of information related to music and the science of learning.  He discusses such questions as whether kids are better than adults at learning music and other complex skills; what’s the best way to teach music; what makes good music; what makes a good musician and which skills are necessary and which are not; whether talent exists or practice is all that matters; and whether or not music is closely related to language and as such whether we are born with some predisposition for music making or not.  He discusses each of the questions with plenty of examples, studies, and opinions of accomplished musicians of all kinds.  With 27 pages of references for a 234 page book, this is no mere “how I did it” account, which leads me to one of the main reasons the book works so well.


It takes a colossal amount of humility to learn something as complex as music for the first time when you’re nearly 40.  Marcus never mentions this (how can you mention humility without destroying it?), but he has a good share of it, as evidenced by his willingness to be the underdog with group of 11 year olds for the chance to play in a band.  That is something most adults would never contemplate and I believe such an attitude of childlike acceptance is part of why Marcus was so successful and why so many famous musicians accepted his requests for interviews and helped him on his journey.  The book is also blessedly free of anything close to profanity, which for a modern book about (much more than) rock music, is exceedingly rare.  Not to mention the fact that if anything is to elicit cursing, surely learning to contort your fingers on a fretboard for the first time (not to mention everything else involved in learning music) is one of them!


Guitar Zero provoked so many thoughts I cannot possibly share them all, but here is an attempt to get a few down.


 First, I must apologize for calling him “musically inept” at the start of this review.  As a child Marcus may never have had a teacher willing to stick with him despite his lack of talent, but he was always an avid listener, and as he concludes at one point in the book, listening is the critical foundation necessary for learning any kind of music.  From this perspective, he had a leg up and was by no means ignorant, though he lacked formal music training, but as he also points out, in music, lessons are optional.  Many famous musicians never had a lesson in their lives, or never learned any music theory, or learned it late in life.  In this and other observations Marcus is spot on, much to the embarrassment of professionals like me trained in the classical tradition, but he lets us down gently, which I appreciate.  For example, he starts the section about teaching music by lavishing praise on a gifted Suzuki teacher and naming all the elements of her teaching that make her great.  Only after several pages of praise for this teacher and her students does Marcus go on to name a few of the drawbacks of Suzuki training.  It’s worth quoting:

“Another drawback of Suzuki instruction is that it typically tends to teach children little or nothing about improvisation.  Much as in the classical conservatory tradition, the emphasis is largely on playing the great works as the great musicians played them, rather than developing a student’s own ideas, and while there is indubitably value in that, there is also considerable value in each individual student learning that he or she can make his or her own music.  In my own case, the discovery of the joys of improvisation have outweighed virtually all else, yet many musicians trained in the classical style (be it through Suzuki or lessons at Juilliard) feel that they have never learned to improvise.  I can’t help but feel that they are missing out on some of the greatest joy that music can bring.  Another common complaint about Suzuki, which worries me less, is that children trained in that method often don’t learn to read music; true, but to my mind not as essential (as I will explain later.)”

I find his words painfully accurate.  As much as I appreciate my music training, I have often felt only half a musician because I don’t compose or improvise.  (Thankfully Marcus doesn’t call me half a musician, he just says I’m “missing out”.)  Being an excellent sight-reader gave me a number of gigs and was indispensable in orchestral playing, but I still felt the lesser musician amongst my Irish-American friends who could play for hours from the music in their heads.  If you put me in a room without a music stand, I could hardly play a note, and in that I was not alone.  What’s worse, the more you know about music, and the better you play, the more you know any improvisational and compositional attempts you make to be vastly inferior.  I’m reminded of my English students in Japan who could hardly speak a word of English, but not for lack of knowledge.  The all knew the mistakes of any poor kid who dared open his mouth, but could do no better themselves.  In this case I think ignorance is bliss.  You must practice production early on in the process of learning something, or you will be forever trapped by your increasing knowledge of how inept you are.  Here is where I wish I had Marcus’s humility.  Who cares if what I compose is junk?  It won’t get better if I don’t practice!


And speaking of practice, Marcus doesn’t find the 10,000 hour idea of Anders Ericsson (made famous by Malcolm Gladwell in his book ‘Outliers’) to be very convincing.  He gives an impressive list of counter examples: some people just get it faster than others.  Some people never hit the big time despite the hours.  Good practice is still essential, and Marcus defines it in a more helpful way than “perfect practice makes perfect.”  He defines effective practice as targeting your weaknesses and learning new skills (as opposed to just rehearsing what you already know.)  What’s more, the set of complex skills needed for making music requires significant changes in the brain, and that takes time, both of intensity and duration.  He realized his only hope of learning to play would be to become immersed himself in it.  A few minutes, or even hours once a week wouldn’t cut it.  You just forget what you learn in the space between sessions and have to do the work over again.  Here’s one quote related to what happens in the brain as you practice.


“Alas, the only known way to defy the speed-accuracy trade-off is through practice, using the only technique that the brain can bring to bear, a process known as automatization or proceduralization, in which the brain makes a transition from explicit or “declarative” knowledge, which can in principle be verbally articulated (albeit slowly), to implicit or “procedural” knowledge, which can be executed rapidly.  As knowledge becomes proceduralized, we sometimes feel as if we know something in our fingers or muscles but lose the capacity to explicitly explain what is going on.”


The last thoughts I’ll share (if you’re still with me) are more question than opinion.  In the teaching section Marcus concludes that the teacher is more important than the method.  I find this terrifying.  Does a method only work if the teacher is talented?  I guess that answer is fairly obvious, no method can survive a bad teacher, but if it’s not method, but teacher, is teaching teachable, or not?  How many students have bad teachers because most teachers wanted to be performers, not teachers, and what’s that doing to our kids?  If the teacher is more important than the method, would parents make the best teachers because they know their kids the best?  Marcus cites a study that kids learn best when the have success 80% of the time.  If it’s too easy or too hard they get bored or frustrated.  It seems to me as a parent you have the best chance as gauging the 80% for your child, and it surely seems that this study spells doom for classroom teaching.  How on earth could you keep each kid at 80%?  Of course the idea of teaching your own kids begs the question of how much musical ability the parent needs.  For a teacher to point out a weakness or share a more efficient fingering, the teacher must know at least a little bit more than the child.  How much more?  Suzuki uses the parents to help kids practice effectively (and regularly, which is also key for making progress) by keeping them one step ahead of their child and it works.  Do you just need to know when you’ve reached your limit?  Remembering the observation that lessons seem to be optional, and it seems that anything goes as long as the student has drive.


And speaking of drive, what makes someone put in the thousands and thousands of hours to learn music?  Marcus squarely refutes the Freudian idea that we make music to win girls.  Music making brings a high that is far above sexual fulfillment.  Hurray for him!  I can’t do his arguments justice here, but it was refreshing to read such a clear and scientific explanation of why Freud’s ideas are simplistic and misguided.  Marcus concludes (and I heartily agree) that the reason why we make music is a far more complex and subtle question, and it’s worth reading the book to find out.

Thanks to Monica who let me borrow the book!

Posted by harp on Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 2:35 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 1431 times | Comments (10)
Category Philosophical Musings: [first] [previous] [newest] Music: [first] [previous] Review: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

The Power of Moms is offering a FREE Mind Organization for Moms program to one lucky reader of this post.  Details on how to enter are given at the end of this review.  Good luck!  Enter by October 31st to qualify.  The givaway is now CLOSED.

The Power of Moms Mind Organization Program

Mind Organization for Moms (M.O.M. for short)

You all know what a big fan I am of David Allen’s Getting Things Done.  In a world littered with papers, his way of organizing life as it comes at you is the best nuts-and-bolts system I’ve come across.  The only problem is, his book is not for the faint hearted.  Everything you need to organize your life is there, but you have to do a little work to figure out how to make it happen.  Enter April Perry, co-founder of the Power of Moms website.  As a mother of young children and a fan of Getting Things Done (GTD for short), she did what I only thought about doing, she designed a simple, step-by-step program for helping busy and overwhelmed mothers get control of their mountains of papers and endless to-do lists by using the principles set forth in Getting Things Done but tailored toward the chaotic wonderfully spontaneous lives of mothers rather than the comparatively straight-forward (in my humble opinion) business world that Allen address in his book.  M.O.M is not affiliated with the David Allen Co. but good for them for giving April permission to make her own product with GTD ideas.

There is not much in the M.O.M program that you can’t figure out for yourself after reading Allen’s book, but not without much time and effort.  I’ve been adapting my GTD system for the life of a mom for the better part of two years and what I’ve got working now is quite similar to what the M.O.M. program explains in a 27 page eBook.   The start-up eBook is FREE, but if that leaves you hungry for more, you can purchase the Mind Organization for Moms online program and get many more resources, case studies, and pep talks as well as personal help.  For those familiar with GTD, the eBook might be enough to get you going, but if you’re new to the ideas I suspect you’ll need the details and illustrations of the full version.

What will M.O.M. do for me?

In short, following M.O.M. will give you a clean desk and peace of mind.  You’ll have a home for each piece of paper that’s currently flying around your home and you’ll know where to find them when you need them, as well has have a system you can trust for getting things done in a timely fashion.  It won’t solve all your problems (remember garbage in garbage out), but it will free you up from a lot of the busy work and details that keep you from being fully present with your family.

Warning: What M.O.M. is NOT

M.O.M. is not a life coach.  It is based on Getting Things Done, which is aptly named.  It’s not called “Getting important things done” or “How to live a full life.”  Nobody complains that their new car is no good because it doesn’t drive the kids to soccer practice on its own.  The car is a great tool for helping mom go where she wants to go with her family.  In a similar way GTD and M.O.M will not tell you what to do each moment of the day.  That question is purposefully left up to the reader, which is something I appreciate.   What you should be doing with your life is a question that you need to look elsewhere to find the answer to.  M.O.M. and GTD simply give you the organizational tools you need to steer your life in the direction you believe it needs to go.  It does this by letting you see at a glance all the projects and commitments you have set for yourself and providing an easy and efficient way to make progress on them and keep them organized and at your fingertips.

What does M.O.M. look like?

I’ll let the author herself answer that question.  This video is a good overview of how the program is structured.

What will a M.O.M. purchase give me?

Go to their website for more details, but in essence the basic version (also sometimes called the “full program” on the website) includes

  • An Instant Download of the Mind Organization for Moms eBook, An Expandable, Online Version of the eBook,
  • Access to the Sharing Center and Q & A Section
  • A full Video Tutorial
  • A monthly e-Newsletter from the program founder, April Perry
  • Access to past newsletters, our M.O.M. Flow Chart, house-cleaning routines, and plenty of extra downloads to make your experience absolutely wonderful.

The premium version includes all of the above as well as the M.O.M. in Two Weeks program, which is step-by-step coaching for implementing the M.O.M program in only two weeks.

I recommend the basic version for most people.  Those who feel especially intimidated about getting organized, or appreciate pep talks and prefer having someone tell them what to do might do well with the premium program.  People who find pep talks patronizing are better off without. (Read: Mom, don’t get the premium package.)

Do you have anything negative to say about M.O.M.?

There’s not much to complain about and the pros far outweigh the cons, but for what it’s worth I did find it a little confusing at first to figure out where to begin and how to access all the information, but I don’t spend much time in the online world and I’m used to reading a book cover to cover.  In the end I found everything and was able to pick and choose which resources I wanted to spend my time with.  The videos are certainly helpful for getting a better visual of what they're talking about.  Partly as a consequence of having all the information available in different formats, sometimes there are inconsistencies such as calling a folder “Action” in one place and “Immediate Action” in another.  This can be confusing if you’re following step-by-step instructions.  Supposedly they fix bugs as they get feedback.

I also had problems viewing the Vimeos at first and my email question about it was never answered, but now I have no trouble seeing the Vimeos and all other correspondence was answered in a timely fashion.

As for content, it’s pretty true to the GTD concept, though as it is streamlined for mothers it necessarily drops some content.  For example, M.O.M. only mentions a 12-folder tickler (one for each month) and in so doing it misses a lot of the mind-freeing benefits of a full 43-folder tickler (for each day of the month and month of the year).  That’s a pity, but no matter what system you start with you’re bound to be tweaking and fixing it for the rest of your life.  You have to find and implement what works for you.

To Buy or Not To Buy?

As of this writing the basic program is 50USD and the full program is 75.  Both programs come with a no-questions-asked, 30-day money back guarantee.

You might balk at the price for some online material, but presenting information in a simple and clear way takes time and energy.  Inventing solutions takes even more time and energy, so buying the ideas of others is often well worth the money.  If April’s introductory video or free start-up ebook intrigues you then I say it’s worth investing in the program.  If you already have a similar system or her voice and manner of speaking annoy you, I bet you’d still learn something but it might not be worth the investment of time and money.   I already had a pretty good system so I didn’t learn a great deal, but I was re-inspired and received validation for some of the changes to GTD I had already made.  If you’re still not sure if you want to spend the money, then do what I did: agree to write a review and giveaway for your blog and you can get the program for free.  Go here to purchase.

How to enter to win a free Premium Mind Organization for Moms program.

To enter the giveaway, make a comment to this post explaining why you want to get more organized or what you find difficult about getting organized.  The winner will be announced shortly after the October 31st deadline for entry.  Be sure to include your email address when you comment so I can get in touch with you and give you your prize (email addresses will not be published).

Good luck, happy organizing, and tell your friends about the giveaway!

UPDATE: The giveaway is now closed.  Thanks for your comments and congratulations to the winner of the Mind Organization for Moms premium program: Pami of Maricopa, AZ!

Disclosure: As of this writing I have no affiliation with M.O.M. or the David Allen Company and will change this disclosure should that change. UPDATE Nov. 3 2012: I have become affiliated with Power of Moms and will receive a portion of any sales generated by this website.  The original wording of this post has not been altered in any way.

Posted by harp on Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 1886 times | Comments (12)
Category Review: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

. . . is another smashing hit for Dr. James Schall, author of “Another Sort of Learning: Selected Contrary Essays on How Finally to Acquire an Education While Still in College or Anywhere Else: Containing Some Belated Advice about How to Employ Your Leisure Time When Ultimate Questions Remain Perplexing in Spite of Your Highest Earned Academic Degree, Together with Sundry Book Lists Nowhere Else in Captivity to Be Found.

I’ve picked a number of books from his list and only one has disappointed me (but I’m still reading it – it’s been in the bathroom nearly two years and is several inches thick).  All the others have been challenging, refreshing, and well worth the read.  I was nervous about “How to Read a Book” since it sounds a bit boring and even my mother couldn’t get through it, but I have achieved a childhood dream: I’ve completed and even appreciated a book that my neither my mother, nor my sister, nor my father had ever read.  I remember trying to read “Little Women” once because nobody else had read it and it look like a big, adult thing to read.  I didn’t last a few pages, but with How to Read a Book I was riveted nearly from the start enough to find the time even as a young mother to read it in about a month.

This review, however, is longer in coming because I don’t know how to do it well.  I’ll take the cop out and say I won’t try.  I’ve mentioned on Stephan’s blog how it gave me permission to intelligently skim through books that I suspected weren’t worth the time it would take to read them thoroughly.  Adler’s commendation to “read well, not widely” gives me permission to pick a few good books, keep them around, and know them well rather than worry about covering all that’s out there – an especially difficult task when I don’t live in an English speaking country and have limited access to English books.  I’m a slow reader and various attempts to learn to speed read have all failed, but Adler points out that every part of every written document requires more or less speed.  There is no one right speed.  Some things require a very slow reading or you do it an injustice – like the Bible.  Others require a fast reading or you’re wasting your time.  Even within the same book some parts need a more careful reading than others.

I keep using the phrase “gave me permission” as an attempt to express that these are things I’ve felt for a long time but haven’t been able to express or consider valid.  Adler encouraged and challenged me, and I’m excited to dive into a good book.  He has a book list as well, so between Schall and Adler I think I’ll be set for a good while.

I’ll leave you with a few quotes – less than I’ve marked, but time is limited.

First, a few that made me think of specific people:

“Ordinary conversations between persons who confront each other are good only when they are carried on civilly.  We are not thinking merely of the civilities according to conventions of social politeness.  Such conventions are not really important. [thought Jon would like that]  What is important is that there is an intellectual etiquette to be observed.  Without it, conversation is bickering rather than profitable.” p137-8

“Teachability is often confused with subservience.  A person is wrongly thought to be teachable if he is passive and pliable.  On the contrary, teachability is an extremely active virtue.  No one is really teachable who does not freely exercise his power of independent judgment. . . The most teachable reader is, therefore, the most critical.”  p140 That’s for all my teachers (especially my mom) who had to put up with my contrariness.  I’m aware I’m not the easiest student to teach, but I dare to plead this as my excuse.

“There is no more irritating fellow than the one who tried to settle an argument about communism, or justice, or freedom, by quoting from the dictionary.  Lexicographers may be respected as authorities on word usage, but they are not the ultimate founts of wisdom.”  That’s for YKW. p.180

For parents, especially homeschoolers: “Children ask magnificent questions.  ‘Why are people?’ ‘What makes the cat tick?’  ‘What’s the world’s first name?’  ‘Did God have a reason for creating the earth?’ Out of the mouths of babes comes, if not wisdom, at least the search for it.  Philosophy, according to Aristotle, begins in wonder.  It certainly begins in children, even if for most of us it stops there, too.  . . . the questions philosophers ask are simply more important than the questions asked by anyone else.  Except children.” p270+291

And now, for a topic dear to my heart.  I’ve long wondered why some conversations work and others don’t.  Why? Where did it go wrong?  What could I have done differently?  Why do some people understand me so well and others never seem to?  How can I better make people feel understood and not attacked?  (An accusation I’ve born with sadness all my life.)  How do you tell people you love that they’ve hurt you without hurting them?  Why can’t people in American talk about politics without yelling but people in Europe do it all the time?  The list could go on and on.  Adler has a section about agreeing or disagreeing with the author of the book you’re reading, but it could easily be an introduction on how to have a good conversation.  At least my from my point of view.  I’m quite convinced that there are a good number of people out there who would find other points more important.  If you care about the topic, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  But alas, it is time for bed, and I’ll have to make a separate post for it.  I’m not at all sure if anyone will be holding his breath . . .

There's one more part of the book I'd like to bring out, but it's time for bed so it will have to wait for another post.

Part II is now availible.

Posted by harp on Monday, September 19, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 1295 times | Comments (8)
Category Philosophical Musings: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Review: [next] [newest]
Go to page: