Welcome! If you are new to the Lion's Whiskers blog ...

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Circle of Life

I quietly feared the moment when my son would ask why my dad wasn’t in his life.  Like many parents, who wish to avoid discussing the proverbial "elephant" in the living room (those family secrets, unspoken expectations, and difficult topics), I wasn’t really prepared for how early or how I would answer some of my son’s questions.  So, I was shocked when, as I tucked his 2 year-old body into bed one night, he whispered in the dark, “Mommy, where is your daddy?”
The truth is my dad died when I was young.  My dad will only be a part of my son’s life through some shared memories and DNA.  It is also true that he died from alcoholism and that my son was too young to know about that particular fact.  Though I’d already begun our conversation about the circle of life, and about how important it is to take good care of our bodies.  I wasn’t prepared for my son’s tender-hearted, painful realization that since my dad died when I was young, that I, too, could die while he’s still young; and that he, too, would someday die.  Like the connecting links on a chain, my son’s toddler logic strung the reality of life and death together in seamless motion.    I suddenly remembered what a good friend and also a mom of two young children, faced with a terminal breast cancer diagnosis, once said to me, “Tell the truth, even though it may hurt.  Just don’t make false promises.”  So, I stayed away from promises about living to 100.  Losing a parent early in life will teach you that kind of realism.  However, when we take away some belief from our kids, such as our immortality, we need to replace such illusions with hope-infused beliefs. 


Friday, July 29, 2011

Courage Challenge of the Day

Challenge your palate today.  Visit the grocery store or farmer's market and find something you've never eaten.  Is there a funky-looking vegetable you can't even identify?  Will you have to ask the produce manager what it is and how to cook it?  How about a spice or sauce with a name that's hard to pronounce?  Get out of your comfort zone and into the kitchen.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


The story of the Brave Little Parrot reminds me of a story from my own life that I have shared with K., and that I will probably share many more times. It's a cautionary tale!

Many years ago, I lived in an old house on the side of a hill in a wooded valley. My boyfriend and I were restoring this old house, and frequently had heaps of old lumber to dispose of. There was a large field to the south of the house, and one autumn day we made a burn pile there.The wind was high, the grass was dry – and you can imagine what happened.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

"Don't worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you." ~Robert Fulghum

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Legend of the Banyan Deer

There is another story from India that has some similar features to the Damon and Pythias story. This is another tale of self-sacrifice, a difficult concept for many kids to wrap their minds around. This story is slightly more challenging because it is not a sacrifice for friendship, but rather a sacrifice for leadership, which requires not just emotional courage but social courage as well. I found this in a collection of Jataka tales (stories of the incarnations of Buddha), and it is called The Banyan Deer.
Long ago, there were two tribes of deer, the Banyan Deer and the Monkey Deer. Each of these tribes had a magnificent king, with beautifully branched antlers and bright bold eyes. Nearby there also lived a human king, who loved to hunt. He often hunted for deer, but whenever he chanced upon the deer kings, who were as princely and splendid as he was himself, he would lower his bow and arrow. “The deer kings will never be harmed,” the human king decreed. 

The servants who helped with the hunting found the hunts time-consuming and difficult, and decided to create an enormous fenced park. Then they herded the deer into it, and from then on the human king could hunt much more easily and the servants could attend their other jobs. However, it sometimes happened that more than one deer might be wounded in the chase, or die of fright while running, and so more deer died than were shot. The Banyan Deer King and the Monkey Deer King consulted one another, for this was becoming a crisis.

“Let us draw lots in our tribes, one day among the Banyans, the next day among the Monkeys, back and forth, and who is chosen will go to the gate and be taken, and that way the rest of the tribes will be safe and we will suffer the losses equally.”

The human king was amazed to find a deer waiting at the gate each day, and so it continued for some time. One day, when the lots were drawn, a mother Monkey deer with a young fawn was chosen. She went to her king and begged that she might wait until her fawn was older before she went to be sacrificed. “No!” said the Monkey Deer King. “You must take your turn when you are chosen, just as the others have done.”

In despair, the mother went to the Banyan King, and told him her trouble and begged for help. The noble Banyan King went himself to the gate, and waited for the hunters. But when the human king saw which deer was at the gate, he cried, “No! I have said the kings of the deer tribes must not be killed! What do you do here?”

The king of the Banyan Deer replied, “I could not ask my people to do what I am unwilling to do myself.” 

Such courage and self-sacrifice coming from a deer king put the human king to shame, and from that time he gave up hunting the deer.

Giving up something precious for someone else can be hard. K. and I have a tradition of exclaiming “It’s Lucky Money Day!” whenever we find money on the ground, be it a penny, a quarter, or once a five dollar bill. It used to be finders keepers, but this year we agreed that all Lucky Money will go into a donation jar, as well as the change that winds up in coat pockets and the bottoms of handbags. K. chose the animal shelter where we got our family dog as the recipient for this year. I’ll be curious to see how much Lucky Money we collect. Enough for a trip to the movies? With popcorn? We shall see what could be ours, but what we will give up instead.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Losing it All and Gaining Everything That's Truly Important: Robert and Emma's Story

Robert and Emma* liken their declaration of bankruptcy in 2007, the resulting loss of their house and all their possessions as a result of Robert’s failed business venture, to having the skin removed from their bodies.  That painful, yet also, incredulously, freeing.  They and their three teenage children managed to come through the financial crisis stronger, clearer about their purpose in life, more loving and accepting of one another, and with a renewed commitment to family time and family fun.  They both said, many times during our interview, “It’s all just stuff.  The only thing that matters is the love in your family.  We had a wake up call to make our family our top priority—not our careers.” 

To learn more about how to be a resilient family and harness the kind of courage to climb your way out of difficulty, read on!

*I've changed Robert and Emma's names to protect their privacy.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

May it please me that my mercy may overcome my anger, that all my attributes be invested with compassion, and that I may deal with my children in the attribute of kindness, and that out of regard to them I may pass by judgment. 

                                                                                                  ~ The Talmud

Friday, July 22, 2011

Courage Challenge of the Day

Say YES!  To EVERYTHING!  Don't tell your kids in advance, but it won't take them long to figure out that the word "No," is not in your vocabulary today.  You definitely want to set yourself up for success with this one, so it might not work today.  But soon.  Pick a day when you have no have-to's on your schedule, and just say yes to life.  Chaos may well ensue.

For a funny take on this approach to life, try the movie Yes Man with Jim Carrey.  Caution: rated PG-13.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Children's Room

For the most part, if you want to find fairy tales and folk tales and myths and legends, if you want to use enchantment, you must go to the children’s room of the library, or the children’s section of the bookstore. This has created the false impression that these stories are intended only for children. It wasn’t always that way.

In the generations before blogs, before video on demand, before t.v., before radio, before books, even, entertainment in the form of oral storytelling was just about the only game in town. For all the centuries before the industrial age, labor meant repetitive tasks over many tedious hours, hours that were relieved by telling stories. Spinning and weaving, for example, are sedentary and monotonous, and played such a huge role in the tradition of storytelling that spinning a yarn and weaving a tale are now synonymous with the art of the story. We fabricate our own stories or follow the thread of someone else’s adventures. Text and textile both come from the same Latin word, texere, to weave. Everyone shared the stories while they worked, young and old, even when it was R-rated and even X-rated -- I suspect covering the children's ears happened sometimes, but not always!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

"No man should bring children into the world who is unwilling to persevere to the end in their nurture and education." ~ Plato

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Frogs' Legs: Two Tales

Two very short stories that illustrate internal vs. external locus of control, or Are you and Inny or an Outy?

Two frogs decided to go on a journey and see something of the world. Eventually they came to a farmyard, and while they were hopping across it, the farmer happened to set down a pail of new cream in their path. As they were both in mid-leap, they could not help but splash down into the bucket.
“Oh, help!” cried the first one, flapping at the slippery inside of the pail. “Oh, help, we can’t reach the top! What shall we do!? We shall surely die!”
The second one was busy kicking, although with nothing to push against but cream he could not leap up and out. He kept trying, however, while his partner wailed and moaned and flapped at the high smooth walls.
“We’ll never make it out of here,” moaned the first frog, and in despair, sank to the bottom of the bucket and drowned.
But the second frog didn’t stop kicking, kicking, kicking, and before long he had churned that cream into butter. Soon enough it was so hard that he could jump out of the pail and hop back to his pond.

Two old frogs were on their way to the swamp on the other side of the forest, when they fell into a very deep hole. A large group of tree toads happened to witness the accident, and they all gathered around the rim of the hole. “Oh dear, they’ll never get out,” one of them said. “It’s just way too high to jump,” and they began to repeat that over and over, as tree toads do. “They’ll never get out. They’ll never get out.”
Down in the hole, one of the frogs heard that and despaired, but the other frog kept jumping, and falling back, and jumping, and falling back, and jumping until finally he managed to grab the rim of the hole and scramble out.
“Wow, that was amazing,” the tree toads trilled as the frog began hopping away.
“Eh?” he said, looking around. “Whatcha say?”
“That was amazing!” the tree toads chorused again.
The frog shrugged. “Sorry, can’t hear you. I’m hard o’hearing.” And away he hopped.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Courage Book Review - Saints and Animals

Last week I shared the legend of St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio.  Today, Lion's Whiskers offers two books on the same theme.  On Lion's Whiskers, we define spiritual courage as that which fortifies us as we ask questions about purpose and meaning. Today we review books about people who answered those questions for themselves, and had the courage to act accordingly.

Saints Among the AnimalsSaints Among the Animals, written by Cynthia Zarin and illustrated by Leonid Gore, is a beautifully simple book for independent readers, giving very short stories of some of the saints whose legends involve animals.  St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio is here, of course, but so are much lesser known saints.  There is Saint Werbuge, who patiently reasoned with a flock of geese that were destroying farm crops; we have Saint Canice, who used the antlers of a living stag as a book stand, Saint Colman, for whom a fly acted as a reliable living bookmark.  Ten saints make up the collection, offering a glimpse of a simpler time when people were still sorting out what it might mean to be Christian (perhaps a quest still ongoing?) and what embracing all living things might look like.  These are mostly gentle courage stories, about people with the courage to live as their consciences commanded, without heed for raised eyebrows among their fellow human beings.  That makes these stories of moral courage and social courage, as well as spiritual courage.  Read these stories on your own to retell to younger children on a nature walk, perhaps, or leave for your older reader to nibble on.  The writing is excellent, not didactic, and not in any way evangelizing.  It's very fine.

Saint Francis Sings to Brother Sun: A Celebration of His Kinship with Nature"Sing praises to Sister Moon and the stars... sing praises to Brother Wind and to the air and the clouds...Sing praises to Sister Water..."  Part of a Mohawk blessing song in a Joseph Bruchac book maybe?   No, this is from the Canticle of Brother Sun, written by Saint Francis.   Saint Francis Sings to Brother Sun: A Celebration of His Kinship with Nature, by Karen Pandell with illustrations by Bijou Le Tord, is a truly exquisite book for young and old.  In large format with deceptively rustic pictures (they seem childishly simple, until you look closely) the book outlines the life of Francis of Assisi in brief vignettes, interspersed with verses of the canticle (which would make an awesome dinner blessing for a special occasion.)  What would that really be like, to give away everything as Saint Francis did?  To save no food for tomorrow but to give it to the birds and rely on providence for tomorrow?  In today's possession-heavy world, it's a challenge to imagine the wealthy and privileged young Francis taking a vow of poverty, and walking so carefully that he not harm a worm, or an ant, or even tread carelessly on spilled water.  In this we see echoes of the Buddha's journey and practice.  Such complete reverence for all of life actually takes extraordinary courage.  You might be inspired to create a courage challenge for yourself and your family: spend a day doing no harm to any living thing.  What does it take? What will it cost you?  Do you need the courage of a saint?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Never Quit: Susan's Story

"No Matter What, Have Courage" Elli Gloeckner

My husband introduced Susan and I four years ago when we had just moved to Upstate New York.  He randomly picked the hair salon she worked at on his drive home from work one day.  When he came home after Susan cut his hair, he said to me “I think I’ve found someone you’re going to become friends with here.”  We instantly connected, as per my husband’s prediction.  Little did I know at the time how inspirational Susan would become in my life as a beacon of hope, resiliency, strength and sheer willfulness to live life to the fullest no matter what the circumstances. My friend Susan, a mother of four, has a terminal illness and is the most determined person I know.  I’d like to share with you some of our interview about what she believes courage is and how she learned to become such a courageous person.

Image above: Susan, Summer 2011

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

“Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time.” ~ Hebrew proverb

Friday, July 15, 2011

5-Minute Courage Workout: Say a Little Prayer for Me

Compiled and written by Lisa and Jennifer:

Here's a list of 5-Minute Courage Workouts by age range to improve spiritual fortitude.

 Grab Some Lion's Whiskers Today!
  • Toddler: Wish upon a star tonight. Find a star with your child and make a wish, and then offer the observation that many other children around the world can see the same star.  Ask your child to imagine what that other child's wish might be.  As your day is ending, another day is beginning halfway around the globe, but toddlers are toddlers everywhere.  The roots of empathy lie in our ability to imagine someone else's experience. 
  • Preschooler: find a book such as Wish: Wishing Traditions Around the World or    Children Just Like Me: A Unique Celebration of Children Around the World  or Wake Up, World!: A Day in the Life of Children Around the World that shows children from all walks of life and every corner of the world engaged in daily and weekly routines that will be familiar to your child.  See how many points of similarity you and your child can find between your family and the families in the book.  Depending on how much information is available about the children in the book, this can open the conversation with your  child to wonder what might be important to that other child, what home life might be like, what holidays they celebrate, what a school day is like, what breakfast might be.
  • Early Elementary:  Do you remember "Roses and Thorns" from our workout on public speaking?  Consider the spiritual dimension of this dinner ritual.  Each person at the table can take turns saying what they were grateful for today, and what was challenging for them.  Introduce the possibility that everything can be part of our personal and spiritual development, and discuss what learning may be inherent in each rose and each thorn.
  • Upper Elementary or Tween: Chances are, by this age your child knows someone who has died.  Take a moment to reflect upon this loss - even if it's only a pet.  This can open the discussion about what may happen to them or you in the event of unexpected death.  Share with your kids what will happen to them if you should die while they're still young.  Consider telling them what your final wishes are, and why.  Your beliefs about death can inform your decisions about these practical matters.   Invite your kids to explore these ideas at their own pace.  Faith, hope and love can be protective mechanisms to help us deal with our core existential fear of our own mortality.
  • Teens: Has your teen experienced faith practices from around the world?  We here at Lion's Whiskers have traveled and lived in many countries, and been exposed to a variety of religious rituals.  Here is a beautiful rendition of the Muslim call to prayer, here is a Buddhist monk chanting, here is a Jewish prayer,  here is a Gospel choir.  Share these with your teens and see where the conversation takes you.  Have they absorbed any negative subliminal or direct messages over the years through movies or on-line gaming that require some examination?  Spiritual courage doesn't just require tolerance, it requires engaging with other religions in meaningful and thoughtful ways.  You may be surprised by how much exposure your teen has had already through school or extracurricular activities, and what you may be able to learn from them.

Working on these skills may call upon different types of courage, not just spiritual.  Review the Six Types of Courage to figure out which types your child might need to complete this workout.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


My daughter and Lisa’s kids all take Tae Kwon Do, the martial arts practice of Korea. They are all just months away from earning their black belts, and I want to share one story from their long journey today. 

Part of their testing for rank promotion (the belt tests) is board-breaking. Actually breaking the board isn’t required, but trying is. Among the lower ranks, the first class in which they try board-breaking is scary or exciting, according to temperament. It is definitely possible to get hurt doing this; what is required is careful preparation and then decisive action. My daughter was extremely apprehensive the first time. The prospect of striking the wood clearly had her rattled, and she kept darting nervous glances my way where I sat in the parents’ section. As I recall, Lisa’s son was the first to raise his hand to give it a try. He took his fighting stance in front of the instructor who was holding the board, and then slammed it with a hammer fist. Crrrack! We all broke into spontaneous applause as the two halves went flying. Before long, Lisa’s daughter was waving her hand in the air to take her turn, but K. was shrinking visibly.  As an athletic performance with an audience,  this was a task that required both physical courage and social courage.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

"My heroes are and were my parents.  I can't see having anyone else as my heroes."~ Michael Jordan

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio

If you spend a day at the museum with lots of old paintings, one of the easiest saints for children to recognize in sculpture and painting is St. Francis. A gentle monk surrounded by forest creatures is a benevolent and appealing image, and I suspect it mirrors the secret longing of so many children – talking with animals. This story of Francis, like many traditional tales, features danger in the form of a ferocious wolf. 

Francis was staying for a time at the devout hill town of Gubbio, in Peruggia, whose high stone walls had protected it from its enemies for many generations. Yet now the people faced a different sort of enemy, a wolf dwelling among the high hills that had seized and devoured many sheep and cattle and even people. Townsfolk dared not venture outside the walls without arming themselves as if for battle. Every man, woman and child was filled with mortal terror of the wolf.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

This is What's True: Anya's Story

In the summer of 2009, my friend Anya's* husband suddenly announced he was moving out.  After ten years of marriage and two children together, he quit after a few short months of couples counseling and moved into his own house.  When Anya’s husband departed, it was left to her to sit her two children down, ages 7 and 10, and tell them that daddy would no longer be living with them.  She chose to tell the truth, as she knew it, to buffer her children against future family changes and ensure that they would continue to approach her with any difficult questions and not harbor their grief. Anya mustered the kind of emotional and spiritual courage required to protect her children from the impending fallout.  She kept the information she shared with her children to the facts, reassuring their spoken fears, with this simple statement:  “This is what’s true: daddy has moved out and we are still a family.” 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

"Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit.  We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts." ~ Aristotle

Friday, July 8, 2011

Courage Challenge of the Day

One night this weekend, mix it up at bedtime.  Either everybody switches bedrooms, or you all sleep backwards in your own beds, or you could build a tent in some other room in the house for you ALL to sleep in for the night!  Most of us are accustomed to sleeping in new places when we travel, but what about in your own home?  What's it like to inhabit your child's space?   Notice what feels different about turning over your bedroom to your child or piling blankets and pillows on the kitchen floor.   Does switching it up get you out of your comfort zone, and if so, what can you learn about yourself by changing a simple routine?  We believe that adaptation and flexibility are integral to all six types of courage.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Day at the Museum

As I have mentioned a few times before, I spent a bit over a year of my childhood in Switzerland, a small country conveniently located within driving distance of most of Europe. This put countless museums, castles, and cathedrals within my family's reach, and we logged a lot of miles in the red VW bug and collected a lot of stamps in our passports.

One of the things that made the strongest impression on me in all our sight-seeing trips was the religious iconography – the pictures on chapel walls and in stained glass windows, the devotional paintings in the museums, the statues gazing down from the pediments and roofs. There are some wild stories in those images! In the days before widespread literacy, this was a very popular story-telling technique: make a picture to tell your tale.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

"You can't be brave if you've only had wonderful things happen to you."  ~ Mary Tyler Moore

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Best Storytellers

Uggh! you say. Do I have to tell stories? Can’t I just read them out loud? Reading out loud is a great thing to do with your kids, and I am all for it, and I hope you have a good folktales/myths/legends etc. collection at home or at your public library (check out some of the book reviews and book suggestions on the bookshelf page). But you can’t read while taking a walk  or sitting by a lake or driving the car or fixing dinner or giving a kid a bath. Since those are ready-made moments when you can get your child’s attention, why not use them for telling stories that will help inspire the six types of courage?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th of July!

For our American friends, Happy Independence Day!  For everyone else, we're taking today off!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Go Climb a Tree!

One of my son’s favorite activities as a child was to climb trees.  Any tree would do: spindly little Charlie Brown Christmas-type trees, grand dame oaks, distinguished firs, sticky pines, scratchy cedars, or the budding cherry blossom—his all-time favorite.  At around age three, he began his tree-climbing pursuit in earnest.  He started developing his physical courage muscles on the trees in our yard.  It didn’t take long for him to master the first few limbs on his favorite tree and, like Jack and his beanstalk, want to spend everyday climbing higher and higher and higher.  It was those first few attempts at getting higher that our coaching as his parents became really important! 

My son, E., age 8

He’d hang from his arms on the lowest limb, gaining an appreciation for gravity and the feel of his feet off the ground.  He wasn’t fearless to begin with. And neither were my husband and I.  Heights are one of my husband’s few dislikes; though he has gained mastery over this particular fear by continuing to place himself in situations that test it.  We are both mindful not to pass along our fears to our kids—as much as possible!  We also wanted to coach our kids to gain what social psychologists term an ‘internal locus of control’.  The natural evolution for a child is to move from more of an external locus of control (relying on his/her parents, fate, luck, or other external circumstances to guide decision-making and behavior) to an internal locus of control (whereby a child is more self-motivated, self-disciplined, and believes his/her behavior is guided by personal decisions and/or efforts).  Securely attached kids, it turns out, also show a higher degree of internal locus of control. 

To learn more about how I coached my son to develop physical courage, READ ON!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Courage Question of the Day

Lion's Whiskers asks: What kind of street smarts have you taught your child?  What do you think is really important for your child to know in case of emergency? (i.e. how to dial your home, cell, or work phone number and/or 911 or text for help? how to pick a good stranger to ask for assistance or directions to your address? how to hail a cab, ride a bus/subway, or run for home? where their i.d. and emergency money is stored in their backpack? how to get into the house if they've forgotten their key? which neighbor is a good bet to ask for help? how to stay calm and assess a situation whilst generating the best solution?)

Share your advice, we want to hear from you?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Courage Challenge of the Day

Lion's Whiskers offers this courage challenge: As an opportunity to put your social courage muscles to work, say "Hello" to everyone who crosses your path today! 

Make sure to look your fellow human beings in the eyes,  smile, and observe how the world smiles back at you.

"Character is simply habit long continued." ~Plutarch