Thursday, August 30, 2012

I took the kids on a quest to Find Clyde, road trip style. We went to see a reclusive folk artist who has managed quite a bit of fame and notoriety. He's done this by breaking every rule. He never promotes himself. He refuses to sell his work. He appears to work with an utterly casual abandon. His canvas is everything. He doesn't appear to care for the thoughts or opinions of any adult. You can only own his work if he gives it to you. And mostly, he only gives his work to children. Clyde likes children. And even that would seem wrong at first glance--the man does not wear a cheery red suit. He looks creepy if you don't know who he his. Because he doesn't make the slightest effort to seem acceptable on any level of normal. As we began, leaving our driveway I asked the children to consider: what is art?

We drove quite awhile to get there. There, there isn't much to do. You are left standing in the middle of a common neighborhood, gawking foolishly. Its very quiet. Lingering feels invasive. People are busy with their private lives here.
 My children were silent. And moved. My son turned to me and said, "This is really good. Thank you."
I turned around and looked directly across the street from Clyde's house. All through this small rural neighborhood you see the affect of his art. You see his critters everywhere. His impact is undeniable and completely wonderful. What I feel when I'm there is this: I want that. That being a life of art. What is art?

 Here is a quiet lone critter, understated and demure, possibly half way back to wild. Critter variation.

As this was an important cultural quest, we stopped to pay respects at the local q joint, unchanged since I was a child. God Bless That Family, they do barbecue right. Its an art.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

This is my daughter sitting outside our favorite grocery/deli/place to hang with her favorite duck, Quackster. I know her attire suggests its October. But we are still in August. The weather this month has been lovely, cool, pleasant, and damp. In other words, NOT normal. Wonderfully abnormal.
 Small Mouth Bass, the first. 
 You catch it, you gotta clean it and eat it. 
Despite the look on her face, it was delicious!
Case in point:
A Troubling Chant on the Convention Floor
Racism At the GOP Convention

"The chanting carried on for nearly a minute while most of the other delegates and the media stood by in stunned silence. The Puerto Rican correspondent turned to me and asked, “Is this happening?” I said I honestly didn’t know what was happening—it was astonishing to see all the brittle work of narrative construction that is a modern political convention suddenly crack before our eyes. None of us could quite believe what we were seeing: A sea of twentysomething bowties and cowboy hats morphing into frat bros apparently shrieking over (or at) a Latina."

Few racist people, even within my own family, are able to see themselves clearly. The most important lesson of racism is to see it within yourself first. For me, this happened on a playground in 3rd grade when I sat down on the blacktop to workout for myself the morality of the word nigger. Chalk one up for public school---the singularly only good thing have to say about the institution. Bussing did begin to help quell racism at first, though I think that whole agenda has devolved. One only need look as far as our prisons to see what I mean.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Perhaps this semester is titled Homeschooling Through Netflix? Today we watched "To Kill A Mockingbird".  I explained to the children there are some topics that are simply painful and difficult to discuss. But that racism is part of their family history, their cultural history as southerners, and an ongoing concern now. I told them they need to understand how it was, why, how it is and how its changing. Harper Lee gives us as good a place to start as any. The kids were moved by her telling of the truth. And Dear Girl reminded us, because she's already heard it on tape, the book is much richer than the movie.  Life Is So Good ~George Dawson, will be a followup text read out loud together, I think.

I'm going to try overwintering spinach, beets, cilantro, and carrots. I got the first two in the ground today.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The great sock project of 2012  is moving along. Lessons have been learned. Progress has been made. I've tried three different patterns in two sizes. And I'm feeling more sock-confident in general. I've knit each pair for a specific child, keeping each kid fore in my mind as I knit. The socks are a love gift. And its satisfying to have them done. But what moves me on is the sheepiness and yum scrumdelecability of wool. Wool is reigniting my love of knitting. I used to be a cotton specific knitter. Just in time for global climate change, I've changed.

When I was first learning an older woman said, "You love that heavy gauge now. Your hands will teach you an appreciation for something lighter." I scoffed inwardly. Oh how I was, yet again, wrong. It only took me 9 years, but now I get her point. Wool, I love thee true and fair. Socks aren't my passion. Twining my hands through such earthiness, turning the excess of sheep into usefulness, admiring the craft of spinners, the depths of color and sheen they can produce--its all so good, restive and functional.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The kids watched Romeo and Juliet today. While I napped. Shakespeare just isn't my thing. I ambled through shortly before intermission and asked them how it was going. My son shrugged. My daughter said, "He just doesn't understand the language of love. I get it. Its good."

We watched the second half together. Shakespeare did know how to push a story along. It is a great tragedy. And we can check that one off the almighty homeschooling list of requirements in the sky. Last year, A Midsummer Night's Dream. This year, Romeo and Juliet. Slowly, we'll get ourselves exposed to art.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

So we're in a homeschool group that meets every week, each Thursday in a different park, to hang out. The group has been going on for close to 30 years. Which is a little staggering. A 30 year old homeschool group? Well, on the other hand, my family has been homeschooling for, in a way, almost 14 years. When I think of it like that, its seems possible the movement has been large enough long enough to have a group this old. We are enormously lucky to be here in this group at this time. Just Insanely Lucky. Such things hardly even exist in other cities, in other states.

In the summer our group often meets at the river, at an ancient ford. So the ford is obviously wide and shallow and well traveled. Up river 10 yards, there is a deep pool, maybe a quarter of an acre, maybe 7 feet deep when there has been decent rain.  Another 10 yards up river on the other side of the pool is the straights, narrowing into a small rocky basin that catches a 3 foot water fall.  All surrounded by boulders and woods and trails. Which is nearly as rare and beautiful as our homeschooling group.

The water is brackish and muddled in the best of seasons. That's the nature of river water down south. And we have all the lively creatures, including Copperheads, that live in such places.

The ford works for a lot of homeschooling families. The babies play in the shallows, the bigger kids swim out, the biggest kids range, the mothers can stand in the water or sit nearby and see most of the children.  Yet, a river in this area is dangerous on the best of days. Drowning is a silent event, the water is not clear, the current, the rocks, inexperienced swimmers, snakes, its enough to unnerve some mothers. Some families skip river days. Some mothers show up but hang there in a state of nearly quivering anxiety the whole time, chatting with other mothers but obsessively checking on the children.

(Ahem) that would be me, in the olden days when my kids were little. Like, last week. Today was the first river day where I did more chatting, and even knitting, than worrying. The kids were in the middle of the pool swimming with their friends for hours. I checked on them once or twice. And I let go. I relaxed.

This from the woman who was there just last weekend and swam through that same pool while a copperhead as thick as my wrist swam for the further shore. My husband and I watched it go noting only how its true, they do swim on top of the water.

Much later the kids came to ask if it was alright if they went up to the water fall. And I SAID YES. This had previously been forbidden without adult supervision. 15 minutes later I hiked up to check on them. I ended up climbing down and getting in the water. I tried to be respectfully distant. But everyone knew I was checking on them.

Here's the thing, though. They were fine. They really didn't need me up there. They are big now. I sat in the pull and bubbling flow of the current through the rocks and tried to let the truth of it really sink into my skin. The kids are growing up.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

This is a froe and a club. I found this image online and there isn't really anyone I can credit other than a guy named Ralf. But that's sort of fitting as these tools are ancient, handmade, and timeless.
Today my son became apprenticed to a master carpenter who only uses hand tools and specializes in Windsor Chairs. $900 Windsor Chairs, so you know this guy ain't fooling around. He is serious about what he does and seriously good at it. It also just so happens he was unschooled and apprenticed when he was a kid. He says he's happy to pass his skills along. He describes his life as "happy as a toad on a damp log." This is the man I want to teach my son.

It is true that I want this for my son more than he wants it for himself, right now. But he sees the value and he's willing it give it a go. He sees how it ties into his previous black smithing. And he sees this training could serve him well for the rest of his life. He's too young to fully appreciate what a rare gift of an opportunity this is. But I feel sure he will be forever grateful, if he sticks with it. The carpenter isn't even going to charge us anything for the training. I am completely delighted and excited for my son.

They spent two hours with a froe and club this morning, splitting red oak for chair tines.  So it begins.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The angle of those tree climbing pictures reminded me of this old favorite. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

 She loves to climb and loves reading this new murder mystery series: Magical Cats Mystery.
 Gee wiz though, someone ought to move that pile of bricks! Leaving those there makes a dangerous hobby absurdly more dangerous. Who's in charge around here?

Walking out of the grocery with my children today we passed an elderly couple. She was helping him up. Something about them stopped me. He was much bigger than her and he couldn't move well without her. She had his arm and her bags. I asked if we could help, gave her bags to my son, and left my daughter to wheel our cart while I grabbed his other hand.

He was amazingly strong, upright, and able to grip. He held my hand hard. His posture was perfect, better than mine, and his mind was sharp as a tack. We joked together, laughed, as we shuffled. She was short round and in a hurry, pulling him as hard as any terrier pulls a leash. First I asked her if we were supposed to be pulling him. I was unsure if it was okay to ask him, if perhaps his disability had to do with senility. She told me yes, pull, it helps.

I pulled and chatted as his feet twisted and shuffled out of rhythm with the rest of us. Three times he asked us to please slow down. I realized he was intensely lucid and reasonable. "Please slow it down, could ya?" Each time I responded that I was in no hurry. Each time his wife ignored his request.

When we got to the car he asked to get in the back seat. Three or four times he asked. I was at their mercy, clueless which way to direct his arm without an answer. His wife inexplicably unlocked the front door. But she was as charming as him. They were both quite likable.

I walked away holding back tears. I can't figure out what his diagnoses might have been. His body was so strong, his mind was fine, his feet didn't work. Maybe a stroke? A bumper indicated US Air Force. Perhaps an old war wound. The idea that my husband could one day be made so frail was kind of staggering. Life is weird. Weirdly beautiful though. Mostly, they were charming and it was fun to get to help them out.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Today my son became a lawn mowing kind of kid. While I was working outside, my daughter made dinner: salmon cakes and mashed potatoes. I used to think I would be sad when the kids grew up. I'm not sad at all. Its AWESOME. Awesome to have help, surely. But even more awesome to see them becoming capable cool people.

Monday, August 13, 2012

I found a Luna Moth today while I was pumping gas. It was so beautiful and so special, I've seen maybe three in my whole life, I had to call the next guy over to come see. We stood there marveling for a minute. He was genuinely grateful I included him in a moment of wonder. He looked me in the eye and said, "thank you" before he returned to his tow truck and drove away. I gazed a moment longer, wished I could somehow take this creature with me, and left alone to finish my errands.

All afternoon I've been humming Scarborough Fair. Are you going to Scarborough Fair? Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme; Remember me to one who lives there, For once she was a true love of mine. Last month I read an essay a grieving mother wrote about letting go of grief. I nodded as I read, in recognition of the moment she describes so well. The moment you feel a burden or cloud you've maybe even forgotten you carry, depart.

Earlier, maybe last year, I understood that rage and grief were getting the better of me. Grief I left unremarked, there is no way to put it  down nor to carry it along, as a matter of choice. Grief chooses when and where to be carried. But rage is all our own. And I began to work directly to set rage down and  move slowly away. It took very specific force of will--I'm still working on it. Its been layered over many times since we moved back home, mostly untold.

Tell her to find me an acre of land (On the side of a hill, a sprinkling of leaves) Parsley, sage, rosemary, & thyme (Washed is the ground with so many tears) Between the salt water and the sea strand. Its a song of my childhood, perhaps the actual sound of my innocence and good will. There has never been an age I didn't hum this song quietly and privately to myself. Always with a happy confident hope it offered some inkling of adult life--dark but soft, realistic but mysteriously hopeful. Until today, I've never seen the actual lyrics. Dark but soft, indeed. How do our psyches hone in on art we can't consciously understand?

I think maybe grief is finally gathering veils and tip toeing away. Now I can see my kitchen faucet and care. Suddenly I can think about making dinner for friends. I feel compelled to create something more cheerful, tidier, purposeful. I rearranged our living room furniture, hung artwork, considered my Grandmother's recipes. The air has changed in an invisible way. Exactly as if, perhaps, a mystic creature was here and now is gone. Or a garment I've worn with no seams, impossible to unzip, has fallen away.

Once was a true love of mine. Tell her when you see her. Impossible tasks stand between us. We have herbs, the ocean, eternal truths, mythic creatures, and hope.

Friday, August 10, 2012

After stacking cows, eating breakfast, and washing up,
The kids explored the keyboard that arrived in the mail. 
Then we all went to the local homeschool weekly park day gathering. Where I sat several hours with other mothers chatting for our typical Thursday event. We've been meeting weeklyish with this group for almost six years. Some families there are just beginning. Some have been homeschooling long enough to have adult kids.

One mother said she recently gathered a scrap book for one of her oldest kids. The book is about 5 inches thick and she couldn't believe, reviewing all those homeschooling years, how much her boys had done, how rich their childhood was, how lucky they were to do it that way. She said, "I just couldn't believe it, how much these kids did. And at the same time, I was so worried I had forgotten something, left something out." She wasn't worried she'd left something out of the scrapbook. She was worried she's left something out of their homeschooling. She was worrying about a kid who is 25 and already graduated from college.

Another mother in the park is worried about her son's transcript. She said, "I'm worried the first time an admissions officer sees my son's transcript they are going to think we lied. There is too much great stuff here, to believe it all." She implied it might be smarter to sort of dumb the whole thing down a bit--to make it more believable. Yet she said, "I'm so tired of constantly feeling worried about being wrong."

Nothing in the formal education of homeschooling mothers prepares us to confidently throw off everything society says is correct and good about school to educate our children at home. We are simultaneously wowed, grateful, and pleased with the life our children get to have and worried about it. Worried about it, apparently, even after its over. So huge is the audacity to walk away from institutionalization. In the beginning, I had actual nightmares about a Principal knocking on my door and demanding my children. The bad dreams stopped after the first year, when I finally realized no one was coming for my kids. But I suppose I will never put down the weight of responsibility for our choice, the fear of being wrong, misguided, or mistaken---even as I can't fully express how grateful and pleased I am for our homeschooling life, and how lucky we are.

This morning as I milked the goats I wondered how best to teach the children to think independently, to trust themselves, to create their own options, and to feel free to act on their own opportunities. Sitting on the brink of obvious and completely unpredictable climate change, I can't think of anything more important to teach them. But the truth is, this is how they are being raised. No higher authority has been placed over their own intellect and sense of agency. They are comfortable seeking outside resources and teachers. But no institution sits above their own capacity. Wow, how would it feel to grow up like that?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Its been nearly a year since I decided to try keeping dairy goats at our house. The project is working out pretty well. We have plenty of milk and cover most of the cost of upkeep by selling a few extra gallons a week. We are most of the way through all four seasons and that seems like a good time to assess what has worked and what hasn't.

Keeping livestock in a small pen is called keeping them in a dry lot. Basically, I recently realized with somewhat of a shock, I'm running a small CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation). CAFOs are generally regarded as evil and I'm against them--just so we're clear on my capacity for hypocrisy. That said, my biggest criticism of what we are doing is that I wish my goats had a huge lovely pasture in which to roam. They would be happier, healthier, and cheaper to keep if they had room to forage for their meals and entertainment. They don't have that. Maybe one day I'll have a proper farm.

Until then, the goats seem happy enough and are healthy enough. Their milk is sweet, rich, and delicious. But its is hard to keep weight on them. They are served the highest quality organic dairy goat ration. Ditto for free choice hay--its the highest quality organic local hay available and probably worth twice what we pay at $8 a square bale. Their grain is currently $27 for a 50 lb bag, which they eat in a week. That price is subject to change. And I offer them free choice alfalfa pellets. Plus loose minerals and salt. All that, and they still hardly eat enough to keep from losing weight. If they were also foraging, I'm sure they would be fat.

The rest of the management of back yard goats has to do with good planning and paddock design.
This is the view from my kitchen door. Putting the goats this close to the house has worked fabulously. We compost their waste hay and manure. As soon as we figured out we needed to rake up their waste onto the compost pile every day, or every few days as needed, there have been no barnyard smells. Flies have been absolutely controlled by our flock of 6 chickens. Through a damp summer, there have been no noticeable extra flies. The two biggest concerns for suburban goats near the house have been no problem. I can see the goats out my kitchen window, so I know what's happening with them at all times. And they do not intrude into our house, not even via odors or vermin.

We milk at that little stanchion built for free from salvaged scrap lumber. Its 20 steps from modern kitchen convenience. I have the milk chilling in the freezer within minutes of milking. And the whole area is cleaned up in seconds with the same hose I use to water the goats every day.
 Here you can see we accidentally put the grain feeders down hill from the compost pile. Stupid choice, next time we will put the feeding stations uphill of the compost pile for drier happier goat feet. Goats are rather fastidiously clean, nearly dainty, actually. They don't like to stand on damp or dirty ground.

These little hanging feeder buckets are brilliant. If you cut a hole in the fence, they hang outside so goats can eat, but not paw into nor knock them over. As long as they are tied on. I'm still searching for the best method of tying them to the fence.
This shot gives you an idea of how close we are to neighbors. That vague white spot through the woods is the next house, as seen from my kitchen door. Pretty close and no complaints.

We fence with 16 ft cattle panels and T-posts which work perfectly. They say goats are impossible to keep in. This fence is simple, cheap, and has been inviolate. The goats have deep shade with a bit of full sun, there in the front. We built them a small three sided stall covered with a blue tarp as a roof--as cheap and simple as it gets. They mostly ignore this shelter, but will go in to escape hard rain. I rarely let the goats out to run in the yard. Occasionally, if the neighborhood is mostly empty, traffic is still, and one else is home. The goats LOVE to run, of course. It makes them so happy to get turned out. They run for 5 minutes, look in all the house windows, play king of the hill on the back porch, nibble leaves in the forest, then lounge around the door to their fence---near but not in. Because, truth be told, they like being in their own safe territory. We all just wish it were bigger. They don't run away and stay mostly out of the road.

I buy hay 3 bales at a time and its stored under a tarp on the front porch. Quaint, effective-ish, dry enough, but we do track a fair amount of hay inside. If we stay in this house, we will build a small hay storage area--possibly under a bent cattle panel with yet another blue tarp. Blue tarps rule!

Hay is fed free choice, which amounts to a flake a day, split into two black stock tanks--the kind usually used for water. We have two so each goat can have their own. The eat the hay, then lay in it alternately nibbling, napping, and cudding the rest of the day. Who doesn't like to eat in bed? This system also offers a nice clean place to sit for anyone visiting in the goat yard.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

 A day out in the big city. The approach was more interesting than the museum. We spent a couple of hours looking around. Frankly, it was sort of a snooze. Dear Husband and I both agreed, when you can guess who is funding the display, its a lot less like interacting with "science" and a lot more like being assaulted by advertising. Homeschool lesson: science has been corrupted by corporate funding. And my camera needed new batteries. But on with the show.
I thought the city-punks lounging around with their cat outside were more interesting. She had the best hair color--subtle, natural, pastel shades of absurd color matching her tattoos. Right on.
 The drive home, stopping at Whole Foods and the local bookstore, were a lot more fun and interesting for everyone. Don't get me wrong, the whole day was lovely. But I guess the big new research center is over hyped. And the museum of natural history held a lot more fascination at age 6 than now.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

 2006, a visit to the museum.
 2012 same museum, same fossil, and we still fit in that maw!
This has fascinating implications for elementary education. It replicates a lot of what homeschooling shows us about how kids learn. And if you're paying attention, you can hear someone say, again, how teaching methods and learning are currently based on hypothesis rather than fact. In other words, our educational system doesn't know how kids learn and doesn't know the best way to teach. Good to keep in mind if your children are complaining about how much school sucks. Very good to keep in mind if you are a homeschooling parent given to occasional doubt, or fear you kids aren't learning enough. 
Daphne Koller: What We're Learning From Online Education
However, I think its also important to remember that what free online education teaches us about how humans learn, is teaching us how humans learn when they are freely motivated. No one should make the mistake of conflating free motivation with compulsory institutional education. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Dear Girl worked for herself last night as a henna artist in a store in a small town down the road. Though she is only 12, she sat for 2 and half hours patiently waiting, then working in waves, then waiting again. She was working for and on adults, by herself. I was mostly not there, not hovering, and not managing. She did a great job, made $70, and got an offer for another job in a further town. The whole experience was a fabulous confidence building adult life launching money making independence having event. She is going to have some business cards printed. We are all proud of her.

As a parent, it is very gratifying to see your kids begin to collect skills they can use as adults. Good grades aren't going to feed you. Knowing how to work a crowd for art and money, will. I know she will have many other jobs and skills in her life. But knowing she already has one feels great.

On the way home from a party a few nights ago, my son asked if he has to always wear a helmet with his new razor. I thought a moment and said that he'll have to use his judgment on that. Dear Girl shouted from the backseat: "You use that line all the time to make us feel guilty!" Nope. Dear children, there is no guilt about it. This is the beginning of your adult years. Adults have to use their best judgment to make smart choices for themselves. That's the simple reality of life.