Monday, October 29, 2012

 Hurricane Sandy is off the coast. We're inside trying to invoke snow with an awesome new puzzle. Dear Girl just came downstairs to inform us the hurricane has breached the shores of NJ and sharks can be seen swimming the roads.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

My view from morning, shifting perspectives. I've been knitting so much my wrists are burning. Indication from body: STOP. Ignore or listen? I finished the White Whale. The knitting is nothing. The fabric is divine--its all in the wool. I see that now. Am considering knitting myself long johns--the only civilized response to such fine soft stuff. I decided I must use all wool scraps before allowing myself to buy more. So this hat was born. Its the second most difficult thing I've ever knit and was a thrilling pleasure (can knitting thrill?) right up until I began to hate it at the end. Yet I could not stop. Ignore or listen, ever the challenge. In this case, not stopping was right, victory! So I bought new brown wool. For which I'm designing a mitten pattern. I'm still easily distracted by my dog sleeping and the morning light.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

I have a friend with two children who have been in school their whole lives. He pulled them out last year so they could have extra time together. They unschooled the entire year, completely. No classes, no studies, nada. This year, the kids went back to school and were dismayed to learn they had to test back in. The oldest boy freaked out. He started crying, saying he couldn't possibly be expected to test with his peers after having been out a year. The pressure he felt was huge.

Both boys showed consistent academic improvement, in line with their schooled peers, and were enrolled  along side all their friends they'd left from before.

Unschooling is fascinating. Why does it work? Is it that nothing especially important is happening at school? Is it that the important things are happening at home? Is it that most kids get smarter no matter what?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Here is one to add to the reading list: The Beauty of Different
Be willing to be vulnerable so you can also fully experience joy. 
Control your own perspective. Perspective is everything.
Express yourself. Often, kindly, and without apology.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Handmade Puppet Parade!

Some of us were very excited to find a Walkingstick bug at our house early one morning. 

 Others of us were less pleased. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

If I knew nothing about unschooling and someone tried to tell me about it, if I were a stranger reading the essays here about unschooling, I would be profoundly skeptical. Unschooling sounds like bull shit. But it works. The children continue to show promising developmental progress. Their reading, writing, and thinking keep improving. Their world gets bigger and bigger as their bodies grow larger, and they are exposed to ever increasing ideas and information. They keep learning.

I suspect the explanation is simple. The reason most children show progress unschooling as well as in elementary school is because they are growing. Growing makes you smarter. Ad infinitum.

What about backwater uneducated hicks of all cultures left to grow on their own, will they get smarter? Yes, unless someone is trying to hold them back. The biggest cause of endemic stupidity is probably jealousy. That hallmark of low self esteem which gets passed down from parent to child, the attitude that equates bettering yourself with "putting on airs."

We've all experienced this, right? When you are watching someone walk a long (or reading their blog or meeting them or encountering their success) and the next thought is: "Look at her, she thinks she's so............pretty, smart, rich, awesome, etc" That is the moment reality is inverted and growth is squelched. Children raised with that attitude may never recover. Where can they go with the information that being special, standing out, striving, or simply living visibly well is frowned on? There is nowhere for them to go but down. It is a toxic and damaging mental loop and a prime cause, next to frank abuse, of generational stupidity.

Friday, October 12, 2012

It is important to face our inadequacies directly and without too much dodging. They are real, they matter, take a good look at them whenever you can. Actually, getting a chance to really see your inadequacy is a rare gift to which we are generally blind. After all, if you could see your faults clearly, you would probably work to clean them up. Glaring inadequacy generally denotes a blind spot, right?

The last time I saw my grandfather alive was Thanksgiving 1997. I sat next to him at dinner and during the meal, I can't imagine what possessed me--our family is somewhat less than touchy feely, I reached over and rubbed his back. He paused in a way I'll never forget, the way a dog will. He said, "Oh, that feels good." I don't think anyone had spontaneously touched the man in years.

The last time I saw my great aunt, Granddaddy's sister, was in a hospital bed six months later. We all kept trying to force her to wear her oxygen mask-- I think every adult in the room was in some form of denial that she was dying. She had been so consistently living for so long, it just didn't seem possible for her to actually die. I leaned over her bed and gently put the tube back under her nose. She affixed me with a hard stare, loving and stern, and said, "Go do your homework!" Her last words to me, she died within two hours, after we were gone.

It bothers me a lot, how I never did enough for either of them. That's the plain truth. Yet today I'm also reminded, it is never possible to fully do enough for everyone you love. Most of us work so hard most of the time, and barely even take well enough care of ourselves. It is an ironic and universal truth that taking better care of yourself will almost always result in better care of those you love. I'm guessing the Dalai Lama has only said this a million times in a million different ways.

So be kinder, yes, but especially to yourself. We are all doing, more and less, the best we can.

His holiness: "We humans have existed in our present form for about a hundred thousand years. I believe that if during this time the human mind had been primarily controlled by anger and hatred, our overall population would have decreased. But today, despite all our wars, we find that the human population is greater than ever. This clearly indicates to me that love and compassion predominate in the world. And this is why unpleasant events are "news"; compassionate activities are so much a part of daily life that they are taken for granted and, therefore, largely ignored."

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Me and my dog in the morning, while the children sleep, before I go milk. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

My mother always danced in the kitchen while she cooked. The transistor stayed on in that room all day everyday. She stirred with the spoon as well as her hips. Now my ears are full of 64 beat contra-time. Moving through the kitchen is a sway and a bow and a spin around to reach.

Date 4 (I have no intention of logging them all) we accidentally happened into a live auction. It was strangely moving. Auctioneers are badass; the whole thing is calculated for maximum drama. There is a--day trading cowboy funeral song of the renewed future money--treasure vibe about the whole deal. Everyone is feigning casual indifference as the auctioneer winds up the tension and the price. I loved it.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

We went contra dancing last night and it was basically awesome. There were moments of true loveliness. There was exercise. There was laughter. There was a lot of learning. And there was a feeling of communion, in a way. I had a sense of moving in a group as a community purely for fun. How often does that happen? Its kind of like the feeling you get sitting around a campfire, but in motion. Our group was small and multi-generational. But this is what it can look like. Check out the stylish couple at the end!
One thing we noticed last night, and you can see it here as well, almost no one who contra dances is fat. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for body-loving acceptance and all that jazz. But the general public down here is obese. Because no one does anything anymore. No one farms or chops wood or builds stuff or, ya know, moves. Moving has gone out of fashion. But not with contra dancers. It feels GREAT to plug my kids into a community that enjoys health as a byproduct of their life, rather than a goal. And hopefully I'll find dance opportunities enough to get in better shape. I could feel my knees last night. *~*

Friday, October 5, 2012

 Yesterday I made a diorama in an egg. Here's a front and back shot. There is a small gate which opens, for to better see the nautical insides. And the anchor freely swings a pierced heart under an orange moon.
 I dunno why. Just felt like making something Halloweenish. I intended bats and an owl. A bloody anchor is what happened instead--it looks more like a Valentine? I guess Moby Dick is affecting my psyche.
 Dear Girl made pancakes for lunch. (Thank you!) I worked several hours this morning setting the goat's world to rights. What a sloppy stinking mess that yard is, after all the rain. Hoof care, grain run, rake out.
Dear boy chillin' with a podcast, waiting for lunch. Tonight we head out to the Big City. Haven't been there, incidentally, since last November. I guess that makes tonight Cheese Cake Time! 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Check out the picture on this coffee mug from Target. I was there today shopping with my daughter when I noticed the one that says, "Big Round Barn." I could be mistaken, but I'm pretty sure that is a classic Shaker barn design. I find it fascinating that Shaker architecture has made it to the Target style market. Does this say more about the artists branding for Target, or more about Shaker designers?
This afternoon I picked up my boy from his day of apprenticing with the carpenter. Truth be told, he has felt a tiny touch dispirited with the endless splitting of logs. That's hard work for a grown man and harder still for a 13 year old with skinny arms. But today he nearly crawled into the car, sweaty, exhausted, and happy. They only split logs for an hour and half. Otherwise, they made a butter knife, presumably to work on specific skills for my boy. And he helped make "one of those tools used for grabbing and prying logs." Neither of us can remember the name for the tool. The carpenter needs one, obviously, as he only uses windfall trees in his work. A blacksmith helped make the head of the tool, and my son helped make the handle today. And what it makes me deliciously happy to realize, is that I've only ever heard of such a tool from reading "Farmer Boy" by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Yeah, a tool that would be right at home and surely common in a true Shaker round barn. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The children are upstairs this very moment huddled around the telephone put on speaker, listening in on their creative writing class. We had to miss the class because our car is in the shop today.  So I had the idea they could skype in (which is such a satisfying idea to this child of The Jettsons' generation.) But for some reason, the plain old phone is working out just fine.

While they are upstairs at work in their class, I'm down here about to begin knitting and listening to Moby Dick, which is online for free, a new chapter updated daily, read for anyone who cares to listen. Its quite well done. As I listen, I work on my latest project. Which, I recently realized, is kind of a big white whale.   Its a ribbed wrap that goes on in all directions in a drapey wavy way. Maybe I'll knit an anchor into the last corner--though a harpoon might be more appropriate?

My sock lessons and scanning knitting blogs have gotten me sort of obsessed with fingering weight wool, which has several magical properties. You can knit a huge thing that never gets heavy. It smells like animals and earth and gives one a pleasant circular connected feeling in the handling. And if you use bigger needles, the fabric grows at a shockingly quick pace. Very Satisfying.
I am fascinated by Shakers. Their artwork reminds me of an old cross stitch project of mine from 25 years ago--a tree of life covered with animals. I'm going to dig it out and finish it. I'll post pictures here.

....turns out, I may have thrown the dang thing away. I hope not. The last place to look, my old desk, is currently swollen shut with humidity. Having waited 25 years for the inspiration to finish I SUPPOSE I can wait a little while longer....

Monday, October 1, 2012

"What I remind myself is that quitting is an important trait of people who understand their personal value." ~Penelope Trunk        

When considering elementary education, its important to define your goals. Institutional education has a few of them: raising test scores, drilling core skills, and keeping everyone safe. And that seems fine. I mean, who could argue? Who doesn't want higher test scores, more skills, and safe children?

But who decides the best way to test which skills and how do we define safety? If I can support the goals of institutional education, I have no faith in their methods nor their results. Looking deeper, I value a different set of skills, different ways of testing those skills, and I have different boundaries for safety. Its taken me years to begin to think clearly about goals and skills in homeschooling because I had to separate my thoughts and feelings from all the presumptions and indoctrination I carried over from my own education.

First of all, if one could get their hands on a concise list of skills from any above average high school, achieving them isn't difficult, its a matter of logic. You want a set of academic skills, go get them. Pick a skill. Any skill, Periodic Table Flash Cards for sale, a dime a dozen.

I have deeper concerns. I want to help my children develop in a neurologically complex way. I couldn't care less which academic industrial skills they collect--beyond reading and writing proficiency. I want to know their dendrites are branching and reconnecting. And no one knows exactly why or how that happens. I feel pretty certain it has more to do with good food, a rich environment, and sensible trustworthy sane example than any specific skill set. Running through the woods would equal multiplication tables would equal fingers in goo would equal floating through deep brackish water would equal solitude would equal eating eggs the color of sun-pumpkins sauteed in more butter---all unfettered by bells or arbitrary limits. I suspect the core elixir nourishing dendrite growth has more to do with emotions and the cascade of chemicals they unleash, than any worksheet, multiple choice answer, or backpack full of arbitrary requirements. Love being the go pedal and stress the brake.

I think intellectual and moral safety are more important than achievement testing, rigid attendance, and academic progress. A lot of smart folks worry that homeschooling will stifle intellectual safety for children by limiting their freedom to think outside the sphere of parental influence. And that will be true and is a genuine risk in certain households. But its a specious criticism because academic indoctrination has proven as dire a concern, especially with regard to institutionalized racism, classism, and teachers who are bullies. Elementary education teaches children not only how to think but how to feel, and this is where homeschoolers score advantage.

Thinking integrated with feeling equals moral development. Morality will dictate your future more than skills and will always dictate happiness more than income. Genuine feelings of compassion, willingness to exist inside the boundaries of reality and moment by moment awareness, the ability to identify and express your truth, and to assess the value of that truth with regard to reality---these are the crucial curricula for elementary school. I'd like to teach the children to be happy and calm, to tell the truth, to reach out creatively, to flexibly tolerate the necessary intrusion of what you don't want, and to dispel any unnecessary intrusions as needed. These skills over diagramming sentences and math recall, please.