Monday, December 31, 2012

Okay wow, this is a MUCH LONGER trip than I remembered. Last time we drove through in two days. Of course we were in our 20s then, high on love, and sipping Mountain Dew the whole way. I guess we were driving 12 and 14 hour days? Not possible now. The kids get worn out with boredom. And we get plain old worn out.

So tonight, December 31 2012, we are in a hotel just outside the Oklahoma border in Arkansas. It was a cold rainy nasty driving day. We had planned to detour to the Mississippi river but nixed that--too cold. Instead, I snapped this on the bridge half way over.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

 We had lunch in Black Mountain at My Grandfather's Pizza, which brought back fond happy memories of dating and getting married. There was snow on the mountain tops and half of us were under dressed.
 Eating seaweed snacks headed due west. We clocked 9 fairly easy hours today, about 600 miles! 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Tomorrow we are driving to New Mexico. I am thrilled to be going. I hate to leave. Currently, I'm procrastinating the packing, cleaning, and writing of instructions for while I'm gone. I am the person who likes to stay. That's why I'm a cowgirl.

But, as I've been trying to say here for a few days: it ain't all about me anyway. And we'll have fun. And I'm pushing for a hot air balloon ride for the husband and the kids. Of course they should!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Ah Ha! What if you are surrounded by people who aren't exactly shining their little candles in the dark? So what? In fact, you will be surrounded by those people. And you will be hurt beyond all reason. And your feelings will ache. And it will be hard hard hard. To put it in the context of homeschool, how many times have I written that its impossible to shelter children from pain, even at home? A bunch of times, is how many.

And STILL I have to keep relearning this lesson. Your feelings aren't really what's important. Its your actions that matter. What you do, how you behave, what you have to give, how you treat people. How you make other people feel is what matters.

In other words: Do unto your neighbor, the Golden Rule, A Christmas Carol. Happiness all comes down to valuing other people's feelings more than your own by rising above selfish concerns to act well. A part of reality that could, if you weren't well taught in the first place, be difficult to understand. But its absolutely the way through this weird twisted strange world. Of course it is!

Our own feelings matter, they are guideposts meant to keep us from spending our lives surrounded by abusive people and other hungry predators. Our feelings are a conduit for intuition. And no one ever questions the good feelings. (Though, perhaps we should.) But not only is giving divine, its basically all we have over the yawning maw of pain in this world. That's how the light is spread, actually. Love is a verb and the only thing that really matters is how to give it away.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What if you only know two things about George Fox? That he's the father of The Religious Society of Friends. And sitting in a jail cell in the 1600s he wrote that we are all radically free.

What does radical freedom mean, especially from the context of jail? It has to mean we are free to love in all ways at all times and most generally despite our inclinations. Or, as Val said, "Kindness matters most." Or as Haven said, "Love is the hardest lesson."

And if this is a religious lesson, based on faith in Higher Love, how does one catch the faith, get suffusethed with light, and proceed on a radically loving path? That would be me with my fanny clenched against fear and hurt feelings trying to walk at the same time. I'm just supposed to renounce all that negativity, drop Jacob Marley's chains of emotional baggage, and proceed in the light?

It seems so easy, so self evident. But look how often that actually happens... And in the meantime, what if you're surrounded by folks who aren't exactly holding up candles against the dark.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

"To what are you held captive? Fear, anger, avarice, greed, lust, gluttony, despair? Do you drag your past or your belongings behind you like Jacob Marley's chains?"

My husband and I sat on the couch in the early dark dawn of Christmas Eve discussing our failings. I read an article that said, to paraphrase: If you are reading a parenting book that says anything other than Fix Yourself, you are likely reading the wrong book. Its an idea I've run across many times and I've seen its worth in action. If a child has a problem its a safe bet there is a parent who needs fixing. Fixing the parent often fixes the child. Parents: sometimes it IS your fault. Get yourself together and your kids will probably be fine.

I am friends with the head of pediatric dermatology at Duke University. When he sees teenagers with profound acne, he often sends the parents for psychotherapy. And that ALONE will usually clear up their children's skin. How's that for alternative? I asked why that works, he answered: stress causes acne. Head of Pediatric Dermatology at Duke, you heard me right.

My husband and I actually have very few worries, beyond the old standards of bad luck and missed opportunities, about our children. But we both have plenty of failings and we both come from rather broken families. And so, periodically, we review it all. What are we missing? Where do we need to improve? He was stoic, genuine, and fearless in his self assessment. I wept into my coffee. I recalled the redemption of Scrooge and the uncanny timely words of a Christmas letter from a dear friend.

Do I drag my past behind me like Jacob Marley's chains? Yes, I think I do. Does this affect my children? I don't know how, exactly, but it must. Dear children, I'm so sorry. I'm working on it.
 Men searching for the perfect ventriloquist dummy for their new project: Harry and Friend. 
 Yesterday we started a new Christmas Eve tradition. We spent the afternoon at a local bookstore each picking out one final gift--for ourselves. Which isn't as gluttonous as it sounds. We are pretty low-key about the season. And, as we feel Christmas is for children, adults don't exchange gifts in our family. And I wanted to go do something fun and maybe a little bit bad. What could be worse than shopping on the Eve? Normally you couldn't drag me into a store in December, not with a thousand flaming unicorns. Turns out, it was a lovely thing to do. Everyone got a new book or movie. We had a nice drive, people were friendly and said "Merry Christmas!" with lots of smiles, and we felt ourselves out, a part of the bustle. I guess since there was no pressure, it was just fun. I chose a new playmobil set, a toy store, to add to our Santa's workshop. Later that night, my daughter set it up. And that was nicest of all, having, for just a moment, a little kid in the house who wanted to play with a toy. I savored each minute. Nice horcrux, by the way....
 The men were in the kitchen making Parker House Rolls! Oh yeah!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Penelope Trunk said my little video describes "something huge about the world that this is the bleeding edge of education reform." And the thing is, she's right. The video is simplistic and amateurish and no
big deal. Its just a bunch of moms conveying love and tips for homeschooling. Made by someone who mostly just wanted to learn how to make a slide show.

But homeschooling is the bleeding edge of education reform. Its a movement run mostly by mothers and its the very most radical thing I've ever been involved with. The irony, that radical change comes from hearth and home, is rich. The other irony, that education reform is predominantly driven by two opposing forces: conservative Christians and free thinking hipsters, is wonderful.

Most of the best things happening today are radical, ironic, and driven by a mixed community of Christians and hipsters: homebirth, homeschool, and home dairies. Perhaps when people who are driven to the fringes of society begin to notice what really works well in the world, and find common contact there, the rest of the world really should stop. 

Pay attention. We've found a way that works. Its cheaper, faster, lovelier, simpler, and it works better. And surprise of all surprises, not only is it the opposite of what they tell you in school, you find it at home for less money with your Mother!

Friday, December 21, 2012

A message of love and encouragement for new homeschooling parents! 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

 Ice skating Smileys! Can anyone look at this and STILL wonder about socialization? Believe it or not, people still mention this to me as a concern. After all these years, and in the face of their friendliness. ?

Yesterday a friend of mine asked her children how they define success. That's a brilliant thing to do. We get so busy driving forward, mentally, we can miss the point of arrival. The human brain is hardwired to keep moving and I've watched a lot of folks miss the point of their work, work at things they clearly hate, and agonize in pursuit of the wrong goals. Or at least, goals that aren't likely to offer fulfillment. When asked, "What is success?" Her 10 year old replied, "It's too changing. You can never say." I love how self aware that is and how well it reflects the nature of reality. What 10 year old has fixed goals? How many adults do you know who are so self aware? I got to wondering how my children might respond. So I asked them: How do you define success?

first teen response:
"Being happy with what you do and having it come out to everyone's expectation. Which is hard to do but..."

second teen response:
"Achieving what you set out to do or exceeding your expectations." 

Interesting how grades don't come up for any of these homeschoolers. Though its possible to guess which response comes from a girl. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Our kids participate in a teen group for homeschoolers. They meet on a Friday night, monthly, just to hang out. And other stuff gets planned as well. Our family hosted a couple of Capture The Flag games. Other families host other stuff. And yesterday one family organized an afternoon of ice skating. I can't say why exactly. But it was very satisfying to see this group of teenagers meet at the rink. It was fresh, athletic, good natured, and fun. Not their usual sitting around grousing each other in various parks. They had to move and most of them were awkward, but all of them were generous with each other. They wobbled and laughed and sometimes fell and helped each other along.

Teenagers often drift out of homeschooling. Not because they are poorly socialized. But because their social opportunity is too constricted. Teens need more freedom, more than meeting through various classes and time-controlled clubs. They need to move, roam, congregate, and spend more time without supervision. A couple of mothers started our teen group up. I am so grateful to them! They have addressed a need I rarely hear mentioned in wider homeschooling forums.

Yes, teenagers need more freedom. And by that age they should be worthy of freedom and ready. I don't want to know the private details of my teenager's lives---unless they need help or just feel like sharing. All I need is to know they are steady reasonable trustworthy folks armed with appropriate information about sex, drugs, and economy. Which is so opposite the national standard of behavior we expect from teenagers.

In society today, we send our tiny babies off to day care and school. The babies and young children cry. Until later, when they don't cry anymore. Few notice this as ominous, children hardened to their natural fear of abandonment by the adults who actually love them. Left, instead, with other adults most often of dubious authority and nominal character---as compared to, say, an actual mother.

In homeschooling society the children aren't left. The children grow up and leave. They leave happy, ready to go, looking forward to going, (if somewhat wistfully.) They leave not crying, waving good bye with a big smile. Its the parents who cry to see the children, now grown, leave. This is the natural order of human development. Or at least, it was from the beginning of time up until the industrial revolution. Homeschoolers leave for high school, or college, or simply to seek their fortunes. They don't leave before potty training, unable to articulate actual sentences, dependent and helpless, still needing to learn how to read. And really, how must that feel? Most of us, if we are honest, can remember.

In the wake of yet another mentally ill teenager armed to the teeth laying waste to yet another industrial school, can everyone see a few things we may be getting wrong? This current generation is the first generation to be raised by parents who were raised by the school system. Which is to say, parents who were parented by bureaucrats. Parenting skill has been in a free falling nose dive for a couple of generations. Which doesn't seem to be working out very well. Not by any measure. Might children who are raised in an industrial bureaucracy grow up to become the sort of adults who believe children should be educated reading instruction manuals?

I don't mean to say mental illness, medical care, and gun control are not important issues in their own right, not to mention the affect of non-nutrition on our society at large. But basic parenting would help a lot, for starters. Actually raising babies who turn into children who turn into young adults who, rather than having grown up steeped in a culture of abandonment and institutional absurdity, knew mostly mundane common love, trust, hot meals, and wonder, who leave home curious and ready. Rather than exhausted, secretly fearful, and furious.

Monday, December 17, 2012

I've mentioned, many times over the years, how pleasantly startled I am when I get those moments of recognition that unschooling really works. I believe it works. I enjoy our unschooling life. I see my kids growing and changing and getting smarter. But still, its very difficult to buck the system. Humans are community dwelling apes. We aren't really hardwired to shun the will of the group easily. Especially when it comes to raising the baby apes.

So when one of my kids spends time voluntarily wrestling down Edgar Allen Poe or the other one cranks out a seven page short story that is pretty dog gone tight and well written by any standard, let alone judging the first attempt of a 12 year old, when one decides to study math in earnest, when I see them both slowly developing what looks like intellectual calm, I try to pause and remember unschooling works.  We aren't running on faith here. We are running on results. Sure, that pleases my ego as a mother.

But as a former school teacher and as a human being, what really pleases me most is the idea that we can  do this better. There are easier and more effective ways to educate the baby apes. Scholars are beginning to take note and I am filled with a warm happy glow at the thought of something better, less corporate and bureaucratic, more loving and intelligent, for society's children.

I'm sure we are all aware of the new common core standards of education for public school. The people who decide such things, the people who formally dictate how to educate the baby apes, the most penultimate scholars (one would hope) have decided to move children away from fiction. They will be forced, instead, to read non fiction. Perhaps that makes you swallow hard? Perhaps your mind quickly searches for something high-minded enough to replace fine literature. Ah, you think of essayists and rest a moment. E.B. White, Frederick Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emmerson, Craig Childs... You have to cast a broad net, but you can see possibilities. Force yourself to recall that St. John's College teaches from original documents only. Perhaps the common core standards will have children pouring over The Constitution and The Bill of Rights and, um... other really important non fiction documents. Right?

The most biggest smartest apes have decided what to teach the baby apes. We shall teach them how to read instruction manuals. And 70% of student reading shall come from non fiction sources. Seriously? It is becoming increasingly difficult for me to take institutional education seriously. Something is really wrong with those big fat-headed apes over there. They are bumbling simple and crude.

A poet is someone who can pour light into a cup 
then raise it to nourish 
your beautiful, parched, holy mouth. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Rarely have I been so pleased and pleasured by a piece of journalism. I could quote the whole thing in sound bites. But you should just go read it yourself: Schools Are Ruining Our Kids.  Thank God its not written by a homeschooler. No homeschooler could say such direct and honest things without provoking a shit-storm of defensiveness.

How many times have I said this: "But then, none of us have any idea what we’re doing. That’s right, none of us know anything." Sing it, brother! "...a couple of odes and some finches..."  I'm still snickering.

Snickering is a good word.
"This peppermint tastes like winter threw up in my mouth"  said Dear Girl. 
 There is no age limit on Playmobil Christmas. The kids have enjoyed this for 6 years, now its a tradition.
 In other news, apparently Vonnegut is, "Kind of places. Its alright." 

Monday, December 10, 2012

 Hark, the herald angels of this new generation may have unusual and fresh ideas about beauty and art. 

 Dear Girl had the opportunity to run a henna booth at a kid market this weekend. She did a great job. 
Dear Boy didn't hang around too long. For reasons unfathomable, he didn't bring a book to the kid market. I suggested he walk up to the library. So he did! My son walked off into the city all alone. It was SO COOL, yet wistful, to see him go. I stood with him on the street and said: go right then left then right then stay straight, pass our friend Karen's house, keep going, stay straight a while longer, and down yonder you'll find the library. So he did! A couple hours later he showed back up at the market. I had forgotten he was with us downtown. How's that for not worried?! I understand its mundane beyond all telling to blog about my son taking a walk alone through the city. Except, wow, that was his first time out all alone. And just so appropriate. Because he's just so grown now. 

He's been studying math in earnest. By himself. Its kind of humorous how startled I can still be by the fact that unschooling works. Who studies math if they don't have to? People making their own goals and defining their own interests, that's who. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Dalai Lama says the world doesn't need more successful people. He doesn't bother to define success, but goes on to say what the world does need: more healers, artists, and "lovers of all kinds." Meanwhile the BBC is reporting that the United States is experiencing a new trend of downward mobility. Within one generation, for the first time in our history, the new crop of middle class kids are expected to be less well educated and less wealthy than their parents. By less educated, they mean fewer kids will graduate high school and fewer still will seek or achieve higher degrees. And all of 'em will have a harder time finding better jobs.

Of my father's six children, all of us are less educated and less wealthy. So far. I don't fear poverty. I only fear life without health insurance. I tend to lean toward a spiritual view of fortune and success. Yet I do enjoy eating, expensive art supplies, and the near ability to responsibly buy livestock. None of which matters. What matters is what happens to our children.

Dear children: I suggest you choose to go to college and plan to get through it as cheaply as possible. Working at a state university in a full time position while taking a free class (and paying for an extra per semester) is a great way to get through without needing any loans. Or, consider knocking out the first two years in a community college then transferring to the local university. A higher degree will expand your mind and your skills. Go because it will enrich your life, but plan to go with an eye toward what you will do with your degree economically. In other words, do not go study English Literature. Go study computer science, medicine, or engineering. Pick a career that is fascinating and well paid.

And if you don't go to college, plan to live in the most beautiful and expensive community you can imagine. Think: Breckenridge, Santa Fe, Sonoma Valley, Martha's Vineyard, Kiawah, etc. While you are still young and unencumbered, go live in poverty in a gorgeous place that is visually and literally wealthy. Because these are the places people have money to pay you well to bar tend, cut hair, clean house, care for their children, and entertain them. These are the communities that have enough money to support artists. And anyway, you should surround yourself with beauty and interesting people, no matter how much money you make.

Finally, dear children, please understand there is no pressure on you to ever leave home. Your father and I take an old world view to family. We want to remain close. You will always be welcome to live in our home, in the life we've all made together. Its seems almost absurd to have to write that out. Yet, in our society, most parents expect their children to leave. Most even look forward to their children leaving, as that moment signifies a kind of freedom for them. Sad, huh? You children do not limit the freedom of our lives. Indeed, you expand and enrich our lives everyday. Stay forever, if you like. We only want you both to live well and happy and to feel free to pursue your goals. While you are young, dream big and make plans to go for it, knowing home is always an option.

For a start, it is possible to divide every kind of happiness and suffering into two main categories: mental and physical. Of the two, it is the mind that exerts the greatest influence on most of us. Unless we are either gravely ill or deprived of basic necessities, our physical condition plays a secondary role in life. If the body is content, we virtually ignore it. The mind, however, registers every event, no matter how small. Hence we should devote our most serious efforts to bringing about mental peace.

From my own limited experience I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion.

Monday, December 3, 2012

What do they remember of their childhood? An older homeschooling mother was explaining to me, last week in the park, how her children seem to remember all the bad stuff and difficulty most. And I've noticed the same thing about my kids. If a memory comes up in conversation, its invariably about some mistake I made or general parenting failure. "Yeah Mom, remember that time you were furious... you broke that... you told us we had to... you took away... " But really, I think these are just the moments that make good stories. Hey Mom, remember that time you loved us without losing your patience once, the house looked workably well organized, and every meal was served hot every day for two solid weeks? That story lacks dramatic punch (as well as, erm, the ring of truth?)

What I remember about four and a half years of co-sleeping with the children is how dear and precious it was to be there to hear their first waking thoughts. Into the dawning light a small voice would ring, "have you ever really thought about forks?" Or on another day, "Have you ever really thought about a bar of soap?" Apparently dawn is for deep thoughts, babies are for cuddling, and there is no reason to make anyone sleep alone through the night. How I wish I could have fully understood attachment parenting before I had children. Ah well, we do the best we can with the information available at the time. Never mind the legend of the first night I pressed our daughter to sleep in her own bed all night. Naturally THAT was the night it rained inside our house. For real, actual rain in the house, a downpour, and a baby alone confused and worried in her own big girl bed. Good job, Mom! Four and half years of co-sleeping summed up in one huge parenting fail. See what I mean?

Felting is my favorite holiday tradition in our family. I look forward to seeing the old felted decorations, as well as making new ones. This year, inspired by Moonrise Kingdom, a brilliant movie, I am making Raccoon Patch ornaments for children who aren't receiving socks. I know, wow, socks and patches! Am I the greatest Auntie ever?! Poor kids. But I just can't force myself to slog through the whole drippy commercial season without pausing to create and give something personal. I think food with a felted decoration will be my new standing family gift. It will mean more, hopefully, over time. Plus, as a kid I always loved getting food.

Uncle Ronald always gave us packages of Lance Crackers. Nekot are my favorite. Can you think of anything simpler or more humble? I cherish even the sight of these "cookies" because of the memories. And hey, could a product be more commercial? Nope. Still, precious as ever. Thanks Uncle Ronald!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Last December I decided to learn how to knit socks to give as Christmas presents this year. Three pairs are going out in the mail this week. Accomplishing that must have ripped the top off my knitting impulse. I've knit as much this year, I think, as all my previous years combined. The socks, three hats, a wrap, wrist warmers for my girl, plus many many failed socks and mittens and an abandoned baby sweater or two. I've taught two more people how to knit. And I have a new wrap on the needles.

The first wrap was knitted while listening to Moby Dick and thinking very nautically. Very much holding the essence of whale skin, baby mermaids, and Dear Husband's sea chant in my heart as I knit. "You be the ship on the ocean. You be the ship on the sea. You be the cargo, let I be the wave, and I'll carry you safely away...from me." This new wrap is of the Pacific. Its dark and tangled with waves curling disorderly back into themselves, deep rich and unseen floating through me as I knit. At least, that's how it feels. And the feeling comes through knitting and the wool, more than through my mind. Which is curios to me. Before and always, I generally knit with a person in mind and every stitch is a wish. 

So, wooly land art aquatic. Meanwhile, we've been thinking about astronauts. Dear Boy read well into "The Right Stuff" before he lost interest. Then we watched a documentary about landing on the moon. Then we watched "Apollo 13". Don't know why, exactly, but I've been dreaming with an astronautical lean. At least we've covered this one point in history, schoolish wise. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

 Meanwhile, back at the farm, new Chuck Taylors for the Bro. 
Dear Girl has gone out today into the big city with big people doing real work. I didn't want her to go because its too far away, too big, and not in my control. I urged her to go, despite her own feelings that perhaps its a bit too far away, too big, and not in her control. Now she'll be gone all day and I will feel worried. Tonight she'll undoubtedly be home happy, tired, glad she went. I'll be relieved, glad to have her home, and congratulating myself for making her do something I didn't want, she didn't want, and never mind the fact that I disagree with pushing kids too much. I also disagree with not pushing kids enough. There is the dilemma of parenting. In the mean time, I am delighted she has the opportunity to go and has gone. The rest of us are going to buy a Christmas tree, wash dishes, and laze about thinking of ways to push ourselves a bit harder.
Yep, she made it home happy tired and pleased. I'm so glad she went. She learned a lot, made some money, and her world got bigger. Yay for growing up!