Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Yeah, the excitement is running pretty high around here. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Did you know there is a word for the people who think they can cure every single wrong thing through correct application of nutrition? Its called Orthorexia. I have a lot of sympathy for folks who get snared in the idea that if we just figure out the right way to eat (and really, the right way to do everything) we'll all be happy and healthy and live long good lives. Everyone can see how believing nutrition matters too much is a trap leading to unhappiness. No one wants orthorexia.

Put another way, a wise woman once told me that controlling our food is a very common way of dealing with the chaos of life. If life feels out of control, at least food can be brought to heel. (Or heal, as the case may be.) Its really really REALLY good for me to keep these ideas in mind. I am aware of the chaos of life, of decay, of imperfection, of the ways we all fail all the time, the ways I fail all the time, and worst of all, the ways I am unaware of my failure. I wish I could eat my way around all of that. I know I can't.

That doesn't mean we should not talk about nutrition. We still have to think about feeding ourselves better. Almost all of us are doing an actively bad job navigating the boondoggle of food in this place and time. Humans on the planet right now are getting unhealthier by the generation, for the first time ever. (Weston Price predicted this predicament as early as the 1930s.) Our fertility is in decline. I'm referring to fertility here in the way farmers understand the word. Fertility doesn't simply equal reproduction. Fertility indicates sustainability, normal good health with normal life span free from most disease, and increasing population within balance. Yes, balance does indicate chaos. And here, we've made a circle. But its a good fertile circle. Children living in a fertile circle do not get asthma, are not allergic to food, and are at no risk of diabetes 2.

If you happen to be a person who is lucky enough to get a hold of actual nourishment---the kind that improves your body, your outlook, your hormones, and your emotional equilibrium, you should be grateful. What you have learned about food is an important thing to talk about. Through legitimate nutrition, which, by the way, only comes from fertile systems, you have been lucky enough to glimpse a beautiful simple and nearly lost truth. You just (I just) have to keep remembering the other truth, life is chaotic and decay is a fact. A good fertile fact.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Remember when I was bitching about the new common core standards, how schools plan to drop literature in favor of technical writing? In "Why I Support The Common Core Standards"  Karen Prior makes an excellent argument for the new core standards, based on the fact that kids are graduating from high school without being proficient readers. Apparently many kids have been skating along on discussions of literature based on their feelings rather than the actual text.

When we first started homeschooling my mother in law scoffed at the idea my son was reading above grade level. "Yes, but comprehension is the key. It (his reading) doesn't mean anything without comprehension." We were talking, at the time, about a five year old. So I replied that no one reads for pleasure what they don't understand at least pretty well. Now that my son is a teenager I would add that no one reads at their current reading level forever. Reading begets better reading which begets interest in more complex reading. At least, that's how its worked at our house.

Homeschoolers read for fun. There is no better way to improve reading skills.
Folks often discuss the difference between classic homeschoolers and unschoolers. Which also roughly correlates to Christian homeschoolers and secular homeschoolers. Of course, folks will bicker about these labels. These same labels will also shift their definition within families, depending on who the teacher/parent is talking too in any given moment. There are many ways to talk about what unschooling is and how that relates to a Classic education, as "classic" is understood among homeschoolers. Add the specter of God and appropriate behavior for children in society to any such discussion, and its easy to see there is plenty of wiggle room in every definition. And passions run high. These are words whose technical definitions defy precision yet matter profoundly to the homeschooling community if not to all teachers or all parents.

We homeschoolers carry these classifications around ourselves like cloaks, sheltering cloaks. We think it matters a great deal, which side we're on. If we're with the classical religious folks or the breezy avant garde of theoretical pedagogy. But we're wrong. These distinctions are not most important.

The most important distinction is not how you homeschool, but why. All the different forms of schooling children can work well. The single most important factor in growing a baby to an adult will be parental input. In that way, all children are homeschooled. But among parents who identify as homeschoolers, the most important factor in getting their children educated is not a classic format nor unschooling nor any gradient between. Mind-bending as it truly is, all those different ways work. And work well.

I can tell you the different ways work and work well because I've seen the evidence with my own eyes. I've watched the kids grow up and leave home and display competency and ability to do what they want or need to do. And the scant research that's been done correlates well with positive results. Also, major universities adore homeschoolers---classic as well as unschooled. They will take them in almost any form they can get them. They will take them in a box, they will take them without sox, they will even take them from a fox. Universities love homeschoolers. So much, they have a tendency to wave all the stupid bullshit requirements they have for schooled kids. Which is a huge and scandalous secret. Don't tell anyone. But if you can demonstrate a homeschooling background and you are an intelligent person with integrity, you can probably go to college. Which, to my way of thinking, is a pretty solid indicator that something right is happening with homeschoolers. Universities have noticed the difference and they approve. No one can argue with that.

So what does it mean that how one homeschools does not matter as much as why one homeschools? Process is not as important as intention? That is an interesting proposition.

One thing sad thing I've noticed, lately, is that expelled homeschoolers--kids pulled out of school and thereby "homeschooled"--tend not to do well. Probably because their parents never intended homeschool. Their why isn't in the right place. Consequently they seem to have a hard time finding their how.

Friday, April 19, 2013

This is an old sheet my kids wanted me to keep because its sentimental to them. I've been in a fit of cleaning up, cleaning out, cleaning through. Cleaning through what? Time. Cleaning through time. How can we clean through time? I can't answer that question. I can only say cleaning through time is an inevitability. It happens and will continue to happen whether you resist or attempt participation. Still, I'm sorry I put this silly fragile clearly worn-out sheet in the trash. Because of what my son said. Not the funny thing he said about the sheet representing eccentricity. The touching thing he said: "Smell it." Mom, go ahead and smell it. It smells like home. It smells like home while you're standing in the middle of home, in the middle of the time where your home is still around you and you are not away from it. For a thing to accomplish such a feat is extraordinary. In the same way the sound of my husband snoring can occasionally drive me to extremes of exhaustion and frustration such that I think about death. Yet my dog snoring now at my feet moves my heart in a tender way, almost to tears, knowing she is getting old in this time in this home. And we won't always have her. This is the phenomenon that dogs me, dogs all of us. We can't save anything. Hoarding everything won't improve anyone's life. Time will take as much as it gives, an eternal expression of quantum electrodynamics.

Except the hole inside the sheet. Time can't take the portal through which our hearts glimpse love. That is what remains. The hole animates the material, indicates value. Allows us the opportunity to see truth.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

 Beer run: Carolina Brewery Oatmeal Porter. And my True Love. Micro dates are a new concept around here. Such as heading out to buy some beer after dinner and pausing for a kiss in the driveway. Sometimes that's all it takes to sustain a healthy relationship between busy exhausted parents. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

My daughter says I am leaving "stink trails" through the house with my kimchi. Which may be true. But the spicey/garlicy/gingery/ goodness is helping my allergies. Its like my superpower right now. So I guess we're just going to have to stink it up for a while.

In the meantime, I'm renovating our upstairs. By myself. One paint stroke at a time. A very pleasing project. I've painted my son's room. Next come the hall, baths, daughter's room, then the master suite! I'm also planning to decorate the stair risers in our house. Which I think looks especially nice when the stairs curve, as ours do. I love this example. But I'm going for something less wordy and a lot more colorful for our own stairs:
After the painting is done the kids and I will finish removing all the old wall to wall carpet. Then we are going to install a floating hardwood floor. That should make a nice homeschooling project for the summer doldrums later this season. Wish me luck and kimchi power!

New room, deep green, a lot more organized, and waiting for an actual floor. We had his favorite posters dry mounted which makes a bigger difference than you might think, visually. Wait a minute! IS THAT THE POSTER WRAPPING UNDER HIS BED?! I think it is! Yeah, clearly no one has to worry we're going to get too clean or well organized or upgraded to where we can't be recognized.
 The shelves look great, though. And I truly love this color green he picked. Very soothing and calm.
 How many pictures do I need? As many as it takes, Buddy. As many as it takes. I love you! :o)

Friday, April 12, 2013

"For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature can not be fooled."

"We have no deeper understanding of what we're doing. If we had a deeper understanding, we'd go nutty."

At the end of this, I put head on my desk and cried, for awhile. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

 I spun in the kitchen yesterday, pulled by an unknowable force, to encounter this character. 
 She does not speak.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Okay, perhaps needless to say, I now have a crush on Richard Feynman. Move over Sir Ken. You've been replaced by a dead guy. I still love you. But I need to spend some time learning about Richard.

Richard Feynman - The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out

"He knew the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something...That's the way I was educated by my father. No pressure, just lovely interesting discussion."

"One of the things my father taught me was disrespect for the respectable."

"How should I best teach them?  My theory is that the best way to teach is to have no philosophy, is to be chaotic and confused in the sense that you use every possible way of doing it."

"I'm sorry. After many many years of teaching...I really don't know how to do it."

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Dear husband made coddled eggs and sweet potato biscuits for dinner on Sunday. You can see, some of us followed that up with pound cake. Life is good.

Dear girl got a deep case of the giggles while we were eating because she said the eggs smelled like horses. My mother scolded me for "putting your nose all over everything" when I was my daughter's current age. But I smelled the eggs myself and it was true, they smelled like livestock. Our chickens get no feed other than forage and our kitchen scraps, so it wasn't corn we were smelling. As I was thinking about it, Dear husband mentioned ladling cream over the eggs before they were baked. Ah, that smell.

The milk we drink is hand milked in a field. The farmer throws down some grain, turns over the grain bucket to sit on, wipes the cow's udder and his hands off with a wet paper towel, and milks faster than the cow can eat. The milk we buy has cream nearly as yellow as our kitchen walls with the consistency of eggnog and nearly that sweetness. I guarantee there is no richer milk for sale in this state. I am flooded with gratitude every Wednesday morning when I get to go to the farm and buy this milk. I pay more than he charges and bring my own jars, already sterilized. If necessary, I would pay even more.

What Dear girl smells in the cream is the farmer's hands. Or rather, the cow's udder transferred to the farmers hands, and then to the milk. I know this, because its the same smell on my own hands when I milk. Maybe this is the real definition of local food? Tasting the farmers hands.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A phrase from a poem by Dylan Thomas stopped me in my tracks this morning. I'll be thinking on it for a while. 

"Dark is a way and light is a place." 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Due to a very sad and untimely death, a farm was in need of quick divesting of animals yesterday. I went with my friend, the unofficial executor of these animals, to help catch goats and roosters, to help consider what might happen to the pigs and dogs, and to quietly check out the farm. We might end up making an offer on the property, which could help the surviving family (all of whom are not farmers and live in Washington State) while placing my family on the farm we clearly need.

My friend is really sad. She's just lost her friend. And she takes her obligation to help these animals very seriously. She's also a mother of four little ones, running her own farm, and working as an EMT. This woman is dedicated, awesomely hard working, and serious about helping out her friend, even in death. 

Off to the farm we drove. We had dog crates for transporting the goats to a new home, prearranged at a farm the goat's owners had already vetted. We kicked around ideas for where to place the roosters. No one wants roosters. And what to do with very old (too old to eat) house-pigs? We corralled, cajoled, and eventually caught these frightened goats while pigs dodged through our legs. We did this while it was sleeting. At the home of people in mourning. We were pretty serious about the whole situation, and thank goodness we had an 11 year old along. She was completely invaluable every step of the way. She was seriously impressive at catching roosters humanely. And she can't weigh more than 90 pounds. Honestly, I was intimidated by the idea of grabbing roosters, myself. Farm children are awesome! This one child, especially so. 

It was the child who suggested a couple of cardboard boxes for transporting the roosters. But they didn't look quite sturdy enough to my (rooster phobic?) eyes. To be fair, whether in mourning or not, no one wants a one to one ratio of roosters flying around the cab of a pickup truck in motion. Good barns seem to magically provide what's needed for most situations, if one is willing to think creatively or look around hard enough. I found a plastic tub from Walmart, perfect in size for three roosters. It only took my friend a few more minutes to find a suitable lid. In fact, that lid fit PERFECTLY. More perfectly than those kinds of plastic lids usually fit. Such luck on a rather dreary day. 

We were just about to start catching roosters, just finishing up with the goats, when another truck arrived. An elderly couple got out and inquired where we were taking the goats. My friend, the executor and Resident Angel, patiently explained that the goats had a new home. And that she herself was in no way profiting from these goats. But somehow this couple could not hear her message. They seemed to be under the confused notion that the goats were somehow negotiable. Though they were absolutely cogent about the value of the goats, which is considerable. They seemed to feel it was appropriate to stand in the driveway of a family in mourning to discuss the issue at great length. With a woman who was, herself, in mourning for her friend. It was astoundingly tacky. Tacky being the nicest word to describe the situation. 

I tried my best to rescue my friend and shoo away these folks by asking if they, who were very clearly not going to be leaving with new goats, might be interested in taking home some pigs. That made them laugh. Levity is good, but they still weren't leaving. So I tried again. "If you would like to help out (and why else could you possibly still be here, I thought to myself?) Might you consider at least taking a rooster?" No dice. They didn't want roosters anymore than they wanted pigs. Any more than, apparently, they were interested in actually helping this poor family or these animals. 

But finally they left. We, with the help of the awesome 11 year old girl, caught the three roosters. Because we were attending to the important details and very thorough, we remembered to also bag up some grain for the goats. So they could slowly transition their rumens to new food at a new home. We stashed the roosters in the truck with the grain bag on the lid to keep them safe. And we turned our attention to the dogs in kennels. 

Farm dogs are the easiest creatures to consider and to place. These dogs were clearly a bit confused about the change in routine on the farm, the disappearance of the farmer, and who all the new folks were. But they were grateful for attention and truth be told, we took a moment to rest with them. We took comfort in their warm soft eyes which offered only willingness to help and to love. We reviewed their options and plans for their care. We warmed our hands and hearts. Then we finished up, said goodbye to the family, and drove away.

About 10 slow careful goat-hauling miles down the highway someone, probably the 11 year old, wondered how the roosters were doing and decided we should check. Dear child popped the lid (which wasn't easy with 20 pounds of grain on top) and looked in. She said, "Oh, his comb is blue." 

In our defense, at this point the adults may have been a bit numb. Or some amount of denial was in play. And anyway, where could we open a case full of roosters---in the truck cab, on the side of a highway? Neither I nor my friend suggested we stop and open the lid. We offered bungy cords to help prop the lid open a crack. The sensible child used her fingers instead. How she held that thing open the last 10 slow careful miles, it only now occurs to me to wonder. It was heavy and her hands are small! But she's a farm kid and she managed what needed managing without complaining. Because she's awesome like that. The fact her fingers never got pecked might cause some to wonder. 

We stopped at their farm so I could pick up my car and get back to my own kids, who were home alone. We opened the case for the roosters, to set them free, only to find one survivor. But Angel/executor and her marvelous dear child still had to deliver the goats to their new home. I hugged my friend in the rain, feeling kind of sick about the roosters, and we went our separate ways. Me, to find new and equally serious kinds of chaos happening at my own house. 

By four that afternoon I wasn't numb at all and I was at my wits end. I went back to my friend's house (ahhhh proximity is a gorgeous thing) and we took a moment to review the day together over a nice stiff couple of drinks. We spoke of loss. We spoke of how wrong folks who think they are right can be. We spoke of who you can save and who you can't. In the end we had to admit, sometimes despite all best efforts, the rooster is just going to die. And right or wrong, we laughed our asses off. It was way too late for tears. And sometimes the simple comfort of getting through difficult situations with a good friend reminds us of Grace even in the face of everything wrong. 
I do so appreciate Peter Gray. Here's his latest: "My Hope For: Free To Learn"
"All the world seems to believe that our coercive system of schooling is essential to children’s becoming educated. They believe it not because their own two eyes and common sense tell them it’s true, but because everyone says it’s true and therefore it must be. Many people don’t even think much about it; they just accept it as true. They may hate school themselves, but nevertheless assume school is necessary, like bad-tasting medicine. Never mind that bad-tasting medicine takes a second to swallow while forced schooling takes 11 to 13 years."

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Dear Boy had his H-ideous-erpst appliance removed yesterday. It has absolutely changed his profile, saved him from having to wear headgear, and never bothered him very much at all. At least, that's what he says. This first part of the process has been remarkably easy for him. But its hard for me to imagine not being bothered. Look at that hardware! I had an unusual orthodontic case and wore braces for four years with reverse headgear. I guess I thought that gave me special knowledge about the process? So yesterday I was full of reassurance for him: taking it out won't hurt, its a relief, the hard part is over. Well, it did hurt. It took a long time to remove. And having it out didn't make all that much difference to him. Parenting fail. Note to self: do not advise on topics about which you know nothing. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Quick, whisper to yourself: rabbits rabbits rabbits. Its the first day of the month. And lovely spring.