Friday, October 31, 2014

When the kids were toddlers and my husband finished his graduate degree and scored a permanent job we moved to Texas and bought a house. Real estate in Texas is dead cheap---because no one wants to live there. And that was a great thing for us because, despite the fancy degree and awesome job, we were broke. But because the kids were very little and we had a new home I decided to splurge on Halloween decorations. I went all out, spent more than $100. Which was absurd. But over the years has proven to have been worth it. I bought a lighted haunted house with movable characters, the famous Bony Macaroni who H slept with for a year, an iron candelabra, a corpse that pops out of a casket and screams, a ghost, some feathered ravens, some rats, and Clanker Kitty!

Clanker kitty was awesome. She was made of black steel and had rocking horse feet that moved with the slightest breeze and she clanked. Loudly. And she was big, as tall as R was then. She was so awesome and good at her job of setting a frightening tone that R wouldn't walk past her. Nor the cats. Nor the dogs. It turns out, we had to get rid of Clanker Kitty. But we still have all the rest and we get them out every October.

Except this year. This is the first year H doesn't want to trick or treat and, incidentally, we didn't get the decorations out because the entrance to the attic is blocked by shelving. Moving the just wasn't a priority. I guess everyone is getting older and distracted by other things.

But do we ever get too old to celebrate? Let's hope not. R saved us. When I walked in the kitchen this morning to make a cup of coffee before work, I found these ghosts. Excellent! Now we're proper. Thanks R. I love you and I love all the small things you do to remind us how to live. xoxo

Monday, October 27, 2014

This kid asked for components so he could build his own computer, for his birthday. 
So that's what he got. And that's what he did.
Happy Birthday, kid. We love you so much! 
Good work you did, building the computer. Its banging, as well.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Quotes from veteran unschooling mothers chatting online together :

"Been unschooling these kids for a long time now. Just gotta say, I'm BLOWN AWAY by how well its all worked out."

"Yes, I'm weepy and sad that it's gone by and I want to do it again but relax this time. Because unschooling was SO easy, and so okay, and now that I got that, she's almost gone" 

"I'm pretty happy with how my kids have turned out. They are all employed. They're in good relationships, solid, except for Sam, and that's okay because he's busy learning things and knows he's not ready for that yet - that shows maturity too. But I know, because I do remember, even though the memories are fading, I know I lost sleep worrying. Was I doing enough (Yes). Would they be as prepared as their peers (More so). Would they be outcasts (They were the most popular kids that never went to school). Do they need a HS diploma.(Sometimes). Would they be able to relate to people who didn't have the same educational opportunities (i.e. public schoolers from this podunk place) (Not always. They have as much tolerance as I do for ignorance). Would they hate me. (Sometimes). All in all, my kids are by far more successful, both career-wise and relationship-wise, than I was as their ages. They are doing more things right, sooner. Is it because they were unschooled? I absolutely believe so."

"It's amazing how smart you can be when there aren't dozens of adults analyzing you and measuring your intelligence against arbitrary standards." 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

This article, dear children, is true down to the last word. It perfectly describes my recent dilemma at work, as well as the solution. Have I ever tried to talk myself out of behavior created problems? Yep. Did it work? Nope. Its wrong. 

This is right--in terms of business, friendships, families, and romances:

What are some consequences of low trust, and high trust?

In low-trust environments, you'll see low morale, disengagement and a lack of commitment. You'll also see people manipulating, distorting facts and withholding information. There will be resistance to new ideas, bad-mouthing, finger-pointing, overpromising, underdelivering and, often, tension and fear. Everything will take longer to do and everything will cost more.

The converse in high-trust cultures is equally true. When the trust goes up in an organization, the speed will go up and costs will come down. Your ability to collaborate goes up, as does your ability to attract, retain and engage people. When trust goes up, you’ll see people sharing information, not afraid to make mistakes, more creativity, higher accountability and greater energy and satisfaction. When you move the needle on trust, you move all kinds of other needles with it.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Handmade Puppet Parade always sets a wonderful tone for the beginning of fall. Art is nearly the best humans have to offer and its always good to be randomly immersed for a while. We took Grandmother and spent a lovely afternoon on the street last weekend.
 Mask Making, part 2, out from behind the camera...
 Mask Making, a photographic essay through the eyes (and Olympus) of Ry.

Did I mention another homeschooling mother gave my daughter her cast-off Olympus digital camera? I've always said its important to give kids real tools for their work. I give toddlers sharp scissors and paintbrushes made with hair. Tools matter. Apparently this goes for cameras as well. The only down side is that now I feel I need a new camera.

I'm so grateful to Shannon for the Olympus. It was a game changing gift. I love my girl's artistic eye, her natural sense of composition and her style. Photography has become her primary creative outlet these days. And now she's got a much better toolbox to work with. I think this is the best portrait of Jackson, ever. And Ry, are there two animals in this image, or three? Very nice work!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Next assignment. Well, I suppose I should first mention the first assignment. The kids are taking an essay writing class this fall. If the class trends the way its started, they will be writing an essay a week through December. First class, a one paragraph essay. Second class, three paragraphs. Third class, five, and so on. Actually, its turned out to be fun and they rather enjoy it.

Because we're unschoolers I rarely declare mandatory assignments. But this next thing is just too good. First, we'll read: The True-Life Horror That Inspired Moby-Dick. Then we are going to listen to the audio version of Moby Dick. And we'll sum up next year when we all go see this together! That's some badass lesson planning, if I do say so myself.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

This morning I milked a newly fresh heifer--c a r e f u l l y and tenderly--as we milk all newly fresh heifers. I also milked a cow who kicked at me in a truly dangerous way. While extremely rare, I don't appreciate that shit. I put a belly band on her and I put it on Firmly. After milking I worked outside in the pouring rain. And it was kind of glorious, in a filthy muddy slippery sloppy way. Moments of intense weather bring out a sense of simpatico and togetherness on the farm. At one point one of the farm owners passed by and tossed me a hot egg and sausage biscuit. So for a little while I was walking around the farm working with my right hand--filthy muddy sloppy, and eating with my left. If I needed both hands I tucked the biscuit into my bra on the left side, nice and warm, right over my heart. Its hard work, make no mistake. But I love this job.

Not half as much as I love my kids, though. Afternoons are reserved for them. This afternoon I'm sitting in a coffee house in a cushy leather chair under nice natural light with a big glass of Malbec. Homeschooling teenagers has definite advantages. But homeschooling through high school feels, in some ways, sketchier than elementary school. You need strength of conviction because time is winding closer. If there is something you aren't teaching them you don't have much time to make it up. There will come a moment, soon, when those who are watching and care will exhale, either with relief or accusation. Either the kids will be well prepared to do what they want to do next, or we, or our method, will have failed them. That's the message repeatedly transmitted my way. But is that true? Or does it simply reflect an institutional way of looking at life?

Crossing the parking lot and parting ways, them for an afternoon hanging out with their friends, me for a glass of wine, something occurred to me. Homeschool isn't about their future. Their future is infinitely malleable; there is no time to cease learning. Homeschool will end up being about their past. We win not some ugly imagined schoolish competition over grades or external measures of success. We win what we get to keep forever: our relationship, the long happy years passed in shelter from stress and fear and unworthy authority, their selves formed in solitude with trust, warmth, love, and freedom. Whatever they do next, they get to keep what's already happened forever. And it was really really good.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Always more to learn, always interesting. Yesterday my boss had the vet teach me about turning a little bull into a little steer. I've seen plenty of surgical procedures during human births and in the dental office. I'm no stranger to blood and knives. But I was still caught off guard. So was the calf, though he wasn't half as upset as I expected him to be.

Animals have evolved to resist showing pain. You can't be stumbling around the forest moaning and whining, the way humans do, because someone is going to notice your vulnerability and eat you. Cows are famously stoic and can be extremely brutal with each other---especially with their horns. Their primary mode of communication is intimidation followed by force. Which, other than human safety, is the reason they get dehorned. They can tear each other up with those powerful weapons. We numb our calves before dehorning and when the anesthesia works perfectly they don't indicate any pain. Be that as it may, the most brutal thing I've ever seen in my life is a botched dehorning. A different vet on another farm was in charge that day and I've often wondered if maybe he had lapsed into a psychotic state? The calf was bawling, shaking, and foaming at the mouth. It was truly horrible and I'd give anything to take it back. I can't explain what-the-hell went wrong but it was the vet's fault, whatever it was.

What calves hate most is having a halter put on. Much in the way human babies hate being held down. A calf haltered for the first time will throw a world class fit. They will balk as hard as they can and fight and cry. When that doesn't work they roll their eyes and dramatically throw their bodies on the ground. Sometimes they even appear to lose consciousness. Everything about their behavior suggests they are facing torture and will likely die. The first time I saw it I panicked and when the calf acted dead, I thought I'd killed her. The second time, I chuckled. Fool me once... Am I avoiding the issue of the day? The point is, our little fellow was remarkably unfazed yesterday. I won't say it didn't hurt. But the procedure happens without anesthesia and he appeared far more upset about walking on a halter than what happened next.

The vet checked that both testicles were descended, they feel like long firm grapes. She says not to go through with it if you don't have both. If someone is dealing with a bull, they need know. Then she pushed both testicles up and cut the bottom third of his scrotum off. Both testicles fell out. She grabbed one and pulled it all the way out on its spermatic cord--about 5 or 6 inches long, I would guess. She pulled hard enough to snap the cord. The pulling is crucial and there is no cutting. When you pull on the cord you activate tiny muscles in the walls of the artery causing them to spasm shut, which prevents the calf from bleeding to death. In fact, yesterday there was no bleeding. If any remnant of short cord is left hanging out of the sac, you cut that off. You don't want to leave any conduit for bacteria. You repeat this on the other testicle and you're done. The calf walks back to his paddock and that's it. You don't spray antiseptic. The vet said this is because you want the wound to heal from the inside out and drain well.

Simple to say, shocking to see. The calf was totally fine. Like I said, I won't say he didn't feel it and surely it hurt. But it was fast and undramatic and his response was small. He cried a tiny bit for about 5 seconds. He walked back to his paddock calmly and easily and jumped up for his second bottle a few hours later.

Here is a slightly more complicated procedure on an older bull, a good illustration of the pulling.
Here is Mike Rowe explaining the difference with banding on lambs. Excellent discussion.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

I held my hand out in the moonlight as I walked into work this morning. It was so bright I thought I might could read if I'd had a book. Within a half hour the eclipse started and it felt so strange, how darkness fell. It was such a fine warm fall morning and the sky was perfectly clear for viewing. I called my husband and had him wake the kids up. I could see the moon through the parlor door as I milked, and I ran outside at full eclipse to see it really well. It was spectacular---the best one I've ever seen. Apparently the kids and their dad were on the side of the road by a neighboring pasture watching too. Our girl snapped a picture about half way through.
"I see the moon and the moon sees me and the moon sees the one I want to see."

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Strung together. I love him.                                                                                        

Monday, October 6, 2014

When pigs come running, a large group of pigs, and they are all trying to get close and rubbing against one another, their skin touching makes a sound like sandpaper. As with every other aspect of farming I've encountered, pigs are less trouble and smell than rumored. I won't say they don't smell. But they prefer to keep themselves clean. They do their best to confine their manure to one area of their pen and sleep as far from that area as possible. With no way to lick or paw themselves, they still manage to keep their bodies tidy. They are smart, their needs are simple, and they aren't aggressive so much as opportunistic. I used to be afraid of pigs---you hear such horrible things. But pigs are no problem, as long as they are setup well. The smell for which they are famed, as with chickens, is the result of feeding unnatural foods and poor housing. Pigs don't smell so much as human mismanagement smells. Pigs have a kind of dignity and unique beauty which is no longer recognized in our society, save for fairy tales and a few children's stories.

The perception of dignity and beauty on the farm is lost in our society in many ways. In the dark mornings when the cows follow each other in a silent line moving from pasture to parlor, I think of them as priestesses, keepers of important information about how to live that humans keep forgetting. Human cultural memory is astonishingly short. The most cursory reading of Little House on the Prairie shows us Pa's discontent with the crowded conditions of life in the United States in the mid 1800s. He felt the loss of wildlife and intrusion of society keenly. Pa's wild life with bears, cougars, Anasazi, and elemental rhythm is so long past its nearly mythical now. And it only took 30 years, one generation, for society to almost completely forget how to deliver babies, hand milk a cow, or handle any one of many lovely dignified useful life skills.

I had to hand milk a cow yesterday, for the first time since I took this farming job. My boss is so impressively strong and capable it would be absurd to compare the two of us. I am a pudgy housewife who bumbles along in her wake. Except for the skill of hand milking. I would guess there are probably less than 1000 people left in the United States who are skilled at getting milk out of a cow without machinery. I can do it in about 20 minutes, which is pretty fast. Hand milking was a nostalgic pleasure for me, yesterday. I think my boss was maybe a bit surprised? She offered to take turns, to help out with the task---something truly difficult and kind of onerous for folks who don't know how. It wasn't her considerable strength that mattered then, but my skill. It took me about 7 minutes to fully strip her dear old cow, a job she expected to require both of us and take "a while."

The life in and around that farm, flourishing more despite human intrusion than cultivation, is charming. I told the owner its a bit like Charlotte's Web around there. I hear not just owls and coyotes, but the subtle conversations of animals almost no one gets to hear anymore: cows singing for grain in their deep harmonic tones, pigs softly grunting to themselves, the voluminous and meaningful silences between all the animals that convey peace and rest. I've seen not just the profusion of spring frogs who show up to help with summer flies but the byways and creative paths of creatures in unexpected places like the mice who travel farm fences for safety and speed and the snakes who shelter in the farm clutter. Even our mechanical systems can offer unexpected beauty. The smell of the dairy parlor in the morning takes me back to banging through a well salted screen door at the beach just before the baking sun resumes its work, when the iodine tide has washed the sand, the oats in the dunes, and the warm soft air clean for another day. The parlor smells beautiful to me, surprisingly like the ocean, the two places society consistently harvests the most nutrient dense calories available for food in our culture.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Teenagers having fun.                                                                                                          image: RWR

Friday, October 3, 2014

Yeah, someday I will get around to reading John Holt, at least.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A while ago....actually, every so often....I get a call from a schooling parent who is frustrated and considering homeschool for their children. We talk. I say all the things I've said here. I try to be a good listener, and usually they send their kids back to school anyway. Which is fine, of course. Only parents know what is best for their kids. But sometimes I am deeply struck by the dissonance between our differences.

One mom had a miserable teenager---just very very unhappy in high school. So we chatted. I explained that homeschoolers can graduate at 16 and go directly to college, if they like. They can do this in the traditional way, if they are academically exceptional. And some do. Or they can enroll in the local university as continuing education students. Or they can proceed to community college and begin working on the first two years of general university requirements there, in a smaller and MUCH less expensive situation before transferring to university. Of these, I'm encouraging my kids to do the later. Its a great deal, if you're interested in higher education. A lot of homeschoolers choose this route. Aunt Katherine, who was Dean of Students for two different colleges, most recommended this last choice. And she was referring to "college ready" kids. Imagine being 18 with two years of college credit done and arriving on campus as a junior. Or taking a break then. Pretty sweet choice.

When I ran down the list of common options, this mother balked. Her son is already taking A.P classes and is "on track for acceptance" at the local university. And there I heard it, the dissonance. I understood her words and her reasoning, perfectly. But I also heard what she couldn't. There is no win, no special ticket, no extra points for getting into college in any specific way. Life does not care, universities do not care, employers do not care. You get nothing for how you arrive in college. You only get a reward for graduating. The whole kindergarten to college assembly line is a mirage. It, by itself, counts for exactly nothing. And trudging dutifully through it all, start to finish, wins exactly zero. If school is working, great. If its not working, you get nothing but pain for your trouble.

Here is a true, rather sad, thing. Many of these choices are made out of ego. Ego and denial, because admitting the situation at school isn't worth following through might mean admitting one hell of a lot of time and life have been wasted---not only of your children's but of your own. That's a pretty big thing to confront and most simply won't. Not even to help their children find another way.

Harvard, Schmarvard; Why Getting Your Kids Into College Should Be the Least of Your Concerns:
Let me tell you something -- college acceptance does not make a person succeed, nor does it say one thing about your parenting.
You know what does speak volumes about your parenting? Ask yourself the following questions:
  • Does your child have a compassionate soul?
  • Does your child have a healthy dose of intellectual curiosity?
  • Is your child resourceful and independent?
  • Is your child happy with who she is?
  • Can your child creatively problem-solve?
  • Is your child passionate about anything?
  • Can your child sit with himself and enjoy his own company?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

I've never read any books about homeschooling. Not about theory and not about how. I keep meaning to get around to it. The kids are 14 and 15. We've been homeschooling since 2005. Maybe soon?