Monday, October 29, 2007

Story About a Boy

I was reminded today of a story about this boy of mine. This boy has always marched to his own drum, and has an uncanny ability to see through people's sugar-coated sh*t. It's a humorous quality, especially when you get to watch the varied reactions.
It's a lucky thing he doesn't have to go to school. He'd be forever labeled a difficult child because he needs to circle the room and tap (and sometimes nearly stab) his head with a pencil to figure out something difficult. Because he likes to be silly. Because he doesn't care for condescension, the MO of many-a-teacher. If you patronize him, he'll give you this look.

And that's the look he gave the psychologist oh-so-many years ago during his preschool screening. I took him for screening when he was about 3. I was still teaching at the time, his brother was in kindergarten, and even though I knew it was an exercise in early labeling, I was still compliant with mainstream educational expectations back then. I don't recall most of the screening techniques, though I'm sure it was the usual round of eye exams, hearing exams, fine-motor control exercises, etc.

Things were going along swimmingly, when the woman asked him to stack a set of five blocks. He shook his head no. No fuss, he just didn't particularly feel like stacking blocks, apparently. The woman persisted. "I'll do it first. Like this, see? Now you do it!"

No go.

The woman wasn't particularly offensive, just sweetly coercive. But he stood his ground. There would be no stacking-of-the-blocks today. Not from THIS 3 year old, anyhow. I offered, "If it means anything, I know he can stack blocks." But she wanted him to do it.

After a few more attempts, she gave up and moved on. (Who knows what got marked on his file.) She finished the rest of the screening and left for a moment to retrieve some paperwork. I took the opportunity to look around and observe the myriad other toddler responses to the screening - some crying, their moms red-faced; others stacking blocks like good little future sheep.

When the woman finally returned, there, on the table, was a perfectly stacked pile of blocks. Jonathan was looking away, as nonchalant as ever. "Oh! You stacked the blocks! That's great!"

He never flinched. He never looked at her.

He never went to school.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Harvest Time

It was a lovely fall day here today, and that means it's harvest time! Actually, even though I grew up in cornfield country, I don't exactly know when harvest time is. Well, I know when they harvest that it is harvest time, but I don't know how they know when to harvest. Aside from it being October and all.

I'd like to share the finer points of corn harvesting with you.
But well, um, I don't know them.

This here's a combine - out in our field. Out in our cornfield. It's picking corn. (Good one.)

After the picking, the corn gets dumped into a wagon. For hauling. (Such detail.)

And after the corn gets dumped into the wagon, a tractor comes along and hauls it away. To, um, a grain bin. (I think.)And guess who's driving that tractor? My sister! She knows a lot more about corn harvesting than I do. A whole lot more. (Obviously.)

And sometimes it gets dumped into a semi-trailer instead of a wagon.And I don't know exactly why. (Made note to ask.)

And I just threw this photo in because I have such a great view to the east, and I wanted to share it with you all for the first time. Have you ever seen such a lovely view? Oh, I guess maybe you have.Like, at least once before.

Ok, maybe twice.

Actually, it looks like I have a thing for the view toward the east.

I seem to have an over-abundance of photos in my "View to the East" folder.

And it looks like whomever lives here 'keeps yard' the same way they 'keep house.'
What was I talking about again?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Look What I Did - The Aftermath

See now here's the problem with making cinnamon rolls. Seven pans of cinnamon rolls to be exact. I eat them. Lots of them. Lots as in 3-at-one-sitting. And I have the gut ache and incisor pre-cavity and sudden urge to reacquaint myself with a confessional to prove it.

I did well for a while.

I promptly drove a pan of freshly baked cinnamon rolls to my sister's house because she'd been feeling low. And also because I'd borrowed her last 2 jars of home-canned garden tomatoes for my lasagna-making event. And that's just incredibly generous of her to give them up, all so I didn't have to drive my lazy *ss to town. That day I only ate one cinnamon roll.

The next morning I took a pan to my friend Gina, just because I like her. And maybe, secretly, just a wee bit, in hopes that she'll now feel obligated to repay the favor with one of her lust-invoking dishes. She invited me in for coffee and I didn't even eat one when she offered. Total self-control. Other than that one I'd eaten before I got to her house.

And I sent a pan over to the neighbor's house after hearing it was the dad's birthday. He turned 40 and it was the perfect occasion to send some love-handle sustenance and a "Holy cow, man, you're, like, OLD" sentiment. I resisted the temptation to lift one from the gift pan and instead indulged in one from the leftovers.

So that was 3 pans down, and my family had inhaled one pan about 2.3 seconds after it came out of the oven, so that meant 3 pans remained on my counter, tempting me like the little cinnamon-sugar-buttery-devils-in-disguise that they are. So I started packing one each day in Brady's lunch. I wrapped and gifted two cinnamon rolls to my dear friend Dana when we met over coffee. And I was doing well, and my blood pressure was normal, and my thighs were maintaining their usual homeostasis.
Until today. Blame it on PMS. Blame it on the weather. Blame it on my incessant need to tidy my counters which means the cinnamon rolls had to go. Blame it on global warming, or the Bush administration, or those annoying 'I'm Thinking Arby's' commercials. Wherever the fault lies, it certainly doesn't have anything to do with my total lack of self-control.

And when I get to that point of madness, of rationalizing the eating of three cinnamon rolls in one day, it is hopeless. As the kids readied for bed, I surrendered to the well-worn refrain of "I've had three, so what would it really matter... if I ate... a fourth?"

But sometimes, even when you can't find the brake peddle, something else comes along and saves you from yourself.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Look What I Did

I got home super late the night of the Murder at the Disco show (which went well; as in $9,000 well!) so I was tired the next day. A tired Sunday is a recipe for severe grumpiness around here so I decided I needed a project. I'd been meaning to cook food as a thank-you for the family who drives Brady to school, so I ran to the store and got the fixin's for lasagna. A 3-pans-of-lasagna cooking frenzy ensued. But that was too easy, so I needed something else to do.

I'd recently asked Rob to buy several pounds of bread flour for our bread-making machine, but he'd mistakenly bought all-purpose flour. I sat and looked at the surplus.

I'm not much of a pastry chef. I've had bad experiences with yeast foods several times. I've made pizza crusts that resembled shortcake biscuits when they were done. I've had several batches of bread fail to rise. And I won't even scare you with details of a misguided dalliance with empanadas I once had.

But on Sunday, deliriously tired, something overcame me and I decided I was going to make cinnamon rolls. I almost changed my mind when the first step said to scald the milk. Say huh?! But it's times like these when I remember why I keep my computer in the kitchen and my homepage set to google.

And I made cinnamon rolls. I made cinnamon rolls! As I placed the first 2 pans into the oven, Rob rubbed his hands together in anticipation. I told him not to get excited - they might come out like little cinnamon-flavored bricks.

But they didn't! And the recipe made 7 pans. Seven pans! Here are the first two pans, straight out of the oven, freshly drizzled with glaze.....

Oh holy sweetness, is that not a beautiful sight? Soon two more came ready...
Lighter on the glaze that time, for those of us who like hints of sweetness rather than total tastebud sugar-overload.... And two more came ready....And the house smelled like a bakery and the dog began to howl and the neighbors started clawing at the back window and the kids' eyes rolled into the backs of their heads.... And pan #7 was ready...

Hey! Where'd the rest of them go? I live among sneaky little cinnamon roll stealers!

---> Follow-up post: "Look What I Did - The Aftermath"

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Unschooling Q&A - How Did We Get Here? Pt II

<--Previous Post - How Did We Get Here? Pt I

But before we go forward, we have to go back a bit....

The desire to quit my teaching job and unschool the kids came at a rather dubious time. It was an enormous decision, one I didn't take lightly. Money was tight; we had debts from a failed business venture to pay off, and we'd only had solid income for five years, with the first year consisting of only my meager teaching salary while Rob tried to keep our business afloat without me. And with a generous gift of 10 acres of family land from my parents, we'd just built a house and had a mortgage payment for the first time.

But it wasn't the first major overhaul of our short marriage; We'd gone from free-spirited, party-animal college students to stinkin'-poor, bone-tired, slightly befuddled parents of one, and that transition had taken its toll. I went from home to college to home again before I knew what had hit me. Add a very ambitious but slightly naive business venture on top of it, and we had no choice but to settle into the typical young adult lifestyle of working long hours in hopes of steadily moving up the income ladder. And quickly. Macaroni for dinner was getting reeeeally old.

But a few short years later I got restless. Something wasn't right. And that didn't make any sense when you consider that Rob had finally landed a secure job, I had tenure, and after 4 tries we'd hit the babysitter jackpot - a retired grandmother who came to our house and kept my house neat as a pin. I should've felt content, safely nestled into the every-woman's lifestyle. And for a short while, I considered doing that well to be the badge I wore. But then I started getting a little twitchy.

Needless to say, it was a less than ideal time for me to announce a serious philosophical-emotional dilemma. But it was really, truly inevitable. And while my husband is not one to delve deeply into self-examination, he somehow recognized that something in me needed the change. And he supported me. We were starving, and he supported my decision to quit my job. To this day I marvel over that. Any sane person would've said, "Are you flippin' nuts? We have no money, we are just starting to get on solid ground, we have a new mortgage to pay, and you want to quit your job?!"

But he didn't. For that reason alone, I will love him forever. (Ok, there are a few dozen more reasons, too.)

It all started with an advertisement for
Mothering Magazine, doncha know... the steps of my transformation from mainstream to alternative parenting are etched forever in my mind, they were so profound for me.... We used Mother Nature's Diaper Service - (the very business from which we licensed a branch; we owned and operated it for 2 years but sold it before it got the best of us) - and one day they included a flyer for a free copy of Mothering Magazine with the clean batch of diapers. Without much thought I flipped it into the mail, and that single copy sent me down a path of alternative parenting when I most needed it.

I won't bore you with the details, even though I can recall them as easily as if it were yesterday. Suffice it to say I began examining every bit of our lifestyle, my parenting philosophy, my teaching philosophy and the system as a whole, and everything else from our diet to the company we kept to the way we shopped and dressed. It was as if a crack had appeared in my carefully constructed shell and before I could stop it, the floods overwhelmed me until I had no choice but to throw open the doors and let it all in.

And then I scared or angered or surprised everyone I knew.

I quit teaching, and I quit our Catholic church. My kids quit school. I quit eating meat. I even quit my friends. All of them. It's like the self-overhaul check-list grew so long it became more expedient and prudent to just chuck the whole lifestyle-as-I-knew-it and start fresh. A clean slate. A new me. A metamorphosis in hibernation.

I didn't mean to hurt anyone; I didn't necessarily dislike the people I abandoned in my radical shift. But I didn't know how to make the transition gradually, and I didn't know how to reconcile this sudden, new who-I-am with the old who-I-was, and if I was going to open myself to these new possibilities, I had to do it unhindered. I couldn't fathom having to explain to each and every friend and acquaintance why I was making each change and what that might mean for our relationship. I also knew I couldn't handle the judgments and skepticism and rejection. It all sounded so... exhausting. So I simply fell off the radar. When I resigned, I promised my colleagues I'd stop in and visit often. It was 3 full years before I set foot in that school again for a hello. And I live 6 miles away.

My husband worried I was going off the deep end. I was a major extrovert and had always juggled tons of relationships. And suddenly I cut myself off. And if I hadn't seemed so happy, more content than I'd ever seemed before, more inwardly peaceful, he probably would've exercised an intervention of some sort - sure that I wasn't thinking clearly. But again, he waited. And he trusted. And he let me explore whatever it was I needed to explore. And believe me, it was many, many things. I had embarked upon a journey that would take several years before I would finally stop examining and overhauling and ruminating and evolving and begin to just 'be'.

Poor Rob. Nothing was free from my scrutiny. And I can only imagine it was a very trying period for him. Just when he'd think we'd undergone enough change - during a lull that simply meant I was ruminating on the next facet of our lives - I'd spring something new on him. I think we should take the TV out of the living area.... I think we should remove TV altogether.... I think we should only buy organic.... I think we should check out the Unitarian Universalist church.... I think we should only eat whole foods....

I think I was becoming rather unsufferable.

And it was very un-unschooling of me to implement new lifestyle changes and enforce new principles that had been mostly conceived by my needs and desires, not theirs.

But I didn't know that at the time. We were unschooling, eating a mostly vegetarian diet, organic gardening, and limiting TV and screen time to 1 hour per day. I was carrying my toddler in a sling, using homemade cleaning products, and co-sleeping. I was studying eastern religions and Thomas Paine and Rumi. I flaunted my new disdain for perfect lawns by placing a "You can kiss my GRass" sign in my yard. I bought only resale items. And I thought I had this whole alternative parenting thing figured out. And there were plenty of folks who agreed with me and validated my choices.

And then I heard a radical unschooler talk about TV like it was the best thing since sliced bread, and my head fired, "Say what? TV?! Good alternative, unschooling, attachment parents don't celebrate TV!" But again, something nudged at the edges. I shut my mouth about it and sat back and listened
to the conversation.

And that's when a new paradigm began to enter my consciousness - what if I had this all wrong? What if, in my zest to do things differently, I had only succeeded in becoming controlling in a different way? Was I really embracing freedom? Or was I suggesting to my family, and myself, that there was only a narrow definition of what that freedom could look like? I'd just come off a couple-year binge of lifestyle overhaul and while I was certainly happier and more content, was it possible that in shoving it down our throats I was going against the very principles I claimed to embrace?

Ah, hell.

I had to finally expose the micro-managing part of myself, and give it a good once-over. I had gone from trying to succeed in a mainstream lifestyle to trying to 'succeed' in an alternative lifestyle. Different picture, similar strategies. I recalled times of judging what my husband chose to wear or do with his free time; times of insisting we eat only certain foods; and many, many times of explaining and cajoling and distracting and preaching to the kids and Rob about why we didn't watch TV or eat red food coloring or own a gaming system.

And it finally began to sink in... what if we extend the freedom of unschooling beyond education?... What if we extend the freedom to choose what one wants for himself to clothing choices? Food choices? TV choices?
And 'Radical Overhaul of Philosophy Part XXIV' began. Actually, my husband got this one started. Maybe he'd had enough of my ruling the roost.

One day, he came home with a gaming system. I hadn't seen the kids that excited in a looonnnng time.

How Did We Get Here Part III

Monday, October 22, 2007

Why I'm Not a Food Blogger - Part II

Sometimes I just can't leave well enough alone. I know I'm not a food blogger. And yet there I was the other day, prepping to make homemade crockpot applesauce, camera perched precariously nearby. And I found myself wondering.... "Couldn't you simply document this applesauce-making escapade? Couldn't you blog it? How hard could it be to take a few good photos?" There are lots of food bloggers and their sites are popular and useful. I cook. I blog. I should be able to unite the two.

But I'm the sort of grrrl who notices it's 4:47pm and dinner time is approaching and THEN I start wondering what to cook for dinner. I'm the sort of grrrl who eats a delightful squash dish or apple fritter or pumpkin pudding at a gathering and THEN think, "oh ya, it's time for fall harvest foods." I'm the sort of grrrl who knows how to create fabulous dishes (well, ok, good dishes), who could create them if she really wanted to, and yet doesn't do it very often.

Alas, it's just no use. So once again, I present: why I'm not a food blogger.

Reason #1 I can't be a food blogger - when I started, my kitchen looked like this:
hauntingly familiar? I'm really not a kitchen slob. And I'm not a lazy piece of poop. I swear. Not every day, anyhow. Remember there was that one day?... not too long ago?..... when my kitchen looked like this (emphasis on one day)?

Enough about my chronic need for a 10-step recovery program with the flylady - it's time to get crackin' on that applesauce! First, I washed 4 lbs. of apples. Reason #2 I can't be a food blogger - I have no scale and no idea how many apples make 4 lbs. I know they'd been dieting in anticipation of their big break, so maybe they weighed more like 3-3/4 lbs.

Next I gathered the rest of the ingredients. Then I did their make-up and hair, buffed their nails, stuffed their bras, and exposed them to unforgiving, bright lights for their photo shoot with a man named Fabian.

Reason #3 I can't be a food blogger - there is no man named Fabian. Reason #4 - I forgot to primp some of the ingredients. They were late for the photo shoot, that's all. Well, more about that later.

The players: apples, sugar, cinnamon, water, and lemon juice. Notice which ingredients were MIA? Uh huh.

Next I peeled, cored, and sliced my apples. And herein lies reason #5 I can't be a food blogger - for this task, one ought to have a good peeler and a good paring knife. I have neither. I have about 26 peelers, but I only like one - the one I usually can't find in the land-of-no-return that is my utensil drawer. And I used to have two favorite knives, but I lost both of them. Please don't ask any questions about how I tend to lose knives, it's really better you don't know.

Reason #6 - I wrestled and wrangled and scraped my knuckles and stubbed my thumb peeling the apples, and no one likes blood and skin peelings in their applesauce. (And if, by chance, you do, I'd suggest keeping that to yourself.) After trying out 2 different peelers and 3 different knives, and none meeting my extremely high Betty Crocker-esque standards, I had a pile of apple peels that looked like this.

Reason #7 I can't be a food blogger - there was absolutely no reason to include an unappetizing photo of the apple peelings. And yet, I still did it. I'm really rebellious and mysterious like that.

So then it was time to toss the apples into the ol' crockpot.

I decided to make the applesauce in the crockpot rather than a kettle because there's less stirring involved. And we all know how back-breaking it can be to stir apples! I'm tired just thinking about it. Reason #8 - I'm lazy like that and should set a better example for my cooking admirers. And I would, if I had any.

Next, I added 1/2 cup of sugar.

And 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Feeling especially frisky, I actually added about 1-1/2 teaspoons. Madness, I know.

Then it was time to give it a good stir. (I stretched out first, so as not to over-do.)

Next, the forgotten ingredients. I added 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Reason #9 I can't be a food blogger - I used bottled lemon juice. That is, like, incredibly lame.

Then I added 1 cup of water. At first I thought it might be unnecessary to post a photo of adding water, but then I remembered that not everyone is as good a cook as me. It's better to be thorough. I don't want anyone to get confused. I have enough trouble answering all my fan mail without people asking me how, exactly, they should add a cup of water.

One more good stir and we're ready to plug 'er in! It can cook on low for 6 hours or high for 3 hours. I set it to low, but got impatient and turned it to high. Then I thought better of it and turned it to low again. I'm indecisive. Reason #10.

Let's step back and survey our little display of simmering goodness, shall we?

Oh. Yikes.

Ohhhhh. Oh dear. Egad, people. Who lives here? A pack of wild animals? And look, there's a pillow on the floor in the living room! The insanity.(Reason #11 - I'm messy.)

Since it's going to take 6 hours - er, 3 hours - no wait, 6 hours - for the applesauce to cook, I think it's time to gussy the place up, don't you? Just to prove that I can.

Ah, look.

Ahhhhh, that's niiiiiice..I'm feeling better. How 'bout you?I even washed my dishes by hand, just so you don't think I'm a lazy piece of poop. Cuz I know that's what you were thinking.

We'd better check on that applesauce! Yu-uh-uh-uhhhhmy! Appley-goodness.

Now, that's all good and fine, but whereas most food bloggers detail recipes like
Baked Artichoke with Crab and Sourdough Stuffing and Dungeness Crab Etoufee (Etou-huh?!?), I'm explaining, well, um, applesauce. The Gutsy Gourmet's recipes were so dang impressive, even I didn't return to my blog for a very long time. Reason #12 I'm not a food blogger - everyone knows how to make applesauce.

But impressive or not, when the day is done my house smells like apples & cinnamon, the kids come running with tongues wagging out of their mouths, and we get to sit down to a bowl of homemade applesauce-bliss. And I get to take off my soiled apron, put my hand to my tired forehead and give my best
Scarlet O'Hara impersonation, and bask in my family's adoring affection.

Hey, how'd this shot get in there?Cleaning strategy, exposed!

Why I'm Not a Food Blogger Part III