Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Mindfulness Mishap

I recently sold a freelance article about mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way;
On purpose,in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

In my article, I wrote about the message in burnt toast. You know the drill... you're rushing-rushing-rushing to be somewhere and your mind is racing in twelve (or twelve dozen) different directions. You're whipping a smoothie with one hand, organizing your paperwork with the other, and kicking the refrigerator door shut with a foot, while a steady chant of "Let's go! Mas rapido! Move it, Move it! Don't forget your cleats!" pours forth. All seems to sail along smoothly - for a while. And then you burn your toast. Cue expletives. Or, in my case, head-hanging and a deep sigh.

My kids and Rob know the precise definition of my sigh. I didn't even realize I did it until they pointed it out to me. Sometimes my sigh is wistful, but most often it's more of a huff. Once, I huffed loudly. Brady, then the wise old age of nine, grabbed his brother and said, "Come on! That noise means Mom is really frustrated!" and high-tailed it out of the kitchen, dragging his brother by the collar. Jonathan, then 6, replied, "No, I think she just has too much air in her mouth."

Nothing like a deadpan (badump bump) from your 6 year old child to snap you out of a foul mood.

But the message in burnt toast is this - slow down. Pay attention. Be mindful of what you're doing. Do one thing, and do it well.

I even warned, in the article, that sometimes we ignore the messages of burnt toast and it takes something larger, something worse, to wake us up. Something, say, like this:

That ain't burnt toast, people. My wake-up call came in the form of burnt fingers.

This has been a NUTTY week and on Tuesday, I was just getting warmed up. I was still in low gear but I was already revving my engine, doing some calisthenics, cracking my knuckles in preparation for the ensuing onslaught of obligations.

And as I was rushing to get Brady out the door, already my mind danced on all the things I had to get done that day not to mention the rest of the week, and however was I going to manage to get them all done, and who put all this stuff right here on the counter?, and oh yeah I have GOT to return that phone call, and and and and and....

I shoved a mug of water into the microwave and pressed two minutes, as I'd done thousands of times. But the mug wasn't microwave-safe. And I reached in without looking and grabbed it. And it was CRAZY-hot. And I did that frozen-in-time 'WTF do I do!' thing. And then I jumped, spilling the crazy-hot water over my hand, and dropping the mug. (The mug did not shatter. I was of a mind to pick it up and give it another go, though. D*mn mug.) And then I let a few choice words rip as I ran cool water over my hand.

Lesson learned?

Well, yes and no. It reminded me to stop for a minute and slo-o-o-o-w do-o-o-o-w-n. And yet, all but the most minimal obligations don't just disappear because I recklessly burned my hand. My right hand. My dominant hand. *whine*

Things that are more difficult to do with bandaged fingers:

  • Tupe. I mean, tpoe. I mean, type. HELPS IF I TYPE IN ALL CAPS
  • Wipe (Sorry)
  • Flip through 100s of soccer registrations over and over (and over)
  • Tie shoes
  • Wash dishes (a burn can feel fine until you run water over it... OUCH)
  • File papers
  • Put hair in ponytail

Things I can still do with bandaged fingers:

  • Complete registrations for 100 soccer players
  • Schmooze the people who can help make that happen
  • TYIPE. Wait, rtpye. Caps only help - TYPE
  • Photograph dozens of soccer players for ID cards
  • Manage most prom details
  • Manage details for soccer club's tournament this weekend
  • Get boys ready for weekend of soccer
  • Get Brady for weekend of prom
  • Make 257 soccer-related phone calls
  • Make 34 prom-related phone calls
  • Drive boys all over northern IL
  • Put things in "deal with later" piles
  • Brush hair

But somehow, it all gets done. Whether you go through your duties in a manic craze or a mindful calm, the registrations get completed and the hundreds of phone calls get made. The corsage gets ordered and the team managers get called. The prom clothes get ironed and the plans get coordinated. The uniforms get passed out and the player photos get taken. Sometimes in the rain. And I even manage to crack a few jokes with the other club administrator -

Him – “I’ve gotta run home, deal with some loose ends, and I’ll meet you at 7pm.”
Me – “I’ve been leaving loose ends all over northern IL this week.
Keep an eye out for them.”

Me (via email) – “blah blah important-detail blah blah question - *snort*”
Him – “I hope that means you’re laughing and not that you’re resorting to illegal substances to get through the week!”

And I didn't take offense, as I mistakenly do when I'm overtired and frazzled, when the parent coordinating the prom meet-up joked, "Boy, you're a lot of work, you know that?" after I called with my nineteenth question. (I have trouble wresting information out of Brady.)

I'm still smiling, and my blisters are healing nicely. The soccer players are carded and registered, and the first games are underway (and I don't have to be there until the gloriously late 11am!). The corsage is in the fridge, the date has all the details, and Brady's 45 second shower-and-get-dressed-like-NOW is arranged at my uncle's house after Brady's unfortunately-scheduled 5pm game.

But all that said, my cell phone is ringing again and there's a uniform shortage at the fields. I've gotta fly.

Er, I mean.... I've got to take a deep breath and calmly handle the crisis.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Hear Me, Hear Me!

Get it? "Hear me, Hear me?" *snort*

I'm speaking at a homeschooling conference in May!

I should've made this announcement some time ago, to do my part in advertising this new fledgling conference in central Illinois. But seeing as I'm speaking, the nervous part of me decided to keep mum while I did some deep breathing and figured out how to keep from sweating profusely during my first workshop. Do they make diapers for armpits? I need to know this. And do they come in bulk?

Illinois has two major homeschooling conferences every year. The
InHome Conference is the big one we attend every year. It's an offshoot of H.O.U.S.E. - that would be Home Oriented Unique Schooling Experience - an inclusive, non-sectarian, statewide network of support groups. The conference is HUGE - I'd guess over 1000 this year? - and is always in the Chicago suburbs. There's also ICHE, Illinois Christian Home Educators, and they have a well-attended state convention every year, too. This new conference, where I'm speaking, will be held in Bloomington in the central part of the state, in answer to a lack of events for those who live far from the Chicago area.

The new conference is called, aptly, the
Central Illinois Homeschool Conference.

I'll be the unschooling speaker. First I'll sit on a panel with two others. Together we'll represent 3 styles of homeschooling - unschooling, obviously, Thomas Jefferson Education and Charlotte Mason. After that I'll lead my own workshop called
Unschooling - Yes, You Can! And finally, I'll host an unschooling table during lunch where attendees can join me and grill me on questions like "But what about math?" and "Are your kids, like, weird?" and "Are you bloody mad?" while I talk with my mouth full and try not to spit bits of my lunch on them.

I've spoken on unschooling before, but those were smaller venues and a long time ago. I love speaking. But it's the few days leading up to it, as well as the first 10 minutes of finding my groove, that are the challenge. During those days my husband will carefully ask, "Why did you agree to this if it stresses you out so much?" while ducking and cutting me an extra-wide berth. During those days I'll look over my notes, decide they're "Wrong! ALL WRONG!" and shred them and start all over. During those days my kids will go hungry and wonder just what exactly is my problem. But as soon as I get to talking? I'll be fine. After I get a feel for my audience, and provided they're not hostile and only there to poke holes in my presentation, I'll find my stride and talk and talk and talk. As Brady put it, upon hearing I was asked to present, "You'll be great at that. You can talk about this stuff forEVER." What a nice thing for him to say. I think?!

Anyhoo, if you've been noodling around with the idea of unschooling, if you live anywhere near central Illinois, if you need an excuse for a road trip, or if you've been waiting for the chance to heckle me for my unusual unschooling views, come on over! Or up, or down, or cross-country, or whatever it takes to join us!

And nevermind on that last bit - hecklers aren't invited. And if you're still tempted, I cry easily. Just so you know.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Hold on to Your Elf Boots, It's an 80's Meme

I'm not much for doing memes, but this is an 80's meme, and for some reason I feel compelled to do it. Maybe because it's an excuse to finally display those old pictures of me with big hair, which will take a huge weight off my shoulders. It's a lot of work trying to hide your past like this. Thanks to Kelly at she's in transition for the inspiration to come out as a former Madonna-wannabe.

1. How old were you in 198O? 10

2. How old were you in 1989? Basic math anyone? Hey Homeschoolers, let your kids help you with this one! (Please don't - I jest. I don't like to be responsible for such subversive smarm.)

3. Were you a Toys R' US Kid? Nope, but I can sing the jingle if you'd like. I WAS a tv kid, though back then tv wasn't an around-the-clock feast for the eyes.

4. Did you watch Transformers? That was for boys, but I can sing the theme song if you'd like. "Transformers... more than meet the eye... Transformers... masters of disguise!" My brother was quite the captive fan.

5. Did you see E.T. on the big screen? Yes, with a gaggle of cousins in Wisconsin. Going to a movie was a big thing back then, kids. And we had to walk uphill for 2 miles through blinding snow to get there. Ok, not really - wrong generation - but I did have to execute some perfectly timed throw-downs to avoid getting stuck in the "way back" of the Honda's hatchback for the ride there. (Sorry, little brother.)

6. Did you own a Lite Bright? Sure did, but it was only captivating for a short while. Then, we had messes of punched black paper riddling our closet floors for years to come (why did we save used Lite Bright pages?!) and the little pegs all got sucked into the vacuum cleaner.

7. Who is your Favorite Golden Girl? I don't remember their names, but I loved them all. And I'd watch over my shoulder lest someone catch me enjoying a tv show about old ladies. How uncouth.

8. When someone says "Who you gonna call?" Ghostbusters, even though that had to be one of the most annoying theme songs of all time. But I could sing it for you if you'd like.

9.What was your favorite toy? I worried that saying Barbies would mean Kelly would officially decide, once and for all, having been pushed too far, to not be my friend, but since she listed it, here goes nuthin'... Barbies, hands down. I did cut off one barbie's dark hair to turn her into a boy. Also, Roller skates. Twister. Shrinky Dinks. Matchbox cars. Weebils. "Weebils wobble but they don't fall down!" I am a theme song/jingle master!

10. Did you have a Pogo Ball? A what? Alright, I looked it up and it doesn't ring a bell. I'm gonna have to speak to my mom about this, because that may explain the nagging sense of deprivation I've carried with me for 20 years. But the description reminds me of the lemon twist - which I was a master of, by the way. That and the hula hoop, which didn't originate in the 80's. I won $2 in a hula hoop contest once. Yes, kids, $2. Chew on that for a bit.

11. Did you listen to New Kids on the Block? No, except when it came onto my favorite pop radio station. I never flipped my radio dial. 97ZOK all the way.

12. What New Kid did you have a crush on? Nope. Didn't do New Kids on the Block. Or Menudo. Now, Shaun Cassidy? Mmmm. And Michael Jackson? Yeah, I said it.

13. Did you play M.A.S.H? Huh? Play M.A.S.H.?

14. Did you watch The Care Bears? No way. They were insufferably annoying. I had standards.

15. Did you have Jelly bracelets? Yes. Unlike Kelly, I didn't shoplift mine. Ahem. Just mascara. But just that one time. Ok, twice. Nevermind.

16. Did you have a charm necklace and/or bracelet? No. We did friendship pins, with the safety pins and beads. We also did blood sisters rituals. I still have the scars to prove our undying loyalty. And it worked! I'm still best of friends with my grade school grrrlfriends. Ok, I'm not. Apparently, the "long-term consequences" of friendship scars did not enter my consciousness until the 90's.

17. Did you have a Glo Worm? Nope. I think I was too old for those too.

18. Did you ever own a slap bracelet? Yep. Short-lived entertainment.

19. The Breakfast Club or Sixteen Candles? Both. I adored Molly Ringwald.

20. Did you have a crazy hair style? Every grrrl had a crazy hairstyle. Those were the only options. Big bangs and awful home perms. Feathered bangs. And if you were lucky and very very skilled with a comb, feathered sides that met in back and created a perfect seam. There was a really mean grrrl two years older than me who sported the perfect feather. I saw her at the mini-mart in town the other day and 20 years of practice really *does* make perfect. You know what goes really well with big bangs? A big pink bow.

Yes, those are fans we were carrying for a magazine lay-out titled, "Bridesmaid Fashion from Hell."

21. What was your first bike? A cute little yellow two-wheeler that my sister learned to ride in the 30-second span it took my dad to give me the twenty-third "if you just keep the handlebars straight and get some momentum" lashing of the day. My younger sister. Yeah. Hey Kids! - Can you say therapy bill?

22. Name one thing you still own from your childhood! The pink heart pillow my mom crocheted. I slept with it every night and used it to cover my ears during the "big boom" fireworks.

23. Did you have a Cabbage Patch Kid? No. They were ugly, wretched little things, that would've given me nightmares ala Chucky.

24. Did you dress like Madonna? Gloves and all. Allow me to take this moment to apologize to anyone within viewing distance of me in 1985. I hope your side aches are finally gone from the fits of laughter.

25. Rainbow Brite or Strawberry Shortcake? Neither. And Strawberry Shortcake smelled funny. A bad funny.

26. Did you watch Miami Vice? A few times - I knew even then that Don Johnson's white jacket was, like, so lame. I watched the Cosby Show, 21 Jump Street, Solid Gold, and Love Boat. Theme songs, anyone? Heehaw. Fantasy Island. ("De plane! De plane!") And after-school specials! They were so intense. Like one time? This grrrl? She liked this boy? And he, like, skipped school a lot? I mean, he was trouble. So he was a bad influence, but she loved him anyhow, and she really thought she could save him if he could just be exposed to a good family, with a mom who makes tuna casseroles and a dad who carries a briefcase, and she asked her parents if they would help him too, and like, they weren't sure because he skipped school and wouldn't that be bad to condone such horrific behavior, and... and... and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

27. Did you own a pair of Jelly Shoes? Oh Yes. I wore them with black pants with colored polka dots, a hot pink camp shirt with the collar up, and a white hat. I wouldn't kid about such a serious fashion crime.

28. Did you own a Trapper Keeper? Um - hello? It was a school supply requirement! But I never actually used the unweildy thing.

29. Atari or Nintendo? Atari 2600. Actually, it was my brother's and appeared at our house at the end of my tenure. He was the youngest and totally spoiled. When he was a pre-teen, there were Zingers and soda in the house. We know who your favorite was, Mom. Or had I just worn you down by then?

30. Did you play Pac-Man? Yes. But my favorite was Frogger even though I could never, EVER, get past level 3. Level 3 was really hard.

31. Which was better: Jem or Barbie and the Rockers? Skipper.

32. He-Man or She-Ra? Neither. I remember the Hulk, but Mr. Stretch was hotter - in a creepy, stretchy sort of way. But really? It was Wonder Woman for me. Oh, and the Muppets.

33. What movie scared you the most? Well, now that I'm going to have recurring nightmares because Kelly chanted,
"1, 2 Freddie's coming for you
3, 4 better lock your door
5, 6 grab your crucifix
7, 8 gonna stay up late
9, 10 never sleep again"
in her meme, I might be too busy sucking my thumb and rocking in the fetal position to conjure up any more 80's horror movie memories. But actually, I was a HUGE horror flick fan and still would be if my husband wasn't such a pansy-*ss about it. Whose broad chest will I hide in during the scariest parts? Or I at least need a gaggle of squealing grrrls to huddle with and those are harder to come by these days. Friday the 13th rocked, all 72 of them. Freddy Krueger. Poltergeist. Cujo. Ohmygosh Pet Sematary. Anything with Keanu Reeves in it.

When I'd hear a scary noise in my house, I'd have my entire fate planned out. "There's someone in the basement waiting for me to go down for a load of laundry, and then he'll leap from the broom closet and...." Shaking, I'd call someone. I called an uncle and a few cute boys to come and search my house for Jason many times. At least 5 times I can think of off the top of my head. Hey, we lived in the cornfields! Can you say Children of the Corn? *shiver*

34. Did you try to dance like Michael Jackson? Yes, of course. And I also fell asleep every night gazing up at his adorable then-face in his Thriller poster, wondering if a white grrl and a then-black boy in love could ever be accepted in these here conservative-cornfield-parts. I loved to dance and get this - I found a website of 80's dance moves. For your information, I totally rocked 'the Bedrock', the 'Caustic Potash', and 'Churnin' Butter' and my cousin and I choreographed a killer routine to Shaun Cassidy's "Da Doo Ron Ron" - "I met her on a Monday and my heart stood still, da doo ron ron ron, da doo ron ron. Somebody told me that her name was Jill, da doo ron ron ron, da doo ron ron." - that included a very advanced version of 'the Belinda' in that we took it down to our knees, then leaned back, and up again. I'm worked up just thinking about it.

35. What Is The First Thing That Comes To Mind When You Hear "Flux Compasitor"? Back to the Future, yo.

36. What other colors did Pepsi come in? Um, diet?

37.Roger Rabbit or Howard The Duck? Don't care.

38. Did you ever beg your parents to have your school picture taken with the 'LASER' background? No, but I do remember begging my parents not to hang my school picture above the mantle. Does that count?
39. Do you know what the Ninja Rap is? Stealing Kelly's answer: I feel like maybe I should, but I'm probably glad that I don't. I can sing the Super Bowl Shuffle for you, though. And I wrote one about our high school team. I was a cheerleader. I'm sorry.

40. Do you know why people cringe when they hear the word BUCKNER? Actually, no. But I still love saying "I want my two dollars!" from Better Off Dead and "What's happening hot stuff?" - Long Duk Dong from Sixteen Candles.

41. Can you name the family members from National Lampoon's Vacation movies? H*ll yes. Family Vacation should be required viewing for anyone tempted to throw the kids in a station wagon mini-van for a road-trip.
Cousin Vicki: I'm going steady, and I French kiss.
Audrey Griswold: So? Everybody does that.
Cousin Vicki: Yeah, but Daddy says I'm the best.

42. Wally-World or Europe? I haven't been to Europe, but Clark Griswold reminds me of my father, mid-road trip, when he says, "We're ten hours from the f*cking fun park and you want to bail out. Well I'll tell you something. This is no longer a vacation. It's a quest. It's a quest for fun. I'm gonna have fun and you're gonna have fun. We're all gonna have so much f*cking fun we'll need plastic surgeory to remove our g*d*mn smiles. You'll be whistling 'Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah' out of your *ssholes!"

"But Da-a-a-a-d... I've been crouched in the 'way back' unable to straighten my knees for 834 miles! It's Jackie's turn!" True story.

43. What was your favorite movie from the 80's? How can I pick just one? All the horror movies listed above, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Better Off Dead, St. Elmo's Fire, Flashdance, Footloose, The Breakfast Club... Top Gun, before Tom Cruise was whacked...

Pant, pant, pant... a Trip down 80's memory lane is exhausting.
I'm gonna go eat another a sweet roll.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Oh My

Oh baby.... Oh. Baby.

Come to Mama.

Something tells me it's going to be a very good morning.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Old Trigger, New Day

Just when I'm about to be famous for my sudden appearance on Sandra Dodd's website, I have a relapse. Isn't that just the rub?

I'll blame it on my hormones, lest I blame it on Rob. Or, I'll blame it on the fact that I just posted "a day in the life" about how perfect my life is. That'll show me.

I've been rejiggering my hormone therapy a bit, unbeknownst to my doctor. When certain side effects crop up I do some reading and tweaking, even when he insists there is no correlation. Ya well, I've had enough adult acne to last me a lifetime, thank you very much, so I'm going to fuss with my dosages. Vanity wins. It's been a few weeks since I dickered with it, and so far the results have been positive. Last night I looked at the bottle of DHEA I've been skipping. Apparently, just looking at the bottle was enough to cause me to wake up in a pool of sweat 5 hours later.

But this morning I was on a mission. My house is a wreck since I've been unwell for so long, so after rising at 5:50 - that's a.m. people - to get Brady off to school (urgh, UG, that is an ungodly hour), I got busy. I cleaned out the van which was so cluttered you could lose small children in there. My nephew has been safely returned to his mama, you'll be pleased to know, having survived on shriveled half-sandwiches and ketchup packets found under the bench seat. (Kidding.) I unloaded the dishwasher and reloaded it with the dirty dishes from the over-flowing sink. (Don't you hate it when you can fill the dishwasher as soon as it's emptied?) I did 3 loads of laundry, actually folding and putting away the clothes as they came out of the dryer. (I know! It's gotta be the wonky hormones.) And it was just as I was done scrubbing the sink and toilet in the boys' bathroom that Rob finally dragged his arse out of bed came downstairs, ready to leave for work. It was only 7:55 at this point, mind you, and I was feeling mighty smitten with myself for being so productive.

I stopped my toilet-scrubbing and washed my hands and caught up with Rob in the laundry room to give him a kiss good-bye. (I'm a really doting wife like that. Well, today anyway.) And that's when he said, playfully, "Come here."

I followed him into the kitchen where he made a slightly-mocking, passive-aggressive display of turning off the light I'd left on. "Do you see a difference in how well you can see if the light is on or off? I can't."

So I began a thoughtful reply, which went something like, "Well whine whine I'd turned it on earlier snark moan excuse-growl-excuse when it was still dark outside pout rant snarl and besides you should duck now I've been BUSY WASHING TOILETS AND DOING LAUNDRY seriously, run, run fast all morning and rage-whine-excuse-pout-choke-suffocate-xidurjsleuf-soeurfeiai-xryihezafhpe."

"I'm just concerned about global warming," Rob was quick to offer, amused at my defensiveness, a remark that would normally make me swell with pride that I'd married such a conscientious, environmentally-concerned man.

Not this time. This time I swelled instead with rage and excuses and snarky retorts and ugly words like "Nevermind that I was just cleaning YOUR pee off the toilet." I know. I'm amazed at my lack of maturity too. "And nevermind that I just picked up SIX PAIR of YOUR dirty underwear when there were not one, but TWO, clothes baskets 2 inches away."

"So stop yelling at me," I continued.

"I'm NOT yelling at you," he laughed.

It is an unspoken rule in our house, the elephant in the room if you will, that I'm overly sensitive, easily offended, unnecessarily defensive always right, so I just couldn't leave well enough alone.

Rob left. I sent him a text. It said something like, "accusation accusation defensive-whine accusation so there what up now" and ended with one of my pet names for him, "Dingleberry," the definition of which is quite unflattering, if not funny.

His reply text? "You are a great wife and mother."

Sometimes the best defense is a perfectly-timed compliment.

The man ain't as dumb as he looks, folks.

(I'm evil. I know this.)

It's the hormones. It's got to be the hormones.

Monday, April 07, 2008

I Am Healed

If not physically, at least spiritually. My weekend was full of blessings.

I was still feeling under the weather and woke on Saturday morning with tears in my eyes that I still felt so wretched. I was feeling quite sorry for myself that I'd rested, consumed gallons of water, and tried every home remedy I could find and still a cough wracked my body, my ears remained plugged, and my head pounded with congestion. Enough already.

But I decided to jump in the shower to perk myself up, quickly realizing if I didn't trudge through the pain, it'd be a long, sorry day.

And then the blessings poured forth.

First, we attended part of an event in memory of my father. The first annual 'John Flynn Memorial Basketball Tournament' was held at the beautiful, new high school in town (which was built, in no small part, due to my father's diligent efforts as school board president and visionary). Once again, seeing the word "memorial" after my father's name caused me to hold my breath, but seeing all the volunteers in their bright, green, shamrock-adorned t-shirts hustling to and fro, beautifully executing a flawless event, I was humbled that two years later people would still go to the trouble of honoring my father. My father loved basketball. He loved the new school. He loved wearing green, and he was oh-so-proud of his Irish heritage. He also loved all these good people, tireless civil servants who always have the good of the community in their minds and hearts.

From there we created another spontaneous family gathering. Mom had 'just happened' to put a whole lot of food into her crockpot that morning. Say, enough to feed all the kids and grandkids, or some quantity thereabouts. Her nurturing intuition is always spot-on.

The next day we went to church. We haven't been to church more than a handful of times in the past 3 years, but at one time, that small UU community played an enormous role in our lives. Sunday's service was an All-Church Reunion and it was led by our favorite spiritual friend and mentor Dan.
Photo: Dan, Me, Laurie making a tomato salad at Willow

Dan has acted as lay minister to our church for many, many years. But more importantly, Dan has been a spiritual leader to us, his friends, with his story-telling, his amazing way with children, his wisdom, and the generous love he bestows upon us whenever we're together. When Dan leads a service, it isn't about readings or songs or sermons. It's about people and connections, honoring our elders and hearing their stories, and poetry. It's about laughing and singing, sharing our gifts, showing gratitude for all of life's mysteries.

When Dan leads, I am always moved to tears. And that's exactly how I like my church services!
And then another blessing. My amazingly gifted chef friend Joan prepared the food for after the service. Curried spinach soup, Bulgarian Stew, colorful assorted salads, scrumptious desserts. Any combination Joan creates in the kitchen is magic, and the collective moaning, as people relish every bite of her creations, is almost comical. People shake their heads in amazement when they taste her dishes and say things like, "How in the world does she do this?" and "I made spinach soup and it tastes nothing like this!" She'll tell you she got a recipe from Moosewood or Epicurious, but you'll make it yourself and it doesn't even come close. That's because she tweaks and nurtures her food, using bounty from her own garden, and she knows just what something needs when it's not quite right. It's a gift, people.

Now, I run with a gang of amazing cooks. Every dish we share in our gatherings is worthy in its own right. But even when I arrive with a new recipe in hand, sure I'm going to add a few notches to my belt once it's tasted, there are always surprises; Joan always comes up with a new blend of flavors that no one's ever thought to combine before.
Photo: Gemma (Joan's daughter), Joan, and me at Willow (& Joan's son Brendan with the camera)

We are more than happy to be culinary guinea pigs and savor each bite of every new dish. I bow in reverence to her gift, and rub my rounded belly in full satisfaction.

Dan and Joan, together, create this:

The most lovely gardens you've ever see. Dan does mostly food, Joan does mostly flowers, and together they create a stunning landscape of color, sustenance, and escape. We drink coffee under the hops teepee and collect herbs amid the butterflies. We create ritual in its paths and watch our children giggle and chase each other around corners. Magic happens in these gardens. When I got home from the gathering on Sunday, I joined Rob on the lawn chairs in the front yard. He was listening to a baseball game while slowly grilling barbecued ribs; I wrote letters to friends and enjoyed the gentle breeze and warm spring day. But anyone who knows me knows I can't be outside long before my gardens call me... I decided to survey my flower beds and estimate how much work I have to do.

I grabbed a dead flower stalk and tugged. It came loose. I tugged another. The soil was soft and things pulled easily. Next thing I know, I'm on hands and knees, pulling out the old tomato, pepper, and broccoli plants. Oh, how good it felt to be in my garden again! I stacked the dead things in a pile, and picked the dirt from under my nails. (I never wear gloves because I like to feel what I'm doing, and I'm always a little wary of too-soft hands.)

Soon my gardens will bloom again.

Soon the green will return.As I drifted off to sleep that night, weary from exertion, still coughing, sniffling, and aching, I smiled.

I am blessed. I am so very blessed.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Doggie Grudge

When we travel, there's always the conundrum of what to do with Duchess, our wee little sausage-shaped rat terrier. If my mom is home, we can sometimes beg her to take in Duchess, but this time that wasn't an option. We could put her in a kennel, of course, but that's not a good option either because, you see, Duchess hates other dogs. Loathes them. My mom has the biggest, sweetest, most gentle Golden Retriever you've ever seen named Boomer.

Duchess hates Boomer.

Duchess is prejudiced against her own kind.

She prefers people over animals, and women over men. She plays favorites. She likes me best; then Brady, whose bed she sleeps on; then Jonathan, whose bed she moves to after Brady leaves for school; and then Rob. Actually, she doesn't really like Rob all that much, but the feeling is mutual. On rare occasions, usually when he's wearing work gloves, Rob will give her a good scratching. She likes it, but the entire time she looks a bit confused, probably wondering if a good scratch is worth selling a bit of her doggie-soul.

She's my little shadow, tripping me several times daily by pitter-pattering just behind my feet as I go about my day. It was really cute, for about the first three days I had her. Now it's a little smothering to be the sole object of her co-dependent affection.

So usually, when we leave, we have Ben, our neighbor and Brady's best friend, take care of her. Ben homeschools so he is able to come over several times a day to take Duchess for walks, run her around the yard, and feed her. He can also see our yard from his house so he can see if Duchess is getting into any trouble or wandering off.

Before we left, we got her set up in the garage with her crate, well-lined with blankets, her dishes, some rawhide bones, her harness and leash, and her new pillow. She loves her new pillow, she does, so we figured that would make her happy.

But apparently Duchess wasn't so thrilled with the idea of being left behind, because when we got back from Florida, we found bits of fluff scattered around the garage. I wasn't sure where it had come from, until I saw this:

Is that pillow fluff I see?

Why yes, it appears so.

Duchess, what did you do?

"Duchess, you need to look at me."

"Did you chew your new pillow?"

"Were you really that angry at us?"

The ears-back expression is her "I know I did something bad but you have to love me anyway" look.

And just how upset is she? I mean, we're home now, so she's over it, right?

The answer: Upset enough to not lie on her pillow.

She's been sleeping next to her pillow ever since.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A Day in the Life

Photo: My view to the east, still a bit frozen
There aren't many things I can do when my head is so congested I walk with a slight lean to the left and grunt, "Huh? Wha?" in answer to every question, but I can only plant myself on the couch for so long. And besides, thanks to sleeping while sitting up for 3 nights straight, my sciatic nerve is all achy and pinched. Oh, and I'm suddenly 94 years old and keep tissues stashed in my sleeve. Whine whine whine.
Turns out, being homebound is good for certain managerial tasks that get shoved aside when life moves at a faster pace, and having clear sinuses is not a pre-requisite for filing away 2007 pay stubs and credit card statements. I might cough like a 3-pack-a-day smoker and sound like Eeyore, but I can do a mean sorting of the medical receipts.

I've also been doing a lot of reading, at least during the rare moments when my head doesn't throb so badly that my eyes cross. I'm almost through Book 5 of Harry Potter (I know, I know already) and I dug out all my unschooling books to help a homeschooler-turned-highschooler with resource material for the essay she's writing on misperceptions about homeschoolers. *Yay her!* Reading about unschooling is always inspiring. Never before have I felt so at peace with a philosophy. In these days of Brady pondering a return to unschooling, I'd do well to fill my head and heart with all this unschooling wisdom again. Within just a few pages I got up to nab a pen and journal. Some things are too good to be read without scribbling in the margins and on a fresh journal pages.

And then I took a look around. Even though I was sick and rather inattentive, the boys were busy as ever, happy as ever, doing their projects. While I thrashed around on the couch like a manic sea lion, trying to unplug my left ear, they contentedly pursued their interests and once again, the beauty of this unschooling lifestyle was revealed to me.

Jonathan began a project that started like this:

and turned into this:
After removing a few Pokemon cards from their binder (a thick collection of cards the boys researched and priced to sell) he decided to sort all of his cards. This took several hours. Occasionally he would stop to tell me about a card, and occasionally he would exclaim, "I've been looking for this one!" Sometimes he would take a card to the computer to look it up and see what it's selling for on ebay. Other times he would check his Pokedex (a Pokemon reference book) for information.

He also worked a long while on this:Jonathan and Rob have been avidly watching the NCAA basketball tournament and following their picks closely. They even made me fill out a bracket. I'm not faring so well - surprising since my strategy revolved around things like, "Oh, I've been to that school before - I'll pick them!" and "I've never heard of that school so I'll pick the other team" and "They have that one player who's really really cute, so I'll pick them." Hey, some people just have the gift.

But Jonathan also worked on his football project. The project is his brainchild, the result of his new interest in all-things-NFL. He's designing an entire fantasy season of games where say, the '85 Bears play the '66 Packers. He decides which team will win based upon the quality of players they had that year and each team's strengths. And here's the kicker - he knows the actual facts on these teams. For real. He has read three adult books on the Green Bay Packers and has read a book on Super Bowl teams throughout history. He follows the sports section. He does research online. He knows which players were on each team and when. He knows what the teams' records were leading up to the Super Bowl. He knows the scores of the Super Bowl games. He knows about the famous players and their abilities. It's amazing. In addition to the season and who wins each game, he's listing game stats, naming MVPs, and writing commentary. Today he said, "Remind me tomorrow because I'm going to work on one week every day." He's currently on week 5.

I told him he should work for ESPN.

He also spent some time working on his "Top Secret" kit, watching the Disney Channel, and playing with the dog. He brought me cups of tea when I whined for them, fed the dog when she began to howl, and set up the TV/VCR combo to watch Master of Disguise while taking a bath, a favorite bathing ritual of his.

Brady was home too. He had a 17-day spring break which was WONderful. He spent a LOT of time working on his music, writing new lyrics, designing t-shirts to sell (get your paypal accounts fired up a ready), writing new songs, recording instrumentals and vocals, and editing the recordings. For most of the day he had his bedroom door closed while he sang. For most of the day I smiled as I listened. He has asked for vocal lessons and guitar lessons again.

He also decided to make a loaf of homemade bread and learned to use our breadmaker.

We had warm oatmeal bread for dinner that night. Yum yum yum.

And as always, he spent most of his time working at his computer; this time, working on 3D models. He also came home with an idea for a software program he could build for schools to use for homework management. He's always thinking of ways to assimilate his true interests into his school experience. We talked for a long time about how the program would work, who would use it, and, most important, how much he could charge. I love it when he describes his latest ideas for computer projects. His eyes light up and he gets very intense. He paces around as he describes them in detail. He can't think about anything else so his responses to such questions as, "Can you unload the dishwasher please?" are along the lines of "Mom, should parents be able to access it or just students?"

That evening, it suddenly turned warm. The wind shifted and came from the south, bringing with it some warmer air. When I complained of being chilled and Rob explained it was warmer outside than in our house, I asked if he'd take a walk with me. I suddenly needed some fresh air. As I bundled to go, Jonathan decided to join us. As I got the harness on Duchess, Brady decided to join us too. We went on a family hike, the boys 'going long' to catch football passes while the dog raced from poop-scent to glorious poop-scent.

Matt Hern says it well:

"I believe it is a worthy and honorable goal for every human to be genuinely able to design themselves - to self-manage, self-direct, and self-evaluate their own lives. This means people, including kids, living their lives according to their own peculiar and unique sensibilities, becoming who they want to be."

As I watch my kids become who they want to be, I am in awe...

When Rob hauled firewood inside upon our return from Florida, Jonathan piped up, "I'll haul wood because I'm so happy to be home!" He's decided to do a kids' triathlon this summer in addition to a 5k run.

When I asked Brady if he'd miss playing fall soccer if he dropped out of school, he sat thoughtfully for a moment and replied, "I have so many things I am interested in and want to do, I'll be very busy. I won't miss soccer." He's decided if he doesn't make enough money playing music he'll operate a recording studio too.

While schools work to force-feed learning to children, my kids don't have enough hours in the day to do all the things they want to do. As my kids engage in their activities and projects, all self-chosen and self-designed, they are vivacious, curious, and deeply engaged; often excited and chatty, sometimes quiet in deep concentration. I remember how my 4th grade students looked when I was a teacher - bored, apathetic, distracted; at best sitting straight in their chairs in obedient attention but that was more to please me than due to genuine interest - and I was a teacher who tried very hard to make school interesting and enjoyable.

What's even better about the way my kids engage is they never stop to say, "Is this good enough?" or "Am I doing ok?" Their level of participation is rarely (if ever) dependent upon what I think about it. They take it to the depth they desire, following whatever tangents pique their interest. They don't do it with thoughts of what they're learning except in how that applies to what they want to do next.

It's really difficult to explain, and to someone who only has room in her consciousness for the school paradigm, it may sound like gooey, wishful thinking or simply a frivolous description of what they think all children 'ought' to look like when they are 'learning.' But learning isn't separated out in an unschooling life. Learning is an unconscious side effect of living a joyful life. As kids get older and our culture's beliefs on learning and education permeate their consciousness, they may be aware that certain things may better 'qualify' as learning than others, at least to society. But it doesn't seem to hamper them.

The reason we unschoolers don't like to focus too much on education or learning is because those words have been co-opted by the system to differentiate what is good (acceptable, desired) from what is bad (unnecessary or harmful). If we speak of learning when our child is looking through a microscope, but not when he's reading a comic book, we subversively send approval for one activity over the other. Unschoolers know it's unwise to praise one activity as more worthy than another, in part because we just never know where a good stint with a comic book will take us! But also because as soon as we add our subjective commentary, unsolicited, we steal away a bit of their focus, and, as a result, a bit of the happy magic they felt before we interrupted. The focus they originally gave, unfettered, to their project now has to be shared - at least a small percentage - with us, tending to our codependent need to weigh in. Things were going along just fine and suddenly some attention must be given to mom's dis/approval of their activity.

Without schools, and without subjective evaluation, the potential for our children is profound. Free of arbitrary grading and assessment, they will develop and grow into the unique, complicated, multi-faceted people they are destined to become. All we have to do is be good models, healthy and caring and supportive, and get out of their way.

Or, in my case, back to the couch.