Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas is In The Bag (Again)

Christmas was in the house.  It was also in the bag (again).  That's right.  I won't tell you what my favorite gift was, but I will totally tell you about my favorite gift bag, provided once again, by my sister.
I have to be honest.  It was a little bit of a letdown.  It was not as revealing impressive as last year's bag.  But really, the waistband had nowhere to go but up after last year.  Lower was not an option.  I don't actually get anything from the Abercrombie store, my sister just goes in and requests a bag.  It takes so little to make me happy nowadays.

Moving along to more wholesome holiday fare....Ellie spent the day before Christmas doing this:

Making hats.  The hat-making resulted in this photo taken on Christmas Eve:


Jasper is holding a stuffed animal.  I can't tell which one it is.  Also?  I took six pictures and Jasper looked the most normal in this one.  Anyway - the stuffed animal is either Tiger-y or Little Green Bear.  His newest stuffed animal is called Snakey.  Joel commented on his lack of imagination in the naming department....Joel...the former owner of a gerbil named Blackie and a gerbil named Whitey.  Anyway, we have two Little Green Bears in our home - one is Jules's - and Jasper (also known as Jules's shadow) named his teddy Little Green Bear, too.  Even though he isn't green.  Anyway, Ellie made Little Green Bear an awesome yellow Jamaican hat - and Jasper  rejected it because it wasn't a beret', which was apparently what Little Green Bear had his heart set on.  So I was a little concerned that Jasper (who as you can see, is also not wearing a beret') might likewise reject his Christmas present from his sister - but he didn't.  Joel has convinced him that the pom poms (which Joel insists on calling balls) can be used as weapons if the need arises.  He briefly lost a ball while doing some kind of martial arts demonstration with his knitted cap - and I will leave the visual imagery of that thrilling display up to your imagination.

Christmas Eve found Jeff serving up our usual South Texas holiday fare of tamales, chili, Mexican rice, and guacamole.  I was feeling a bit under the weather (thanks for the cold, Jules!) and appreciated the fact that I have a cooking husband.  After all that cooking and eating, the Boy and His Dog took a little ho ho ho laydown during the cleanup. Right there on the floor.
The kids were all set to rip into the gifts - but there was a bit of important business to take care of first.  I believe I mentioned before that I got a new tattoo on my birthday (this is a result of a very persistent mid-life crisis that I have also mentioned before).  My dad had refused to look at it, saying that he needed fortification first (alcohol).  Seeing as how sooner or later I was going to be forced into a short sleeved shirt in his presence, I decided the time had come, and he was thus properly fortified.  Then he looked at my arm through squinted eyes, commented on the SIZE OF THE THING (the tattoo, that is, not my arm, which is actually fairly proportional to the rest of me), and said, "Wear it in good health."  Even though it is now official that I cannot be buried in an Orthodox Jewish Cemetery.  Well, actually, that was official after the first tattoo.  But now it is for sure - I couldn't sneak this one past a rabbi.  But seeing as how this entire scene of the Revelation of the Tattoo took place in front of a Hanukkah Bush known in some circles as a Freaking Christmas Tree - is this really an issue?  Anyway, now that the Old Man has officially seen it, I can share it.  So here it is.....
That is my professional tattoo artist, Rick, sticking his tongue out behind me.  It was really, really late.  He spent a lot of time designing the thing - which was lovely because yeah, I wanted him to.  So much time, in fact, that Ellie had time to wander off and do this:
She got her ear pierced.  Because really, it is terribly boring to watch someone get a tattoo.  I mean, I guess if they're carrying on and getting all hysterical it would be entertaining, but I'm not one to do that.  Because I'm Awesome.  Rick the Tattoo Artist is Kari's friend from Jr. High - so she went with us.  This picture was taken before she became massively bored.  Unlike Ellie, Kari's boredom did not result in a piercing.  She just got on Facebook.

Back to Christmas.  I woke up with a fever and a sore throat and the kids woke up to find their stockings (each one made lovingly by their Great Aunt Flo) full of goodies.  It was chocolate for breakfast, and four trays of cheese and spinach enchiladas for lunch.  I had a lovely day, even though I didn't feel good, just watching everyone play with their new things and enjoy being together.  The Christmas music was blaring, the dog was running from the remote control truck Santa brought Jasper, the boys were shooting aliens, Camille was playing with her doll....there were pieces of wrapping paper, puzzles, and matchbox racing cars all over the floor.  People brought me Earl Gray tea in a pretty mug and said they hoped I'd feel better soon.  I fell asleep listening to Bing Crosby hanging in there, but still being overpowered by Jeff singing to David Bowie while the family played Rock Band.  All in all, it couldn't have been any better.  I think having a cold and feeling slow gave me the opportunity to sit back and absorb and appreciate the scene, rather than running around and missing so much. Not that I'd want to be sick again next year.  Just saying, it wasn't all bad. 

I love Christmas.  I love the lights, the preparations, the food, and the family.  We don't keep Christ in Christmas the way some people do, and maybe that bothers the said some people.  I don't know how to feel about that, exactly.  I mean, I get their point - it is a religious holiday.  So I can see how if you're a devout Christian, you would want to make the holiday about Jesus and you would remind yourself to Keep Christ in Christmas.  But as to what other people, those of us who are not religious, want to do in our own homes with our own families to celebrate our childhood/hearth/home traditions.....which for my family includes a tree, gifts, music and food....why would you care?  Why would you get angry?  Would you like to come sneaking in like the Grinch (a popular Christmas story that has no mention of keeping Christ in Christmas when it extols the virtues and meaning of the spirit of Christmas) and take away my Christmas tree?  What does a Christmas tree have to do with Jesus anyway?  For that matter, what do lights, gifts, tamales, and overspending at Target have to do with Jesus?  Keep Christ in Christmas!! the bumper stickers parked outside of Wal-Mart say.  Now I'm assuming that Christians already do this.  So the bumper stickers must be directed at the Rest of Us.  Those of us who might just be trying to use the holiday (since it is a time that schools/colleges/universities and all government offices and most retail establishments and all banks and office buildings are closed) as an opportunity to spend time with our families cooking and eating, dancing and singing, giving and receiving....sitting around a very lit-up tree that never appeared in Bethlehem...listening to music about a walking/talking snowman...and yes about Jesus, too....passing around babies from young arms to old....and passing down stories...

To those who are upset that we dare to do this - what else would you have us do?  And if we tell you Happy Holidays because we might not know you well enough to know what holiday it is you're celebrating this time of year (maybe you're Jewish) - do you choose to be outraged that we didn't say Merry Christmas?  I am often confused by the anger that seeps out over things such as this....during the time of year when people are meant to celebrate the hope of an everlasting and joyful peace.

Would you believe that when I set out to blog - I had no intention of mentioning any of this?  But I have.  So I'll leave off with a few more pictures of us enjoying a holiday that we call Christmas.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Sardine Family (which apparently includes at least one current Buddhist) to Yours!! 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Endless Shock and Awe

I'd like to start out by saying that the holidays have snuck up on me....but I'm pretty sure I said that last year.  It is amazing how many times in a row I can be amazed by the same things.  Don't we all do that and isn't it pretty stupid?  Or is it ingenious?  Maybe it's ingenious.  It is God's or the Universe's or the Spaghetti Monster's way of keeping us amused.  Otherwise we'd be endlessly bored.  So...every summer we proclaim that we can't believe it's this hot....then the first cool front blows in and we all run outside like idiots..."wow! nobody expected this!".....then someone has a birthday and we say, "I can't believe another year has gone by!"  We are continually amazed that our kids get bigger, we get older, the weather gets hotter or colder, and December rolls around and Oh My God Christmas Came With It.  Who saw it coming?  Seriously, how could you predict something like that?

So yes, here I am (again) with a week before Christmas and presents still to buy, and if I need to mail you something you can totally forget it.  You're getting it late.  And even though I do it that way every single year, it will still surprise you because apparently, we are just wired for continual shock and awe. 

Speaking of shock and awe, I just had a birthday.  I know!  Amazing!  It was a great day doing basically pretty much what we do every year....and I'll blog about it like it has Never Happened Before!  Eventually you people are going to stop reading.  Wait a minute, no you won't.  We've already established that this is how it works....continual surprise and amazement.

Every year I force the kids to get a Santa picture on my birthday.  I won't tell you how we see the same Santa every year and how he cracks up at us or how he creeps Ellie out or any of that - because I'm pretty dang sure I said it last year. Here's this year's photo.
Joel asked for a Barbie and I think it would be awesome if he got one.  Jasper just said, "Bring me a surprise." Ellie refused to talk to Santa, Camille gave him her letter like she does every year, and I'm not sure what was going on with Jules but I did crack up when Santa's assistant pried his hands out of his pockets and forced him to place them in his lap.  It reminded me of that one year that he played basketball when he was six.  His coach eventually duct-taped his pockets shut....she was tired of watching the basketballs bounce off of his forehead as he stood with his hands in his pockets.  I don't really produce jocks over here.  Anyway - I have veered off topic.  Joel wore his Christmas uniform of a Guns'n Roses t-shirt and backwards baseball cap, Ellie put on a festive scarf even though it was 70 outside, Camille just looked freaking cute like she always does (our little fashion plate who enjoys an endless supply of hand-me-downs from a couple of girly families), and Jasper (who is doing his "Here's Johnny" Jack Nicholson face) and Jules are both sporting shirts buttoned All The Way To The Top.  Jules wears his shirts that way because it seems to be one of those Unofficial Asperger's Traits.  Jasper does it because

a) Jules does it
b) He's just quirky as hell

When I suggested he might want a little breathing room at the collar, he unbuttoned all of his buttons, pulled the neckline down as low as possible, and shrieked, "You want me to look like this?  Is this what you want?  You want me to show my CHEST??"

Of course, Jasper reacts strongly to suggestions, in general.  I recently offered him a meatball in an Indian buffet line - it was an innocent slip - I had briefly forgotten that Jules had watched Food Inc and gloriously shared all the details with Jasper, thereby turning him into an overnight committed vegetarian.  So I'm holding out the meatball on a serving spoon and Jasper yells, "Are you trying to kill me?" 

"Umm...no," I said.  "Just offering a meatball...."

He and Camille went and got their hair cut for the Santa picture.  Jasper is a cutter.  Seriously.  We don't know where he keeps his scissors, but he's constantly cutting on his hair.  It's a problem.  Anyway - we needed to even things up a bit so he reluctantly climbed in the chair and said to the stylist, "Do a better job this time.  Last time the hair cut only lasted two hours."  Two hours.  Before he was "forced" to take matters into his own hands and cut his bangs. 

He looks good in the Santa pic.  Like a little angel. 

I told Ellie that if she ends up at a Texas university, she can come home next year on my birthday for the Santa picture.  And she said, "I signed an 18-year contract with you people.  I'm done."  Hmph.

After the Santa photo, we headed over to Mi Tiera where I enjoyed some delicious enchiladas verdes.  Last year Jeff made them for me, but this year I had plans for the evening that involved a birthday trip to a tattoo parlor, where I met up again with my friend, Rick.  Maybe I'll post a pic, later.  My dad hasn't seen the tattoo yet and I'd hate for him to see it first on the blog that he says he doesn't read.

Ellie gave me a beautiful teapot, Jeff got me another Haruki Murakami book (he is my All Time Favorite Author), Camille made me a necklace, Jasper made me a snowflake ornament out of popsicle sticks that is also the Red Hot Chili Peppers emblem, and the Joels-Boys (Joel and Jules) got me a Frusciante CD that I may or may not like (haven't listened to it, yet) because even though I am a loyal fan - sometimes Frusciante does Weird Artistically Expressive Sh*t that I, with my suffocatingly small mind, fail to fully appreciate.  I also got Chili Peppers Live From Slane Castle...because nothing says, "Happy Birthday Mom!" like a parental advisory for explicit content. 

I'm feeling very blessed this Christmas (Yes!  I said "Blessed" even though I don't usually use that term..).  My family is together.  Ellie is still with us - even if she comes home for Christmas every year after - it won't be the same as her being "with us" as in still at this stage of her life where this is her home....here with all of us.  My dad is doing amazingly well after being So Basically Crippled and Decrepit last year at this time...where he sat in his wheelchair holding his tequila shot glass up and saying, "God Bless Us, Every One!!"  There is no little crutch without an owner hanging by the door - the old guy is up and running around - doesn't use the cane even because, quite frankly, one of my kids always accidentally kicks it out from under him and we decided it was a hindrance. 

Nobody in our family is ill.  Jeff has a job.  We have a roof over our heads.  We are all under it - a snapshot in time - this last year of our intact little family before these kids start taking off to live their lives outside of the sardine can.  So it feels especially warm and sweet, this surprise Christmas that snuck up on me. 

In case the Chili Peppers video above wasn't quite your cup of tea....I'll leave you with this video...my kid....rocking the piano.  I have to admit, my heart actually hurts when I watch it.  I am continually amazed by this aching heart...the endless love I feel for my kids...catches me off guard and steals my breath at the darnedest times...

Merry Christmas to you - and may you continue to be endlessly amazed by the sweet repetition of your own life's little surprises.

Etude in C Minor, Op. 39, No. 1 - Rachmaninoff /  on Vimeo.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Because It Wouldn't Be Christmas Without the Ghost of Bob Marley

We've ushered in the Christmas season with a little Scrooge.  I love to read A Christmas Carol out loud and the children suffer through it quite nicely.  The little ones like it the best.  Anyway, we rented the movie, the one where Scrooge is played by George C. Scott (my favorite Scrooge). Jasper was a little nervous, worried he'd be scared by the ghost business and lose face in front of the big brothers.  So when the first chain rattling apparition appeared, Jasper peeked out from behind a sofa cushion and proclaimed, "That's the ghost of Bob Marley!" Everyone laughed, of course, and Jasper really hates it when that happens. But I made them all stop and said, "No, mon. That be the ghost of Jacob Marley." But he was close.

Sometimes Jasper isn't close with his proclamations. Sometimes he is Right On.  Are you sensing another Christmas tale coming up?  Because you'd be right.  Let's see...

Once Upon a Time - as in just a couple of days ago, the Sardines accompanied the Daddy Sardine to Corpus Christi, where he would be working for a few days.  They do this fairly regularly, and always stay in the same place  - a place with an indoor pool that is Very Important to the Little Fishies- and a free happy hour that is Very Important to Sardine Mama.

Now, one morning Sardine Mama was walking to the indoor pool when she was accosted by a lovely woman. "Excuse me," said the lovely woman.  "Is that your family in there?" she asked, while pointing at the pool area on the other side of the glass partition.

Sardine Mama glanced nervously behind the lovely woman.  It was quite noisy in the pool.  A long-haired boy was dunking a much smaller boy under the water - and the smaller boy wasn't going under without a good fight. There was a lot of splashing and shouting and hair pulling....and some of what might be considered "minor" cursing. There was also a bald man swimming with two smaller children clinging to his back, both wearing goggles, one with a snorkel, and both screaming hysterically - one because he was slightly terrified of getting splashed and the other because she is just made that way.  It sounded as if there were at least 100 people in the pool.

After a moment of hesitation, Sardine Mama went ahead and claimed her family.  Somebody had to, after all, and she swallowed in nervous anticipation of what was to come next.  Would it be a complaint about language? Volume? Long hair? Would it be the ever so tiresome Why Aren't They In School question?

It was none of those things.  The lovely woman started with, "Don't be alarmed..." 

Now when Sardine Mama hears this, she generally becomes alarmed.  Was there a herd of sardine-eating piranhas in the pool?  Had the woman accidentally spilled a vat of acid?  Let loose a great white shark?

"Don't be alarmed," she repeated. "But my husband is in the pool's bathroom putting on a Santa suit."

Sardine Mama wasn't anticipating that.  Not at all.  She didn't know whether or not she should be alarmed, and she didn't know what to say.

"The children are welcome to say hello, of course," the lovely woman said.  "But please, they mustn't sit on his lap."

Sardine Mama was quite certain that there was no way in hell that the little sardines would be sitting on the Bathroom Santa's lap. 

"Because they're wet, you see," said the woman. "We wouldn't want them staining Santa's lap. We're late for a party."

Sardine Mama assured her there would be no wet lap sitting and the woman seemed relieved to hear it.  Then she looked down, noticed Sardine Mama's bare feet and said, "Oh my!  What a beautiful tattoo!"  Because it is, that's why.  And then she proceeded to talk about all of her tattoos, because apparently, beneath the Reindeer sweatshirt, Mrs. Claus was quite inked up.  Eventually she stopped the tattoo talk and yelled, "Oh! Here he comes! Here comes Santa!"

Sardine Mama turned to see a very rumpled and sweaty Santa emerge from the pool's tiny (and steamy) bathroom. Silence descended upon the pool area.  The formerly noisy little girl sardine blew water out of her snorkel and lifted up her mask, completely speechless. 

"Ho ho ho!" said the Bathroom Santa, waving to the Swimming Sardines. 

None of them waved back.  It was so quiet, you could hear the water dripping off of the long-haired boy's...long hair. Finally, the six-year-old sardine - the one who goes by the name of Jasper - said, "Wow.  This is weird."  And then they all stared as the Bathroom Santa unceremoniously dodged puddles on his way out the door.

The End.

See what I mean? Jasper was right on the money with that one.  It was weird.

Would you like to hear another little hotel tale?  You would?  Well, you're in luck because I have one.

At the Entirely Free Happy Hour, we are in the habit of downing massive quantities of popcorn and goldfish while drinking sodas, Shirley Temples, and the occasional glass of merlot or even a tequila sunrise.  And I had just ordered Camille's second round of Shirley Temples (with extra cherries), when the bartender accidentally spilled the bottle of cherry syrup stuff and it literally shot out towards me like we were meant for each other.  It hit my hair, dribbled down my glasses rather pathetically, and then did a slow-mo splash and splatter down my Brand New Favorite Chocolate Brown Blouse.  Everyone at the bar was stunned and speechless in the exact same way you would be stunned and speechless if you were innocently entertaining yourself with a dip in the pool and a gigantic Real Life Santa were to emerge from the bathroom. 

"Oops!" said the bartender.  Oops?  Are you kidding me?  But you know what?  I am a really, really nice person.  I assured her it was okay.  I understood it was an accident.  I delivered the Shirley Temple to Camille - who took one look at me and went back to her popcorn like so what?  you want to stun me you've got to find a santa suit...seriously... And then I went and changed and thew my blouse in a sink of cold water.  The boys, being boys, didn't notice that I a) had arrived at the table with bright red syrup dripping down my face and hair, or that b) I had returned to the table a few moments later with wet hair and different clothes.  They didn't know what happened until they heard me telling their dad about it after we picked him up to take him to dinner.

"When did that happen?" they wanted to know.  Whatever.  They listened to the story as I recounted it and when I got to the "oops" part....Joel said, "Well, if that had been me spilling something like that I wouldn't have just said oops.  I would have done the honorable thing..."

Oh boy, I thought...here it comes...

"I would have pulled out my samurai sword and stabbed myself in the scro...wait a minute..."

"Sternum!" yelled Jeff. 

"Yeah," Joel laughed.  "I didn't think scrotum sounded right..."

So there you have it.  Just another blog post about Bob Marley's ghost, bathroom Santas, spewing syrup, and scrotum stabbings.  More holiday stories to come! We're just getting started over here...oh! And my birthday is on Wednesday.  I bought myself a present.  It's finally out and just in time for the holidays!  The new Red Hot Chili Peppers book! Woot!  Because what would the holidays be without a coffee table book with naked Flea pictures? Life is good.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

We'd Like That With a Side of Geography and a Textbook Garnish, Please

Education.  It has been on my mind, lately.  I won't lie, going through the college application process has been tiresome and difficult - although I can see how so much of it will be easier for me the next time around - now that I have templates for transcripts worked out, and I know what goes into an academic portfolio, etc.  It will also be easier the next time around because I probably won't have another kid applying to music school, which has meant double the work (although Ellie and her piano teacher took care of the music resumes, etc....but we also had to send in copies of publicity pieces, recital and festival programs, etc, not to mention the pre-screening cd's).

So what does it mean to be educated?  It seems that it means you get a little piece of paper claiming that you're educated, despite the fact that it is well known that schools are spitting out illiterate kids at alarming rates.  They are also graduating completely literate kids, too, so don't think I'm totally trashing schools - I'm just pointing out that graduating from an accredited high school, in and of itself, isn't necessarily a huge academic accomplishment for most of us. 

One of the highly esteemed music schools where Ellie has applied, only asks for a high school transcript - not even an SAT score - for consideration.  Of course, there are also auditions and music resumes etc...but basically - if you graduated from an accredited high school that is all they need as academic proof that you're good to go, so to speak, for college life.  UNLESS...you're homeschooled.  Now I don't agree with this, but I kind of get it, because, you know, I put her transcript together, and I'm her mommy, so technically I could have lied about all of it because well....hmmm....still thinking about why I would want to say she could read and write if she couldn't...but anyway. 

If you're homeschooled, in addition to the highly suspicious homeschool transcript, this music school requires you to take an SAT test.  Even though the other kids don't have to take one.  And that's okay, too.  Really.  Taking the SAT is no big deal and most schools require that or the ACT for admittance.  So - homeschoolers have to take the SAT...got it....did it....scored well.  But then?  They also have to take two SAT II Subject tests.  Just the homeschoolers.  Nobody else even had to take the SAT.  So...did it...smoked it, in fact, with a nearly perfect score on Literature and super-dee-duperty high on the US History. But that wasn't enough, either.  Even though scoring really high should have proven that she could read and write at least as well as the schooled kids.  ACADEMIC PORTFOLIO, folks.  Torturesome, burdensome piece of business, unless you have been compiling one all along - something organized people do, I'm told - it is a big old pain in the rear.  Every course in every subject, complete with textbook titles, authors, publishers, and editions, DESCRIPTIONS of the course, what was covered, when, where, and by whom.  Four years of this.  And let's face it, with the exception of her community college courses she's been taking since the 8th grade - everything was done rather unconventionally - but had to be fit within conventional parameters in order to be considered credible or legitimate.

Ellie is mostly self, community, and family educated, in that order.  When you throw it all together, she ends up with more than enough credits, and way more "courses" than the average high school graduate.  But how do you say a kid "took" British Literature from this date to this date (and please keep it within one year or semester) when she has devoured British literature since 6th grade?  If you didn't actually say, "Today we're starting British literature, and we will finish British literature in 9 months," then did you actually take British literature?  And what about the textbook?  What if you didn't use a textbook?  Well, you could say that you didn't use a textbook - and up the suspicious nature of your portfolio by a bazillion percent...or you can order an Honors British Literature Textbook for a Lot of Money and you can give it to your kid and she can flip through it casually and say, "I've read most of these in their entirety, is it necessary for me to read the excerpts out of this book?"  That's right.  Small excerpts. 

The amount of actual literature in the literature book is minuscule in comparison to the amount of Total Bullshit in the literature book.  "Before You Read..." blabbedy blab..."Pre-Reading Ideas..." blabbedy blab... "Integrating Language Skills...including word analysis, spelling strategy, and a grammar lesson...let's talk about compound predicates here..and Style" blabbedy blag..."Writing Application, Extension Activities, Listening and Speaking..." AND "Analysis of a Literary Theme." NO WONDER KIDS HATE TO READ.

At the time I threw the textbook at Ellie, she was reading four books for pleasure. One was a George Eliot book, "George Eliot is SO FREAKING AMAZING, Mom!!" and a Kurt Vonnegut book, "Oh my god, mom, he is such a fabulous writer!" Anthony Trollope...one of the Oxford Classics...and a tattered and worn copy of Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer - she has read it countless times. On her nightstand rests Oscar Wilde and Sylvia Plath.  But, she didn't do any of the "work" mentioned in the textbook.  The only work she did was to absorb, enjoy, love, and assimilate the words into her soul.  But still, we chose a specific year, put it on a transcript and gave her a grade, as if British and American Literature were items on a to-do list instead of part of a rich and colorful life. 

She did memorize a bunch of terms, such as alliteration and personification, to spit out on her SAT Subject Test, and it took minimal time and effort but time and effort all the same, and she resented it.  It was time she could have been using to read a good book. 

Civics?  When did she take civics, they wanted to know.  Well, in 8th grade she formed her first humanitarian organization, appearing on television, organizing demonstrations, giving interviews to newspapers, and raising money to buy solar stoves and send medical aid to refugee camps in Chad. 

Later, she merged the organization into the first homeschooled STAND chapter in the US.  She marched in Washington, assisted in the Tents of Hope demonstration at the National Mall, lobbied legislators, and more.  She recently voted for the first time, and she volunteered for Obama's Campaign.  But when did she take Civics?  That is what they want to know.  And what textbook did she use and what were her scores?  Luckily, she has taken US Government and US History at the community college.  Luckily, we just so happen to have a Civics textbook on our coffee table, called Activists and Rebels.

I guess the frustrating thing is that the bigger part of my kids' educations, their lives and their interests, will always be just a mention here and there on the back burner of institutionalized education.  The very small percentage of their educations that involve textbooks and chapter summaries, will always have to be in the forefront, even though they are the least effective tools to administer and measure what constitutes an education, at least as it pertains to attaining a secondary education, and Ellie intends to earn a doctorate.

This brings me to Joel and his geography class. He might want to attend college in a couple of years, so we're trying to conventionalize his education. He's taking a distance learning geography class.  Geography should come easy to him.  He's an incredibly curious kid, and he loves reading non-fiction, particularly in relation to cultures and history.  He likes the textbook, and was quite happy to take it to his room and read it on his own the very day it came in. But then the Actual School Work started.  As in, read this, answer these questions (most of which are not answered in the reading assignment) and most importantly...draw and color pictures.  That's right.  He's 16, a head taller than me, and he's being required to draw and color pictures of things like boots, hats, and raincoats (what would you wear in a climate where it rains? draw and color a picture!).  There is lots of copying out of the book, lots of tracing pictures out of the book, and well, you get the idea.  Finding answers in the book is sometimes confusing because his teacher will often come close, but not quite hit the mark, to asking things in the same language as they're described in the book.  For example, she will often use words interchangeably, that are not really meant to be interchangeable.  Like, maybe they both start with the same letter or something, or they sound similar, but they're not the same. 

"Draw pictures of the Earth's Systems found on Page 141."  When you go to page 141, it says, "The Earths Structures." Structures? Systems? Are they the same?  Are we to assume they are the same?  And Joel's answer to everything is, "Why can't I just google it?"  Because Joel is a modern kid and when he wants to know something quickly, he googles it.  It makes sense.  That is the world he lives in.  Flipping through textbook pages to look up ambivalent words seems time-consuming and silly.  Of course, there are always those who argue that you need to be able to look things up!  But mostly?  People use the Internet to do it.  Why on earth wouldn't they? "Looking up things" is no longer a life skill.  Finding information IS a life skill, and today's kids know how to do it better than my generation did.  Hell, there's an app for that, right?

Luckily for Joel, he is extremely artistic and nothing makes him happier than drawing and coloring, even though drawing and coloring were Alarming Areas of Deficit according to his pre-school and kindergarten teachers.  Alarming!  In fact, I'm quite certain I should still be hysterical about it.  I have to keep an eye on him, (no - Joel - please don't say that desert attire consists of a speedo in your back pocket in case you happen upon an oasis - she wants you to draw a picture of a hat and you know it.) I have to explain directions and instructions to him because he has severe language processing issues (how many questions did she ask here, Joel?  Two?  How many did you answer?  One?  Do you see a problem with that? No? The other answer is obvious and you say you shouldn't have to write it down?  But you do.  Because you're not really learning geography, dude, you're learning how to follow instructions....).

Mostly?  This work is way beneath him.  It's way beneath what he normally does on his own regarding finding information about things that interest him.  He is finding it silly, for the most part.  And we're paying big bucks in order for him to do it, so that I can someday put it in a stinking academic portfolio....as opposed to admitting he's learned geography from his humanitarian work with his sister, his own reading (Joel never reads history or other works of non-fiction without looking at a globe - he just naturally wants to know where places are), and quite frankly, watching television.  You want to know about the earth's structures in relation to coal and diamonds?  Joel is a freaking expert and it is because he was completely enamoured with the Americus Diamond infomercial when he was 7.  The kid knows his diamonds, how they were formed, and how they're rated.  He has soaked up a lot of other mindless, yet interesting, information from similar sources.  He's learned very little from textbooks, and his current actual use of a textbook has done nothing to change that.

Now last week, I had become very stressed out from the college application process (UT Austin said they didn't get our transcript and we had to overnight one to them and overnight other things to other schools), and the boys were sleeping until noon and playing video games until 2:00 a.m....I was feeling as if I had failed my children.  I wasn't providing the education that they needed to jump through the college hoops - and here they were sleeping until noon and refusing to do the very few academic tasks I had suddenly asked of them.  I lost it.  I yelled.  And I threatened them with SCHOOL.  Camille started crying, Joel ignored me because I've done this before, Jules pulled the big Backfire Plug by saying he'd always wanted to ride in a school bus, and Jasper screamed, "What?  You want to send me to school?  But I'm not EDUCATED!!"  That was my point, but he was missing it. 

I calmed down.  Honestly, what were the odds I was even going to be awake when that school bus came by?  The mere thought of getting them ready for school was enough to put everything in perspective.  We'll jump through the hoops.  We'll look up words in the book, even though we could find them faster, and with better explanations and possibly videos, on the Internet.  I'll try to fit in interests on a transcript within a specific semester, and label them as courses.  The boys are getting up earlier, we've made a schedule, they're currently sticking close to it...and you know why?  Not because they think it is enhancing their educations, but because they think it is making my life easier and relieving some of my anxiety.  Because they're sweet boys, that's why.

The two little ones are doing whatever they want - I refuse to make them do otherwise because, so far, no college has asked for a first grade transcript. 

At this moment, I have a 16-year-old who is building an impressive pirate/whaling ship out of Popsicle sticks.  This is for Odyssey of the Mind, and their skit is based on Moby Dick, so he's read Moby Dick and watched an old movie from Netflix.  He can now say dick without laughing, but he still can't keep a straight face.  He's probably on hour four with the ship building.  I have a 12-year-old making a seagull...started with a dirty sock and some plastic grocery bags and I didn't think it was going to amount to anything but guess what?  I think once he gets the feathers on, it is going to be a rocking awesome seagull...something else to do with Odyssey.  I have an 8-year-old who just made a patchwork coat using scraps of fabric, and then she and her little brother finished working on a log cabin they began making several months ago.  Ellie, as she so often is these days, is out and about doing her own thing. In between all of this, there is guitar playing, menu-making (Camille is into playing restaurant), clothes folding, Dickens reading (we're reading A Christmas Carol out loud because I freaking love to do that), recipe searches (Joel's making vegetarian lasagna while I'm at ballet tonight with Camille), script-writing (more Odyssey), video watching, and yes, alien-shooting via the XBox.  There have been religious discussions this morning, and philosophical discussions, as well.  There has been a lot of joking and at the moment, someone is singing while someone else laughs hysterically.  And I just heard a bad word. 

All in all?  It's education.  That's what we're serving up over here.  And the textbooks?  Not even a side dish.  More like a useless garnish to make us look better. Because making us look better is what it's all about, folks.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Smashing Pumpkins

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  But this year I couldn't get in the mood...we've just been so busy (particularly me and Ellie....getting all of her application stuff done by the December 1st deadline).  So I decided to have a smaller gathering than we normally do.  Maybe next year I will get back to the full-blown production I normally love so much...but this year was exquisitely small and lovely.  When I say small, we had 16 people.  By our standards, that is a relatively microscopic Thanksgiving. Anyway, I enjoyed the day even though I hadn't necessarily been looking forward to it. 

I won't bore you with the details, oh what the heck, I WILL bore you with the details.  We did the usual with the Native American prayer....the really LONG one that my entire family claims to hate....the one where they all take turns addressing the Moon, Mother Earth, Thunderers, Medicinal Herbs, Water....etc while sighing and eye rolling and commenting that the food is getting cold...but they're just putting on (except for my sister who is genuinely disgusted by the entire thing...one more reason I love it).  It is a very beautiful and moving prayer and it fits in nicely with my wanting to show gratefulness without having to decide to WHOM I am grateful...without having to contemplate material comforts, or even things such as good health, as blessings that are bestowed upon me by a creator who has the choice to bless some while others go hungry (I know, I know...it isn't that simple and I over-think things but this is ME and how I feel and well, it's my blog). 

Basically what I'm saying is, I'm uncomfortable with the idea of being blessed...but not uncomfortable with the idea of being Thankful as long as I'm on an even playing field with everyone else - not "blessed" by a god who can pick and choose favorites. I have tons of good stuff in my life and I don't know why that is, and I'm fine without knowing.  It isn't anything I've done to put me in God's favor, just like it isn't anything anyone else has done to put them out of God's favor.  I'd prefer to think it is just chance - not a conscious decision made by an entity, that I haven't been covered in a mudslide, or drowned by a tsunami, or starved by a famine. 

When I contemplate thankfulness, I do like feeling a connection to all living things, to an energy that emanates from Somewhere or Something that I am somehow a part of.  But I really don't like to feel that I'm being given any special consideration, because I don't believe I am. I know that many of my religious friends feel this, and simply recognize it in a different form.  Not all rreligious people think of God in Santa Claus terms.  But I still think that the General Idea Sold to the Masses is that of a Santa Claus God who knows when you're sleeping and knows when you're awake, one who can choose a candy cane or a lump of coal for you, so you'd darn well better be good (but not for the sake of goodness - just to avoid the lump of coal).  I prefer to think of whatever magic it is that caused creation....I use the term magic, by the way, for many things....like the thing that you stick in the computer...that little thingy...and it lights up and stuff and then stuff comes OUT of the computer ONTO the little thingy...and the little thingy fits in your pocket and that is magic, too...as being relatively indifferent, but beautiful in its indifference.  It is what it is.

I think last year I also said some spiritual mumbo jumbo about this time.  I probably should have just posted a link to last year and I'd have been done with it.  Last year's pictures also look similar to this year's - same activities - same people - all a little bit older.  But this blog is my journal, and I like to see how we've all changed, and read about the ways in which we haven't. 

After our lengthy prayer (and Camille read her part for the first time this year....thereby proving AGAIN to my dad that unschooling eventually works....although I think he might believe the kids get educated despite my philosophy, not because of it).  Last year at Thanksgiving, my dad was still recuperating from his dreadful fall....sitting at my house in a wheelchair for crying out loud, looking all pathetic (but putting in a really good effort at memorizing some Pearl Jam lyrics while Jeff played the guitar), so I am extremely THANKFUL to the Indifferent Source for that fact that he was walking around unassisted all day yesterday, that he's back to work at his office and also running my kids around for me when I need it. 

Once the prayer was over, everyone dug in and the talk was lively and loud (my sister was there) and we talked about everything under the sun, including the airport patdowns and other Controversial Things.  What do I think about airport patdowns, you ask?  You did ask, right?  Well, I think that as long as there are terrorists ready and willing to detonate their crotches on airplanes....I don't mind being felt up.  Or having my kids felt up.  I know, that is a big stinker for a lot of folks....but I'd rather have my kid felt up than blown up.  Sorry.  Also?  The porn machines?  Do not bother me.  At all.  It's the closest I'll ever come to a centerfold shoot. 

Some people have real concerns and issues regarding this matter...meaning they really ARE uncomfortable with being touched or scanned, and I feel badly for them because I can understand it.  But a lot of people?  Just like to think the liberals are out to get them....via things like airport patdowns.  They're ready to start throwing tea bags or refusing to be scanned so that they can bring airports everywhere to screaming halts just like they're bringing Washington to a screaming halt.  Oh my.  Look where I went!  And I really just meant to post these pictures.  Because our Thanksgiving always consists of Smashing Pumpkins. It is a tradition in our house to throw pumpkins off of our bridge and into the San Antonio River for Really No Good Reason That I Can Think Of.  Except that it is fun. 

Lots of people have joined us in this activity...neighbors, friends, relatives, and soldiers we've hosted from nearby bases....lots of folks have launched pumpkins on Thanksgiving.  This year it was a small group, but we were enthusiastic.  Some friends didn't have pumpkins so they brought watermelons.  They also made a good splash.  Oh, and before I commence with the picture posting, let me say that we didn't slaughter and eat our own turkeys this year.  We ordered them too late and they weren't ready, so they've been pardoned until New Year's.

 Here they are lining up to launch.  Both Jeff AND Jasper are making identical goofy faces (this continued throughout the event) and it was completely unplanned.  The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.  And there's Ellie with her publicity photo face.
 Oops.  Looks like there was a premature launch.
 We started off the day with the air conditioner on and the temps very warm...a cold front blew in with a vengeance...that's how it works in our neck of the woods....and we were in the 30's last night (air conditioner turned OFF).  Ellie looks like she's freezing to death here, and she is the kid who wants to go live where it snows??
 My dad with Camille.  She's wearing the new outfit he bought her. 
 More goofiness.  Jeff didn't look normal in a single picture. 
 And here Jasper's new scarf is getting in Jeff's mouth.  Ellie crocheted him a scarf and hat.  She's like a little yarn factory, at the moment.  Spitting out hats, leg warmers, and scarves at a frantic pace.  Because she can't ever relax, that's why.  Poor Matthew is looking at me like, "Thanks for making me pose with your family.  Hurry up, they're weird."
 I asked Ellie and Joel to pose together so they did a Boxing Match Scowl Poster.  Joel can't hide his grin, though.  It is very hard for him to EVER wipe a grin off of his face.  One more reason his 1st grade teacher didn't care for him.
 Aww...here's how they really feel.  I think they're going to miss each other when Ellie heads to college.  Well, I know they are.  Although Ellie just wants to get the heck out of here...she's going to miss us. My dad keeps trying to make her feel bad..."At my age, how many more times am I going to see you if you head towards Canada for college?" yada yada....and Ellie, who is not known for being massively sentimental, by the way, finally said yesterday, "Stop threatening to die while I'm at college!!"  She's really close with her grandpa, and he's going to miss her. A lot.
 And here she is with Jules, who doesn't like to be touched but is happy to pose for a picture with his sister. As long as she doesn't touch him.  At all.  Which she didn't.
So it was another great Thanksgiving.  I promise my next post will be about Joel's school efforts with distance learning, and our Big Fight With The Community College.  Which we lost, by the way.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Reality in Alaska

I promised you my insightful opinion of Sarah Palin's Alaska, so here it is.  Because I have a load of stuff to do today/this week (that's why) and the longer I sit here doing the typing and drinking the coffee...the longer I can put all that stuff off, thereby ensuring myself an extremely stressful start to my holiday season.  It's tradition. God but I love the holidays.


**If you are a Die-Hard Palin Fan - please don't read this....you'll hate me and I would really hate that. Just tune in next week, okay? Next week I promise to offend / piss off someone else, instead.


Now then, I really don't want to be all snarky but the woman (Palin) has left me no choice.  We don't have cable or satellite or any other modern technology in this here house (that statement is for the benefit of any college financial aid narcs that might be staking out my family...also? it is true.) but Ellie made me watch Sarah Palin's Alaska in the hotel room last week.

As you all know, I am an extremely naive and innocent girl, so I honestly thought Sarah Palin's Alaska was going to be a nature show.  Stop laughing!  I really thought that!  I did consider it ironic to have her hosting any kind of a nature show that was going to attempt reverence towards you know...animals...nature...conservation...stuff like that...but it's show business in the end and stranger things have happened.  I really wasn't expecting a reality tv show.  I know! I feel so silly now.  But I don't watch reality tv...don't watch much tv at all (not because I'm better than you but because I really don't have time because being the queen of procrastination is a time-consuming job) and I Just Didn't See It Coming.  But it was totally a reality tv show.  It was totally a Follow-The-Family-around reality tv show. 

Before I put on my Reality TV Show Critic's Hat, I would like to clarify one thing:  Todd Palin is totally hot.  Apparently, this (well known) fact had escaped me during the period of time when I was blinded by rage and fury election. Holy cow - what a cutie!  And while it would be lovely to see Todd scampering about the White House, I'm still not entirely sure it's a good idea.  Now why on earth hasn't Todd come out with a country music album?  THAT would be a good idea.  Don't ask me why.  It is just a thought that occurred to me and I think it is a mighty fine one at that. It doesn't matter if he can't sing.  Half the people who appeared on the American Music Awards last night couldn't sing and it was still a good show.  So yeah, Todd needs a record deal (and possibly a calendar) and Palin needs to do what Barbara Bush recently said: STAY IN ALASKA.  Where she really can't do that much damage unless you're a wolf, moose, bear, or an Alaskan Citizen.

Back to the show.  It was interesting.  Although I don't have time for reality tv, it doesn't mean I don't like to stare at a train wreck just as much as the next guy.  It was fascinating.  And they are pretty people (the entire family) so the viewing was easy on the eyes as long as you hold the mute button down (to cut down on the nasally whine factor).

What I found most fascinating about Sarah Palin's Alaska was the Family Values Aspect of it.  Because God knows the Palins are the poster family of family values (meaning there are no un-closeted homosexuals in their family).  And God knows that my family (non-church going, non-rule setting, school-is-for-losers educational philosophy) is NOT.  But.  That sulky boy who was eyeing Willow like she was a hot fudge sundae after she gave him the Come Hither look?  Would not be hanging around all sneaky-like in My House.  But then again, neither would Levi Johnston....and that just goes without saying.  So when Sarah (the mother of the house) told the sneaky-like boy to stay downstairs and not to follow Willow upstairs where de-flowering and de-filing could possibly take place, and Willow looked at him and rolled her eyes with a smirk, and then he JUMPED OVER THE BABY GATE AT THE FOOT OF THE STAIRS and WENT UP THERE ANYWAY, I was like REALLY?  This is cool?  This is entertaining and hilarious in an "Oh, look at those silly teenagers" way?  I was really dumbstruck that that particular scene made it into the show.  I would think it would look bad on several levels.  Because there's really no positive way to spin it.  It has to be spun as either:

1.  Something the show's producers set up for a Wow Factor (considering teen pregnancy is a well-publicized issue in the Palin household)....which would show really Bad Judgement on Sarah's part for allowing it in the show because, quite frankly, it makes the boy look disrespectful, it makes Willow look Not So Good, and it makes Sarah look ineffective.  So....if it wasn't set up by the producers....

2. It really happened.  And if it really happened?  Again - it makes the boy look bad, Willow look Not So Good, and Sarah look ineffective. 

I'm pretty sure if I continue in the direction I'm headed, God will punish me.  If I say what I'm going to say next, locusts, plagues, and Levi Johnston will be inflicted upon me.  But I'm going to say it anyway. 

The kids who regularly hang out in my home are not necessarily angels or perfect in any way (and that includes my own).  But none of them would EVER treat me the way that boy treated Sarah Palin.  None of them would ever blatantly do something I'd just asked them not to.  *Of course, it is unlikely I would have a rule like that in my house...but that just goes back to how we have no Family Values. 

But if I DID have a rule like that?  The young men who frequent my home with their copious amounts of hair and loud music and violent video games...are not sneaky and disrespectful.  They wouldn't jump the gate I'd just asked them to stay behind ON NATIONAL TELEVISION while my daughter waited for them upstairs in what had already been designated as an off limits area. 

Also??  My teenage daughter wouldn't want a boy like that around.  We have lots of boys around, her boyfriend, in particular, and friends of hers and friends of his and friends of my boys...and none of them are like that.  Sneakiness and Disrespect are generally unattractive qualities in boys for girls who have been raised with self-respect and confidence.

So why did that scene make it into the show?  Why is nobody else talking about it?  I'll tell you why.  It is the Sarah Palin Appeal Factor.  And the appeal factor is....WOW! Except for the really expensive house, the chartered plane, the $75,000 RV, the hot husband, the FOX News show appearances, and the fact that I don't exploit my children in a Reality TV Show (I exploit mine on a blog), Sarah Palin is just like me!!

That's it. That's all it has ever been.  People like to know that they're not the only ones who make mistakes.  They like to know that other people face challenges with their kids.  They like to know that other people don't always make the best decisions.  They like to know that other people might not know where Russia is or that Africa is a continent.  It makes them feel better about themselves. (I know Sarah Palin sure makes me feel better about myself.) 

I'm not always the Mother of the Year...ask anyone who has spent any amount of time around me and they'll tell you that.  Ask my kids and they'll tell you that. Ask my hungry dog and he'll tell you that.  But maybe if Sarah spent less time on television and more time paying attention to what's going on in her own household....oh my....I sound a little bit like June Cleaver there, don't I?  I hate that.  So I'll stop now.

*If you're going to comment, keep it classy.  I love it when people agree with me - I really do!  But don't dis the Palin kids 'cause they're just kids and it's not their fault that their mom is putting them out there...ya know?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It Was a Road and Air Trip

OH. MY. GOD.

Here I am, trying to be all reasonable and less wordy and yes....less wordy but I'm BURSTING with all this good stuff to write about.  I mean, really.  It is Just Too Much.  But how does a girl with so much going on...Pick Just One?

Maybe with some help???

So Who Wants To Hear About:

a).  My Trip to The Great White North With Ellie and How I Totally DID NOT GET FELT UP at the Airport but did get to have coffee with Pamela at The Dayton Time (which almost made up for the lack of airport sex but not quite...)?

b).  My Noteworthy Opinions of Sarah Palin's Alaska? *subtopic* my noteworthy opinions about Bristol's dancing included at no extra charge.

c).  Joel's Lame Geography Class and my Failure at Providing the Proper Parental Support in His Educational Endeavor Because the Geography Class Basically Sucks?

Oh no! You know what?  I basically can't do it.  I can't let you choose.  And I can't write about it all.  So I'm picking the trip with Ellie.  I'll try to get to the other 2 soon-ish.  Unless they get upstaged by Something Else!!! Which they totally could.

I just had the most wonderful vacation with Ellie.  We seriously had the best time in the entire history of best times.  And yesterday when we were flying home, I glanced over at the young woman sitting next to me...the one who I had laughed myself silly with over the past few days...and there she was...just sitting there reading and sipping on coffee...and it hit me.  The panic.  I had done really well with holding that off.  You know, the whole She's Leaving Me and Probably Going Really Far Away Panic Attack.  I had been holding that off totally like a big girl...keeping it in check with the whole This Is What I Had Her For In The First Place - To Grow Up And Isn't This Wonderful For Her Brave Face Business.  But it shattered in an instant.  I looked at this beautiful woman and realized that my baby was gone.  Gone!  As in disappeared off the face of the earth.  How did I let that happen?  I turned my back and lost her.  In an instant...she was there and gone.  I reached over and squeezed the young woman's hand.  She didn't freak out.  She isn't the kind of kid who is either demonstrative or touchy-feely (I have 2 of those so don't blame it on my horrible parenting)...but she allowed it.  She more than allowed it...she squeezed back.  Because she totally knew what was going on with me and had probably been dreading Some Big Sappy Scene the entire trip.  She was grateful for the silent hand squeeze...tolerated it nicely...and breathed a big old sigh of relief that it stopped there.  And it did stop there.  Because I really did anticipate her becoming a Real Person who would go off to do Real Person Things someday.  I cranked up something Entirely Inappropriate like Sir Psycho Sexy on my ipod, put my head up against the cold airplane window, and closed my eyes.  Which were totally not leaking, by the way.

That was just the introduction.  We flew out of San Antonio and into Orlando, of all places, on the way to Buffalo.  I know, right?  Southwest takes you on the Scenic Route. We had a really long layover in Orlando and we enjoyed Airport People Watching.  By the time we arrived in Buffalo it was late.  We rented our car, found the hotel, and went to sleep.  How is that for details??  In the morning, we drove into Rochester where Ellie had a piano lesson scheduled at the famous Eastman School of Music.  As we hit downtown Rochester, we were kind of looking for a downtown "campus" of sorts...because that is the way schools and universities tend to present themselves around here.  But it was all urban downtownishness....big old beautiful building after big old beautiful building and then on one of the buildings we see that it says Eastman School of Music and Ellie just gasped. 

It was gorgeous and had a Very Big and Important Feel to it. 

We hit the Admissions Office where Ellie had scheduled a tour, and there we met 3 other kids...two voice students (one of whom was freaking adorable with the curly hair business and I liked her immediately because she was bubbly and visibly awe-struck by her surroundings and oh also??  After being shown the Very Important Portrait of Mr. Eastman...she tripped and threw her coffee on it.  Luckily, it was so important, it was covered in glass and she left no permanent mark on The Eastman School of Music via coffee stained portraiture....how could you NOT love this kid after that?) and a tiny little thing who played the trombone.  I so wanted to hear her whip out that thing and play it...because I bet she's awesome...but it didn't happen.  And come to think of it, I didn't hear a single trombone all day.  But I heard lots and lots of operatic singing and strings and woodwinds and a rather frantic sounding xylophone....and of course, piano.

How do I describe Eastman?  It is like a grand museum with grand staircases and marble floors and ridiculously high ceilings and tons and tons of portraits on the walls of famous people who have taught there.





And then there was the Kodak Theater. 

When we walked into the theater we were just so hushed and reverent...and then I saw that the curly-headed coffee thrower was crying...(seriously, you love her, right???) and I started to tear up over her tearing up and I looked at my kid who was Totally Not Crying but wanting to get into a practice room.  Because she is like that and how could you not love her and the ironic fact that she came from ME??

Speaking of practice rooms, the ones we were taken to were literally in the bowels of the building and had a dungeon-y feel to them.  Ellie loved it and practiced her heart out while I read and tried not to be a distraction.  After an hour or so we headed over to where she was supposed to sit in on a studio class.  This was in the student living center, across the street from the older building we had been in all day.  In addition to dorm rooms, cafeterias, etc...there are also studios and recital spaces (of course) and it was in one of these that she attended the studio class.  A studio class is where a specific teacher's students meet and perform one at a time...they are required to do this weekly and it is a VERY LONG CLASS.  This one was something like 3 hours.  When Ellie came out (that's right...I opted out), it was time to run back across the street for her private lesson, which she totally enjoyed.  By the time she was done it was dark outside and when we walked to our car we saw that the entire Eastman School was lit up with beautiful lights and all around it were people walking on sidewalks or crossing streets with instrument cases (some of them very large) and it was just gorgeous. 

The next day we had a decent drive into Ohio, but first we stopped to hook up with bloggy friend, Pamela.  We sat in a little diner in a beautiful little town for like 3 hours laughing with Pamela, who was not a disappointment in real life, by the way.  Sometimes people are.  She wasn't.  LOVED HER.  And so did Ellie.

We hit the toll (again) and my big fear was that I would be the Hold Up at the toll booth but I hardly ever was.  Ellie paid the tolls until she ran out of money, at which point the whole process had taken its toll on her (ha ha...pathetic I know).  Also?  People are nicer there.  Because as Ellie says, "Everything is better there, Mom." When we told people we were driving from Rochester to Cleveland they acted like this was a long haul, but we are from Texas and it is not a long haul...the school Ellie is looking at in Texas is a 7-hour drive for us....this was nowhere near that.

On Sunday we did a little sightseeing in the area - hit a great vegan spot in Cleveland Heights that Pamela recommended...here is Ellie waiting for her falafel.

On the way home we decided we wanted to hit a Drunkin' Donuts because we hardly have any of them left in Texas and Drunkin' Donuts is awesome...especially the jelly-filled, which are REALLY jelly-filled and not filled with canned pie filling like that Krispy Kreme nonsense.  So we consulted Garmin, who had been really annoying the entire trip, by the way....although we finally did end up settling with the Australian Male Voice and he seemed to be the calmest one of the bunch.  The Australian woman just didn't work...whenever she said she was reclculating she said it in a way that indicated she was just about fed up and had no idea how she was going to get us out of our latest mess.  The British guy did not sound like Russell Brand but did sound like a stuffy butler, so he didn't last long.  And the American Woman just flat pissed us off.  So we asked Garmin (I believe it was the hysterical Australian woman) to send us to a Drunkin Donuts and she did.  She sent us through a ski resort, a national park, and several residential neighborhoods to land us in the dark in front of a guy's house (he was leaf blowing) at the end of a cul-de-sac saying, "Arriving at destination. Dunkin Donuts on left."  Bitch.  So we tried again.  45 minutes later we triumphantly pulled up in front of a gas station Dunkin Donuts!


Monday found us driving to Oberlin Conservatory, which is the exact opposite of Eastman.  Where Eastman is urban, Oberlin is extremely rural.  It is a lovely place (especially if you're from a cattle ranch strewn with scrub brush and prickly pear cacti)...but is a tiny little speck in the middle of nowhere.  And Ellie loved it, too.  Entirely.  She appreciated the extreme natures of both places.  Again, at Oberlin, it was just amazing to hear the famous names who teach there or perform there or pass through (we just missed Stevie Wonder).  The dorms looked like Hogwarts castles...built in 1886 :). 

Unlike Eastman, it is on the campus of a liberal arts college....a very LIBERAL liberal arts college....and Ellie LIKED IT.  A lot. In fact, her little brain was already trying to figure out a way to add a Political Science second major in....and I wouldn't be surprised to see her do it although I think it would stress her out but who am I?


After our tour, which we enjoyed in the company of a jazz percussionist and a young man who said his instrument was "woodwinds"....as in "all of them," Ellie pulled out her phone and said, "I kinda know a guy here...actually I've never met him, but..." and in five minutes Elliott came running out and he is a voice major and he was a DOLL.  He gave us a Real Tour...into the dorms and the cafeteria (where he insisted on buying our lunch with his little meal card) and he even deposited Ellie in a practice room and me in the financial aid office. 

Elliott is from Houston and he told Ellie that you eventually get used to the cold...Ellie is always cold so I'm thinking NOT.  She layered like crazy during our trip because she doesn't even have a real coat...I also layered and let me just say that the layered look doesn't work as well for us chubby girls.  Ellie could just layer the heck out of herself and still be nimble and quick...me?  Not so much.  We are putting a care package together for sweet Elliott.  Elliott also introduced her to a delightful voice student who freaking *hates* Oberlin....city girl stuck "out in the middle of nowhere..." and she was hilariously delightful and I loved her because I tend to gravitate to the slightly cranky ones :).  She also looked at Ellie and said, "Piano?  But you're not Asian." Hilarious.  And we all know Ellie's Asian on the inside, anyway. 

While Ellie was holed away in a practice room (nice practice rooms - and they all are above ground and WITH WINDOWS!), I enjoyed the beautiful scenery and came across a freaking albino squirrel.  He must be fairly well-known on campus because nobody seemed nearly as thrilled by him as I was.


Ellie is used to being out in the middle of nowhere...she seriously would be happy at either of these awesome schools.  These Very Expensive Schools.  Which is why she very well might have to wait to get to awesome when she gets to grad school...a fact she totally gets.  And her backup plans are not too shabby - great Texas music schools - just not as exciting in the adventure category because the kid really wants to LEAVE ME. 

Okay, this is so long and now I don't have time to tell you about how our hotel room was haunted.  I know I just gave you a haunted story about my sister's house...and I'm not a ghost freak or anything like that.  But our room was haunted and Ellie will attest to it.  Another post for another day....behind the other two I promised you!

Signing Off as the Sardine Mama of a Soon-To-Be College Student

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Who Doesn't Like a Little Bieber? Camille - That's Who.

First of all? I freaking love that you people can be guilted into commenting. This is seriously good to know. I don't usually have such luck with guilting people into doing what I want...my kids are either a) sociopaths who have no feelings or b) desensitized to my attempts at guilting them into doing things.

As for me? Sheesh. I am a totally guilt-ridden person. I am the girl who would sign a confession for something she didn't do because...well, I don't know. It would make people like me? Oh wait...that's a separate issue.

So - thanks for the comments. Especially Helena and Carri - also known as My New Best Friends.

And to you lurkers out there? I am also a lurker on lots of blogs. And sometimes I comment. Sometimes this had led to great things. In fact, I used to lurk at The Dayton Time and then I commented and now guess what? Pamela and I are buds and are even planning on hooking up in a few days (not in a sexual way) even though I have to get on two airplanes and go someplace COLD in order to do so. If my kid ends up going to school where Pamela lives (that's why we're heading her way in the first place) then Pamela will be the one she calls at 3:00 a.m. because her appendix is about to rupture and she needs someone to go to the emergency room with her. Do you hear that sound? That is the sound of Pamela packing.



I've also gotten to be great friends with Mark...also known as My Loyal Follower and not in a scary way and I have had one or two of those, too. So lurkers...what I'm saying is...feel free to comment. You never know where it could lead...I am a needy girl and maybe we'll be Best Friends and you can do lots of things for me...hear that sound? That is the sound of people un-following me :).

So - onto other insignificant news. Camille's jazz class is doing a routine to Justin Bieber's Baby, Baby, Baby Oh! or whatever it's called and you know what? She DOESN'T LIKE JUSTIN BIEBER. I didn't know this about my own kid. I'm just...totally stunned. She said she's gone the entire year in jazz thinking it was a girl singing. Yes, she's homeschooled - but still - I just assumed she knew of The Bieber. And actually, she did know of TheBieber. But what she knew of The Bieber was what she learned from her brothers and that is probably the problem and come to think of it...that is probably the problem with a whole lot of things.



Me? I like The Bieber. Who doesn't like a little Bieber? Seriously, the kid can dance and he's got stage presence and is just adorably adorable and I grew up listening to Michael Jackson's Oh Baby Give Me One More Chance.... on my little record player... so boys singing like girls totally does not freak me out and in fact, kind of makes me feel warm and fuzzy. But you know what? I can't stand Lady Gaga. Sorry. I'm just not that into her...in case you were thinking I was all pop culture and stuff on account of my liking a little Bieber. Do I have Justin on my ipod or anything weird like that??? No. I'm going to be 46 years old next month. Holy crap...is it 46 or 47? I can't remember. I'll do the math later. Anyway, it would be lovely to pop in a little Bieber in the car and take a listen but again...that would be WEIRD since the young girl in my car can't stand the sound of him. That would just leave me singing in the front seat. I need an excuse to be playing Bieber...so I'll have to work on Camille. Sometimes you need kids to provide you with an excuse to say....watch thousands of episodes Spongebob...or listen to Justin Bieber.



Speaking of Spongebob (were we speaking of Spongebob?) Jasper just came out of my bedroom with his eyes almost swollen shut and he swears he just watched 31 episodes (he didn't - but still - great parenting going on over here) and so I'd better get off the blog.



I was going to write about Joel's experience with Real School Work through his geography course and how I am really really really really glad my kids aren't in school...but I will save that for the next post.



Sardine Mama