Saturday, December 24, 2011

May You be Merry

Whoa! Longest Time Without Blogging.  I swear. I have Crazy Missed You People.  Mark has promised to leave drunken comments on people's Christmas blog posts in between wrapping gifts and such. This is an enticement I simply can't refuse. So here's my Christmas Post! You can thank Mark for it.

First of all, let me assure you guys that I'm not dead.  I'm not even sick.  And even though I'd like to, I'm not hiding in shame and embarrassment over this:
No, my friends, I've just been busy.  November kicked my arse.  I did hang in there and participate in NaNoWrite.  I did complete my first rough draft of the manuscript.  It is now 21,367 words too long and I have some editing and re-writing to do.  I have more to say about that but maybe that will be the topic of a later post - because obviously - I haven't started up a writer's blog, yet.

Since I didn't do a Thanksgiving post, let me say that we had a lovely day, my big girl had come home from college, and it was a perfectly relaxing holiday.  Her boyfriend was also home from college and probably to his mother's angst, spent the holiday with us. We ended the day as we do every year, by bombing the San Antonio River with pumpkins.

Thanksgiving weekend was also the opening of The Nutcracker.  Camille made her debut in her first professional production as....A Mouse:
And....An Angel:

This was a lot of work, people! And Camille never tired of it.  Jeff and I both volunteered backstage at every performance Camille was in, as well as all rehearsals, including two full dress rehearsals with the symphony.  They divided the children's cast into two groups so she was only required to perform in 5 shows...but combined with all of the rehearsals, it was a hectic and busy schedule for sure. 

Jeff, being a man, was treated with the utmost respect for his volunteer service.  He was appointed bouncer - sat beside a side door to keep the riff raff out and the children, mice, and angels in.  Since riff raff only attempted to come in one time...and I was backstage with the children, mice, and angels - he mostly sat around playing games on his phone and relaxing.  Everyone, however, was thrilled with his volunteerism and women repeatedly brought him coffee and patted him on the back in gratitude.

I moved boxes, tables, chairs, and costumes.  I took gaggles of angels and mice to the bathroom. I helped with the "quick changes" during intermission.  I applied make-up, sprayed massive amounts of hairspray, and pulled up tights on sweaty little bodies.  Also? For the record? It is hard to put eye shadow on a kid who is crying.  Nobody brought me coffee or patted me on the back.  Go figure.  Next year I plan to try to get in the clique of Starbucks Mommies. They volunteered tirelessly by signing in on the volunteer sign-in sheet, heading to Starbucks, and coming back in time to sign out.  I watched them do it every single day and it never ceased to impress me. 

Ellie and her boyfriend were able to see the opening show - they didn't have to head back to school until the following day so that worked out brilliantly.  Of course, they almost missed it. 

"Where are they?" I asked Jeff once or twice...not a hundred times or anywhere close to a hundred times no matter what anybody says. He told me he'd texted them and they were in a restaurant lunching casually with friends and I was like OH MY GOD IT STARTS IN FIFTEEN MINUTES and he assured me that he had strongly suggested, via text, that they leave the restaurant and head for the theater.  I'm pretty sure that what he actually texted was OMG - Your mom is FREAKING OUT get your asses here NOW.

As the lights flickered and the bell dingled to let the audience know it was time to get seated, they still weren't there.  "They're not coming," I said.  "I wish we hadn't wasted money on tickets. They're simply not going to make it!"  

"Oh, they'll make it," Jeff assured me.  "Ellie will slide into her seat just as the curtain goes up and act like it's no big deal."  The curtain started to go up and I was just about to tell him he was wrong when I heard a small, "Ahem, excuse me." Then Ellie scooted past me and slid into her seat, cool as a cucumber. She glanced at me briefly with a What? expression. Then, for a special effect, she yawned and stretched leisurely.

Of course, I know for a fact that  ten minutes before, after vacating her car as if it were on fire, she'd been sweating bullets, running through downtown knocking aside old people and tripping up winos while yelling at her boyfriend, "Keep up! Oh my God if I miss this she'll never let me hear the end of it! She'll be talking about it on her deathbed! I will NEVER EVER LIVE THIS DOWN!  It will go down in Nutcracker History that I missed my sister's opening night!  RUN! For the love of all things holy, RUN!" 

God, I've missed that kid. 

The tree went up, its lights went out string by string, until it only had one little strand across the middle.  Eventually, we had to un-decorate the tree, put up new LED lights that are too bright if you ask me, and re-decorate.  The lights likewise went up on the house.  We live on a ranch, and so we only put the lights up for ourselves. We don't get folks out here looking at Christmas lights.  If we get a particularly cold night, we bundle up and walk down the lane for our Cold Walk so we can look back and see our house - a bright row of lights shining brightly in a dark pasture. 

Many years ago, when I was a Young Mom of Three, I wrote a story about this ritual and it was published in a Christmas anthology.  I was very excited about it at the time, so excited that I agreed to sell my rights to it, and so it has just be re-released as part of a new anthology for which I WILL NOT BE PAID. Bah humbug.

Anyway, so Jeff got out the ladder and it is always so exciting because it could go really, really well - and we end up with a decorated casa, OR it could end up being the incident that finally familiarzes us with our disability insurance policy.

What I didn't know was that Jeff had upped the excitement level by allowing Jasper up on the roof.  He perched him up on the highest peak, telling him not to move, to just sit there and watch.  Jasper did just that.  He was wearing a little brown jacket and had the hood pulled up, his hands in his pockets, sitting like a statue.  Or maybe a gargoyle.  Anyway, Jeff was hanging up the lights and he casually glanced up at Jasper and his blood ran cold at what he saw.  Jasper still sat, quite still and calm, but coming up on his left...out of his field of vision, thanks to his hood...was his arch nemesis, Stevie Ray.

It was getting on into late afternoon, and this guy was fixing to roost up high for the night. Jeff was in a panic.  If Jasper did what he usually did when approached by Stevie Ray, he was going to stand up on the very top of the roof, scream like a girl, and take off running for his life with Stevie Ray hot on his heels.  And then?  Jeff, himself, was going to be in ALL KINDS OF TROUBLE WITH THE MAMA.

But turkeys are not too smart.  And this particular turkey looked at Jasper sitting there in his brown hoodie, all still and quiet and perched up high, and came to the logical turkey conclusion that Jasper was also a turkey.  He then settled in quite companionably next to Jasper and began to drift off to sleep.  Jeff was able to get to Jasper before Anything Bad Happened. 

Tonight is Christmas Eve. It feels so great to have all my babies home. It's different though.  We're on the cusp of change.  One child has already left the nest, the others are growing up.  Santa still comes, but he is way more exhausted than he used to be. Instead of wishing for time to stand still so he can live forever, he finds himself occasionally wishing it would all hurry up so he could retire.  He is caught between the beautiful nostalgia of the Past and the promise of the Future. He's just enough of a human to prevent his fully being able to ever embrace the Present.

A Very Merry Christmas to You!
From the Sardine Mama of Christmases Past, Present, and Future. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dramatically Heartwarming Story

I hinted about a possible heart problem in the last entry, didn't I?  That's because I'm dramatic.  I don't like being dramatic - but apparently I am. Dramatic. Let's just build on that, shall we?

Let's say a dramatic-type of a person was driving in her gigantic and enormously conspicuous van with a little ballerina in it, and let's just say that person felt a big old flub flub flub TOTAL FLATLINE flub flub flub flutter in her heart.  She might have gone..."Hmmm...that was interesting....hope that doesn't happen again..." or she might have gone..."Oh Effing GREAT.  Like my life isn't flipping busy enough at the moment what with the ballet rehearsals and the homeschool co-op and the thinking it would be a good idea to have five kids and All That Goes With Them and the tae kwon do classes and the cooking and the cleaning and the shopping and the pets and the I'm having an Honest To God Heart Attack, which on top of being really inconvenient, is also - for some bizarre reason - a tad bit embarassing!!" 

Let's say she decided to act like her heart hadn't stopped and then restarted with a ribcage rattling THA-WHOMP while she was careening down the highway at somewhere between 75 and 80 miles an hour.  Let's say she just headed to a Starbucks to write for 3 hours and suck down lots and lots of coffee.  Let's say the heart stopping and starting became significantly worse, and by the time she got home, her heart was going stark-raving insane.

Let's say she went to bed that night afraid to drift off because it was obvious that if she did she would DIE IN HER SLEEP, thereby possibly traumatizing her husband if he happened to look over at her when he got out of bed in the morning - 50/50 chance of that - otherwise she would traumatize a child or two who found her later, stiff and dark purple with an unattractive line of drool descending her chin, and who would then sit around her corpse begging for oatmeal even though it was apparently AGAINST ALL REASON that she would get up and fix oatmeal in her current condition. 

Let's say she stayed up most of the night because the above-mentioned scenarios were unacceptable.  Let's also say she stayed up most of the night because she'd had too much coffee.  Let's say she also might have stayed up most of the night because of a stuffy nose due to seasonal allergies.  Let's say she might have tried to deal with the stuffy nose with a snort (or two) of Afrin, even though she is deathly afraid of becoming addicted to it.  Because a girl has to breathe, that's why.

Let's say that in the morning - the heart bippity boppity boo business was Much Much Worse.  Let's say she began being Dramatic and telling anyone who'd listen those closest to her that she might be having a heart attack or maybe had already had a heart attack during which her heart has suffered irrepairable damage.  Let's say People began telling her to go to the Emergency Room but let's say she decided she would really rather die at home where at least she could get a load or two going in the wash first, as opposed to dying all useless after doing nothing but filling out form after form with information off of the health insurance card that the receptionist made copies of but apparently the information is only valid if it has also been rewritten illegibly 90 bazillion times by someone dying of a heart attack.  Let's just say she didn't want to do that - so she stayed at home being all dramatic stoic and brave as if she were on a made-for-TV movie. 

Let's say that after four days of this her husband threatened her with divorce, sick with concern, strongly suggested she call a cardiologist.  She didn't want to call a cardiologist because that could only lead to one of two things: 1) she would be deemed crazy because she wasn't dying of a heart attack or 2) she would be told she was dying of a heart attack.  Even though she didn't want to, let's just say she called the cardiologist and downplayed the entire thing  told them about the palpitations and let's just say they strongly suggested she go to the ER but she promised to cling to life until Friday when they could see her in the office. 

Let's say that on Thursday night she shaved her legs and her husband heard the commotion because she doesn't really shave she rips the hair out by its roots with an epilator and he said, "What? You think he's going to put you in the hospital?"  Let's just say that she might not rip her leg hair out by its roots all that often, but she didn't want to compound the ugly hospital gown problem with hairy calves. 

Let's just say that on Friday morning, she ran around the house cleaning it up because the homeschool co-op was still coming over because the show must go on, after all, and let's just say that she noticed she felt a little better when she was up and moving and screaming hysterically at the children trying to wake up the kids to enlist their help with the house, which had become somewhat chaotic during the time that she had taken to her bed with what was surely congestive heart failure or something worse that would require a heart/lung transplant.

Let's just say that when the homeschool co-op arrived, she was hysterically straightening her hair, an act that perplexed her friends since things were in such an obvious state of disarray and she had Virtually No Pulse - but her husband understood that she needed to be pretty for the cardiologist and he just shook his head.  Let's just say she wanted to be taken seriously by the cardiologist and felt like she had a better chance of that with straight hair.  Let's just say that when she doesn't straighten her hair, her seventeen year old son likes to pass through the kitchen and say, "Mornin' Hagrid."

Let's just say that there were several things she was hoping to avoid in the cardiologist's office and the Number One Thing was a freaking stress test.  She didn't want that.  She also didn't want anyone suggesting she might need a heart cath - as she really didn't want anybody inserting a thingy into a leg artery and then FEEDING IT UP THROUGH THE LEG INTO HER F*CKING HEART even if she had hairless legs.  Those two things?  She wished to avoid.  An overnight hospital stay for some pleasant observation, however, didn't sound half bad.  Let's just say that she has never been admitted to a hospital for observation or anything mild that might be possibly moderately relaxing.  She has heard of this happening to Other People but she knows that if she needed brain surgery it would probably be performed as an Outpatient Procedure because some considerate doctor would assume she'd like to be home in time to fix dinner.  Let's just say she's gotten off-track, here.

Let's just say that her husband accompanied her to the doctor's office because she had practically packed an overnight bag in the hopes of in the case of an unfortuante admittance into the hospital for not really very serious observation over the weekend.  Let's just say that when she arrived at the doctor's office - she was forced to fill out lots and lots of forms and write down all the information on the insurance card the receptionist had already made the obligatory copy of.  Then let's say she was forced to listen to Dr. Oz on the wall-mounted television, and let's just say it seriously interfered with her ability to focus on her new Haruki Murakami novel which isn't easy to focus on under the best of circumstances, much less when her heart was stopping and starting and Dr. Oz was talking about heart health, which she obviously DIDN'T HAVE BECAUSE SHE DIDN'T EXERCISE ENOUGH SO THERE.

Let's say she was called in and weighed and let's just say she Really Hates That Part of Going to the Doctor. Then?  An EKG.  It all felt very serious and let's just say she was glad she'd packed a bag and shaved her legs.  Things were so serious she only remotely wondered what brand of electrodes were being stuck on her body - seeing as how she used to actually sell electrodes in a former life when she was much much younger and had no kids and a healthy heart.  Let's say the EKG picked up TWO (aha!!!  i told you!!!) "episodes of palpitation" and she felt the same relief she felt every time she went to the hospital and heard them say she was really pregnant and in labor and not just overweight with gas.  Word: Not Crazy Y'all.  Serious Heart Problems.

Let's just say that the cardiologist came in and he was of Indian ethnicity and therefore soft-spoken and somewhat under-animated.  Let's say he looked at the EKG and then drew a bunch of heart pictures and began talking in the exact same tone that people use with her when they're trying to explain how the DVD player works and let's just say she quit listening after awhile because even with straight hair, a girl can only take so much. Let's just say the cardiologist diagnosed her as having PVC's...premature ventricular contractions...which are not the result of Actual Heart Disease or Anything Serious or even Mildy Serious And Requiring Observation.  Let's just say he wondered if she'd been under any stress and she said she had not and her husband starting choking and pounding himself on the chest as if his freaking heart had stopped (and they say SHE'S dramatic??).  Then he wondered if she had maybe had any stimulants in the way of caffeine or decongestants and she admitted that maybe she had had a little bit of both.  Then he wondered if maybe, when she had the PVC's that rattled her chest and made her head go light and caused her to seriously consider updating her funeral playlist, if MAYBE she had suffered Anxiety about the PVC's and maybe the Anxiety had caused some adrenaline rushes because guess what adrenaline does?  It gives you PVC's. 

Let's say the cardiologist suggested she come back in a month but she said, "Are you kidding me?  I'M STILL DYING OVER HERE RIGHT NOW AT THIS VERY MOMENT MY HEART IS STOPPING AND RE-STARTING ITSELF BY PURE LUCK BUDDY..." and so let's say he agreed to see her in two weeks but let's say he Actually Smirked.

Let's say that she went out for Thai food after leaving the cardiologist's office and only felt mildly guilty about it, knowing that the homeschool co-op mamas were, at that very moment, trying to help Jasper sew a pillowcase.  And let's just say that the PVC's quite suddenly, and quite DRAMATICALLY, completely stopped.  And let's just say that since she's quit sucking down coffee while snorting Afrin and freaking out over PVC's....they haven't come back. 

Wouldn't that make a heartwarming story?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Nano Nano and I'm Not Really Breaking Up With You

I've been neglecting the blog for NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month).  I don't usually do NaNoWriMo because it intimidates me.  But a very non-intimidating friend is doing it, so I figured I'd go for it, too.  My goal is 2,000 words per day.  I know what you're thinking: I've written sentences on this blog that were more than 2,000 words.  It's a problem - both when I'm speaking and when I'm writing.  But that's another issue for another day.

My ongoing novel-writing saga is getting tiresome.  My routine as an unpublished fiction writer goes something like this:

*Obsessively think about novel for an entire day
*Start a round of negative self-talk that will last for approximately one week
*Sit down to write
*Read over what was written a month ago
*Start second round of negative self-talk while re-writing everything
*Sit down to write
*Get on facebook, instead
*Wallow in guilt and self-pity
*Write anywhere from 1,000 - 13,000 words in one sitting

It hasn't really been working for me. 

Oh! I left out another important part of my routine: Reading endless books and blogs about writing.  Most of these books and blogs offer similar advice (Excuses are in Italics):

*Write a little each day. Too busy having angst to fit in writing everyday. Obsessive worrying, when done properly, takes up a lot of time.
*Don't obsess with editing and re-writing, just keep chugging. Ha ha! Don't obsess - hilarious.  Also, I like to read over what I've written thousands and thousands of times - changing it each time - often making it much worse in the process - kind of like a bad make-up day when you just keep piling it on and end up looking like Hooker Barbie After Botched Plastic Surgery.
*Set up a time to write and stick to it. Have you seen my schedule? It's really full what with all the obsessing and the five kids and the obsessing!  Getting up early to do it is really hard - although I must admit morning is my most creative time of the day.
*Treat it like a job. Panic!
*Never give up. I can't wait for the day when I finally Give. This. Shit. Up.
*Don't despair - writing is a lonely and often depressing state that never gets better, and in fact, gets worse after you publish. Proof that writing is perfect for me and by the way, way to go with the pep talk!

NaNoWriMo is always in November, which is just plain stupid.  NOVEMBER.  The month of Thanksgiving and shopping and getting ready for the holidays and now, thanks to Camille, the month of Nutcracker Rehearsals.  They're killing me. Also?  I have a problem with the whole quantity versus quality aspect of NaNoWriMo.  2,000 words of crap?  No problem - and this blog proves it.  But what's the point of spewing scenes in a novel that you know will be cut just to meet the 2,000 mark?  I could never buy into it.  But for some reason - this year - I committed. Kind of.

Okay, I didn't officially commit.  There is a website where you're supposed to register.  I went there.  I had to create an account.  Part of that process was choosing a username.  I hate choosing a username.  Too much pressure. Your username will be visible to other participants and can be publicly searched so choose carefully!  Ugh.  I agonized.  Should I use something cutesy?  No - and besides,  Ms. Write and all other possible usernames where I could be all kinds of not really very witty incorporating the word write were already taken. I wasted a good 30 minutes on that.  Then I tried Red Hot Writer since I'm the world's biggest Red Hot Chili Peppers fan - but I worried it might be misconstrued as some sort of I'm So Red Hot Sexy thing, which couldn't be further from the truth.  I thought and I thought and I thought in an obsessive writer type of a way - and I wondered if any of the other wanna-be NaNoWriMo participants were sweating over their usernames, and eventually, I gave up.  It isn't like I needed to be a part of The Community, as they say.  I know enough depressed obsessive people already.

So. 2,000 words a day. 

I managed it the first week - and I'm feeling pretty good about the second - which is uncharacteristically cheerful of me.  I still edit and obsess a little...but only for a few hours and then I'm So On It.

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I think I might actually have a manuscript at the end - one that needs to be cut by 30% and reduced to shreds by an editor - but the dots will be connected, at least.  That's HUGE for me.  My dots are generally everywhere.  I'm not so much of a plot-pointer so connecting the dots sometimes results in a duck-billed platypus with 3 breasts and a nasty overbite.  Not really what anybody's looking for in the publishing industry - WHICH -  is a mess and a half at the moment, thereby becoming even more attractive to me what with my fear of success and all.

You know what blows, by the way?  Last January (almost a YEAR ago), I went on our anniversary weekend with every intention of finishing this dreadful thing.  And I didn't do it! (Not entirely my fault because All Of This Happened.) And now January is coming up again - taunting and belittling me - but I think I might surprise it by being Almost Kinda Somewhat F*cking Finished!

Also?  According to Everybody? I'm supposed to be setting up a writer's website or blog.  Agents and editors want to know you have a website or blog.  But you have a blog, Sardine Mama! Yes, I know! But they want to see a PROFESSIONAL blog where I don't post pics of my kids and dogs and where I don't poke fun of Rick Perry and Sarah Palin and use the F-word (even with an asterisk) while whining with poor grammar and too many adverbs about why writing sucks so bad(ly).  In short, I need a place to talk about writing like a civilized person.  And this clearly is not the place for that.

I am hoping I can maintain a writer's blog. (I don't want a website - what would I say? Welcome to my webiste! I haven't actually finished a book yet - and I'm not allowed to post pics of my dogs - but check out what I've been reading! I'm forced to say really nice things about it so I don't sound bitter!)  It's all so nonsensical to me.

So what this is all leading up to - is that I think we need to see other people.  I'm not breaking up with you - I'd still like to hang out with you and you know, be friends, but not EXCLUSIVELY, if you catch my drift.  I'll be sure and clue you in when the new blog is up and running - You can "follow me" as long as you agree to pretend that I'm a mature and responsible writer whilst visiting.

In the meantime, you can still find me here, just not as often.  To make sure you come back, I'm promising this in the next post:  Halloween Pictures (ha! pictures of the kids!) and a synopsis of my Visit With The Cardiologist.  For a preview, watch this (*spoiler alert - I DID NOT HAVE A HEART ATTACK, but it was exciting, nonetheless.) :

Monday, October 24, 2011

Boys Gone Wild...And Taking My Heart With Them

The boys have been watching one of those shows where people are dumped out into the middle of nowhere and immediately begin eating all kinds of disgusting stuff.  It inspired them.

Yesterday morning they woke up.  Do you want to know what the weird words are in that sentence?  Morning and Woke.  They do not usually stir before midday unless they absolutely have to.

"Why are you up?" I asked as I was leaving to take Camille to ballet.  I knew something was going on.

"We're going to be outside all day," they said.  "We have things to do."

They often spend huge chunks of time outside - well, they do if it isn't triple digit temps, anyway.  Which it kind of was All Summer Long due to the Natural Warming Trend that has Nothing To Do With Us.   (We will resist Global Warming and All Science-Based Evidence in the same way we resist The Highly Suspicious Metric System because We Are Americans and that's What We Do!!)  Where was I?  Oh yes, the boys....headed outside...up early...Camille and I headed off to ballet...

The cast of the Nutcracker was being photographed for the programs - hence my trip back into the city on a Freaking Sunday.  I get really irked by Sunday activities. Anyway - the girls were told to wear light make-up for the photo shoot - Camille put on a little lip gloss.  What else does she need?  If she didn't look just like her brothers and sister I would swear this kid had been switched at birth.  It's like I had no part in the deal whatsoever - they all look like their dad - and he doesn't need much make-up, either.  This is not her natural smile, by the way.  She and Jules both have the same Fake Camera Smile and we have tried but we can't get rid of it. 

Look at those graceful arms!  And I've noticed that she often stands with her feet in first position while making a sandwich or mouthing off to one of her brothers.  (Pardon our mess - Homeschool Co-op is in full swing and meets in our home - maps on walls - chairs against walls - sewing machines on the floor...mummifying chicken on the counter but that's another story for another post...)
So my girls - one lights up a stage while playing piano....the other is about to get her first taste of lighting up a stage while dancing.....and the boys - the boys - the boys - are busy EATING TERMITES.

By the time Camille and I returned from the city is was late afternoon.  Jeff was already working on the Big Sunday Dinner. "Where are the boys?" I asked. "And why do I smell smoke?"

"They're down by the lower pond and they've got a fire going."

WHAT???  Let me just explain my brief moment of panic by reminding my dear readers that the state of Texas was Officially On Fire not that long ago.  The dreadful and tragic fires of Bastrop, while not all that nearby, poured smoke over us for weeks.  And grass fires were breaking out right and left in our area - and I was quite concerned about you know - my whole life going up in flames.  And my boys were casually playing with fire.

"They're fine," Jeff said when he saw the blood drain from my face.  Okay - so we finally got some rain out here.  Everything greened up overnight - our cows got some meat on their bones again - and the weather cooled down.  But still.  "I've been down there and checked it out," my husband continued.  "They've got a fire ring in a pit and it's a small fire.  They're spending the night down there."

"Oh," I said, feeling much calmer.  "Well, are they coming in for dinner?"

It was then that Jeff explained to me that the boys were living off the land and refusing dinner.  In fact, they had spent the day building shelters, making weapons, and hunting and gathering.  They'd eaten cactus and other flora and fauna and TERMITES.  That's right, my very own flesh and blood turning over rotting logs and eating bugs while trying to make simple tools.  And some people don't believe in evolution.

You might think I reacted strongly to this - but I've known these boys for some time now.  These are the boys who bring snakes in my house - the boys who wake each other up by actually THROWING snakes into each other's beds....

- the boys who used to occasionally wake me up by announcing breakfast was ready - breakfast being grasshoppers sauteed in olive oil with garlic and cumin (they're their daddy's sons after all - they're going to use some light seasonings - can't have unseasoned grasshoppers).  So the termite thing didn't throw me all that much.  They're big boys, though, and I wondered just how many termites they'd have to eat before feeling full.

"They're gonna do frogs for dinner," Jeff said casually.  "I told them how to clean 'em and cook the legs."

UGH.  Jasper chimed in that the cactus was kind of good....he hadn't tried the termites but he wanted to eat the frog legs later with the boys.  Jasper refers to Joel and Jules as The Boys.  The Boys have talked Jasper into eating all sorts of things over the years - most of which I do not know about and I'm perfectly fine with that. 

Jeff kept on cooking our dinner as if all of the talk of termite-eating was normal.  He grew up on this land and spent his own childhood living wild - so it was pretty much just me wondering if the boys would survive the night.  They've always been Outside Sleepers.....often traipsing through the living room at bedtime, carrying a pillow and saying, "Goodnight Mom!" before slamming the backdoor and heading outside.  Sometimes they slept in the "fort," and sometimes they slept right on the ground.  We live close to the San Antonio River and so the river fog tends to roll in every morning - they would wake up with their hair soaking wet.
But this time, they weren't sleeping where I could see them out my bedroom window.  They were sleeping far enough away so that I wouldn't be able to hear them at all if Something Bad Happened.  What if a dingo tried to get my babies? Okay -so it would be a coyote, but you get the idea, right?  We live on a big place - over 100 acres - and they were as far away from the house as they could get and still be on family property.

Since we're such a Norman Rockwell family The Grandpa came for dinner.  And during dinner, we were talking about the boys, and by the end of dinner we had all decided to take them dinner.  We had not seen them all day - wanted to make sure they were okay.

By the time dinner was over it was good and dark.  We grabbed flashlights and food and headed out the door.  "Dad, we'll be back - just hang out here for awhile," I said to The Grandpa Who Walks With a Cane and Has Steel Rods in Both Legs.

"Oh no," he said casually.  "I'm coming, too."  He turned on a tiny little flashlight he keeps on a key chain to prove it.

We don't live in the Piney Woods of Texas - which are quite lovely in a Little House in the Big Woods sort of way.  And we don't live in the deserts or mountains of West Texas, which are also quite lovely.  We live in Brush Country which is not quite lovely at all.  It is full of thorns that grow on basically everything.  Thorny trees, thorny bushes, and tons and tons of thorny cacti.  Rattlesnakes curl up at their roots. The ground is hard, packed clay for the most part - especially during a drought.  There are animal trails throughout - followed by cows, coyotes, javelina, wild pigs, and the occasional fox or panther. And our place isn't manicured and kept up.  We were basically going to be following cow trails down the hill and through the brush to get to The Boys.  In the dark.  With an old guy and a cane.  And Jasper (who wore flip flops).

Off we went.

I held onto my dad and I only tripped him once.  Jeff caught him and copped a feel.  "Was that your breast I grabbed?" he asked me hopefully.  "Not mine," I replied.

Jasper kept running ahead - you know - into the dark and thorns and rattlesnakes - and Dad and I hobbled along with his cane and tiny little flashlight.  Jeff tried to pick out the path in the dark while swatting mosquitoes, and Camille danced along under the impression that We Are A Normal Family.

"How much further?" my dad asked.

"Oh, not much," we said.  We are good liars.

Finally, Jasper yelled, "I can see their campfire!"  And we could.  But they were in the middle of a mesquite thicket and Jeff had to lead us around a maze of cow trails to finally get to the little clearing they'd made.  Joel was guarding the fire.

And Jules was already bunked down.

They only had one cot between them - with the rattlesnakes Jeff didn't want them actually sleeping on the ground - so the plan was they'd sleep in shifts.

"Are you hungry?" Jeff asked.  The Boys admitted that they were, indeed, a bit on the peckish side. So Jeff spent the next few minutes feeding them. 

They had dragged some tires in from a nearby creek and settled in like proper rednecks - little grilling racks set out to cook their frogs on.  They'd also, they informed us, cooked eggs in the coals and then scooped them out of their shells to eat them.  These eggs came from the hen house - not sure if that counts as living off the land but I guess it does if there happens to be a hen house on said land.

The boys showed off their place to their little brother and sister - the shelters they'd built...

Jasper didn't care for the flash...

After a perfectly lovely visit, we bade farewell to the Wild Boys, and began our long trek back to the house.
We immediately headed off on the wrong cow trail - walked in circles for a few minutes - and then got our bearings and made our way home without further incident.  During the day you'd never get lost - but it was a dark night and we had teeny tiny flashlights.

Later that night, after Jeff had snuck back to their camp with mosquito repellent and an extra blanket, we were snuggled in our bed.  The coyotes were howling, and I worried that Jules might be a little anxious.  My heart strings were stretching in new directions - the boys seemed so very far away.  That's my theme this year - the stretching of the heart strings.  I fell asleep with the same slight worry I've grown accustomed to feeling - the one I didn't think I'd grow accustomed to.  My heart stretched all the way to a college dorm room hours and hours away, floating down the hall to where my firstborn lay peacefully and safely sleeping in my mind (it was more likely she was tucked away in a practice room).  And it stretched through the thorny bushes and down the cow trails of this place we call home, seeking out the Wild Boys who were stargazing and story-swapping beneath the big Texas sky.  It spread warmly down the hall to the two who have yet to test the bounds of its reach.  Where will they pull this heart of mine? 

I've a feeling this journey of my heart has just begun.

“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
Elizabeth Stone

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Typical Unschooling Day? No Such Thing.

I've been asked to share what a typical unschooling day is like in The Can.

First of all - a little back story - we didn't start out as Unschoolers.  We started out as Actual School People, but Joel didn't fit the school very well and so we decided to homeschool.  Initially, we did everything the school did (School At Home) and because we are slow, were surprised to see that it didn't work.  Joel and his learning disabilities forced us to do things differently.  And since Joel was (and is) such a curious kid - an active kid - and a hugely entertaining kid - his days were pretty filled with his general Joel Activities and we found that there was very little time leftover for any kind of schooling.  And amazingly, he was learning anyway!  Like TONS AND TONS of stuff!  And since I'd already decided that the kid might not ever read and that I needed to be okay with that, I focused on finding ways to help him, as a non-reader, navigate the world.  He learned brilliantly and eagerly and all without reading. And since he'd learned nothing in the 2 years he'd been in school for kindergarten and first grade - and was now learning by leaps and bounds - I had to trust him and his natural curiosity to get the job done. It was Unschooling.

It was Radical.

Turns out, it was Radical Unschooling.  The word Radical has now been placed in front of Unschooling for some folks - to show that there are Unschoolers and then there are UNSCHOOLERS and you don't want to confuse the two.  Radical Unschoolers are radical (!!) and their kids typically learn without the aid of adults, textbooks, classes, or organized or structured ANYTHING.  Once the kids became older, we found ourselves becoming less and less radical (!!). We still don't make anyone do anything (and I realize that might sound radical) but we do encourage them to do the things they've already identified as necessary for achieving their own goals.  This means that Joel - aged 17, who finally began reading independently at the age of 11, no longer has the entire day free to chase tadpoles.

Here are some recent unschooling questions I've been asked, and remember, I'm answering about my own family - so if you consider yourself a Radical Unschooler to your 3-year-old - please don't begin defining Radical Unschooling for me and telling me how I don't fit the label. 

Sardine Mama, do you have a set time when you Unschool?  Like, do you schedule it in along with other things?

I don't schedule in school time.  I don't call the kids to the kitchen table for "school."  We do have some school-ish books...and sometimes Camille (9) and Jasper (7) enjoy filling in blanks and connecting dots. But it's an activity for fun - not a true method of learning.

My teenagers do have some schedules - but these are in accordance with goals they've set themselves. And the Official Schedule usually goes something like this:  At some point in time during my conscious hours I will finish a set of math.  

How does Unschooling change as the kids get older?

It changes a lot (for us).  Our younger kids are totally free - they have nothing at all that they must do.  We do participate in a Homeschool Co-op that meets in our house - and they are both taking Spanish so they might have a little Spanish homework to do every now and then - but it's fun and they're the ones reminding me that they need to get on the computer to do it.

Our teens appear to be less Unschooled.  They might be taking distance education classes or working math problems. But it's because they've decided to do these things in order to attain a goal.  And the fact that they've not been doing schoolwork for years and years already means that they're not bored to tears by the very thought of it.

How do your kids adjust to book learning after years of Unschooling?

They adjust just fine.  Like I said, it's kind of a novel approach for them.  I can honestly say that their run-ins with textbooks and syllibi have only cemented the idea of natural learning for them, though.  Because they are used to following their interests as far as they like, for as long as they like, and using as much technology as they like - they find courses and textbooks to be extremely limiting.  In Unschooling, you follow a subject until you've exhausted it or lost interest - not for a specified amount of time - at the end of which you turn in your book and consider yourself educated.  In Unschooling, the answers to your questions are found everywhere and anywhere you want to look, not just between pages 116 and 119 in "the book."  I'd say that's the biggest challenge for Joel - he already knows so much about so many things - it is always hard for him to limit himself to the medium the course requires. 

This textbook frustration began for him when he was in 5th grade. We bought, per his request, an Actual American History book. He challenged the very first sentence about North American exploration. He had a vast working knowledge of Vikings at the time - and the book, he said, was simply wrong.  A brief Google search proved him correct and he's been very dubious of textbooks ever since (and he never opened that specific one again). 

The same holds true for the high school courses he's taken via distance learning - he's on the Internet so much and so intensely curious - that he's painfully aware of how outdated all of his textbooks are.  He never sees anything as an Absolute Truth - because he's fully expecting that tomorrow - some new truth will be discovered. He's currently reading Lies My Teacher Told Me and it cements his opinion about the uselessness of textbooks when a world of constantly changing information is at our fingertips. 

Learning is a continuum that never ends - not a checklist to be completed.   I love that my kids know this.

Can you give an example of a typical Unschooling day?

There is no typical, but I'll do my best.

Camille and Jasper are up by 8.  The two teens left in the house do not tend to get up unless they absolutely have to - and they're very likely to sleep through lunch.  I don't like them sleeping through lunch, but there is research to support that this type of sleep cycle so common to teens is actually beneficial to their neurological development.

But for Camille and Jasper the day begins with Jasper letting the chickens out of the coop and feeding them.  Then he will usually stay outside and play, often joined by Camille, until around 9.  Breakfast is often made by Camille - and might include pancakes, fresh eggs, etc.  She likes to play restaurant and will distribute homemade menus she's written out herself (ummm...that would be spelling and grammar and math, thank you very much).  After that, there might be some television (yes, we're one of THOSE families).  As I type right now, I can hear Spongebob's irritating nasal voice.  There is also a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle out and Camille stops by it constantly - spending a minute or two - before flitting off to do something else. 

They might pass some time playing computer games (they both like Minecraft).  A day doesn't go by that they don't make a huge mess by making something craftsy - yesterday, for example, they used a kit I didn't know we had to make their own paint.  They built a set of bunk beds for Camille's dolls - they made finger puppets and a stage for a puppet show.  This was all done with no input from me - they never asked permission - they never asked for help. 

Now that the weather is cooler they spend a lot of time exploring in our fields - something their older sister and brothers grew up doing, as well - and this results in them coming in with all kinds of treasures like petrified wood, bones, clay, and rocks.  They build shelters and hideouts and stare through binoculars.  On my camera right now is a lovely recorded short film of a dung beetle rolling a dung ball through the tall blades of grass on the macro setting.  This was not of my doing.

Around lunchtime I'll begin the process of reminding the sleeping boys that they're running out of daylight - and they'll usually get up.  They typically hit facebook first - and then they might spend the next couple of hours on You Tube, laughing loudly at animated videos.  Joel is working on a animated short movie at the moment - so he can easily kill several hours on that.  He's had to learn how to animate, of course, and that began with Manga art in middle school years - now he actually uses animation programs.  He's buying a camera because he wants to try his hand at live action shorts - and he and his cohorts have already been writing scripts.  When he watches television or movies he's taken to pointing out camera angles - movie making is never far from his mind.  In our co-op he's taking Art - actually paying close attention to design elements - because he thinks it will help him in movie making. 

Because college hasn't been ruled out - he's taking a distance education Biology class.  He's learned how to outline chapters - that's probably about all he's getting out of the course - and so he tries to devote some time everyday to the biology textbook.  He doesn't see much relevance in the subject matter, nor does he appreciate the fact that he has to learn things within a specific order, so it seems to be a rather painful experience for him.  But guess what?  He does it anyway.   

The evenings might find him reading or playing video games. He's a Halo fan - and that includes all of the Halo books, as well.  And speaking of reading, he's reading a Great Books anthology that kicked off with Giglamesh.  Joel already knew the basic story of Giglamesh (he loves ancient literature and always has) but had never read the actual translated version.  It is absolutely filled with SEX.  He finds it hilarious - and will toss me the book and say, "Read the second paragraph," with a huge grin on his face.  Let me just say that we've got nothing on the Ancients.  They did it ALL.  There was even a phrase that went, "She let him in through her back door..." and Joel about died.  A favorite line was "And when his brothers saw his penis they knew you'd done something heinous."  Now this kinda makes me wonder about the translation, you know?  I mean, in English it quite obviously rhymes.  Surely it doesn't rhyme in Akkadian?  It was written on stone tablets in cuneiform!!  Don't you think it is too much of a coincidence that penis and heinous rhyme? The whole thing is highly suspicious and smacks of teengage boys posing as ancient history scholars. 


So he is enjoying Giglamesh and I'm afraid that Prometheus Bound (which is probably not a bondage story) might be a disappointment after Giglamesh.  Prometheus Bound is next in the anthology...

On NPR Joel and I heard an interview with a man who wrote a book about Bananas.  Joel was enthralled.  Not only did the author sing the Chiquita Banana Song (Joel loved it), he also talked about the violent, bloody history of banana farming in South American, the United Fruit Company and the atrocities it committed - its relationship with Dole - the fact that it was at one time considered coarse and crude for women to eat bananas (due to their ahem...shape)....this was a book Joel could not pass up.  So we ordered it - he read it and loved it - and now knows all kinds of useless information about bananas, which we no longer eat, by the way - because Joel says they've got blood on them.

Jules spends his days taking care of his turtles, playing with the two younger ones or hanging out with his brother - he seamlessly goes back and forth between the worlds of childhood and teenager-dom.  I love this and want this for him right now.  He has a couple of good friends who might call throughout the day - usually to discuss video-gaming.  He wants to be a scientist - but doesn't want to put in the effort to make it happen.  He's currently on a math bender, though - doing several sets a day (Teaching Textbooks).  When he gets his fill he'll go months without touching it again.  He will sit through an entire disc of Through the Wormhole - and I think that is what is inspiring him with math at the moment.  He's fascinated by time travel and alternate realities.  He's reading a Great Books Science Fiction Anthology and loving the hell out of it.

So a typical Unschooling Day looks like what your day would look like if you could spend it doing the things you love. For us it means we're reading Giglamesh and watching Beavis and Butthead. We're talking about String Theory and learning to sew.  We're learning to tolerate doing the things we don't love in order to do the things we do love.  We're laughing and arguing, working and playing, and living life as if we only had one go at it - and for us - that has meant staying out of the classroom and going into the world - be it real or virtual or something in between.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Occupying My Life...It's Not Really a Protest But It Does Tend to Get Out of Hand

Whew!  Have you been worried about me?  I've been gone for a long time, haven't I?

Actually, when I'm "gone" from the blog it means I'm being hysterically present somewhere else.  I have been busy occupying my life (where I am Actually Part of the 99% and pardon me for saying so). My Friend Mark does a monthly photo-dump post.  This is kind of a photo-dump.  Unlike Mark's photos, though, mine are blurry and grainy and generally Not Very Good.  But they're all I've got.

We went to see Ellie. 

It was a long drive and we couldn't even begin it until Camille got out of rehearsals for The Nutcracker - that's right - we began a long car trip loaded down with pillow pets, a Sardine Mama, a Sardine Daddy, a Sardine Grandpa, and a school of fishies - at the Worst Possible Time of the Day. 

We like to treat old people with respect so we stuck my dad in the back seat with a blanket, a windbreaker, and a jar of pretzels.  We hate it when he whines that he's cold or hungry.  He loved listening to the 110 Red Hot Chili Peppers songs we lined up for the least we think he loved was hard to hear what he was saying back there.

When we finally arrived in College Town, USA it was late, but I figured my kid was still up studying or practicing because I Know Her.  I sent her a text:

Hey, I know it's late but we're here and I would like to swing by your dorm for a hug if you're not busy.

She was busy practicing dictation for her Aural Skills class.  I don't know what Aural Skills are but I'm pretty sure it's one of the things they teach at Hogwarts.  She dropped it all and came bounding out of her dorm to meet us on the sidewalk.  I apologized to her in advance for the fact that I was probably going to hug her until Awkwardness Set In.  She sighed and held out her arms.  She felt SO GOOD and I didn't want to let go but I did and was immediately replaced by Camille.  Ellie happily gave her little sister a longer hug - everyone else got the half-hug. 

The next day was spent touring the campus, visiting the dorm, and yes!  We ALL FIT in there with even enough room to spare for the thoroughly traumatized roommate!  My dad really enjoyed it and says he feels better about her being gone now that he actually knows where she is. Camille took this picture of him and it is a great photo because it shows exactly the way he looks when he's looking at Camille.  He's the only grandparent my kids have, but what we lack in quantity we make up for with quality!

And here Ellie is (barely - i almost cut her out) posing with The Brothers.  While we were posing in the auditorium foyer - one of El's professors walked by.  She looked at him - he looked at her - he looked at us - he paused - Ellie didn't say anything - and he kept walking.  "You could have introduced us!" I said.  She was like, "I'm pretty sure he knows you're my family."  She looked at all of us.  "I don't think he thought I was here hanging with my friends - aged 7 through 80-something...."

Jules's shirt is bleach-stained and has a large hole in the back.  He wore his best clothes so as not to embarrass his sister.

And here she is with Camille - who stuck to her like glue.
And here are Camille and Jasper taking a break from Running Amok.
Did I mention Camille stuck to her sister like glue?
We spent all of one day with Ellie - and then we picked her up after classes on the second day.  She took us to a cute little coffee house and out for Thai food.  We dropped her off and said our final goodbyes in front of curious onlookers.  She headed off to her dorm, clutching her take-out container of tom kha gai before heading to a study group, with Camille waving dramatically and tearing up.

And then?  After her study group was over we snagged her up off the street and took her for ice cream.  This was followed by another tearful goodbye.  And then?  The next morning she texted that she wanted us to bring her some CREAM FOR HER COFFEE.  And since we are the pathetic, sad, lonely people that we are....looking for just one more reason to see her....we did it.  We pulled up to the sidewalk as she came out of class and held the carton out the window.  She grabbed it, said thanks and goodbye, and scurried off before we had a chance to start yet another round of hugging.

We couldn't head home yet, however.  Joel had spotted a sword in an antique store the day before and had become somewhat fixated on being its new owner and so we headed back downtown to make your general commonplace no big deal whatsoever sword purchase.  He proudly brandished the thing on the sidewalk, looking all kinds of fierce.  It was weird but only in the expected sort of way.

The next time we'll see Ellie will be at Thanksgiving - and that is when The Nutcracker is up and running and we'll be all crazy so I doubt I'll even feel her presence.  Plus I suspect The Boyfriend will be taking up a certain amount of her time. 

Other things I've been doing? Include turning 16-year-olds into 17-year-olds. Joel is 17. I can't believe it. He celebrated by having a bunch of wild boys over - something he's been doing for his birthdays since he started having birthdays. When he turned 8 he had an Indian Party (although I'm certain I called it a Native American party because sometimes I'm so PC even I can hardly stand myself). The Indian Party was probably the crowning achievement of my Over The Top Birthday Party Phase. I still get just a little bit proud when I think about it.

The boys were each assigned a regional tribe - they were to come dressed in tribal clothing that they had researched themselves, they were to bring a peace offering, and we were to play Actual Native American Games and have an Official Pow Wow. The evening mostly consisted of half-naked boys running around trying to poke each other with Peace Sticks Turned Spears, while screaming at the tops of their lungs. There was Loosening of the Loin Cloths as the evening wore on - the boys too hysterical to notice or care - the parents too exhausted.

If you've read the Indian Party Story on the blog before - pardon me - some of these folks are new here. During the Peace Circle the boys were supposed to make their offerings and give brief reports on their tribes. One little boy, who shall remain nameless but who appears on this post years and years later and wearing a Ramones t-shirt said, "I don't have an offering or a report and my mom says if you pull this crap next year we're not coming." He was wearing a paper sack as a costume, kind of an after-thought, and that made it all the more hilarious.

Look at my little boy with his missing teeth. (I'm going to go cry a little bit now but I'll be right back.)

Can I just point out that I made the tee-pee on the cake MYSELF?

I no longer try to camouflage the violent birthday games by calling their weapons Peace Sticks - these boys have gone Mafia on me, now.  They're into Airsoft Weapons - much as it disgusts me - and so Joel chose to celebrate his birthday by staying up all night shooting at his friends while they shot at him.  As moms pulled up to drop off sons they shouted, "Don't shoot!!" and luckily for the armed boys - they didn't.  Jeff wasn't as fortunate.  He went outside to fill up a cow trough and forgot to yell, "Don't shoot!"  He got shot.  I'm not sure what sounds or words escaped his lips when he felt the first ping, but I'm betting it wasn't G-Rated. 

The boys wouldn't even come in for cake - but when I woke up in the morning it had somehow disappeared during the night.  I tried to be a good hostess and take care of the guests.  "Can I get you boys anything before I head off to bed?" I asked as they took a break from Actually Shooting Each Other to begin Shooting Each Other via video games.

"Just a girlfriend and the keys to your car..." said one of the boys.  Every time I asked a question I received some version of this as an answer so I quit asking after awhile. 

I woke up to this: (That's my big baby sleeping under the piano).

Speaking of boys being boys...Joel and Jules and a couple of friends have started their own animation film company.  Thus far, they have produced one very offensive and not even marginally funny 2-minute video where a cartoon cat is killed, a building is bombed, and the words midget and porn are both used.  I would share a link but NO.  Because a cat is killed, a building blown up, and the words midget and porn are used and oh my god I hate to see what The Googles are going to send my way now.  But the animation is good and Joel did that part all by himself.  It took him hours and hours and hours and hours and I'm really proud of him.  We are currently involved in discussions about crude and offensive humor and what makes it humorous - and the fact that his is lacking the humor. He gets it and is trying to figure out how to get the humorous ramblings of his mind (and they are humorous - I'm subjected to them daily) to stay humorous once it's been transferred to an actual medium.  There's a learning curve.  I'm still trying to perfect my own story-telling craft...often I find that the stories in my mind are Way Less Awesome once they've been written down.  If only we could use those little magic flash drives - just stick them in our heads and then stick them into the computer....

Joel plans to actually own an animation and film studio someday.  He has promised to employ all of his friends and his brothers, thereby making it a charitable operation as well.

Finally, our Homeschool Co-op took a little field trip to see a play adapted from one of R.L. Stine's stories...R.L. Stine of the famous Goosebumps series. 

Our family and two others crammed into our bus and headed over the the insanely crowded theater and its accompanying parking lot and BOOM.  Rock star parking.  One of our mamas suffers a condition that requires the use of a cane and while I'm sure she would gladly trade in her Handicapped Parking Tag for the chance to toss her cane out the door - the rest of us are not used to Rock Star Parking and we were all like Booyah!!  Whoop!!  Right. Up. Front. Sistas. We piled out and were immediately disheartened by the lines and lines and lines of School Kids waiting to get in the front door.  But guess what?  Way up at the front of the line - way off in the distance - we saw that there were two doors.  Two.  And one was for students and one was for individuals.  Again with the Booyah!!-ing and the Whoop!!-ing and we headed right on past all the hundreds of students to correctly identify ourselves as Individuals upon whence we were escorted into the theater that was completely empty except for some families (I spotted tie-dye immediately) seated in the first three rows.  Those are our people!! We were seated in the Homeschool Rock Star Row and awaited the seating of the masses.  Also in the first 3 rows?  Sat R.L. Stine.

As always, when we attend field trips along with School Kids, my ears were ringing soon enough.  Every time the lights dimmed (to start the show, to switch scenes, etc) the kids erupted in out and out total and complete SCREAMING.  Jasper put his hands over his ears and at a certain point, so did I.  And I have seen Van Halen FOUR TIMES, people.  And it was before there were sound ordinances. I'm practically deaf. But I had to cover my ears on this field trip.

After the show R.L. Stine took to the stage to answer questions.  The kids in the audience started raising hands and the questions that came out of the kids' mouths were all the type of questions you would find on the annoying Reading Comprehension quiz at the end of a standardized test literature passage.  Why were they ghosts?  What happened to the parents?  Why was he on a skateboard?  Why did the brother and sister fight?

I wanted to ask, "How did you get noticed by an agent?  What are your advances like?  Could you have busted through as easily in the industry climate of today?"

Finally they took a question from a homeschooler and she asked him how old he was when he started writing.  That was the kind of question we'd been waiting for.  He was 9, by the way.

I'm not sure that the kids in the audience knew that Mr. Stine is a world-famous author or what that even means.  With the exception of that one question, it didn't seem like it.

Would you believe they wouldn't let him sign books?  Rush rush rush - no time for pics - thanks for coming and out the door with all of you.  We waited around and broke the rules.

Hope you enjoyed the pics and are reassured as to my continued existence. 

I have been asked to blog about what a typical Unschooling Day is like for us.  I'm pretty sure I've done it before, but I'll do it again because as I pointed out earlier, some of you are new.  Also?  It's been awhile since anyone bothered to e-mail me to personally tell me that I'm ruining my kids.  

So tell me - how've you been occupying your time over there in your life?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Lady in Waiting

I'm like a dragonfly today, flitting about from spot to spot, landing here and there for a moment or two.  Although now, at this last spot, I'm done flitting.  It's a little after 5:00 and I just dropped Camille at dance.  I'm in Starbucks - nestled within a Barnes and Noble - and now I Wait. 

Sometimes I like this feeling of having several hours to kill - all to myself - with the excuse of Waiting.  But tonight I'm not enjoying it.  That's because I'm not writing - I just finished a scene in my novel and now I'm at that horrible Between Scenes Phase where contemplating the next scene is completely overwhelming and so I just sit here feeling guilty and overwhelmed and like I could very well be dying of failure. 

I'm not dying, by the way.  Not from failure and not from skin cancer.  I know that because my first stop of the day was the dermatologist's office where I learned the multitudes of spots on my body are JUST Age Spots - like anything with "age" in it can be preceded by "just" in this mid-life crisis of mine. Camille enjoyed the dermatologist's office and gleefully examined all of the posters on the wall, mightily exclaiming that my frown lines were "A three at least, Mama!" on the scale of 1 to 3, and extolling the virtues of Botox.  "You should get that, Mama! It says here it's virtually painless!" 

"What?  And risk looking like Jennifer Aniston in Horrible Bosses? I think not!"  Camille looked at me like I was insane because I so clearly was.  Also she doesn't know who Jennifer Aniston is nor has she seen Horrible Bosses.  "And besides," I added.  "Nothing worthwhile is ever virtually painless."

Camille disagreed and spent the rest of the doctor's visit naming Painless and Worthwhile Things to Do. 

After leaving the dermatologist's office with wrinkles and age spots in their original and upright positions, we hopped in the car and Camille said, "I don't need a boy to make me happy, Mom!" which is her way of asking me to pop in a Taylor Swift CD.  We listened to Taylor sing about kissing in the rain and throwing pebbles at windows all the way to Payless, where we intended to buy Camille some intact and hole-free tights.  After snatching the last two pairs off the shelf we hit the register, where we were told by the clerk that the computer was re-booting.  "Okay," we said.  And then we stood there watching the clerk watch the computer screen while obviously resenting the fact that we had nowhere else to be.

"This might take a while," he said.

"Okay," we said, because really, what else were we to say?  We did not fully realize the implications of rebooting a Payless computer.  Fifteen minutes later the clerk said, "Okay. Cash or charge?"  Like I hadn't been mildly to moderately inconvenienced by the fifteen minutes of seriously awkward silence I'd suffered while pretending to look at slipper-socks. He should have given us the tights for free but gone are the days where anybody gives a rat's ass about customer service.

THEN (are you still with me?) we walked down to the craft store.  Co-op is tomorrow and we needed to buy some supplies for sewing and art.  I am not the Sewing or Art Mom, by the way, I'm the Let's All Sit in a Circle and Discuss Literature Mom.  Although I also do History with the younger kids and before I left the house this morning I had made 3 batches of sugar cookie dough to become crumbling Roman pillars in the come to think of it, I am kind of awesome, actually. 

Anyway - the craft store.....was also a somewhat awkward experience.  It was in an older strip mall and it just seemed old and ancient and sad and gloomy and depressing.  It was as if every Cat Lady Who Needlepoints Or Arranges Silk Floral Funeral Wreaths Within a 60-Mile Radius had left bits and pieces of her aura in there.   All of the Halloween stuff was already 50% off and it looked like it had been sitting there since last Halloween.  Even Camille, who goes bonkers for anything remotely Holiday Retail couldn't muster up much enthusiasm.  She just lifted up a pumpkin or a witch here and there while saying, "Hmmm..."  I don't think she actually Asked To Buy Anything which was further proof that some kind of weird magnetic current was running beneath that store. 

There were just a few other customers, most of whom were plodding along pushing squeaky carts as if maybe they'd been in there pushing squeaky carts for decades; like we were in some sort of hellish crafter's version of Hotel California.  We found what we needed (sketch pads, embroidery thread and pencils) without tossing anything fun! and extra! into the cart.  I think if we HAD found something fun! and extra! to toss into the cart, Don Henley would have started singing, We haven't had that spirit here since 1969..."

Speaking of 1969, the music wasn't helping the mood in the old craft store.  I'm not sure how you'd classify what they were playing.  It wasn't Classic Rock or 80's Cool or 70's was just old music that reminded you of that time you had to sit in the doctor's office waiting for your back-to-school booster shots.  We're talking an old Elton John piece I couldn't quite place and I Kid You Not...the Monkees.  Now don't hate me for dissing the Monkees.  Hey Hey We're the Monkees...that's all fine and dandy.  But this was that weird Daydream Believer and a Homecoming Queen song that you never really understood. 
The cashier was talking to herself (how could she not?) a LOT.  Like seriously, a lot.  Camille was fascinated.  Initially, Camille tried to answer her and politely reply to the comments and questions before she realized she wasn't the person being addressed. 

"Let's see...embroidery thread...what's this color?  Oh, Flamboyant red's the barcode...bleep! That one's done.  What's this?  A sketch pad a sketch pad a sketch pad...oh and another one I see....into the bag...what's next what's next what's next...and now we're almost done...." 

All of this was mumbled. When she finally gave me the total I didn't realize she was speaking to me and Camille had to poke me in the ribs.  We got out of there just in time... Seriously.  I think if we had lingered one more minute we would have become permanent fixtures...scarecrows maybe, or possibly cake toppers.

We felt yucky and depressed after the Craft Store Experience, and being girls, that made us hungry. We needed something cheap.  I named all of the usual cheap places as we got in the car and none of them sounded good to Camille.  We pulled onto the freeway and tried to ignore the looming Chick-fil-A sign.  Camille, a non-vegetarian child, made the decision months and months ago to never set foot in a Chick-fil-A due to their stance on gay marriage.  A good chunk of our friends are Gay/Lesbian (in fact, we seem to have our own personal League of Lesbians) and Camille decided it was Just Wrong to eat at Chick-fil-A.  But the sign loomed ahead, nonetheless, and it was super duper Conveniently Located and and when I looked in the rear view mirror I saw that Camille was drooling.  "Do you...umm...want a Chick-fil-A sandwich?" I asked somewhat sheepishly.

"Yes," Camille whispered. 

And before you knew it we were parking the bus in a compact spot right by the WE'RE CLOSED ON SUNDAYS sign.  We did our best to look White and Christian as we opened the door, and I did a better job of it than Camille I'm just sayin'.  Other people were just lolling about eating their chicken sandwiches with no sense of shame whatsoever, like nudists on a nude beach...and we did our best to fit in...Yeah, that's right, we often frequent homophobic anti-gay rights establishments....Yo! 

After ordering (and yes, I ordered a chicken wrap even though I DON'T EAT CHICKEN because hey y'all - I was already in a freaking Chick-fil-A hatin' on the homos and so I might as well eat factory-farmed meat while I was at it and THAT'S HOW IT ALL STARTS I'M SURE) I headed in to the bathroom.  It sparkled.  It smelled good.  There was plenty of toilet paper.  Wow! I thought to myself.  Christians really are better than the rest of us! 

There were signs everywhere explaining that they were CLOSED ON SUNDAYS AND SHAME ON YOU FOR WANTING TO EAT OUT IN A FAST FOOD ESTABLISHMENT ON A SUNDAY INSTEAD OF GOING TO CHURCH and I found that a tad bit annoying.  You don't see Kosher Delis explaining enthusiastically that they're closed on the Sabbath (even though they are) as Proof That They Love God.  There was unfamiliar music playing so I assumed it was Country but then I realized it was Actual Christian Music of the kind they play at the homeschool skate days that we don't attend and I listened to it with an Open Mind but it only reminded me of that South Park Episode about Faith Plus One.  Camille and I ate in companionable and guilty silence while thinking, Damn but those Christians make a good chicken sandwich...

Next?  We headed to Krispy Kreme.  We had another hour to kill before ballet and they're right Smack Down The Street from the ballet studio - which seems somehow cruel, if you ask me.  We weren't either one hungry but we both managed to slam down a cream-filled doughnut while listening to 80's Dance Music that did not make us sad and out of sorts.  "This is the Bangles," I said. 

"Cool," Camille said.

Then we sat and read until it was time to go. 

I dropped Camille off at the studio and she did her usual Goofy Routine of crying and clinging and acting like she'd never see me again while People Watched.  She especially likes it when People Watch. She thinks she's hilarious, but really, the People often look alarmed.  Then she skipped off down the sidewalk and I watched her with that little bit of sadness that I've somehow carried around since Ellie Left For College.

With the looming Free Time resting firmly on my shoulders, I cruised by the nearest locally owned coffee shop.  I peaked through the windows and was disgusted to see that all the good seats were taken, leaving only the stupid cold aluminum seats in the middle of the room where everyone who walks by can look at your laptop screen and discover you're writing smut - if you're lucky enough to be able to kick out the smut on that day.  If not, they see that you're just wasting time on the Eff-Book - which is just as embarrassing.  Normally, I would have done the stiff upper lip thing and gone inside anyway but What The Heck, people - I'd already eaten Actual Chicken at a Freaking Chick-fil-A so I figured I might as well head on over to Starbucks where all the good seats were also probably taken but at least everyone wouldn't seem so smug about it.  I can't even remember why I quit going to Starbucks - I'm sure I felt very strongly about it at the time - but as I've already pointed out, I'm shedding principles right and left.

So here I sit. I walked through the book store to see if either of the Two Comfortable Chairs were available, but they were not.  I passed back through the aisles, noting that Rob Lowe has an autobiography on the shelves, thereby confirming my opinion that Rob Lowe believes himself to be Worthy of an Autobiography. I thought to myself that I missed the hell out of my Borders, where they had more than two comfortable chairs and lots of cozy spots to sit on the floor. I'm sipping a tall Americano that is already making my hands shake, and avoiding my novel by blogging.  I look industrious, though.  I really do.  Type, type, type....

I saw an Honest to God Exhibitionist here one time but no such luck tonight.  She had been pretending to read while sitting and facing the room in a short skirt with no underwear and her legs, predictably, apart.  I was obviously Between Scenes and not writing or I wouldn't have noticed her.  It appeared I was the only person who did notice her, and that seemed particularly lame.  I wanted to somehow acknowledge her efforts but couldn't think of a way to do so...clapping seemed inappropriate. There are students here tonight, a guy who keeps falling asleep, a guy who keeps clicking his pen and when I kill him in a moment nobody will blame me, and a girl meeting with a geometry tutor who seems just as confused as she is.  There are a lot of tables with a single person at them - people who are killing time....or people who come here to be alone with other people. 

And I'm here...a lady in waiting. But waiting for what...I can't exactly say.