Thursday, April 28, 2011

Starvation, Frustration, and the All-Time Favorite: Overwhelming Guilt

I'm cranky.  Not sure why.  Oh, what the hell?  Yes, I am.  I'm cranky because:
1) I'm starving
Ellie challenged me to a week-long detox.  We're following Gwyneth Paltrow's 7-day-Cleanse.  I don't know if I necessarily believe these types of regimens do what they say they do....which is to eliminate toxins and clean out your liver, etc.  But this one isn't quite as awful as most of them and it is basically giving me a week of healthy eating (although scant) and eliminating most processed foods....I say most when a lot of people would say all - but I'm weird about processed. To me, if it has been dehydrated/dried and altered or powdered or comes from a can - it's gone through a process and is no longer whole.  The dried fish flakes?  Didn't look whole to me.  Anyway - with the exception of the obvious hunger - I'm feeling pretty good. I'd been retaining some fluid and now I'm totally not.  That alone makes me feel better.

This cleanse is supposed to be easy.  It's not.  Things that Gwyneth said would take five minutes took more like twenty.  I think maybe it takes her five minutes to let her chef know she's hungry and she's just confused her lifestyle with the lifestyle experienced by us Ordinary People.  She also acted like all of this stuff would be easy to find anywhere. It's not.  We've felt like hunter/gatherers....going here there and everywhere and still not finding it all - Whole Foods even shrugged over some of the items on our list.  Oh, and let's not forget that it is freaking expensive.  There is no way Regular Folks With Mortgages could keep this up. 

I'm doing it because I'm fat and hoping to kickstart myself into a real effort at weight loss. I do think I'm accomplishing this goal because I feel very strongly that I don't want to blow it - doing this for a week is just too much work to throw away. 

Ellie's doing it to be competitive.  She doesn't need to lose weight and as soon as Saturday rolls around she's going to chow down on a gigantic veggie pizza.  She eats really healthy anyway - the only true vegetarian in our house - and the one time she ate a bunch of junk food with friends she was sick the next day.  So she is just basically trying to kick my ass and detox better than me.  She's a bit competitive....have I mentioned that before?  Everything is a contest to her - my little tiger cub raised by pussycats.  In a yoga class our teacher, Wendy-Girl, had to actually remind her that yoga was not a competitive sport and there were no winners and losers and and Ellie said, "Oh, I know that! But see how my leg is higher than Mom's?"  When we were asked to hold poses for as long as was comfortable - Ellie's comfort level was simple.  She was simply comfortable holding a pose longer than everyone else, and not a second less.  Let's face it, it's one of the reasons she has a full ride to college next fall...and the reason I know she won't blow it when she's there.

So, you can imagine my pride at having been able to swallow TWO spoonfuls of olive oil (we're talking Fear Factor) when Ellie could only swallow ONE.  I mean, seriously.  I haven't been that victorious in a long time, if ever. I think I may have gloated.  I know I bragged.  And I held up my bottle of extra virgin olive oil and quoted Ellie's favorite phrase: I'M A WINNER.

To which she replied, "Just like Charlie Sheen."

Sigh.  So I'm hungry.

I'm also cranky because:
2)  I'm frustrated. 
I'm frustrated that I can't find enough time to write.  Or read.  Or nap.  Or just sit and be.  I've chosen this lifestyle - homeschooling and having kids around me ALL THE TIME and being active in their lives yada yada...but sometimes a mama just wants to sit and write a steamy scene without a 9-year-old coming up and saying, "Whatcha doing?" and then looking over my shoulder, or sticking her face in mine, or climbing on my lap.  Yes, I've been writing steamy scenes.  And I'll write them basically anywhere I can...because as I just mentioned....finding time to do it is an issue for me.  Ellie had a rehearsal in a church once...and when she was all done she walked back to where I was sitting behind a pew on the floor and said, "Writing smut in the back of a church, Mom?"  I totally was.  Anyway, sometimes a mama just wants to finish a bit of dialogue without having the 7-year-old coming in and yelling, "Mom! Jules won't let me in my own room!" or any number of things find their way into my characters' mouths:

"I can't explain it, really.  Not very well, anyway.  It's's like I can't escape the rhythm of the world. It invades every part of me. I hum with it.  I'm shackled by the weight of its endless sounds and colors and JULES WON'T LET ME IN MY OWN ROOM!"

Ugh.  So then I get mad.  And then I feel guilty.  Which brings me to reason number 3 as to why I'm cranky:
3) Guilt.
I hate the guilt.  I know every mother has guilt, but mine all revolves around writing.  Well, not ALL of it.  I have a few other character flaws, as well.  Being a writer isn't my only one. But ignoring my kids instead of writing...being short with them because they're interrupting my flow...rushing through the minutes of their lives (you know the minutes I'm talking about...the ones you can never get back)...rushing through them so I can get back to a scene.  Silently wishing, at times, that they were in school - even though my Asperger's son wouldn't survive a day.  Guilt over all of those things...and guilt over the times that I blame them for the lack of words, the incomplete thoughts, the poorly structured sentences....when it is my own lack of skill, talent, or focus. Guilt over not being fully present because I'm silently plotting, or being distracted beyond words by the fear that my story has fallen apart. Again.

And I'm overwhelmed by the amount of physical work it takes to run a household of seven.  I'm behind on virtually everything. The laundry, the shopping, the cooking and cleaning.  There are forms to be filled out and details to be handled.  Order Camille's skirt for the dance demonstration, make travel arrangements for Ellie's Wyoming Competition, print up and fill out forms so Joel can get his learner's permit, mail off his last geography lesson, register him for biology, make those dental and optometry appointments, put all of Ellie's summer performance dates on the calendar (I'm sure I'm already double-booked)....lots of little details.  I recently read an essay called,  Drowning in Daylight by Tess Hardwick, a writer mom.  Found it by accident and it resonated with me strongly.  Drowning.  I often feel as if I am drowning - right here in my comfy red chair. *Tess has a new book out, her first novel, called Riversong. Tess is on my blog roll, now.  OH!!  Speaking of blog rolls - you read Our Simples Lives, right?  Mark is up for an award for Best LGBT Parent Blog or something like that.  Go to his blog and click on the pink link to vote for him.  You can vote every day up until May 13.  Mentioning this was one more item on my to-do list. But I really want Mark to win! And he wants to win! Then he can be just like me, Ellie, and Martin Sheen.

4) I'm overwhelmed.

I realize that some of my blog posts might make it seem like it is endless fun and games over here.  And often it is.  But sometimes it's not.  Sometimes I'm cranky.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Holidays. They Simply Refuse to Pass Me Over

You might want to save this for later.  Seriously. You know how it is when I haven't blogged in a while.  I have a lot of words to purge. But - there are lots of pictures for you slow readers and two videos, too!  So settle yourselves in and procrastinate for a few minutes longer....Sardine Mama blogged her heart out.

There was a time when I was exuberant.  About everything, really - but mostly about parenting, unschooling, homemaking....I don't know how I stood myself.  Holidays were not excluded from my exuberance...and we celebrated all the ones "most people" celebrate and some extras, as well.  We're a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious family (although I have shed the Actual Religion - the holidays just won't go away and there are SO DANG MANY OF THEM). I cleaned, decorated, cooked and also managed to throw in a little Meaning, on the side.  It was exhausting.

It is still exhausting.  Also? Birthdays are exhausting.  And you know what?  The more kids you have, the more birthdays you end up with.  I know, right?  I failed to anticipate that detail during the exuberant business of fruitful multiplying.  I still remember timing contractions at Jules' fourth birthday party - feet propped up on a chair and surrounded by the level of exuberance that only four-year-olds can provide and thinking that I probably could have planned THAT a little better.  And every year on our anniversary, which is right Smack After Christmas....when we're exhausted and penniless...I think to myself that we probably could have planned that a little better, too.  Especially since three days later the layer upon layer of birthdays begins.  In my last post, I mentioned my dad's birthday.  My mom's birthday was on Friday....she passed away from Early Onset Alzheimer's seven years ago - so it is usually a pretty sad day for me.  Jeff's birthday comes the very next day - and God love him, he's an easy birthday boy.  He really is.

This year he wanted a new guitar, and so on Saturday we loaded up the bus with all five kids plus my dad and drove to Guitar World.  Jeff had already spent several hours at Guitar World the previous evening....trying to actually shop with five kids in tow usually leads to poor consumer decision-making. Even so, we were in the shop with the entire crew for quite some time as Jeff still managed to change his mind after we got there. We left with a nice mid-line shiny black guitar....Les Paul style (not an actual Les Paul, of course), a new Line 6 amp with bells and whistles, and a very small acoustic because Camille mentioned that the strings are too hard for her to push down on all of the acoustics we already own and here's the part where you ask me if I play guitar and I say NO OF COURSE NOT and her hands aren't quite big enough and DUH my dad was with us and said that was simply horrible and unacceptable and Camille walked out with a new guitar, too, even though it wasn't her birthday.

My house is full of guitars; I had to move one out of my chair in order to sit down and blog.  And when people are looking for a place to play without other people (Jasper) getting in ther faces they go to my meditation nook which is now no longer used for meditating, as evidenced by the fact that my beautiful fountain now holds Nirvana lyrics and little piles of guitar picks.

Ellie used to be quite the guitarist and she has a pretty nice Fender Strat that lives in Joel's room since she's mostly now into doing this (and I don't know if I've posted this one before - it's Chopin - I think the last one I posted was different):

Scherzo in B-Flat Minor, Op. 31, No. 2 Chopin /

We also have a wonderful old Martin that my mom got when she was 7 - and she would be 82 now.  Lee Greenwood once offered to buy it off of Jeff, but we wouldn't sell it for the world.

After the guitar shopping, we went out for Chinese at one of those horrible buffets that Jeff and the boys love so much.  Me?  Something about watching a bunch of people eat crab legs with their fingers, and then go up to the buffet line and use those same wet, salty, and spittle-laden fingers to grab the serving utensils just turns me off...but hey - it wasn't MY birthday.

Then the real musical talent kicked in from the back seat on the way home.  Joel had been forced to take Jasper to the bathroom earlier at the restaurant, and Jasper was apparently having issues with regularity as they were in there long enough to hear the piped-directly-into-the-bathroom performance of It's Ladies' Night by Kool and the Gang.  They liked it. They liked it a lot.  And, much to Ellie's disgust, they sang it the whole way home.  It sounded pretty awesome, if you ask me.  We had Joel's low, booming voice, complimented by Jasper's chipmunk voice....

Oh, it's Ladies' Night
And the feelin's right
Oh, it's Ladies' Night
It's outta sight...

Then Joel would point to Jasper and say, "You get the trumpet solo, dude!" And then Jasper would make silly sounds.  This went on for at least 45 minutes while Ellie hugged herself and chanted - I'm going away in the fall...I'm going away in the fall....

Personally, I thought it was better than the ride up - which had consisted of 45 minutes of Joel and Jules reciting drinking songs from Lord of the Rings, with Joel switching halfway through from the voice of Gandolph to the voice of Richard Nixon. 

Jules and Jasper both look up to Joel.  It's a problem.

And in addition to birthdays, we've had a few holidays, no?

We celebrated Passover with a Seder Dinner at my dad's.  I've mentioned I'm not religious, right?  But God, I do love a good seder.  It is the only opportunity I ever get to enjoy cheap, kosher, overly- sweet table wine with an extremely high alcohol content. It reminds me of high school.

Anyway, if you're not Jewish and you've not been to a Seder Dinner - there is a lot of reciting and reading and praying and washing of the hands and hunting for the matzoh.  Accompanied by a minimum of four glasses of the above-mentioned table wine. We try to be reverent, we really do.  And there are certain poignant moments in the Seder where we muster it royally.  But there is also lots of other stuff.  There is the part where we solemnly recite the words...."we know what it is to suffer...and how to find good Chinese!"  There are the 10 Plagues....the recitation of which involves dipping of spoons into wine and making little drops on our plates while my kids fight over who gets to read aloud about the choicest of plagues.  My boys say things like, "Fine! But next year I get the lice and you get stuck reading about the lame frogs or famine!"    This year Joel wanted the Wild Beasts.  And he read it like this:

Nobody wants to read about the smiting of the firstborns, the smiting of firstborns by the Unconditionally Loving Father being one of my Minor Small Problems with religion.
Jules, as usual, was our Sharp Dressed Man.

Jasper mostly did this over at the table reserved for Little Kids and Shiksas, because who else besides Jeff is going to suffer through a Seder with Jasper?

Jasper also did lots of this:

I think he was attacking the Wild Beasts.  He also did this.

And below, Camille took reclining at the table to a whole new level. We don't have multiple Jaspers, by the way.  He just won't light very long in one place and he ends up in all the pictures.
All the while, Ellie sat at the table with her mantra running through her head....Leaving in the fall, leaving in the fall and excuse me but was that a slightly little melancholy I'm So Going To Miss These People look on her face?  I seriously doubt it! More likely, it is me projecting my emotions....

Our holiday Mood Music was provided by Matisyahu. I love him, love him, love him....although I doubt very seriously he'd approve of our Seder. Check him out at the end of the post.

I mentioned the Multi-Everything business right?  That's good, because we also do Easter.  And we do it Texas Style...which is where our kids walk through tall grass searching for Easter eggs while wearing boots just in case they find a rattlesnake, instead.

We have Easter Chicks and Easter Turkeys, all of which we plan to eat.

It is supposed to be hard to get turkeys to breed and brood.  Nobody told our turkey. These are fertile grounds.  Apparently.
And we even had birth and the promise of new life...I saw this:

See those udders above?  That is one engorged mama.  I knew there was a newborn nearby and I was right. He didn't seem even slightly interested in the egg hunt going on around him.

His new friends were very interested in him - all lined up and waiting to play.

When the gathering of the plastic eggs was all done, Jasper still had to do his chores, which included Real Egg Gathering.

So that's it for holidays until next month.  Drumroll....Mother's Day.  And this year's celebration of My Awesomeness should be really great because I'm pretty sure they're all still feeling guilty about last year. And they totally should.

Hope your holidays were marvelous and don't forget to check out my man Matisyahu.  Shalom Y'all!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Mangoes, Margaritas, and Chili Peppers

So I won a contest here.  Now I have a cookbook coming in the mail. This makes me happy.  I'm not sure where I found the original recipe; I think it was from Green and Crunchy - remember her? I miss the Green and Crunchy blog.

Anyway, speaking of food, I am fatter than I've ever been in my life.  I'm going on an Effing Diet.  And I'm going to Effing Work Out.  And let me tell you, when you lose weight at my age, you run a very serious risk of becoming gaunt. Like Helen Hunt.  So I'm really nervous.  If I were rich and famous I would merely have fat from my a$$ injected into my cheeks after losing weight.  But I'm not and I'm not.  So....gaunt, here I come.

I would like to do a little de-toxing to jump start my impending weight loss.  I plan to eat lots of fruits and veggies.  I think one of the problems I have, as a *mostly-vegetarian, is that my protein sources are carb-based or dairy-based.  And I do like my carbs.  You want to bore me to tears?  Give me a steak or a chicken breast.  Ho-hum.  I'll force it down but then I'll want some rice or pasta or quinoa.  None of which are good for weight loss.

*A Mostly-Vegetarian, in my case, is a person who only eats his/her own meat. I realize this could be misconstrued as a most extreme form of let me clarify that I meant to say "raises his or her own beef/poultry so as to know it led a healthy and humane life consuming only the kind of food it was meant to consume (as in grass for beef and seeds/grass/bugs for chickens)."

Speaking of fruits and vegetables, last week I over-bought mangoes.  I was innocently heading into the grocery store when I was accosted by a store employee screaming about an over-abundance of mangoes!!  She seemed very concerned that the store had over-bought mangoes and was indeed standing in front of a Mountain of Mango Crates.   "We have too many!!" she said.  "Too many mangoes!!  ALL MANGOES MUST GO!!"

I succumbed to the mob hysteria, and like everyone around me, began frantically buying mangoes.  I bought two cases of mangoes for $10 and was very pleased with myself until I got them home and realized we were going out of town the next day.  This was a problem that could only be solved by making mango margaritas with my friend, Wendy-Girl.  So we did.  The mangoes pictured below in my fruit basket represented only about 1/8 of the remaining mangoes after the first round margaritas.  So you can see this was a serious problem of enormous proportions.

Oh, and Mark...if you're reading.  I know the clutter is bothering you.  It was bothering me, too....up until about the second round of mango margaritas. The first round we sugared the rims of the glasses per the recipe.  The second round, we salted and chili powdered the rims, instead - and very much preferred it.
I'm worried about what my tattoo will look like when arm is gaunt.  (Look, Mark!  The dishwasher door is open and you should see the counters....)

And this picture is proof positive that I am currently not gaunt.  Wendy-Girl is also not gaunt...but she is a) a bit younger than I and b) a yoga instructor and c) taller and d) lots of things that make it easier for her to Not Be Fat.

Wendy-Girl did not come alone.  She brought her husband whose picture I will not post.  We call him El Narco and he's in the Witness Protection Program.  He and Jeff like to sit around and play guitar.  She also brought their two teenage sons who have been running around my house since they were tots. 

It was Wendy's son's birthday. His name is Reagan. (Yes...REAGAN....I'm telling you....we don't just hang out with Liberals).  We tried to do Reagan justice by singing and stuff but, as you can see, there was a fly attacking Jeff, Reagan's brother wouldn't stop playing his guitar...and well, poor kid.  I think he eventually blew out the candle and then we all eventually had cake to ward off gauntness.
Reagan is a good boy and he loves his mama.

Shortly after this picture was taken, Reagan was set up. By his brother.
And my daughter.

Who casually said, "Hey, Mom. Reagan's into the Red Hot Chili Peppers."
She and Grayson (Reagan's brother) were communicating via Teen Code Talk, which they think (incorrectly) I don't understand.  So what Grayson understood from the above-mentioned apparently innocent statement was: Watch this, Grayson.  My mom's going to go nuts now -AND - it will terrify Reagan.  Bonus!

"Really?" I said (while sloshing my margarita). 

"Yeah," said Reagan.  "There's a song I like..."

Ellie:  Snort.
Translation:  Wait for it, it comes....

Me, interrupting Reagan: "Oh my god!"  I then predictably launched into the entire history of the Red Hot Chili Peppers all the way from Hillel Slovak and Freaky Styley / Uplift MoFo Party Plan to Stadium Arcadium. I could see that I was terrifying Reagan, but I couldn't stop myself.

Ellie:  "Mom knows a lot about the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  Isn't it impressive?"
Translation:  I told you, Grayson.  Stark, raving insane.

Grayson:  "Wow."
Translation:  Holy crap, Ellie.  You weren't kidding.  She's totally crazy.  And look how frightened Reagan is! This is awesome.

Ellie:  "So. Mom.  Do you think the new album will be okay without Frusciante?"
Translation: Watch this.  She might cry.

I won't bore you with the details but I then launched into my opinion of Josh Klinghoffer, what I think he can bring to the band, a brief description of the progress of the latest album (due out late summer), and an Intro 101 on John Frusciante and his solo work.  I also took a mini-side-trip into the Dave Navarro era which led to Jane's Addiction and my retrieving two CD's that I forced upon a trembling Reagan.

Grayson:  "This is so awesome."
Translation:  I love crazy old people.  Ellie, I totally feel for you.  How do you stand it?

Ellie:  "Have I mentioned that I'm leaving soon?  As in...going away forever?"
Translation: That's how I stand it.

Me: "I'm just a fan, Ellie.  Stop it."

Ellie:  Laughing.  "No.  I'm a fan of a few bands.  You are more than a fan."  Looking at Grayson she adds:  "There is an honest-to-god Chili Peppers logo sticker on the back of the church bus she drives....right next to our stick-figure-family."
Translation:  Seriously.  I could die.  I try really hard never to go anywhere with them.

Grayson: "Really?  Cool."
Translation:  The stick-figure family ALONE is enough to make you want to slit your wrists.

Ellie:  Nod.
Translation: No kidding. There's a bow in the hair of my stick figure. You're so lucky. Your parents are....(Ellie raises an eyebrow as she searches for the correct words.)

Grayson, glancing at his parents:  Sigh.
Translation: I deal with a different brand of crazy....but it's still crazy.

Ellie:  (They are now reduced to communicating via facial expressions) Sympathetic smile...followed by a head jerk in my direction.....I'm digging frantically around for my Live at Slane Castle DVD....
Translation:  I still win. 

Grayson: Shrug, followed by a head jerk in the direction of his parents, who were by now singing very loudly. 
Translation:  We'll call it a tie.

Ellie doesn't like ties.  She's a winner by nature.  So she said: "Mom, do you know how tall all the band members are?"
Translation:  No. Seriously.  No tie. My mom is Way Crazier Than Anyone Else's Mom. She's about to go Beiber on us.

Me:  "Okay! Okay! I DO know how tall they all are but I learned it by accident!  I didn't go LOOKING for that information.  And I only remember it because, with the exception of Chad Smith, they're all really short! (I then gave heights.)
Translation:  You're welcome, you little competitive twerp.

Ellie:  Big Grin.
Translation: Thanks Mom!

Sheesh.  Kids today.

Before I close out this post on mangoes, margaritas, and chili pepper insanity....I'd like to say Happy Birthday to my dad.....who has been beautifully embarassing me for over 46 years.
Translation:  I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

When the Right Answer is Wrong

People spend a lot of time talking about what's wrong with education and trying to "fix" it. Usually, when I listen to this banter I become frustrated, and then I'm relieved, because it doesn't directly affect me, right?  Wrong. Of course it directly affects me.  It affects all of us.

I can't claim to be an expert of course.  And I wouldn't want to, either.  I think I've shared my opinion about "experts" before.  But don't some things just seem obviously wrong?  As in VERY OBVIOUSLY wrong?  First of all, kids seem to be more stressed out than ever, and there are many studies and reports that claim to back this up. Don't get me started on studies and reports, either....the results of studies are often spouted with lots of exclamation points!!!  Our kids are busy, busy, busy.....and they're teaching them to read and do math earlier and earlier and yet somehow, that's not cutting it.  How is that?  Could it be that doing things earlier and earlier doesn't really....well....mean anything? 

They say that test scores are lower.  That must be bad.  But do tests really mean anything?  And have you seen the tests?  When Ellie was studying for the SAT, one of her practice questions had her read an excerpt from A Modest Proposal.  Then she had to answer questions about it.  She correctly answered that it was an example of satire.  (If you've not read A Modest Proposal, the author suggests that the way to end both hunger and overpopulation is to eat is meant to be ridiculous.)  The next question asked her to identify the author as a) something b) something c) naive d) something.  Ellie said none of the answers made sense, but she eventually chose one - and got it wrong.  The correct answer was c - naive.  The explanation was that it would be unrealistic to expect people to eat babies as a solution to overpopulation and hunger.  This was said after identifying the piece as a satire.  In the section discussing satirical writing, the study guide even went so far as to point out that in order to produce satire, the author must have a deep understanding and knowledge of the issue.  So it was identified (correctly) as a satire, written by a naive author with deep understanding and knowledge of the issue.
*I do not have the actual study guide in front of me, and I'm know, for a fact, that I'm paraphrasing....but you get the idea.

So kids are wrung through the ringer trying to produce correct answers.  That is the ticket to success.  Correct answers.  Of which there is usually only one.  Even though, in real life, things are rarely that easy.  There are very few situations in the real world where there is only one correct answer, yet that seems to be the holy grail of education - getting that correct answer - even if it makes no sense because the question was poorly written or worse yet, written by a person who didn't understand the meaning of the word satire.

The paradox of this situation is that we all agree that what we want our education system to produce is creative, ingenious, out of the box thinking problem-solvers.  And then we stand around scratching our heads when that isn't what our system of teaching to standardized tests produces....even though we get those little suckers reading by the age of four!!  To expect children who are taught that there is only one right answer for every question to be out of the box thinkers is like thinking a satire can be written by a person who is naive about the subject matter. It makes no sense.

Very little about the process of institutionalized learning makes sense.  Joel is still chugging away at that geography course he's taking through Texas Tech distance learning.  He has one more lesson and he's done! Yay! Done with geography and we'll put it on a transcript and mark it off our list and consider him educated.  Even though....the textbook he's using is outdated.  Even though....the course only covered 2/3 of the outdated textbook.  Even though....they never touched on either Asia or the Middle East. Technically, they've touched on Asia by studying Russia - but you know what I mean - the Other Asia that exports all of the goods and services we use....where they just had a gigantic earthquake and tsunami, and where nuclear reactors are melting down.  Even though all he's studied is North America, Europe, and Russia.  He has written essays about the effects of The Cold War - and I've got nothing against that - it's just that other interesting things have happened since and weren't discussed AT ALL.  Joel learned about Russia as if we are still IN The Cold War.  His final essay was about how Europe should deal with its emerging environmental warming got a nod in this outdated textbook, while Acid Rain!!! was discussed hysterically for several pages.  Joel, who doesn't understand that he's supposed to only use the outdated textbook to find information, simply got on the European Union's website where they lay out a plan to reduce carbon emissions by 90% by the year 2050.  And you know what?  He'll probably get it wrong because the answer about how to deal with Acid Rain!! is quite obviously in the book. Also - shouldn't we be giving a little info about the Middle East where we're fighting 3 wars?  Even if it isn't GASP in the outdated textbook? 

And yet, the thing about our unschooling that seems to concern wonderfully concerned people is the fact that we don't use textbooks.  That we read a ton of non-textbooks and we have the Internet and the time a big, bulky, expensive textbook goes to is outdated.  Our world moves THAT FAST.
The scant forays we've made into institutionalized education (through dual credit courses, distance learning courses, and studying for the SAT) have done NOTHING to convince me that kids who regularly learn this way are actually learning anything at all.  Isn't that at least somewhat alarming?

Divergent Thinkers.  That's what we say we want.  But then we create and adhere to a system of teaching that doesn't allow for divergent thinking....doesn't even allow for a kid to prove that maybe her answer is correct, too - because there is an answer key and we must use it.  When Joel was little, he just didn't get it that there was a correct answer.  As in he just REALLY didn't get it.  Once, he was having a hard time with subtraction....and I became quite frustrated and I said....."You can't take 3 pencils away from 2 pencils!! You just can't?  Do you SEE 3 pencils here?  No.  You see 2.  So you can't take away 3 from 2."  Joel thought about this for some time and I was encouraged I was getting through to him. 

"Wait a minute, Mom," he said.  "I'll be right back."  He left the room.  He came back.  He handed me a pencil and he said, "Now we have 3 pencils.  You can always find another pencil.  NOW you can take 3 pencils away, Mom. It seems important to you."

I'm sorry - but am I the only one who thinks this kid is a freaking genius?  When we have a Big Huge Problem, really - isn't it the guy who's going to go out and find that third pencil....isn't he the guy who's going to save the day?

Kids are naturally divergent thinkers.  If you set up some parameters for them, you know, tell them the rules, they're always going to find a way to bend those rules or twist them or stretch them....and this is a GOOD thing - a thing to be rewarded.  Yet, all we push is the one right answer.
On our elementary Odyssey of the Mind team, I have kids who regularly bend the rules to their advantage.  Once we were sitting in a circle (very schoolish of me) and each kid had to offer a suggestion or solution to something, I don't even remember what it was.  And Emma was my most enthusiastic answer-giver, literally busting a gut and jumping up and down and even god-forbid raising her hand because she just had so much to say.  Some of the other kids?  Not so much.  To keep Emma from dominating and drowning out the smaller voices, I told them they had to take turns and they had to go in order.  I had some concerns Emma might actually rupture something while she waited....but it was a risk I was willing to take. 

As soon as Emma finished with her turn, she turned to the timid kid next to her and said, "Want to trade places?"  And that was how Emma managed to squeak out four or five more answers.  The other kids thought it was funny (it was) and willingly traded places with her repeatedly. I let her do it because guess what?  It was a pretty smart thing to do. She had answers....she was being forced to take turns....she just made sure she got the next turn...and the next....I told her she was super witty and smart and brilliant (she is) but then asked her if she thought it was fair to the other kids, even the ones who didn't think they had answers, and she decided it wasn't and then she stopped.  But in her mind?  She solved a problem for herself.  And she'll do it again.  Because nobody told her not to.

So we continue to scratch our heads.  We continue to question the causes of the apparent loss of ingenuity in our between telling them to stop talking to each wait their turns....that there's only one correct answer unless you're currently at your school's Odyssey of the Mind meeting, where it is okay to think outside the box as long as you don't start thinking you can do it everywhere.  And we wonder and wonder and wonder....what are we doing wrong? After all, we're teaching them to read in pre-school now....

Friday, April 1, 2011

It Ain't Ovary Yet!

Remember how I said that if I'm blogging I'm not writing and vice versa?  Well, I haven't blogged in a few days.  Good for me! Another 3,500 words or thereabouts.  I know it doesn't seem like all that much (I can knock out 13,000 on a weekend if I'm on a roll) but I was doing other things, too, you know. 

Like going to the gynecologist.  Yay! Not.

It had been about three years because this activity is not on my list of fun things to do. And the only reason I went this time is because I had totally convinced myself that I had ovarian cancer.  Do you know the symptoms of ovarian cancer?  You should know them because you most likely have them.  Whether or not you have ovaries.  That's right....if you're my Uncle Larry you probably have the symptoms of ovarian cancer because they are the symptoms of Basically Everything.  Have you seen that long list of afflictions that can get you an RX for marijuana in certain states?  Well, those are also the symptoms of ovarian cancer, and I had a few of them and I don't even live in a state where I could legally get pot to help myself out, which seems massively unfair and random. So. Convinced I was dying and of course, constantly joking about it with Jeff (because that is how I roll).....planning my funeral (which will be rocking awesome, by the way, if my plans are carried out ELLIE)....I decided to go to the doctor even though I'd already decided there was nothing that could be done to save me.

"So," he said. "Long time no see."

"Yeah, I know.  Listen, I'm pretty sure I have ovarian cancer. I have all the symptoms."

"What symptoms do you have?"

"Well, I feel bloated and crampy...." (I had other symptoms the descriptions of which you shall be spared.)

"You are probably approaching menopause."

"Yeah, right....I have virtually NO symptoms of being peri-menopausal buddy so just WATCH IT."

Doctor made a note.

"Also - I swear I have this sensitive tight feeling when I wear my favorite my abdomen is distended,and I have reflux and indigestion."

Doctor looks at my chart and opens his mouth to discuss my weight.  I narrow my eyes at him and he suggests a sonogram to check my ovaries which was more effing like it.

On our way to the sonogram room he says, "You know, when you were last here....umm....what was it?  Three years ago?"

"Yeah, yeah, whatever....three years what?"
"Well," he said.  "It says in my notes that you came in because you were pretty sure you had ovarian cancer."

"REALLY?" I said.  "Wow! What a coincidence! I have no recollection of that whatsoever!"

Doctor writes "psycho" in my chart.

A few minutes later I was having my ovaries examined via sonogram.  I was told I could watch on the monitor. 

"Uhh, yeah....sure." 

A bunch of unidentifiable hooey pooey appears on the monitor.

"Oh look!" I say of what is identified as my left ovary.  "Is it sucking its thumb?"

Gynecologists have no sense of humor, by the way.  It was so quiet in there you could almost hear the nonexistent heartbeat of my left ovary.  Open Mic Night at the OBGYN. 

"Everything looks perfectly normal," he assured me.  He recommended no further testing, psychological or otherwise....he took care of a few other indelicate matters within the span of about twenty seconds, and I was on my merry way, skipping out the door with an order for a mammogram that will possibly give me breast cancer but that I will go and get anyway because everyone says I should.

In addition to that Big Fun Day Out, I also took kids to Odyssey of the Mind, oh! And here's a picture of the regional tournament I mentioned in a previous post.  This is Joel and Jules....Joel is Captain Ahab and Jules is Neo from the Matrix.  Joel has a peg leg ha ha.

This is not Joel's real beard.  It is his real hair, though. Sometimes people don't believe that.

So, when not an Odyssey meeting, we also did the usual piano, ballet, jazz, and tae kwon do.  Meals were cooked, children were repeatedly poked and prodded....there were several trips to the store. AND there was a party!  Jasper turned the Big 07.

Now usually, Jasper is not a party kind of guy - other people's parties or his own - he just doesn't dig the noise and activity. He's more of a Take Me Out To Dinner guy - otherwise known as my Dream Come True.  But lately, he's been uncharacteristically social.  He's had three successful play dates in as many weeks, as opposed to the kind he usually has. And he said, "I want a party this year."

"Really?" I said.  The last time he had a party he did okay - just one other family came - but after the party was over he was a total melting mess from the stress of it all.  The only other party he ever had was at a very old and tiny amusement park full of antique rides....several of his little friends showed up to ride rides and  eat cake.  We have a picture of Jasper sitting at one table eating cake, and all the party guests at another.  But this year, Jasper insisted he was going to have all kinds of awesome fun at his party.  He even branched out and, on his own, invited a couple of little boys he really didn't know all that well, in addition to the old standbys of the thick-skinned variety who he usually plays with.

Jasper became overwhelmed really quickly and took to his bed, as they say.  I managed to drag him out, and he then watched the other kids play a couple of games.  He blew out a candle that was suppsoed to sparkle but didn't....actually I think he just let out a big old sigh but we'll call it blowing out candles.

He opened presents rather unenthusiastically (he liked the presents - but he doesn't care for having people watch him open them) and then everyone was on their way.  Whew!!  But good for him for trying!!  We'll see what happens next year - kids can change SO MUCH in a year.  But among his siblings, he has two partiers and two non-partiers (can you guess who is who?) only time will tell.

Jeff was traveling all week, but he came home literally to be with Jasper on the morning of his birthday (tradition for us) and to make Jasper his favorite birthday dinner that night (tradition for me).  Jasper woke up at 3:30 am on his birthday, and I crankily sent him back to bed.  But bright and early he came sprinting back in after waking up the sibs, and snuggled under the covers, waiting to get busy with the opening of the gifts in the family bed. 

The older boys really hate this family tradition....even on their own birthdays.  Here is Joel waking up (spoiler alert - he got a haircut).

Here are Jasper and Camille suggling with Daddy, or hurting him, one or the other.

And here is Ranger with Jules (dogs are invited to the morning present-opening).  Ranger was bit by a rattlesnake last week - another story for another time. 

Ellie had stayed up all night crocheting Jasper a teddy bear.  It has a very short shirt, what appear to be leg warmers, and no pants.  That seems odd to me, but then again, it has always seemed weird to me that Winne the Pooh is pantless. Maybe that's just me.  I'll be sure and bring it up with my gynecologist in about three years.

For dinner, Jasper had requested vegetable lasagna, and Jeff outdid himself. I wanted to take this picture before the lasagna was mutilated by Jules, but dang, I wasn't fast enough.

Ellie and Camille worked very hard on decorating the requested carrot cake.

I'd like to say that we all ate at the table like One Big Happy Family, but the truth is it was American Idol night - so we ate at the table during commercials.  Then someone would yell, "It's back on!!" and we'd all take off again, leaving Jasper (he hates American Idol) sitting at the table with my dad.

We are serious Idol followers, and we like to argue and comment and critique endlessly.  After about 30 minutes of this, my dad said, "You people do know we're fighting 3 wars and Japan is melting, right?  Right?"

And we were all like, "Dude, what's your point?"

Jasper received a sword and two axes.  Because my life isn't difficult enough, that's why.

So my baby is seven.  I can't believe it.  But it doesn't matter how old he is so true that he will ALWAYS be the baby.  Someday he'll be a middle-aged baby, but he's stuck a baby.  And he likes it.

Now then, would you believe that Stephan Hawking, infamous Smart Guy Physicist and Cosmologist, is a HUMONGOUS Red Hot Chili Peppers fan?  I know! Crazy!!  Here's a video he recently made to promote the band's new album.

And if you believed that, maybe you'd also like to know that Ranger (our neutered male dog) had a litter of puppies!!  (Even Jasper didn't believe it.) April Fools ain't ovary yet!!