Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Good-Mama Homeschooling Moment

We've been reading Madeline L'Engle's "Many Waters," loving the author, not realizing until we were well into that it was about a biblical story.  As with her other stories, it is well told, engaging and suspenseful and toward the end, K couldn't stand the suspense and brought me the Bible itself to better anticipate what would happen.  We both learned a lot and it was marvelously joyful from an educational perspective, to have her seeking additional sources and then reading through them together for different interpretations, then going beyond the L'Engle book to search for more information about the character and topics introduced in the book.  Religious Ed, Informational Literacy, Literature Appreciation, and more; awesome, especially 'cause I learned quite a bit, too!  And I always feel richer when we've had a chance to enjoy good literature together.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Rollerblading Curriculum

Sometimes, a criticism of homeschooling is the idea that parents aren't qualified to teach certain topics.  Rollerblading would fall into this category for me if expertise was a needed qualification, as I've never been on rollerblades and never have had much luck in related activities (ice skating, roller skating). 

Fortunately, what is required is a strong arm and closed toed shoes.  After that, determination and perserverence are their best hope.  And in one day, we saw much improvement as well as a significant portion of giggles, patience, cooperation, and fun.

But the curriculum went beyond the activity; in this case, we weren't just blowing off steam for our "recess" activity. Rather, we were trying to reinvent the joy we discovered earlier this academic year when we started playing basketball together daily.  For various reasons, that ceased to be fun, but I felt like I'd discovered a fabulous and unexpected gem in the fact that we were playing together.  We have always done so much together - reading, learning, adventuring, living - that I hadn't realized until we started playing basketball that we hadn't actually been playing very much together.  Having fun playing basketball at our various levels brought us all great joy together, which is the relevant gem of a point.

Because we'd fallen out of this habit, I'd been wanting to recreate it, but meeting some resistance.  So I put them in charge of mapping a week's worth of activities they would like to do together.  They did the planning, wrote them out, charted them, mapped them, and announced them.  Reading, writing, and math, plus cooperation, decision making, and consensus building all wrapped up in what resulted in this day on one trip to the park in roller blades.  And no one fell off a cliff, making the day a successful one.  Whew!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Off a Cliff

Last summer, K fell off a small waterfall and I dove in after her.  She came up shouting "awesome" and I was sore from a pulled hamstring all summer.  Today I watched G slip in the park when biking above a cliff over a creek and fall right off of it where she was caught ten or twelve feet down by a mass of blackberry brambles.  Usually careful on my feet, I don't even know what I did next, just that I was in the brambles grabbing for her.  We are both scratched up but unhurt... a little shaken to be sure.  This photo is after, a cozy, healing cuddle with Ike.

Friday, January 24, 2014

CA History - Anniversary of the Discovery of Gold in CA

Another fabulous adventure!  We drove three hours for a great ceremony commemorating the discovery of gold in CA 166 years ago.  James Marshall, John Muir, and Sam Brannan were all there; marvelous actors who told stories as if they were the real thing.  We also heard Native American poems and music and were entertained with period fiddle music too.  After the ceremony we panned for gold (successfully!), had a wagon ride, and enjoyed a fun living history experience with more people in period costumes teaching us how to make rope, candles, and more.  Long day (especially since I took a wrong turn and got lost on the way back), but memorable and wonderful.

Monday, January 20, 2014

CA History - Chitactac Docent Tour

Such a great day!  More to learn about the Ohlone... Chitactac means "place of dancing" and was an Ohlone village at which petroglyphs and grinding stones were found.  We had a lovely docent from the Santa Clara park system who helped us grind acorns and drill holes in shells for jewelry.  We spent hours afterward just playing; a gorgeous, warm, and fun day.


Saying Yes

When I was about five or six years old, we were at a family camp in the Sierras and on a nature hike with a group of families. We came across a pile of gravel and, as if by instinct, all of the kids ran to climb on it. As if by opposing instinct, nearly every parent called their kid away and the group continued down the trail. My brother, sister, and I were the only ones left on the pile and my mom stood nearby, watching. I climbed off and went to her, asking, "why didn't you tell us to get down?" She said simply, "it looked like fun."

Today, we saw a pile of wood chips in the park when we went to play. I hesitated, respectful that they had some purpose, but when the girls asked if they could ride their bikes off of them, I acquiesced, remembering my own experience and observing that no harm was being done. (Clearly they were intended to be spread over the park anyway.) I saw other parents and grandparents tel their kids to get off and wondered if I was doing the right thing. Teaching responsibility and respect is important to me, but grounding it in authenticity is also important, as otherwise it is really thinly disguised random authoritarianism.

In the end, they had fun and I loved watching them.Saying yes to having fun is truly marvelous and worth being intentional about.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Code Blue

We're having no luck with fish.  What am I doing wrong?  G got two for Christmas; they were dead before the end of the day.  The two that replaced them were dead by the end of the week.  So we consulted the pet store, who informed us that goldfish are basically feeder fish and not expected to live long.  The sales clerk recommended a Betta fish instead, so we got one.  Dead in 24 hours.  Sigh!

I was afraid that G would get a complex; K is really good with animals and even wild ones seem to gravitate to her.  So when we got this one, I told her that it was mine, not hers.  My plan is to give it to her if it lasts a week.  So far so good - almost 24 hours and "Code Blue" is still alive.  Quite gorgeous, too.

We had a delightful afternoon en route to the fish.  K decided that we should look for baseball cleats and since Charles had the car, that meant a long walk.  They were both up for it; who was I to object?  We ended up with several errands done and three hours of slow conversation as we walked together.  Nothing special, really, but in my estimation, it is the delight of the ordinary that best represents what is best in life.

Last week in mass we suffered through another really horrible homily.  I'm used to mediocrity and usually expect it unless I am at a Dominican parish.  But at our current parish, the homilies almost always lack any enthusiasm whatsoever.

Still, as I was listening to it, or trying to, it occurred to me that the lack of inspiration I was receiving from this one source creates space for other, different, unexpected hope.  I began to meditate on the space created by the gap between my expectations and the homilist's abilities and felt myself immediately filled with joy.  What an unexpected gift, this reminder that we can choose to open ourselves to joy, hope, and inspiration at any time, that the power to be inspired, to know our strengths, to feel our charisms at work for good in the world is readily accessible and separate from distractions, irritations, and human weaknesses.  I felt both happiness and excited hope at this reminder and have continued to reflect on these possibilities.

This day, walking together to do routine errands, similarly created space for us to enjoy each other's company in the midst of the mundane.  A parent once told me, "for kids, love is a four lettered word spelled T-I-M-E."  The wisdom of that observation is reflected in the grace that emerges in such space.  My intent now is to be more intentional about creating even more of that through choices about both activities and perspective.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Winter Harvest

My little farmer, so proud of her crop as she happily harvests her first snow peas.  Her sister actually ate vegetables, undisguised, just for the sheer pleasure of doing so off the vine.  Tiny broccoli crowns are emerging and the cabbage plans are growing quickly now, too!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Bike Ride

While G was in her Spanish class, K and I had a lovely bike ride in nearby wetlands. We're hoping and praying for rain, but it is hard not to enjoy the beauty of a warm day in January. We stopped her for a bit to watch a Great Egret hunt, then were surprised to run into local friends. Small delights, enhanced by the joy of spending time together; I appreciate knowing and loving her more each day and love the simple pleasure of being in her company.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

New Class: Fencing

I bought a half-off Groupon for lessons last summer. The studio didn't return calls or email, though, apparently better at their sport than at running their business, which was initially frustrating but ultimately understandable. When we finally did get through, we got quickly registered for the class. The girls love it! All geared-up in protective clothing, they are learning and having tons of fun, too.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Baseball Tryouts

She's the only eight, nine, or ten year old girl in two towns (as compared to maybe close to 100 boys) who wants to play baseball.  She was unfazed by this.  We find out the results of the tryouts at the end of the month.  She has her fingers crossed that she's assigned to the Giants.  :-)  She's been anticipating (worrying, eager, scared) this day since it was announced a week ago, counting down the days, so I'm glad it is over and the anxiety is past.  Now to get the results...

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Embalming a Mummy the Egyptian Way

A fabulous birthday party for a good friend and crazy-creative fun themed activities that included taking turns embalming a mummy like the ancient Egyptians did. This photo shows the girls in costume trying to remove the brain through the nostrils; earlier, they removed its internal organs. The whole process was hilariously disgusting - even knowing that the "intestines" were really sausage casings filled with chocolate pudding surprisingly didn't make them look any less totally disgusting. (The "brain" was cantaloupe.  Heart was a peeled tomato.  I think a beet slice was used for a kidney.)   Fun celebration and pretty unforgettable, too!


Friday, January 10, 2014

Mining for Fossils

A first sleep over! Funny kids - I gave them lots of options for fun, but our guest wanted to sleep alone on the couch and K wanted to go to sleep. Not how I remember sleepovers! :-) 

In the morning, they mined for fossils together, a fabulous Christmas gift that has been much enjoyed.  Lots of cool discoveries and good cooperative efforts to retrieve them.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Educating for Disrespect

We had a fun nature day that included a wonderful chance to learn about local birds from an Audubon Society volunteer who helped us build nesting boxes for birds. We appreciate her time and expertise and enjoyed much about the day.

However, both parents and kids were left wondering, "why do they do that?" The "they" is so many educator adults who spend a lot of time with kids and yet speak to them disrespectfully and condescendingly. It is ineffective, inappropriate, and - in my humble opinion - a commonly held bad habit of many educators that acts as a barrier to raising the next generation to treat others with solicitude and respect. After all, you learn from your experiences.

What happened? The presentation was perfect - no baby talk, lots of good facts about local birds. But when we sat down to begin building, a different person emerged in the body of the facilitator. Bossy. Inappropriate. Condescending. Overly directive without cause or even minimal assessment of existing experience or knowledge. I felt myself shut down, unable to appropriately articulate the sudden outrage I felt. Would she talk with adults this way? Then why use a different approach with kids?

Doing so just doesn't work with ours. K refused to build. One young friend burst into tears. Another usually independent nine-year-old was suddenly curled in her mom's lap. The nesting houses got built, the facilitator tolerated, but I wonder if in the end the lesson about how to treat others will be remembered more than the building itself will be. I am puzzled with the number of educational professionals who regularly treat children with such disdain, seemingly appropriating such differential treatment as a normal approach to working with children.

She was sexist too, telling us about how confident dads are with power tools and how apologetically unconfident moms are. Ironically, she didn't recognize that in this group of five moms, there is no fear of tools despite various levels of experience. In the facilitator's story, the "unconfident, inexperienced" moms always ended up with superior products. She didn't seem to catch the irony of her own mixed-up presumptions, nor did she question their accuracy.

We said goodbye with many mixed emotions. Appreciation for her time and shared expertise. Sadness at her sexism and disrespect. Ultimately, we learned more than she intended and I'm being careful about how we appropriate that lesson with the girls.

(Photos are of fabulous moments in the day.  Facilitator not pictured.)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

What Did You Learn Today?


After one day back at the routine of classes and school work, we took a break to enjoy a fun hike with friends and their new puppy. It was really a fabulously joyful morning with lots of chatter, running, and play. Energy! Joy! The fun reached its peak when we found a rope swing that was just a bit too high for the kids to get on and off easily and they each ended up giggling while struggling to stay attached and invariably simultaneously dragging a body part through the dust. Good friends, wonderful fun. It was a morning that made me feel rich in all the ways that matter most.

Later, we were asked unexpectedly, "what did they learn from doing that?" The girls and I looked at each other blankly and stammered, "uh... Alligator lizard identification? Red Tailed hawk habitat understanding?" Our questioner scoffed, correctly, "but you already knew that!"

The question remained with me and I processed various accurate answers internally. Playing with friends who have great imaginations brings so much rich learning, not facts, but Executive Function, which studies have found is missing in children who spend too much time in organized activities. Watching these kids create games and then hold themselves accountable to the rules that they co-create clearly shows their developing abilities in this area. The use of imagination in play is itself a worthy endeavor and many experts have posited that those with the ability to be creative and envision new worlds through imagination will hold the keys to the future, so I was confident that their activities were worthy from that perspective. Being at home in the outdoors, resilient to and uncomplaining about changing weather and capable of navigating various hazards are other often unacclaimed skills that could help to sustain their futures and teach them to be at home in various settings. That resilience, wisdom, and flexibility is certainly something I want for them.   And we were together, playing outside, creating a memory that I hope will inform strong family relationships for several lifetimes.

And yet, while all of these thoughts resonated with accuracy, it was a later email exchange with two parents that my greater truth was revealed about why this morning felt so rich. We have been part of a fabulous day of classes for the past four years and as the kids grow, the lead organizer has been assessing why the program works, inviting feedback about where we want it to grow. This has led to interesting conversations about what we most want for our kids and the best way to get there. In the midst of a rich exchange that was future oriented and certainly both wise and thoughtful, one of the parents raised an important point: what if what we are planning for isn't the future, but the present? What if we looked at our kids not as works-in-progress, but as already fully complete? In that case, the real richness of that hiking and playing day came not from learning of any particular kind, but from joy itself.

If joy is the point, then the lesson is one of appreciation, of living in the present, of being fully aware and alive and tuned in to the incredible beauty of this one day, one hike, one moment. Certainly, in reflection I happily speculate that this experience will likely inform future experiences, teaching the habit of joyfulness as a worthy endeavor. But that revelation came after the experience, the question, the conversation, and the reflection. On the day of the hike, joy itself clearly was the point. For that I am grateful.

Monday, January 6, 2014

On the Last Day of Christmas...

No 'lords a leaping...' we went to a movie matinee! We haven't seen many movies in theaters together, so it was a fun family celebration. We saw "Walking With Dinosaurs," which was cute, if lacking in original plot. The photo is afterward, in a nearby square where we chased each other around for a while before going home.


Friday, January 3, 2014

Ten Years

It started as a day that seemed foiled by minor irritations and then indecision and ended fabulously and memorably. I was glad; celebrating how I feel about Charles and ten years of marriage is a worthy endeavor.

Ten years ago, I never could have imagined how much difficulty we would experience; if I had, I would likely have made different choices - not about marrying Charles, but about other matters. I took risks with finances and career that did not anticipate the failing economy or the irrelevance of conventional wisdom about real estate. The resulting stresses were foreign territory to me, as I have always avoided such strain by being boringly cautious and frugal. Still, such knowledge would have cost me, for the decisions I would have made with more information would have been grounded in fear and ultimately would have been grave mistakes.

Our miscarriages and the loss of our first baby took its toll on my physical health and on our emotions. My plans to return to work were foiled first by my own attachment to my beautiful girl and then by a fairly drastic penalty imposed for even suggesting an alternative work schedule. (I created a detailed job sharing proposal. The liberal female SF politician to whom I reported told me in response, "since you want to work part time, we found your replacement.) The choice to homeschool has brought home anxiety that might have otherwise been dissipated to a broader community.

We've failed each other in many ways. Living through these stresses has meant that I am too often not the understanding and patient person I want to be. I am too easily irritated, too aware of my wounds, too inclined to complain. (Ack! I hate that about myself!)

And yet. Ten years after that marvelous day when we made our first vows, I love Charles even more than I knew I could then. We've learned more about each other and weathered challenges together. It is easier to commit to love when you feel secure and healthy and can't imagine any other outcome. The daily reality of trauma and loss is much harder. I think of our beautiful wedding pictures juxtaposed against images of me passing out in a pool of blood, of sleepless nights, of tears and arguments and unkindnesses. Thus the marriage that we celebrate is much more than I anticipated: stronger, more meaningful, more full of authentic love, deeper.

As I look back on that marvelous day, I grieve for the family and friends whom we have lost in these past ten years. Mary, Sharon, Isaiah and Rochelle all figure prominently in the photos and yet - unexpectedly, tragically - they are no longer here to celebrate with us, though I feel their prayers from heaven, as Mary promised.

I am deeply appreciative that our wedding was so fully immersed in prayer and that we have remembered to invite God to be part of our marriage. I have felt the sustaining power of those prayers many times when the chaos of everyday life precludes attendance at daily mass, which sustained my joy in the month prior to our wedding. I feel it too when I observe the many blessings that have emerged out of unanticipated health, career, and financial traumas. I have a new and more fabulous career. We have what we need to make ends meet and we enjoy many adventures together. Our health is now good. And out of those many pregnancies came two blessings too fabulous for words. The joy of our daughters brings us joy beyond expression and makes me giddy with delight. Nearly every single day, I have a moment of blissful happiness with them in which I can honestly say, "THIS is the best moment of my life." Every day! Most importantly, I appreciate that I have been wise enough to do just that, to remain alert and appreciative of and for those moments of bliss that encompass the daily elements of our life.

I love you, Charles. Thank you for this marvelous family, for the gift of your love, and for the many gifts that you've given me in our life together. I love you today even more than I did ten years ago and I look forward to the next ten, and then more...