June 30, 2008

How Much Responsibility Is Too Much?

One of the things I like about Radical Unschooling is the idea that kids learn from early on to deal with responsibility. They're given the freedom to make their own choices and have plenty of time to figure out what works and what doesn't before they leave the nest. When we started to unschool it didn't occur to me that we'd go Radical. I was thinking of it as an educational philosophy rather than a lifestyle choice. But as I learned more about the lifestyle, I began to take steps toward RU. I started saying "Yes!" more, which has included saying "Yes!" to letting Jerry have as much screen time as he wants and "Yes!" when he asks for sweets. He doesn't ask for sweets a lot but he does eat some sugar every day--which is more than he had when he was in school.

The other day Jerry surprised the heck out of me by saying, "Mom, I'm not going to eat sugar for the next three months." 

I was shocked. "Okay," I said. "Why?"

"Because," he said, "I was looking at myself in your mirror this morning and I have visibly gained weight."

Now this is true. He has a belly where he didn't have one before. I had noticed it too. I hadn't said anything to Jerry, of course, but I'd been trying to come up with a plan to get him eating fewer sweets and getting more exercise for a few weeks--without much luck.

I said I felt like I'd been eating too much sugar lately too (which is true) and would like to join him--we could do it together. Then I said that we should think of it as staying fit and healthy rather than trying to lose weight. I said part of staying fit is getting some physical activity and suggested we start taking Patsy (our dog) for a walk every day. He agreed. 

Then I panicked. I had handled the conversation all wrong by not emphasizing enough that I love him exactly how he is and that it's normal for kids his age to gain weight, so I threw that in at the end. 

If I were being graded I'd probably get a D.

But here's the thing. Now that he's told me he wants to lose the belly am I supposed to help him? And if so, what's the best way to go about it? I don't want to question him when he eats sugar. There's nothing more annoying than having someone question the foods you're about to put in your mouth. But, when I ask if he's ready to take Patsy for a walk and he says no and days go by and he hasn't done much more than sit on the couch or at his desk (which I cleaned off for him last week!) or at the kitchen table, am I supposed to remind him of his goal? I don't like the way that feels. Then it feels like it's my goal. But it isn't. My goal is for him to feel good about himself. I want him to be fit and healthy, yes. But, more than that, I want him to feel good.

If he's feeling down about his body (and he's not a chubby kid at all) how can I help him to feel better? Am I giving him too much responsibility by letting him choose to be so sedentary and by saying yes to sweets? Is it my choice to give him choices that's causing him, indirectly, to feel bad about his body? Or is this feeling bad just part of growing up? Is he just becoming more aware of his physical being and taking stock, so to speak, now that he's reached puberty?

I'm paralyzed. I'm afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing--so I'm just not doing anything. Well, I'm not doing anything beyond trying--relatively unsuccessfully, I might add--to entice him to get his body moving and by not buying sweets unless he asks for them.

I feel like there's got to be an answer out there, but for the life of me I can't figure out what it is.

Anyone have any ideas?

Anyone?

Bueller?


June 27, 2008

Super Cool Science

Holly, at Unschool Days, had a great post on science the other day, so I thought I'd give you some links to a few of the super cool science links I've discovered recently.

This is one of my favorite science sites. If you join his mailing list you get a different science experiment in your inbox each week. I recently discovered an experiment that related to a current topic of interest in our house--balloons. Remember when Jerry tried to fuse together two balloons with a flame and we ended up with two holey balloons and a very bad stench? Well, it turns out there is a way to put a flame to a balloon without melting it! A water balloon can sit over a flame until the water boils and it will not pop or melt because the water inside the balloon absorbs the heat. Pretty cool, eh? Check out the video here.

JJ linked to this series of videos  posted on the Homeschooling Freethinkers site, which by the way has some terrific resources including this list of recommended books on popular science. The video is a series in eleven parts about the big bang and how we got from there to human migration out of Africa. 

This is something I discovered when we first started homeschooling last September. It explains the cause of the mysterious behavior that caused Salem's inhabitants to cry, "Witch." The culprit? A fungus found in rye flour--and it's linked to LSD. Far out, man!

This may have been famous before, but it was made fabulous by the Waynforth family at the Life is Good conference this year, when they recreated it for the talent show. Technically it's math but math and science are so closely linked I figure it's okay to include this in my super cool science page. And as long as we're talking about algorithms...

The title says it all. Jerry loves these videos.

Rolfe Schmidt and his family found a true scale model of the universe in Warnemunde, Germany! It's really, really big--like you'd-have-to-walk-for-miles-to-see-the-whole-thing big.

I know I have a link to this in my sidebar but I just had to give it another plug because it's so darn cool. Be sure to check out the videos/podcasts

This is a link back to one of my posts from November of last year, describing one of the best science experiments ever. In the world. Really.

There you have it. If anyone has further suggestions for this list put a link in the comments and I'll add to it.

June 26, 2008

The Humility Bank

Ever feel like you've really got it going on? You just got your hair cut and damn you look good. You may be old enough to be someone's mother but you're comfortable in your skin and your kids like to hang out with you. Maybe you're not good at everything but you know darn well you are really good at some things. You've got this unschooling thing down. You're at ease. Life is good. Really good.

Aren't those the moments when life throws you a curve ball and you're suddenly wondering what exactly you thought you had going on in the first place? Or, worse, you find out you most definitely do not have anything going on except perhaps a few pounds. Maybe it's just me.

But yesterday, I got to thinking, what if you participated in an activity that would serve as a regular humility dispenser? Wouldn't that take care of the requisite attitude adjustment? You'd be in the driver's seat, though, so there wouldn't be any surprises. Like you wouldn't be in a yoga class thinking you were all cool and flexible, and when you had to go into a headstand, in the utterly silent room, you wouldn't fart. And then you wouldn't have to stay in the headstand for much, much longer than anyone else for fear it might happen again on the way down. And you wouldn't have to never ever go back to that yoga studio again as long as you lived even though it's only a few blocks from your house and you really liked going there. You know?

Anyway, I've found the perfect humility dispenser. It's called circus class. When Jerry and I joined the homeschool circus class before we left for New Zealand, it was a fairly even mix of younger kids, teens and a few adults. Most everyone had been taking the class for a while so Jerry and I were definitely behind, but it wasn't bad. Thankfully for me, most young kids aren't really all that coordinated anyway. And, even though I have the upper body strength of a fly, I do have coordination on my side. Sure, I felt a little silly sometimes, but I defy anyone to do a "crab walk" and not feel silly. Then things changed.

While Jerry and I were in New Zealand routines were learned. Teenagers started to outnumber the younger kids. All of a sudden it was a class full of strong and coordinated people who had no qualms about hanging upside down by their feet or doing a million chin-ups, or swinging through the air fifty feet off the ground on a swath of fabric while doing the splits.

Jerry wasn't having anything to do with it. He did one class and bailed. But I wanted to keep going. I wanted to improve. Yes, I wanted to fly through the air with the greatest of ease like--well, you know the guy. The daring one.

So, once a week. I submit to the humiliation of being the lone beginner in a class of, not experts, but, well...people that are way better than me. The way I figure it this should give me a surplus of humiliation in my humility bank, so when I'm need of an attitude adjustment I can pull from there. No need for surprises. I should be safe, right?

There is one problem with this plan. The physical pain. It's not pleasant. Today, for example, I can hardly move my neck because yesterday we had to do summersaults, and backwards rolls, and cartwheels, and handstands (which I craftily avoided by switching to another group) and other things that my body hasn't experienced in many, many years.

The good news is that I almost managed to get onto the trapeze the right way--the graceful way. And I climbed the fabric properly--all the way to the ceiling! (That's right. You can oooh and ahhh.) Naturally I was feeling pretty good about myself so, naturally, the next task was to put both arms through the fabric, take a running leap, flip upside down and let go. Yeah. I had a problem with that one. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the wheel barrow race. How could I forget the wheel barrow race? It wasn't just a regular race on a flat surface. We actually had to climb over two obstacles. Okay, they were just mats but they were blocking the path and we had to go over them--on our hands. With our feet in the air. As I was climbing onto the first one my back dipped dangerously close to the floor, my arms started to buckle, the super strong, flexible, cute young girl who was holding my ankles shouted, "You can do it!" The teacher yelled from the sidelines, "Come on you've almost got it!" I could see the other moms--the sane ones that just watch the class--cheering me on (they were probably just talking amongst themselves but I imagined they were cheering me on), so I straightened my back out, gave my arms a big push and climbed over the obstacle! I made it! I did not end up being the only person in the class who couldn't complete the wheelbarrow race! Woohoo!

See what I mean, though? Humility bank. Mine's filling up.

June 25, 2008

Silence is Golden

That's the rule I've been trying to remember lately. And I've been doing pretty well. For example, when Jerry and I were reading over the information on how to choose parts for a gaming PC the other day and after about 15 minutes he decided he wanted to get up and play with balloons, which sent memories of trying to get him to do his homework and him deciding he wanted to get up and run around the house flashing through my brain, my first thought was, "But we should be reading this." My second thought was, "Relax, you spastic, brainwashed-by-years-of-school, freaker-outer and just have fun with your son."

So I did. And when he was batting at balloons and I was throwing them and we were talking about the air currents and resistance and laughing and our bodies were lunging and bending and we were working up a sweat, I did not say, "Hey, we're doing science and getting really good exercise! We should do this more often."

When we tired of playing with balloons I suggested that he might like to work on his marble run while I read out loud about the computer components. (I know. I know. I couldn't let it go--but he agreed!)So he worked and I read and eventually his attention shifted to putting streamers on our front door for the cats to play with. When he asked for my help I didn't even think about saying, "We should keep reading this." (See how I'm improving!) I just helped. And when he said "Hey, let's go to the party store and get some silly string!," we hopped in the car and came back with three cans of silly string, two glow sticks, and more balloons. By this time I was done thinking. I was just having fun. We sprayed the silly string in our front yard and when it got dark Jerry broke out the glow sticks.
He swirled them around and around while I took pictures. This is his name in cursive.
The next day (that was yesterday) we went to Universal Studios with some friends and when, very early in the day, Jerry said he was ready to leave I didn't say, "Why did I spend $300 to take you and a friend to Universal Studios if we were only going to stay for a few hours?" Oh wait, I actually let that one slip.
But after that I diligently kept all other toxic thoughts to myself. I was following the other rule, "If you can't think of something nice to say don't say anything at all." And I was trying not to let my body language say mean things either. I reminded myself that we came to Universal Studios to have fun. Not to have a specific number of hours of fun. Just to have fun. And by the time we got back to the car it was fun again. Phew!

June 24, 2008

Goodbye Good Tree

These are the pictures I would have posted yesterday if I'd had my camera cable when I sat down to write my blog post. This is our pine tree (and a little corner of our deck) as seen from the sliding glass door in our kitchen. It's huge and has probably been there forever. But we're building a new deck and for a number of reasons (including space for a bigger deck, fire safety and an intense dislike for the feel of sap on our feet/shoes/floors) we've had the tree removed. And the deck too. The deck is no big deal because we're building another one, but the tree--you can't just build another tree. Sure, you can plant one but it will be years before we have another tree like this in our yard. It was a sad day.

The worker started with the deck. He tied himself to the tree for safety but it still looked extremely unsafe to me. I'm sure all my nail biting as I watched him through the window didn't help.
Once the deck was gone he started on the tree.
Our formerly magestic pine tree was reduced to looking like a pathetic stalk of broccoli.
Meanwhile, Jerry wondered if it was possible to fuse together two balloons with a flame. So we did a little experiment.
It's not possible to fuse together two balloons with a flame. It is, however, very smelly.
All the while the chain saw was buzzing.
Until the tree was nothing more than a stump.
Once the stump was leveled to the ground the stump grinder took over,
and we were left with sawdust where there had once been a tree.
I think a funeral service might be in order.

June 23, 2008

The Tidy Gene: Does It Exist & Where Can I Get One?

I would be posting pictures for you right now if I could. And I could be posting pictures right now if the cable that leads from my camera to my computer would show up. However, since I rarely put things where they belong and, in fact, many things in our house don't even have places where they belong (the cable does) I can't find it.

That's the bad thing about being messy. You can't find things when you need them. I wrote about being messy here last year, quoting the New York Times article, Saying Yes to Mess, by Penelope Green: "Studies are piling up that show that messy desks are the vivid signatures of people with creative, limber minds (who reap higher salaries than those with neat “office landscapes”) and that messy closet owners are probably better parents and nicer and cooler than their tidier counterparts." 

But, in the end does it really matter if I'm cooler, nicer, or a better parent than the next person if I can't find the things I need to live my life!? Maybe not. 

And how does my high tolerance for clutter (how's that for a positive spin?!) affect Jerry? How much of a person's personal habits are genetic and how much are learned? Jerry's got a 50/50 chance of being reasonably tidy if it's genetics because he's just as likely to have received Warren's "neat freak" genes as he is my "complete and utter chaos" genes. But Jerry spends most of his time with me. I'm setting the primary example. And it's not a very tidy one.

If you could see Jerry's playroom (and I'd post a photo if only--well, you know) you'd say he takes after me--no doubt. Let me describe it for you. Okay, I'm sitting in the doorway now. To my right are overflowing boxes (I think those might be mine), Lego train pieces are scattered across the floor, a plastic bin with hot wheels tracks is on top of a bean bag chair. There are two desks--one for painting and one for writing--neither of which has any room for either of those activities. To my left is a plastic basket (that's mine) with stuff left over from--hey! There's my camera cable! Yippee! I found it! Okay, I'm going to post some pictures of his playroom. Brace yourselves.

So did he get my genes or is he following my example? By not being orderly myself and not requiring a certain amount of order from Jerry, am I setting him up for a lifetime of lost camera cables and keys? Or am I accepting him for who he is? And if I could bring myself to, say, help him clean his playroom each night before bed, would that start a habit that he would carry into adulthood or would it just make our evenings stressful? My own mother certainly did her best to instill those habits in me, but apparently it was a wasted effort.

What's a messy mother to do? 

June 20, 2008

Places I Have Lived

Lune has created a meme called 5 Places I Have Lived as part of NaBloPoMo. And she tagged me! It's my first meme!! Here goes:

Places I Have Lived & Five Memories About Each Place 
(sometimes there are more than five--I couldn't stop myself)

Golden Avenue - Placentia, CA
  • The birthday party when my mom dropped my barbie doll cake as she was carrying it to the table.
  • The day my parents left me at home with my grandmother and told me very clearly not to ride double on anyone's bicycle.
  • Sitting on the handle bars of a six grade girl's bike, zooming through an empty lot until my leg got caught in the spoke. Screaming in pain as the girl rode away.
  • A guy from the apartment across the street picking me up, carrying me into his apartment and playing the guitar for me until my grandmother came to get me.
  • The nurse at the hospital gouging the underside of my toes with her painted fingernails as she held my leg up while the doctor wrapped it in a cast. The nurse yelling at me when I cried.
  • Starting kindergarten with a cast on my leg.

Deodar Lane - Chino, CA
  • Spending the night at my best friend's while my little brother was being born in our house next door.
  • Standing outside in the middle of a swarm thinking they were flies until my mother yelled from the front door, "Come inside! They're bees!"
  • Looking at my best friend's dad's Playboy magazines in their garage. Trying to imitate the poses.
  • Someone yelling, "Next time your dog comes into my yard I'm going to break it's neck!" Sobbing.
  • My little sister and my best friend's younger brother walking out the door fully clothed and returning naked and covered in mud. The screams and giggles when my mom hosed them down in the front yard.
  • Sitting on the living room sofa, hugging my best friend tight, trying to work up a few tears, while a real estate agent walked through the house with my mom. We thought the woman might refuse to sell the house if she could see what an amazing friendship she'd be tearing apart in the process. It didn't work.

Hayden Avenue - Corona, CA
  • Finding a training bra in my Christmas stocking. Wanting to crawl under the couch and hide.
  • The night my best friend started her period and her mom took us to the store to buy sanitary napkins and told the checker, "This is our first box of these." Wanting to crawl under the cash register and hide.
  • My mom throwing my brother's toy airplane into the trash compactor and pressing "on" while my brother screamed and my sister and I cried.
  • Walking down the dirt road and along the trail to the old abandoned farm. Writing my name in the dirt.
  • Having a friend spend the night in my bed only to wake up with a damp circle underneath me. Wanting to crawl under the bed and hide until my mom pointed out that my waterbed had a leak.

Aragon Lane - San Ramon, CA (the middle school years)
  • Sitting in the shade of a sycamore tree, playing truth or dare with the neighborhood kids when Randy P. kissed me on a dare. Everyone said I kissed back. Wanting to crawl behind the tree and hide.
  • My sister sleepwalking to my room in the middle of the night and asking me what it was like to kiss a boy. Laughing.
  • Couples skate at the Golden Skate when my first boyfriend gave me my first real kiss at the end of the song. In front of a million people. Wanting to melt into the floor and hide.
  • Singing "Hit me with your best shot" by Pat Benetar in my friend Tammy's basement.
  • When the girl who lived across the street from Tammy went on vacation with her mom and brother and her dad hung himself in the bathroom while they were away. 
Mohawk Circle - San Ramon, CA (the high school years)
  • Being quoted in the newspaper after winning a songleading competition, saying "I'm so happy I feel like I could do flip flops around the gym." Wanting to crawl under the couch and hide.
  • My boyfriend, Ben, hanging out at my house with his friends (all sporting mohawks, dark eyeliner, chains, and Doc Martens) and my brother rounding up his friends to gawk. 
  • Trying to decide if I should tell her mom when my best friend tried to kill herself. I told.
  • My sister finding birth control pills in a suitcase I'd brought back from college, looking at me wide-eyed with shock and saying, "I know what these are!"
  • Finding out there had been a prostitution ring being run from the ice cream place near my high school and being mildly insulted that no one had asked me to join. I would have said no, but they could have asked at least.
Fullerton, CA (the college years)
  • Driving my grandpa's yellow 1967 mustang.
  • Making a soundtrack for my suicide. (Never ended up playing that mix tape though.)
  • Finding out my boyfriend was moving to New Mexico the following day and not having enough gas in my car to see him before he left. Crying to some random guy in the bank parking lot after they refused to cash my check. Asking him if I could borrow five bucks for gas. Crying the whole way as I drove to my boyfriend's place at the beach.
  • When I broke up with my boyfriend (a different one) and he went from boyfriend to stalker and then claimed he was going blind and got my best friend to guide him around the mall. Finding out he was a compulsive liar.
  • My future husband calling me up the weekend after we met and saying "I'm going to see a play this weekend...You can come if you want." Him showing up with a flower he'd picked from someone's garden and a golden Boy Scout pin he'd found at a second hand store. 
  • Calling my mom and telling her I'd met the man I was going to marry.

Garden Avenue - Los Angeles, CA
  • Buying our first computer.
  • Sitting at our kitchen table crying on the day my parents had to put Bandi, our family dog, to sleep.
  • Warren buying a 1967 Dodge Dart for $600 and the guy he bought it from asking if he could paint me sometime.
  • Packing up the Dart with all our stuff and leaving it in a friend's driveway while we backpacked around Europe for three months.
  • When Warren went to work in Australia for three (or was it five?) months and I went to visit for a week and came back feeling tired. When I realized my period was late and told my best friend I would have an abortion if I was pregnant. Buying a pregnancy test and crying when the test came out positive. Rereading the instructions over and over thinking I'd made a mistake. Trying to read the instructions in Spanish thinking the outcome might be different in another language. Not being able to get ahold of Warren in Australia. Not being able to stop my body from shaking when he finally called back at 2 am and I said, "How would you feel about making our family a little larger?" Knowing I could not possibly have an abortion.
Crestmont Avenue - Los Angeles, CA
  • Having an empty living room because I refused to bring our ugly old futon into our first house.
  • Walking past windows, catching my reflection and thinking, "Who is that pregnant lady?"
  • When my car was stolen from in front of our house late at night on the very day I had finally paid off the loan. 
  • Asking my midwife if anyone had ever given birth and then not actually wanted to hold the baby because of all that gross stuff that's all over it's body when it comes out. The midwife laughing and telling me no.
  • The morning my water broke--but was just leaking. Sitting around the house with my mom and my friend Gabbi for the next 24 hours, waiting for labor to begin. Trying to speed things along by drinking a tablespoon of castor oil and almost barfing it up.
  • Going into labor. Realizing that when they said you had to push the baby out they were serious--I'd always thought it was more figurative. Holding my son in my arms and thinking everything about him, including the gross stuff all over his body, was perfect. Falling in love.

And now I'm tagging:
because none of them have blogged in ages and I'm tired of waiting for their next post! 

Here are the instrustions from Lune: 
Have fun, remember 5 memories from places you have called home and 5 new bloggers from around the world, then send them a link to tell them they have been tagged. If you feel that a location just gives too much a way, just write ‘House #1′, ‘House #2′ etc. Good Luck and I can’t wait to read your meme lists.

Thanks Lune for tagging me. I had a great time dredging up all those memories. :)

June 19, 2008

I'm Famous!

Okay, famous may be a slight exaggeration. But I'm in a book! Well, not me exactly. My blog. This blog. The very blog you are reading now is featured in Tammy Takahashi's new book Deschooling Gently. Isn't that cool!? Tammy had asked if she could put the Graph of My Emotional State While Deschooling (the fact that I bothered to graph it should tell you something--it wasn't pretty) into her book shortly after I'd posted it. I said, "Go for it!" and then kinda forgot about it. 

Until this afternoon I wasn't even sure if my graph had actually made it into the book. Yes, I know I could have sent an e-mail and asked. But that didn't occur to me. Also, if the answer was no I didn't especially want to hear it. It's kinda like that thing you do with your checking account when you're broke. You know how you just try not to look at it? No? Okay, it's the kind of thing I do when I'm broke. Anyway, I ordered the book a few days ago and figured I'd find out when I got it. But it hasn't arrived yet.

However, today was park day and Tammy was there with copies of her book! And the graph is in! And I met Tammy, which was really cool because I knew she lived nearby and was part of our homeschool group (the rockin'est homeschool group ever) but I'd never actually met her before. Pretty cool, eh?

I know I shouldn't really tell you all to buy the book since I haven't read it yet, but it is getting great reviews. Summer over at Mom is Teaching gave it 5 out of 5 stars and said it's "perfect for new homeschooling parents yet still a great read for the more experienced ones who are feeling stuck in a hamster wheel." And a bunch of people at park day today said it's a terrific book to give to concerned family members. And, of course, if you read Tammy's blog you already know she's a joy to read--honest and smart and totally in tune with what's happening in the diverse world of homeschooling. Aw, heck. What am I waiting for? Buy the book! 



June 18, 2008

Discovering My Inner Scientist

I never did well in science classes. I hated biology. I don't think I ever took physics--it was for brainiacs. I'm sure I took chemistry but I have no recollection of the class beyond late nights spent struggling to memorize the periodic table of elements and wondering Why? Why? Why I was being forced to memorize something as mundane and useless as a conglomeration of letters and numbers scribbled across a creased poster taped to the puce colored wall of our classroom?

At the time I couldn't imagine anything more irrelevant to my life. If it didn't have to do with friends, dance, Adam Ant, acting, cheerleading, Duran Duran, friends, Depeche Mode, a good book, or how I was going to spend Saturday night it didn't have anything to do with me.

As a theatre major in college I managed to fill my science requirements with science-light: a geology class on earthquakes (as a California native I could relate to those) and some kind of lab (probably geology again) that I managed to slide through. As far as I could tell there were people who liked and were good at math and science and there were people who were creative. I was definitely in the second bunch.

Fast forward ten years or so to 2001. Six-year-old Jerry is home with a babysitter and I'm in my usual seat at the Mark Taper Forum, a theatre in downtown Los Angeles. As a season ticket holder I didn't always pay attention to the title of the play I'd be seeing until I sat down and opened up the program. On this particular night, as the aging audience adjusted their hearing aids (season-tickets to the theatre apparently come in a bundle with hearing aid batteries), I opened my program. It read, "QED."

QED stands for quantum electrodynamics. Ten years earlier a play with this title may have sent me screaming into the underground parking structure and back onto the crowded freeway. But, I'm happy to say that in the years between college and finding myself at the theatre that night, I had expanded my circle of "things that have to do with me." Actually, I guess  I was just more open to things outside of my circle. Because science was still out--but that was about to change. 

QED is a play about the late physicist, Richard Feynman. This line, delivered by Alan Alda as Feynman, completely changed my view of science:
"ALL of science is about trying to describe nature--whether it's biology or the known laws of physics. See, Nature is always out there, she's always doing what she does, and it's our job to try and trick her into revealing her secrets to us. It's a dance, because Nature doesn't always give up her secrets easily. You have to look closely at her; you have to experiment to really find out how she actually behaves!"
All of a sudden science started to look more, well, creative. There was an air of mystery to it. And it was about nature! I loved nature! 

So, if you're a nature-lover (and what's not to love about nature?) and you like to have a deeper understanding of the the things you love, but thought you didn't like science. Guess what!? You do! You love it! Let your inner scientist out! Then, go out and buy The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier. It's funny, fascinating and easy to understand. And it covers all the basics. 

If you're still not convinced contemplate this (it's Feynman again):
"You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird... So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing -- that's what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something."
I want to know something.

June 16, 2008

PC Building 101

We're gearing up for the big project: Building a Gaming PC. As I mentioned before, at the Maker Faire we bought a book called Building the Perfect PC. It walks you through the process of building several types of computers and offers step-by-step instructions with photos. But the book came out in December of 2006. So most of the parts are outdated by now and I've been in a state of paralysis, not knowing how to choose between the gazzilions of parts on the market. I tried a few online forums but most everyone was building super high tech (i.e., expensive) stuff. Then we went to our local Fry's to browse the PC components aisle, thinking we might get some ideas there. But I ended up feeling totally overwhelmed. 
We had to put the project on hold while I recovered. 

Today, however, is the deadline for the monthly article I pen for our neighborhood newspaper and well--I haven't started it. It's only a short piece--300-400 words. And I only just interviewed the guy yesterday so it's not like I could've written it before today. And "today" goes all the way 'til midnight tonight so that gives me, you know, like another six hours to get it done. So it seemed like the perfect day to start working on the PC. And then post about it on my blog. Heck, I might even clean out a closet or two before the day is over. But I digress.

Today I found two articles about building a gaming PC--both written in the last few months and they list components! This article lists parts for a $1000 PC. And this is more of a budget model at $500. (I'm leaning toward the budget model.) So thanks to today's discoveries I feel like we have a jumping off place. We're going to read both articles and compare the parts and prices, referring back to our book to figure out what exactly we're supposed to be looking for in each component because, unlike wine, PC components do not have beautiful, artistic labels to help in the decision making process. Also, they're slightly more expensive than wine. Some wine. The kind of wine I drink, anyway. Mmmm, a glass of wine would be good right now. 

Okay then. Wine. Clean out closets. Write article. 

Right. I'd better get busy.

June 15, 2008

An Answer (Already!)

Lo and behold, after posting all those questions a mere two hours ago, I have actually (thanks to Schuyler) found an answer. It's not exactly an answer to my questions (they were more rhetorical, anyway), but it is a way to keep my husband home from work next Saturday. 

I'm going to e-mail this to his cutting room.


Early Morning Questions

It's 4:45 a.m. I got out of bed to write a rant full of rhetorical questions like, Why does the film business suck so much? Why did Warren have to work another Saturday when this movie doesn't even have a release date yet? Why is the minimum work day in film 12 hours? The minimum?! Why?! Why does this business suck so much?! And Why? Why? Why when car alarms go off at 4:45 a.m. do they never stop? Ever?! Why do they just keep going and going and going like the energizer bunny keeping me awake with my toxic thoughts until I'm forced to get out of bed and poison the blogosphere with them?

Why!?

Sheesh. 

My cat just climbed onto my lap. He's rolling around on his back, grabbing my hair between his six-fingered paws and chewing on it. Why does my cat always eat my hair?



June 12, 2008

To Alistair (An Argument In Favor Of Unschooling)

I started writing a response to Alistair, who was kind enough to come back and elaborate on his earlier comment about unschooling being “woefully irresponsible” in his eyes, but then I realized I was running out of space and (on a more exciting note) I sounded like I knew what I was talking about, so I decided I’d better make it a regular post. (I really have got to take advantage of those moments when I sound like I know what I'm talking about!) I've struggled with explaining unschooling to people this past year. Usually I direct them to the web sites or blogs of more experienced, and more eloquent, people. I just can't seem to put into words why I think it's a great way to live--and a smart way to "teach." But Alistair seems to have helped me find my voice.

So here goes:
Thanks, Alistair, for coming back and explaining your views a bit more. I can see how you would think that. Honestly, I was very wary when we began this journey (it wasn’t even a year ago) and I'm only just starting to see how full Jerry’s education might be (very full indeed!), without looking like Education at all.

You wrote that by allowing Jerry to focus on the interests he already has (video games, animation, computers, etc.) he wouldn’t be exposed to other subjects and ideas. What's amazing is how all of the things he's interested in somehow link to ideas, concepts and subjects that are totally unrelated. For example, one online game he likes right now allows him to create volcanoes, tidal waves, and all kinds of other natural disasters (he could probably create other things but he prefers disasters...) and this brings up all kinds of questions about geology. He's reading the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series right now, which relates to the Greek Gods and mythology (with some architecture and history thrown in). He’s crazy about manga, which leads to art and drawing and Japanese history (he’s learning Japanese). I happen to be completely gaga over physics at the moment (an unexpected turn of events, I assure you!) so I'm constantly sharing what I'm learning with him and my excitement is contagious. We have a book called "Backyard Ballistics" with instructions for how to make rockets and potato cannons and other (kind of scary!) contraptions that all deal in some way with science. We’re really into this book right now and often find ourselves doing experiments where we create theories and hypotheses (though we just call it playing and talking). Even every day conversations or just listening to the radio brings up questions. We heard an ad on the radio yesterday that claimed "energy can't be stored" and Jerry wondered if that was true so we're finding out.

And do you really think school (I mean pre-university) is the best place to be exposed to new ideas? Really? It may seem that way if you think about it on a surface level, but if you go deeper and spend more time thinking about where and how you discovered the ideas and concepts that have shaped your life, my guess is they didn’t come from school. Or if they did happen to be things you discovered in school it was probably outside of school (or maybe at university) where your interest in those ideas and concepts was allowed to flourish.

You said understanding the concepts of competition and testing is important to adult life. As far as I can tell, in the adult world, tests seem to be restricted to university classrooms and the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles, for you foreigners!). And I’m not sure what there is to understand about them. There’s a question and you answer it. I think he already gets that. I know I’m being a little glib here but I honestly don’t think a kid needs to go to school to understand the concepts of testing. Competition abounds in school so maybe he’d get a competitive edge by being there but I doubt it. He’s not a very competitive kid and I’d be surprised if he turned into a very competitive adult. I don’t think going to school would change that. And really, I think he’ll garner all he needs to know about competition through his regular everyday interactions with people. Some people are competitive, some aren’t. Sometimes you have to step up and compete, sometimes you don’t. I’m confident he’ll figure that one out.


As far as school being an essential part of emotional development goes, I think interacting with people is very important. Less important is where that interaction takes place. In school, children spend a good deal of their time at desks, listening to teachers, with short bursts of time for real interaction in between classes and at lunch or recess. The interaction that comes from schooling at home is much more natural and much more similar to the interactions that take place in the adult world: there’s no segregation by age; no school bell to signal the end of an intriguing conversation (or game of tag); and people generally don’t pigeon-hole you into a role or social position that has little to do with who you are as a person and more to do with playground politics.

As far as the decision to keep a child home as a selfish act caused by separation anxiety goes: I guess there could be some mothers out there like that, but I’ve never met one. The homeschooling mothers I know don’t feel any more separation anxiety than the mothers I know who send their kids to school. But they do seem to relish their kids company a little more. There’s not as much of a separation between kid and parents. There’s more of a feeling that the family is a team. I think part of that comes from the fact that since the kids aren’t in school, there’s no pressure to think of parents as uncool. The homeschooled kids I’ve met enjoy their parents company but they also enjoy being with their friends. They seem to find a balance without deeming one or the other unfit. I think that’s pretty cool.

You mentioned that Steiner Schools practice the unschooling philosophy in a classroom setting. Believe it or not, my son went to a Steiner school for five years before we started homeschooling. It’s a common misconception that Steiner (or Waldorf, as they’re called in the States) schools allow a progressive, child-led style of learning. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, the concepts are taught based on where the children are developmentally but the school is extremely structured. There are lots of things I like about the Steiner philosophy but it’s very different from unschooling--very different! Completely bonzo different! But that is an entire post in and of itself!!

Thanks again, Alistair, for coming back and helping me to find my voice. And thanks readers (have I said lately that I love you guys?) for not verbally attacking Alistair for his differing opinion.

Now we are off to make taffy!!

June 4, 2008

A Typical Day

There's really no such thing as a typical day of unschooling but I figure that every now and then I should write down how we spend our time so people on the outside looking in have a better idea of what unschooling looks like. Here's how we spent the day yesterday:

I woke up a couple hours before Jerry and had some tea while working at the computer (blog/newsletter/e-mail, etc.). Jerry made his way into the kitchen around 8:00 wanting a cuddle on the couch so we snuggled up in the living room for a bit while I told him about the science book I've been reading. We talked about atoms and the amount of empty space in them and how amazing it is that we don't just fall right through the floor.

Jerry showed me his new favorite You Tube video, "Mean Kitty," and we watched a few more videos before I went back to my own computer to finish my blog post while Jerry multi-tasked with the computer on his lap and cartoons on the television. An hour or so later he was ready for breakfast so he came into the kitchen and sat at the table with his laptop while I made pancakes. We listened to "Charlie Bone and the Invisible Boy," which we had started on our way home from Sacramento.

We continued listening to the audio book for the rest of the morning. I cleaned the kitchen. Jerry researched creating dashboard widgets online and discovered he would need to know some html. We looked up books about html on the library website. Jerry did a wooden puzzle that we got in New Zealand.

Around noon he went back to researching making a widget then checked out some stick figure animation on You Tube (he'd been playing with the pivot application at my aunt and uncle's--we can't get it for our Macs). He found a really cool Line Rider vs Pivot video.

When the audio book ended we ate lunch, Jerry had a bath, and then we went to the library. Jerry got some One Piece, and O-Parts Hunter manga, Shocking Science: Fun and Fascinating Electrical Experiments, and some kids books on developing a web page. I got a physics book and Worms Eat My Garbage, which I own but cannot seem to locate.

While we were at the library Jerry's best friend called to see if Jerry could come over so we went over to his house and read our library books while we waited for him and his mom to get back from an appointment. 

I thought I'd go to the Griffith Park Observatory while Jerry was at his friends (he had said he didn't want to go with me) but first I stopped by to visit the 92-year-old man I volunteer for on Saturday mornings. He happened to be out in his garden and invited me in for a cup of tea. We listened to the last part of Obama's speech from Minnesota and talked about what we would do on Saturday, then I left for the observatory where I viewed Saturn (rings and all!) through their giant telescope, looked at their periodic table of elements, and tried to wrap my head around the tilt of the earth as it circles the sun (I'd been having a hard time visualizing it but they've got a great model of it there).

I went back to pick Jerry up. He and his friend had created a fort, jumped on the trampoline, and spent some time down the street at another friend's house. We got home late (10 pm) and Warren was home from work. I made some dinner (Jerry hadn't eaten at his friend's), we ate, read a bit, then went to bed.

The End!

June 3, 2008

Home Again

We drove home from Sacramento yesterday and now I'm faced with putting into words everything that's happened in the last two weeks--namely the Life is Good Unschooling Conference! I did start writing a post after Day One of the conference, but never managed to finish it. Here's what I started with:
Our First Unschooling Conference, Or Thank Goodness For Pokemon

It's the end of day one at Life is Good in Vancouver, Washington. Here's how things are going so far. But first let me just say that I know this is only day one and without a doubt things will change before the conference is over on Sunday.

Right off the bat we had a brilliant stroke of luck. It turns out Diana was meeting a 15-year-old unschooled girl from Maryland in Vancouver the day before the conference. They had met a few years back at Live and Learn and Olivia, said girl, was flying out to stay with Diana for the Life is Good conference. Luckily for us Diana was delayed and was looking for someone to host Olivia in their room for Wednesday night. We offered our extra bed (Warren won't arrive until Saturday morning) and Olivia took it. So we spent our first night in the company of a smart, gregarious, friendly, interesting and interested nearly sixteen-year-old girl with dreadlocks and a fabulously strong sense of self. It was great. I think we might have felt kind of lonely without her. So thanks Diana for hooking us up!

Today the conference officially started. I was hoping we'd find some friends for Jerry yesterday b
That's it. The "b" was for "but we didn't." I was going to go on to say it was hard making friends for the both of us. It was touch and go in the beginning for Jerry. He was really overwhelmed by all the kids. I worried that he would stay in the hotel room the entire time but Jerry braved the crowds and made some terrific friends. One of his favorite new friends was a 9-year-old girl just down the hall from us named Violet. They had a great time together playing their Ds's (Jerry's using his old one now) and talking about Pokemon. There were lots of Pokemon fans at the conference, by the way, and I think that's part of what helped Jerry to connect with people. He also made friends with a girl named Michelle who, in addition to loving Pokemon, was into Manga and Anime (two more of Jerry's favorite things). Then there was Simon (from England). On Sunday afternoon Jerry went with Simon's family to a shop that sold Pokemon and Digimon cards. He loved it so much we went back on Monday. (It took us two hours to find and then it was closed when we got there so we had to go back two hours later! At least we knew the way the second time around. Can I just say Portland, Oregon is not the easiest city to navigate?)

So anyway, Jerry made friends and had fun. He even stayed out later than me a couple nights which I was happy about because it meant he was having fun and feeling free, but which also gave me a taste of what the teenage years must be like for parents--and I wasn't liking it. I knew he was in the hotel--somewhere. And I knew he'd come back to the room--eventually. But I didn't know exactly where he was or when he'd be back. I hadn't given him any instructions about where to stay or when to come "home." I was completely in the dark and relying 100% on Jerry's own good sense to keep him safe. When he finally came back to the room (and it wasn't even that late) I still had a hard time sleeping. It was just so weird to totally let go of my control like that and trust that Jerry would make the right decisions and come back to me all in one piece. I'm bound to get plenty of practice with trusting him as the years go by. And I suppose starting out by trusting him to learn what he needs to know will make trusting him to keep himself safe a little easier. Maybe? I hope so anyway!

So that was Jerry's experience at the conference--overwhelming but good. My experience was similar. I found that the people who already knew each other tended to stick together. It would have been nice if there'd been some kind of gathering for the people who were new to the unschooling tribe to get together and introduce themselves because that was the one disappointment--it wasn't as easy as I'd hoped it would be to connect with people. It's just so weird to go up to people you don't know and start talking to them--for me anyway. But that's what I ended up doing in the end so I managed to make some friends, too. Oh and I met some fellow bloggers, which was really cool. 

The presentations were good but there wasn't one that especially stood out for me. I really enjoyed hearing what Alliison McKee and Mary Lewis had to say. Both of them did a lot to assuage my fears. Warren went to the Secret Society of Unschooling Dads discussion and I think he got a lot out of that. He finally agreed that unschooling makes a lot of sense, but I know he still worries. It's great to feel like we're finally on the same page, though. 

I didn't take any pictures at the conference but lots of other people did. Mary, the conference diva, has lots of pics on her blog at Zenmomma's Garden. I'll post more links to photos as I find them. All in all I'm really glad we went. I still hope to go to Live and Learn but I'm not sure if Jerry is going to want to go. I know I can go on my own but I can't decide if I want to. I think I'd really miss the experience of being there with my family. Part of what made Life is Good so good was the fact that we were there together. Really, the main reason I want to go to Live and Learn (aside from hoping I'll be inspired by the speakers) is that I want to meet my blogging friends in person. But it's going to be sooooo expensive in the end I'm not sure if I can justify it. We'll see.

Since I haven't managed to describe the best parts about the conference at all, you should go here for a terrific description of what was best about being surrounded by like-minded adults and children. It's written by one of my new friends, Robin.

Once the conference was over Jerry and I drove about three hours north to visit my aunt and uncle. They just finished building a house on some lakefront property they've had for years. They used to camp on it but now they've sold their house and are living full-time on this little slice of paradise. It was lovely. I helped out in the garden. My uncle very graciously gave Jerry free reign to create his own account on their computer and helped us try to discover what went wrong with our mousebot (aside from problem with the melted on/off switch, which is pretty obvious). We paddled around the lake. I saw an eagle and lots of other birds. We watched So You Think You Can Dance. We read the first book of Percy Jackson and the Olympians. And now we can't wait to go back!

So now that we're home here's what's on tap: building that computer, fixing our mousebot (it only goes backwards), keeping my worms alive in the vermicompost bin, cleaning out the garage, going to the Griffith Park Observatory to look at their GIANT periodic Table of Elements because I'm reading all about atoms right now, resting, reading some more---------

Oh my god how could I have forgotten to mention the highlight of my visit to Portland!? We went to Powell's book store!! (Can you hear the angels singing in the background?) It was huge and wonderful and I want to bring my sleeping bag next time we're there so I can hide out in a corner at closing time and spend the entire night roaming the 77,000 square feet of stacks and stacks and stacks of books. I LOVED it. I get all giddy just thinking about it....

Okay, I guess that about does it for now. We're home for a month before we head back to Northern California for my parents annual July 4th party, then in mid-July Jerry starts his three weeks of summer camp at an absolutely idyllic ranch in the Shasta-Trinity Alps, and by the time he comes home summer will be nearly over. I'm about to experience my second summer in four months (one in the southern hemisphere and one in the northern) and I still feel like the season is too short! How is that possible!?