September 30, 2008

O Happy Day

I was all prepared to write about my fragile emotional state yesterday. I was going to apologize for focusing on the negative. I didn't even really feel like writing about it, to tell you the truth, but when I started this blog I wanted it to be an accurate representation of what it's like to start unschooling a child after five years of school--ups and downs included--so I felt obligated to tell the truth. And the truth is I've been feeling like crap.

I was going to list the possible reasons for the gray cloud that seems to follow me around lately. The list included things you've already heard about like stress from the cost of building our deck and the end of our first year, the honeymoon year, of unschooling, and a few new ones, like my recent fixation with death (real cheery, I know) and feeling like I've lost my sister to Ireland for good.

So, I was all prepared to give you the dish on my sorry state of mind when I opened my e-mail yesterday morning and found a travel itinerary from Aer Lingus for my sister. She's coming for my 40th birthday!! Yippee!

And guess what we'll be doing?! We're going to begin walking the California Coastal Trail. The entire trail is 1200 miles long--from the Mexican border to Oregon--and I'm giving myself the decade of my 40s to complete it. I'm going to do bits at a time (not in any special order), hopefully with different people on each section of the journey. (Anyone want to do a portion with me? Send an e-mail!)

So to celebrate my 40th I'm going to start the walk at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. We'll cross the bridge and do the San Francisco portion of the walk (about 11 miles), ending at Fort Funston where Warren and Jerry will pick us up and we'll all go out to dinner to celebrate. My friend, Zefra, and my mom are doing it with us. And I'm hoping a couple other friends will be able to make it as well. It's going to be great. And now that my sister is coming it feels really special. I feel really special!

But there was even more excitement yesterday. Shortly after Jerry woke up we took Patsy for a walk in Griffith Park. I know what you're thinking. You think the exciting part is the fact that I actually got Jerry to leave the house before 10 a.m. Yes, that is exciting and I admit I was very surprised myself, but that's not the exciting part. The exciting part (not exactly good exciting, mind you, it was more like "shake things up" exciting) happened when we got to the park.

A man and woman were in the parking lot with a big dog crate beside their car and about 12 kittens crawling around the crate and under the cars. Jerry wanted to pet them so while he played with the kittens I asked "Why have you brought them to the park?" The lady said they were just on an "outing." Hmmm. Pretty suspicious, I thought. "You're not going to leave them here, though, are you?" I asked. "Oh no. No. I'm just taking them to different parks letting them do their business." Still pretty suspicious. Anyway, Jerry and I went on our walk with Patsy and, sure enough, when we got back to the parking lot the lady and her crate were gone and two kittens were hiding under a car in the parking lot. Essentially, she'd left them for the coyotes.

We couldn't leave them so we took them into our car and drove all over looking for any more kittens. We went everywhere I could think of that the woman may have stopped. As if to confirm my worst fear we saw a coyote near the place where we'd first seen her.

We ended up bringing them to our house and I'm trying to find homes for them now.

We call this one Graystripe. She's a girl.

This is Frenzy. We named him after a cat I had when I was young.

They like sleeping on top of our DVDs.
I haven't any luck finding them homes so far. It's kind of stressing me out. I hate to take them to a shelter but we really can't keep them. And I'm afraid of posting on Craigslist because I read that sometimes people with bad intentions look for animals on Craigslist. I'm just hoping someone we know will take them. Anyone in Southern California want a cat or two?

September 26, 2008

Fossilized Whale Brain Photos

I love the internet. I posted about seeing a fossilized whale brain at the Natural History Museum, then wrote that I wish I had taken a photo. And, lo and behold, the very next day there were photos of the fossilized whale brain in my inbox! How cool is that!?

The photos came from Bob Mac Gillivray, the grandson of the man who found the specimen. In addition to sending the photos he was kind enough to tell me some of the story behind this amazing find. Bob's grandfather found it sometime between 1918 and 1948 at his old ranch in Los Olivos (about 2 miles from Michael Jackson's Neverland). In the late 70s-early 80s Bob's parents took it to the museum after several neurologists had said they were certain it was a brain. But the curator at the time told them it was just brain coral--apparently brain coral fossils are relatively common. The family remained convinced that they had something special but it wasn't until about five or six months ago, when Bob brought it out to show his wife's 11-year-old cousin, that he decided to try again.


The following Monday he took some photographs and did a bit of research on where he could find the foremost marine mammal expert in the United States. Time and time again Bob was directed to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. So, he wrote the staff a note, sent some photos and a week or later found himself in Los Angeles meeting with the entire scientific staff of the museum. It was during this meeting that Bob realized his grandfather had found something truly extraordinary. "These seasoned scientists had trouble staying in their chairs," he wrote. "Never before has anything like this ever been discovered. Before this specimen it was just accepted that soft tissue cannot fossilize."


The brain appears to be from a Miocene Sperm Whale that lived 10-12 million years ago. They estimate that it was about 80 feet long, which is really big for that time and enormous for our present time (nowadays a large bull will grow to about 60 feet). And to make the discovery even more exciting, a Miocene Sperm Whale had never been found in that particular strata before. They usually find baleen whales.

The scientist we met at the museum, the one who is working with the fossil, said the museum is trying figure out the value of the specimen now. As far as he's concerned, though, it's priceless.

September 25, 2008

A Little Politics

I don't post much on politics but I think this is really important. I'm giving you three viewing options: video, short and long.

Video:


Short:
Bush's recent speech on the need to cover the losses of investment
bankers:
1. The country is in grave danger, and we must trust him and
2. give him and his ministers absolute control and
3. a blank check
4. but it won't cost very much
5. and in the long run will pay for itself.
Amount requested: $700 billion

Speeches by Bush in late 2002\early 2003 on the need for invading Iraq:
1. The country is in grave danger, and we must trust him and
2. give him and his ministers absolute control and
3. a blank check
4. but it won't cost very much
5. and in the long run will pay for itself.
Amount spent as of September 2008: $620 billion

Are we really going to fall for it again?

And long (this originally came to one of my Yahoo! Groups but now the author has posted it on her blog at Truffala Tuft):

Why are we giving the richest people in America a $700 billion bail out? Not just a bailout, but a blank check to spend as they please?

A few better things we could do with $700 billion:
- Save it
- Help the 3 million+ families that have lost their home to foreclosure in the last year
- Support renewable energy development; Clean up superfund sites; Support small family farms and local food initiatives; Clean up depleted uranium in Iraq; Provide health care for all americans; Build mass transit ...

The banking, investment, finance and insurance industries, all longtime opponents of taxation, now need money from us, the hard working taxpayers, to survive. Decisions that will cripple us for decades to come are being made behind closed doors, by the wealthy, by the regulators and by those they have failed to regulate.

Don't let it happen! Call Congress right now and tell them NO WAY! See link at the end of this email.

What is happening?

AMY GOODMAN
from 9/22/08 Democracy Now

"It's being described as the largest government intervention in private markets since the Great Depression. The Bush administration has asked Congress to swiftly approve a massive $700 billion package to rescue the crippled financial institutions on Wall Street. Some analysts say the final cost to taxpayers could top one trillion dollars. Over the weekend, the size of the proposed bailout grew as the Bush administration said foreign banks, including Barclays and UBS, should be eligible for the bailout. The bailout plan was drawn up by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and would set up a fund that uses taxpayer money to buy out the bad debt on Wall Street. The plan would also give nearly unlimited powers to the Treasury Secretary.

Meanwhile, the last two major investment banks-Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley-have changed their status from investment banks to bank holding companies. This change, approved by the Federal Reserve Sunday, allows them to create commercial banks and also gives them access to the Fed's emergency loans."

JUAN GONZALEZ
(same transcript)
"The amazing irony now is, as we read in some of the papers today, that the very firms that were involved in creating this crisis are now lining up in Washington to be able to become managers, in case the federal government buys up this debt, and then it needs to manage how it will get rid of the debt, so that the very firms are now lining up to become the money managers of the distressed debt that the government buys."

How did it happen?

DEAN BAKER
(from the same transcript, Baker is director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Economic and Policy Research)
"And let me just make one point that everyone should be very, very clear on. This was not an accident, in the sense that this is like a hurricane. This was a totally predictable event. So when President Bush or Henry Paulson say, you know, we have to come to the rescue, it is because of their incompetence, because people who understood the economy-and putting myself among those, but there are others-we were warning about this a long, long time ago. This was a totally predictable event that brought us here....

"The basic story was, we had a housing bubble, which, again, these people are supposed to be smart. They're paid tens of millions of dollars. They should have recognized the housing bubble. They should have recognized that house prices would fall, as they have been. And what that meant was, you made a loan on a house for $250,000, $300,000, $400,000, that house price was likely to fall. So if you did that with zero down, as many of them did, plus having mortgages, you know, the predatory mortgages, the subprime mortgages that have got them in particular trouble, these were guaranteed to go bad in many cases...

They acted as though house prices would just keep going up forever, and they could just keep, you know, going along these lines. They leveraged themselves to the hilt. The investment banks, like Lehman and Bear Stearns, leveraged themselves to a ratio of thirty-to-one. In other words, if they had $10 billion in capital, they had loans on the order of $300 billion. I mean, this was just asking for disaster...Think of what we do to welfare people, when they-you know, everything they have to go through to get, you know, a $500-a-month check, and these people want billions, no questions asked. Unbelievable."

ROBERT SCHEER
(from same transcript, Scheer is an award-winning journalist)
Yeah, well, the point is, when Bush and McCain and Paulson, who was head of Goldman Sachs before he was head of the Treasury, say they don't know how this happened, they designed this system. We had a regulatory regime in place ever since the Great Depression to prevent this kind of meltdown, and that said that stockbrokers, insurance companies, banks, investment banks, commercial banks, could not merge. And in 1999, they passed legislation, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. Gramm is the guy who McCain supported for president in '96. He was co-chair of his campaign until he complained about the whiners out there, meaning the public. And that legislation is what caused this. It allowed the swaps and everything else."

What should happen now?

ROBERT SCHEER
(same transcript)
"And now, you know, it seems to me, in terms of the bailout, why don't they do what Hillary Clinton said during the primaries: just put a freeze on foreclosures? Start out with helping the homeowners and say, "OK, we're not going to foreclose your house for the next year. We're going to force the banks to work out reasonable payments. We'll try to help you hold on to it." That would have stopped the bleeding here much more effectively than throwing $700 billion at these bandits...

"This is our money. Why isn't this money used to help people who are going to lose their houses? You miss two, three payments, and they're going to foreclose on you; then they say, "Well, we hope the banks will work out new agreements." Nonsense! Do a freeze on foreclosures. Stop the bleeding. Have a year to let it settle, and force the banks to come to agreements...

"Well, this is a Ponzi scheme of their creation, and they thought they would bail before it hit the fan. That's what they thought. They'd be gone, and someone else would be blamed. They'd have their golden parachutes. I don't know why we're not considering criminal charges against these people. They have done more to hurt this nation than bin Laden could ever dream of. "

RALPH NADER
(from 9/21/08 Chris Hedges article
Ralph Nader has come up with 10 market reforms that he says need to be implemented immediately along with any bailout. These reforms are:

1. No bailouts without conditions and reciprocity in the form of stock warrants.
2. No more lobbying for any company that is bailed out.
3. No golden parachutes or get-out-of-jail-free cards for guilty executives.
4. No bailouts without public hearings.
5. Reduce the moral hazard in U.S. mortgage markets by introducing covered bonds for the majority of mortgage products, as is done in Western Europe. That gives institutions that finance mortgages an incentive to be prudent, because they cannot just unload them and wipe their hands clean of the liability, but are instead on the hook if the homeowner defaults.
6. Maintain neighborhood stability and housing security by passing a law with a sunset clause allowing below-median-value homeowners facing foreclosure the right to "rent to own" their homes at fair market value rates.
7. Avoid future housing bubbles by removing implicit government guarantees for new mortgages that exceed thresholds of greater than 15 to 20 times the annual fair market rent value of the home.
8. Make the Federal Reserve a Cabinet position, so it is accountable to Congress, as well as make sure all Federal Reserve Bank presidents are appointed by the president and answerable to Congress.
9. Reduce conflicts of interest by taking away power for auditor and rating agency selection from companies and placing it in the hands of the SEC to be administered on random assignment.
10. Implement a securities speculation tax, starting with derivatives, to deter casino-style capitalism.

What can we do?

ACTION ALERT: Tell Congress NO To Bailout
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2008/9/22/11346/2605/768/606375

Alright folks, this week could very well determine the outcome of the election, and quite possibly whether Obama will have any financial leeway to enact his policies next year. George W. Bush is trying to push this stinker through immediately, ala the Patriot Act and the Iraq War Resolution.

Now is the time to take action. Call the Congressional switchboard: 202-224-3121

We all know this bailout scheme is a boondoggle for the Wall Street fat cats. It's armed robbery, a scam, a plan by and for the Phil Gramms of the world. It takes $5000 from every taxpayer in America -- that means YOU -- and gives it to reckless bankers on Wall Street. And if Democrats cave on this blank check, you just know that Republicans will use it against them for the next two months.

Call Congress and tell them NO to this blank check bailout. There is no rush to give away our $700 billion. Tell them to stand strong and take their time.

And of course, be polite.

Wondering who your congresspeople are? Look here for the House and here for the Senate.

More info:
http://www.dailykos.com/ updated throughout the day
http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20080924_a_fox_to_protect_the_henhouse/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/the-bailout-plan-welcome_b_128450.html
http://www.commondreams.org/view/2008/09/24-7

September 24, 2008

Feeling Weepy

I've been a little down lately. I've been trying to pinpoint the cause for weeks without success. Yesterday I was feeling especially blah but I chalked that up to finishing the last Harry Potter audio book. It's the second time around (I'd already read them) so you'd think I might be immune to the feeling of loss that accompanies the end of a great series of books. Alas, I still mourned for all the characters I'd be leaving within the pages--I mean the CD. But after we finished the last disc Jerry wanted to run over to the mall for some pre-birthday window shopping at the Lego Store, so I didn't have too much time to feel sad.

As we were driving to the mall I looked over at Jerry in the passenger seat and noticed what looked like a bird's nest in his hair. "Oh my God," I said, "You've got to fix your hair before we go into the mall." Jerry eyed me suspiciously and said "Why do you care so much how I look? Are you worried about your rep?"

I had to laugh because yes, that's pretty much what I'm worried about and I said so. But I also said I was worried about his "rep" too. "Mom," he said, "it's not like I'm going to the mall to make friends. It's highly unlikely someone is going to walk up to me and said 'Hi. Wanna be my friend' at the mall."

So then I was trying to explain (these kind of explanations never go well for me) how even though it's good not to care what people think they are still making assumptions about you and things are just easier if the initial assumptions they make are positive. "It just saves a lot of work in the end," I said.

Then Jerry said "I don't get it. Wait, you don't have to explain it again. It's okay. I don't really care." And he turned up the music.

Ha! Then, as I was marveling at his level of understanding and at how much he has to teach me, he said, "Mom, you know when I get all sad about not having friends and I get all 'Oh I need more friends' and stuff? It's just because I'm tired. I only feel that way when I'm tired or I haven't eaten or something. It doesn't really have anything to do with having friends or not having friends."

I almost started crying. (I did say I've been weepy lately.) How did he get so mature? How did he know that was just the thing I needed to hear and that I needed to hear it from him? Where does this amazing insight come from?

So I was feeling all better and amazed and we spent some time in the Lego Store then came home because Jackson was on his way over for a play date. Back at home the blahs came back, so I watched the first Harry Potter movie (we're going to watch the movies again now) and that made me feel a little better. And then Warren got home with groceries and made dinner for me and that made me feel even better.

I'm wondering if part of what's got me feeling low is that I'm finally settling into our unschooling lifestyle. The honeymoon phase is over and though I'm still gaga over the whole idea of unschooling it's not new anymore. So now I have to figure out how it works with our regular life. This whole past year has been a whirwind, especially since we spent a quarter of it in New Zealand. All the excitement is over now. We don't have any trips planned--I've put a ban on travel this year thanks to the ever expanding cost of building our deck.

Mainly I think I need to set some goals for myself and start working toward them. During our year of deschooling I purposely stayed away from setting any big goals so we'd have the freedom to make split second decisions and to find a natural rhythm for ourselves. But I think this is starting to feel a bit like aimless wandering to me.

Little by little I've started making a dent in the chaos that is my office so I should be able to work in there again soon. That's where I'm going to start. I've got to set some of my own goals and start working toward them. Hopefully that will make me feel better.

September 23, 2008

Study On Video Games

Last week's freak out didn't last too long. I spoke to my friend Robin on the phone and she set me straight. Park day was better last week, though I've decided not to coerce him into going any more. Well, I'll try my hardest to get him to go but I won't insist. Or bribe him. He's still at the computer more than I'd like but he seems to be moving away from it again.

The other day we made a list of things we'd like to be doing or working on and I think I'm going to get a big black board for the kitchen so we can list them. I feel like do too much meandering during the day and I was thinking that if we could see the things on the list we'd be more likely to do them. The list includes things like: learn about the history of anime and manga, sign up for classes at the science center, do something to make the world a better place, decorate jerry's bedroom (we're making a "One Piece" quilt) that kind of stuff. So far we've completed a few but there are many left.

Here's some good news. The MacArthur Foundation recently released a Major New Study That Shatters Stereotypes About Teens and Video Games. They discovered that "game playing is universal, diverse, often involves social interaction, and can cultivate teen civic engagement." But I guess most unschoolers already knew that.

September 17, 2008

Fossilized Whale Brain!

We went to the Natural History Museum today for a behind the scenes tour. A friend of mine works there and he offered to show us some things that the general public never gets to see. We brought along Jerry's friend Finneas from the homeschool group, breezed in through the staff entrance (where we saw that when workers arrive and depart they use a hand scanner to clock in and out--how cool is that?), and then Michael asked the boys what they were interested in before taking the three of us on our own personal tour.

We started with the reptiles and bugs (went backstage where they keep the sick ones and got to pet an iguana who'd had her tail removed), then moved on to the dionsaurs for the Tomas the T. Rex exhibit which was incredibly cool. But even better we went into the room where they store all the fossils. It smelled old and musty, almost like an old library, and there were floor to ceiling metal cabinets in long rows, all of them full of bits of life from millions and millions of years ago.

At the end of this room we passed through a door that led to the area where the archeologists and volunteers work on getting the fossils free. They use a little pencil-sized object that works like a mini jackhammer, chipping away at the unwanted stuff surrounding the fossil. The woman we were watching had been working on the same fossil for over a month and very little of it was uncovered yet. It sounds so tedious but apparently you never know what you might find. Sometimes they find shark teeth and other unexpected items so that adds some excitement.

The best part about this particular room, though, was the fossilized whale brain. I should have taken a picture.* It looked like a hardened brain, kind of gray in color, but on the inside there were quarts crystals growing. It was a geode! Apparently a family in Los Olivios found this fossil inside the fossilized skull of a sperm whale. They called the museum and were told it couldn't be a whale brain fossil. It was impossible. It must be brain coral. So the family held onto it and a generation later the son of the man who found it called the museum again and was, again, told it couldn't be a whale brain. Fast forward 90 years to last June. The great grandson of the man who found the fossil called the museum again and finally someone agreed to take a look at it. The family had been right all along. It was a fossilized whale brain!

We talked to the guy that was working on the fossil for a long time but Jerry started to get bored so we headed to what my friend Michael called his laboratory. It was a big room in the basement of the museum that was full of storage stuff--including a taxidermy tiger and polar bear. This was where Michael kept his video cameras and computer equipment. He showed us how they scanned a 3-D image onto a computer, where they play video games (on breaks, of course) and then unveiled two hovercraft he and his friend had built in their spare time. They looked a little like futuristic lecterns. Unfortunately they weren't working but the boys and I thought they were extremely cool nonetheless.

The laboratory was Jerry and Finneas's favorite part of our tour. Mine was the whale brain and walking through the musty room where they kept all the fossils. All in all it was a terrific day. It makes me think we should try to meet more people that work at museums so we can get backstage tours at all of them! Oh, and not once did I hear the phrase "I'm not a museum kind of kid."

*I have photos now! Click here to see them.

September 15, 2008

I Should Have Known

I should've seen it coming. Remember when I wrote "Now that Jerry spends less time with his screen stuff (by his own choice!) I don't have nearly as much of my own screen time."? I forgot to knock on wood. And you know how I said "I'm still trying to figure out how to get a bit more physical activity into Jerry's life but I can honestly say that's the only aspect of our home schooling that I'm worried about right now."? I have another one now. And you know back when I talked about my marriage and how Warren and I had gone through some tough times but how we were lucky squared and cubed because we'd made it through the toughest part? What was I thinking? And where is my duplex!?

Okay, I admit I'm not actually looking for a duplex. It's not that bad, really. But these last few weeks have been haaaarrrrd. (Can you hear the whine?) We haven't been as nice to each other as we could be. Actually, I was getting a little worried. But our 17th wedding anniversary was last weekend and we had to go out to dinner together, which made it impossible to avoid talking about how we haven't been our best selves lately. So we had a good talk and managed to find the culprit. It's that stupid deck! You know how they say remodeling your house puts a lot of stress on a marriage? I figured it was indoor remodeling that made for stress because, you know, you can't use your kitchen, or you don't have an indoor bathroom, or something. But now I know. Now I know it's not about the cooking or the plumbing. It's about the money, and the workers never showing up when they say they will, and the money, and the architect wanting to do his own thing, and the money, and the city of Los Angeles and its God forsaken permit office, and the money, and the money, and the money. Oh, and did I mention the money?

Last night I tallied up how much we've spent on this project thus far and I thought I was going to be sick. It's a deck for crying out loud! We're not building another house! But it turns out that being on a hillside and living in a house that's nearly a century old can create problems. And, naturally, problems must be solved by forking over lots of cash.

I'm sorry. I shouldn't be going on about this, but it's on my mind. The deck will be lovely when it's finished. I know it will. We'll have a BYOC (bring your own chair) deck-warming party and drink lots of wine and forget all about how horrible the building process was. We'll get good and drunk. Yep. That's what we'll do. We'll drown our sorrows in alcohol and hope some of friends are too drunk to carry their chairs home so we'll have something to sit on when we stumble out onto the deck for coffee the next morning.

Well, now that I've exhausted my typing fingers (yes, I hunt and peck) I have almost no energy for explaining how my proclamations about how unschooling has been going so great have come back to bite me on the ass. I'll give a quick summary, though.

The first one is not a concern so much as a "wouldn't you know it?" Wouldn't you know that the moment I write about how Jerry spends far less time in front of screens he immediately goes back to being glued to one screen or another all day long. Seriously. All day. Okay, most of the day.

And then, I said I was only worried about his level of physical activity, right? That was it. Nothing else. I was perfectly happy with everything else. Well, all of a sudden I'm worrying about his friends--or lack of them--again. Jerry never wants to join in. He doesn't like to go to park day. He doesn't really talk to the other kids all that often, even though he considers some of them his friends. I have actually paid him to leave the blanket at park day and socialize. I know. I'm pathetic. It's been established. So maybe he just likes to be alone, right? But then he cries because he has no friends. But he hasn't been trying very hard to make friends. What can I do!?

I know I could talk myself down from this place of unreason if I had more energy, but I don't. Will someone please snap me (or slap me) out of this?

September 11, 2008

I'm Getting Better!

At circus class yesterday, for the very first time, I felt like I'd actually made some progress. I managed to get upside down on the silks on my very first try (while swinging, no less!) and I can even get upside down on the trapeze without any help now. I also managed to balance on the trapeze with no hands. Woohoo!

They changed the classes around a couple weeks ago and I think my success is partly due to the change. I'm not in the class with all the super talented teens anymore. I'm in the next one down. At first they had arranged classes by age but my friend's son wanted to be with the older kids so I told her I'd switch. I'd been worrying about how I was going to keep up my morale if everyone in the class was so much more advanced than me. So, yes, I'm working with kids who are quite a bit younger than teens, but they're closer to my ability level. And I get to run around with some of the cutest little girls I know. Luckily there are a few kids that moved down from the super talented teens class and we divide up in two groups so those of us from the other class can still work on some of the more advanced stuff--but this time I get to learn the basics of how to do the moves instead of just learning them on the fly.

So that's pretty cool. I'll see if I can get Jerry to take some more video next week. I tried to talk him into it this week but he wasn't interested.

We've started the sixth Harry Potter audio book. We were in Jerry's playroom yesterday from about 2 in the afternoon until 8 listening to it. While we listened Jerry made custom Pokemon sprites on Microsoft Paint (he loves that program) and I cleaned and organized the room. I have big plans for that room. I want to get rid of the big armoire and one book case and put his old single mattress (he recently moved up to a double) in the corner on a platform (with storage space underneath) and use it as a couch, with lots of big pillows against the wall. Then there's this giant map of the world that I want to put up that will cover almost the whole wall, so that when we're laying on the bed/couch we can look up at a giant map of the world and imagine what it must be like in the places we haven't been. We used to have a world map on the wall beside our bed and we loved laying in bed looking at it. Jerry didn't want the map at forst but he said if I could find one that had all the flags on it I could put it up. And I found one! So, that's the plan. And we're going to paint the room too.

His bedroom is changing too. Xiquan had his own bed so we moved the double bed from the guest room into Jerry's room and sold his old bed. His room really represents his personality now. He's got all his manga lined up on the headboard (it has a shelf built in) and then his customized Munnies on top of that. We bought some anime posters for the walls (they're scrolls actually--much more durable than posters) and we moved Johnny the hermit crab onto Jerry's dresser. We also cleaned out Johnny's cage and gave him new coconut fiber and he's been going crazy ever since. He loves his new digs--they both do.

So that's what's going on here. Nothing big. Sorry I haven't been responding to comments as much as I usually do. I haven't been on the computer quite as much lately. Now that Jerry spends less time with his screen stuff (by his own choice!) I don't have nearly as much of my own screen time. And I'd say that's probably a good thing.

September 10, 2008

2008 Life Is Good Video

I just discovered this video from the 2008 Life is Good conference up in Washington. Are these happy families or what!?

Life is Good 2008 from mesmith on Vimeo.

September 9, 2008

Explaining Unschooling

I changed internet providers and our internet keeps going out. It's so annoying!!

Okay, that's off my chest now--I can move on. I'm sitting in a cafe while Jerry has his first Japanese lesson since his old tutor, Mei (who we both loved!) left for Japan last year. His new tutor, Jason is a 23-year-old American guy who has lived in Japan. Jerry seems to like him so hopefully he'll want to stick with it.

We've really enjoyed having our new housemate, Xiquan, living with us. We invited him and some of his friends to have dinner with us on Sunday night and it was really nice. He doesn't take classes at Caltech since he's a Ph.D. student, he just works in the lab and what he's working on is so cool--it's a microscope that's the size of a dime!

He knew that we homeschooled but I'd been dreading trying to explain unschooling to him. This morning he asked about how I teach Jerry, so I told him about how we don't really do "school" at all and how there's very little teaching that goes on. I cringed a little as I explained that sure Jerry would have gaps in his knowledge but we all have gaps blah, blah, blah (you know the drill, I'm sure). But his response really surprised me.

He told me that when he was in high school in China his teacher told him that if he wanted to pass the physics test that would allow him to go on to the school he wanted to attend he would have to teach himself because what he would be learning in the classroom wouldn't be sufficient to pass the test. So he took the book and learned what he needed to know. On his own. And now, in the lab, he says there are things he has to teach himself all the time. He thought it was great that Jerry was learning from such an early age that he doesn't need to rely on other people to learn what he needs to know. I was so relieved! I always expect people to think I'm crazy (at best) or completely negligent (at worst) when I tell them how we home school.

But even this morning, when I was telling Jason (the Japanese tutor) about how we home school, he thought unschooling sounded terrific. So maybe I need to stop being afraid of what people will think. Well, of course I do. Now that I write it out like that it seems so obvious. Duh.

In other news: We didn't have plans yesterday (I love not having plans!). When Jerry woke up he said "I want to see Violet today." (Jerry met Violet at the Life is Good conference.) So I blasted off an e-mail to Violet's mom and several hours later we were down in San Diego county at Violet's house. The kids played pokemon, went swimming, picked plums and tomatoes from the neighbor's garden and had a great time. Hopefully we'll see them again soon.

I'm still trying to figure out how to get a bit more physical activity into Jerry's life but I can honestly say that's the only aspect of our home schooling that I'm worried about right now. That's not too bad considering where I was a year ago. Today is our home schooling birthday, by the way!!

September 7, 2008

Wanted: Healing Energy

Can you all please pray/meditate/send healing energy/light a candle or whatever it is you do when people are in need, for my friend and fellow homeschooling blogger, Cate? She needs all our love and support right now as her husband is about to begin his second month in the hospital. He went in for surgery on his back, ended up with an infection and several surgeries later they've just found out he'll be in the hospital at least another two weeks and that cases like his can require as much as six months in the hospital.

Here's a photos of Jerry with Cate's husband, Leli, at their home in New Zealand. Leli had just been thrown into the pool by his son. Here's hoping he'll be getting thrown into the pool again very soon!

September 2, 2008

Happy Not Back To School Day!

Woo hoo! Let's celebrate! I didn't have to wake Jerry up at the crack of dawn, make him lunch, or hurry him out the door because Jerry isn't going back to school today. Yippee! And we've got an entire year of homeschooling under our belt now! Hooray! This calls for a celebration right?

Me: You're not going back to school today! Let's celebrate! How about going to the Science Center?!

Jerry: (even though he loves the Science Center) Um, that's a learning thing.

Me: You never felt like you were learning anything there before. And besides, everything's a learning thing. No matter what we do we'll be learning something.

(Okay, I know I just said we should drop the word learning from our vocabulary, but he said it first! What else could I do?)

Jerry: (shrugs and rolls his eyes) Eh...

Me: Is there someplace else you'd like to go? Not an amusement park, though--too expensive--unless we go to Universal Studios, we have a membership there so that would be cool. Or we could go to the beach.

Jerry: We could go to the Santa Monica Pier.

Me: Yeah, that sounds fun. You wanna do that then?

Jerry: Naw. I was just saying we could.

Me: So you want to celebrate by staying home?

Jerry: Yeah, and we could celebrate by putting your chin up bar up.

Me: Yeah, we could do that.

How on earth did I get such a homebody for a child? I'm not saying I'd trade him in for another model or anything like that, but geez! Celebrate a life of freedom from the "bottomless abyss of formal schooling" by installing a chin up bar!?

Come on!

September 1, 2008

Father/Son Getaways & Turning 40

Jerry and Warren are off on their annual father/son weekend. Every Labor Day since Jerry was two or three they take a trip together. It was first recommended by our marriage counselor as a way to give me some time to myself. Oh how I looked forward to Labor Day weekend each year when Jerry was little! Last year, for the first time they invited me to come along--that was when we went to San Francisco. But this year they're on their own in San Diego. They sent me this photo from a Devo concert at the Del Mar Race Track. Devo!And what have I been doing with my weekend alone? I've been sewing curtains for the room we're renting out, reading, having dinner and a way too much wine with my neighbor. I went to see the new Woody Allen movie, Vicky Christina Barcelona, which I loved. Oh, and I was privileged to attend the 93rd birthday of my friend Sol, the man that I volunteer for on Saturday mornings.I went over before the party to help set up and then went to pick up his 97-year-old friend, Thelma. In fact, it was on Thelma's recommendation that I went to see the Woody Allen movie. The party was really nice. I met the two other women that read for him (he has macular degeneration so he can't read to himself anymore) and I think I may become good friends with one of them, which is good because my friends tend to leave Los Angeles faster than I can make new ones (could it be me?).

Today I'll finish making the curtains, clean the extra bathroom (oh joy) and maybe go see another movie. I might go for a good long walk with our dog Patsy, too. And I might even go buy myself some running shoes. This would be completely out of character for me because I have long held the belief that a person should only run if they are being chased by someone intending to do them harm. However, the clock is ticking. My 40th birthday is less than two months away and that calls for drastic action.

I took drastic action number one last week when I bought myself new skincare products. Yes, I now have a grown up woman's skincare regimen. I don't know what I was waiting for--more wrinkles, I guess--because at 39 I think it's safe to say I've been a grown up woman for a number of years now. I guess I'm a little slow.

Why should running be drastic action number two? Umm, I don't know, really. Maybe it's the Murakami book I just started, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. But also I think it might be that I'm in the mood to challenge myself. When we were in New Zealand I met a couple who had just completed a triathlon. That seems like something I could never do in a million years, (my first question to the woman was "Did you cry?") so I'm wondering if maybe I should try it. I'm going to start off by seeing if I can run for more than thirty seconds at a time and I'll just go from there. I'm not saying I'm going to run a triathlon, mind you. I'm just saying I might try running and then I might try swimming and then maybe I'll try biking and if I feel good about all of them eventually I might try doing them all in a row with a bunch of other people. Maybe.