January 30, 2009

Is It Just Me?

Lee and Low Books has a new site for homeschoolers, which is nice and all, but this excerpt from the press release really irked me:
"It is vital for children educated in homeschooling environments to be exposed to different cultures and to learn to accept people for who they are, despite cultural differences."
Really? Just homeschooled children? 'Cause it seems to me that being exposed to different cultures and learning to accept people for who they are would be vital for all children. Oh, but I guess I'm forgetting that homeschooled children don't get exposed to other cultures because they never leave their homes.

Is that condescending or is it just me? Has the anger stage of my grief kicked in? Am I misdirecting that anger at poor 'ol Lee and Low when they were just trying to do something nice for homeschoolers? Be honest. I can take it.

January 29, 2009

Grandma

Just a quick post to thank you all for your kind comments and give an update. My grandma passed away late Sunday night. Between keeping my sister's kids occupied (a welcome diversion) and helping my parents sort through my grandmother's stuff, the week has passed in a blur of activity--some joyful and some incredibly sad. I'm the executor of my grandma's will so my grief is all mixed up with concerns about handling her estate.

Today is the first time in a week that I've had the house to myself (along with Jerry) and felt like I could slow down and take a breath. I had a good cry this morning and ended up waking Jerry who gave me a big hug, rubbed my back and suggested I talk to my mom, since when he's sad talking to me always helps. He's been really sweet and tolerant all week in spite of his fractured wrist and being left behind a lot of the time (his choice) when we went out with his cousins. Even though I've fallen behind on a few things that really need to be completed (newsletter, interviews, laundry, gardening, taxes!), Jerry and I are going to spend a couple hours at the beach today. It's really for me (I always want to go to the ocean when I'm sad) but I think he'll enjoy it too.

Sometime soon I'll post a list of what not to keep in your house when you're old and about to die in order to make things easier for your family. It's going to start with "Do not keep a gigantic dresser full of unopened medication bottles." My parents and I started to think maybe my grandma had a little side business going--we're still on the lookout for shady characters with golf carts or canes hovering on her doorstep asking for their next fix. So far though we've only met one thoroughly nice neighbor who told us what an inspiration my grandmother had been to her throughout the last twenty years. I expect a few more of those, too.

January 23, 2009

Change Of Plans

Things didn't go exactly as we had planned yesterday. Warren did bring me a delicious cinnamon croissant. We did get our fireplace fixed (we'll be able to use it for the first time tonight!). But we did not visit my grandmother at the hospital in the morning like I thought we would. Instead we went to the ER at a local hospital because Jerry fractured his wrist!

We were seconds away from getting into the car to make the drive down to Laguna Hills to see my grandma when I heard a loud crash, an even louder scream and Jerry screeched, "I broke my wrist!" So we did go to a hospital. Just not the one we'd planned on going to. It's only a small fracture and he doesn't need a cast--just a splint--so we got off pretty easy.

Since Jerry wasn't feeling great (and because we had to be around when the fireplace guy finished), we changed our plans and figured we'd visit my grandma the following day (that would have been today) and we spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning house in preparation for our guests.

All day I had butterflies in my stomach--and I'm not talking about the nice, fluttery kind you get when you fall in love. I'm talking about the butterflies that feel like they're eating away at your insides. I'm talking vicious butterflies with spiky wings and fangs. I just had a horrible feeling that my grandma wouldn't make it through the night. So I wasn't all that surprised when my mom called around 8:45 and said my aunt didn't think grandma would last much longer.

My parents were about and hour from L.A. at that point. My brother and his girlfriend had dropped off their dog (I did say we'd have a very full house!) and went on to Anaheim where her friend lives, but at that point we all headed for the hospital. Warren, Jerry and I arrived around 10 p.m. She looked old and frail, of course. But that was no surprise because I'd been to visit her twice last week. What surprised me was how happy she looked. And how beautiful. She was radiant, even through the oxygen mask.

My uncle (the crazy one--every family has one, right?) was there too. He's my grandma's youngest and he'd gone back to her house that afternoon and made struedel for her from her own recipe. He said she scarfed it down, too. My aunt (her second daughter) and uncle had been with her for the last few days, making sure she was getting anything she wanted--including an In-N-Out burger and beer (thickened because she can't have liquids) for dinner the previous night.

Being in that hospital room, and watching my family members sit by my grandma and hold her hand, and tell her stories, make her laugh, and argue over who she likes better Wayne Newton or Elvis (it was Wayne) made me feel so much better. She looked happy. "Are you happy?" I asked. I had to make sure. She nodded and gave a toothless smile.

She was urrounded by her family. How could she not be happy, right? She got to touch Cora (I don't say see because she's blind now) and Carson, my sister's kids who have been out of the country for two and a half years. And she even got to rub my sister's and my brother's girlfriend's pregnant bellies, effectively welcoming great-grandchildren numbers sixteen and seventeen into the family. There were still eleven people there when we left for the long drive home around midnight.

Yesterday morning I felt sad for my grandma. When I heard she had signed the DNR (even though I knew it was the right choice) I felt like she had given up. And my grandma just doesn't give up. Ever. But after seeing her I felt differently. The nurse had given her a shot of morphine earlier in the day but Grandma said she didn't want anymore. It made her feel like somebody else, she'd said. She wanted to feel like herself. And so she was. A frailer, toothless, less mobile self, perhaps, but the essence of my grandma still shone through loud and clear.

It's still early and I haven't yet heard how she did during the night. I don't feel sad for her today, though. After seeing her last night, I know she's at peace with the place she's come to in life. I know she's happy.

January 22, 2009

The Fall

You know how when you're watching a movie and everything is going right for the main character (she's met the love of her life, won the lottery, and finally gotten that publishing deal for her novel, let's say) tragedy strikes? Well, I always kind of expect life to be like that, too. Maybe I watched too many ABC After-School Specials as a child. But whenever things are going too well I get a little niggling feeling in the back of my head that a cliff lies hidden in the brush just ahead of me, and I'm about to go careening over the edge.

It was especially bad just after I met Warren. I was convinced that since I'd finally found the love of my life (Not that it took a long time. I was 20.), he would die. And, of course, after Jerry was born I felt the same way. You should have seen me the first time we took him in the car. I was a wreck--certain that every car within eyesight was out to get us.

I've mellowed out a bit since then. But guess what just happened? Things were going great. Remember? Everything was just falling into place. I was really happy. So happy, in fact, that I had started noticing life's little wonders--like, stop signs, for instance. Isn't it amazing that they actually work? I mean, it's a steel post with a red sign on top but they actually regulate the traffic. People stop when they see them. Seriously, stop signs were making me happy. That's how blissed out I was.

So, the fall had to be coming, right? And it has. My grandma (the one whose husband died at Christmas) is still in the hospital and the doctors are recommending hospice care. Now I know this isn't a tragedy. She lived a long full life and that's something to celebrate. It just makes me sad. We all knew it was coming--eventually. But you have to understand that my grandma is one of those people who has a gift for avoiding death. I mean, she has heart problems, emphysema, and she's blind. She's been in and out of the hospital countless times during the last five years. In fact, Christmas just isn't Christmas anymore if Grandma isn't in the hospital with pneumonia. Every time she goes in we all think, "This is it. It's the last time." And then she gets better. Always.

Logically, I knew there would be a time when she wouldn't come out. I even got a little irritated with my grandma for not wanting to sign the DNR (do not resuscitate) form. I thought it was crazy that she'd want to be kept alive by machines. What kind of a life is that? And why would she want to put her family in the position to finally say it was time to pull the plug? But she has steadfastly refused to sign it. She chose life. Period.

So I was surprised yesterday when my mom sent me and the rest of the family an e-mail saying that grandma had spoken to her doctor and decided to sign the form. When she didn't want to sign it I thought she was being crazy (and a little selfish--I must admit), so you'd think I'd breathe a sigh of relief when she finally agreed to sign it, but instead it made me really sad. I felt like she had finally admitted her mortality. And I think I liked it better when she was invincible.

Ah well. Warren is staying home from work today and we'll go down to see her in the hospital. My aunt and uncle are already there, my brother and his girlfriend are on their way and my parents and Jenny (my sister) and her family will come down tomorrow. It's lucky that my sister is home for this because my grandma feels a special connection with my niece, Cora. They were both born with cataracts. Cora had to have surgery when she was just two months old (now she wears contacts) and my grandma went through numerous surgeries throughout her life. So she'll be very glad to see Cora.

We'll have a full house this weekend, which is always something to be thankful for. And we may very well be able to have a fire in our fireplace, too! We haven't used our fireplace since we moved in to this house almost nine years ago because we were told it needed to be rebuilt and we just never had the money to spare. But we recently got a second opinion and it turns out they can fix it and they're doing it today. I feel giddy whenever I think about it. So that's a good thing. And Warren has gone out to get some cinnamon croissants from one of our favorite bakeries, which is a really good thing.

I guess the trick to feeling better today (and any day, really) will be to focus on the good things. So that's what I'm going to do. Cinnamon croissants. Barack Obama. Stop signs. Family. A fire in the fireplace. Silver Lake. Sand castles. Good friends. Libraries. Cabernet Franc. Tom Waits. A grandmother's love. Homemade soup. Barack Obama...

January 15, 2009

Money Talk And Cupcakes

I've been thinking a lot about how we spend our money lately--mainly, because we have less of it now. I'm not entirely sure how much less. I've been meaning to make up a budget ever since Warren started working three days a week, but instead of being a responsible adult and facing the situation head-on, I'm taking the three-year-old approach--the one where you cover your eyes and the bad thing disappears. So I'm pretty much ignoring my bank account altogether. Am I the only one who does this?

Anyway, lets steer clear of the growing list of Things I've Been Avoiding and get back to money talk. This is what I've been thinking: First of all, it makes a lot more sense to buy used than it does to buy new, on many levels--it's better for the environment and it's better for your wallet. And thanks to freecycle and craigslist finding obscure used items (jogging trampoline, anyone?) has never been easier. So, I've made a commitment to myself to buy used whenever possible. In order to make this work I've decided that I should try three alternate ways of getting an item used before buying it new. So I might try craigslist, then a second hand store, then maybe our homeschool e-group and if I haven't found what I'm looking for I'll buy it new.

Some things are better purchased new, though. For example, that book on the teenage body that I'm getting for Jerry. I really don't want to end up with a copy that's been embellished by the comments and drawings of a 13-year-old boy. Call me crazy but I think it's better to be safe than sorry in this case. Also, I considered getting a chemistry kit used but then I got worried about having the right chemicals to do the experiments, or things being mislabeled (and explosions ensuing) and I thought I'd better go new in that case as well. So, I'm not being too rigid about the whole thing.

When I do buy new I'm trying to buy local as much as possible. One way to make buying local easier is to find what you're looking for online and then see if a local store can order it for you. I tried that with the chemistry kit but the company that makes the kit has a $500 minimum so it didn't work out because the store owner didn't need $500 worth of merchandise from them. Still, some companies don't have a minimum so it could work. Of course, sometimes buying local is more expensive (it's hard to beat amazon.com's prices) but business owners who are struggling to keep their doors open might be willing to make a deal--it doesn't hurt to ask.

Speaking of buying locally, here's something else I've been thinking about: What's my responsibility to the businesses in my community? I've been thinking about this a lot since I started toying with the idea of joining the compact. One of the things I love about Silver Lake (my area of L.A.) is that it's so vibrant. Part of what makes it so vibrant are the boutique stores, cafes, restaurants and mom and pop businesses scattered throughout the neighborhood. If I want those places to stay open I have a responsibility to spend my money there, right? Right. So, how do I balance my own need to save money and tread lightly on the earth with my desire to keep these neighborhood businesses alive?

I think I'm probably on the right track with the whole idea of asking local business owners to order the items I would otherwise be buying online. Sure, it takes a little more time, but it also gets me talking to the local business owners more than I would if I were just buying off the shelf. And that creates a stronger sense of community. Seems like a win/win situation really.

So that's what's been on my mind these days. That and the cream-filled chocolate cupcakes I made a couple weeks ago. I can't stop thinking about them! The cream filling is almost exactly the same as the cream filling in Krispy Kreme's plain glazed cream-filled donuts! I'm going to do a terrible thing now and tell you how to make that cream. It's so easy (which is why it's terrible). All you need is a jar of marshmallow creme and a stick of unsalted butter. When the butter reaches room temperature put it in a mixer with your 7 ounces of marshmallow creme, whip it together, and voila! Your arteries will start to harden just looking at it.

January 14, 2009

Good Things

I love it when things just fall into place. I hope I'm not jinxing myself by putting this out there but everything seems to be going right this week. I love it! Good thing #1: Yesterday I went to visit my grandma in the hospital (not good that she's in the hospital but good I was able to visit). Jerry didn't want to go and I was worried about leaving him alone, but Warren was able to leave work early so it all worked out! Even better, it turned out that one of my very best friends, Jeff, was working near the hospital, so we were able to meet for dinner which was great because 1) I hadn't seen him in ages and 2) it enabled me to avoid rush hour traffic. In addition to seeing Jeff yesterday, I'm having lunch with one of my favorite people in all of Los Angeles (my friend Lisa) today and another friend from college is coming to visit next week--and he's spending the night so I'll get two whole days of fun! All of a sudden I have a wealth of friends around me! Will someone please remind me that I have friends next time I start whining about being lonely?

Other good things are happening too. Jerry's new Japanese tutor is terrific. Before he started with her I explained that I really just want him to have fun with the language and be comfortable speaking it. I suggested using some Japanese manga and Jerry's Japanese version of the newest Pokemon game for the DS as learning tools. She totally got it. Yesterday when I came to pick him up from his lesson they had been playing Uno in Japanese. She made him a cheat sheet with Japanese phrases like "I don't have," "What color?" and "I won!" She's great. And Jerry really likes her husband, too--it turns out they play some of the same online games.

Other good unschooling news: Jerry made up a new game called "Creative Spelling." We try to come up with the most bizarre spellings possible of different words. It's fun and educational...After all, you've got to be able to spell the word right if you want to be sure to spell it wrong!

But wait--I'm not done with the good news yet! The Jane Austen Ball is this weekend!! Yippee!! I love the Jane Austen Ball!! It's the only time I get to skip around a room with a bunch of other grown people without looking like a complete lunatic. Actually, I guess I still look like a lunatic but so does everyone else so, there you go. It's more like refined lunacy, though. See for yourself. This is from the 2006 ball:Then of course, I have my sister's homecoming to look forward to. She and her family arrive in San Francisco on Monday and then (joy of joys!) the inauguration is Tuesday!! Woo hoo!! I can't stop with the exclamation marks! It's just too exciting!!!!!!

January 12, 2009

Books About Puberty For Boys

In my ongoing search for ways to help Jerry to be more health conscious (yes, I'm still worrying about his activity level!) I got a few books from the library today. I was looking for something that would deal specifically with health but ended up with getting some books on puberty, figuring they'd have information on eating right and exercise as well. I'm going to give you a quick overview of each of the books I looked at. I didn't read them all cover to cover. These are just my general impressions after spending about 15 minutes with each book. I'm saving the best for last so if you want to skip the losers and go right to my favorite, scroll down!

I actually only spent about thirty seconds on the first one, Boom: A Guy's Guide to Growing Up. Right away, I happened upon this passage:
Staying focused on Jesus in all your relationships is top priority. If a friendship or romantic relationship is dragging you away from God, it's time to call it quits.
I immediately checked to see who the publisher was and realized that this book was more about religion than anything else--that's definitely not what I was looking for.

Boy's Guide to Becoming a Teen by Jeremy Daldry makes a lot of assumptions that don't apply to homeschooled kids. First off, it assumes kids are in school and makes constant reference to experiences that only happen in school. Secondly, it assumes kids at this age don't want to talk to or be involved with their parents--that's not exactly what you hear from homeschooled kids and it definitely isn't what I hear from Jerry. Also, and maybe this is the urban parent in me, I didn't like the way the author handled the subject of tattoos and piercings. He was fine with ear piercing, but when it came to tattoos and piercing other parts of the body he resorted to scare tactics like, "Some piercings are very painful and can take a long time to heal" and "Tattoos are very risky and can cause infection." Sure these may be valid points, but for some reason this just smacked of manipulation to me. So that book was out, too.

The Guy Book: An Owner's Manual by Mavis Jukes was exactly what I had hoped to find. Compare the previous book's comments on piercings with this one:
If you are thinking of piercing your penis here are a few things to consider: Piercing equipment needs to be sterile in order to prevent the transfer of germs--including those that cause AIDS and hepatitis. Piercing should only be done by a professional. Body piercings don't always heal completely, and any unhealed wound no matter how small, can provide an entry point for germs.
Now that's real information. I wasn't exactly looking for this particular information, and honestly, I kinda hope Jerry won't be looking for it either (ever!). But, if he does he'll know where to find it--free of judgment and manipulation. The book has real information on lots of other subjects, too, including a chapter on health called "Operating Instructions: Keeping the System Running Smoothly" which includes tips on avoiding "parking violations" (failure to get off the couch). Jukes includes everything a kid could want to know (and a few things they may prefer to ignore!) about operating the human body. And since I've never lived in a boy's body myself, I plan on reading it too!

There you have it. I'm going to return the other books, buy a copy of The Guy Book and slip it into Jerry's bedroom. That way he can read it in peace and quiet when he's ready. I'm going to xerox the health section, though, so we can read it together--I don't want to wait on that part because I want to be sure I'm giving him the information he needs to make conscious choices now, rather than later. It's all stuff I've said before but maybe hearing it from another voice (the author's) will make a difference.

January 6, 2009

You May Have Noticed...

that I haven't been blogging lately. Sorry. I'm taking a brief hiatus. We were out of town over the holidays, then my parents were visiting, now I'm going to see a friend in San Francisco. (Alone! Woo hoo!!) And my sister and her family are returning from Ireland (For Good! Double woo hoo!!!!!!) on January 19th. And we might go camping in early February. And Warren has been off so we're trying to clean out the office, but really we seem to be making more of a mess. Anyway, there's so much going on I've hardly been at the computer at all except to look up answers to the odd question from Jerry ("I wonder what's the longest a person has gone without taking a shower.") or to research fun things to do (we found an r/c airplane club nearby!) and find a new Japanese tutor for Jerry (the first lesson is today!). So blogging has taken a back seat, as has reading other people's blogs (sorry!). I expect things to settle down in mid-February but I'll try to get a few posts in before then. One piece of exciting news (not as exciting as my sister coming home, though) is that I'm thinking of joining The Compact. My friend Angela is doing it and I've been thinking of joining her but I'm hesitant because we plan on painting the inside of our house and that would mean I'd have to buy new paint. Maybe that's a lame excuse. Anyway, I'm still not buying other new things. Oh, except there's a new game we want to get and we thought we'd order a chemistry set for Jerry. See!? It's hard to get out of the habit of buying stuff! And how do you do it when you're educating your child at home!? Anyway, it's all good stuff to think about and even if we don't go whole hog and stop buying new stuff altogether we'll definitely be more mindful of what we choose to buy--and most of it will be used.

And speaking of buying used--now that Christmas is over I can show you what I made for my mom and my sister! I had so much fun making gifts this year that I think I'll do it every year.
I found a little kids table and chair set at a second hand store and bought it thinking I would give it to my brother and his girlfriend for their baby girl (due in April) but then I remembered that my mom has this cute little tea set and has always talked about having tea parties with Cora, my niece, and now Cora is coming back from Ireland and they'll be living with my parents for a while so my mom will need a little table. So I decided to paint it and give it to my mom.And for my sister I made a purse using an easy tutorial I found online. I used a piece of upholstery fabric I got from my very first job out of college (a fabric store for interior designers) that I've been holding onto for 17 years and I just love the way it turned out. Part of me wished she wouldn't like it so I could take it back and make her a different one!Inside the purse I put a collection of my favorite short stories. I xeroxed them from my own books and wrote an introduction, made a pretty cover, and bound the pages together. It wasn't until after I compiled the stories that I read them all again and realized how depressing most of them were! That's part of the reason I wrote an introduction--I had to warn her that reading the stories all in one sitting might lead to thoughts of suicide. So far she's still with us though, so I don't think they've had a negative impact. The stories I chose were:
  • In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried by Amy Hempel
  • Melinda Falling by Jincy Willett
  • Cathedral by Raymond Carver
  • Memories of Youghal by William Trevor
  • Shooting Dad by Sara Vowell (that one's an essay, not a story)
Anyway, I really just wanted to check in and say hello. I hope you all had a happy Christmas and I wish you a wonder-filled new year!!