May 20, 2009

LIFE Is Good 2009 Review

This is my third attempt to write about the LIFE is Good Unschooling Conference. Let's hope it's charmed. In a few words: IT WAS GREAT!!!

In a few more...

The adventure began on Tuesday, May 19, when Jerry and I packed up the car (dog included) and started our first leg of the journey--the trip to my mom and dad's house in Sacramento. We were briefly delayed when I realized, in the Costco parking lot, that my debit card was not in my wallet. So we went back to the house where I searched and searched, and scarfed down a burrito from my new favorite taco stand (it was my fourth in a week--they're that good!). After about 15 minutes of solid investigation (OK investigation and chewing--I'm a multi-tasker) I thought to look in the change purse of my wallet and, naturally, there it was. So we went back to Costco where we purchased one of those gadgets that let us listen to an iPod (my Mother's Day gift) on the radio and we were off.

The drive flew by (thanks to The Golden Compass audio book--our second listen) and before I knew it we were at my mom's where my three-year old niece, Cora, jumped into my arms and gave me one of the best hugs of my life. Six-year-old Carson and Jerry were soon in the swimming pool and I passed the evening visiting with my sister and parents.

The following morning Jerry and I were on the road by 10 a.m. We started the journey off with a compilation CD Warren made for our Life is Good trip. The we moved on to more of The Golden Compass. We were thinking we'd stay at a motel a few hours south of Portland but when Jerry heard that Simon & Linnea were going to be at the hotel that very same night he was determined that we should make the drive all in one day. We made a stop in Ashland for lunch. Every person we met in that town went out of their way to be friendly--genuinely friendly, too. We met a guy with a gigantic wolf/dog named North (or Beast, depending on his mood), ate lunch on a lovely outdoor patio, and discovered a comic book store where they sell older manga for 50% off.

I realized when we were having lunch that my fellow unschooler and blogging friend, Becky, lives in Ashland so I sent her a quick message hoping she and her kids would be free, but we ended up leaving town before I heard back from her.

We left Ashland around 5:30 and pulled into the parking lot of the hotel around 10 p.m. Simon and his mom, Schuyler, happened to be in the hotel lobby when we dragged ourselves in from the car. And thankfully the hotel had a room available (even though our reservation was for the following night) so the weekend was off to en excellent start!

Since this was my second year at the conference, the experience was completely different from last year. It was different for Jerry, too. Last year we spent much of the time in our room. And as much as I enjoyed the workshops and being among people who shared many of my lifestyle choices and philosophies, I felt really isolated. Thankfully, Jerry made a few friends who we kept in touch with throughout the year, so we started this year's conference with a few friends in our pockets, so to speak. It made a huge difference.

Jerry had friends in and out of the room all weekend. I knew at least five people right from the start and I made an effort to introduce myself to many more. I went on most of the early morning walks and spent time sitting by the pool (even if Jerry wasn't swimming) just because both of those activities provided opportunities to meet people. Jerry ended up with a nasty flu bug (he wasn't the only one) and he wasn't really happy with the funshops, so he felt that last year's conference was better. But for me, seeing him with all those friends and feeling comfortable talking to my own friends (old and new) made this year way better for me.

Another thing I loved about this year was that just about every workshop I attended was led by an experienced unschooler who was very open about the doubts they've had, the worries they have (Yes, they still worry sometimes! Phew!) and the way the handle them. That was huge for me. It's such a relief to know that even the people I look to for guidance experience the same feelings of worry and frustration that I sometimes feel. What did I learn? Worries and doubts are part of parenting--all kinds of parenting. Unschoolers are not immune to them. So just because I fret and fear and, from time to time, let my mouth reveal thoughts that are better kept to myself, I'm still an unschooler. And even when I'm no longer "new" (and, really, after nearly two years--626 days to be exact--I'm not sure if the word still applies) I won't be a fraud just because I still freak out every now and then. Now that, my friends, is a huge relief.

Another wonderful, and entirely unexpected event occurred over the weekend. Diana entrusted me with some of Hannah's ashes. We're going to take her with us to France and place her someplace lovely. Diana said we'll know the place when we come to it. She said Hannah will lead us. I can't really explain the feeling of caring for the physical representation of the memory of a child's life. I feel as if I really am taking Hannah along and I feel especially honored to be entrusted with the task.

And I'm afraid I'll have to end here and write more later. I've been coming back to this post all day in between playing with my niece and nephew, going to the grocery store, reading Gods of Manhattan with Jerry, pruning my mom's rose bushes, taking the boys to a really cool trampoline place, and other things. I guess I'll have to write a LIFE is Good, Part II.

May 15, 2009

Life is Good Here We Come!

We going to the Life is Good conference! Yippee!! I thought we'd have to miss it but I just registered. The only drawback in this scenario is that we're going to have to drive. And it's a looooong drive from L.A. to Portland. The plan is to drive to Sacramento on Tuesday and stay at my mom's. Then drive as far as we can on Wednesday and stay at a cheap motel or, better yet, stay with a fellow Life is Gooder. It would be pretty amazing if that happened to work out but, stranger things have happened.

In order to placate Warren (he'll have to stay home because of work) Jerry and I have promised to get as much done around the house as possible. So we have a very busy weekend ahead of us. And once we leave we'll be gone for over two weeks because once the conference is over we're staying in Sacramento to wait for my sister's baby to be born. That's right, Baby O'Brien #3 is due to enter the world at the end of May and we're hoping he/she will cooperate by showing up sometime soon after May 27th and before June 3, because Jerry and I have tickets (front row seats!) for Video Games Live in L.A. on June 4th. So, we're keeping our fingers crossed that this baby comes at our convenience.

Now I'd better stop blogging and get busy!

May 14, 2009

Cat, Rat, & Me

The fun never stops. Last week (or was it earlier this week?) Ravenpaw got himself stuck in a gigantic eucalyptus tree, right? Well, last night I was sleeping soundly when around 2:30 a.m. I heard a meow--which meant Ravenpaw had finally come in through the dog door. We keep the cats upstairs at night so their playing and loud purring doesn't keep us awake, so I stumbled out of bed and up the stairs where I held the door open waiting. And waiting. It was dark and I couldn't see so I switched on the light. There was Ravenpaw at the bottom of the stairs and slinking its way up the stairway against the wall was a big gray rat. Alive. And moving towards me. Ravenpaw had brought in a live and very large rat.

One moment I was half asleep the next I was wide awake. I closed the door at the top of the stairs, hurried downstairs past the dazed rat, closed the bedroom and bathroom doors and assessed the situation. My feet were bare. They needed protection, so I went to my closet and pulled on a pair of cowboy boots as I formulated a plan. I would shoo the rat out the back door using something like a broom--except that the broom was upstairs in the kitchen. Instead I grabbed a long roll of butcher paper that happened to be in a corner of my closet. I opened the back door, left it that way, and headed up the stairs. But the rat was nowhere to be seen. Ravenpaw, however, was swatting at the inside of a shoe Jerry had left on the top step. Using my Sherlock Holmesesque powers of reasoning, I deduced that the rat was inside the shoe. I crept up the steps, grabbed a dish towel (I have no idea where the dishtowel came from) and stuffed it into the shoe. With a quick shove I put Ravenpaw upstairs and closed the door again. It was just me and the rat.

How to transport the shoe out the door without letting the rat out? I used the only tool I had at hand--the roll of butcher paper. I stuck the end of the paper into the shoe to hold the towel in place, and made for the back door, past a groggy Warren who had come out to see what all the commotion was about. One outside, I put the shoe down, ran to the door and closed it. Then I waited for the rat to come out. I waited. And I waited. "Who's out there?" Jerry called from behind his closed door. He was scared. "It's only me. Ravenpaw brought in a rat--I'm just putting it out." I was not about to tell him how I had managed to transport the beast. Luckily Jerry stayed put.

The rat stayed put, too. In Jerry's shoe. So I crept out the door, flung the dishtowel out of the shoe, ran back to the house and close the door. Finally, the rat came out, took a quick look around, and he was gone.

Of course, with all that adrenaline running through my blood (or wherever adrenaline runs) it took forever to fall back to sleep.

This morning when I crawled out of bed and checked Jerry's shoe there was a little mouse turd inside. Poor guy. Ravenpaw scared the shit out of him.

May 12, 2009

Hometown Tourists

A lot has happened in a just a few days--and it's all good. Let's go back to last Wednesday, the day before our guests from England arrived. I took Sol, my 93-year-old friend, and his lady friend, Annalise, to Royal Palms State Beach for our monthly "field trip." We saw some crazy geology.And found some very cool, weather-beaten rocks.Then we stopped by the beautiful Wayfarers Cathedral for a quick look around.Thursday afternoon our guests from England arrived. I picked them up from the airport, dropped them off at the house, booked over to the valley to pick up Jerry's friend Jackson at school, dropped the boys off at computer class, and raced back home to get ready for (drum roll, please) The Lebowski Fest!!!!Jesus was there (there were a few, actually).And the original Dude, Jeff Dowd, made an appearance.
The movie night was fun and all but the some seriously obnoxious guys sat right behind us shouting out lewd remark for most of the show. So that was kind of a drag. But we still had fun. The most fun, however, was had at the bowling party the following night.Warren and I donned our "Achiever" t-shirts and bellied up to the bar for a couple "caucasians."
The costumes were hilarious. Here's Cynthia, Walter's ex-wife.Here we have one Dude and a few Walters.
I'm not sure which was more disturbing. Bunny...Or the landlord. I think maybe bunny.
Inanimate objects were big. Here's the Dude's toilet. There were also rugs, Folgers coffee cans, and white russians.
For more (and better) photos check out the LA Weekly site.

Friday afternoon Warren went off to work and Jerry, Jackson and I took our guests to Universal Studios (where I neglected to take a single photo). Saturday we toured L.A. We started off with huevos rancheros at one of our favorite taco stands, dropped Nick and Elle off in Hollywood where they spent a few hours on Hollywood Boulevard, then picked them up for a visit to the La Brea Tar Pits, a drive through Beverly Hills and down Rodeo Drive, and a stop at the original Farmer's Market and the Grove.

On Sunday (Mother's Day) Warren and Jerry made scones and we all took a picnic breakfast up to the Griffith Observatory. Here's Nick and Elle at breakfast (we had our picnic at the tables just outside the cafeteria). Here they are with Warren and Jerry enjoying the view. I love this building.Jerry, Nick and Elle went into the Observatory for a quick look around while Warren and I sat on the grass taking pictures of ourselves.
Then we went to the Hollywood Farmer's Market.Then Venice Beach.
On Monday we went to the San Diego Zoo. I hadn't been there since I was even younger than Jerry so it was like visiting for the first time. The Panda made it onto to everyone's favorite animal list.As did the hippo. It's hard to see with the reflection but the hippo was leaning right up against the glass, resting his head on a rock. He was just inches away from our fingers.The meerkats were a big hit, too.
And the sloth bear was good for a laugh.
We had so much fun seeing our home town through the eyes of out of town guests. Nick and Elle are up in San Francisco for the next few days. They return Saturday night for their flight home on Sunday. Next time I hope they stay longer. But thanks to our hospitality exchange we can look forward to more guests next month!

May 6, 2009

Out On A Limb

We had a little excitement here yesterday. Ravenpaw decided to climb up the eucalyptus tree in our front yard and ended up stuck on a branch about four stories high. See that little black smudge on the photo below? That's him. I called the city's nonemergency hotline number and said "My cat's up a tree and I'm not sure what to do about it. He's too high for a ladder." To which the phone attendant replied "Ma'am, the fire department does not get cats out of trees." Hasn't she ever been to a movie? I admit, I didn't really expect the L.A. fire department to come racing over, but geez. She could have been nicer. Her solution? "The cat got himself up there. He can get down."So I stood on the driveway urging him on. "Come on Ravenpaw. You can do it!" He responded by meowing loudly and climbing the verticle drop to the lowest branch of the tree. But there was still a good 15 feet of trunk beneath him. S0, I put my inventor mind to work and came up with this handy cat saving contraption.I stood up on a ladder and held the stick/box contraption out as high as I could, letting it rest on the bougainville for support.

And he jumped into it! He still had to jump down about three feet to get to the box but he made it.That wasn't the only animal fun we had yesterday. I found the complete skeleton of a baby bird in an old nest that was in one of the pots hanging on our chimney. I took out the nest, showed Jerry (who was utterly disgusted) and put it aside so I could box it up and take it to park day. Did I think to put it up high where animals wouldn't eat it? No, because it was already dead. Why would anyone eat a skeleton? Well, my dog ate it. The entire skeleton! I guess it's a bone (or several) and dogs do eat bones so maybe I shouldn't be surprised. But still. Bleck!

The house clean up is still moving ahead. Jerry finished my raised vegetable beds (I ended up helping).We have furniture on the patio we built and I bought a climbing fig to plant along the back wall.And most of the weeds are gone. This photo is actually kind of misleading because there are still a bunch of weeds just outside the frame. But still, all that dirt was covered in weeds just a month ago. Soon I'll be planting my vegetables!!

May 4, 2009

Blogging Again

I'm going to try to get back into the habit of blogging again. We'll see if my home improvement obsession allows room for sitting at the kitchen table in my pajamas every morning telling the world the fascinating story of how I spend my days.

I'm sure you're all dying to know if I really am dying of lung cancer. The answer is no. It turns out I've been having an asthma attack. For three months. Here's the thing about me and asthma. I got it late in life--in my early twenties. So I'm not used to it. I keep thinking I don't really have it. Or I do have it--but just a little. When I first got my inhaler I would only use it if I absolutely had to. Like if my other option was to go to the emergency room. Because have you tasted albuterol? It's disgusting.

Here's how it would work: I'd be unable to breathe so I'd try to relax and breathe slowly and deeply. I'd still be unable to breathe so I'd make a pot of coffee (usually around 3 a.m.) because I heard somewhere caffeine helps with asthma. I'd drink coffee on the couch while watching infomercials (because this was pre-Tivo) and, unbelievably, I would still have trouble breathing. Finally, I would accept the fact that I was either going to have to go to the emergency room or use my inhaler. So I would go into the bathroom with a big glass of water, dig out the inhaler from the deepest recesses of the medicine cabinet, coat my tongue with toothpaste, shake the inhaler for about five minutes (more about avoidance than following instructions), and, finally, I would use the inhaler. But only once--even though the instructions say to use it twice. Then my heart would start to race and my hands would start to shake, but, at last, I would be able to breathe and, around 5 a.m., I would go to bed.

Eventually (after many years) I got to the point where I could use the inhaler without the toothpaste. But I still have to have a big glass of water nearby. And I still only use it when I absolutely have to--but long before going to the emergency room is an option. I don't use it just for wheezing because then I'd be using it all the time. I'm always wheezing. But, according to my doctor (and my mom) it's not normal to be wheezing all the time. Sheesh.

So now, after that last doctor visit, I have to take an inhaled steroid twice every day. And I have to take a pill! Me. I'm not supposed to need medicine! I'm just supposed to be healthy! My body is supposed to heal itself! I hate medicine! What is happening here!?

It's very annoying, but I must admit that being able to breathe without wheezing is pretty nice. And the new medicine doesn't taste nearly as bad as the old stuff. And I guess I shouldn't complain because asthma is a lot better than dying of lung cancer.

So that's that. I have two other bits of exciting news. 1) I bought two Erte silk screen prints back in the early 90s for $250 for the pair and it turns out they're worth $500-700 each! So I've consigned them to an auction house and they'll be in the art deco sale this fall. 2) We're getting new toilets today!! Woohoo! And one of them is free!! It's a $400 toilet that our plumber is giving us. Granted, it's used. But the customer didn't use it for long before he had the plumber take it out and install a different one. I looked the toilet up online and it got great reviews--everyone (except that one guy who bought it, apparently) loves it. So, our plumber is giving us that toilet, we're buying another one, and the plungers are going in the garage!! Yippee! (By the way, we love our plumber. If anyone in the L.A. area needs a recommendation for a plumber e-mail me and I'll give you his number.)

On the home improvement front we had a very busy weekend. We painted our new door, pulled weeds (lots of them), moved the table and chairs from the front yard to the back where they now sit on our new patio, oiled the wooden table we bought on Craigslist, prepped the window opening and sill where the old window was removed so I can paint it today, and chose a plan for raised vegetable beds which Jerry will build for me (I'm paying him $50). And I still had time to play a D&D game with Jerry on Saturday morning at the monthly D&D meet up and go to the homeschool dinner dance on Saturday night.

By the way, have I mentioned lately that I love our homeschool group? We went on a train trip to Santa Barbara with the group on Thursday and had such a great day. Then we had the dance on Saturday, which was awesome. So, once again, I've been thinking about how lucky we are to be part of such a fabulous homeschooling community.

In other news, we have visitors from England arriving on Thursday! The older brother of the girl Jerry shared a hospital room with in England (after his cycling accident three years ago) is coming over with his girlfriend. They're staying for 10 days but will spend part of that time up in San Francisco. We're going to the San Diego Zoo with them on Monday and will spend a few days showing them the local sites.

We also have two familues from New Zealand coming to stay with us. One in June and one in Septemeber. They're both from the home exchange service so we've never met them. (We said in our listing that we'd be happy to host people.) Plus, we have friends (people that we do know) from New Zealand coming to stay in August. So our summer is already looking full of new and old friends and exciting adventures!