December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

We've been up at my mom's place in Sacramento for the past week and have been having a great time. The day after Christmas we all went up to Tahoe to stay with my cousin and do a bit of family sledding. Here we are: from left to right this is my sister Jenny, her son Carson, my cousin's daughter Jessie, Warren, me, my brother David and his partner, Irene. What a fun day.

This is my cousin's son Tanner with Jerry.
My brother-in-law, Paul, with Carson and Jenny. That's Irene holding my niece, Layla, in the background.
My brother holding my sister's daughter, Cora.
Here's Carson. He told me the other day that his favorite color is red because it's the color of blood. :)
2010 is looking like it's going to be a good year. My brother seems to have gotten the job he interviewed for earlier in the week (after months of being out of work), my sister and her family are moving out of my mom's place and into their own apartment on January 15, and us, well, Warren is still unemployed with nothing on the horizon but we have money for another couple months in the bank and an offer to swap houses in a beautiful home in Point Arena ( a place among the Redwoods 3 hours North of San Francisco) in February. So I'd say things are looking grand!

Tonight we'll ring in the new year with family and friends and tomorrow we'll head back to L.A. so we can start 2010 at home.

Wishing you all a very happy 2010!

December 22, 2009

I'm Boycotting Sweden

I'm no fan of the HSLDA but this story on their site, about a family in Sweden whose 7-year-old child was taken away simply because the parents chose to homeschool him, made made me sick to my stomach. The courts recently ruled in favor of the government and cut back parental visits to one hour every five weeks. I only know what I read online, but it seems to me that this family could use our help.

Read about it here:
http://www.hslda.org/hs/international/Sweden/200912220.asp

Sign a petition urging Swedish officials to send the boy home here:
http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/return-dominic-johansson-to-his-parents

And (most importantly) if you'd like to write letters to Swedish officials, here are the e-mail addresses you'll need (you can find these with links at the HSLDA site listed above):

The social workers

sofi.rosenqvist@gotland.se
caroline.palmqvist@gotland.se

The social workers’ supervisors

kristina.djerf@gotland.se
marika.gardell@gotland.se

National officials

Prime Minister of Sweden Fredrik Reinfeldt
Telephone: +46 8 405 10 00
Mailing Address: Rosenbad 4, SE-103 33 Stockholm

Minister Maria Larsson
Ministry for Elderly Care and Public Health, Ministry of Health and Social Affairs
Telephone +46 8 405 10 00
Fax +46 8 723 11 91
Mail Address: Fredsgatan 8; SE-103 33 Stockholm

To email the officials above visit the webpage: http://www.sweden.gov.se/sb/d/2052

Local politicians and government leaders
Brittmarie.Fagerlund@lansstyrelsen.se
gustaf.hoffstedt@gotland.se
eva.nypelius@gotland.se
lars.thomsson@gotland.se
lena.celion@gotland.se
gotlands.kommun@gotland.se

Indian Ambassador to Sweden
ambassador@indianembassy.se

Dominic's father explains the situation (link):
Our son Dominic was removed from our custody by the Swedish Social Services with the help of the Swedish police force. What follows is a short story revealing the corruption of a few, dehumanizing actions and total lack of both responsibility and respect for basic human rights and freedoms in modern Sweden.

My name is Christer and the son of two very average hard-working parents. I was born in Sweden 1969 and raised in a rural environment where I developed and interest for helping animals, nature and people.

As a youth I found myself and my interests gravitating more and more introspective, one could say I am a very intellectual and inward looking soul, though I am social by nature. I have questioned life and how we live, looked at our values and tried to the best of my abilities to live them fully as best I can.

I believe in a simple practical healthy lifestyle and taking the time to help people and those less fortunate than myself.

In that spirit I found myself helping the local police where I live on Gotland and social organizations with "problem youth", creating new bridges of communication between parties and even assisting in ridding the island of Gotland I live on of violent criminal elements.

Having worked in social services I know well the value of a bit of citizen action and responsibility while looking out for ones fellow "man" so to speak, and would that more of us take such tasks upon themselves as well.

I have always found independent finance and support for all my projects. Whether it be my spare time or money from my own pocket.

When our newest project to help poor and homeless destitute children in India was developed almost 8 years ago, that was my attitude as well.

My wife Annie is an Indian citizen, and I was inspired by the challenges I saw in her home country to find a way to practically share my ideas and talents to help the suffering poor in ways to give them independence as opposed to seeking hand outs.

We created Mep Programs to establish the foundation for this in India in 2002. The idea was and is to help children by giving them the social and practical skills and support to take them out of the situations the find themselves in today.

Unfortunately for all involved we were all traumatized by a violent earthquake in Gujarat leaving over 16 000 people killed, and 600 000 people homeless.

We were on our way back home to Sweden from that tragedy when we were robbed of almost all our possessions and money on the way to the airport, and by the time we landed in Sweden we were both suffering from shock, overwork and depression.

Our son Dominic was to be born soon, and I was determined to be in top form for this welcome change in our lives, and the responsibility that incurs.

In order to keep on with our plans I decided to, with the recommendation of my doctor whom I sought help with, to go along with his advice and began taking a prescription of the anti-depression drug Seroxat.
(see youtube.com - taken on trust by Panormama BBC)
(I was advised to begin with 60mg)

This is where my story takes a downward turn.

I found myself in the unusual psychological state of even more heightened depression and angst. Having never suffered from such things I waited to see how things would develop. I figured it may have something to do with what I had experienced and also to be patient with the drugs. I found this to in fact be the opposite of what I had expected. After several months of worsening effects, I again asked for help and I was recommended increasing my dose of medication!

What followed was even worse and decided to take myself off the medication with the help of herbal medicines. After much research online I found the right substances and began my natural self medication (I am very weary of un-ecological and chemical products) which to my and my family's delight worked!

During the following years our son Dominic had cleared all the normal check ups and bills of health as any normal child would. Not only that, the doctors said that he had the mental capacity of a child two years his senior. (2006)

That being the case we continued our work with our test center on Gotland where we ran a working model of what we would like to see in India. This would help us iron out any problems and bumps along the way.

We home-schooled Domenic for a while (because we knew we are going to leave Sweden in a while), and contacted the Swedish school authorities for the requirements of doing so, and they kindly said all we needed to do was to contact the principal at his school to supply us with the appropriate study material etc. I have experience with schooling in my profession, which also helps me. My wife Annie is well educated and can teach on a University level!

Unbelievably, the principal not only denied us the material (which by law he was to supply us), he said openly he couldn't care less about our interest in human rights and decided to contact the social services to start an investigation of this situation!

Our project continued and during this time we tried on several occasions to help him, and those involved understand where we were coming from and to just relax about things.

They really seemed to be at odds with this, were uncooperative and at times hostile.

Well, during this time we had sold all our possessions, saved our money and looked forward to settling in with our project in India to get started with the practical works needed on site. With this in mind we bought our tickets, packed our bags and sat ourselves on the plane at Stockholm Arlanda airport, looking forward to a long flight and finally getting started.

But it was not to be so.

As the airplane was about to depart, it was stopped by the Swedish Police, who came onboard, took us all into custody at the airport and took away our son! We were completely surprised and shocked, my wife collapsed in a state of overwhelm and panic, no one was there to help, I tried my best to comfort her as she went in and out of consciousness. Her lips turned blue and her whole body had gone into a state of shock.

Finally I was able to resuscitate her, comfort her, though to this day she is understandably feeling extremely down, sad and in a state of disbelief. As an Indian citizen she could never have imagined such things happening in a modern western country.

Through all the madness, the brutal inhumane and complete disregard for basic human rights, the only reason for all this explained to us was the fact that our son Domenic had two bad milk teeth, which the social services deemed enough evidence to "kidnap" him away from us, and place him in the custody of some strange family.

As this gross negligence progressed and as we have fought day and night to get him back we have heard only the most pathetic and absurd excuses from the social workers responsible. Who have, by the way been pathetically unhelpful and downright uncooperative.

Our civil servants have cited the bad teeth, and a few anonymous letters as being the cause for the "kidnapping". Unbelievable, that a modern western country, in the EU would act like something out of a banana republic, with a dictatorship gulag mentality, with total disregard for family and the love between child and parents.

After a few weeks they changed approach and claimed we are bad parents, for no reason!

Who are these people who are responsible?

Obviously confused or unable to accept other cultures etc, individuals with the names of "Sofi Rosenqvist and Caroline Palmqvist", work for "Gotlands Kommun".
(sofi.rosenqvist@gotland.se - caroline.palmqvist@gotland.se)

The "Socialtjänsten" over here on Gotland has a history of over-reacting and complaints against them and their fellow co-workers are on our side in this regard.

What is happening right now, is our son Domenic is placed in an extremely stressful situation, we have little or no contact with him, his diet of organic healthy foods is non existent (when we finally got to meet him briefly he told us, under supervision how much candy he has been eating, ironic considering his so called bad teeth would be a central issue for their actions).

The more our lawyers look at this case, the more apparent that their is either total corruption and disregard for human rights within the social services to allow this negligence to continue

I am and have a background in social work, I am and have been working together with my wife to make this world a better place, and not just talk about it in endless meetings like so many beurocrats do.

I will and have worked with the police and other aspects of the social departments to help rid society of criminal elements, establish communication and responsibility with youth needing help and working on our project for the better part of 10 years.

That two misguided individuals would use the Swedish police to "kidnap" Dominic, to cite anonymous letters and bad teeth as evidence to do this is a dangerous precedent, it is without compare in an open and free society and indicative of the big social problems in society at large.

Their actions, decisions and continuing cover-up of the so-called evidence says more about their mental state of mind and lack of human compassion than any pathetic accusations towards us. What lay behind such claims and gross misuse of power?
(Difficulties to understand and respect a different life from the so called norm)

What sort of people separate children from parents without any evidence?

I am not sure, the attitude and actions are almost alien to me, but in comparison there must be some megalomaniacal feudalistic socialist beaurocratical fixation at work here.

I can only imagine that such actions are the work of persons unfit for such responsibility and positions of influence in the first place and that as this comes to light that the better elements of the modern Swedish social services will do the right thing and take care of this before our son sinks into depression and more mental stress. Annie is as well in a very bad state for the moment, and getting worse day by day for that matter!

We will continue our fight for our son, we will shed light on this situation as it develops with the blogs and media of the world asking that people look carefully at what is going on here. (swe blog http://www.mepprograms.org/omhandertagande.html)

We ask that anyone who cares and wants to know further the claims and details contact the public social services department at "Socialtjänsten Gotland" and ask any questions you feel.

Don't take our word for it, find out for yourself how incredibly preposterous and sadistic this situation is.
Please remember the people doing this are misguided human beings, so please remember to be polite as well.

If the Social Services on Gotland can take away a happy healthy young boy from his family (two persons who are socially responsible, working with a project to help needy and starving children, with a background in community services, cooperation with the police and with many other people in social services vouching for us) imagine what they can do to the average working person.

Imagine, at the supposed claim (we have not seen the attested letters or evidence of when they were supposedly sent) that someone complained that your child or children would be taken away from you.

The implications of this are terrifying, and the immediate effects on us all emotionally are almost unbearable, on top of this, our families in India are worried, and our project to help the poor and starving children of India sits on hold.

We hope for an immediate resolve of this gross injustice and a formal apology from those involved with reprimands to those responsible now.

Article written by Mark, with the help of Christer and Annie!


By Christer:
I would like to thank Mark for helping us with this article, and I would like to add a few things as well.

I'm no better then other people, I'm just a normal human being, trying my best to do what I feel is important both in my life and in this world. My family is maybe a little different from the norm, but, when did that become a crime?

I've red the Swedish constitution, and I have also read the mission that the Social Services are acting upon, and there actions against us are really not there, anywhere, so where do they come from?

Why this article?
There are courts to decide what's right in cases like this! Yes, there is... But when the Social Services and there lawyer started to lie and mix facts I decided to go public! The lawyer also added in the last meeting,
- They hate authorities!
Answer, No we do not, no matter what you try, I will never hate other people for what you have done and created!

The last thing I heard from the Social Services was, - Domenic is traumatized now, so he needs to be in a calm and peaceful environment. We agree, let him come home then! That is not a suggestion, that is our demand!

December 18, 2009

A Successful Meal!

We had dinner guests from Switzerland tonight and I was driving myself crazy trying to figure out what to serve. Because I don't have the menu planning gene, I was really agonizing over it. I looked through cookbooks, websites, magazines--but nothing seemed right. So then (and I should have thought to do this before) I called my sister who happens to be an amazing cook and right away she said, "Why don't you roast a chicken and make some macaroni and cheese to go with it? Then just steam some broccoli for a vegetable." So I did! And it was great!

I was so nervous about the chicken because I don't usually roast whole chickens (or any kind of chickens)--I tend to shy away from anything that screams "I was once alive!" and bones and blood fall into that category. (I was a vegetarian from ages 15-30.) But, I bought a whole cut-up chicken. I washed each disgusting piece. Patted them dry. Rubbed them with olive oil and a mixture of dry spices and salt and put them in a pan. Then stuck it in the oven. And it was really good! I'm sure I over cooked it because I was terrified that I might poison our guests at the very beginning of their American holiday, but the meat was still nice and juicy. And the macaroni and cheese was really good, too. Phew! I'm so relieved!

The Swiss family was really nice, too. They have two kids: a boy, aged 7 and a girl aged 10. And they brought us some lovely Swiss presents (including chocolate, of course!) We'd never met them before, but they'll be staying in our house while we're in Sacramento for Christmas. We organized it through the house swap site that we used for our trip to France. It'll work out really well because they need a place to stay and we need someone to feed the cats. It's a win-win situation!

And on top of all that I can now say, at the ripe old age of 41, that I know how to roast a chicken!

December 16, 2009

Avatar & Happy Day

Jerry and Warren went to the cast and crew screening for James Cameron's Avatar last night. Jerry loved it. In fact, love might not even be a strong enough word. He was exultant when the credits started to roll. He said he would watch it every day for the rest of his life if he could. He said it was perfect.

I wasn't with them because Warren could only take one guest and I was busy having a fabulous day to myself. I started off by signing papers at the lawyer's office (still working on Grandma Darlene's estate) in Orange County. Then I went to visit my Grandma Nolie for an hour (during which she asked me 52 times "what day is it?" I still love her, though.). And then (the best part of the day) I went to lunch with my friend Jeff. Jeff is my one and only best friend (not counting Warren) left in the L.A. area--all the others (OK, fine. Not all. Two.) have moved away. Anyway, it was great. But it wasn't over after I left Jeff''s! That's right, there's more! I went to my book club meeting and we talked about The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which I really liked in spite of the fact that I almost hurled it across my bedroom at one point towards the end. So I ended the day with wine and snacks and a discussion about a good book. Good day.

December 4, 2009

Why?! Why?! Why?!

So, Jerry has three close friends, right? He has Jackson, Shea, and Yulia.

Jackson and Jerry met at age 2 and spent the next 11 years glued together at the hip. Sure they went to different schools, but they spent every possible moment--that they weren't in school or doing homework--together. In the last year, however, Jackson has become more involved in school and school friends. He's been more difficult to get together with, and for the second year in a row Jackson made other plans for Halloween even though the two of them have a tradition of trick or treating together. So that's been hard on Jerry. He feels like Jackson is "dumping" him. I've been trying to figure out if Jackson is feeling like he and Jerry don't share the same interests anymore or if he really is just busy, and then the other day Jerry tells me Jackson has a girlfriend. Well, that explains it! So, Jackson has a girlfriend. Strike one.

Then there's Yulia. Yulia is the only person from our homeschool group that Jerry really clicked with. And boy did they click. They met a little over a year ago and formed a fast friendship. These two totally speak the same language. When he found out Yulia was moving, Jerry was devastated and since she moved to Texas (at the end of September) Jerry has really missed her. Strike two.

Then there's Shea. We met Shea when Jerry was homescholing in kindergarten, then lost touch when Jerry started school the following year. But in the past year Shea and Jerry have rekindled their friendship and it's been really great because Shea lives two minutes from our house. I love that I can just bop over and pick him up for last minute play dates. Well, I found out yesterday that Shea's family is moving--to Portland!!! Strike three!!

What is happening here!? Why is the universe conspiring to take all Jerry's friends away? Can somebody please cut the kid a break? I know he'll be gaining valuable life lessons from all this. Blah, blah, blah. But really? Does it all have to happen at once? He's having a hard enough time sorting out how he feels about Yulia leaving. And Jackson having a girlfriend. And now Shea will be going, too? Come on!

I know we can visit them. I know they'll have e-mail and Facebook. But Jerry needs some live, in-the-flesh friends that live in Los Angeles (preferably on the Eastside). Where the heck are all the anime and manga loving, video game playing, computer hacking teens around here? I know they've got to be out there. And I know some of them have got to be homeschooling.

But that's not really the problem. I'm sure Jerry will find other friends. He's already started developing a couple new friendships that I can encourage. The problem is they aren't his old friends. And he wants the old ones.

I can't stop thinking of the Billy Collins poem "On Turning Ten." Jerry's obviously older than ten, but I think he must be experiencing some of the same feelings. It breaks my heart.

On Turning Ten by Billy Collins

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I'm coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light--
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

December 1, 2009

Proud Mama

It's been a while. I know. So, here I am – playing catch up once again. I have to warn you, there will be bragging involved. I'm feeling so proud of Jerry today. Not for anything in particular. I'm just proud because he is who he is. And because he knows himself so well. He has such maturity when it comes to understanding his feelings and expressing himself – it just blows me away.

See, Warren is officially unemployed now, which means he's home. Watching Jerry. And being a bit, uh, judgmental about how he spends his time. At least that's how it started out. A few nights ago there was yelling (by Jerry), arms were thrown up in annoyance and despair (by Warren) and the word "school" and the phrase "turn off the TV for good" were heard during a private conversation between Warren and I. Needless to say, I was a bit worried at how the rest of Warren's unemployment would effect our unschooling.

See, Warren totally gets the educational side of unschooling. It's the lifestyle part that throws him for a loop. Specifically, he doesn't want Jerry staying up until 3:30 a.m. and he doesn't want him spending all day on the couch in front of the television (computer on lap, DS in hand). And I totally get that. But, as we learned when I kept track of how we spend our days (Jerry and I) he doesn't sit on the couch all day. In fact, he takes part in a wide variety of activities. Sure, some weeks are less active than others, but, in general, the television watching happens late in the day and well into the night (and early hours of the morning) when there's not much else to do anyway. So yes, there's a lot of TV. And, no. It's not "educational." It's not even Mythbusters. He's watching the Disney Channel.

But he's watching with an eye toward figuring out relationships. I realized it last night during another one of our 1 a.m. discussions. He was asking me about boys I liked when I was his age and how old I was when I had my first boyfriend (Newsflash: Jerry's best friend, Jackson, has a girlfriend!!) and he started to mention all these things he'd learned on the cartoon Sixteen. They were all about relationships. And they were true. (Rule #1: Never break up by text message.) Anyway, it was pretty amazing to see that he really does get more than we guess out of the shows he watches.

One thing I love about our late night talks is that Jerry asks me all kinds of questions and he wonders aloud about things. "I wonder what it would feel like to have both arms and wings," he said late last night. He was trying to figure out the mechanics of it all. How would the wings extend? Where would they be when they rested? What would make them unfold?

The other day – a day or two after Warren and Jerry had their argument – Jerry called a family meeting. He wanted to talk about how he and Warren could get along better. He was amazing. So mature and well-spoken. They both said how they felt and talked about ways they could show respect and kindness to one another. Then they had a pillow fight.

I could go on, but it would probably get very boring. Lucky for you, Jerry's doing a Pokemon ROM hack and he needs my help. So I'm off.

P.S. Guess who's learning the binary and hexidecimal number systems? That's right! Me! More on the mind-blowing conversion from decimal to binary later....