January 29, 2010

The Five-Minute University

Saturday Night Live's Father Guido Sarducci explains his model for university education.

January 28, 2010

A Good Laugh

I was cleaning out the piles and boxes and bags of papers in my office this morning and came across the weekly homeschooling schedule I had made back when we started homeschooling at the beginning of Jerry's 6th grade year. Wanna guess how long this plan lasted?*

*Hint: You can count the days on one hand.

January 26, 2010

Grandma's Anniversay

It's been a year since my grandma died. I went down to Old Man's Beach this morning to remember her. We scattered her ashes off the coast there because that's where her husband used to surf (well into his 80s!). It was a really lovely morning, kind of overcast and there were lots of surfers out in the water. I sat on a blanket and ate the small lunch I had brought from home, then I took a nice long walk on the beach.Kinda cancels out the pretty picture from the ball, eh? Anyway, it seemed like the perfect way to honor her and I'm really glad I made the trek down to Orange County so I could be in a place that had special meaning to her.

As I was writing this post I went back and watched the memorial video that Warren made for her funeral. What a gift to be able to hear her voice even after she is gone. Ain't technology grand?

January 25, 2010

Jane Austen Ball

The ball was so fun! I finally feel comfortable with most of the dances so I don't look like a deer caught in the headlights when my turn comes around--at least I hope I don't! The picture is me, Angela, and David. If Angela and I want to dance with David we have to snatch him up quickly before someone else does because men are such a hot commodity at the ball. Next year we might have two men. Angela's neighbor said he would go, so that will be nice. In the beginning it was a lot easier to dance with a man because sometimes keeping the parts straight is difficult. But on Saturday night I danced with lots of female partners as well an males and I think now that I'm more familiar with the dances I can switch between the two with ease. Anyway, it was loads of fun and I highly recommend going to any Jane Austen event you can find. I have some video which I'll put up as soon as Jerry shows me how to download it.

In other news, we've worked out another house swap! Yippee! We're going to swap with a family that has a house three hours North of San Francisco, in Point Arena. It's in the Redwoods and has a view of the ocean! And we get to bring our dog! Can you tell I'm excited? We're going the second week in February and will return just in time for me to start my classes the following week.

Also, I've started on a new healthier eating regime. And it's not nearly as hard as I thought it would be. I'm eating almost no diary, no white flour, very little wheat and tons of fruits, vegetables, legumes and quinoa. That's about it. Plus, I've been scouring the NYTimes site for recipes from Mark Bittman (the Minimalist) because he makes everything sound so easy. And that's what I need--easy. I just finished his book, Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating and I loved it. I also got his How to Cook Everything Vegetarian from the library and it's fabulous as well. I think I'll have to buy that one (used, though because I'm not buying new this year!).

Jerry is staying up until 4am or later these days and I do wish he'd go to bed a little earlier. It's very annoying to be a radical unschooler because if you're not going to set arbitrary limits (like bedtimes, in many cases) you need a very good reason to request that your child change his or her habits. And then if he or she doesn't really want to follow your suggestion there isn't much you can do because you can't just suddenly start being all authoritarian. It doesn't sit right. But Jerry looked a little like a zombie yesterday (there were no zombies at the ball, by the way--I thought there might be.) and I'm thinking he really does need to be in bed by 2. That way he can sleep until 12 (with the dog walking job he needs to be up by 12:30 at the latest) and still get a solid ten hours (which is his usual amount).

Anyway, I'm thinking of setting an alarm for myself so I can remind him to come to bed around 2. He's more likely to stop what he's doing if he has a gentle reminder about the time and he likes to be tucked in, so that might work. The only drawback is that I'll be looking like a zombie!

January 21, 2010

I Gave Good Advice!

Today I got a comment from someone on and older post (way back on August 28, 2008) so I went back and read what I had written all those months ago--and it was pretty darn good! I'm going to re-post it here because, you know, it's easier to cut and paste than it is to think up something new. And besides that, my "creative organizing" (i.e., slovenly ways) have gotten the better of me and I can't find the stupid piece of paper I need in order to register for my college classes, so I'm going to have to spend the day combing through every single, stupid, bloody piece of paper in my entire house. Ugh! A messy desk may be the sign of a creative mind, but I'm thinking a dash of order might come in handy now and then.

Anyway, on to better things....
Advice for the New Unschooler

We're coming up on our first homeschooling anniversary. And three days after that will be our first unschooling anniversary. Yes, we lasted a full three days in school at home mode before both Jerry and I were in separate rooms crying and I tossed my hands in the air (onto the computer keyboard, actually) and googled "unschooling."

I've been thinking a lot lately about what I would say to myself if I could travel back in time and give my new unschooler self a few words of advice from my not-so-new unschooler self.

The very first thing I would say is that she should throw the whole one month for every year in school thing out the window. You've heard that right? "It takes one month for every year a kid spends in school to rediscover his love of learning." Here's the thing about that: first of all, as the parent that puts you in a bit of a holding pattern. You're waiting for something to happen. You're looking for "learning" all the time. You can't wait for x number of months (it was five for us) to be over so the real unschooling can begin. But here's the thing about that: It's already begun. The unschooling started the day your child walked out of the classroom for good. It's going to look different as time passes and in the beginning it'll throw you off because either you might not see the value in what they're doing or it won't look anything like learning. But relax. Someday it will.

In fact, that's something else I'd tell my new unschooler self: Drop the word "learning" from your vocabulary. It might be different for other kids but my son came out of school with very strong feelings about learning--none of them good. So even when I insisted he was learning by sitting around playing video games and watching TV all day (even though I didn't have much faith in that at the time), I was still putting emphasis on something he didn't value. Now, I know Jerry does value learning. But when he is learning about something he enjoys (using Microsoft Paint to create new Pokemon, for example--that's what he's been up to lately) he doesn't consider it learning. To Jerry, learning is being forced to remember or do something that isn't interesting to him or has no relation to his life. To me, it's gathering information and creating a deeper understanding of the world we inhabit. But since our definitions are so different why not just lose the word altogether?

So what should my new unschooler self be doing while she's not talking about learning or looking for it in her son? Follow her bliss! This is one of the things I like best about homeschooling (and unschooling in particular because it seems to allow more time for this kind of thing). Have you always wished you'd paid attention in physics class? Get yourself a book and start reading about it. And when you get excited about something share it with your child. Don't share it in an "I want you to know this" way. Share in a "look what I just discovered--isn't it awesome!" way. Excitement is contagious. And though your child may never become excited about electrons moving from one atom to another or the second law of thermodynamics, he'll see that you're excited about learning (even though you won't call it that!) and that right there is a very important lesson!

Now, on to the big bad television and video games: In the last few months I've realized what a huge mistake it was to express my distaste for video games so loudly. Children are already bombarded with images of kids who like to play video games as losers. Compare this to kids who are obsessed with sports. How do we view those kids? We support their interest. We sign them up for team sports and encourage them to improve. But with video games we're just hoping they'll lose interest. So what message are we sending? Are we saying gamers really are losers? I think we might be. So I would tell my new unschooler self, right from the very beginning, to stop separating video game/computer time from other play time. In other words, try not to think of it as something "other" or bad.

I know this is really hard. My son was in a Waldorf school before we started this journey so we had serious restrictions on video game and computer use. We didn't ban them completely but they were not an option during the school week and on weekends he was only allowed a few hours of "screen time." But since the unschooling philosophy requires a parent to take her child's interests seriously, once we started unschooling I couldn't continue to look at Jerry's interest in video games as something that was worthless. By virtue of the fact that my son was interested in spending his time in front of the screen, the screen had worth.

For months I struggled with this. I was extremely uncomfortable with the amount of time he was spending in front of the tv, at the computer, or playing video games. I'm still not comfortable with the idea of spending all day in front of a screen but I keep my mouth shut--it's been a year now and he does it less and less. He finds interest in other things, seeks out my company and asks to play board games or draw or do things that I couldn't get him interested in when we began.

So I would also ask my new unschooler self--no, wait, I would insist--that she carefully consider the message she is sending to her child when she places negative judgments on the things that are near and dear to his heart.

I think that's it for now. I'm sure I'll come up with other ideas. In fact, if anyone else wants to put a similar post up at their own blog, I'd be happy to put a link to it here. I figure the new unschoolers need all the help and encouragement they can get. It's a rough few months when you're first starting out, questioning everything you ever believed about learning and parenting and trying to wrap your head around a style of learning that looks suspiciously like doing nothing. But once you make that paradigm shift "doing nothing" suddenly becomes "living joyfully" and things start to fall into place.

-written by me, on August 28, 2008
Less than thirty minutes later: I found it! I found the paper I needed after only 20 minutes of looking. It was in Jerry's desk of all places! I never would have looked in there except that Jerry's desk is now my desk, so I started cleaning it out and there it was! I can register for my classes now. Yippee!

January 18, 2010

NYC Here We Come!

That's right! We're going to new York! We've been saying we were going to go for ages, but now the tickets are booked and it's really happening. We've planned it so we'll be there for the release of the new Pokemon Heart Gold and Soul Silver games because Jerry's main reason for wanting to go to New York City is to visit the Nintendo World store and we're hoping there will be some sort of celebration or in store event for the big release. All three of our tickets were paid for with points on our credit card so the flight is only costing a $75 handling fee. And we'll (hopefully) stay with friends the whole time we're there--it's only a week. And we'll be there for Warren's birthday! So that's kind of cool. He's a little worried about money but I feel certain that we can get through the week without spending too much. If Warren has a job at that time, he'll only be able to stay for the weekend but I went ahead and booked his ticket for the full week just in case he can stay. I'll finally be able to see my friend Terri and her two boys, Jerry will visit his Mecca (Nintendo World), and Warren, well, he'll be along for the ride.

This has been such a great week. The best part was all the fun Jerry had with friends. He had three sleepovers this week (four if you count his cousin, Summer!).

On Friday night I went to see a Truffaut movie at the L.A. County Museum of Art called Mississippi Mermaid. I went all by myself and it was absolute bliss. The movie was so good and much funnier than I expected. Then, Saturday we had our dinner/game party, which was really fun (and hilariously funny). And the food turned out great. I made Taco salad, corn bread and apple pie, which everyone loved.

On Sunday I went to a dance class for the Jane Austen Ball and it was so. much. fun. I love dancing! It makes me so happy. I think I might start doing english country dancing more than just once or twice a year. And I'm also thinking about going back to salsa dancing because that was so fun and such good exercise. The only thing that keeps me from the salsa dancing is worrying that people might think I'm there for reasons other than dancing, but I've decided that I shouldn't care what people think. So if I can work it out I'll try to go dancing once a week. The guy that goes to the Jane Austen Ball with my friend, Angela, and I goes dancing once or twice a week and he says I'm welcome to join him so maybe I will...I just wish I had a local girlfriend that would go with me--still, I can't let that keep me from following my bliss onto the dance floor, right!?

Today it was pouring rain, but I went over to Sol's house (the 94-year-old gentleman who I help out) and had a really nice couple hours with him. Then I came home and lit a fire in the fireplace. Warren and I tried to watch a movie but the rain was so loud that we couldn't hear the dialog so we gave up and did some cleaning instead. I had to clean because I was looking for my missing book on baking bread. Luckily I found it and was able to make a beautiful loaf of bread with freshly ground flour from my grain mill! I just ate my first slice. :) And Warren just got home from returning Jerry's friend Nik to his parents. The boys had a great couple days together. They played XBox, got out some of Jerry old toys and played with those, made things with Legos, and just generally had a really great time.

Life is good. And the Jane Austen Ball is only six days away!!

January 15, 2010

LIFE is Good (Again!)

I (finally) made my hotel reservations for the LIFE is Good conference!! Yippee! I can't wait! I hit a glitch with the conference registration but I'm going to try again in a few minutes and hope that it'll work the second time around. If you're an unschooler and you live less that a thousand miles from Vancouver, Washington I urge you to attend. It's such a great time. This year I'm going to help out by pairing new conference goers up with seasoned conference attendees, so that newcomers don't need to feel out of the loop. I hope people will take advantage of the service because I think it will really help the first-timers to feel more included. At least I hope it will.

In other news, we've had an absolutely fabulous week. Jerry's new friend Kaiden slept over on Tuesday (after park day), then Summer came over Wednesday morning (have I mentioned how much I love having my niece come over) and we went to circus class, walked the dog (four people to one dog ratio), stopped at the store for ice cream, had lunch (and ice cream) at home, then I took Summer to our knitting group (in which we do way more visiting than knitting), came home, made dinner, watched "The Jerk" (hilarious), and Summer spent the night. Thursday morning Jerry had Japanese, then we walked the dog, picked up his friend, Shea, and Shea, Jerry, Summer and I headed over to Culver City where Jerry and Shea played D&D with two other boys while Summer and I went for a walk on the beach (I don't understand this fabulous weather we've been having, but I love it.) before I dropped her off at her dad's work. Then I picked up Shea and Jerry and brought Nik home, too. The boys played Nik's Halo game for a couple hours, had dinner, and then Nik's mom came to get him and I drove Shea home. Today I plan on recovering from the last few busy, very social days, and preparing for hosting a dinner party tomorrow night with the director and other editors from "Aliens in the Attic" (the film Warren worked on in New Zealand--by the way, have I mentioned that you should see the movie, buy the DVD, etc? Warren had a small speaking role as "Radio Announcer" in that movie, so he gets residuals!). So there's the dinner party tomorrow and then Sunday I'm going to dance class in preparation for the Jane Austen Ball which is a week from tomorrow! I love the Jane Austen Ball!!

So many good things all at once....

January 13, 2010

New Friends

So I mentioned a while back that Jerry's best friend was sort of drifting away. These things happen, I know. People grow apart. Blah, blah, blah. But it's just so painful when you're not the one doing the leaving. So I've been taking on all this angst and pain and letting Jerry's hurts be mine and wow is that a bad idea. It made me grouchy and sad and short tempered (and being sick didn't help). I guess if Jerry were my second or third child I would already know that I can't take on his battles. I can stand by and offer support, but it doesn't really do a lot of good for me to stand beside him and fight. Or for me to do his fighting for him. So I figured that out. And I stopped checking his friend's Facebook page. [Pathetic, I know. But I was trying to figure out a) Why he was so mean to Jerry on New Year's Eve (his girlfriend broke up with him), b) If maybe he's just been busy (doesn't seem like it), and c) If the meanness had extended to the internet (no).] And I decided to just accept the fact that friends change, it can be painful, and we all have to figure out how to cope.

I feel so much better now that I'm just the facilitator. I'm on the side, driving him to the opportunities where he can make friends. I'm scheduling play dates and sleep overs and I'm offering an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on when needed. I'm not spending all day thinking up new friend-making opportunities. I'm not wallowing in Jerry's pity. I'm just letting things be. And guess what? It turns out a person can just let things be and the sky doesn't fall.

So there you have it. My new motto. "Let it be." (Except for my house--we're purging and getting rid of stuff and organizing. I definitely do not want to let my house be.) Of course, just because that's my new motto doesn't mean I'll stick with it. But it'll be a good reminder to kind of mind my own business.

Anyway, the fabulous happy news of the day is that Jerry had a sleep over with a new friend last night! Yippee! And we have a new park day that we've been going to where I really, really like the other moms (there are only eight of us) and the kids. It's a bit of a drive but the location is lovely and there are a good number of boys there that are close to Jerry's age. And he likes it.

There's more good stuff I could write about, but Warren just started brewing coffee, put Tom Waits on the CD-player ('Ol 55) and put a piece of warm, buttered corn bread in front of me. It's raining outside, it's warm in my kitchen, and I need to go enjoy my life!

January 11, 2010

Lost Comments & A YA Reading List

All my comments are lost. That's sad new for any new unschoolers who are looking for advice, because in the early years of this blog most of the helpful advice could be found in the comments section. My role as the New Unschooler/Blogger was to freak out and make all kinds of mistakes and the commenter's role (thanks JJ!) was to talk me down and set me on the right path. I have the comments saved on my computer for now and hopefully will find a way to get them back onto my blog, but for now an important record of my growth as an unschooler is gone.

In other news, I'm helping my friend Terri with a new blog for her business. So I'll be posting here a few (or a couple...or maybe one) times a week. Those posts will be more general parenting-type stuff--no pouring out my soul. That only happens here. :)

Warren has been visiting his mom for the last two days and my house is a disaster. Since he's been off work he's the resident maid (when he's working we don't have one) and now that he's gone I can sure feel the difference. It turns out that the whole "clean as you go" thing actually makes a difference. Who knew?

Jerry got an XBox 360 for Christmas and has been catching up with his friend, Josh, in New Zealand and some local friends that he doesn't see much (or enough) via XBox Live. It's really cool.

I've had a cold (and now a sinus infection) since New Year's and have taken the opportunity to catch up on my young adult reading. I've read A Great and Terrible Beauty, When You Reach Me, Beige, Going Bovine, and An Abundance of Katherines. I think my favorites were Going Bovine, A Great and Terrible Beauty and When You Reach Me. Though, I enjoyed the others as well. In the adult category I read The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which I loved. I guess when I'm feeling sick it's easier (and probably slightly more interesting) to give you a reading list than an actual accounting of what's been happening (lots of nose blowing).

And with that, I'll say good-bye.