Tuesday, December 30, 2008

spindle christmas to you


Here's a Bosworth Midi. Gorgeous. The shaft is ebony, and the whorl is pink ivory. It seems to be wood, though, so I'm waiting to hear from Sheila Bosworth about just what kind of wood it is.

And this is a Hatchtown Spinimal. Very cute, no?

Ok, I am a hopeless geek. I'm going back to my cave now.

Friday, December 19, 2008

cricket romps


We have a new dog. Recca developed a brain problem shortly before Thanksgiving, and deteriorated very quickly. We (ahem, I) decided we were now dog people, so we (that is, I) immediately started looking for a new dog. I found her, at a local shelter. She's mellow and polite, friendly and gentle to the kids, playful outside, and she completely respects the cats. In fact, she's more respectful of our cats and their space than Recca was, and Recca was blind and old.

She doesn't seem to have any real flaws. She is not perfectly trained in every respect, but she comes when I call her, sits, and is perfectly polite about food that's not hers. She's small, so she doesn't take up more than a person's worth of couch. (and yes, she is allowed on the couch. My grandmother would be rolling around in her ash can if she knew. But I want a companion dog, not a hunting dog who lives outside. So she's in, and she sits on the couch with us.)

I'm going to do clicker training in a class with her starting in the next month or so. Just cuz I think it would be fun, and because I don't really know what I'm doing, in terms of training a dog. But so far, so good, and I think she'll be very easy to work with.

And she gets me out of the house in a blizzard, which is really quite an accomplishment.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

We learn from each other, all the time.

This is how you do this. And I didn't know that before.

Monday, November 17, 2008

a conversation last thursday

Little: What are you doing, Mama?
Me: I'm writing some things in my calendar, so I remember the things I have to do. Did you know I'm going away for a whole weekend soon?
Little: No! Where are you going?
Me: I'm going to take the train to a spinning class in Michigan.
Little: Mama! That is a big waste of time! You don't need to take that class, because you are not going to be spinning the rest of your life.
Me: Oh, really? What will I be doing instead?
Little: Being with me.
Me: Oh, so anything that takes me away from you is a waste of time?
Little: That's right.

Glad we got that straight.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

the deluxe home for retired hunting dogs

My dad is a bird hunter. He keeps bird dogs, and has all his life. Most of his bird dogs have never made it to retirement, for one reason or another. Each dog was useful until the day it died. Not so with Recca, who developed diabetes a little over a year ago and became blind about six months after that. This makes Recca pretty much completely useless as a bird dog.

We've been toying with the idea of bringing Recca home to our house, on and off, ever since her diagnosis. We tried it once last summer for a few days, and it didn't go well. She was really active (as working dogs are, of course,) hardly ever sat still, and she was WAY too interested in my cats. And while I am all for taking care of an animal in need of a home, I don't think it makes sense if it creates a lot of stress for the kitties who already live here.

Mom and Dad are away on their annual bird hunting trip out to Iowa, and we decided to give Recca another try. She's almost completely blind now. She can only see light and shadow. The cats are an interesting shadow, nothing more, and certainly nothing she can get close enough to to get her teeth around.
Here you can see her showing interest in a cat hiding under the laundry rack. That's Pepper, by far the boldest of our three cats, and she's close enough for Recca to smell her, but Recca (as you can see) is 'looking' in the completely wrong direction. The cats have no worries.

It's a cushier life for her here. At my dad's house, she lives in a dog house with an attached outdoor run. Here, she's got a cushy memory foam bed, right next to a heating vent. She gets to be a part of family life a bit more. She can wander into the living room to see what the kids are doing, wander into the kitchen to see when her supper's coming.
And she gets to go out. A lot. Because the only problem we're really having with her is that she is pretty much used to getting up from her bed (the dog house) and peeing a couple of feet away, in the outdoor run. Not such a great habit in a house dog, which is what we need her to be if she's going to stay here.

The cats have decided that they can just live upstairs for now. We're going to keep working on the peeing inside thing. I'll keep you posted.

Oh, and that other thing? That really momentous thing that just happened all over our country? I'm speechless. I'm so happy that for once the Republicans have their collective tails between their collective legs, that for once they are talking about reflecting on their message and their mission so that they can be more relevant to voters. And I'm a little ashamed to admit it, but I'm so happy that they are the losers. For once.

May we get four good years, and four more after that. I'm proud to have helped elect this president.

Friday, October 31, 2008

conventional wisdom=da bomb

Warning: heavy analogy use ahead.

You know how they say that after you experience a major change in your life, like a divorce or the death of a partner, or a job loss, you should wait a year for things to sift out before you make any major decisions? I think I might have some insight into why that's a really, really good idea.

When my school closed last fall, after I'd been part of it (and it a part of me) for close to seven years, I grieved. It felt, truly, as though a sister or a very close friend had died. I think part of the reason might be because I'd been deriving much of my identity through my work at the school. I was a teacher first, and a mom second. Offering progressive education in this decidedly non-progressive city felt like a really important mission, and much of the meaning in my life came from my work. When I was exhausted from work struggles, I could at least know, at the end of the day, that I'd done more good than harm.

When it died, all that was gone, and last year was a very, very difficult time. I didn't know what to do with myself. I felt that I wasn't really accomplishing anything, from day to day. An important character in my life story had just been vaporized. I felt like I'd lost my best friend. I kept waking up in disbelief, only to have the reality of it crash around me once again.

Add to that the particulars of the death: it wasn't as if my beloved friend (the school) died a natural death, or even a sudden death. It was protracted, and painful, with much dissent among family members about when and even whether to pull the plug. The years leading up to the end of my school were agony.

When it ended, I felt profound relief, but then I had to figure out what to do with myself. Homeschooling was no more than an emergency, stop-gap measure. I would gladly have gone back to teaching if I could. I worried that I was doing the wrong thing: that I really should be working my ass off to create a new school in this community, that it was a fool's mission to focus so heavily on my own children, when they will, more than likely, be just fine, no matter what kind of schooling they receive. My "real work" had been working with other people's children, and it felt somehow morally wrong for me to turn my back on them.

And now, suddenly, a year later, everything has shifted. It's not so much that my life and my work are now suddenly imbued with moment and importance. Editing and tutoring are hardly the stuff of profound meaning; if I don't do these things, someone else will, just as well or better. It's more that my perspective has changed. I can handle it, suddenly. I can face a long, crazy day of running around to lessons and playgroups and teaching commitments with peace and a smile, rather than a groan. I don't need quiet, quite as much. I'm not finding myself sitting on the couch escaping into a novel, day after day. I don't feel sad anymore.

It's been a year, and I think I'm ready to put the school behind me.

This imbues everything I'm doing with a new sense of purpose. Now that it's clear that TSS is really, truly gone, and isn't coming back, my most important work is clearly the work I do with my own children. I'm excited about homeschooling this year, and more relaxed about it at the same time. I want to make their early school years what they really should be, and I'm ready to find out about how to do that.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

working on the house

Last summer (07) I was consumed with worry over the looming demise of my school. I didn't accomplish much other than a whole bunch of sock knitting. This summer (08) we got a lot done on the house, and I still added several new pairs to my sock drawer.

We scraped and painted the side of the house, and worked on the porch spindles:

I also installed a much-needed and long overdue walk around the front garden. I got concrete pavers for this project. It was easier and cheaper than the flagstone I'd planned, and I was pleased with the result:

I really want to get back to my thinking (out loud) about alternative education, but I am so freaking busy actually alternatively educating, I just don't have time. I'm hoping to get back into it after the fall semester ends and my adjunct teaching responsibilities end. Until then, I'll leave you with a link to my new favorite Camp Creek Blog. I agree with almost everything she has to say, and that's really saying something. Thanks to JoVE of Tricotomania for turning me on to a new blog.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

let's see if I remember how to do this...

Well, now that I've neglected the blog for over a month and completely lost any readers I might once have had, it seems a good time to reveal that I am now completely, devotedly, overwhelmingly obsessed with spinning.

I've learned a great thing about knitting in the last month or so: that its start-up costs are very low. Buy a couple of pairs of needles, a skein or two of yarn, download some simple beginner pattern from the internet, and poof! You're a knitter.

Not so with spinning. What follows is a sort of tour of my recent spinning acquisitions. Please be gracious and DO NOT add up everything I've spent on this stuff, and especially do not email that information to me or to anyone related to me. The good news here is that in addition to a new obsession, I also have a few new jobs, so it's all coming out more or less even.

Now then, here is my spinning wheel.
Yep, it's a Ladybug. I pretty much love it. I mostly love how cute it is, and how well-constructed, and how modernist it is in its construction and design. It spins well, too, although I am still learning. I'd like a smoother and mellower take-up, but I think I'll adjust (and keep tinkering).

Here's Little, treadling away:
I'm spinning every day, but mostly not on the wheel. At some point in the last month or so, I ordered a few spindles from Carolina Homespun, and wow! I love spindling more than I love knitting! That big fancy spinning wheel up there is mostly being used for plying, because I am doing the vast majority of my spinning on spindles. They're portable, they're beautiful, they're impeccably made, and they are completely trouble-free. If you can spin, you can spin on a spindle. The wheel is relatively fussy: get it out of whack in some way and you're not spinning. There is nothing to go wrong with a spindle. And so, I have (ahem) more than a few.
In the vase is a Schacht Hi-Lo, a big one made by Jim at Susan's Spinning Bunny, and a Cascade Shuksan. The tiny ones are a Bosworth mini and a delightfully light and pretty one by True Creations. Here's a close-up:

The little True Creations spindle has some pygora on it, which comes from a goat (!) which would be my first ever non-sheep spinning. It is incredibly soft, and very slippery.

Here's a Cascade Mt. St. Helens with some merino and silk:
And a sweet small True Creations spindle, with some Ashland Bay merino on it:
And my very first favorite, bestest spindle, also by Jim at True Creations:
It's bigger than any of my other spindles, and it spins f o r e v e r. When I first started spinning on it, I kept looking down to see if I needed to give it another whirl, and it was just spinning. Still. Over and over, it just kept spinning. It's now got me completely spoiled.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

first day of school

When I was a kid, my mother took a picture every year, on the first day of school. It was always my brother and me, at the end of our driveway, ready to get on the school bus. Some years she actually got a picture of the moment we stepped onto the bus. New shoes, new clothes, new backpacks, you know the drill.

Here's mine for this year. Today was my first ever day of teaching graduate school. Imagine that. I'm afraid I still look like a student, but the actual students didn't ask to see my ID or anything, so I guess I fooled them.

I'm teaching a curriculum class for pre-service teachers in their first semester of a two-year master's degree. The class is about how to make the work we do in elementary classrooms more interesting, more fun, more holistic, better for kids. I'm hoping it's going to be fun, for me and the students.

Here's what I asked them today: Why are you here? What are schools for? What do we as a society hope to accomplish by setting up schools and classrooms? What do you hope to accomplish as a teacher?

Here's what I'm asking you: What do you think these pre-service teachers should know, about schools, about teaching, about kids, as they enter this profession?

Monday, August 25, 2008

in which we (attempt to) resume our previously scheduled life...

My identity theft problem is not over yet, but it feels contained. I still have plenty to do, but it has ceased to be an all-day-every-day crisis. I have thoughts about the whole process (advice! ruminations! wonderment!) but I'll save those for another day.

Today, it's all show and tell. Here is some yarn I spun:

Here is the yarn I'm currently spinning, along with the only spinning equipment I have at the moment:

I've sold my spinning wheel, to a friend who is delighted, and I've ordered a different wheel, which will delight me even more, with any luck. More on this later.

My spindle is sitting in an improvised lazy kate, otherwise known as a section of tree branch with a hole in it, carefully cut and drilled by Joe himself. It actually functions quite well. I use it to hold the spindle upright while I wind the single into a ball. I've been plying using the flowerpot method, in which each ply is in a ball with the end going through a hole in the bottom of a flowerpot. It works great, and doesn't require a tensioned lazy kate. The balls stop rolling around when you stop pulling on them. Low-tech, effective, love it.





Joe's also been working on this:
He's doing a way better job than he really has to be doing, but I can't complain. It's going to look great. I'm supposed to get out there and start painting, but I want all the sanding done first. Really, I'm so difficult, aren't I?

The garden blooms whether you notice it or not, this time of year:

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

how I love my husband

Joe is really coming through in a crisis, folks. I always knew this about him, but it can be hard to remember when you are, well, between crises. The latest crisis is this identity fraud mess, and it has hit the Deluxe household like a ton of bricks. Or at least me, anyway. The kids are pretty much oblivious, but last week? Ugh, last week, my means of asking for help was to, uh, shout at Joe that I'm really upset, okay? And that telling me it's all going to work out is not helping, okay?

Over the weekend, I got a little perspective, realized that everyone I'm working with on this is just doing their job (including the scammer) and my job is to keep my cool and be as friendly and sweet to everyone as I possibly can. You know that saying, "Be nicer than you have to be, because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle" ? That's been my mantra this week. It's helping, a lot.

Anyway, this post was supposed to be about Joe.

Here's what he's done since I calmed down and got a clue.

1. He took yesterday off work to sit by me as I played phone jockey with credit card companies and credit reporting agencies.

2. If I needed a phone number, he found it.

3. If I needed to figure something out and/or make a decision, he looked at it, thought about it, and helped.

4. He accompanied me to the police station to pull a copy of my police report. (You don't know this about me, but the police make me nervous. Actually, I should say that the police used to make me nervous. Right about now they're looking like heroes. Along with my homeowner's insurance company's fraud experts. Go figure.)

5. He used his considerable people-finding expertise to track down the real name and police blotter history of the scammer who has chosen to take a dump in the middle of my life.

6. He made pizza on the grill, just because I expressed an idle curiosity about how that would taste.

I love him. Love love love him. I'm keeping him, forever.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

bikini manifesto

It has come to my attention that some people think that people my age shouldn't wear bikinis at the beach. As MadMad says, if you're over 35 and in a bikini, you're either showing off, or you don't look as good as you think you do. I regularly wear bikinis to the beach, and I plead guilty to all three charges: I am forty, I've had two kids and I'm not a triathlete, so I don't look as good as I did when I was 16, but I look pretty good (you know, for an old lady) and in my weaker moments, I have been proud of that fact.

I want to take back the bikinis from the 16-year-olds. MadMad says those of us on the shadier side of 35 should just accept reality and wear skirted tankinis. I don't wanna. I have a position, based on my decades of experience with bathing suits.

My position is this: bikinis are comfortable. They are more comfy than anything else I've ever worn to the beach. It is my belief that if everyone were blindfolded at the beach, and if therefore the way we looked didn't matter, then everyone--fat and thin, young and old--would be wearing bikinis. In other words, womens' reluctance to wear bikinis stems from a discomfort with how they are seen, rather than an internal experience of how they feel.

Bikinis are totally adjustable. If you're feeling a little bloated, you just tie it to fit. If you want to swim, you tie it a little tighter. On a hot day, they're the best: no extra fabric around your middle making you sweat. They don't ride up in the seat, because the top isn't attached so it can't pull it up. Brilliant.

At the end of the day, though, that's when a bikini really shines. Don't you hate that feeling of walking off the beach (and then going about whatever it is you have to do next) with your bathing suit under your clothes? With a bikini, you don't have to. Put your clothes on, untie the straps, and slip the bikini off. Easy, discreet, and done.

So why should the sweet young things with perfect bodies be the only ones who can wear bikinis at the beach? Why do any of us have to even aspire to that level of perfection to be, hello, comfortable?

I have to admit that I didn't always feel this way. It was a trip to Hawaii that really opened my eyes. My brother and his family live on the Big Island, and everyone, I mean everyone, wears bikinis there. If you see someone in a one-piece, you know she's a tourist. Doesn't matter if you're not feeling fit and pretty, it's just what is most comfortable. Even the old ladies. Even the extra large old ladies. I'm not kidding.

And if they can do it, so can I.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

learning all the time

I am having a wild and crazy time, my bloggie friends, and I don't mean that in a good way. I'm learning so much about myself.

1. I shouldn't tell people when I'll blog or what about, because I'm bound to rebel.

2. Caffeine is bad for me, and it's even worse when I'm quitting.

3. I don't need to take on any more cats, projects, children, teaching opportunities, or anything else. Particularly not when quitting caffeine.

4. It's pathetically easy for unscrupulous persons to steal important information for the purposes of credit card fraud, particularly when the victim is generally lazy and trusting about leaving one's mail in the mailbox for hours and even days, and careless about what sorts of papers she puts in her recycling.

5. Once said identity theft is discovered by the victim, she can expect a great deal of hassle, hours spent on the phone, and to feel generally paranoid about neighbors and strangers alike. It also bears mentioning that the sort of person who is lazy, careless, and trusting about mail and recycling is also likely to be the sort of person who will find it particularly challenging to spend hours on the phone with automated systems and credit reporting agencies.

6. The police can be helpful, friendly, thorough, and just as helpless as teachers are, in the context of a broken system.

7. A cat who poops on the floor is not the end of the world, even though it might have seemed that way a mere week ago.

8. None of this is any fun in the middle of quitting caffeine.

Have I mentioned that I'm quitting caffeine this week? I highly recommend it. It's great for your stress level, and will make just about everything else you try to do so much easier. Really, go ahead. Get off that caffeine, and then tell me all about it. Misery loves company.

Next week will be better, I'm sure of it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

change of plans

It rained all day today. We did very little that we intended to do, and that includes blogging about etiquette books. Instead, we watched three movies: The Queen (with Helen Mirren, fabulous), The King and I (with Yul Brenner, also fabulous), and finally, Monsters, Inc. (love Billy Crystal).

We also went bowling and to the library. As a result of all this laying about, my house is untidy in a fun and friendly way, and Little feels like this:
Goofy? Exhausted? Absurd? You decide.

Tomorrow, I bring you a fascinating etiquette book written by none other than Eleanor Roosevelt.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

etiquette week, day two


We jump ahead almost 70 years with today's post, with a book published in 1952: Amy Vanderbilt's Everyday Etiquette: Answers to Today's Questions. I think I got this at a thrift store. Times have changed since 1887, and the book is clearly commenting on a world we would see as similar to ours: there are sections on Business Etiquette, and Divorce, Separation, and Widowhood. It is still quaintly out of date, however. Here's a question and answer about dining in a restaurant:

Recently, when four of us were dining out--two married couples--one of the husbands left the table for a few minutes. The remaining husband, left with his wife and the wife of the other, lit the cigarette first of his friend's wife, then of his own. His wife felt that as her escort he should have lit her cigarette first. Which is correct? (asked by Mrs. R. L. V., Columbus, Ohio)

As one woman was left alone, the husband and wife remaining are, in effect, her host and hostess for the moment. Therefore it was correct for the remaining husband to light the guest's cigarette first, then his wife's.

Can you imagine getting your panties in a twist over your husband lighting someone else's cigarette first? Although the person who wrote in for guidance carefully leaves her own identity vague, you know it must be the wife of the guy who lit her friend's cigarette first. For that matter, can you imagine smoking in a restaurant at all? Thankfully, no.

Or how about this alarming piece:

When I get taken to a nice restaurant by a date I never quite know what's expected of me once we get inside the door. I feel so lost when my date goes to check his hat. I don't know where to stand, and I don't know whether to go with the headwaiter or waitress if they arrive before my date does from the checkroom. Can you give me explicit advice on this subject? (asked by J. O. L., Jefferson City, Missouri)

Your feeling of helplessness can be a great social asset in this instance. Just allow your date to take full charge. He probably feels just as unsure as you do, but you mustn't let him know that you know it. If he doesn't escort you out of the line of traffic at the entrance while he checks his hat, you step out of it yourself although you don't follow him. You wait quietly without seeming too interested in your surroundings until he rejoins you, then together you approach the entrance to the dining room. There if the headwaiter or hostess steps forward, your escort should step back and let you follow the individual who is to direct you to your table. If no one does step forward to guide you, then your escort steps in front of you and you follow along until he has found a table and pulled out a chair for you. You allow him to seat you.

Right. Helplessness as a social asset. Moving right along, let's end with this sweet lovely vignette:

Should a man remove his hat to kiss a lady? (asked by B. R. J., Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania)

A man kissing a lady on the street--in greeting or farewell (only)--should always remove his hat, no matter what the weather. He should be careful concerning this courtesy even--or perhaps I should say especially--with his wife or daughter.

Monday, July 21, 2008

one of my stranger collections

You'd probably never guess it if you met me, and you'd almost certainly never guess it based on what I think about (and therefore blog about) most of the time, but we are both collectors. We collect amusingly retro drinking glasses, vintage blown-glass lab ware, vintage sewing machines, English tea tins, and probably some other things I'm not thinking of right now.

This week, I'd like to spend some time exploring one of my stranger but most satisfying collections: etiquette books. I don't use them as reference books for conducting my personal life, but I have found that reading them calms me right down in difficult times. I don't necessarily always follow the advice in these books, but the notion that there is a manual, a list of rules for conducting one's relationships, is extremely reassuring to me. I have five different etiquette books, published between 1887 and 1997, and I'll write about one each day this week, starting with the oldest.

Today's book is Decorum: A Practical Treatise on Etiquette and Dress of the Best American Society. It was published in 1887, and I found it in a free box. It is the gem of my collection.
The advice (or really, instructions) in this book are completely out of date, as you might expect. Reading it is endlessly amusing: it is so easy to see how very far we have come. Women and men both have so many freedoms now that would have been scandalous just over 100 years ago. We live in a much more casual society.

For example:

Leaving a Ball Room
Married or young ladies, cannot leave a ball-room, or any other party, alone. The former should be accompanied by one or two other married ladies, and the latter by their mother, or by a lady to represent her.

(all commas and hyphens, etc, are in the original text.)

Or how about this, which is actually germane to my life at the moment, and probably good advice:

Discontinuing Work
If a lady is engaged with her needle when a visitor arrives, she ought to discontinue her work, unless requested to do otherwise, and not even then must it be resumed, unless on very intimate terms with her acquaintance. When this, however, is the case, the hostess may herself request permission to do so. To continue working during a visit of ceremony would be extremely discourteous, and we cannot avoid hinting to our lady readers, that even when a particular friend is present for only a short time, it is somewhat inconsistent with etiquette to keep their eyes fixed on a crochet or knitting-book, apparently engaged in counting stitches, or unfolding the intricacies of a pattern. We have seen this done, and are, therefore, careful to warn them on the subject. There are many kinds of light and elegant, and even useful work, which do not require close attention, and may be profitably pursued; and such we recommend to be always on the work-table at those hours which, according to established practice, are given to social intercourse.

But this, my friends, is out of hand, so much so that I can hardly make sense of it:

Laying Aside the Bonnet
The short time devoted to a ceremonious visit, the necessity of consulting a glass in replacing the headdress, and of being assisted in putting on the shawl, prevent ladies from accepting the invitation to lay them aside. If they are slightly familiar with the person they are visiting and wish to be more at ease, they should ask permission, which should be granted them, at the same time rising, to assist them in taking off their hat and shawl. An arm-chair, or a piece of furniture at a distant part of the room, should receive these articles; they should not be placed upon the couch, without the mistress of the house puts them there.

On the other hand, doesn't it seem lovely, in a way, to have so many minute instructions for conducting one's self? If one just follows all the rules, one will never step on any toes, never offend. One would never be wrong, in a sense. I'm glad we don't live in this world any longer, but I do see the appeal.

Friday, July 18, 2008

today's project

The gardens were sadly neglected while we were away. I came back to lots of weeds and many dead plants. We're not getting much rain. The front garden, which is the first one I planted, has also become overgrown and messy. I didn't know the plants were going to need more room as they get older! Here's how it's been looking:
The yarrow has taken over, and not in a pretty way. It's all sprawly, and messy, and I just don't like it anymore. It's crowding the liatris, which has just about given up:
So I spent a couple of hours rearranging things. Lots of stuff came out: the yarrow, a couple of ornamental alliums, two pretty but prickly thistles, and many weeds.
Better.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

first ever spinning FO


These are my new socks, finished while we were away at the beach, knit from handspun 3-ply blue-faced Leicester. The leg and instep are a simple k2 p2 rib. The yarn turned out much fatter than most sock yarn I use, so I knit these on 1s with 56 stitches around.

It was an interesting experience, knitting with my handspun. I fretted from time to time over the unevenness of the yarn, but it knitted up just fine. I didn't do any reinforcing with nylon or anything else, just tried to ply it relatively firmly, hoping that would lend some strength. It will be interesting to see how these hold up.

I'm not much of a pink person, but I have been consciously seeking out pinks I can tolerate over the last year or so. I think these will be quite wearable.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

any ideas?

I go back and forth on how useful I think behavior charts are, and I am now swinging back into useful at times territory. Little is having a hard time using words instead of hitting, kicking, and throwing his stuff around. Given that he's well beyond toddlerhood, I think he can do better. Talking (and talking and talking) isn't working. Time outs aren't working (although they do remove his unpleasant presence from my space, so they're useful for that).

He's been begging for a behavior chart. I really don't like them, and I have told him so, and why. (I want him to learn to control his behavior because he wants to get along with me and the rest of the family. I want him to appreciate the intrinsic rewards of good behavior, etc. I'm sure it sounds like blah blah blah blah blah to him.)

So I caved, and I wrote up a behavior chart for him today. It has five goals on it, two of which he can do all the time, no problem, and one of which he can do most of the time. The other two are the hard ones, and the "real" goals. I really believe it's important to set kids up for success with these things.

Anyway, last time we did this, his reward (collected at the end of each day that went well) was an Oreo. I know, I know. Really bad (unless you're trying to create a kid with an eating disorder, in which case, be my guest). I really don't want to reward him with food this time. I also don't want to give him some kind of little toy at the end of the week. Ideally, I want to find something that doesn't cost any money, but is enough of a treat to get his attention.

So... experienced teachers and parents, what do you think? I'm looking for a weekly reward, rather than a daily one, and it can't be food, and it can't cost anything.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

back from the beach

My mom and I have what has become an annual tradition of taking the kids to a rented beach house on the Jersey shore. We're back now, and my mind has shifted from the big concerns of a beach vacation: Is today a beach day? Will tomorrow be a beach day? (I decided they all were, unless it rained, and it didn't. Much.) Will we make it to the end of the week without going to the laundromat? (We did, although now I have a lot of laundry to do.) Will I have enough yarn to finish these socks? (No.) And, will it be the Tilt-a-Whirl or the Ferris Wheel tonight? (It was mostly the Tilt-a-Whirl.)

I've given my last post and the response it generated a lot of thought. (You know, in between playing frisbee and watching the surfers.) Just to reassure all of you who are my friends IRL, and who have expressed concern for my marriage and my/our feminism: yes, darlings, of course Joe and even the kids do all kinds of things every day, to help me, to contribute to our household and my peace. It was rhetoric, written in a hurry on a day when I was overwhelmed. It happens. Part of me wants to say SHEESH people, don't you know a rant when you read one? It was a VENT, not a position paper.

But I think I really was trying to say something, unbalanced though it was. So I will try again.

It turns out that holding all of this together is a lot of work. Being a SAHM is challenging, and part of the challenge seems to be that nobody (including myself) expects it to be particularly challenging. How hard could it be, really? You keep doing everything working parents do, but you have the major bonus of NO JOB. Or, for those of us who are freelancing in one way or another, no job that expects you to show up at a particular time. Your time is your own, to schedule as you choose.

There's the problem. Scheduling. There is a lot to do. You've got to get the grocery shopping done, the house clean to whatever standard you have chosen, the children clean and fed. Then there's the homeschooling, which (like every other job worth doing) can take as much time as you choose to give it. It's not like you're ever 'done.' Add to all that an old house with projects that never seem to get completed, and then throw in an avid interest in reading or sewing or knitting or spinning.... poof, your days are full.

Now, tell me what it is you do to feed yourself. Everyone agrees that it is necessary for mothers, working or not, to take care of themselves, right? And for me, personally, it doesn't count as 'me time' unless my children are elsewhere, out of earshot and being taken care of by someone else.

So... what's it going to be?

You need a walk every day? A half hour of yoga? Meditation, tennis? Great, when are you going to do it? There's no money for a babysitter (you don't have a job, remember) so you've got do it when there's another parent at home. At 6:30 in the morning, before your husband leaves for work? After dinner every day, when you're already bone tired from the aforementioned never-ending list?

Do you see how sometimes, some days, it can be just a pain the ass to get that so-called 'me time?' How some days you're just going to blow it off and sit on the couch, or (more likely) get another load of laundry done or go out and weed the garden instead? Some days, it's just one more thing to put on the list, and since the list is endless anyway, why add another thing to it?

And yes, I can see that this doesn't make sense, that the most important thing is to take care of myself, before the laundry, before the weeding, before the damn dishes. But the reality is that it doesn't always happen that way, and on the days when I can't fit it in, the expectation that I find time to take care of myself feels like just another place for me to fall short.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

what's up with that?

So there's this virus going around our homeschool playgroup. The kids are fine, but the moms... well, we're breaking down. Too much laundry, too many bickering kids, too many dishes, too many demands. Nobody, it seems, is finding a way to adequately take care of herself. Me included.

Isn't it an incredibly cruel irony that we take care of the kids, the dinners, the shopping, the vacuuming, and then we're also supposed to be taking care of ourselves? Like if we don't do that, we're failing in a new way, or there's a new layer to our failure. As if there weren't enough opportunity to fail already, as if anyone could ever do this job well enough to call it done. It's not enough that we have to listen to our kids natter on and on about legos and role playing games and the latest skinned knee and everything else. Oh no, we also have to make sure we're taking care of ourselves. Have you noticed that when you talk to a friend about what a difficult time you're having, she invariably asks, "What are you doing to take care of yourself?"

Enough. I'm going to start asking the husbands, "What are you doing to take care of the center of your family's universe?" I'm going to ask the kids, "What have you done to help your mom out lately?"

Really. Enough.

Friday, June 13, 2008

ode to my lawn mower


How do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

1. My lawn mower simplifies my life. I don't have to get it tuned up, sharpened, or stored over the winter. As soon as the grass needs it, there it is, sitting in my garage, ready to go.

2. It saves me money. See above, plus it doesn't need gas or oil.

3. It's durable. Five years, no repairs or adjustments.

4. It keeps me in shape. It's work, but my lawn is relatively small, so it's not so much work that I can't do it in an hour or two.

5. It's green, like so many other things that I also love.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Thursday, May 15, 2008

now what?

I was all set to post yesterday about how if I could just let go of my ambitions to write professionally, teach kids other than my own, and help teachers learn to be more flexible and inclusive in their classrooms, I would love this life.

I have incredible freedom. I can't believe that I can actually find moments in my day every day to spin, for fun. I can read what I want, I have enough yarn in my stash to knit for the next ten years, at least. I can enroll my kids in a class at the local science museum, and then we can play hookey if we like. We can spend the day gardening. We can sleep in, or get up early. We can walk to the grocery store, or we can set up a lemonade stand.

But some days, freedom isn't all it's cracked up to be. Some days, I get really cranky. Some days, I don't want to hear either boy call out, "Mama!" ever again. Ever. Some days, like yesterday, I realize I'm out of patience because I'm literally out of gas: I often forget to eat lunch because I'm so engrossed with gardening or spinning or a book I'm reading or even, sometimes, doing something with the kids. Eating turns out to be one of the least interesting things I do, so I skip it in favor of something else, but then that turns around and bites me on the butt because I actually do need to consume some calories.

And those are the days when I look around me and all I see are piles of books I should be reading, essays I should be writing, laundry that needs folding, and crumbs everywhere, again. I get conflicted: I think, if only I didn't care about anything other than the house and the kids, I might actually be able to get it all done, most days. If only all I wanted was just to do a really great job teaching them and spending time with them.

Those are the days I think I should try to ditch my professional aspirations, as well as my fiber hobbies. And that's what I was thinking yesterday: I should get some focus and get down to what's really most important, just the kids and their work, their needs. Yeah, that's the ticket. Just forget myself for the next fifteen years or so.

As you might imagine, this line of thinking gets pretty depressing, pretty fast, but there are days when it really does seem to be the path of greater sanity. The solution to having a life in which one is juggling too many priorities is to eliminate some of them, right? And since I'm not planning to give my kids away (this week) it seems clear that I should eliminate the priorities not directly related to supporting the kids and their learning.

And then I read this post. The inimitable and very talented prairiepoppins of Handmade Homeschool reminds us that not only do we need to keep our own passionate selves going for our own sakes, but that it's really what's best for the kids, too. Our children need us to be actively engaged with our own passions, not only because it feeds us, but because they need to see how an actively engaged person lives her life. Devoting ourselves exclusively to our children does them a disservice, because it gives them the notion that not only are they the center of the universe, but that mothers/parents can't do anything else but take care of kids.

Which is not so.

So now I want to hear from you: what do you do to keep yourself going? How do you keep it all together when everyone is coming to you for most of what they need? How do you get time for yourself? What do you do to feed yourself?

Tell me, please. I need to know.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

mark bittman=my hero

If you've been reading this blog for a while, or if you've clicked around a bit, you'll know that while many aspects of my crazy new unscheduled homeschooling life suit me to a T, I have really struggled with the unending requirement that I provide my family with reasonable things to eat at reasonable times. I don't mind keeping the house clean (probably because I've noticed that I can do it when I feel like it, and no harm done if I don't) and I enjoy reading books, making music, going for walks, and doing projects with my kids.

But I can't stand having to make food all the time. It just drives me crazy that no matter how many times I feed them, the kids keep wanting to be fed. If I were just taking care of myself, I'd probably skip cooking altogether and subsist on rice cakes, peanut butter, and salad, but the children protest. For a lot of families, this would translate into a dependence on prepared foods, but our budgetary restrictions (can't spend money on gardening, yarn, or roving if I'm spending it all on Amy's frozen foods) combined with our dietary restrictions (no wheat, no dairy) make this pretty much out of the question.

So cook I must. In my journey down this path, I have served some pretty lame dinners. Tortilla chips and smoothies is a good example. The kids have asked for repeats on that one. But I can't do that every night. Toast and eggs is also good, but again: can't do it every night. I've also discovered that while I have no objection to eating meat in most forms and from most sources, I am completely grossed out by the handling of meat that is required before it can be cooked.

Enter Mark Bittman. Most of the rest of the world already knows about him, but my first exposure was three weeks ago, in the book section of a WholeFoods in Philadelphia. I was there with friends, but I didn't need to shop, so after I'd exhausted the entertainment options of the lotions and potions section, I settled in with this book:

I liked it a lot. The recipes were simple, and arranged by ingredient. This is a brilliant innovation to me, because of the way I shop. I don't plan meals (this might be a big part of my problem, I know, but I just can't bring myself to plan, most of the time) so I shop according to what looks good. And I don't plan meals around a big piece of meat, as many do, because of the aforementioned gross-out factor. So I tend to bring home several bags of assorted produce, and imagine that somehow, this week, inspiration will strike and I'll be able to magically pull together some interesting dinners. Totally unreasonable, I know, except that with this book, it looked like this "strategy" might actually work.

Only problem: $35 price tag. No way. So I got home and checked half.com, and found it for a lot less. Then I dithered for a while, wondering if what I really needed to do was just get off my butt, plan ahead, make some dinners. Did I really need this book? So I dithered a little longer, and then I just ordered it. It came over the weekend, and I've used it twice, and folks, let me tell you, this book is the answer to my particular conundrum.

Both times I've started with an ingredient: shiitake mushrooms on Saturday, green beans last night, and both times I've been able to make something delicious without fussing over it. The recipes are simple, quick, and easy, and didn't call for anything we didn't already have in the house. Last night I was happy about what I'd cooked for dinner, for the first time in longer than I care to really think about.
That's herbed rice with chopped red pepper in the foreground. This is my own recipe, and possibly the only thing I still make from my many years making food in restaurants. Just saute a finely-chopped onion with some herbs, add leftover rice and mush it around.

The oval dish contains green beans with miso-walnut sauce, recipe from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Delicious. And I'm serving salad in my salad spinner (why waste a dish?) but that's homemade salad dressing in the peanut butter jar to the left.

Big One and I enjoyed this meal very much, and Papa enjoyed it too, when he got home. Here's how Little felt about it:
'Nothing to eat, Mama.'

Sigh.

'Okay, I'll have some salad, but then I want a glass of soy milk.'

But people, I was excited about this meal. I was invested in this meal. I am happy to respect his desires to eat a very bland diet (I remember exactly what this felt like) but I also know that one of these days, his palate will change, and I want him to keep trying things until it does.

So I insisted. I didn't insist he eat an entire serving, but I told him he would have to take a tiny taste of both the rice and the beans before he could have some soy milk. Much negotiation ensued, but I held firm. The rice went down easy, but the one tiny slice of a single bean he was obligated to eat before he got his soy milk, that went a little like this:

He's goofing a bit in that last one. He is well aware that he is not only cute, but charming and hilarious, even when he's refusing to eat his dinner. In the end, the bean went down, the universe was saved, and he got his soy milk.