Sunday, December 20, 2009


Little and I are winding down our homeschooling time by choosing to do some things we've been putting off. We made a field trip the the Sciencenter a few weeks ago, we visited a great nature area and dog park near our house, and we've been making Christmas cookies. Last week I asked him what else he wanted to make sure we got to do together before he started school.

Take a bus, Mama.

Oh, okay. Great. Where do you want to go on the bus?

No place in particular. I just want to ride the bus.

Okay, but buses go places. We have to choose some sort of destination, just because it's winter and we'll want to get off and get warm at some point.

Ok. Let's take the bus to the mall.

And so began our most recent field trip. The bus. To the mall.

Now, let me tell you something about me. I am not a city girl. I rode a big yellow bus to school every day, and that is the sum total of my experiences with public transit of any kind, and buses in particular.* I don't know how to read a bus schedule. I don't know anything about bus stop etiquette. I don't know where to sit, how to pay, whether I need a token or change or a pass or what. And frankly, I don't see why I need to find out about these things, since I have two perfectly decent cars sitting in my driveway.

But Little wanted a bus trip, and I knew my reluctance was just snobbishness, so I did the research, and we did our little trip this week.

We got to the bus stop way too early, and it was a freezing cold day, so we ducked into the nearby gas station for a snack, then stood outside in the cold. He complained, and I refrained from reminding him that he'd chosen this trip, so no whining allowed. I sometimes need to be reminded that just because he's chosen something doesn't mean he has to like it.

But then the bus came, and we giggled the whole way. There was hardly anyone else on the bus, and it was fun to see all the familiar sights of our town through different windows. Visiting the mall by bus somehow offered a different perspective. We didn't have a place to leave our coats. The whole thing was somehow more leisurely, relaxed, perhaps because we knew we could only leave at certain times.

We had lunch, we got a Christmas present for Big, we walked around. We gave the guys at Radio Shack the third degree about cell phone plans. We examined Fossil bags at Macy's. Little played with video cameras. It was great.

And then we caught the bus back home, rang the bell for our stop, and walked home. We strolled happily back up our street, to our house, where our cars sat in the driveway. It was a whole new way of looking at the day. I might even do it again.

*This is not entirely true. In my misspent youth, I actually took a bus from Ithaca, NY to Pocatello, Idaho, and then back again. It took four days and nights of bus travel to get there. I remember sitting with a guy who told me he was a professional football player. I believed him.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

ending beginning

Little and I are coming to the end of our homeschooling time together. Just before Thanksgiving, Joe and I decided that the time had come for Little to go to school.

It's good news, really. When Joe first lost his job, we really didn't know what to expect. We knew I needed to start substitute teaching and looking for a permanent teaching position, but we didn't have any idea what Joe would be doing. We thought it was possible that he would be collecting unemployment and homeschooling Little. That was, I admit, not our first choice, but it seemed entirely possible.

Instead, he's found that there are lots of people who would like to have his research expertise and insight on their new projects, which means that he's busy. He still doesn't have a job, and the day when he gets one is probably still a long way off, but he has lots of consulting work. That's the good news. We are both delighted that he's got plenty to do.

But it means that Little is going to public school as of the first of the year, simply because there won't be anyone at home who can pay attention to him, let alone school him. I am of several minds about this. I am delighted that I'm not going to be stuck at home all day, all week anymore. For myself, the news that I can now resume my teaching career and get the hell out of the house is nothing but happy.

But for Little, I wanted something different. I believe he'll be fine in public school. He's reading, he's very socially aware, he genuinely likes people and is looking forward to making new friends. He's excited about the change, and I'm sure this is partly because Big has made such a beautiful transition to public school. As a sixth grader, he's around a bunch of other guys all day, he's learning some cool things from some fabulous teachers, and he's loving it. Not every aspect of every day, but the benefits far outweigh the problems.

However, Little will be starting school for the first time as a first grader. When Big started, he was already well on his way. He has enough of a background in progressive education that he knows to value autonomy and an intellectual challenge. He also has the maturity to suck it up when those features of an excellent education are absent.

Little has no such grounding, and no such maturity. He's going into a system much larger than himself without the tools he needs to negotiate it when things don't go his way. I really wanted for him an early elementary education in which I could count on the adults in his life to be conscious, intelligent, attentive, and flexible. Also one where he got to play a lot and spend lots of time outside.

Certainly there are many families who manage to raise awake, alive, interesting children, even as they send their kids to public school. Perhaps ours is one of them; Joe and I both survived the experience more or less intact.

I admit that my fears of public school for Big have not been borne out in his experience. I have every reason to hope that school will go swimmingly for Little. Perhaps the professionals at my neighborhood elementary school are there because they care about elementary education just as much as I do. We shall see.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

curve ball central

What is the etiquette, exactly, of sharing bad news? Does one assume one's friends will want to know, and therefore tell everyone, as quickly as possible? Or does one keep it to oneself, in the interest of keeping everyone's lives as simple as possible? And what about those friends and connections we make only through the internet? Facebook friends, some of whom I haven't seen since I was 19 and don't really ever expect to see again? Blog friends, who live far away but have come to be familiar faces of sorts?

I don't want to burden you, but it feels dishonest to pretend everything is just as it was last week.

Joe and I are both, suddenly, looking for jobs. Joe got laid off (downsized? subtracted?) on Monday. I spent all of Tuesday pulling together materials to apply to substitute teach. I expect to be working within two or three weeks. After I get a feel for the schools around here, I'll start looking for a permanent position.

Every option is on the table: we could move far away, Joe might go back to school, or we might stay here so he can do consulting work with the contacts he's made in the last two and a half years working in green chemistry. Maybe we'll move to New Zealand. Or Belize.

My mind is filled with all the possibilities that this opens up for us. I am strangely pleased. I know I may not be quite as pleased when the money runs out and we don't know how we're going to pay the electric bill, let alone the mortgage, but for now, it's all good, and I'm loving my life at this moment.

Monday, October 19, 2009


That's a freshly carded batt of exceptionally soft corriedale, lounging on the back of my spinning chair and waiting to be spun on my delightful new spinning wheel. It will wait until after laundry and dishes, and some schooling for the little guy.

Little and I have really shifted gears in the last week. I'm having what I hope will be a minor health crisis, and he has had several minor meltdowns, and all of that is pointing us in the direction of fewer scheduled activities. We're going to be home, and we're only going to go out when there's something we've just thought of that we really want to do.

This means we're opting out of some great organized activities and projects this fall, but it also means we'll have time for the library, the museum, trips to see his grandparents and his papa at work, not to mention time to play at home. We need our daydreaming time, and starting this week, we're going to get it. We're both excited and pleased about this change.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

massive tangle

This morning, in what was to be a triumph of technology that hastened the enjoyable process of watching freshly spun skeins of yarn dry outside on a sunny fall day, I put fifteen skeins of handspun yarn in the washer. I wasn't washing them, understand. I just wanted to spin the water out of them after I'd carefully washed and rinsed them by hand in the sink.

Except I also decided to let the washing machine do an extra rinse. Which maybe wasn't so smart. Also I have a front loader, which I understand might have been a particularly bad choice. You know, if one were to choose a washing machine for its ability to spin the water out of handspun yarn.

We have now run this experiment, and there will be no need to run it ever again. Consider this my contribution to yarn science. I have attempted a crazy thing and suffered for it, so you don't have to.

For the curious, there are 12 skeins of yarn there, three of the burgundy, four of the green, and five of the natural white.

I did manage to separate three skeins from the main tangle, but I don't think I'll be knitting with any part of this yarn any time soon. There are sections in these skeins that are like tiny colorful dreadlocks.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

the problem of the day

We're having an interesting adjustment to public school. Mostly things are going swimmingly, although there are the expected feelings of being overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of students (him) and the bureaucracy required to handle those numbers (me.) Big One is going to have to learn to get very organized, very fast, but we knew that was going to happen. On balance, he's really pleased to be with other kids and to have other adults in his life.

The interesting part is math. Because of his standardized test scores, he placed into an accelerated math track, which means he'll be taking the state exam for ninth graders at the end of eighth grade. All good, great, terrific. The teacher of the accelerated math class does a Problem of the Day: the kids solve a problem at the start of class, then come up to the board and explain how they did it.

Big came home from school on Friday saying, "I totally bombed on the Problem of the Day in math class today. What is an LCM?" We did a quick table session over the weekend, talked about LCM (lowest common multiple), and he gets it. Problem solved. But it happened again on Monday, with GCF (greatest common factor). And I expect it's going to continue to happen, most days. His math journey has not been traditional, and I know there are going to be topics from the fifth grade curriculum that he's never seen.

This is where you might expect me to engage in some hand-wringing and doubt of myself as a teacher and a home school mom, where I might think I've done it all wrong and go the traditional route with Little, where I should recriminate myself and the non-traditional school Big attended.

Indeed, many parents did just that when they pulled their kids from our progressive school and put them in public school. I heard from parents more than once that our math program was weak in computation skills, and that they needed to heavily remediate when their kids went to a more traditional math curriculum.

But I'm not, because here's the thing: I know that Big is going to catch up, and I know that he has a math background that is excellent in other ways. He understands math. He has had some fabulous opportunities to use math for what it really is: reasoning at its most elemental level. He likes to think things through, he has a need to understand what he's doing, and I wouldn't trade that for anything.

I'm not sure you can have it both ways. Either you emphasize reasoning and concepts, as I have done, or you emphasize quick computation skills and many topics, as most schools have traditionally done. You could theoretically have both, I suppose, but it would take a lot of time, and you would spend your entire elementary career doing math, and you'd miss out on something else equally important. You have to choose.

Little and I have chosen: we did our math and our reading for the day, and we're off to playgroup for some fresh air and running around with friends.

Friday, September 11, 2009

let's talk about depression, shall we?

Let it be known that I am no longer depressed, and that this post should be evidence of that. There is no way I could write about this stuff if I were still in the thick muck of depression.

But let me say this: I was depressed all summer, and probably for many months before that. I have been tired, exhausted, uninterested in everything, self-recriminating, bored, boring, negative, hopeless, overwhelmed.... classic really, now that I can look back at it.

I would occasionally look over what I'd written here, and feel miles away from the person who could have comfortably asserted that she knew anything about kids or knitting or spackling or any of the rest of it. The person who wrote those posts (even sometimes with humor, albeit self-deprecating humor) seemed like another person. A distant cousin, perhaps, one whom I don't get along with and rarely see. And the person who went to school every day to teach other people's kids? She must have been a person from another planet.

I had a long conversation about a month ago with a friend who routinely takes pills to ease his chronic depression, and he recommended that I see a doctor. Since he takes pills for his depression, it made sense to him that I should as well. This did not sit right with me. I'm not against pills to ease mental and emotional pain, but something about it didn't feel right. For me, understand. If you take them and they're important to you, please don't imagine I'm being critical here. I just didn't (and still don't) think it's the right approach for me.

Then I had another conversation with another friend, and she had some great and important insights. I told her that somebody had told me I sounded really depressed, and that maybe some pharmaceuticals could help. She told me about this book she'd read (sorry, I forget what book) that suggested that depression (or any other emotion, probably; I haven't read the book) can and perhaps should be seen as a sort of sign along the road to somewhere.

The sign (depression) could be saying, "AAAHHH! Don't go down this road!" or it could be, "Please don't marry that person, you'll regret it," or any number of other interesting and important messages about one's life and its living. This rang true. She also pointed out that pills, if they blunt the emotion you're feeling, would blur the writing on the sign, and make it really hard to figure out what it says.

So I sat with that for a few days, and just let the question simmer. If my depression was a sign, what was it saying?

And that's when I had to really admit to myself that I am just not happy being home all day. I don't know if there's a way to change things up so that I can be happy with it; I feel like we have really tried a lot of different structures and strategies, but it's not really working for me. I love my kids, and their intellectual development is important to me, but oddly, I don't think they need me. Of course they need me to be their mother. They need me to listen to them, to support their projects and ideas, and they need me on a most basic level to keep the house running so that they can eat and wear semi-decent clothes. But they don't need me to be home with them all the time, particularly not if that choice is making me depressed and unhappy.

I believe that a depressed, resentful mother at home is worse than a full-time working but otherwise happy and emotionally available mother.

It feels strange to admit this, even though everything in me is indicating its truth. I know many readers of this blog stay home with their kids. I am not trying to say anything here about anyone else's experience, only mine.

And I know I'll be home another year at least, but I'm going to take on some outside projects when they present themselves, and I know that home schooling is going to wind down, sooner or later. It is no longer a project with no deadline.

Feeling better now, thank you.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

quick update

Big's first day went well. He came home tired but smiling. He found a bunch of kids he already knows, sat with an old friend for lunch, and likes most of his teachers. He's excited to go back today.

And I'm breathing easy. Yesterday with just Little was a completely different sort of day. We're going to have fun this year, and we're both going to learn a lot.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

today is the day

Big One's first day of school. He's checking his new watch to make sure he'll get there on time. This day has been coming for some time, in glimmerings and rumblings, and more recently in definite plans and deadlines. He has for some time felt restrained by the tiny circle of his home school colleagues, which primarily consist of me, his brother, the dog and four cats. He wants, fervently wants, to do school with other kids his own age. He wants more direction, less free time, more projects, more work. He truly wants those things.

I am trying hard not to see this as another failure. I have really struggled this summer, with my feelings of not quite being up to the task of home schooling a middle schooler, and my desire to get back out in the world again. I admitted to myself not long ago that I'm not happy being home all the time, and so I presented Big with an opportunity: if you were to go to school this year, you'd be one of many kids who are new to the school. The local middle school has three feeder elementary schools, so nobody knows everybody. He was delighted to hear it, and jumped in with both feet. He decided, we registered him, he met some teachers and saw the building, and he's never looked back, not for a moment.

(Although last night in the car, he asked me to remind him why he's doing this. I want you to know that I was a mature adult mama, and I did so, with grace, love, and honesty.)

(Also this morning, he admitted he's feeling apprehensive, but also excited. I chose not to tell him that I hardly slept, and that I sobbed as I made his lunch at 6:30 a.m.)

My feelings today are so mixed. I'm incredibly proud of him for choosing public school when so much of his life has been defined by the choice not to go to public school. He was attending my private progressive school when he was three, and he loved it there. He has loved home schooling not quite as much, but he's enjoyed his freedom and his friends, and he knows that learning is supposed to come with a large dose of intellectual freedom and autonomy. He knows these things will be scant or absent in his new setting, but he's choosing it anyway, for reasons of his own.

I'm excited for myself, because I know that although Little is choosing to stay home this year, the time is coming when he too will want to get out there and find out first hand about formal schooling. And people? When he does? I am so outta here. I am going to burn it up getting back out there in the schools, working with other people's kids, because that is the work that reminds me of who I am.

When I'm teaching, I'm exhausted at the end of the day, but I'm satisfied, and I know I've accomplished something small and significant, every day. The work of being an important adult in the lives of children who need another adult is what I'm here for. Working with my own kids just doesn't cut it, and while it's taken me a long time to admit it, I'm there now, and that is going to lead us down a long path into the unknown.

Here we go.

And there he goes.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

always have a project

Joe and I have been busting it out with the paintbrushes this weekend. Sometimes it's latex, sometimes it's oil, but we've been pulling this old house in the same direction. I do find it troublesome that oil paints require a whole set of brushes unto themselves, and I also fail to appreciate the freaky-deaky paint thinner spaciness engendered after a few hours of huffing the stuff, but on the up side, latex paint smells like a bed of lavender when you shift gears.

Without further ado:

The fancy cut-outs have oil-based primer, and a finish coat of latex. This is the closest to truly done these decorative elements have ever been, photo to the right notwithstanding. The top rails, which still need a second coat, are new lengths of wood, fitted out and planed and what-not in the wood shop that used to be our garage. Joe has made rumblings about calling the garage his studio. I'm happy to humor him. We certainly aren't going to park our cars in there any time soon.

Another project that has been languishing pitifully for--ahem--years is the repainting of certain shingles that have been in place since we had the roof replaced on this old house shortly after we moved in. Included in the roof job was replacing the shingles that had to be removed when the roof was replaced.

We purchased new shingles and, on the advice of our realtor, painted them before they were installed. It was brilliant advice, and would have worked out perfectly had I been more astute about choosing a color to match the color of the old shingles. I chose badly, and our mismatched greens have been an eyesore ever since. Of course, nobody but me really notices, but trust me, I'm enough of a critic to make up for everyone else's lack of concern.

So there I am, painting a good green over the bad green. If you look closely, you can see that the shingles along the roof line to my left blend in quite well, while the shingles to my right are still the wrong green.

It's all painted now, and I wasn't even too freaked out about being up on the roof. Joe joined me after a while, wiping up my drips (of critical importance when using an oil-based paint) and keeping me company.

Friday, September 04, 2009

could be worse

I've been carding again. I thought for a time that I wanted to trade my drum carder for a very snazzy new/used wheel, but Joe reminded me that I got the carder for some reason that made sense to me at the time, and so I've been trying to figure out what that reason was.

Turns out carding is good fun, which of course I knew.

In other news, Big One is going to school this year. He will be attending the local Middle School, which is close enough to walk. After a short period of agony and agonizing, he and I are both delighted with his decision, and excited about things to come. The school has been lovely and accommodating. We've met many of his teachers. It's all gone as well as I could possibly have hoped, and I'm allowing myself to hope that all that will continue.

Little is staying home, but I suspect he may decide that home without a brother is sort of boring, and that may mean, my friends, that I will be back out in the world again, sometime before I'm gray and old.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

clearing my head

I have had a sad week. Last Friday, I dropped my older son off at a birthday party. Not just any birthday party: a party that was essentially a mini-reunion of all his friends from our now-defunct progressive school. Big One was especially lucky in friends at our school; not every kid had a large group of kids his own age, and these kids all arrived at the school by age 5 or 6, so when the school closed when they were 9, they'd shared a lot of experiences. Going to school is about seeing friends for many kids, I think, and especially so at a school that nurtures the natural connections kids make with each other through classroom structure and curriculum. These kids were really tight.

I have had many moments in the nearly two years since the school closed, more than I care to admit, of blaming people for its closure. I blame administrators, board members, other teachers, even certain parents, each for playing a part in bringing the whole thing down. Some more than others, of course, but it's been such a big personal disaster for me that there's plenty of blame to go around.

I have had a creeping suspicion from time to time that all that blame pointed away from me must really mean that I blame myself in some fundamental way, but that I'm just not ready to look at that yet.

And then there I was at the party, standing around with the parents and kids I used to see every day, and it all came crashing in. I let in my feelings of shame and guilt, and rather than brush them away this time, I decided to ride them like a wave. It didn't feel good.

I wasn't always the best teacher I could have been. I sometimes blamed others for not taking care of all kinds of things, when it could just have easily been me. I got distracted, over and over, by gossip and politics. I sometimes forgot that my only real work, ever, was with the kids and the parents. I wallowed in anger and misery when I believed our precious school was being squandered by those who didn't really get it, rather than stepping up and trying to educate. Which was, after all, my job.

I stood there looking at these kids, so happy to see each other again, and I wanted to apologize, to them and to their parents, for all that I did and failed to do that contributed to the closing of the school, and I knew immediately that to attempt it wouldn't make any sense to them. Not only would they not have any idea what I was talking about, but it also would have been absurdly self-serving to take what was a joyful occasion for the kids and try to turn it into some kind of confession session for me.

And I wondered what I could do instead, and I thought of posting here. Some of the people who read this blog are former colleagues and parents at the school, and I think most of them won't understand why it's important to me to do this, here. Please know that although many of you have a great deal of faith in me, I am not blameless, and I need to say so, publicly.

I am hoping that this post may be a step toward putting the school and its miserable, ugly demise in the past, because I really need to find out where I'm going next.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

busy, busy, busy

Little and I have been doing a lot of this. We're reading the sixth Harry Potter book on the front porch, so that when we go see the movie he'll have a better understanding of it. We've just finished the sixth book, on to the seventh tomorrow morning.
The garden grows, with very little attention from me. In the foreground are dill, cherry tomatoes, and a tiny patch of lettuce that you can't see.
Here we have collards, brussels sprouts, more tomatoes, and I think there's a cucumber plant or two somewhere in there.
Full size tomatoes and basil in this bed. These plants started off slowly in some pots that turned out to be too small, but now they're coming right along.
Here's some real work we started last weekend. Scraping all the fiddly bits on our front porch. When we moved in here, the previous owners had covered these all over with plywood. We were appropriately horrified when we discovered the lovely neglected fancy bits underneath, but we do understand why they did it. If we're still in this house when we're old, we'll probably cover it all up with plywood and forget about it too.
For now, though, it's actually good fun to be out here working on it together. It's our big project for weekends for as long as it takes, probably about the middle of September.
And this is how we'll keep busy when it rains. This Danish cord is going to become the seat for this Danish chair, and five or six more just like it. We got them at a garage sale for very very cheap, and it's a kind of chair we've always admired.
And now it's a project. We're not exactly sure how we're getting from materials to finished chairs. We've never done it before, and we're not sure the directions we've found are going to work. There will be some improvising, I believe.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

wow, a carder

Ok, that's a really dumb title, and I totally staged this picture, but this is what greeted me when I got home last night. A very big, heavy box! I didn't even know it had been shipped. I walked the dog quickly quickly quickly, all the better to get home and open the box. There wasn't really any time to play last night, what with the children who live here, and Joe being away this week, but I got up stupid early this morning to play.
I carded some llama I bought a few months ago. It was in pencil roving form, but I really didn't like it, uneven and too thin in places, so I was saving it as I saved for a carder.
Then some color experimentation. I started with some Wilton's dyed wool I did months ago which clumped up a bit with the dyeing, so I was also saving it for the carder. I added in some undyed wool, but the result was too washed out, so I added some gold, turquoise, and a dark green dyed corriedale.
Big One got into it, too. Here he is figuring out how to get the batt off the drum.
And the end result of hours of carding:
Except I'm not quite done. I might add more of the dark green, and some brown. I'm really enjoying the experimentation process, adding color here and there to shift the color one way or another. I'm reminded of the time when my spinning wheel was very new, and I didn't have any experience buying fiber. The yarns I came up with then were unlovely, to say the least. I wonder where this learning curve is taking me, and how I'll see these batts when I look back.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

big improvement

We had a garden last year, just cut into the yard in the sunniest spot. It didn't do very well, mostly because the grass kept growing into it. We've been planning raised beds for some time, and it all came together this week. Here you see Joe banging in the stakes and leveling the rough cut Hemlock we got from a sawmill.

Little and Cricket are supervising.
Here's Joe, trimming the boards in his wood shop, previously known as our garage.
First box, almost done. He made three of these, and then a guy came with a truckload of some lovely dark fluffy dirt.

We had some dirt left over. Not a bad problem to have, really, and it supplemented some of my flower beds quite nicely. One of the boxes already has collards and brussels sprouts growing in it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Last week we went about our usual activities, but without electric lights. I think we were inspired by Earth Day and Lights Out day, but we were really just seeking an adventure, a way to go somewhere else while staying home. The kids and I were all equally excited about it, and Joe went along.

We started with a meeting last Sunday after dinner, to discuss concerns and make accommodations. The first concern was Little's: he uses his fish tank light as a night light, and he felt strongly that he couldn't get to sleep without it. So we decided he could continue to use his fish tank light at night. The second concern was Joe's: he felt that it would be dangerous to use knives in the kitchen without strong lighting, and we agreed, so he also got an accommodation.

We then scurried around the house, finding flashlights and putting candles in candlesticks, so we would be ready when the sun went down. I rushed upstairs to take my lenses out before it got dark. We located matches and lighters, and established some rules for safe candle use: light candles only if an adult is watching over you, and don't leave a room with a lit candle in it. That first evening was exciting, like camping out in our house. It was peaceful, and more quiet, somehow.

The next morning was gloomy, as gloomy as Central NY ever gets. Really gloomy. Dark outside, and no sunlight coming through our windows, just a gray drizzly paleness. We did school at the table as usual, but with candles lit on the table. It occurred to me that we should probably have checked the weather before we embarked on our grand experiment.

We discovered two more essential lights that morning. Most of our Legos are kept in the basement, away from Cricket's chewing teeth. The basement has no windows, and for Little, a week without Legos would be impossible. I think he would just wither up and blow away. So we agreed that he could use the basement light for the week. I also discovered that our closet light is completely essential. Our main downstairs closet is deep, and away from any windows. I suppose we could have fumbled around in the dark or with a flashlight to find jackets, but since if we're looking for jackets, that usually means we're supposed to be somewhere soonish, I decided that in the interest of sanity, we'd better just use the light.

And then we got used to it. The rest of the week was sometimes gloomy, sometimes sunny, but we didn't miss the lights during the day at all. In the evening, we were happy to get everything done before the sun went down.

I think the experiment was successful, although Big disputes this. He really didn't like not being able to read up in his room after dinner.

Here are my general observations:

1. I am much more conscious about turning a light on during the day. Now that I know I can function without it, I'm more likely to leave it off. I think this is true for all four of us, and I'm pretty sure our electric use will fall significantly, just by introducing this element of awareness.

2. Electric lighting keeps us awake. We all went to sleep earlier during the experiment.

3. Electric lighting extends the useful part of the day, which is not really a benefit. Given that I'm never really ever done with housework anyway, it was really nice that the sun set and put an end to my scurrying around. Anything left undone could wait until tomorrow.

4. Big is much less likely to disappear into his room to read a book at night if he can't see well enough to read. In general, all four of us were together a lot more in the evenings.

5. If we did this all the time, I wouldn't read very much, and I'd knit a lot less. I really can't knit by candlelight very well, and I don't have much time while the sun is up to sit down and read for pleasure.

6. I can, however, spindle spin by candlelight. Pretty easily.

7. It is entirely possible to do Sudoku by flashlight.

8. Interestingly, we never did use Joe's dispensation to use electric lights in the kitchen while cutting something. Dinner got made before the sun went down, and on the few occasions that the dishes weren't yet washed when darkness fell, we either left them for the morning or did them by candlelight.

9. We have friends who are extremely good sports. Our friends Alison and AK were up from NYC with their son for the weekend, and we gave them carte blanche to use lights however they saw fit while they were here. The first evening found us all sitting around a few candles chatting after the kids were in bed, with nary a complaint.

Friday, April 10, 2009

major FO

I finished this sweater. It's a major project because it's a sweater, first one I've knit in probably five years or more. I've been a socks-mittens-scarves-hat knitter for so long, I really thought I'd lost my sweater mojo.
It's good to know I haven't. My very first knitting projects were sweaters, and for a long time, that's all I knit. Mostly pullovers, though, and lately I've been wanting to wear cardigans.
Only trouble is, I like to knit in the round. To knit a cardigan in the round, you have to cut it open in the front, then knit on button bands. I kept losing my nerve, which is strange because I've knit sweaters with cut armholes.
So I knit this one flat, back and forth. It was actually kind of fun to do something different. The sleeves were picked up and knit in the round, of course. I really enjoyed this project, and it was good to have a big something to work on over several months. The pattern is Fylingdales, from Lisa Lloyd's book A Fine Fleece. I made some modifications to it, most notably having to completely wing it on the sleeves, because her directions didn't work at all.

It's also a major project because I spun all the yarn. This is my first major project made with my own yarn. It's a three-ply, spun on my Ladybug, using a supported long draw. The yarn turned out fluffy and squishy, in most places. All in all, a success.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

all is well, all is not well

So, I live in Binghamton.

I was home with my kids on Friday morning when I got an email letting me know there was a hostage situation, and not to go downtown. I had a friend over for a knitting lesson that afternoon, so we were knitting and chatting, wondering what was going on at the Civic Association. We couldn't find a radio station to give us the news, and I don't have television in my house, so we trooped up to my computer for updates. I think I assumed it would all come to nothing, because I gasped when I read that at least twelve people were shot dead.

Binghamton, like probably all the other towns where somebody has lost it and killed a bunch of people, has very little violent crime. We have some drug trafficking, the usual check fraud, an occasional bank robbery. Nobody gets mugged here. Most of us don't lock our doors, at night or any other time. We feel safe.

I walked the dog that night, and it freaked me out that our town could host such violence, and not show it. The streets and the houses all looked the same. I didn't know anyone who was killed, and I don't have any particular connection with the Civic Association. My life was unchanged. I was walking the dog. My kids were home, warm, and safe. My husband was fine, and he'd go off to work again on Monday. It was just another Friday night, and I found that deeply unsettling.

We made it through the weekend, cleaned the house on Saturday and went for a walk on Sunday. Joe and I had more than our usual number of disagreements, perhaps, but we worked them out, and maybe they weren't even related to the strange random violence that took place nearby.

Monday, we all went back to our lives. Joe went to work, the kids and I went about our day together. We did school, we went to a homeschool play practice, we came home, we had lunch. All normal, all surreal.

And then I went to work. I have a part time job at a school, helping out with the afterschool program a few days a week. The kids and I mostly play in the gym, or glue popsicle sticks together, whatever they want to do. They're pretty busy all day, so I let them do what they want at the end of the day.

So guess what they wanted to do yesterday?

They staged a dramatic re-enactment of the shootings. They knew a lot of the details. They had a classroom with students learning English, and a teacher helping them. They had a gunman come in and flatten them all. They had a receptionist with a belly wound, who heroically played dead and called the police. They had the gunman shoot himself in the head when he heard police sirens.

I wasn't horrified, and I didn't stop them. I was beside myself with joy. During the years when I was a classroom teacher, I observed over and over that kids will act out what they don't understand. Kids will act out the world of work, they'll act out a divorce, they'll act out a kid getting hit by a car. They're not choosy, and they don't have a sense of what's horrible and what's normal. It's all just life, and they're trying to understand it all.

And there they were, trying to understand something nobody can really explain, something so horrible most adults want to look away. They acted it out with joy, if you can believe it. They didn't take it seriously, and I didn't try to insist that they do so. They were joyful and laughing, as playful, bossy, and opinionated as they always are.

To these kids, the shooting is not the least bit surreal; it just is. And as I sat watching them put on a show, I was able to see it through their eyes. As they worked through it, I began to work through it myself.

It was beautiful, and ordinary. Just like life.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

well, how about that...

Many months ago, I submitted a post to Blog Nosh Magazine, and then heard nothing. Yesterday I heard that they're publishing my post TODAY! I'm excited, but a little wigged out. (I know, I know, what a change.) It's a post I'm proud of, and I stand by it, but it did generate more than a little controversy the first time around, and now that I'm not blogging quite as regularly, I'm not sure I'm up for it this time.

But we shall see. Maybe no one will even notice.

The post is here, along with kind comments by the site's education editor.

Friday, February 27, 2009

rainy day

Seriously rainy. Just coming down, and down and down. I don't even want to take a peaceful walk through the neighborhood with Cricket the dog in this weather.

It's a day for spinning, and building forts in the living room.

A really good day for hot cocoa, as it turns out.

I'd love to tell you I'm full of inspiration for all sorts of ideas for blog posts, and that I'll be back on the blogging horse soon, but I'm afraid it's just not happening. I've become an occasional blogger. I do miss the connections I had with other introspective homeschooling bloggers, and I miss that moment after noodling around with some idea about kids and learning for a while, when it crystalizes into a position worth writing about.

The good news is that a lot of my educational blather is less in the realm of theorizing and chit-chat, and more in the practical world of teaching. Our little homeschooling playgroup is gaining momentum as a co-op, and I now have regular opportunities to work with other people's kids. It's really good to be working again.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

big fish, small pond

One of the more interesting aspects of having gifted kids is that you get a chance to see yourself through the eyes of your parents and former teachers, as you realize that your kids' giftedness didn't come from nowhere. The kids and I are all what I call garden-variety gifted, while Joe is more in the "yikes-scary-smart" category. We are each curious and articulate, and school work comes easily.

As a teacher, that was most salient feature of the needs of gifted kids. When school work comes easily, you get one of two problems: either the kid skates through school, never having to muster an ounce of effort for good grades, or the kid is totally bored, acting out and (sometimes) failing. I've done both. When I had kids like these in my classroom, I worked hard to provide challenges for them. Homeschooling makes that aspect of modifying curriculum really easy, because it just doesn't matter what other kids their age are doing, we just do what makes sense for our kids now.

But I had very traditional schooling, with zero modification of the regular elementary classroom for my giftedness, and just a tiny bit of enrichment from time to time. As a result, I am accustomed to doing all the ordinary things easily, and I encounter my own significant resistance when I attempt something more challenging.

So: I knit. Mostly I knit things that aren't too hard for me. I've been knitting a long time, and it takes a lot of determination for me to steel myself to learn something new. There are people around me in real life who are impressed with my knitting, but I know better. Because of my constant trolling of the internets for knitting patterns and blogs, I know that my knitting is serviceable at best, but nothing to brag about.

I haven't blogged about this (although others have) but I went on a weekend spinning excursion in December. I rode on the train overnight out to Michigan so I could take a class from the very famous and fabulous Abby Franquemont at Beth Smith's very fabulous and famous shop, The Spinning Loft. I knew I would encounter knitters far more competent than I on this trip, and I did.

I came home determined to try something a little out of my comfort zone. Not crazy hard, just a little more challenging than the repetitive lace scarves, stockinette stitch sweaters, and ribbed socks I knit most of the time. I settled on this pattern: Juno Regina, by Miriam Felton. It's a symmetrical lace pattern scarf, with a long simple section sandwiched between two large diamonds full of diamonds. It's cool. I really like it. I'm knitting it in a fabulous two-ply black alpaca that is squishy and soft, and I know I'm going to love love love this scarf when it's finished.

I've been working on it about three weeks, and here's how far I've gotten:
The reason for this pathetic progress is that I've ripped it out three times, all the way back to the beginning. And the reason for that is because I refuse to use life lines. (Just in case there is anyone still reading who doesn't know about life lines in this context, it means threading all your stitches through a length of contrasting yarn, so that if you make a mistake later and have to rip it out, you can rip back to the yarn holding your stitches, rather than all the way back to the beginning.)

And the reason for that is my own stubborn arrogance. I get going on the thing, and I get excited that it's going well, and I don't want to stop to put in a piece of ugly string that's going to be hard to knit around, so I don't. And then I make a mistake, and I can't figure out how to fix it, so I rip it back to the start and cast on again.

I'm not giving up on this scarf. I think I'm going to have to use life lines.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

ok, i'm awake now

So I've given a lot of thought and writing to the ways in which homeschooling is different from teaching school. And really, it is way, way different. Coming off six intense years of teaching made moving to homeschooling feel like a warm bubble bath after coming in from the cold. Fun! Relaxing! Easy!

I haven't thought much about how teaching at home is the same as classroom teaching, I think mostly because the similarities were so obvious--teaching kids how to do stuff--that they didn't bear articulating.

I just discovered a big similarity, and I'm sort of shocked about it: the need for professionalism.

Teaching school requires that you focus on the kids, and tune out things like your headache, your pants that don't fit quite right, the parent who wants a conference after school, the bullshit politics with other teachers. And so on, ad infinitum. There's so much going on in a school of any size that you hone the skill of tuning it all out so you can actually do your job. There are times when a pinpoint focus on the children and their work comes to feel like a relief, because all those other things are distracting noise: less important, less interesting. And you have far less control over how all those other things go.

And you have to be on time.

And you have to make sure you're prepared.

And you have to have eaten breakfast, and planned for your lunch.

And you have to smile and get through it, even when it's hard.

I pretty much let go off all these things when I started homeschooling. They seemed like the trappings of a professional life, not necessary anymore, like a pair of uncomfortable shoes or a good suit: something I needed to put on for a job, but at home, I could wear my slippers and robe.

Last week, we had a major mutiny. I had some deadlines unrelated to homeschooling, and a few too many personal crises, and we just didn't do much formal school. Little was also sick, so we missed out on every one of the social opportunities we usually have with other homeschoolers. There may have been a time when Big One would have reveled in a few days of freedom, but he's pretty much over that. He wants to feel like he's accomplishing something, like he's learning something, every day.

Also? He wants lunch. Every single day. And he wants to see his friends, as much as possible.

And last week, he decided that the best way to get all these things was to go to public school. He decided that we would have one last day of homeschooling and then he'd go off to school on Monday.

I asked him to give me one more chance, and we drew up a list of agreements. He doesn't want this list to be made public in any way, so I will summarize:

I now have a job. It feels pretty good.

Monday, February 02, 2009

monday in pictures, with feeling

Today was a sweet day, because today was the homeschool day that very nearly wasn't. Today might have been the day that my big boy went off to public school for the first time. Instead we have pulled ourselves together, thought about what's really important, and come to an agreement. More soon, today just pictures.
As an added bonus, dinner is planned and done, although still simmering and not quite ready to eat.