Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Halftime Review

Bring out the bands to entertain the crowds, and give the players time to catch their breath and review.


Sunshine is coming along very well in reading. We're currently using the OPGTR which Brighteyes just finished. She's working on words with consonant blends. She's much more patient with these lessons than Brighteyes was. Brighteyes would (will) go over something twice, then scream if she didn't (doesn't) get it right by the second try. Sunshine will go over the same word five or six times if need be to get it right. Consequently she's learning these lessons faster. She is also becoming much more talkative and more willing to state her own preference instead of waiting to get what her sister gets. While she still throws tantrums, their frequency has diminished. She has also become more demonstrative and affectionate.

I'm not sure what to do about Sunshine's writing and drawing though. She doesn't command a pencil well. I started reading Drawing With Children to see if that will give me any good ideas. If I can help her improve her drawing, her handwriting should follow.

At least, I'm trying to read Drawing With Children. It's treading really close to some old wounds about how badly art was taught to me. I keep having to put it down and run around fuming, "Where was this when I needed it?"


Brighteyes has been cranky lately. She doesn't want to do what she's told, and if something doesn't go her way she often throws a temper tantrum. I'm told it's a 6yo trait. I hope it leaves soon.

Then again, by the time I was 6yo I already had symptoms of SADS. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to start giving her cod liver oil gelcaps. She hasn't needed any vitamins or supplements so far (we eat a lot of fresh produce), but now might be the time to start. I tried giving the girls a gelcap last night. Brighteyes got it down after a few tries, but Sunshine couldn't handle it.

Brighteyes finished OPGTR and Singapore 1A right before Christmas. She's looking forward to starting Minimus. She's not looking forward to Singapore 1B. They're working on adding numbers in the 20-40 range, and that intimidates her. There's a 1 - 100 chart over her bed, so we'll be doing math in her room for the next few days until it stops being scary.

I haven't decided if I'm going to try to begin teaching Sunshine Latin now as well. I think she could handle the verbal work at her age, but only if she's interested and she has only shown mild interest. We'll see if she wants to be included once we start.

Foreign languages scare me. I was never introduced to them properly, and I don't have the kind of mind that can learn them well the way they were taught in high school and college. Hopefully, by starting early and going slow I can avoid the girls running into my problems.

Previously Brighteyes has insisted that we do the same work every day. Small children are procedural, and she likes her procedure. She fusses at me because we don't do both science and history every day, even though she's too little to handle both. But this time I worked up a schedule that has us doing alternative lessons on Friday and she was intrigued by it. I put all the things that don't normally fit, for one reason or another, on that day.

Monday - Thursday

Handwriting Sheet
History or Science


McGuffey Reader
Draw, Write, Now
Writing Letters
History Project

We'll see if that livens things up a bit.

Monday, December 26, 2005

"Intelligent Design" or What You Call the Game Determines How the Ball Moves

There are a lot of games that involve moving a ball across a rectangle of ground. One group of players tries to move it to the short end opposite them, while the other group of players tries to move it in the other direction. In the different games there are distinct but relatively inconsequential differences in the number of players, the size and shape of the ball, and the size of the rectangle of ground. The big difference is in how the players move the ball.

If the ball is kicked but never touched by the hands, it's soccer.

If the ball is bounced off the hands but never kicked or carried, it's basketball.

If the ball is kicked and carried, it's football.

If the ball is batted about in nets on sticks, it's lacrosse.

If the ball is scooted around the ground with sticks, it's field hockey.

Any group of people with a convenient ball and ground can decide to play any of those games. It doesn't really matter if they have the "right" number of players, or the "right" ground, or even the "right" ball. The important thing is that once they decide on the game they're playing, everyone moves the ball in the "right" way for that game.

That means that if you're playing soccer you don't pick the ball up and run with it. That move is acceptable in football, but in soccer it's cheating.

It means if you're playing basketball you don't kick the ball. That's acceptable in soccer, but in basketball it's cheating.

Other activities have other sets of rules they must be played by. If you're playing chess, you don't use the rules for dominoes. If you're writing a sonnet, you don't use the rules for writing a haiku. If you're doing traditional Irish step dancing, you don't shimmy your hips. If you're hammering something into two pieces of wood, you don't use a screw. If you're making chocolate fudge, you don't throw in a head of garlic.

And if you're teaching the scientific method, you don't throw in an untestable hypothesis and call it a "theory".

By themselves, there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these actions. But put into the wrong context, they become cheating.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the idea that an "Intelligent Designer" created the universe. Personally I believe it myself. But that idea can never be a scientific theory. An idea becomes a scientific theory by being tested using the scientific method to prove or disprove it. There is no way to scientifically prove or disprove the existence or nonexistence of an "Intelligent Designer", and without that there is no way "Intelligent Design" can ever be a scientific theory.

At this moment there are various attempts being made to inject "Intelligent Design" into science while bypassing the scientific method. Instead, legal and political methods that are used in civil rights cases are being used. There's nothing wrong with using these tactics in civil rights cases. But science isn't a civil rights issue. Science is a different game played by different rules. If you try to inject an idea that hasn't been tested scientifically into science, that's cheating. And if you succeed, the result you get will no longer be science at all. It'll be a whole other ball game.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Review: The Miracle of Life

Brighteyes is a biology nut. I thought she and her sister might be ready for this DVD, so I pulled it out. She's always been curious about babies, and I have always answered her questions until they reach the point of describing intercourse. (She usually only asks one or two at a time, and has only twice gone to that point. Fetal and infant development is just so much more interesting.) I remember watching it in grade school, and finding the presentation both tasteful and enthralling.

Brighteyes found the evolutionary talk at the beginning interesting, the middle boring, and the ending riveting. "Ooh, babies!"

Sunshine lacks her sister's intense interest in babies, so I thought she would be bored. Instead she stuck with it all the way. She grinned and said, "Sperm chased egg, and egg runned away!" I think she thought it was a Loony Tunes cartoon.

I was so young the last time I watched this film I missed the incredible snark potential in what I now call the Great Sperm Chase. There were times when my husband and I could scarcely keep a straight face, and Goddess forbid we should look at each other.

Narrator: Some sperm don't wait until they reach the egg, but try to impregnate the first round object they see, such as this ordinary body cell.

Mom: <Choke!>

Still, if the girls were old enough to see this they were old enough to get some version of "The Talk", even if it was only a watered-down version. "Now remember!" I said. "Having a baby is at least an 18-year commitment! Don't even think of starting one until you have a partner lined up to help you; and the time, money, and resources to commit to bringing up a child."

Brighteyes stared at me and said, "But Mommy, you won't tell me what I need to know!"

My heart jumped. Was I about to have to give the full-blown "Talk"? "Of course I will, honey. I'll answer any question you ask."

"No you won't!"

"Yes I will. I promise."

"No you won't!"

"I promise. What's your question?"

"You won't tell me how much it cost to have a baby!"

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Christmas Crud

This year marks the return of our semi-annual custom of catching a severe stomach virus at Christmas time. A few years ago a rotavirus (so named because it cuts through you like a Roto-rooter) killed our other custom of giving kitchenware as Christmas presents. There's nothing like giving someone a beautiful cake pan for Christmas and watching them turn green.

So far it's just Sunshine and my husband who are sick. Fortunately Brighteyes and I haven't caught anything yet, and we're praying we don't.

At least it should be over before Christmas gets here. And for these blessings we give thanks.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

New for Winter

We've updated our jewelry site. Check out the latest pieces and the lesson on soapstone casting.

There's also triple moon bracelet with a Goddess on one side and a God on the other. We'll put it up later.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Whose Morals?


  1. Of or concerned with the judgment of the goodness or badness of human action and character: moral scrutiny; a moral quandary.
  2. Teaching or exhibiting goodness or correctness of character and behavior: a moral lesson.
  3. Conforming to standards of what is right or just in behavior; virtuous: a moral life.
    Arising from conscience or the sense of right and wrong: a moral obligation
      Amanda Blake is an 18 year old homeschooler. She did not date at all while she was a teenage minor, but waited until she was an adult to start thinking about turning any of her friendships into romances. Her decision exhibits "goodness", "correct behavior", "virtue" and plain old common sense. I don't know of anyone who would disagree with me on calling it a moral choice.

      After her 18th birthday, she thought she might be ready to start thinking about dating. She didn't have any boy in mind, but she thought is was time to start getting prepared for the day when the right boy did come along.

      Even though she was now an adult, she still discussed the matter over with her father, who is her legal guardian. She listened to his advice and got his blessing to get on birth control pills. As an adult she did not need his permission, but as his daughter she valued his counsel and his approval. With his blessing she made an appointment with a local medical clinic for November 21.

      Miss Blake was seen by Dr. Delbert Huelskoetter. When she told him why she had come, she said the doctor "asked me if I was sexually active, and I said, " no," she said. "He then asked me if I planned on getting married, and I said "no" again. He asked me why I needed the birth control pills, and I said I wanted to be prepared. I'd rather not screw up and end up pregnant. I thought I was being responsible. He then gave me a speech about how it was better to wait for marriage with all the diseases out there, but I said "I don't have to." Amanda said the doctor asked about her religious beliefs and whether she went to church. When she said she was Wiccan or pagan, she said the doctor looked "shocked and affronted." He went on to ask her about her career plans, urged her to see a Christian counselor, and finally denied her request for a prescription for birth control pills, she said.

      "I actually started crying," she said. "The way he was saying it, he acted like I was doing something criminal. I felt humiliated and put on the spot. After about 20 minutes he said he wasn't going to give me a prescription. I said if I understood the law correctly, he had to. He said he had taken an oath to do what he knows is right and not what he thinks or believes is right. I said that a lot of people think they know what is right but it's really their personal opinion."

      The clinic charged Mis Blake $68 for the visit, which she paid. As she recieved no exam she has asked for her money back. The clinic refused.

      According to the clinic administrator Warren White, the clinic is a Christian organization, although you would have to go to their website to find that out. Mr. White also said there were other physicians present who would prescribe birth control pills. Miss Blake was not told about them or directed to them.

      Who behaved morally in this story?

      To my mind, Miss Blake is a very moral woman. She waited until she was an adult to date. In this day and age, that's so old-fashioned it's practically Victorian! She is an adult who doesn't plan to become sexually active anytime soon, but considers it prudent to obtain birth control pills just in case. After all, so many things can happen when you start dating, up to and including rape. I commend Ms. Blake for making informed, well reasoned, responsible choices.

      As far as Dr. Huelskoetter is concerned, Miss Blake is immoral. She thinks about sex outside of marriage. She is not a Christian. He doesn't care what reasoning led her to those choices. The choices are wrong, so she is wrong.

      To my mind, Dr. Huelskoetter is immoral. He was asked to perform a service for the good of his patient and the good of the public health. He refused to perform that service, and browbeat his patient instead. He then turned around and charged her for the sevice he did not perform.

      As far as Dr. Huelskoetter is concerned, he is moral. He discouraged a young woman from having premarital sex and counseled her to find Jesus.

      That's a huge perception gap. What's going on here?

      According to Doug Muder the differences in how Americans view morality come down to differences in how we view family. In his essay Red Family, Blue Family: Making sense of the values issue Muder makes the point that Conservatives tend to view our culture though a lens that sees family as an "Inherited Obligation". You were born with a certain set of obligations that arise from your relationships in regard to other people. As long as you live up to those obligations everything is fine, but you can't ask questions.

      This model has it's good points. You don't have to worry about any existential questions. You know who you are, where you fit in society, and most importantly you know there is theoretically a large network of people you can call upon for help -- as long as you stay in your assigned role and don't question your hereditary obligations. Once people start to question their obligations even if they choose to keep them the whole world will crumble to pieces. In that moment of hesitation, that blink, that soft "why?", Ragnarok begins.

      Social Liberals tend to view the world through the lens of a "Negotiated Commitment" family. You as an adult choose which voluntary commitments you make. You negotiate with the other adults around you how those commitments will be expressed.

      This model gives you a great deal of freedom to decide how you and the adults around you wish to treat each other. The downside is that negotiating those commitments with everyone you meet can be a neverending drain on your time, and you end up with a much smaller network of people you can call personally upon for help.

      Like all dichotomies this example is exagerrated. Still, it's the best model I've seen yet for the current perception gap.

      Such different world-views present a tremendous communication challenge. How do we get both sides understand each other? Unsolvable as the problem seems, people are working on it. Muder addresses the question of how Social Liberals can talk to Social Conservatives about patriotism. Bill Moyers is trying to do the same thing with environmentalism. Now how do we go about bridging the perception gap in speaking about morality in the case above?

      Quote of the Day

      I'm trolling Amazon for Pagan children's books when I stumble on to a Fundamentalist Christian young adult series called "Forbidden Doors". It looks like stereotypical scaremongering, but I found this revealing passage on the customer reviews of the 10th and 11th books. Keep in mind that by now Our Fair Heroes are supposed to have been Battling Wickedness for quite a while:

      "Wouldn't you think missionary-kids be more focused on the Bible and spreading the word, not being so forgiving like they are. They seem TOO LIBERAL. Becka seems to have too much self-esteem. She used to be real and dooubt herself. Now she's changed, it seems."

      Adolescent feminine self-esteem = TOO LIBERAL?

      Adolescent feminine self-esteem = not a believable Christian?

      I'm speachless.

      Friday, December 09, 2005

      Expiration dates

      The school nurse at the high school where my husband teaches is never available. My husband is the science teacher, and many of the students come to him for health advice. He wasn't surprised when a junior girl wanted to ask him a question.

      She held a condom packet in her hand. Although she doesn't date, her mother gave it to her "just in case". She put it in her purse and forgot about it. Recently she noticed that the date on the package had passed, and she wanted to know what to do about it.

      My husband thought for a moment, mulling over several possible answers. Finally he said, "The best thing you can do with that is give it back to your Momma and tell her why."

      The girl looked puzzled for a moment, then broke into a big grin. "Oh! You're right!"

      Thursday, December 08, 2005

      If You Can't Beat Them, Beat Them Up

      Paul Mirecki, who was planning to teach a course on "Intelligent Design, Creationism and Other Religious Mythologies" at Kansas University, "was treated at a Lawrence hospital for head injuries after he said he was beaten by two men on a country road. He said the men referred to the creationism course. Law enforcement officials were investigating." He later resigned as Chairman of the Department of Religious studies.

      Somebody explain to me, real slowly and real carefully, how this is not like the sort of "incidences" that happened so often in Nazi Germany before World War II. It looks an awful lot like that kind of duck to me.

      Tuesday, December 06, 2005

      Wiccan Homeschooler Denied Medical Care by Christian Doctor

      A prudent young homeschooled woman who had just turned 18 and started dating went to a doctor to get birth control pills. She had no intention to lose her virginity, but didn't want to take unnecessary chances. He refused her a prescription and gave her a 20 minute lecture on why she should choose Jesus instead. He did charge her the full price for the visit though.

      This is outrageous. Excuse me, but isn't an 18 year old an adult? And any young person who waits until he or she turns 18 to start dating is not exactly a libertine. Nor is it a sign of immorality to be prepared for all contingencies, up to and including rape. That's what they used to call a responsible person.

      Sunday, December 04, 2005

      The annual Holiday visit to see Mom just came and went. We had to be in Jackson yesterday to check out the Chimneyville Crafts Festival. Mom was on her way back from a senior trip. We got to her house Friday evening and cooked supper. She got in Friday night and ate it. The next morning she left to pick up her dog for the vet and we left to see Jackson. No one said anything impolitic. I didn't yell, scream or demand to be let off the position of counterweight on her seesaw relationship with my sister. I went down there with the intention of snatching my pictures off the wall and taking them home. I left them. Mom pulled out a box of my old keepsakes that I thought had been lost years ago and pressed it on me. I only took home one. Why did I do that? I don't understand why I'm so reluctant to cut the ties. Our relationship deteriorated into a facade years ago. Why don't I take the steps to end it cleanly? I guess I've just never been a good housekeeper.

      Then again, if I were the only one having Lake Wobegone Days that show wouldn't still be on the air.

      Anyway. In the past week we got in the Minimus student's guide. Brighteyes loves it. She insisted on taking it on the trip. Mom didn't know what to think of it. I only hope Brighteyes will enjoy it as much after we start working with the program.

      Chimneyville was a learning experience. The first thing we learned was that we couldn't navigate Jackson anymore, what with all the new building that has taken place. The second thing we learned is that Chimneyville is so much fun we should have gone years ago. We'll definitely have to work on the logistics of childcare-during-exhibitions, because we need to start doing exhibits again.

      Thursday, December 01, 2005

      HR 1815 the Homeschooling McGuffin Act

      The conservative Home School Legal Defense Association is pushing a bill through Congress to provide a legal definition of homeschoolers. Why? We've managed perfectly well with just a dictionary definition. We no more need a legal definition of "homeschooler" than we need a legal definition of "cook".

      The argument is that this will enable the military to accept homeschoolers, which they have trouble doing under their current guidelines. Since when does it take a federal law to change military guidelines? That's like hunting roaches with a bazooka.

      Remember desegregation? When the military desegregated, they did it with a Presidential Directive. It didn't take a federal law. Getting homeschoolers in the military is a minor issue compared to that. So why does it require a federal law? It doesn't. Federal laws are for things that affect the whole country, not just the military.

      In the immortal words of Jeff Smith, "Never play an Ace when a Two will do." A Federal law to let homeschooled adults in the military is superfluous.

      Then there's the political question. Why is an organization that identifies itself with Conservatives, courts Conservatives, and endorses Conservative candidates campaigning for a superfluous federal law? I thought Conservatives were all about eliminating superfluous legislation, not about adding more.

      What is the real purpose for this bill and why isn't the HSLDA being up front about it?

      Commentary on HONDA (the bill):

      Debate on HONDA:

      Wednesday, November 30, 2005

      Gone for the weekend.

      We're going to be in Jackson this weekend. Ironically, Mom called earlier this week. She's fallen out with Sis and wants to get back on my good side, without going so far as to apologize for anything she may have done. She acted like she hadn't done anything she had to apologize for, but she did it badly.

      I would just as soon tell her off for good, but my husband is more politic. There's still some old artwork and stuff of mine that's stored where she can get to it. He wants me to at least make sure everything is secure first.

      So we'll be spending the night at her house. All I have to do is not say anything, and let my husband and the girls keep her busy.

      I would rather do just about anything else in the world than be around that woman right now.

      Depression Toolkit

      Looks like I'm going to be depressed for the holidays. Time to pull out the old depression toolkit.

      After 30+ years of living with my own depression, I know many of it's quirks. My depression is deliberately misplaced frustration. When I was a child there was no safe outlet for my frustration and anger, so I turned it inward and began beating up on myself. This tactic stemmed for a belief that if I tried to beat other people up instead, they would do more damage to me than I would do beating up myself. Like, they might kill me.

      When something scares you that much, PTSD is the logical next step. It's where you deliberately misplace your fear, you anger, every emotion that interferes with your self-control until later. Then, when you are in a safe place, all the misplaced terrors can come bubbling up in an environment where losing control won't mean losing your life. At least that's the theory your subconscious is counting on when you first begin operating that way. In real life it's not that neat and tidy. In real life, soon nothing can match the terror of true peace and quiet.

      Anyway, beating myself up became a habit, and one that my parents went out of their way to encourage. It's a hard habit to break. Shoot, it took me most of my life to even recognize it was a habit, and that I could do something about it. PTSD is even harder to break because it's sneakier.

      My husband tells me that whenever I get depressed, if you dig deep enough you always find my mother at the bottom. I've always dismissed that theory as too simplistic, but he's known me for almost 20 years now and he still holds to it. He might have something there.

      My oldest technique is to curl up into a ball of self-pity and ignore the rest of the world for about six weeks. But I'm a mother now, I can't afford the luxury of that much time to myself. More to the point, I don't have the stomach for it anymore. I'm incredibly tired of sinking into my depths and then dragging myself back out again. Most of the "shadows" are old scripts that have long outlived their usefulness; and I'm too old to play games with the tattered phantoms that still haunt my head. In recent years I've developed a few other methods that allow me more self-respect.

      I was doing most of these until this summer, when between illness and homeschooling I convinced myself I didn't have the time. Six months later I'm paying the price. Sheesh. And they call me a genius. I despise all the maintenance that goes with having a chronic illness.

      The trick is to keep the energy flowing through my body. As long as it's flowing, it can't clog up and turn into frustration which turns into depression. To that end we have:

      #1: Meditation. Nothing fancy, just trying to clear my mind for 10 - 30 minutes a day. Hard to do around children, but good to do on long sleepless nights. And if it puts me to sleep, that's a bonus.

      #2: Exercise and Yoga. This has recently gone from being a source of fun to a source of frustration. I used to exercise for 30 minutes every morning. After two straight years I had improved my muscle tone, relaxed my mind, increased my stamina -- and not lost an ounce of weight. Deep calming breath. Okay. I learned to live with the fact that my body is going to be the same size no matter what I do. But I still have all the coordination of a beached whale. After all my years of practice, I still can't move as gracefully as any other woman who is starting cold. I haven't figured out how to handle that one yet.

      #3: Creating stuff. I haven't sewed this much in years. The problem comes when something stops me. My latest bender started when I couldn't find the tool I needed to finish a job.

      #4: Writing. Gotta keep writing. Can't afford to stop.

      Sunday, November 27, 2005

      Time Flies

      I'm fond of natural consequences. Right now the girls' lessons take two hours to do in the morning if nobody throws a fuss. If someone fusses, it's two hours plus however long the fuss lasts. Brighteyes is learning that throwing a fuss over lessons is conterproductive. It causes lessons to last longer and cuts into her free time.

      The other day the subject of public school came up, and I asked her if she knew how long the same lessons took in school. (I didn't mention that those students covered as lot less material, since they didn't have History, Science, Grammer, or Recess.) She didn't know and asked how long. I told her six and a half hours.

      Her jaw dropped. "Six and a half hours! How much fussing do they do?"

      Good question. I hope she learns better time management skills than I had when I graduated from school.

      Thursday, November 24, 2005

      Weirdly Charming

      I've never seen anything like it before. The Dis Brimstone-Daily Pitchfork tries to be offensive, but most of their posts come off as weirdly charming or quirkily cynical. It helps that in spite of starting out with a strident anti-homeschooling stand, they completely recanted and apologized magnificently when Darryl Cobranchi and Chris O'Donnell pointed out the error of their thinking. There aren't many people around who are big enough to do that these days. I guess they appeal to the part of me that appreciates people who can treat the appalling with a sense of humor. As the incomparable Molly Ivins has said, "Sometimes you can either laugh, cry, or throw up; and only one of them is good for you."

      Excellent article on the importance of critical thinking.

      Here's a taste:

      The ancient Romans had slaves from all over the world. Some of their slaves, like the Greeks, were bright, and the Romans controlled them by limiting their education. Romans allowed slaves to be educated in math and engineering so they could build things, and in the arts so they could entertain, but only Roman citizens (free people) could study history, rhetoric, or philosophy - the exclusive privilege of the liberi, the free men.

      True thinking is work. It involves being comfortable with not knowing, and that flies in the face of punditry. But if we want to truly understand what we read on the front page, or be able to sort through both NPR and Rush Limbaugh, we have to practice on tough material - such as literature or philosophy - which might temporarily confuse, but will ultimately free us all.

      Won't someone ring my bell?

      Years ago we bought an old mobile home, hauled it to a former pasture, and built half a house onto the back of it. That turned out to be a really good idea that let us avoid a ton of debt. But there's some things that old mobile homes don't have which regular houses do, and one of them is doorbells. It's hard to hear people knock on the front door now when you're in the back, which has led to horn blowing, cell-phone calling, and people walking all around the place yelling. It was time to get a doorbell.

      Given a choice between a mechanical solution to a problem and an electric solution to a problem, I look real hard at the fine print. An electric doorbell meant wiring, with all its inherent problems. A "wireless" doorbell meant installing two devices and living with all the problems inherent with batteries. A mechanical bell would be cheaper, more durable, much less prone to breakdowns, involve less installation and look prettier. It looked like a winner all around.

      This summer I got a cast iron doggy bell for my birthday. It's pretty, tough, installs without any major problems, works even when the lights don't, and it's loud. You can almost hear it in the next county. We put it up next to the front door in the traditional "doorbell" position.

      The girls love ringing the bell. They delight in making it clang whenever they go in and out of the door. The problem is none of the adults will use it. They'll knock, blow their horns, call on their cell phones, and walk all around the place yelling, but they won't pull the bell-pull. We even had one couple leave thinking there was no one at home because we didn't hear them and they wouldn't ring the bell.

      Sometimes I wonder about cultural conditioning in our society. Can people only recognize a doorbell when it comes as a tiny buzzer? Are they afraid they're going to break a cast iron bell by touching it? Do they think it's impossible for something to be gasp decorative and functional at the same time? We've thought about putting up a sign saying "please ring bell" but we're not sure if even that will work.

      Eh, people. Sometimes you can't even call them intelligent apes. Apes are smarter than that.

      Sunday, November 20, 2005

      Sunshine Fires Up

      Sunshine has really made progress this week. Recently she's been clingy and easily distracted, and I wondered if she might have been about to make a developmental leap. She was. She's gone from reading only a few words to reading Dr. Seuss books all be herself. She's gone for as long as two days at a time without wetting herself. She's writing recognizable capital letters, although don't ask her to attempt numbers. I asked her if she's ready to join Brighteyes for history and science narrations, and she said yes. I'll only ask her for one fact instead of three though. I'm trying to see that step as an important development for her, and not simply more paperwork for me.

      Sunshine is reading two - five lessons a day in the McGuffey Primer. Last month she was struggling with one. She'll finish the book next week. I'll ask her if she wants to go on to either The McGuffey 1st Level Reader or The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading. She's doing fine in her Jumpstart workbook as long as the problem doesn't involve writing out numbers or drawing pictures.

      Brighteyes will finish The OPGTR in the next two weeks. She's struggling with the last 10 lessons. Of course, the last 10 lessons involve challenge words like "psychiatrist" and "extraterrestrial" which I pointed out to her cause problems for most adults. She told me the other day that she was really glad we had worked our way through that book. She can read much better now because of what it taught her.

      After she finishes that book we'll go on to the McGuffey Second Reader. We'll do
      McGuffey every day until the Latin materials come in, then we'll do Latin four days a week and McGuffey on Friday. I've already moved that section to right behind Math first thing in the morning in anticipation of Math and Latin being our two hardest subjects.

      Speaking of Math, she'll finish Singapore 1A in about a week as well. We're going to have quite a changeover of books soon. I'm trying to scan workbook 1B so I don't have to buy a separate one for Sunshine in a few years. It'll be interesting to see what Brighteyes thinks of putting her Math work in her big notebook along with most of the rest of her work.

      We're leaving Prehistory and starting Ancient Civilizations. The amount of activities available has gone through the roof. Now instead of scrambling to find anything I'm scrambling among many choices to find the right one. Greater variety - yea! More prep time - sigh.

      As I've left the preschool curriculum and entered the first grade curriculum I've found more material that's "reproducible", i.e. black and white so it's easy to slap on a copier. In theory this is a wonderful way to save money if you have more than one child. In practice it involves an awful lot of time and storage issues. Right now I'm scanning four workbooks into the computer, with a fifth one coming in the mail. This is laborious.

      The Forsaken Merman

      In Literature we just finished The Oxford Treasure of Classic Poems, or at least those the girls and I found suitable. Brighteyes had read them all of course but she didn't understand them all, and she wondered why I skipped reading some aloud. When I read them aloud I explain them as I go. The next time I came to a skip point I told her the next three poems dealt with massacres, which is where a person or group of people deliberately murder lots of other people. Did she want me to read them or skip them? She looked very sober and decided to skip them.

      She found "The Forsaken Merman" the most disturbing poem of any I read from the book. She wanted to know why the Mommy had to leave the Daddy and their babies. I explained that Christianity was a religion that told people who they could or could not fall in love with and marry, and it didn't like magic or mer people. She stared at me in silence for several moments then asked me if the Merman was real. I said I didn't know if the Merman was real, but the issue of the Christian church telling people whom they could or could not marry was very real and going on right now. She stood up and turned away from me with her fists clenched.

      After a while she asked me, "How can a God be a bully?" I explained that the Christian God didn't appear to be a bully on paper, but that Christian churches were all too often run by bullies who interpreted what their God said in a way that allowed them to bully other people. She thought that was unfair, but understandable. She can comprehend people who are bullies, but not a God who is a bully. I told her I had trouble understanding that idea too, but that the Goddess would love her and her sister no matter what.

      I confess I didn't expect such theological depth at her age. I'll have to talk to her more about religion.

      The Fossil Hunt

      Last Saturday Brighteyes and her Daddy went fossil hunting. The state paleontologist visited the local Rock & Gem club to show them the ropes, and Daddy thought Brighteyes was old enough for it. They drove an hour to the spot and listened to a lecture from the paleontologist on what to look for. Then they went digging. Brighteyes followed the paleontologist's directions to the letter, while most of the adult had their own ideas where to look. She hit a vein of the appropriate mud and soon found lots of fossilized shark's teeth and a myosaur bone. She gave some of the teeth away to grownups who didn't find any. As the rest of the club consists mainly of grandparents and retired schoolteachers, she was then showered with a giant fossil clamshell and a few pounds of mineral samples.

      On the way home they stopped at a family owned Westernwear shop to see if the owners needed any turquoise jewelry. (Their customers were only into disposable chic, much to the disappointment of the owners.) The white-bearded husband was putting out new boots when they arrived. Brighteyes walked right up to him and asked, "Hey old man, what are you doing with those boxes?" He doubled over laughing.

      Sunshine was too little for the trip, so she and I spent the day sorting art postcards. I had some other things planned, but she was quite happy to look at the pictures. She doesn't know what to make of Dali, but she likes quilt patterns. Then Daddy and Brighteyes came home and told us about their trip. "I found more teeth than the grownups did!" Sometimes it pays to follow the instructions.

      Wednesday, November 16, 2005

      Sick computer

      A bad thunderstorm combined with some Byzantine office politics in the bowels of our machine ("I don't like that server!" "Well I don't like that driver!") have shut down our computer for the past few days. Hopefully it'll be up and online soon.

      Sunday, November 13, 2005

      Frugality "Myths"

      This has been kicking around my Drafts folder long enough:

      I've been officially "frugal" for 15 years. I started to be snarky and say, "Before that I was 'broke'", but that's not really true. Frugality is an attitude and a lifestyle. It has nothing to do with how much money you have or don't have. Frugality is all about solving problems by throwing brainpower, willpower and creativity at them instead of throwing money at them.

      I've been living this way for so long that I was surprised the other day when someone told me that frugality means, "peanut butter and jelly for every lunch, beans and rice for every supper, and spending all your time driving all over town to shop at thrift stores." Where in the world did THAT come from? Okay, I'll admit to doing the beans-and-rice number while we were paying off our house note, but we were so psyched up over getting out of debt we didn't even notice what we were eating. It's been over 15 years since we had to eat off a stash of food that was that slim, certainly not since we got the deep freeze. And we've never spent all our time or money at thrift stores. Frugality includes prudent management of one's time as well as prudent management of one's money; and constant shopping, even at thrift shops, is just not a frugal way to spend your time.

      People have a lot of strange ideas about frugality. There's as many "myths" about frugality as there are about homeschooling. Which ones have you heard? Here's a few of my favorites:

      "Frugality = deprivation" False. Frugality is not about deprivation, it's about planning ahead. Jeff Smith bills himself as "The Frugal Gourmet", but would you feel deprived eating at his table?

      "Frugality = budgeting" False. Some of the biggest frugality gurus are completely against the idea of budgeting. Our family has been frugal since we got married, and we've never once sat down and worked out a budget.

      "Frugality means following a die-hard formula." My husband's co-worker is one of three sisters who lived together. This sister did all the driving, another sister did all the cooking, while the third sister did all the maintenance. The first sister went to see a financial planner and was told she needed to spend less money on her car and more money on food. Duh people, you have to look at the big picture!

      "Frugality means never dressing your kids like their favorite TV characters." False. It means you kids can be dressed more like their favorite TV characters if that is what you and they want, because you're buying or making the parts yourself and not just whatever happens to have a logo slapped on it. The girls just came in from playing "Land of the Lost" in the backyard in their orange "Will and Holly" vests I made them from a yard of fleece, no sewing required.

      "Frugality means never being a conspicuous consumer." True at first, False over the long term. Once you start buying for value, other people will wonder how on earth you can possibly afford all the "nice" things. Simple, you're not buying all the junk.

      "Frugality means never eating out." False, but you do get very picky over where you eat out. If you can cook for yourself at home, a restaurant better have something really special to get your return business.

      "Two working spouses will always bring home more money than one." Not always true. You have to watch the net profit very carefully with this one. I once worked a job that was so far from home the cost of car repairs ate up all the income I made -- Not a Good Idea.

      "Frugality means never shopping at the mall/the boutique/the fancy story." Not necessarily. Frugality means getting the best value for your money. It may be that the really fancy store has clothes that wear so much longer than any other store the prorated cost of them is much lower than the dollar store, especially if you can buy them at a discount. Of course it may not, but it's worth doing the math to find out.

      It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...oh, crap

      I don't dislike the holidays, but this year it's like pouring acid on an open wound. I seem to have been disowned by my last living extended relatives this summer. The last time I spoke to either my mother or my sister -- did not go well. I have no idea what to do for Christmas.

      I should explain that I was abandoned at birth and adopted into an abusive family. I have chronic depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result. My family was okay with this. Well, they were okay with me being "weird" and seriously mentally ill as long as my condition was my own fault and something that would go away if I would just act like a normal person. By age 13 I was seeking out the school counselor almost every week just to talk. I knew I needed therapy and begged my parents to take me to a mental health counselor. They refused. "Good people" didn't go to such places. The day I turned 18 I walked to the state-funded mental health center.

      After a false start they figured out the chronic depression. (The PTSD was only diagnosed recently.) The healthier I got the chillier Mom became, especially when the question came up if something in the enviroment was making me depressed. But the rest of my relatives would not let her kick me out.

      Three years into a stable, loving relationship I finally admitted to myself I had been abused. I had known it since I was 9 or 10 but if I had admitted it to myself I would have been forced to act, and there was nothing I could do. And yet even after that, I kept trying to have some sort of meaningful relationship with Mom that allowed me to be something other than a whipping girl. I never argued with her if I could help it, even when it meant not mentioning things like finding out I was a Pagan. I kept hoping she'd change, even though she'd been the way she was for over 50 years. How stupid is that?

      Over the years every other member of my extended family has died. Now all that's left is Mom, my sister, and me. Sis has never stood up to Mom. In hindsight it was only a matter of time before I got the boot. I thought her peer group at church wouldn't let her break off ties with the mother of her only grandchildren. They're the ones who pressured her into coming to see us when our first child was born, and on my birthdays when she couldn't schedule a senior tour for that week. She's never been more than her usual level of rudeness when we visit her, which is usually three or four times a year. I guess Mom figures with Sis married, Sis will give her grandbabies and she can dump my family completely. Sis hates kids, so I may not be the only delusional member of this family.

      I feel pretty crappy these days. There's billions of decent, halfway decent and even half-assed mothers in this world. How'd I manage to luck up on a scared teenager for a birth mom and a schoolyard bully who never grew up for an adopted mom?

      Seeing this written down, I realize I sound just like somebody talking about a divorce. I never thought I'd find myself in that position.

      Goth Homeschoolers

      fairydance, originally uploaded by CrabbyLioness.

      Here's a niche market: a list for Goth Homeschoolers And why shouldn't Goths homeschool? Goths are unconventional, creative, independent, and all too often the Big Target on Campus. Sounds like a perfect candidate to me.

      Sunday, November 06, 2005

      Busy, busy, busy

      Right now I'm sewing closed the holes in the girls' winter wardrobes and scanning massive amounts of homeschool materials so I don't have to buy a seperate workbook for each girl. That hasn't left much time for blogging, I'm afraid. I've got three half-finished posts in my "edit" file and at least five others bouncing around my brain. I'll try to get some of them posted in the next few days.

      Tuesday, November 01, 2005

      Lady Ghosts

      lady ghosts, originally uploaded by CrabbyLioness.

      The girls in their Halloween costumes at the bellydance lesson.

      First, I apologize for not posting lately. Hurricane Rita soaked our town's modem connectors, and ever since then the line has taken to crashing ever 5 seconds. We've been told it'll be fixed "in a few days" for over a month now. Arrgh. It puts a cramp in uploading, not to mention composing thoughtful posts that don't contain swear words.

      We've had a wonderful break, enjoying a few rare weeks when the weather was just right to open the house up. In the first 5 days we caught colds, made cave paintings on an outdoor wall, built fairy houses, gone to parks, made paper airplanes, got out the atlas and the globe and matched up countries, read books, blown bubbles, drawn lots of pictures, drawn maps, worked on Halloween costumes and right now we're looking for a "learn to sew" book. And people wonder why I don't unschool. I'm about to need a vacation from my vacation.

      Then it was time to get serious about costumes. I cheat on costumes. Kwik-Sew makes a mega-pattern for children that has a basic t-shirt, sweatshirt, pull-on pants, pull-on skirt and button-down shirt. It shows you how to make dozens of variations based on those patterns. I use that for most of the patterns I sew.

      At Halloween the girls tell me what they want, we look at the fancy patterns, then I modify something from the Kwik-Sew pattern to get the same effect. Medieval dresses are stretch velvet ankle-length t-shirts. Animals are a matching t-shirt and pants with ears and tails. A pumpkin was a sweatshirt with an orange body, green sleeves, and matching green pants. This year the girls wanted to be lady ghosts, so I made ankle-length hooded sweatshirts with sleeves that flare out at the wrists and raided my stock of sparkly silver trimmings. I went as my usual stereotypical Gypsy. My husband wore his pirate shirt which nobody saw under his hooded jacket, and I made another note to sew him a cloak and vest to go with it before next year.

      Weekend before last was the Alabama Ren Faire, the only Ren Faire we're able to day-trip. It's our annual dip into the waters of sanity. Most of the year we're surrounded by people who worry far too much about conforming. It's a relief to our eyes to be among people who aren't trying to hide in the mainstream. I didn't have time to make the girls their usual Ren dresses and Red Riding Hood cloaks (which let me spot them instantly when they slip away!) but it was warm enough for them to wear their togas, aka their "Ancient History Dresses". We had a great time as usual.

      Last Saturday the nearest coven had a Samhein party. They're over an hour away, so we haven't been going. This year the girls were old enough for the drive. We had a blast. We got to see friends we haven't seen in months. A bellydance teacher showed up for impromptu lessons, and the girls and I had our shoes off in a flash. Brighteyes borrowed my mantle and wowed everybody with her veil work. Then there was a singalong and a pumpkin carving contest. There was a costume contest, which the girls won. As evening fell we had chicken chili, a haunted hayride, trick-or-treating, and a ritual. It was a blast. We must go more often.

      Yesterday was Halloween proper. The girls had spilled chili all over their white costumes. I didn't think we would get it all out, but Goop took at the grease and tomato stains and leaving the costumes on the clothesline all Sunday bleached out spice stains. Nobody trick-or-treats where we live now, so my husband took the girls to the mall while I stayed home "just in case". Since Sunshine doesn't let us watch DVDs she deems "scary" I finally got to pull out the Firefly collection and watch the first two episodes. I was impressed with how intelligent it was and depressed with those places where they had obviously run up against network censorship. "You can have all the sex and violence you want; but don't show smart people, complex situations or ethical dilemnas!" Bleah. When the girls came back we watched some cartoons to help them settle down, ate our Samhein supper, had our private ritual, and went to bed.

      Today dawned cold and rainy. We might as well get back to lessons. We'll probably take off a week for Thanksgiving, the end of December and all of January. We built up a lot of time off over the summer when it was too hot to go outside.

      Thursday, October 20, 2005

      Cave Painting

      Autumn is the kindest season in the Deep South. Winter is cold, Summer scorches, Spring is pretty but erratic. Autumn is long stretches of steady mild weather with little rain. Aside from Christmas and January, we take most of our time off in Autumn, because it's the best time of year to be outdoors where we live. Right now the girls are playing with bubbles in the backyard, and I'm supposed to be working on Halloween costumes.

      The last thing we did before going on holiday was cave painting. Brighteyes had won some finger paints at the Summer Reading Program, and Daddy donated the cinder block wall of the blacksmith's forge for the purpose. We waited until he got home so he could be part of it and take the pictures.

      When I opened the paint set, I found the paint was not liquid, but creamy. It looked like neon colored cold cream. We gobbed some on our fingers and went to work.

      The first thing we found out was that an undressed cinder block wall is not the best surface for painting. It's so porous it steals the paint right off your fingers. It's no place for brushstrokes, you have to use lots to leave an impression. It made us appreciate the value of a good cave wall. The girls tried to make animals but they came out as blobs. My husband and I were a little bit better at making recognizable shapes, but not much.

      When the girls got tired I poured some paint into a paper plate so we could make handprints. That was a lot of fun. Brighteyes made the best prints, because she spread her fingers the widest.

      That was a week ago. The paint has dried well, and is holding to the wall. We haven't had any rain, so we don't know yet how well it will do then. We've still got over half of the paint, and we'll have to get back to it soon. It seems like Brighteyes and Sunshine have been trying to see how many different things they can do while on break. They've been on the go constantly. I'll post the list soon.

      Thursday, October 13, 2005

      Samhein Break

      It's too pretty to be in the house. We're on break until Halloween/Samhein.

      We did the cave painting Tuesday. I'll put that story up in a day or so.

      Sunday, October 09, 2005

      The Paleontology of Oz

      Brighteyes wants to know if "Homo Sapiens Munchkin" (her term) were shorter than modern humans but taller than ancient humans.


      "What the Boy chiefly dabbled in was natural history and fairy tales, and he just took them as they came, in a sandwhichy sort of way, without making any distinctions; and really his course of reading strikes one as rather sensible." - Kenneth Grahame, "The Reluctant Dragon"

      Saturday, October 08, 2005

      We plunged from the 90s to the 70s this week. I packed up the girls' summer clothes, got out their winter clothes, and made an inventory of what was needed. Two Halloween ghost costumes, 1 1/2 Ren Faire costumes, a few nightgowns and shirts -- shouldn't take me a week to sew up if I had any energy, but I'm bushed. I'll have to see what I can put off till later while I dust off the sewing machine.

      Sunshine has been very interested in reading this week. She's doing daily lessons in her primer without making us go back and start at the beginning every day. She's also pulling out picture books and having me read them, then rereading the first two pages over and over again for hours. In a monotone. It's driving me nuts. I tell myself she's busy learning something and work to ignore it.

      All the drawing has improved her handwriting. She did letter-writing exercises twice this week, but the third day it was like she had no idea how to form any letter at all. Maybe it's boredom, but I'm not sure. Two steps forward, one step back.

      Brighteyes pulled out a crafts book and made her first diorama this week inside a cracker box. It was her first real experiment by herself with school glue. She didn't get glue all over anything and what she glued down is still stuck in place half a week later, so I'd say the experiment was a success.

      She wants to make a hanging loom. We visited the hardware store and the craft store this week for parts, and I'm looking around for a cheap plastic hair pick for her to use as a weaver's comb. At the moment she's working on teaching her puppy how to shake hands.

      This was supposed to have been the week we decorated the outside wall of the forge with "cave paintings". We spent the past two weeks reading up on the subject, and everyone was excited about it. Then Friday it threatened rain and I put it off. The girls were terribly upset, especially when the rain didn't come after all. We'll try to do it tomorrow. I'll try to post pictures when we're done.

      Tuesday, October 04, 2005

      Our Journey to Homeschooling Part 4: At Home With the Classics

      Part 1

      Part 2

      Part 3

      By now we had a three year-old who had started reading and one year-old who wanted to be just like her big sister. We were committed to homeschooling, but not sure how to go about it. Unschooling hadn't worked, but every system we had seen had been too arbitrary. We needed to figure out what we really wanted to do. We started by examining how we ourselves learned and picking apart what we already knew.

      The statement, "When I need to know something I can learn it then," is a conceit with two flaws. The first flaw is that the young child's brain is uniquely wired for learning, and most adults do not learn with the same ease and speed as a child. The second flaw overlooks the fact that quite often when you need to know something, you need to know it right now. You don't have time to research it. I don't mean facts like what was going on in Sweden in 1290 A.D., but concepts and their history. If someone comes up to you with a really great new idea that no one's ever thought of before, it's helpful to be able to say, "This idea was tried by the Sumerian Lugols, the Sun King, and the Soviet Premiers. These are the problems they had with it. What steps are you taking to keep the same problems from showing up in your model?" Or to use a recent example, it helps to know that when people say, "It's a new economy! The old rules about how money works have gone out the window!", they really mean, "We're inside a bubble that's going to burst any moment and wash billions of dollars in profit down the drain." An awful lot of people would be better off today if they had been taught that bit of economics when they were younger and remembered it ten years ago.

      At the same time, it is impossible, impractical and immoral to try to completely control a child's learning. It is impossible because children learn all the time, and no one can fully predict what lessons they will learn from any given situation. It is impractical because to control a child's learning environment is to limit it, and what you leave out may prove to be more important than what you let in. It is immoral because it denies the child the opportunity to learn how to learn and to integrate what they learn into their own psyche in their own way.

      The best method I have seen so far is called the classical method, also called the trivium. It is based on the way children learn language, and coordinates beautifully with the child's developing brain. The trivium picks one topic to be the central focus of the child's schooling and ties everything back to that one focus so you get a holistic effect, but you choose the topic.

      The trivium goes back at least to Ancient Greece and Rome, if not further. It was first condemned by Christians, then championed by them when they couldn't find a method of teaching that worked better. It was taught in Catholic schools up through the early 20th Century, and is still used by many private schools including the Marva Collins Schools and Calvert School, America's oldest correspondence school.

      As I said earlier, the method is based on how a child learns language. There are three stages, which correspond with three different phases in a child's mental development. The first stage of learning a language is learning the words. The second stage is learning how the words fit together to form sentances. The third stage is learning how to express your own ideas using that language.

      The first stage takes place before the age of 9 or 10m, when most children's brains are ready sponges actively absorbing every data point they run across. The teacher's job at this stage is to cover the material in a way the child finds interesting and fun.

      Around age 9 or 10, the child's brain matures enough to wonder about cause and effect. When that happens its time to change stages and begin teaching how all those facts you covered in the first stage fit together, and to deepen the child's understanding of those facts and the circumstances surrounding them. At this age a child wants to argue all the time. The trivium encourages you to teach them how to argue with lessons on Logic and critical thinking skills. Then at least they will be able to argue well, and to spot bad arguements offered by other people. Also, since a child is learning how to think through cause and effect, they are encouraged to study more independently and to learn how to manage their own time.

      Around the high school years, the child becomes obsessed with self-expression. Then the trivium switches to the third stage and concentrates on developing self-expression. The child learns Rhetoric so that they can get their ideas across with greater ease and so they can learn how to analyze the ideas of other people. They are encouraged to study what interests them, and to develop and communicate their own ideas and projects. Topics that don't interest them drop by the wayside so they can spend more time with what fires their imaginations.

      Part of what makes the trivium work is that it picks one subject to be the base subject, and ties all the other subjects back to that one. If the base topic is, say, history, then the science and literature for that year will concentrate on the scientific and literary developments that took place during the era of history being studied. Different people use different base subjects. "Traditionalists" use Latin as their base subject, Marva Collins uses phonics, Charlotte Mason used Nature studies, The Well-Trained Mind uses history, some Christians use Christianity and some Hellenistic Pagans use Ancient Greek Paganism. I've also heard of people making science, literature and the military their base subject. What matters is that you are consistent and don't change your focus from year to year. Change the focus slowly and only after careful consideration of what the new focus should be.

      I won't say that classical homeschooling is a perfect fit for everyone. I won't say that anything is a perfect fit for everyone, except for breathing. Classical homeschooling is a good fit when you have parents who love learning or children who are very bright and very energetic. We have both. I've asked other homeschoolers, "How many people do you know who classically homeschool and aren't Conservative Christians have aggressive learners? Children who are full of energy, want to learn badly, and if left on their own would tear the walls down just to see how they are made?" So far almost all the homeschoolers I've talked to who use a straightforward classical approach do so in self-defense. If you have that kind of child you might want to look into classical homeschooling.


      Today's the day for the shellfish lesson in Science. The girls are terribly distracted all day. They're not bad, but if I turn my back they wander away. Sunshine actually does a reading, a drawing, and two workbook exercises today after a several week break, and only throws one tantrum about it. She wants to read the whole primer from the beginning and hates it when I want to start in the middle, but if we start at the beginning she gets bored by the fifth story.

      "Guess what animal we'll be covering today!", I say in an attempt at mystery. That perks them up a bit. We finally get to Science at the end of the day. I open the Usborne World history book to the page of the first multi-celled organisms, then open a can of Play-Doh.

      "We've covered microbes, worms, and jellyfish. What do all these animals have in common?" I ask as I roll out a Play-Doh worm and a balloon. The girls grumble a bit, then Brighteyes mutters "soft-bodied".

      "That's right! They're all soft-bodied. This is a problem, because if a rock falls on them they get squished." I squish the worm with a plastic toy.

      "Ooh! Squish!", say the girls. Many more worms are made out of Play-Doh and squished in the name of Science. "Squish! Squish! Squish!"

      "Right! So what are these soft-bodied creatures going to do about that?" I roll a ball of Play-Doh up and cover it with a clamshell. "They evolve shells." I tap the top of the shell with the plastic toy and turn it over to show the soft body underneath is safe.

      "Oh! The shells are hard! They protect the soft bodies!", says Brighteyes.

      After that there's a lot of Play-Doh played with. Sunshine has to be reminded to tap the clamshell gently, Mommy's had it a long time and we don't want to break it. Then the girls remember my seashell collection that's kept locked up and clamor for it ("Next lesson.") It takes a lot of work on my part to get Brighteyes to focus on the page about seashells in her animal book and narrate back to me what she learned on it. Then we're through with lessons, and the girls get into a fuss involving messing up each other's creations. By lunchtime we're all frazzled.

      All in all the second half of the lesson could have gone a whole lot better. I'll have to work on that when using something like Play-Doh in the future. But I don't think they'll ever forget what shells are for.

      Sunday, October 02, 2005

      Flashback: Notes From a Life-Long Learner

      I posted the original form of this essay to an e-list last year as part of a discussion on the pros and cons of self-teaching:

      The argument that children should not learn to read from primers but only from "real world reading experience" takes a very limited view of the real world. The real world includes all the things the child happens to find in it. Depending on where the child grows up this can include chickens, computers, nomadic tents, high-rise apartments, goats, gruel, cereal boxes and primers -- sometimes all at the same time.

      I've tutored adult literacy students before. Their usual preferred reading material was the grocery sale ads and the paperwork they had to deal with on a daily basis. These were urgent matters that couldn't wait. But while grocery ads are interesting to my daughters, they lack the same relevance. In their world fairy tales and primers are just as important as milk sales and a lot more fun.

      Brighteyes likes McGuffey's Eclectic Primer. She also likes reading every book, brochure, road sign and label she sees. Sunshine is more laid back, but she picks up an amazing amount of learning just from sitting back and listening, often answering puzzles before her big sister.

      Both my husband and I had both a lot of formal education -- I've been to college, he has a PhD in Molecular Biology. We've also had a lot of informal and self education -- over the years we've taught ourselves an awful lot about the world, as well as
      organic gardening, painting, sculpture, cooking, baking, carpentry, cabinet-making, dress-making, crochet, roofing, embroidery, husbandry, silversmithing, goldsmithing, blacksmithing, lapidary,sword-making and enameling. We've taught a lot of people in informal settings. We've taught a lot of people in classrooms.

      Some students respond well to self teaching. Some students want or need someone to hold their hands. Those who can learn things well from a book will. Someone who has severe problems with dyslexia isn't going to learn well out of a book, and someone with a fear of fire isn't going to pick up a torch without guidance, however much they may yearn to learn soldering.

      And that's not even getting into the various "styles" of learning -- visual, audio, kinetic. My husband once had a "taste" learner in Botany. She could only catalog facts if she had a taste to go with it. He taught her by giving her tiny bits of plant material to taste with the tip of her tongue, but she was completely lost in her English class.

      Most techniques are really easy to self-teach and teach informally. Some techniques are almost impossible for the average person to learn without hands-on training from someone who knows what they are doing. My husband was part of the last class his graduate school taught in preparing slides for Electron Microscopy. The technique is so demanding the instructor has to literally hold and guide the students' hands for hours on end before the student develops the skill to cut a slice a micron thick on their own. The instructor couldn't teach more than five students a semester, and when the university insisted each class have at least 10 students the course had to be cancelled permanently.

      Even the original proponents of the "modern" style of teaching art -- just do whatever you feel like, don't worry about technique -- now say that while it does a great job of freeing creativity it doesn't teach you what to do with that creativity. I vividly remember sitting in "Art" and "Creative Writing" classes boiling with fury as the teacher chirped, "Oh, just do whatever you feel like. Be creative!" I already had the creative ideas, thank-you-very-much. I was paying with my time and my money for pointers on how to massage those creative ideas into the shapes I wanted them in. What are the most dramatic ways of describing scene X as a prelude to Y? How do you modify proportions to make everything look right in a particular setting? What are the differences in "realistic", "classical", "heroic" and "fantasy" figures? What are the different solders used for? What's the difference in temperature between pouring silver for lost-wax casting and sand casting, and what are the torches, tips and regulators you need for both? It's taken a lifetime of obsessively searching out antique textbooks and extensive trial and error to recreate what one 19th Century expert could have shown us in an afternoon.

      Things involving a high level of dexterity -- handwriting, playing an instrument, dance -- take up to 1000 repetitions before you can do them well. And that's if you're lucky to have good hand-eye coordination. I don't, sometimes it takes me as many as 10 times the repetitions as it takes other people. But young children don't know that, they can't even grasp the concept of 1000. The only way to learn "practice makes perfect" is to see it happen in real life. One thing I'm careful to do is to show my daughters Mommy practicing something she's not good at and how she gets better over time. Right now it's bellydance. :P If there's a problem with
      the concept, it's time to do something else and come back to that later. But if it's just "don't wanna" my philosophy a little bit won't hurt you, then we'll do the fun stuff. "Three more bites of soup, then we'll get out the cheese and crackers." "Seven words a day, then we'll do a connect-the-dot puzzle."

      Thursday, September 29, 2005

      I don't know when I'll get a chance to post this. The dsl line has been down for days, unlike Katrina where the dsl was back working long before the phone line.

      Sunshine has been very interested in reading for the past week. She's been bringing books to lessons for me to read to her. It started with a picture word book and has moved on to The Pokey Little Puppy. She's shown a little interest in math as well, but she has trouble telling me if three items are more or less than four items, even if those items are pieces of candy. She's either not that interested or not that greedy.

      Brighteyes will be going through a series of book changes in the next month. She'll be starting Spelling Workout B and Draw, Write, Now 2 in the next week and starting Singapore Math 1B and ending The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Reading in the next four weeks. We'll go back to the Second McGuffey Reader when she finishes the phonics book. She zipped through the McGuffey Primer and the First Reader, but hit a wall when she got to the Second Reader. She was trying to memorize all the words instead of learn them phonetically, and she was intimidated by the length of the readings. She's since learned the value of phonics and she's not afraid of a two-page reading any more. Last week she started reading the two-page spreads we summarize for History and Science herself, although she lets me help her with the unfamiliar words.

      The Oxford Treasury of Classic Poems is popular in Literature. The girls love the longer poems, especially W.H. Auden. Brighteyes thrilled to Auden's "Night Mail" today. She wanted to read it herself, but was put off by the English spelling and Scottish terms. She wants to memorize a poem or two from that book, if she can find any short enough.

      Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" was a hit a few days ago, and started the girls to talking more about their own dreams. I have told them about places my husband and I have visited together in Dreamtime. Maybe they will find their own way to those places as well.

      We're covering the animals in order of evolution for science. We look at the pages in the Usborne World History book on the evolution of animals, then find a modern equivalent in the Kingfisher Animal Encyclopedia. So far it's been Microbes --> Jellyfish --> Worms. I'd like to make a earthworm farm, but as hot and dry as it's been I haven't seen many earthworms in the garden. We may have to buy some at a fishing supply place, and I'm not sure where those are around here. Next week we'll cover Simple Shellfish and look at my childhood seashell collection. The week after that it'll be Jointed Shellfish, probably Lobster/crayfish.

      I've been relying on the internet for coloring pages of animals, instead of buying coloring books. That's not a bad idea, when the internet is working. But now the DSL line is down, and I haven't downloaded the pages I need for the next few days. Grrr....

      The big problem lately has been fussing. Sunshine has been throwing huge fusses over the next step in going potty, going potty without anyone watching her. She doesn't understand that if she's dependent on someone else to tell her and stand around watching her, she's not doing it all by herself, which is the goal. Probably in responce to Sunshine's potty fusses, Brighteyes has been throwing fusses during lessons if anyone talks around her, brushes up against her or even breathes too loudly. This touchiness doesn't leave me a lot of opportunity to teach Sunshine her lessons. With all the fussing going on, Mommy is fussed out. Hopefully now that the weather is down in the 80s I'll be able to get them outside more often, and they can burn off their energy fussing instead of playing.

      Update: We're covering early humans in History. Yesterday Brighteyes picked up the Magic Tree House books on Sabertooths. Today was the first day it was below 90, so I sent them outside to hunt for mammoth bones. They went for it. Yippee!

      Tuesday, September 27, 2005


      Gee, you think maybe Southerners in general and African-American New Orleanians in particular may be decent people after all?

      Not if you listen to the hodgepodge of rumors that pass for journalistic reporting these days.

      Rita and the Demo

      I don't know if the DSL will stay up long enough for me to post this, but here goes. Seems there's a major trunk line down in Texas.

      We did a silversmithing demo in the face of Hurricane Rita Saturday. As part of our obligation to the Mississippi Craftsmen's Guild, we have to do an outdoor crafts demo in Jackson once a year. When we first discussed the event with the Guild, they asked us to demo for a whole weekend and offered to put us up in a hotel room. Our faces lit up the way only the faces of parents of small children can at that idea. We looked at our calender and picked the last weekend of September for the demo. Summer's heat would have broken by then, and the weather looked like it would be pleasant.

      First there was the question of what aspect of silversmithing to cover. The site is basically a picnic area with a crafts store. Smithcraft involves fire, water, noxious chemicals, big heavy pieces of equipment and lots of little parts that can get blown away by a good breeze. That's why smithies were invented in the first place. Finally we decided to take some mold-carving and pewter-casting supplies.

      Then Katrina blew in and blew away our hotel reservation. All the Jackson hotels were full of refugees from the coast. We reorganized for a day trip.

      Rita thought it was a good day to go visiting as well. When we dropped off the girls with their great-aunt for the day, her house was full of cousins from Texas. That was the most people we saw all day. Jackson was practically deserted, except for the turnoff to the mall which was so packed traffic had backed up onto the interstate and ground to a complete halt. We saw maybe a dozen people and spent most of our time watching the sky, waiting for the second band of rain to start . The first band would just be a prelude, but the second band would announce the storm was immenent.

      The second band arrived around 3 p.m. We picked up the girls and found out they had learned a frustrating but important lesson in the pack behavior of children who attend schools. Then we came on home.

      Wednesday, September 21, 2005

      Silversmithing Demo at Ridgeland Crafts Center

      We'll be doing a silversmithing demo for the Craftsmen's Guild at the Ridgeland Crafts Center on the Trace Parkway on Saturday, September 24, 2005 from 10-4. We're supposed to be there from 12-4 on Sunday as well if the Guild can find us a hotel room, but we don't have any confirmation of this post-Katrina. Come by and see us if you can.

      Sunday, September 18, 2005

      Steppin' Out

      It's been a busy week, and I've fallen behind on my posts. I'm typing this in short bits between times when I'm so tired my face hits the keyboard. We actually had two trips out this week that did not involve grocery shopping. I may keel over from the shock.

      Since we moved up here several years ago we've been busy having babies and building houses. If I wasn't changing a diaper I was swinging a hammer. There wasn't much time for a social life. In addition, the area we live in *cough, cough* has individuals who pride themselves on the lack of social opportunities present for those who aren't Conservative Christians.

      Wednesday we had a Homeschool Park Day. It was very fun. The girls had a blast, and as the organizer it was quite a feather in my cap -- literally. One of the children I met brought me a handfulls of duck feathers she had found and I wove them into a feather cockade for my straw hat.

      The more stressful event was our first show in years. There hasn't been a good local art show close by since before we moved here, and we were too busy to travel. (We don't set up at flea markets and kiddy shows. We found out the hard way people don't go to those events to buy anything over $5 -- at least not in Mississippi.) But this year our town put on an art show for the first time in 25 years, and we were invited.

      First off, we couldn't find a babysitter. This meant my husband had to do the show alone while I stayed home with the girls and caused ill feeling on both our parts.
      Then all our gear had to be pulled out and spruced up. Last week we were up until 12 and 1 every night getting the cases ready. Then the organizer called and announced the shindig Friday night was going to be a suit-and-tie event, which resulted in a mad scramble through the closets, to the dry cleaners and to the mall Wednesday night after Park Day.

      The mall was a strange trip. After twenty-five years of painfully ugly clothes and accessories, there was actually stuff in the stores I liked. There was plenty of georgeous dressy blues, purples and my beloved aquas on things that swung and sparkled. In previous years I've walked through an entire mall without seeing a single thing I liked, even among the neutral basics (ask my husband sometime about the infamous White Blouse hunt.) I'm not used to seeing clothes like that in stores, only in my dreams. All of a sudden frugality got a whole lot harder. After all, it might be another 25 years before I saw them again.

      The show itself was -- not as good as we hoped nor as bad as we feared. The crowd loved our jewelry but weren't expecting it, so our sales were almost nonexistent. Even then they were better than just about anyone else's sales. Still, first year shows are typically slow, so the odds are good next year will be better. And we do have our basic setup ready for action again, so hopefully there won't be such a mad scramble for the next show.

      Prayer to Laughter

      I'm glad I found this. I needed it.

      Prayer to Laughter

      Oh laughter
      Giver of relaxed mouths

      You who rule our belly with tickles
      You who come when not called
      You who can embarrass us at times

      Send us stiches in our sides
      Shake us til the water reaches our eyes
      Buckle our knees til we cannot stand

      We whose faces are grim and shattered
      We whose hearts are no longer hearty
      O laughter we beg you

      Crack us up
      Crack us up

      John Agard

      Tuesday, September 13, 2005

      ABCs and 123s of spiritual development

      Science asks: just how does religion help children? The answer goes back to William James and James Fowler, big surprise there. William James is the only person I've ever seen come close to studying religion in a sensible manner, asking exactly how various faiths dovetail with various personalities. I'm glad to see science is paying more attention to the positive effects of religious experience and not simply cataloging the negative.

      Monday, September 12, 2005

      WTM First-Grade Botany Review

      Last month we finished the botany recommendations for first grade from the Well-Trained Mind. They boiled down to, "Do six botany projects from Green Thumbs: A Kid's Activity Guide to Indoor and Outdoor Gardening

      The book is great. It has 87 botany projects including nature studies, gardening, building tools, herbalism, cooking and economics for people with big backyards and no backyards. But since you only need 6 lessons it's overkill. You barely scratch the surface.

      The girls had no interest at all in building tools. They liked gardening and nature studies, but herbalism was the hands down favorite especially after I explained how herbs were used for food and medicine.

      We did:

      1) Placing a white flower/celery stalk in colored water to watch it turn colors.

      2) Making sun tea.

      3) Making hot herb tea the regular way.

      4) Planting seeds and watching them grow into seedlings.

      5) Sprouted bean sprouts.

      6) Was going to be looking at pond water under a magnifying glass or watching yeast grow, but the girls begged to make crystalized flowers instead. Since I want to cover animals in order of evolution, we'll make microbial life the first lesson on that one. My husband wants to pull out his microscope and do it up properly. He won't have time for that until next month, so I'm looking in vain for free coloring pages and activities on microbes as I type.

      You can substitute any other 6 "experiments" (making compost, tasting herbs, preparing fresh vegetables to cook, ect.) involving plants that you can find in a library book or online. I like the botany book we got, but for just covering 6 lessons it was a waste of money. You should be able to find 6 lessons online for free.

      The girls enjoyed their botany lessons. They loved doing experiments. I asked them if they wanted more or if they were ready to move to zoology. They hesitated a little, but they were too curious to go on and learn about animals. There's not as many experiments with those lessons. We'll have to find some, or find some other way to make them interesting.

      Back to passes-for-normal

      The heat is back, the drought is back, and we were back at lessons today. Brighteyes didn't want to at first, but after trying it she soon found that she liked it.

      Sunshine is really getting into coloring. I found some downloadable pages with extra-big spaces and she's experimenting with blending and adding details with crayons.

      Speaking of coloring, I found some prehistoric art coloring pages in a 59-page free coloring book for Pagan children I downloaded a while back. We colored them after meeting Homo sapiens sapiens in History today. I haven't relocated the URL for that one yet, but I'll post it when I find it. There's also a coloring book of prehistoric symbols available that we'll be using later, just click on "Petroglyphs".

      This afternoon the girls made stick puppets by drawing pictures, cutting them out, and stapling them to popsicle sticks. Brighteyes set up a shadow theatre for them with a broom, a sarong, and a flashlight. I'm thrilled, but we need to work on the meanings of words and phrases. For instance, "Mommy's taking a nap" doesn't mean "Sit down next to Mommy on the bed and begin a major craft project, talking as loud as possible, and pausing every few minutes to show Mommy something or ask her to get up and get you some craft supplies." Yep, we're definately having a problem with definitions here.

      This weekend the girls went to the birthday party of a cousin at a park in The-Middle-of-Nowhere, Mississippi. There were four families present including ours. One of the mothers chose not to speak, but of the other women present I was a full-time homeschooler, the second mother had recently homeschooled her daughter for a year while sending her younger child to school and the third mother was currently homeschooling her 14 year old son while sending her younger children to school. All of us were homeschooling for secular reasons. I was impressed with how pervasive homeschooling is becoming.

      And for those of you following the Soap Opera Mom just forwarded me the picture of her and my sister at the wedding which my sister emailed *her* and not me. I tried to figure out the exact proportions of stupidity and meanness that went into that gesture, but I don't have enough data to work with. All I know is that it's Too Much of Both. This morning Mom informed me that, "When you left for collage you left this family" 21 years after the fact, and that "You are the one that needs to make A LOT of changes." I fear my father's death has taken the brakes off her sense of drama. My sister's line boils down to, "I knew you were going to be mad, so the fact that I was correct about you getting mad confirms that I made the right decision by not inviting you to the wedding." My husband thinks this line is her favorite justification for everything. I think I smell a self-fulfilling prophecy here.

      This, folks, is why its so important to me that my daughters have a chance to grow close to each other. There's enough soap operas and bad drama in this world already.

      Gil Thorpe

      The comic strip Gil Thorpe is playing the old 1980's plot, "geek tries out for football team", a version of the old "geeks vs. jocks" plot. The updated twist is that the geek kid is a homeschooler who comes to the high school for their extra-curricular activities.

      I never really understood the "geeks vs. jocks" plot, mainly because of Lance Bagley. Lance was the quarterback and the star player on my high school football team, which made it to the state playoffs. He was also a die-hard glasses-wearing geek with a positive self-image. Lance was relatively small compared to most of the hulks on the team, fast as the wind and most important he could think on his feet. Whenever the offensive line would get bogged down by the other team, Lance would figure out how to reach the end zone and he usually made it. Lance's friends tended not to bother Lance's other friends, even though we had nothing else in common.

      Some folks object that this storyline portrays all homeschoolers as geeks. I look at it another way. Are the writers really trying to say that today's public schools are now so hostile to geeks that they can't imagine one surviving Milford High? Hmmm....

      As a comics geek, I'm drooling over Frank McLaughlin's art. Very few illustrators actually know enough anatomy and perspective to handle the old action-adventure style well.

      Thursday, September 08, 2005

      Our Journey to Homeschooling Part 3: The Unschooling Experiment

      Part 1

      Part 2

      During the years which we prepared to become parents and homeschoolers we studied up on unschooling. The only other homeschooling technique I knew about was correspondence school or a pre-packaged curriculum, and we were adament that we didn't want other people to make up our children's curriculum. We devoured unschooling books, subscribed to Growing Without Schooling and prepared to be facilitators, not teachers, of our children. We would not be tied to a schedule, but follow their interests.

      The Goddess must have been laughing her head off.

      I will confess that after a few years of reading about unschooling I began to have a niggling doubt bothering me which asked, "Is it really true to say that there is nothing you know that is important for your child to know? After all, you knew when to teach them to feed themselves and go potty. Might there not be something else that you know is important for them to learn about at a certain time? You can safely say that a certain type of structured schooling is bad for all children. You can safely say that no child needs to have his or her learning completely structured. You can safely say that certain children are best off being completely unschooled.
      But to derive from those premises that unschooling is best for every child is an overgeneralization." But I ignored it. Everyone said that every child loved unschooling so of course my children would love it too, and that was a good enough reason to stick to it.

      So I filled our house with books, learning toys and learning manipulatives and let my children at them. I read to them every day. They loved it! They blossomed like flowers. I was patting myself on the back that, just like with Bradley classes, breast-feeding, co-sleeping and attachment parenting, I had made the right call.

      Then Brighteyes turned three.

      She was already memorizing words and baby books, but the process was slow. She knew there was more to reading than that. I tried to hang back, watch, let her figure things out for herself and just give her help when needed.

      My actions made her furious. In her eyes, teaching her was part of my job description. I had showed her how to hold a spoon, dress herself and comb her hair. I was not getting out of showing her how to read. When I tried, she got in my face and screamed, "TEACH ME NOW!"

      You can't get a more explicit child-directed directive than that.

      Then we went through a phase where she was constantly barraging me with requests to drop everything and "Teach me X right now!", "Teach me Y right now!", "Teach me Z RIGHT NOW!" about a dozen times a day no matter what I was doing. "Um, we do lessons in the morning and arts and music after tea-time," I pleaded in self-defense, before realizing to my horror that I had just reinvented the much-dreaded "schedule". But I can't handle dropping everything and changing direction several times a day. I don't have time to follow her around constantly ready to help when needed, and I don't think it would do her ego any good. So I set aside specific blocks of time when I'm available to answer my children's questions and help them with their projects. At other times of the day I may be able to help or not, but those times are reserved for their needs. Setting aside a specific time of day when the girls are promised my undivided attention for academic learning and another period for my undivided attention for arts-and-crafts projects makes everybody a lot calmer.

      Most homeschoolers I've talked to approve of this arrangement and use something like it themselves, including many unschoolers. A few die-hards expressed disapproval, but with 24 hours in a day one or two hours of structured learning in the morning shouldn't interfere with the girls' ability to teach themselves the rest of the time.

      Brighteyes enjoys figuring out many things on her own. However, if I shirk in what she sees as my job of teacher,she accuses me of cheating. She is very energetic and ambitious. Right now she trusts me to come up with ways to channel her energy and ambition into beneficial activities. If I don't she'll find them herself and her choices often involve Catastophic Diagnostic Deconstruction, but right now she trusts me to find neat stuff to do. I have since met other homeschooling parents of children like her who tell me that their children also hated unschooling when they tried it.

      That was three years ago. Brighteyes is reading at a fourth or fifth grade level now, and writing and spelling at a second grade level. Sunshine appears to be showing more interest in unschooling than Brighteyes did, so we'll see how well it works for her. I figure we'll try unschooling with Brighteyes again when she's old enough to spell unaided, probably next year. She might be more interested then.

      When asked, I encourage every new homeschooling family to try unschooling. It's clearly a perfect match for those families who love it. When unschooling doesn't work for a family that has tried it long enough to get past any bad habits left over from the school system, figuring out exactly why and how it doesn't work is a good first step to finding a homeschooling method that will work for that family.

      Concluded in Part 4: At Home With the Classics.