Wednesday, August 31, 2005

We're Okay.

We're far enough north that all we got was strong winds and rain. Radio, phone and email went out Monday afternoon, but they were all back up by Tuesday morning. The only hurricane-related problems we've had is that there were shortages of food and diapers Tuesday and this afternoon Tupelo ran out of gas. The surrounding areas started to run out as well. I HATE "just in time" delivery. It never is. But we spent our first married year in Mobile and learned there's nothing odd about keeping a six-month supply of canned goods in the house, so we do. We also learned to stay out of hurricane zones. One year on the coast was enough, thank you.

The problem is that Brighteyes has come down with a nasty stomach virus and wants constant mothering. I really don't have time to post much right now, but I'll try to put stories up when I can.

Our prayers go out to all those who have been afflicted by Katrina. Keep well, and keep your courage up.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Answers to Questions You Didn't Want Answered

If you live in the South, you get used to watching hurricanes play in the Gulf of Mexico on the weather radar. Eventually you wonder, "What would a hurricane big enough to fill up the WHOLE Gulf look like?"

Well, now we know. I would rather have just seen a hypothetical stimulation.

According to NOAA:







We're far enough inland and east of the storm that we shouldn't get hit by the main body. We're expecting a lashing from the arms though.

Everybody stay safe. We're praying for y'all.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Heavy clouds, no rain.

I've never seen so many thunderstorms sweep over without hardly spilling a drop. We're wore out from the pressure, heat and humidity bouncing around like rubber balls; and we don't have any rain to show for it.

We're all sleepy and cranky. Sunshine isn't paying attention to lessons, but she is practicing her drawing. Brighteyes likes the Draw Right Now book but is getting tired of copying other people's pictures. Today's assignment involved drawing a cow. She balked at copying the picture's background, so I suggested she have the cow jumping over the moon. She loved that idea.

I've about run through my stash of Golden Age children's lit. Fortunately the girls have shown a willingness to have me read Victorian poetry that's over a page long at Story Break. (Story Break is that point in lessons when little hands need a rest.) Robert Browning has been a hit so far. I'm considering Rossetti's Goblin Market but I don't think I'm up to explaining about "allegory" and illegal narcotics trafficking right now. Some days I have a hard enough time getting through our bedtime chapter of Oz. All those jokes about well-connected citizens demanding to be made Army Generals when they know nothing about fighting can bring about lurid flashbacks to World War I when I'm tired. I'm completely at a loss when it comes to the Oz's alleged racism. I've never seen so many blatent pro-multicultural statements in a work written before 1960 before, let alone from the 1900s.

This was our last week of Botany. Brighteyes asked to crystallize flower petals. We couldn't find any roses in bloom but crystalized some mint leaves. The result looked nothing like those pretty crystallized leaves you see in the food photos, but the girls said it was the finest mint candy they ever tasted and wanted to know when we could make some more.

The weather was supposed to break this week. I hope it calms down next week. This heat wave isn't doing anyone any good. My husband says the students at his school are in no better shape. We could all stand for this heat wave to end.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

But what do homeschoolers do that's better than public school?

Expat Teacher wants specifics. Why don't you folks go give him some? Other people had already mentioned some of the nonacademic benefits, but I thought he wanted some academic benefits as well. Here's part of my post:

But Expat asked: "WHAT do we teach?" Let's tell him. My older daughter just turned six and started "first grade". Here's what she's learning:

MATH - She's already finished a standard first grade math curriculum and is halfway through the first year of Singapore Math. Redundant I know, but we've got the time.

HANDWRITING - We finished the first-grade workbook last week and started the supplemental "Draw Write Now"

PEN-PAL WRITING - at least once a week.

JUMPSTART WORKBOOKS - She's halfway through the 2cnd grade workbook.

LITERATURE - We're read the Greek myths, folk tales and creation stories from around the world, most of the Golden Age of Children's Literature and started on Victorian poetry. Later this year we'll begin children's version of the Iliad, the Odyssey and other ancient literary works.

MEMORIZATION - a poem every other week and a list about once every other month. Want hear her tell you the ages of history, the names of the planets or "Now We Are Six"?

GRAMMAR - We're working on the parts of speach.

PHONICS - in depth

SPELLING - We'll finish the first grade spelling workbook next month.

PICTURE STUDY - using great paintings.

NATURE STUDY - using plants and most recently the monarch butterflies hatching out right under their window.

HISTORY - We've already covered the dinosaurs and worked our way up to the Neanderthals. When the heat breaks in a few weeks we'll be making cave paintings on the side of a shed and neolithic pottery. We'll be spending the first through fourth grades studying world history from start to finish. Then we'll do it again for another four years in more depth when they're older. By then they should be ready for the Great Books.

LIFE SCIENCES - Botany went all summer, from when we planted the seeds through picking the fruits. My six-year old also insisted on learning herbalism and can make a nice cup of fresh herb tea.

We'll start zoology next month and study animals in the order they evolved. Human biology will come after that, and knowing how interested my six year old is in that she will insist on giving it the most indepth study of all.

Earth Sciences and Astronomy will be next year, followed by a year of chemistry and another year of physics. By fifth grade they ought to be ready to start studying the "whys" behind those subjects.

LATIN - Okay, we haven't started it yet, but we'll begin right after we finish phonics which will coincide with studying Ancient Rome.

EFFICIENCY - We're through with all that before lunch.

RECESS - They don't have that at the local public school any more.

ARTS, CRAFTS & MUSIC - all afternoon long if she wants. Or whatever else she wants to explore. Recent interests include painting, drawing, crochet, piano, the recorder, beading, sewing, draping saris and veil-dancing.

SOCIALIZATION - That's what parks, playgrounds, Girl Scouts and other clubs are for.

In a few years we'll be adding logic, rhetoric, another foreign language and whatever else she wants to learn.

It would be better to ask would she NOT be learning in a first-grade class at the public school. What would she have to give up for the priviledge of getting out of bed at 5:00 and learning how to stand in line?

Did I mention she already reads at a fourth-grade level and can finish a chapter book in an afternoon? What could school give her besides boredom, frustration and a reason to act out?

Victorian Visionary

I'm currently reading Charlotte Mason's _Home Education_. For a book written in 1886 it's amazingly prescient at times. Check out the first paragraph:

"Not the least sign of the higher status they have gained, is the growing desire for work that obtains amongst educated women. The world wants the work of such women; and presently, as education becomes more general, we shall see all women with the capacity to work falling into the ranks of working women, with definite tasks, fixed hours, and for wages, the pleasure and honour of doing useful work if they are under no necessity to earn money."

In other words, anyone surprised to see 20th Century women enter the workforce in droves wasn't paying attention.

After a couple of supporting quotes we come to what happens to some of those among that same cadre of educated working women who then go on and choose to become mothers:

" proportion as mothers become more highly educated and efficient, they will doubtless feel the more strongly that the education of their children during the first six years of life is an undertaking hardly to be entrusted to any hands but their own. And they will take it up as their profession -- that is, with the diligence, regularity, and punctuality which men bestow on their professional labours."

In other words, anyone surprised that some of those same highly educated women, upon becoming mothers, should leave paid employment to become "attachment parenting" mothers intensely involved with their children's upbringing wasn't paying attention.

Amazing how many people weren't paying attention. Did they think "women's matters" didn't matter?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Liberalism and Homeschooling

Blame Cobranchi for this post. His blog pointed me toward Stanford political scientist and self-proclaimed liberal Rob Reich who has written a downloadable paper on "Testing the Boundaries of Parental Authority Over Education: The Case of Homeschooling". I say "self-proclaimed" because for all his references to "the liberal state" I have yet to see any evidence that he's ever heard of classical Lockian liberalism.

Let's take it from the top, shall we? In classic liberal theory, people are considered to have a natural right to life, liberty and property. Governments rule with the consent of the governed. Therefore, governments only pass laws which regulate or ban the actions of the people when there is incontrovertible empirical evidence that such actions present a clear and present danger to the health, safety and property of the people.

The standard example is alcohol laws. In general, the state cannot interfere with the individual's right to purchase and consume alcohol. However, the state can prohibit a person who has consumed too much alcohol from driving a car, because there is incontrovertible empirical evidence that drunk drivers cause an enourmous amount of death and destruction.

Now, let's look at homeschooling. Where is the incontrovertible empirical evidence that homeschooling presents a clear and present danger to the health, safety and property of the people? There isn't any. Every study of homeschooling that has been conducted so far shows it to be the safest and healthiest form of education around. Rob Reich comes out and admits this in his paper. Yet he still wants to heavily regulate homeschooling because of his belief that there's a problem with homeschooling which doesn't surface in any of the empirical evidence. Such a belief is incompatible with the principles of a classical "liberal state".

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Scorcher Day

Academic lessons have been called off today on account of the temperature. It's too hot to think. We're breaking out the crayons and watching a Monarch butterfly emerge from its chrysalis on the top of the windowsill.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The girls didn't sleep well last night and were very fussy this morning due to the heat. I thought about canceling lessons, but once we got started they calmed down. It also helped that we started with a Tree of Life meditation. I try to do that every homeschool day, but we're still getting back in the groove.

Singapore Math got one step closer to introducing Brighteyes to word problems today, with word-picture problems where one factor was in writing and another factor was in the picture. She got the right answers but wasn't used to setting up the problems, so we called it quits after two of them.

Sunshine still hasn't gotten tired of traceable pages with sentances about her on them yet. Brighteyes decided to start Draw Write Now She had a lot of fun drawing the hen, and she didn't mind doing the writing afterwards. Sunshine drew one as well. Then Brighteyes spent an hour going over every lesson in that book. I think she's looking forward to them.

I read "The Pied Piper of Hamlin". Actually I read it twice, reading a verse, stopping to explain it, and reading it again. We got out the globe and looked up Germany, which Brighteyes noticed was beside Switzerland. She wanted to know if that meant Hamlin was beside Treasure Valley from "The King of the Golden River". Then Brighteyes worked on a penpal letter and we read about Neanderthal life, which she found very different from a video she'd seen on a sleepover.

Lessons were over by noon, then came lunch and sprinkler play. Either the day is getting cooler or they're getting more used to the heat, because they were willing to play more outside and even got out their pump rockets. It's supposed to start getting cooler tonight, but we've hard that line before.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Rare Books and Scissors

One of the lesser reasons to have children is to give yourself an excuse to do things you've always wanted to do. I've always wanted to collect art postcards. You know, the ones with the pictures of priceless artifacts on them that you find in museum gift shops? Growing up, the only picture postcards I ever saw were tacky souvenirs, my family never went to museums (in spite of my pleas) and I couldn't have afforded to buy anything in the gift shop. Collecting art postcards sounded so cool.

After I got out on my own, I found out you could mail order art postcards. Good! But I still didn't have time, money or space for them. Not good. I decided I would put it off until we had children. It sounded like a great way to teach art history, like those slide shows we had to sit through in college only without the eyestrain. Apparently someone else had a similar idea, for later on I found the Child-size Masterpieces program.

Cut to this summer. I get the "Child-size Masterpieces" handbook and the first set of cards. There's some Rube-Goldberg advice for making display folders, or we're told that if you're doing this at home you can just use bags. Hah. I haven't collected comic books for 25 years without learning how to store flimsy paper goods. The craft store has archival quality photo storage boxes in their scrapbook section, and quart-size Ziploc bags are just the right width to fit in the box and store 24-30 regular-size cards at a time. To store 30 of the oversized cards you turn the bag sideways. The acid in the Ziplocs will degrade the postcards over time, but I've got a few years to hunt down archival Mylar replacement bags and acid-free backing boards before I have to worry about that.

There are card sets for "Child-size Masterpieces" which are very nice and well-chosen for their job. But let's face it, they're just the excuse -- er, examples. Then I head over to Dover Publications, that treasure trove of out-of-copyright books where art postcards start at 6/$1.00 and average a quarter a piece. Dover mostly handles smaller museums, but web-snooping at the bigger museum gift shops reveals that they have their postcards made by Pomegranate Communications and sell for 30/$9.95. Dover postcards sets are available at decent bookstores and both sell postcards on their websites.

My local Books-a-Million flat out refused to order Dover for me because the prices were too cheap. The cheapest way to get Dover products turned out to be through my local independent bookstore. I can usually order Dover publications online through their Booksense website at a better discount than the online bookstores offer for Dover and pick them up at the store when they arrive. My local independent bookseller has seen a lot more of my business since I discovered that trick.

I ordered a set of Dover postcards and immediately discovered a problem. Souvenir postcard sets are sold in clear plastic packets. Not so with art postcard sets. They are sold stapled together like magazines or bound together like hardcovers. In order to get those postcards out where I could use them, I was going to have to destroy a book.

This is a big deal. I love books. They are holy relics to me, even the rotten ones. They literally saved my life in childhood, which sometimes got so bad the only reason I didn't kill myself was to find out how my current paperback ended. I can't tear up a book. I can't even bring myself to cut pictures out of old magazines.

The little 6/$1.50 set I have in my hand is staple bound with a postcard on each side and a perforated line in the middle between a glossy cover. It certainly looks like a book to me. Um, okay, maybe it's not a book? Maybe it's a, a, a -- package! And that thing that looks like the cover? That's the wrapper! And the fact that it's sold in bookstores? That's clever marketing! And the International Standard Book Number and bar code on the back? That's even more clever marketing!

Y'know, I'd be a lot easier to get along with if I could swallow an argument like that.

Okay, it is tearing up a book. But it's a book that's meant to be torn up. And it's for a Noble Cause, the artistic education of my children. And most important of all, it's Still In Print.

A few days later I'm on ebay and find a Dover postcard collection of *gasp* ancient Roman glassware from the Corning Museum! I love the time period, I love the material, I love the price. I don't love that it's out of print. I can't take it apart without destroying a collectible.

The set arrives, and it's everything I hoped for. It's filled with beautiful pictures of priceless artifacts. The cover contains even more information about the postcards that would be lost if I threw it away. In fact the pictures and writeups are much better than anything currently online about them, as I find out after I google the Populonia bottle, which it turns out is a priceless artifact because it's the World's Oldest Tacky Souvenir.

What to do? Leave it in one piece as a collectible or tear it apart so my children can learn more from it?

I could stick it up intact and just let my children look at it, but at almost 20 years old it starts to fall apart along the perforations when I turn the pages. It would never survive their handling it, at least not until they are so much older it would defeat the purpose of teaching them art appreciation when they're still in the Wonder Years.

For about a month I blame the Corning Museum for not keeping the stupid thing in print and causing me to worry like this. Then reason kicks in and I reassure myself that they would if they could make enough money off them.

I show the girls the cards I've already put in the box. Sunshine loves them. Brighteyes takes a little longer to warm up to them, but both girls like the pretty pictures and enjoy matching them with other pretty pictures.

Okay. After a lot of mental wear and tear I decide my greater obligation to the future is to turn out well-educated citizens, not to maintain a collectible that's already starting to fall apart. It takes a lot of re-examining my priorities to get to that point though. It will take some time for me to get comfortable with the new side of myself that emerged.

Until then, there's a postcard set of engraved Steuben glassware that's just shown up on ebay....

First Grade Jitters

My in-laws came to visit today. The first thing my mother-in-law did after saying hello was to lean down to Brighteyes and say, "You ought to be in school where you can be with other children your own age and play with them."

Gak! "Brighteyes goes to school with Sunshine. They learn together and play together."

"The public school doesn't have recess anymore. The playground is overgrown and the equipment is falling apart. The children are not allowed to talk to each other at lunchtime. She wouldn't have a chance to play with other children if she went to public school. She has more time to play with another child at home."

Over the course of the visit I also get in:

"We're through with academic lessons by lunchtime. They get to spend their whole afternoons playing if they want to play. We also do arts and crafts then if they choose." (We also do other stuff, but "playing with other children" seems to be the issue.)


"We're on waiting list for Girl Scouts and other children's activities. They won't start up until next month when the heat breaks."


We went to a state homeschool conference and your son was a speaker!"

Where did that come from? We've been homeschooling for three years, why bring it up now? Is it because Brighteyes turned six it's now a "real" homeschool?

Someone else has been getting onto her about this. It isn't any of the younger members of the family. They all remember or are dealing with the public school right now, and they support our decision to homeschool. It's probably one of the older family members, likely a retired schoolteacher. Or else it's someone she sees on a more casual basis, and she hasn't gotten used to saying, "My granddaughters are homeschooled."

She's going to have plenty of time to practice.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Hand Strength and Handwriting

Yesterday Brighteyes finished her first grade handwriting book. Her handwriting isn't bad for a 6 1/12thyo, but she lacks the fine motor control for cursive. I've got a supplement, but it's repetitive and I worry she'll find it boring. It's scanable, and she found working from a printout novel.

We wrote up the bean sprouts today. Between the old seeds and my rusty technique the germination rate was abysmal, but the girls didn't notice. They wanted to know why the water stunk each time we changed it, and were fascinated to learn that plants put out waste material too.

Lessons were over by 11:30, after a puppy play-break. The girls got into their swimsuits and I turned on Granny's sprinkler toy, which completely disintegrated in under two minutes. Then I got out the garden sprinkler and they played until exhaustion and ant bites drove them in.

The mail brought the Draw Write Now book I found cheap on ebay. Rainbow Resource had an interesting writeup but I wasn't really sure what it was until I saw it. It combines a simple drawing lesson with a handwriting practice session. This might be just what I need.

Brighteyes also gets her first penpal letter. She's very excited about it.

The girls are much calmer after lunch than they were yesterday. Sunshine makes a sticker picture and some drawings. Brighteyes writes secret messages in Egyptian hieroglyphs (I promise not to peak at the key) and asks why dinosaurs and humans didn't coexist. I show her Draw Write Now, and shows me the plans for a hanging loom she wants me to make her. That ought to do something for her hand strength.

The girls have been gorilla-walking all week after we went over the skelatal differences between humans and gorillas, so I pull out a gorilla documentary after supper. It's been a good day for the hottest and most confined-to-the-house month of the year. Looks like the lawn's going to be getting a lot more water soon.

Terra Cotta Sculpey

That's what I'll get when we reach the invention of pottery and later for cuneiform. It looks like ancient pottery and bakes in the oven. Maybe get some white for bi-color projects. There's a project sheet from the manufacturer.

Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there was a young man who went to college. He was smart and good looking. Many people at school had High Hopes for him. A number of pretty young ladies approached him and assured him that they would be thrilled to let him do all the thinking for both of them for as long as he cared to stay around, and would never interfere with his right to be the boss and make all the decisions for them.

He couldn't run away fast enough.

One day he noticed a girl who was different. She was quiet, usually angry, and didn't bother trying to please the people around her. And she was always arguing. She was considered weird, pushy, sharp-tongued, four-eyed, fat, too smart for her own good, standoffish and borderline mental by their classmates and teachers. He began trying to draw her out of her shell.

She thought he was playing games with her. Other people had, and her defenses were set at maximum. But over time he convinced her of his sincerity and drew out her quirky sense of humor.

The whole school was in shock. They didn't want to see this promising young man hooked up with a girl who was sure to come to a Bad End. An awful lot of people took it upon themselves to try to convince the boy that this girl was so Wrong For Him. They predicted the marriage wouldn't last a year.

Today we've been married 17 years.

Oddly enough, many of the people who tried to break us up back then are now on their second or third marriages. Most have never married at all.

Moral: Be yourself.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Why you can't learn history just from newspapers.

Pope Benedict XVI encouraged "sincere and trustful dialogue" between Christians and Jews, and condemned the "unimaginable crime" of the Holocaust, during an August 19 visit to the synagogue in Cologne. The "long and often painful" history of relations between Christians and Jews had its most frightening moments in the 20th century, the Pontiff said, stressing that the Holocaust was the product of "a made racist ideology, of neo-pagan conception."

"Neo-Pagan?" Neo-Paganism hadn't even been born yet! It was still gestating in the womb of Romanticism, and wouldn't even begin to emerge until after World War II.

Nor did Hitler shower any favor on Germany's incipient Pagan groups. Among the first to be sent to the concentration camps along with the Jews were the Gypsies, all fortune-tellers and occultists, the followers of Rudolf Steiner, the Ariosophists and the followers of Wotan.

Contrast this with Hitler's treatment of Christians, especially Catholics. On July 20, 1933 Monsignor Pacelli, Papal Nuncio (later Pius XII) and Vice-Chancellor Papen signed a Concordat. The Nazis made the Roman Catholic Church the official church of Germany, mandated Christian prayers both in school and in military formation, and inscribed "Gott mitt uns" on the Army's belt buckles.

We are talking about the same Hitler who said:

"The national government ... will maintain and defend the foundations on which the power of our nation rests. It will offer strong protection to Christianity as the very basis of our collective morality."1
"Today Christians ... stand at the head of Germany ... I pledge that I never will tie myself to parties who want to destroy Christianity .. We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit ... We want to burn out all the recent immoral developments in literature, in the theater, and in the press - in short, we want to burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of liberal excess during the past ... (few) years."2


1. The Speeches of Adolph Hitler, 1922-1939, Vol. 1 (London, Oxford University Press, 1942), pg. 871-872.
2. Ibid, pg. 871-872.

Hitler: "It would seem to me that nothing would be more foolish than to re-establish the worship of Wotan. Our old mythology ceased to be viable when Christianity implanted itself." _Hitler's Secret Conversion_, eds Cameron and Steven, London, 1953.

". . . I am convinced that I am acting as the agent of our Creator. By fighting off the Jews, I am doing the Lord's work." Mein Kampf

Now I can understand the new pope wanting to gloss over a "long and often painful" history that includes things like the 19th Century Vatican City custom of forcing a local Jewish man into a barrel on holy days, rolling the barrel down a hill and cheering if the man was dead when they opened it up. Or the equally lovely law they had which insisted that Jewish orphans couldn't be adopted by anyone but Christians. But really, how can you have a "sincere and trustful dialogue" with someone who can't even keep his facts straight?

I'm sorry. I really didn't intend to get on my soapbox. I also don't mean any disrespect to Catholics. But when people start stretching the truth that much, you have to wonder when they're going to start breaking it.
Yesterday started with Sunshine sleeping late. We found orange butterflies playing outside their window and watched them until they left, then Brighteyes insisted on showing me the two notes she could blow on the recorder, which she had learned from the recorder book. I showed her a few things I remembered from my days as last chair clarinet in high school and promised her my old instrument if she wanted it when she got big enough for it. She was fascinated to learn that recorders got that big.

We got through with lessons by 12:15. Brighteyes insisted on doing 4 pages in her handwriting book so she could go on and make the little alphabet primer at the end. We cut it out and assembled it. Brighteyes filled in the words and gave it to Sunshine so Sunshine could use it for her reading lesson. Sunshine thanked her, read it and colored in the pictures. I praised both girls and thought to myself, "This is why I don't want them separated in age-segregated classrooms."

I couldn't find any prehistoric activities, so we memorized "The Ages of History" instead: Old Stone Age, New Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Industrial Age and Computer Age. I couldn't believe none of the children's history books listed those out. I explained that the ages were named after the most advanced tool-making materials available and illustrated the lesson with pictures from Eyewitness: Early Humans and stuff around the house. Brighteyes thinks each successive age had better toys. She was fascinated to learn that Mommy and Daddy had lived through the transition from the Industrial Age to the Computer Age, and wants to know what's going to come next. I told her there's no telling!

After lunch the girls were too wound up to settle down for quiet time. Usually Brighteyes will go read a book or play quietly while Mommy gets an afternoon rest. Not today. Unfortunately Mommy had been up with Sunshine for too many nights in a row, and with the heat near 100F I couldn't shoo them outside. I asked Brighteyes why she couldn't play in another room and she turned clingy. "But I want Mommy with me all the time!" By the time my husband got home I had gone from begging to yelling.

Fortunately his brains were working and he remembered the sprinkler toy my mother had bought the girls which we had all been too busy or too sick to pull out earlier this summer. Unfortunately no one could remember where it was. We ransacked the closets, found it, set it up, and it turned out to be defective. Brighteyes was disappointed, but I turned it into a lesson on why we hadn't bought any of the cheap radios we had found while looking for a joint anniversary present last week. Tomorrow I'll set up the garden sprinkler for them.

Right before going to bed I remembered that there were some Neolithic art coloring pages in a downloadable Pagan coloring book I had saved a while back. Well, we won't be leaving the New Stone Age anytime soon. I guess that can be next week's activity.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Night Cries

Sunshine is four years old and has taken up screaming as a hobby. Her performance is getting quite good, unfortunately we're so worn out from the practice that it's hard to appreciate all the nuances. My husband reminds me that Brighteyes also screamed a lot at four. I remind him that I had two children in diapers and was temporarily insane at the time.

Recently Sunshine has added post-bedtime screaming to her repertoire. Last night was the third night in a row of an hour screaming. I had comforted her, Daddy had comforted her, it was my turn again.

"She's remembering all the things she didn't get done today. That's what's making her fussy." my husband said as he handed me off.

Poor Brighteyes had finally fallen asleep from sheer exhaustion when I went in again. Sunshine was screaming something that no one could decipher, as usual. I finally made out "compost pile". Oh yeah, I had told her to go put a banana peel in the compost pile this afternoon. I told her it was all right, we would find the compost pile tomorrow when the sun was up. She didn't buy it. I told her it was too dark to do anything but go to sleep. She didn't buy it.

I decided a little verbal ju-jitsu was called for. "Yes, you do have things to do. You have places to go to, people to play with, and they're all waiting for you in Dreamland. You don't want to keep them waiting, do you? The quickest way for you to get there is to go to sleep."

Wonder of wonders, she bought it. She quieted down, scrunched her eyes closed and grinned. I tucked her in, told her to go play with her friends and left the room. When my husband checked in later, she looked at him with a sweet sleepy smile, closed her eyes and went to sleep.

Sigh. If only it was working tonight!

Partner Review

My husband read last night's posts before coming to bed. I showed him the work Brighteyes had been doing in Singapore Math, where they were finding clever ways to get the student to match the equation or "sentence" as they call it ("8-2", "6+1") with the correct answer ("6", "7", "other"). He was impressed. "This lays the groundwork for the foundational principle of algebra in the first grade." Then he turned to me and said, "In the schools, they only try to teach one or two things a day at that age. How much are you covering? It sounds like you're riding her pretty hard."

"Um." I guiltily count the stack of books on the girls' table. "We only do one Big Project a day. We're covering, uh, eight subjects a day; but on any given day half of that is just reading or reinforcement."

"Still, learning four things a day is a lot of work."

"Yeah." I was quiet for a bit, then asked, "Can you imagine Brighteyes in a regular school setting where they only taught her one or two things a day?" No need to mention that Brighteyes is further along developmentally than he was at that age, and he has a 185 IQ.

"Eek! She'd go nuts. She'd wind up teaching US a thing or two."

Things none of us want to learn, I added to myself.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Another project rears its head.

There's simply no getting around it. I'm going to have to sit down and outline Charlotte Mason's Home Education. It's so rich and so dense with useful ideas and philosophy I'm already forgetting most of what I want to remember, and I'm only on page 80. The flowery Victorian style doesn't make for easy scanning to what I'm looking for. Stuffing the thing full of underlines, highlights and bookmarks would make it unreadable, not to mention clash with the underlines and highlights the previous owner left in the book, which aren't always my favorite points.

I haven't done a major outline since college. Doubtless the practice will Do Me Good. Doubtless seeing me practice will Do the Children Good. Problem is, I have already got more things that will Do Me Good I'm supposed to be doing than there are hours in the day to do them in.

Back in the Saddle Again

We got all the way through with lessons by 11:15 this morning. That's a new record! Of course it helped that Brighteyes had hardly any writing and no composition. She's showing more enthusiasm than she was last week, as she remembers just how much fun lessons can be.

It also helped that this week's Botany experiment is making bean sprouts. Both girls have been glued to the clear plastic tub where the beans are sprouting. Next week is our last week of Botany, and Brighteyes wants to crystalize flower petals. I'm not sure if this is the best weather for that project. On the other hand, 90+ degree temperatures and high humidity might be perfect for it.

After that we'll start Zoology. Brighteyes wants to study the animals in alphabetical order as they're presented in her Animal Encyclopedia I want to turn to the "History of Life" chart in her Usborne History book and study them in the order they evolved. Hopefully they'll make more sense in that context, and it won't hurt the girls to see books being cross-referenced.

We're covering the Neolithic Ice Age in History. We read about it and made a narration page in Usborne yesterday, today we read some more in Eyewitness: Early Humans. I'd love to do some activities tomorrow, but I haven't been able to find any for prehistoric humans except cave painting, which we'll be doing next month. Mommy's creativity is on the fritz too. It's very frustrating.

Note: must remember to mention the new theory that certain megalithic structures date from this time period or earlier, as well as the end of the Neolithic Ice Age being the source of many of the "Great Flood" myths. Seems an appropriate time to mention that our knowledge of the past evolves as well.

I've temporarily run out of myths and folk tales that I'm not waiting til later to cover, so we're reading King of the Golden River. The girls are fascinated by it. Brighteyes is asking questions about what makes things holy. I explain that it is the blessings of the God(s), which may be withdrawn if the thing is improperly used. We haven't gotten to "everything is holy, everything is sacred" yet, but that should be coming up by the end of the week.

Grammar is frustrating. English for the Thoughtful Child was a little too advanced for my six-year old, but First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind is too simplistic. I'm having to skip around in it a lot. While I love picture studies, they put a confusing "sample" right next to the picture, and there's nothing wrong with Brighteyes' reading skills. I have to cover the "sample" with a piece of paper so it doesn't distract her, which of course distracts her. We're getting the art postcard box filled, so hopefully soon we'll be able to use that for picture studies instead. The poems are good, the narration exercises are good, but right now it's more an idea book for us. This week I got to a place where all the upcoming exercises were things I wanted to work on next week, so I gave up and pulled out Madlibs for a few days.

The reason for that is because my girls can only handle one Big Project a day. I can't pile experiments on top of Literature narration on top of History narration on top of pen-pal writing on the same day without screams of protest, and I would deserve those screams. Later, when narration pages aren't such a big deal, we'll go faster, but not now.

Sunshine seems stuck on her reading. She's also very fussy. The first could be causing the second, or it could be that she's about to make a developmental leap. Brighteyes always gets extremely fussy right before she reaches one; I'm dreading her adolescence already. So I'm going slow with Sunshine right now. She is remembering to go potty more often, and I'd be pleased as punch if she would just get that down. Not to mention I'd be a lot less harrassed if I didn't have to escort her to the bathroom and stay with her six times a day.

Today we actually had a tiny rain and temperature fell out of the 90s long enough for me to open the house up and chase the girls outside. It's still too hot, muggy and buggy to do much; but I filled up the bubble soap bottles and sent them onto the grass. I hope we'll be able to go outside more often from now on. A big part of their restlessness comes from being cooped up indoors.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Joke: What is homeschooling?

Homeschooling is an excuse for bookaholic* parents to buy more books.

*You know who you are.

I came up with that line after dumping a huge load of books by the cash register at the Book Warehouse near my mother's house. These remainder bookstores are great places to get quality books at 20% - 80% off. Most run around half price. They also carry materials aimed at the school market that you don't see at the remainder tables of regular bookstores.

When I went to get the link I saw they've recently opened an online store. Unfortunately it's an Amazon z-shop, which means credit cards only. I hope they change up so that they can accept checks, like the brick-and-mortar stores do.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

It's a blistering August day with worse in sight. We all picked up mild colds while recovering from our last illness which have left us more cranky and tired than actually sick. The girls didn't have the attention span for formal lessons today but were too active to just go back to sleep, so we went with the flow.

Sunshine has been working on her basic reading and writing. She can read a couple dozen words, but add more and she stalls. Unfortunately most of the readers I have move quickly on from that point. She also doesn't mind tracing her letters but hesitates to write them out. So I made up some traceable pages with her name and simple sentences on them for her to trace.

Brighteyes had curled up with a dinosaur book, but she wanted traceable sheets too. I printed her out a couple of cursive practice sheets, and she managed one line of cursive on each page. I'm not surprised Even though she's almost through a first grade manuscript workbook she's nowhere near ready for cursive.

Then the girls wanted to draw dinosaurs. We turned the traceable sheets over and they drew on the back of them while I held Sue the T-Rex Puppet, which we picked up at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, up as a model. That is to say, Brighteyes made and colored drawings. Sunshine, who had suggested this activity, looked at the puppet, looked at her sisters' drawings and fiddled with her pencil for an hour. Then when her sister and I were elsewhere she shredded her own papers.

I don't know what to do about Sunshine's reticence to draw. It's relatively recent, but it's been growing as she realizes how much better her sister is at things than she is. Pointing out that her sister is 2 1/4 years older than she is hasn't helped, nor has it helped to tell her that everyone does things badly at first and the only way anyone gets better is with practice. I always tell the girls that your second attempt is always better than your first, but you have to get through your first attempt before you can get to your second. It's finally sunk in to Brighteyes, but Sunshine doesn't believe me yet. This is a real shame because it seems like she actually has more artistic talent than her older sister, but she's much more hesitant to bring it forward where she can practice it in any way. Making things fascinates her, but she's frustrated.

After a throat-soothing lunch, the girls watched The Panda Baby and Panda, Go Panda Sunshine kept running back and forth between the TV up front and me in the back during the second half in PGP crying, "It's scary again!" She was grinning while she did it, so I let her get her cardio-vascular workout.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Explorers

The girls have had a slight cold annoying them, not enough to keep them in bed but just enough to slow them down and make them cranky. We haven't been having formal lessons as they don't have the attention spans for them, but books were read and the Legos got a workout.

With the August heat on us they didn't want to go outside until evening. Brighteyes climbed the big tree behind the workshop. Sunshine tried to climb it, didn't get very far, and got upset. Then she decided if she couldn't go up she would go down.

The girls have gotten under the house before, but it's a converted trailer with lots of clearance beneath it. The floor of the workshop is only half as far from the ground. Sunshine got under on the end that's almost as far from the ground as the house is, but the ground slopes uphill from that point. She crawled and wriggled almost all the way to the front before she felt the space close in around her and screamed.

We heard the screams and came running. I cleared the space out from where I heard her cries coming from and could almost reach her, but she was too upset to reach for me. Brighteyes tried to go under from the front side but her head was too big. She went around the back to see if she could reach Sunshine that way.

Meanwhile her father reached in with his longer arms and pulled her out. Once her head was out and she realized that she really wasn't stuck she quieted down and pulled herself out. It looked for all the world like a birth.

We hugged Sunshine and reassured her that she was all right. She didn't look panicked though. She looked mad.

Brighteyes was annoyed because she had almost reached her little sister when Daddy pulled her out, and she had to turn around and come back emptyhanded. She wanted to make sure we had heard her under the house. We told her what a brave little girl she had been to go down there to help her little sister.

We told the girls to stay out from under the workshop in the future. "It's only half as high as the house," I explained. Sunshine immediately got up and looked under the house, ready to start exploring that territory. I laughed and we herded them in to wash up for supper.

Over supper they went over the details of the story again and again, telling each other and us what they would do the next time little sister got stuck under the workshop. My protests that it would be better if there wasn't a next time were ignored in favor of the entrancing prospect of doing a proper rescue.

The girls' most recent photo was taken at Mississippi Homeschool Day. They are in the pool photograph. Brighteyes is the second girl on the left further back than the others; you can see why we call her that. Sunshine is the one facing away from the camera.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Our Journey to Homeschooling Part 2: Insurance

Continued from Part 1

We never doubted our ability to teach or worried about socialization. As children my husband and I had tested out as extremely gifted. We were usually the smartest student in the class. In practical terms this meant we were isolated and had no one to talk to. We got along great with adults, older children, younger children, handicapped children -- everyone except the age-mates we were forced to spend eight hours a day with and with whom we shared no interests. It was imperitive that we save our own children from the corrosive effects of such "socialization". It also meant that we were very used to acting without the approval of the people around us. Our only concern was finding out what the legal impediments were and meeting them, exceeding them, stomping those suckers into the ground so flat they couldn't even whimper.

The newspaper article that introduced us to homeschooling mentioned that a local homeschooling group was hosting a lecture by a homeschooling author. We showed up. Most of the crowd were white Conservative Christians, but this was back before groups required a "statement of faith" in order to come to meetings so no one gave us any trouble. Some people seemed skeptical when we said we were newlyweds who didn't have any children yet, as if they didn't believe young people could think that far ahead and suspected us of being undercover agents of some sort. After the talk we struck up a conversation with a Pentecostal couple who loaned us a videotape Mike Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Fund had made on how to homeschool without getting into legal trouble.

The video was full of practical legal advice, and of course a pitch for the HSLDA'a $100/year (then) insurance policy. In 1989 there were still a few places where you could get into legal trouble homeschooling, so the insurance seemed like a prudent move. However we didn't even have children at that point, so we had no need of homeschooling insurance and by the time we had kids we might not need it anyway.

Still, the concept of "insurance" was a good one. What could we do to "insure" that we wouldn't encounter legal or financial pitfalls while homeschooling?

For starters, one of us was going to have to stay home. For practical reasons that looked like me. Doing that meant we needed to be able to get by comfortably on one income, which meant we needed to have our major expenses already taken care of. Since neither of us was going to inherit gobs of money or showed any natural talent for making gobs of money, this meant we were going to have to be frugal. Not that we weren't stone broke anyway, but we were going to have to learn to live comfortably on very little so we could save as much as possible. Eventually we found the book Your Money or Your Life put out by the New Road Map Foundation which helped fill in vital gaps in our understanding of effective money management.

In some ways learning frugality was hard. In other ways, it was one of the most joyous and liberating things we have ever done in our lives. Most of it meant saying "no" to things we didn't really want in the first place, but which were pushed on us by the popular culture. No, we didn't really need a new car; new furniture that wasn't as well made as the battered stuff we already had; expensive clothes that didn't fit right or look good on us; movies, books or music we "had" to get just because everyone else was getting them. It's easier to learn to say "no" when you have an excuse, and saving money for homeschooling became a big part of our excuse.

Learning frugality was a financial thing we could do to "insure" a trouble-free homeschooling, what could we do on the legal end? We could make sure that we didn't move to a state that had strict laws about homeschooling for starters, and we could make sure my husband got his Ph.D. No state was going to question if a parent with a Ph.D could teach. That was all right with him, he was trying to jump straight from a double B.A. to a Ph.D anyway. But not all of his advisers approved of him skipping the Masters degree, and wanting the Ph.D to "insure" our homeschooling tightened his resolve in the face of their disapproval.

We started researching homeschooling and other child-rearing strategies. The homeschool support group we found didn't have many resources and still weren't comfortable with a childless couple hanging around, but the University library had a collection of old _Mother Earth News_ issues that included interviews with homeschooling advocates John Holt and Nancy Wallace We ordered their books from the company listed, Growing Without Schooling Other back issues in the University archives yielded information on frugality, breastfeeding, organic gardening and sustainable living. We didn't have access to a good magazine stand in that town, but one day the local magazine dump got in an issue of Mothering I ordered a subscription immediately and added it to our arsenal of information on homeschooling, attachment parenting, co-sleeping et al.

In hindsight, we were learning how to be the kind of people our grandparents and great-grandparents would have admired.

In sifting through the issues Mike Ferris and the HSLDA video had raised, one other matter came to the forefront. The HSLDA application required a statement of religious faith for their records. In those days they said they took everyone regardless of what religion you belonged to, but they wanted a statement in your own words for their files, should it come up in a legal suit. This question is always interesting. There was no doubt my husband and I were theists, but what kind of theists were we?

My husband's formal religious education had been the victim of a feud between his father and his father's parents. I had been brought up in a liberal, intellectually stimulating Christian denomination, but by 1989 the church of my childhood no longer existed. It had been replaced by the new-fangled "Fundamentalism", a colder, edgier interpretation of the Scriptures that had a mean streak I didn't care for. It wasn't an isolated event; music, movies, literature and fashion all went from the warm fuzzies of the '70s to colder, edgier styles in the '80s. But a trend that was merely interesting or annoying when it happened in music or fashion was completely unacceptable when it happened in religion. No matter that my beliefs were little changed from what I had learned in Sunday School, there was no way I was a contemporary Southern Baptist.

Answering that question eventually led us to the UUA and then to Paganism. That journey is another story, but if I ever meet him I must thank Mike Ferris for his part in helping us find the Goddess.

With all these things to do, one cold hard fact stared us in the face. If we were going to homeschool, we needed to wait until we had a home of our own where I could stay with the children before we had babies. No matter how we juggled the numbers, every other option came out so far below that one that they really weren't on the same playing field. Okay, we could wait a couple of years. It shouldn't take much longer than that for my husband to finish his degree. He was in an up-and-coming field and should be able to find a really good paying job when he got out. In the meantime I would work and compensate for not having babies by boning up on baby-rearing and homeschool techniques.

A couple of years went by, and then another year, and another, and another.... We changed Universities. Some of my husband's advisors weren't happy with the speed with which he pursued his Ph.D. When he completed most of the requirements at 28, they put up one bureaucratic delay after another for two years because, we found out later, a key person simply refused to grant a Ph.D to anyone under 30. At one point he began having anxiety attacks, and I had to call his people and get them to stop playing around. Finally he got through the degree process and got a job lined up developing safer ways to clean up toxic waste at military sites. Then six months before he graduated the government culled 90% of their research contracts. Suddenly all contracts were dead in the water and the field was awash in lay-offs. He spent another year looking for a job at his degree level before moving into teaching high school. All told it would be nine and a half years between our wedding and the birth of our first child.

It was hard. There were days when I would pull into a parking lot on the way home from work and cry my eyes out from wanting a baby. But at the time, it didn't seem there was any other way to do things. I hope things have changed enough since then that no one else has to go through that.

Something happened in the culture during that time though. In the early '90s people still believed in public schools. We originally kept our decision to homeschool secret because we didn't want our families hassling us. My husband's grandmother would have been all for the idea; she was a former one-room schoolhouse teacher who considered sending her own son to an age-segregated public school the very worst decision of her life. The rest of our families would have given us major grief though. But by the mid-'90s it seemed like people stopped believing in the public schools. Some schools started sporting the label "attendance centers" in big bold letters on the buildings themselves. My husband's fellow grad students began pulling their own children out of class whenever they had a free afternoon, just to spend time with them. And the schoolwork! By that time we had bought a trailer and were living in a trailer park helping the local children with their homework. Some of it could not have been worse if the designers were consciously trying to make the children hate the subject! I'm convinced that was the case in at least one instance.

People, including our own families, starting asking us out of the blue, "Are you going to homeschool?"

But not everything changed for the better. HSLDA went from being a useful organization that helped homeschoolers in legal trouble to being a fairly useless organization after homeschooling became legal in all 50 states. In looking for a new reason to live, they abandoned the "big tent" and began pushing a Far Right agenda that excluded a significant proportion of people interested in homeschooling, including us. I'll always be grateful for their historic role in helping to legalize homeschooling, but I'm dismayed and appalled at their present divisive tactics.

Eventually we got through the dry spell and started having babies. Then we learned the difference between good advice and real life. But that's another story.

Continued in Part 3: The Unschooling Experiment.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

"Dear Dorothy, How Are Things in Oz?"

It's "Back to School" time for us. Right now we define this as when my husband goes back to teaching classes and gets out of our hair. Not that learning stopped over the summer, but with him home and something coming up every few days learning got a whole lot more experiential.

Right now Mom tries to put on an exercise dvd before breakfast, although that's been "hit or miss" and most often miss as I get over my illness. Then we have breakfast, brush teeth, wash dishes, feed the dogs and do "lessons" until lunch. The girls learn all the time, but between breakfast and lunch is the time Mom sets aside to help them learn. After lunch it's naptime/playtime/freetime until tea time at 4:00. Between lunch and supper they usually feel creative, and if Mom got to rest any in the afternoon she usually helps them make whatever they feel like making. But if they were too rowdy in the afternoon and Mom didn't get a chance to rest, forget it. Then it's supper, more reading and play, and bedtime.

Sunshine is 4 years old. Right now I work with her on a phonics book (McGuffie Reader, Bob Books!, or The Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching Reading), then we do a page (or more if she prefers) from the Jumpstart Jumbo workbook series. Then she and her sister listen to a story. It takes about 30 - 60 minutes, depending on how much attention she's paying.

Brighteyes is 6 years old and has much more energy. She does her math and her Jumpstart workbook while I'm working with Sunshine, which can get hectic at times. Then she and her sister both listen to the story. At that point she's halfway through her lessons, and we go on and do some more work. It usually takes about 2 1/2 hours, unless she calls a halt earlier. Yesterday she had to write a letter to practice her handwriting, and decided to write a letter to Dorothy in the Land of Oz.

This summer we started memorizing poems. I hadn't realized just how much fun they would find it, although I should have remembered how much fun they had reciting nursery rhymes. They love reciting poems from memory, and it impresses the heck out of the adults. They are learning their fourth poems now. They learn one every two weeks, half of the time they're the same poem but half of the time they are different. Until now they have all been 8 or 9 line poems, but Brighteyes memorized the 12 line "Now We Are Six" with no trouble at all. Sunshine stumbles a bit more though, so I'll be sticking with shorter poems with her for a while. She would scream her head off if I tried to not give her a poem to memorize. If Sister gets to do it, she wants to do it too.

Right now they both know "The Caterpillar" and "Work". Brighteyes has also learned "Birthday Child" and "Now We Are Six." Sunshine has also learned "This Is My Rock" and is working on "Let's Be Merry."

Homeschool Day 2005: Memories and Musings

We just got back from Mississippi Homeschool Day 2005 in Jackson. It was a blast.

After a long drive to Jackson we stopped by the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science to see "Sue" the T-Rex. Brighteyes loved the T-Rex exhibit, but Sunshine found it too scary and stuck to the aquariums. I didn't realize they had aquariums at the Natural Science Museum. The place is so big we missed some of the permanent exhibits. We'll have to come back in cooler weather.

We stopped by New Vibrations a Jackson store which carries our jewelry, then when on to the Edison Walthall Hotel a lovely Edwardian building in downtown Jackson. It was wonderful to meet all the folks who showed up for the poolside reception, even if the pool was out of use. Saturday was even more fun. It was wonderful to see all the people I had met online and even more that I hadn't. We had a chance to share our dreams with other people about homeschooling in Mississippi, and to listen and learn from their dreams. My husband privately paid many of the people we met one of his very highest compliments, "They have not forgotten their own childhoods."

When the girls needed a break we took them outside to show them downtown Jackson. It was amazingly quiet, almost as quiet as downtown Tupelo on a Saturday. The whole area needs to be revitalized, starting with the old King Edward Hotel I've heard the city is working on it's restoration. That's good news.

For me the strangest moment of the conference occurred during Jeanne Falconjer's keynote speach, "Swimming Out of the Mainstream". Jeanne gave an excellent speech whose theme was, "Yes, homeschooling is a step outside the mainstream but that's okay. It's not going to do you any harm." only she phrased it much, much better than that. Judging from the relieved looks on the faces of the rest of the audience it was just what they needed to hear, too. But for me it was incredibly weird, because I and most of the people I know couldn't step into the "mainstream" if you held a gun to our heads and made us. It's not an affection. For us, the "mainstream" is a foreign language. After years of hearing it we can understand a few of the words, but the grammar and syntax are beyond us. I'll be posting more about this in upcoming blogs. But it seemed very strange to be among people who could step into or out of the "mainstream" at will. Strange, but heartening that they should find it worthwhile to take that step for the sakes of their children.

After things wound down that afternoon we made the long drive back home. I say "we" but the girls and I all passed out, and my poor husband was reduced to talking to the birds on the side of the road to stay awake. We're all very, very glad we went and looking forward to next year.

Thursday, August 04, 2005


The girls are big enough I actually have time to read again. I can't believe it, I keep looking over my shoulder expecting a crisis any minute and SOMETIMES nothing happens!

So here's my recent reading list:

Marva Collins Way

Kingdom of Children : Culture and Controversy in the Homeschooling Movement (Princeton Studies in Cultural Sociology) A sociologist looks at homeschooling. I'll be posting a full review of this one soon. The problem is the sociologist admits he got more interested in studying the differences between the Far Left and the Far Right than he did homeschoolers. Fortunately that's another topic I'm interested in, but it's not to everyone's taste.

Freedom Challenge: African-American Homeschoolers I intended to review this book, but now I don't know if some people might find it presumptuous of a Caucasian homeschooler to comment on African-American homeschoolers.

Night Watch: a Discworld Novel by Terry Pratchett This series is soo Mississippi it's painfully funny. Discworld is a tiny universe where the very Laws of Nature are run by a committee. And not just any committee either, but the sort of committee that sets up the social and political rules of your average small town. Yes, THAT sort of committee. And everyone has to put up with it and get by as best as they can, which sometimes (often) calls for a bit of ingenuity. On one level it's a series of adventure tales, on another it's the author's running commentary of pointed, funny and oh-so-true observations about the human condition, like:

"The Assassin moved quietly from roof to roof.... His movements could be called catlike, except that he did not stop to spray urine up against things."

(On the Chief of the Secret Police) "He didn't look around, and watch, and learn, and then say, "This is the way people are, how do we deal with it?" No, he sat and thought, "This is the way people ought to be, how do we change them?" And that was a good enough thought for a priest but not for a copper, because Swing's patient, pedantic way of operating had turned policing on its head. -- There had been that Weapons Law, for a start. Weapons were involved in so many crimes that, Swing reasoned, reducing the number of weapons HAD to reduce the crime rate. -- The flaw was...that...criminals don't obey the law. It's more or less a requirement for the job. They had no particular interest the streets safer for anyone except themselves. And they couldn't believe what was happening. It was like (Christmas) every day. -- Some citizens took the not-unreasonable view that something had gone a bit askew when only naughty people were carrying arms. And they got arrested in large numbers. -- Swing didn't seem to have grasped the idea that the system was supposed to take criminals and, in some rough-and-ready fashion, turn them into honest men. Instead he'd taken honest men and turned them into criminals. And the Watch ... into just another gang."

The Hallowed Hunt by Lois McMaster Bujold Lois Bujold has won more literary awards than any author in the field of Science Fiction or Fantasy EVER has before. Her people are living, breathing 3D characters with complex moral and ethical problems who just happen to live in a Star Wars setting. Or in Middle Earth. Free chapters are available online from all her books, as well as the complete short stories "Borders of Infinity" (required reading in some military leadership classes) and "The Mountains of Mourning." But don't read "Mountains" when you can't afford to cry.

In THH, her newest novel, a insane younger prince is exiled to a remote hunting lodge where it's supposed he can't do any damage. There he tries to ravish a young woman, who sensibly beats his brains in with his own weapon. An investigator is sent from the Crown to determine what happened, bring the woman in for a trial and cover up any evidence of the prince's madness. But no one is quite whom they seem, including the prince, the woman and the investigator; and before you know it you find yourself unraveling a Dorothy Sayers mystery in a sword-and-sorcery setting involving a centuries-old magical spell.

Home Education by Charlotte Mason Written in 1885, so it's a candidate for the first homeschooling book. I haven't felt up to parsing out the Victorian writing style a lot lately, but I've found stunning insights in it when I have.

Girl Genius by Phil and Kaja Foglio If you like Victoriana and/or Miyazaki, you'll adore this tale of an alternate universe where the Industrial Revolution turned into a all-out war and Mad Science rules the world -- but not very well. Now available as a free webcomic updated three times a week.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Schlumping Into the 21st Century

I confess I'm not hip or a cultural diva. I unplugged the TV when I got pregnant the first time. Quite often I'm years behind in my consumption of popular books and media, buying them when they reach the clearance table. It's possible I might recently have run up on some subtle change in cultural norms without realizing it. I'm not sure.

Last year my only sibling announced that she was getting married. As she was 37 and the marriage would be her first, this announcement seemed quite important. I immediately cancelled all our summer plans and began researching travel arrangements to California. We spent hours pouring over flight schedules, train schedules, and rental car schedules. Even more hours were spent on wardrobe considerations. Some of you who are on e-lists with me may remember my questions about California climate and customs.

For weeks we heard about her wedding dress, her new home and her new job. This spring I wrote to ask for the date and location of the wedding so we could make our travel arrangements. All of a sudden I heard, "Wedding? What wedding? We're not planning any wedding! Not really! Somebody gave you the wrong idea."

And so it went all summer. More plans were discussed, but whenever I asked for a date, all we got were excuses. We heard everything from, "We're not really getting married" to "We're getting married on top of a remote mountain after a hard climb and you wouldn't make it" to "We're getting married, but you can't afford to come." When I protested that we were willing to spend the money on such a special occasion, I was bluntly told, "So go to Disneyland."

Finally this week I got an email from my Mom saying that she was getting on the plane for my sister's wedding this weekend at some undisclosed location.

Now maybe the culture has changed so much in recent years that such behavior could be interpreted as something other than a snub. Maybe, but I don't think so.

I remember when a college chum showed up with a purple mohawk for her sister's wedding. The family just plonked a wig on her head and kept on going, and I'm nowhere near as extreme as that.

My sister's behavior was not entirely unexpected, but still puzzling. The new in-laws are Republican Baptists. Maybe I'm too liberal and too Pagan for them. But for crying out loud, they live in Santa Cruz. I'm sure they've seen people far more "out there" than I am. I guess I'm too poor or too fat or both.

My husband argues that my sister is somehow snubbing the groom more than she is snubbing our family. All I know is it hurts like the dickens. In that tried and true methods used by introvert throughout the world, I stuck my nose in a book and read until dawn last night to keep from crying myself to sleep.