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.