Monday, December 19, 2011

The Distraction

We went to an award ceremony today. One of my sister-in-law's students had won an art award. At the last minute he couldn't make it, and she as his sponsor had to accept the award in his place. We're all members of the art association, and we all showed up for the ceremony including our (usually) beautifully-behaved homeschooled children. (We get compliments all the time.)

Unfortunately our middle child, 10 year-old Sunshine, is a little -- absent-minded. In the same manner that Antarctica is a tiny bit chilly. She's sitting on one side of her aunt and I'm sitting on the other side. She's still eating her dessert when it came time for her aunt to make the acceptance speech. Everybody's looking at her aunt and her except for Sunshine. She's staring down her nose at her plate as she busily finishes her dessert, paying no attention to anything around her. I can't get her attention without distracting the speaker between us.

That's when her glasses start to slide.

They fall slowly down her nose, catching in her curls and slowing down but not stopping. They fall off the tip of her nose and hang in the air, suspended only by her hair. When they reach the level of her lips and would impede her eating she finally pushes them back where they belong, barely breaking speed in her effort to finish off the banana pudding. It was one of the most amazingly, hilariously embarrassing things I've ever seen first-hand.

If anyone remembers a word of that speech I'll be surprised.

Later we stopped by Hancock Fabrics in the faint hope of finding curtain fabric that isn't way overdone. Any restrained color or print is only available in the most ostentatious of fabrics. Almost everything on the market these days is gargantuan flowers or even bigger stripes, but I found an antique map print that will look awesome in the den. Now I just need access to my sewing machine. At the current rate of progress that will happen in about, oh, six months.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Question For Gamers

Is there an online gathering place for grownups to discuss video games that doesn't devolve into a level of juvenile acrimony that would make the worst comic book forums curl up and die of embarrassment?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Getting an early start on Christmas this year.

It's only the 7th and I'm already slipping into a seasonal depression. At least I'm taking my vitamin D and I've got most of the Christmas shopping done. So far it's manifesting as glumness and a desire to spends heaps of money on myself on Amazon. And grouchiness and a burning desire to bitch about my childhood. I'll try to curb that one.

It's good to be old enough to recognize these mood swings for what they are, and to know that they'll pass.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Go Team Go!

The football team at the local community college where my husband works won the NJCAA National Championship yesterday. Congratulations guys -- and remember to study for your biology finals on the ride back home. :P

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Antici-paaaation! Fer-uhhhstraaaaation!

You know those stereotypical mysterious Christmas boxes labeled "do not open until December 25"? I never had trouble with them growing up, but this year I've got two boxes in my house I'm dying to get into, and thanks to the ongoing remodeling I have no idea when I'll be able to.

My official Christmas present has been sitting in the kitchen bold as brass since the week before Thanksgiving. It was going to be last year's Christmas present, then my birthday present, then my anniversary present, then I put my foot down this fall and got it. It's a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, which we never had room for in our old kitchen. I love baking and owning one of these babies is a dream come true -- or would be if I could get at it. But the kitchen counter-tops are not in place yet, so there's no place to put the big, heavy beast and it has to stay in it's box for another month or three.

Then there's the official joint Christmas present, the Wii. I wanted one of the older and more versatile models, not the newer and less flexible model they brought out for Christmas, so I had to go ahead and get one before they disappeared. It's sitting there in its case, but I have neither a TV to hook it up to nor a painted wall in my den to hang the TV on. (Remember the old days when a TV was a box you sat down on something instead of a frame you hung on a wall? I know, radical concept dude!) So unless it can be hooked up to the computer it'll have to stay in it's box until sometime between late spring and year after next. The children are Not Happy with that, especially the 3yo, who's thrown two major tantrums so far about it.

The presents we do get to open on Christmas are a breeze compared to those.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Children's Hand's-On Museum of Tuscasoosa: Recycling for Maximum Fun

We went to the Children's Hands-On Museum of Tuscaloosa over the break. It's a former early 20th Century downtown department store, with all the lovely spaces that go along with that type, that's been turned into an interactive children's museum. Most of the exhibits take old fixtures from various sources that were due to be thrown away, and recycles them into children's make-believe settings. Early 20th-Century house, bank, pharmacy, barber-shop, one-room schoolhouse, post office, and general-store fixtures let you play your way through a make-believe town. The former pilot's house of an old tugboat lets you navigate the river. A Japanese house that once graced an exhibit who-knows-where (The Birmingham Zoo and Botanical Gardens used to have one; IDK if they still do.) now gives children a glimpse into another culture. Bits and pieces from an old Ford pickup now have a cheerful plywood body that lets children "drive" plastic fruit in old peach baskets to market. There's also a puppet theater, some simple musical instruments and science exhibits, a nature section with aquariums and terrariums, a tiny mid-20th Century planetarium that looks like it was once the pride and joy of a small college, several rooms donated from the local hospital when they remodeled (including full-size reception, doctor's office, and patient's hospital rooms as well as all the outfits and equipment it was safe for children to handle), some spare NASA exhibits from the US Space & Rocket Center up in Huntsville, in addition to a farm, fishpond, gazebo, and Native American village sections.

The place was full of children having the time of their lives, but what impressed me powerfully was that all this fun was made possible by things that had been rescued on the way to the landfill. These beautiful things were all somebody else's idea of obsolete junk. My husband summed it up best. Looking around, he said, "This is the work of a very good artist."

As we left, the ladies at the front desk pointed out the work going on across the street. A building was losing it's plain, boring mid-20th Century Modern facade. As the workers peeled away the layers of bland mortar, a beautiful, intricate Victorian storefront was starting to emerge. It seemed the perfect metaphor for how the museum itself rescued the best of the past for future generations.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Signs of the Times

1998 -- We're living in Okolona, Mississippi, at the center of the US particle-board furniture industry, surrounded by furniture factories. Chickasaw County has the third-highest employment rate in the state. Work is booming. All the parents of the students at the public high school where my husband works who want jobs have them. The better students also all have jobs. The teens always have money in their pockets for snacks, and all wear designer clothing.

2008 -- The factories have almost all moved to China. Chickasaw County now has the third-highest unemployment rate in the state. The adults are now working the minimum-wage stocking and fast food jobs their teenage children used to work. None of the teenagers can find a job. None of them have money in their pockets. Most of them only eat during the week when they're at school. They wear shorts, windbreakers, and flip-flops in the dead of winter. The girls wear short skirts not as a fashion statement, but because they've outgrown their old ones and can't afford new ones.

My husband notices one girl frantically combing her pockets and purse for change. The Food Stamps and the food have all run out at her house. The rest of her family is staying with relatives who still have food, leaving her behind so she can eat at the school. She's looking for enough change to buy a bag of flour and a can of fish so she can go home and cook herself biscuits and fish for supper. She dreams of finding enough money to be able to afford a dozen eggs as well.

2011 -- The jobs are gone. The young people crowd into colleges and community colleges, hoping to get the certificates that will land them jobs elsewhere. My husband is teaching them. Last week a sophomore told him he would be gone over the weekend. The boy had to go home and kill some squirrels so his family would have something to eat through the week.

What do I think of Occupy Wall Street? I think it's about goddamn time people started getting angry and doing something.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

"Like a Business"

A well-dressed woman introduced herself the other day, gave me a card and a pen, asked me to vote for her in the upcoming county election, and immediately began backing away.

"Thank you! We can always use pens. But what will you do if elected?"

"Oh!" The woman stopped dead in her tracks. "Well -- I'm going to run government like a business. That's what we need! My husband and I run a business in the next town. We took over my parent's sales business when they retired. Do you know where so-and-so is? That's our business."

"Oh," I nodded. The place she mentioned appeared from the road to have been closed down for several years. "What would you say our biggest problem is?"

"It's that we don't run government like a business."

"What about unemployment in the county?" The county's unemployment rate is around 14%.

"That's because we don't run government like a business. But I will look into that if elected."

"Do you know about the weekly anti-poverty meetings? My husband has been going to them."

"You mean so-and-so's group? I've heard about them. If they come up with any good ideas I'll look into them." She leaned in closer to me. "But you're new to the area. I've been in people's houses around here. You can tell some of them aren't really poor, they've just made bad choices."

I refrained from commenting on relative values (would my books count as 'bad choices'?) or asking her what she would do to educate people on how to make better choices. Or if she would do something useful and bring in more jobs.

I realize the term "running government like a business" became a meaningless catch-phrase almost 30 years ago but let's look at one of the more annoying false assumptions behind it. Implicit in the conceit is the idea that every businessperson is in such a cut-throat competative environment that in order to survive they must be good at their job. Hah! Maybe in Silicon Valley or Wall Street, but not around here. In the sluggish economy of small-town America, many businesses survive based on good fortune, a combination of luck, inherited capital, and the occassional act of collusion. Let's look at some real-life examples of businesses whose business experience makes their owners supposedly the best qualified to run our governement.

The Only Game in Town This business survives because it's the only one selling item X in over 50 miles. Their prices may be horrible, sometimes the sales crew is horrible, often the item you want is not in stock. But in an emergency you either do business with them or you have to spend an hour driving somewhere else and an hour driving back. So much for cut-throat competition preparing this person to run a government.

The Only Game is a Crooked Game
The Only Game in Town is often an honest broker, but sometimes the Only Game in Town is openly a crook. Examples include the car dealership which tries to rewrite the deal you negotiated with them and never honors their warranties. In one local case a single mother negotiated an even swap on a smaller car with less mileage for a larger car with more mileage. When she came to pick up her new car they wanted $6000 extra. She demanded her old car back.

"We can't give it back to you. We already sold it."

"Then give me this car like we agreed to."

"No, and if you take it we're going to call the police and tell them you stole it."

"How can I be the thief when you're the one who doesn't have my car anymore?"

This business person is so obviously a more moral and virtuous person than the crooks who run the government now -- not.

The Owner of the Street
The reason no one opens a business to compete with the Only Game in Town is often because of this person. They own every closed and falling-down business on Main Street, having aquired them through fire sales when the previous owner pulled out. (No, seriously, I can name three towns where this is the case.) They'll rent you a slot and charge a higher rent per month than the Main Street of the Big Town down the road, as is, you have to fix it up yourself. (More on that later.) Sometimes they're gettng tax writeoffs to keep them closed. In one case this summer the Owner of the Street, who had promised faithfully to keep all the stores open when she bought them, closed every one of them and had the Fire Department burn down two of the stores for the bricks, leaving nothing but a charred and gaping holes behind. We expect her to finish burning down Main Street next summer. This is an example of the kind of thinking we need in government to revitalize our communities -- not.

In another town the mayor asked the Owner of the Street bluntly why he didn't rent out more slots to open more businesses, bring in more money, and help out the town. The Owner of the Street bristled up and accused the mayor of not doing his job to make the town enough of a tourist attraction to justify the high rental prices the Owner of the Street wanted. He wanted the town to (no joke) dig up the downtown streets and install canals so people would come to see "the Venice of the South" (apparently unaware that New Orleans already owns that slogan). "But what about the mosquitoes?" the mayor asked. "It gets over 90 degrees every summer. We'll be overrun." "That's not my problem," the Owner of the Street insisted. "If you can't keep the the canals clean, obviously you're the one not doing your job." This is the kind of clear-headed thinking that such businesspeople can bring to government -- not.

The Landlord Du Jour This landlord accepts a deal from a person wanting to start a new business. The new business gets to rent a broken-down shop and gets a discount on their rent in return for fixing it up. The new business spends most of their time and capital fixing up the business over the next year, as well as promoting their own business. At the end of the lease agreement term, the business is starting to take off. The landlord admires all the work the business owner put into their shop, then turns around and doubles to quadruples the rent.

"But why?"

"I can get more for it now that it's fixed up."

"I thought we had a working relationship." You did. You had a classic landlord-sucker relationship.

The business goes under because the business-person no longer has the capital to invest in starting again at a new location. The newly renovated shop usually stays empty because no one can afford the landlord's higher prices.

This scam, which I've seen run in many different towns by many different people, is the single biggest cause of business failure among the startup businesses I've known.

And this is why this "successful" landlord would do a good job of running the government -- not.

The Censor I wanted to support local businesses, so I stopped in the locally-owned music shop. After purchasing the one interesting album in the whole shop, I asked if they would order a cd for me.

"Sure! Which one?"

"Libana's Fire Within."


"It's a women's choir. It's in print and available through mainstream distributors. I checked."

The man stared at me for a long time. Finally he asked, "Which church do you go to?"

I didn't get my Libana album there. Nor did I get any other album there again.

And this is the kind of businessperson who would encourage new ways to solve problems in our community -- not.

Real Men Don't Wear Sky Blue My husband doesn't understand masculinity problems. He is male, therefore, anything he chooses to do is by default "masculine". End of. He's also a Summer who looks best in jewel tones, pastels, and just about any blue except navy. It offends him that he can only find pants (not jeans, pants) in black, grey, tan, or navy. One day he's at the shop where he buys work clothes from overrun sellers, and he finds a some pretty sky blue work pants. Wow!

"How much for these pants?"

The owner stares at the garments as if they were covered in dung. "I hate those pants! I don't know why they made them in the first place. Everyone hates those pants!"

"I would like to buy them. How much?"

"Nobody wants to buy them! I hate them! I wish I'd never seen them!"

"I want to buy them. How much?"

"Everyone hates them! I -- what did you say?"

"I want to buy all these pants."

"Oh, they're $3 each. But that's because everyone hates them!"

Those were my husband's favorite pants. Many men commented on how good they looked and wanted to know where they could buy some, but he looked up the manufacturer and they had been discontinued.

And this storeowner is a prime example of the kind of businessperson who can seize any opportunity that comes their way that we need running our government -- not.

Daddy's Little Girls This is the storeowner whose capital and operating expenses are all being paid by another member of the family so they'll have something to do and won't have to go out and find a job. Usually it's a woman. Usually it's a gift shop. Usually the angel is their father or husband. Quite often they don't want anyone who isn't a member of their social circle coming through the door. Almost always they refuse to do business with local artisans and only order from the same two wholesalers as every other gift shop being run by every other Daddy's Little Girl in town, so they all have the exact same stock. But hey, they're a "successful" business owner so they must be magically able to run a government -- not.

The Busybody The mayor of one small town had invited the owner of a successful catfish restaurant in another town to open a branch is his town. As they're chatting in the mayor's office, the look out the window and see the Owner of the Street stepping up to the restaurant owner's car and photographing it from all angles, including the tag. The restaurant owner is so offended he leaves and never returns. The mayor confronted the Owner of the Street and asked him what the #$%& he thought he was doing.

"I've never seen that car before. It's not from around here. Maybe the owner is a criminal out to steal from us!"

This is the kind of outreach to new people and new business that this "successful" businessperson would bring to government.

The Cowards
Shortly after Books-a-Million opened it's Tupelo store they received a visit from a couple of people who began clearing the shelves in a central aisle of books. The manager came over to greet them and see what was going on.

"Hello. We're with the American Family Foundation that's headquartered here. We visit all the new stores and check them out. We don't want items sold in our town. Take them down and don't put any more out." The books they had taken off the shelves included every Pagan, feminist, and LGBT-friendly book in the store.

The manager had the books boxed up and taken to the back, then called the corporate office. To their credit the corporate office ordered him to stop being an ass, put those books back on the shelves where they belonged, and don't do anything like that again. I'm not calling Books-a-Million cowards. But the same people had visited every other story in town and every other store had caved in to them, including the town's proud "independent" bookseller. And all those business owners would be automatically assumed to have the fortitude to be a "better" government leader than the people in office now.

I'm not anti-business. I'm just annoyed when people make the statement that business leaders would automatically be better government leaders than the people in office now without taking the time to look around and see who is actually running their local businesses.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Initiate Defensive Education Manuvers

Baby Owl is 3 years 2 months old. Yesterday he pressure fit a board across his sisters' bedroom doorway and stacked wood blocks atop it. This afternoon he took down the screwdriver and unscrewed their window latch.

Reading lessons began tonight. That brain needs something to do.

Halloween 2011

After living in a place where we had two trick-or-treaters total in 13 years, we finally live someplace where kids show up on Halloween expecting candy. And it was good. Real good.

Last year where we live now Halloween fell on a Sunday, and the weekly newspaper arbitrarily moved it to Saturday at the last minute, causing outrage and tears from those who love Halloween. So this year the people who celebrate it (only about 1 out of 10 but still better than before) went all out with the decorations, role-play and loot to make up for it. The children pronounced it way cooler than getting candy at the mall.

My husband took a handful of chocolate eyeballs to class with him for his students. He asked the Human A&P teacher, "What's that stuff inside the human eye?"

"Um, duh, uh, aqueous vitae?"

"Really?" He tossed her a candy. "Says caramel on the label."

The sewing machine is still packed up, but we made do. We found Brighteyes a classic trenchcoat for her winter coat at the thrift store this year, so she went as Nancy Drew, Girl Detective. Sunshine got some dragon fairy wings at the Ren Faire, and we cobbled together a dragon fairy costume for her. Owl picked out a monkey shirt and shorts to wear.

We only got two pumpkins out of the pumpkin patch this year, but that was enough for each girl to decorate her own. They looked spooky on either side of the door.

Next year we'll decorate a bit more. I'm thinking of hanging a ghost in the front yard. There's a perfect tree for it. And we should have more trick-or-treaters next year as well.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Of Ren Faires and Chicken Balls

The Alabama Ren Faire is twenty-five years old this year, making it one of the South's longest-running faire's. We've gone for eight of the past ten years, barring one year's illness and last year's unpleasantness. But this year's faire was not the faire of old.

Any street party takes a lot of grunt work. I've seen town celebrations fall apart at the last minute because nobody wanted to get their hands dirty cleaning and prepping the streets, so having people to do the grunt work is important. When the Alabama Ren Faire first started, the grunt work was provided by the Society for Creative Anachronism, who in return got a tasteful display booth in the middle of the Faire. While they did the labor, the Faire increased in patrons and booths every year. The city park where the Faire is held was a kaleidescope of people in all kinds of costumes: medieval, celtic, fairy, bellydancer, goth, vampire, dragon, steampunk, regular punk. Everyone's freak flag flew proudly, and entering the Faire always gave me a profound feeling of relief and homecoming.

Something happened to make the SCA leave. About four or five years ago the Faire found a new partner to provide a source of labor: a Conservative Evangelical Christian Church located across from the park. They brought their own ideas about things with them. Not all those ideas were bad -- the children's treasure hunt through the hay bale for little trinkets was a smash hit with its age group. But the children's puppet show they put on the first year where cute little puppets told the kids they were going straight to hell if they didn't do exactly what the church told their parents to tell them to do was a bust. And they weren't satisfied with a tasteful booth in a middle of the fair. They got a soapbox on the food vendor's aisle where they could harangue people in shifts on the evils of sin while the patrons tried to eat their lunch. The first year they dressed up in monk's robes and I held out hope that we'd get sermonized on period-appropriate sins, but it turned out to be vilifying TV and gay marriage. This year they didn't bother to dress out.

Neither did many other people. Patronage and vendors were both down by two-thirds over their peak, hardly anyone showed up in medieval costume, and no one showed up in any other kind of costume. The people who came spent less time, and subsequently less money, while they were there. Previously we'd shown up in the morning, walked around a bit, ate lunch, and walked around some more. This time we left at lunchtime.

We asked the locals for a good place to eat and ended up at Evergreens' Chinese Buffet, which had a full parking lot at 1:30 in the afternoon, always a good sign. The paying customers included local Chinese, another good sign. The buffet was a bit small, but the food was delicious. One item I found that we'd never seen before was labelled "California Chicken". It turned out to be a fried meatball of ground chicken, flour and spices. I joked to my husband that the Californians had reinvented the hush puppy. Has anyone ever heard of anything like that before? I couldn't find a recipe online.

Monday, October 24, 2011

If I had a tail it would be twitching.

Something's making me uncomfortable in my skin. Jostling me, trying to stir up old discontents. I've been fighting down the urge to rant on various and sundry topics for weeks now. (Admittedly, I also don't have the time.) But the feeling is starting to grow past the "rant" stage and into the "startle at strange noises" stage.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Shh. Be Very, Very Quiet. We're Trying To Take Over the Government.

In my last post I talked about how prominent backers of Rick Perry and other hard-line Republicans include Dominionist Christians who want to occupy government and be the dominant influence in America:

So many people are now paying attention to this nonsense that the Dominionists are getting worried about their image. They're telling their people to stop using the term "Dominionist" in public. After all, they can't create a 'virtual theocracy' without using stealth.

Of course not everyone has got the message. Mike Bickle is still saying Jews who don't convert to Christianity will be sent to death camps:

But, you say, surely these raving lunatics pose no threat to our great land. Well, they already control the Air Force Academy to such extent that cadets hide their true beliefs in fear of punishment from the Academy if they are discovered to not be hardline Fundamentalist Christians.

Think about that one for a bit.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

PS: The Statue of Liberty is Demonic, Too

Last night Mississippi Public Radio aired Terry Gross' interview with New Apostolic Reformation leader C. Peter Wegner on Fresh Air.

My daughters, who I haven't let visit local Christian churches, had never heard Dominionist rhetoric before and were incredulous, outraged, and disgusted at what Wegner said, including but not limited to:

1) the Japanese Emperor had sex with the demonic Japanese Sun Goddess in order to cause hurricanes to fall on Japan and crash the Nippon,

2) that many politicians, especially Democrats, are controlled by demons,

3) that both non-Christians and non-Apostolic Christians are "part of the kingdom of darkness",

4) that democracy is bad for Christian churches, which should instead be controlled by authorized Apostles,

5) "...our goal is to try to have as many kingdom-minded believers in positions of influence in the arts and entertainment mountain as possible." Not to mention in business, government, the media, education, religion, and the family;

6) to have as many Apostles in all branches of government as possible,

7) casting demons out of both individuals (which sounds suspiciously like "rebellious" children of Apostolic parents) and cities (apparently the demons give a copy of their Hierarchy and Employee List to the Apostolics so they know who's in charge where),

8) why Sarah Palin needed special protection against Witches

... there would be some people who practiced witchcraft and other forms of the occult who would try to take Sarah Palin down through certain rituals or curses or other techniques that witches have, and try to destroy her through those things. (Gee, isn't laughter the most effective ritual against Palin?),

9) how they respect all religions, but don't think anyone should belong to any religion except their religion because all other religions are controlled by demons. And this is respectful of other religions. Honest.

But the thing that has Brighteyes (12) up in arms was when Wegner defended fellow Apostolic John Benefiel's claim that the Statue of Liberty is a demonic idol.

GROSS: Okay. You know, you mentioned that you're close to John Benefiel, one of the organizers of this rally. Something he said that was very controversial, he called the Statue of Liberty a demonic idol. Do you agree with that?

WAGNER: I - let me say that I don't have enough information to disagree with it. I know it was given to the nation by - as a gift from the Freemasons of France. And there might be some demonic power that he and his friends discern in that statue, but I don't want to - I really don't want to make a strong commitment one way or another to that one.

Brighteyes read all 442 comments on the Fresh Air website. She found people upset over nearly everything else Wegner said, but not this fact. As it was left out of the abbreviated transcript she thought some people might not have listened to the full audio or read the full transcript and missed it. She wanted me to be sure and tell everyone what "that idiot" said about one of our greatest national symbols.

The chilling part of all this is that due to the delay in airing the Fresh Air broadcast, we heard Wegner's interview yesterday as this story was breaking: 14 Peruvians shamans were butchered by members of a Protestant sect that believed the shamans were controlled by demons.

Does anyone believe they won't be doing the same thing in this country if they ever achieve their goals?

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Break Out the Washboard

Last week the washing machine died. In a family of five this is no small matter.

I've had a checkered history with washers. Shortly after we got married my great aunt entered a nursing home and gave us her 20-year old Speed Queen set, which ran for another 10 years without a problem before dying at the honorable old age of 30. In the next 10 years we've had four name brand washers, none of which lasted longer than three years. It got to the point where I was so used to hand-washing clothes in between machines that when I found a galvanized washboard for sale this spring I bought it without a second thought.

After comparing reviews online I found that Speed Queen was once again making home models. While they were more expensive than average, they were not more expensive than, say, two other-brand machines, which is what I was going through every five years. And they came with a 10-year warranty.

Talk about a no-brainer.

It took a while to find one locally. Apparently they only sell Speed Queens in really small towns where everyone knows where you live and will trash your car if you sell them a crappy appliance. But after crossing four counties, we finally found a dealer who was having a sale. Of course all the floor models were sold by the time we arrived, but they ordered one for us. It arrived today, and it works like a charm.

Yeah, I'm happy with my new toy. But I can't help remembering my mother. Mom never made a decent purchase in her life if there was a cheap one she could buy instead, but in the 60s and 70s washers were so well made that even the cheap ones lasted her over a decade each. And she never needed to buy a washboard.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Homeschoolers as Political Volunteers

I'm just going to leave this here:

Homeschoolers emerge as Republican foot soldiers

That's something else I still need to do after out move. I need to look up the local Green Party candidate and find out if they need some underage volunteers.....

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Perennial Question

Last weekend we visited some in-laws we haven't seen in years. One of them, a retired teacher, was curious about our homeschooling methods for the 10yo and the 12yo.

"How do you know they're getting enough basic skills?"

"We-ell, in the car on the way here they were fighting over Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi."

*blink* "Oh. Okay, then. But what about art?"

The art bag's in the trunk. We do art at least once a week and "art out' once a month. We're going to stop on the way back home somewhere and find some pictures to make."

"Plein air! I've always wanted to do that!"

And another win for homeschooling.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Silver 2004-2011

Brighteyes' little Australian Terrier is dead. No one knows why. He was in good health, although his appetite had slacked off two days before. We miss him.

He was the only one of our pets who survived the traumas of last year. I think without those traumas he would still be with us as well.

Rest in peace.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Recycling News Headlines

We're currently getting some much needed rain and a bit of humor from Tropical Storm Lee, who inspired the following headline on my RSS page A Weakened Lee Still Poses Threat in South. What century are we in again?

Dh thought it a pity it hadn't turned into a hurricane and gone up the East Coast. Then we could have seen Lee Devastates Pennsylvania Before Retreating.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Look Ma! An actual homeschooling update!

This year Brighteyes is seventh grade, Sunshine is fifth grade, and Owl is three years old.

Location -- The biggest change is location of course. We have a new house with an actual "kitchen" (dining room) table to work at. We were so crammed for space at the old house we had to do lessons on my bed, as it was the largest free surface available. There's a built-in china cabinet, and the bottom shelf (the one without the glass doors) is dedicated to their schoolbooks. Also the girls' dresser can double as a desk and there's a resin chair in the unfinished den for those "I can't stand to be around her/him a second more!" days. Eventually they'll each have a desk in their room and there will also be tables and chairs available in the den.

There's also a detached shop in the backyard that was originally part of the preschool when this house was used for that, so they can work on things out there that Owl needs to stay away from. Right now they're using it for their biology experiments.

We still don't have any of the secondary teaching materials moved except for a dictionary though.

Placement -- Last year's lessons were truncated. What wasn't already packed when we scrambled in the literal hour before dawn last October got left. So the girls are up on math, spelling, handwriting, and writing; and behind on grammar, history, and science. I can't complain. DHS is used to working in cooperation with the school system. I've seen them send officers after someone within two hours of a child being enrolled in a school system on the other side of the state. If we hadn't homeschooled and been relatively "invisible" to their system, things would have been a whole lot worse.

On the subjects that we took with us, Brighteyes is slightly ahead of schedule and Sunshine is slightly behind. Brighteyes has also completed two unit studies on diagramming and outlining each and one on geometry (The only part she had trouble with was the trigonometry.) Brighteyes is a puzzle-solver. Sunshine is a "big picture" global thinker who tends to trip herself up by forgetting the order of the steps. At least she no longer takes it personally when I explain to her that that's why I teach her only one step at a time, and not a single step more until she's got that one down. Dh tells me it's a problem he saw often in junior high and high school girls in his classes, and one that clears up in adolescence.

We're a year behind on grammar, and I still need to get Brighteyes' grammar texts -- Growing With Grammar isn't available a lot of places. We're back to doing history summaries and timelines. After pulling our hair out trying to find a decent early biology text, we went with Explorations in Backyard Biology: Drawing on Nature in the Classroom for Grades 4 - 6 It teaches elementary biology the way it was originally discovered -- through observation, note-keeping and making drawings in a naturalist's notebook. It's also similar to the artists' notebooks they're already keeping for their weekend art lessons with Daddy.

Literature has been frustrating since my library is still at the old house, but I've taken to reading to everyone in the evenings. It's hard to find really good books and I refuse to waste my breath reading sub-par books aloud, but I scrounged up copies of Mrs. Frisbee and the Rats of Nimh, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Canticle for Liebowitz. These have lead to some fascinating discussions. It turns out there is hardly any aspect of 20th Century culture that can't be discussed using Mockingbird as a starting point. (I want to revisit that one when they're teenagers though, as some aspects of that story they were too young for me to discuss in detail.)

Extra-Curricular Activities -- We're now further away from any children's activities than ever before. Ironically, we're also doing more. While distance was part of the problem at our old house, fatigue was an even bigger part. Dh was working in what was rated as the worst high school in Mississippi, which was rated as having the worst schools in the United States, so -- yeah. In 13 years he taught under 10 principals and 6 superintendents; as he put it, "It was like a new job every year." I don't think he fully realized how exhausting that mess was, and how exhausted I was from being his support system, until after we moved. But now we're both getting out more and seeing about more opportunities for the girls. Brighteyes is enrolled in a Dance class; Sunshine will follow when she stops giving people who tell her to do something the "deer in the headlights" look. There are nature programs in the vicinity, and we're about to see about a piano teacher. Supposedly the 4H program will fire up this fall. Things are looking up on that end.

Owl is doing stickers. He gets a page of stickers a day, which he arranges in patterns on a sheet of typing paper. The first thing he does in the morning is run to the office to get that sheet of typing paper. He's also scribbling with crayons and pencils. I see washable markers in the very near future.... But his heart belongs to his beloved trucks, which he arranges in traffic and parking lot patterns all over the living room floor. He insists on sleeping with the biggest one.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Owl's Third Birthday

"Baby" Owl turned three this week. He's now a wriggling mass of high-speed, car-crazy energy. For his birthday he got a board book set, a toy toolbox, trucks, and a bilibo (which his big sisters think is the perfect accessory for their 3yo doll-baby). I got out the antique car cake pan I'd bought earlier this summer and made car-shaped banana bread for breakfast. Daddy made a chocolate birthday cake. Brighteyes (12) made the frosting and decorated it. Sunshine (10) made up songs in praise of the bilibo, most of them set to The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers. For his birthday movie we watched -- what else -- Cars, the sweetest love letter to car culture I've ever see. The next day we went to a water park and downloaded the new Doctor Who episode.

And a fun time was had by all, which made it a vast improvement over last year's catastrophic August 26.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Six Months Later

Six months after we last spoke to DHS and moved into the new house, I finally feel like I have time to catch my breath. I didn't remember until Memorial Day that the month we moved in was the approximate 25th anniversary of the day my husband and I first met. That made us feel better.

The outside of the new house is ready for summer, and the kitchen sink is installed and working. The kitchen cabinets are coming along. The herb and vegetable gardens are started, and we've planted a fruit tree and a few ornamental to take notes on for next year. The herbs took to their new spots much faster than they did in the 90% clay soil we've been gardening in, and I'm already using the tea herbs. Now the tea tastes like it's supposed to taste.

We went to an Antiques and Collectibles show over the Memorial Day holiday to look for furniture. It'd be much easier to buy everything new from a furniture store, but the Southern climate is unkind to cardboard, hot glue and compressed sawdust. We picked up some 50s and 70s reproductions to go with the pieces that my grandfather made. I found a vintage sewing table big enough to stash an afghan-in-progress inside, something I've been wanting for ages. We got the girls a pair of poker table chairs from a remodeled Indian casino for their bedroom. Children's beanbag chairs that look like they'd fall apart after two weeks if a child actually sat in them run $45 each. These are made for heavy commercial use, look really nice, and cost $35 each. You do the math.

The roof of the old house took some damage in the tornadoes. We've talked to FEMA about it, but they're being stingy with everybody so I doubt we'll see anything out of it.

We've been spied on when we've gone back to the old house, although the spies tend to melt in the presence of a video camera. The back doors been broken into repeatedly. Things have been disarranged, and other things have gone missing. The last time we went back the toilet was full of slushy human feces and maggots. These bozos aren't even trying to disguise their trail. "Harassment" is the nicest term I can think of for it.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Note to Self:

I should not make, "Where do I find the more evolved people?" my standard request to gatekeepers and entry level workers whenever I file a complaint. It wouldn't get me what I need any faster, for all that it would accurately convey my mood.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Hitting the Fill Line

Life's been a bit "interesting" of late, in the "May you live in interesting times" way. For the past half year I've put my emotions on hold while I dealt with what was in front of me. This spring as things settled down I was finally starting to unpack them and allow myself to feel vulnerable.

Then the tornadoes came, and feeling vulnerable didn't seem like a good idea anymore.

Now Bin Laden's dead. To be honest, Bin Laden's never really pushed my buttons like he did for a lot of people. I live too far off the beaten track for any foreign terrorist to target anything near me (Homegrown terrorists are another story.) and I refused to run around like a chicken with my head cut off on his account. So I know the tears I cried at his death had nothing to do with him and everything to do with reaching the fill line on my reined-in emotions.

I'm so tired. I want to sleep for about three straight weeks. I know it's just a stress reaction, and I'm glad I crave sleep instead of alcohol or temper tantrums, but on a practical level it's like asking for the moon.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Tornadoes to the left of us, tornados to the right of us....

Fortunately no tornadoes on us. Phew.

The college has an old air-raid siren they blow for severe weather. We can hear it from our house. How cool is that?

I was working on a post about what we did a couple weeks ago now when the first round of tornadoes came through. The power was out for over a day, so we went shopping in that town across the state line that we haven't had time to check out before. Y'know, Tuscaloosa? Turns out everyone else in all the little towns in that part of Alabama and Mississippi who's power was out also went there. And the Crimson Tide was hosting A-Day, a free end-of-spring-practice football game for their diehard fans, and they have a multitude of diehard fans. So the town was choked with people and we never made it to either mall, although we did check out some antique and thrift stores on Skyline Boulevard.

We didn't go to Tuscaloosa after this round of storms. The tornadoes got their first. One tornado flattened one mall, another tornado flattened the other mall. IDK what happened to Skyline Boulevard yet.

Our friends seem to be all right, except an elderly lady we know broke her hip trying to assist at a house fire during the first set of storms. She was just being wheeled out of surgery and back to her rooms when the second set of storms knocked out the power at her hospital.

There's whole swathes of land around us that's been clear-cut by tornadoes, and a lot of houses missing roofs. Dh is worried people will leave rather than rebuild. I think it depends on whether the businesses rebuild first. No job + no house = no reason to stay. We'll see.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Tonight for supper I made a sandwich of fresh hot meatloaf and King Arthur Onion Buns. Wasn't sure how they would come out. Took one bite and




BEST SANDWICH EVER! Y'know that "one bite and you're transported to a state of bliss" experience? I've never had that with a savory before tonight. I'll definitely make those again. In fact, I may be lynched if I don't.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The New House

The realtor sighed glumly. "I won't lie to you. The location is wonderful. The site is wonderful. But the house is horrible." He didn't add, "And the seller is erratic." He didn't need to, that's why he was there.

After three months of searching five counties for a house, it was clear that this 1920s cottage for sale by owner was the best for us. It was near the campus. Years ago it had been a private day care center, so it had once been child-friendly. But the current owners had painted it atrocious colors inside and out, tore down the second story off the two-story garage, planted cacti around the house, and collected vicious feral dogs that terrorized the neighborhood until the neighbors bought them an electric fence. The roof was sagging, the cabinets were falling off the walls, the trim work was less than half done (and in some cases had been stopped in the middle of a door) and mad-dog-chewed, and the owner broke the floor by stepping in the middle of the kitchen while showing us the house. For this the owner wanted 50% above the market value, as is, no inspections, no appraisals, we wouldn't even get to see the backyard because of the dogs. Or maybe she wouldn't sell it to us, she kept changing her story. After a few weeks of going nowhere we brought in our own realtor to handle the negotiations.

And all this while we were in the middle of dealing with the harassment issues.

The realtor walked the seller through the inspection and appraisal process, where we found out that the wiring and the plumbing had been messed up but the foundation and the walls were sound. Magically the price dropped to just over market value, although she tried to leave us us the feral dogs.

The worst of the repairs are done, and we've started on the renovations. Normally in regard to houses we're pretty laid back, "we'll just live with it" kind of people. We don't tear out carpets just because we dislike the color or some such, but in this case there's been so much half-done DIY and bad DIY we feel the need to replace it with good DIY. We're working on the kitchen cabinets now, with more to come.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

When Hell Came to Our Home Update February 26

Master Post

Sorry to be late. We've been busy getting moved.

After we met with Choctaw County DHS on Wednesday, December 15 we prepared to move into the new house. Unfortunately the sellers had "issues" that we were still dealing with (Good grief, the post I'll write on them when I get the time!), one of those issues being a pack of huge, vicious attack dogs even they couldn't handle anymore that they were trying to leave behind for us to deal with. Long story short, we were almost another week getting moved in. During that time something or someone killed our chickens and ducks where they were being temporarily held. So out of around 30 animals we had when this mess started, we were down to one dog.

Also during that week we got revised forms from Chickasaw County DHS (not Choctaw County DHS). I'd quote from our copies of them but they got misplaced during the move so I'll have to paraphrase off the top of my head. The only parts that were changed were the descriptions of us. Post-psychological evaluation, everything negative had been stripped from my copy, but they had added in that I "refused to acknowledge my problems." What these problems were they no longer said, and if they had it would have contradicted the shrink who has previously shown no compunction for tearing them apart in court. My husband's copy had two statements next to each other that contradicted each other, one praising him for being good at something and the next saying he was bad at it. That faux pas pissed him off quite a bit. It also lists one party as being Anna Warren, not Anna Brock, and doesn't say if she's a supervisor or not. But nowhere on their was Natasha Ivory's signature. Our lawyer got on to her, and says she's signed it since then and the case is officially closed.

Choctaw County DHS promised us copies of the pictures they that were in our file, then changed their mind and said they wanted nothing whatsoever to do with our case.

That is supposedly the end of the legal harassment. There are still some loose ends hanging, but I'll talk more about them later.

As I said in my last post, we went back to the old house to retrieve some things. There were plenty of signs that people had been on the property, including human feces by the back door, but no one bothered us while we were there

We're past the initial move, but not fully moved in. The house still needs the kitchen, the den, one bathroom, and a lot of external work finished. It is minimally furnished while we build the kitchen cabinets (on site from scratch, not prefabs, the room isn't square enough) and scrounge up a panel truck to move some more of our stuff.

I guess it should feel like victory. Instead it feels like a tornado has uprooted us and set us down elsewhere, doing major damage in the process. We've been running on adrenaline for months while our emotions were on hold. Now the feelings are starting to catch up with us, and it's not fun. We want to just scream and cry, but we don't want to upset the children. At least we've got things to build and cook and clean to take it out on.

And we still don't know what was really behind this whole mess, so we don't know if it's really over or if it's just this round that's over.

Anyway, it's time to get back to my Regularly Scheduled Life (TM). I'm putting a tag on these posts ("harassment") if anyone wants to just subscribe to those, and posting about other things again. Thanks to everyone who provided advice and moral support through all this. The ideas y'all had about the video camera and the lawyer did the trick. I don't want to think about what we would have done without you.

Monday, January 17, 2011

When Hell Came to Our Home Update January 17

Master Post

We've been really busy getting moved into the new house, but I'm back at the old house today. Some unkind soul turned off our outdoor water faucet so it burst in the freeze. We dealt with it, added more locks to the house, and for the first time since October spent the night.

It was Psychologically Necessary In the Long Term (TM), but I hated every minute of it. And I hated that I hated sleeping in my own house. And -- you get the picture.

There's a little more that's happened with DHS, but I'm not really in any shape to blog about it today. Another month should not slide by before I post again.