Saturday, July 24, 2010

Another Country Heard From... or What Thing One Thinks.

Another two days, and a month will have gone by since Thing Two wrote her most recent post, the one with the opening paragraph her older sister described as "the single greatest argument for home schooling I've ever heard." As a professional writer, Thing Two's sister doesn't kid around about writing. Well, actually, she does, she can be very funny about what it takes to write day after day. Having my impression that Thing Two is a hard act to follow confirmed by that particular powerhouse helps me feel that bursting with motherly admiration is actually warranted.

Much as I have enjoyed Thing Two's daily presence at home, I want her to make the choices that make sense to her. I know that the company of her peers is important and good intentions on having friends over regularly don't fill the gap... in fact those particular good intentions seem to be the ones the road to hell is paved with... a little bit of information my boarding school gym teacher has left in my brain, along with deep knee bends being the best cure for menstrual cramps. Apparently, other than those two nuggets, grade eleven phys ed was never written into memory.

But there is a field hockey stick in the attic, and I sometimes long to be out in my bloomers and tunic -- is that really what we wore? -- running down the field with that stick. A couple of years ago when I went to the decade of the 60s reunion I realized that I wish I had stayed at school longer. And kept in touch with the people from that bit of life better. Let this be a lesson to you, young readers! It seemed like a good idea to me at the time to rush on to university, not that I had a realistic sense of what that meant, but because I could. Pause and reflect? No, I had no pause and reflect button then, as far as I know.

So, yes, Thing Two has made her decision, written her report, shared it with us and gotten on with enjoying summer. We went up to Halifax where she went to a digital movie making, animation and claymation course at NSCAD. She happily zipped back and forth on the city bus on her own every morning and afternoon and enjoyed the downtown during her lunch break. Seeing her on the go in the city, coming in with her bike helmet in her hand, full of news about where she has been, who and what she has seen -- delightful! Something like watching a rose bloom suddenly. She ditched dance camp in favour of swimming for hours at the Commons pool. It's outdoors and she can get there on her bike. Good summer magic!

Me? Summer is my high gear season for attacking the most midden-like parts of the house. We've already dedicated one room to be the study room, with a hook for the school bag and virtually nothing else in there but school supplies and a table, with a good view out the window. The other downstairs guest room is nearly ready for the August visit from Aunty Canterbury. We've done it up as a sitting room, with tons of mirrors and a great backdrop for doing photo shoots. We know it works because Thing Two's friend came over and they did fashion, fashion and more fashion.

Yesterday I defrosted the fridge. I had to. The freezer door had frozen shut and all the coffee was inside. It was a long job which I faced by playing lots of scrabble online in between shoving pans of boiling water into the fridge. Getting to the stage where I could open the freezer door took a few games right there. It took ages because I wasn't wearing my glasses when I started and discovered later that the little letters I thought said OFF actually said MIN... and the darn thing was working hard to freeze the water as soon as I put it in there. After a while I realized that if I was going to sit at the computer I actually had work to do.

I had made a start on Monday writing my comments to send in with Thing Two's report to the Department of Education. It was unsatisfying, it didn't reflect the way I feel about Thing Two. Instead I was wandering around looking over the last six months, re-thinking the decision I had made to expel her, wondering how our winter might have gone if I had stood by the schedule and figured out how to make it work for us.

This is one of those roads you have to look over on your personal internal map from time to time, the road not taken. I'd like to imagine that you could choose your time, to keep yourself from being late for the immediate destination. I'm not sure it is possible. What I do know is that the road ahead of you is always different from the road you didn't take back then. There are things to be learned from studying the map after a journey, but sometimes if you get too absorbed in the map it is hard to get to your current destination. Yesterday, thanks to the slow melting freezer ice cap I finally managed to get back on the road marked Thing Two, Now. There the rest was relatively easy.

I finished and called her on Skype. She told me about her last couple of days, swimming, playground, swimming, goggles, diving for rocks, going to Clay Cafe and painting a cereal bowl, what she hoped and imagined the two glazes might do, how the dog was breathing, which grandchild was standing on the stairs on the way to bed, and eventually she went and got her ipod and checked her mail. The pause while she read my comments was long, very long. I wanted to fill it up. I reread the comments and started thinking about things I might change.

Finally I heard her draw breath and say, "Oh Mom, it's perfect!" The delight in her voice was the best payoff of the day.

I said, "Do you think so? There's a couple of things I just noticed. I was thinking I would change... just a word, or two, here or there."

Thing Two laughed. "Mom, when I say it's perfect, you can believe me!" So, I decided to believe her. It feels like the right thing to do! Now, here it is, not what I learned this term but what I see these days when I look at my young partner on the home school journey.

Thing Two has grown wonderfully over the first sixth months of this year. I am extremely pleased with her progress.

She has made great strides in her confidence in herself, in her ability to make sensible choices and in her willingness to consider information on all sides of a situation before making a decision.

She has demonstrated an impressive ability to set a goal for herself and stick to it. She has shown determination in meeting her own needs. She has behaved responsibly about sharing her energy, both at home with household work and at the community hall by helping out in the setting up, serving and clean-up at the monthly breakfasts.

She is a good worker and has developed a strong understanding about the difference a “get it done” attitude makes to successful and timely completion of the many tasks she has been expected to do in the house and yard.

Her decision to explore cooking has allowed her to develop a strong sense of competence, not just in the kitchen but in other aspects of her self.

She has participated fully in writing a blog about our experiences as a home school family. Her entries are concise, witty and well-written.

She has consolidated her understanding of the benefits of accepting or setting limits for herself, especially with regard to healthy and safe lifestyle choices.

She recognizes that being prepared requires forethought and an ongoing effort to maintain focus on her short and long term goals. She realizes that learning requires practice and that asking for help and clarification is a useful skill.

Thing Two’s natural rate of speed through the world is one of relaxed, attentive wonder. She takes in enormous amounts of information at this pace, observing and reflecting on what she sees and encounters.

I applaud her decision to return to the company of her friends at school, refreshed by her many experiments and experiences while home schooling. I look forward to seeing her practice her growing ability to meet the world as she finds it and especially to make the necessary adjustments to her rate of travel to achieve her goals and to meet the expectations of others in such a different environment.

I know, as does she, that her determination to be focused and work hard will be exercised every day. I am delighted she has taken the time she needed to find her own inner strength for the task and have no doubt in her ability to handle it.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Decision day at nowhere.

So, the report has been written and the choice has been made. The bombshell, glittering in the sun, has been delivered. I'm returning for seventh grade. Maybe a bombshell was not the greatest
choice of words. You've boarded the plane, you've jumped off the swing, you've gotten in the castle dread cart at the carnival. You're moving fast and agonizingly slow at the same time.In the dark, a blur of clanging noises, sharp turns, eyes peering at you from every angle.The track is determined already for you now, but how you deal with it is your choice. You close your eyes, put your hood up and think about the engineering maybe, or sing Lady Gaga at the top of your voice, whatever. School is like that, in a way. I've sent the email to the principal, report attached. Be proud of what you have accomplished, what you're doing, your goals, achievements. Remember why, what, when, how. Then, you're done, you're out, you're finished, you're proud. I'm going to miss homeschooling, the freeness of it all, learning the stuff I'm interested in. But I'm also glad I'm coming back. My friends, the activities. And of course, I only said back for seventh grade right?

Here's the report, before I forget..

Home school report January to June 2010
By Thing Two

This year I have learned many things. I have learned important life skills, such as cooking and gardening, by preparing meals using food from our garden. I have done large amounts of dishes and many other things that are necessary when in working in kitchens. I have tried many edible plants growing in our garden. I have also tried many new foods, such as duck, squid, and lamb.

I listened to Terry O’Reilly, on “The Age of Persuasion”, a show about advertising. I have made PowerPoints and I’m constructing a menu. I have read books and looked at art about and in restaurants. I have talked to people about how they create their dishes.
I have experimented and created my own meals.

All these skills and the information I’ve collected will help me realize my dream to become a chef and have my own restaurant.

I have studied with my mother the importance of different plants in our environment. We took walks each morning during the winter. I have continued to take riding lessons weekly. I have watched things grow intently by growing my own flower garden. During the warmer part of spring that I was here for, I explored our river nearly everyday, watching Nature come alive again around me.

I learned about how to budget and travel well, thanks to our wonderful trip to England. By talking with and buying from the people at outdoor markets and yard sales I learned budgeting. I also learned about currency exchange by turning my dollars into pounds. Earlier in the year I also studied bookkeeping. I have learned how to pack, how to navigate large crowds, and how to get somewhere on a subway, bus and ferry.

I have read about cultures of other places, such as Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, and past and present England. I explored their gods, lifestyles, houses, and jobs.

I have practiced my French by talking with the students from France that came over to England for a field trip. Also I practiced Spanish and took Gaelic lessons. All this is good because one day I want to travel the world.

I was amazed by architecture past and present by visiting and exploring Bodiam Castle, Dover Castle and the secret war tunnels, Canterbury Cathedral, Kew Gardens, the London Eye, and Tynemouth Priory. I visited the Tate Modern and took a Thames River tour in London.

I have practiced techniques for looking after children, learned about my relatives, and discovered courage and compassion from my family.

I am very pleased with what I have accomplished this year. This summer we will be taking a well deserved break and attending a day camp at Louisburg Fortress and a dance camp in Halifax. In the fall I will be returning to school for seventh grade.

Just because I'm back in school doesn't mean I'm going to stop learning, right?

Thing Two

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ah, so I've been doing it wrong... again.

Yes, we were away for a fabulous five weeks, four in England and one in Halifax. The best of the travelling was that it was all family related: visiting, helping out, enjoying gardening in different gardens, eating other people's cooking, playing with cousins, nieces and grandkids. Sandwiched in with all that was a huge amount of sightseeing. More on the sights later, the short version is castles, London, botanic gardens, back gardens, and allotment gardens. More walking, trains, double decker buses, and even boats than the queen has jewels. Very satisfying.

On the way home the week in Halifax was an unplanned Nana and Aunt stop filling in between nannies and filling in a gap in the backyard fence at Thing Two's eldest sister's home. That is, at my first ever baby's home. She's turned out a pretty amazing woman, thanks more to her own efforts than to my early attempts at child rearing. I was twenty-four when she was born and most of my parenting skills were of the seat-of-pants, not the way I was raised, dammit, variety. Erratic, inventive, experimental. Throw in a good dose of getting advice from my clever older sister and a fair bit of reading. The book list is worth a post on its own. The main hitch is I read, but I don't necessarily get it in one pass. Surprise! Like everything else, changing how you parent requires not just reading, but plenty of practice.

While I think I used some good techniques which weren't available in my mother's time, there's lots I wish I had done differently, not the least being actually listening to my mother when she said that children like routines and schedules. Hilarity, Thing Two's oldest sis, and her best beloved husband, are all over the routines and schedules. Clearly it pays off. For one thing, parachuting in to cover a three and a half year old and his two year old sister, was a lot simpler because their parents were able to tell us what the kids expect during the day. At twenty-four I probably would have said, well whatever, she'll be fine and left it at that.

Anyway, why I say I've been doing it wrong is that while stacking things up on a table chez Hilarity, I found an article by Alfie Kohn explaining why saying "Good job!" to a child ought to go the way of the dodo. Extinguishing that phrase from my lips is going to take some doing. But Kohn does a very persuasive rundown on why it is worth the effort. For the lead in, see his article and you will be convinced. Unless of course you do actually want to manipulate your children... and of course, it is no secret that sometimes we do. But in the end what we want is happy children who are satisfied with the choices they make and derive satisfaction not from being praised at every move they make but from the moves themselves, and the self-direction they use.

My complaint about the article was mainly that it took Kohn so long to get to the crib sheet -- the what to do instead that I can post in my kitchen and read every day until saying the right thing becomes more automatic than saying the wrong thing. I've probably wittered on that long myself now, but hey, as my grandmother used to say when there was nothing else positive to say about someone... "She means well."

So here, courtesy of Kohn, is the crib sheet. Study up.

And what can we say when kids just do something impressive? Consider three possible responses:

Say nothing. Some people insist a helpful act must be "reinforced" because, secretly or unconsciously, they believe it was a fluke. If children are basically evil, then they have to be given an artificial reason for being nice (namely, to get a verbal reward). But if that cynicism is unfounded ' and a lot of research suggests that it is ' then praise may not be necessary.

Say what you saw. A simple, evaluation-free statement ("You put your shoes on by yourself" or even just "You did it") tells your child that you noticed. It also lets her take pride in what she did. In other cases, a more elaborate description may make sense. If your child draws a picture, you might provide feedback ' not judgment ' about what you noticed: "This mountain is huge!" "Boy, you sure used a lot of purple today!" If a child does something caring or generous, you might gently draw his attention to the effect of his action on the other person: "Look at Abigail's face! She seems pretty happy now that you gave her some of your snack." This is completely different from praise, where the emphasis is on how you feel about her sharing.

Talk less, ask more. Even better than descriptions are questions. Why tell him what part of his drawing impressed you when you can ask him what he likes best about it? Asking "What was the hardest part to draw?" or "How did you figure out how to make the feet the right size?" is likely to nourish his interest in drawing. Saying "Good job!", as we've seen, may have exactly the opposite effect.

This doesn't mean that all compliments, all thank-you's, all expressions of delight are harmful. We need to consider our motives for what we say (a genuine expression of enthusiasm is better than a desire to manipulate the child's future behavior) as well as the actual effects of doing so. Are our reactions helping the child to feel a sense of control over her life -- or to constantly look to us for approval? Are they helping her to become more excited about what she's doing in its own right ' or turning it into something she just wants to get through in order to receive a pat on the head

It's not a matter of memorizing a new script, but of keeping in mind our long-term goals for our children and watching for the effects of what we say. The bad news is that the use of positive reinforcement really isn't so positive. The good news is that you don't have to evaluate in order to encourage.

Copyright � 2001 by Alfie Kohn.

Thank you, Mr Kohn, and thanks to for putting that article out there for my daughter to find, and share with me.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Hello, I'm back from England and home at last. So far I've made a pillow stuffed with rosemary, ( the rosemary sweated so its actually pretty stinky) and planted some lavender. I would like to have enough lavender planted so that I could harvest and sell it. Also I started my flower garden. I cooked something that looked like caille and did not poison anybody. ( I toasted it lightly in olive oil with some fried onions, pepper, thyme, and summer savoury. Then sprinkled some salt, soya sauce, and extra pepper. The caille I used was pretty young. At least, I think it was caille.) The books I'm hooked on now are pretty much the same. Redwall, by Brian Jaques. A new one is The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. I really want the rest of the series. Nobody is going to believe me but I accidentally took my nephew's copy home which I will be returning soon. Soon.

Thing Two

Monday, April 12, 2010

Moments I Wish I Had Film For....

Thing Two and I are listening to the radio as we eat our fruit salad, yogurt and granola. We are about to leave the house for our first visit to a day long Gaelic immersion program which meets each Monday. The radio makes an announcement about a late bus in our area: ".... will be running a half an hour late due to mechanical problems". Without missing a beat, Thing Two chimes in, hand cupped to ear, slight smile, "and if you listen carefully, you can hear the cheering."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A conversation in which Thing Two says something funny, & Thing One tells her to blog it.

So Thing One and I were talking about impulse control. She asked me to give three sentences about impulses.
My sentences were:  Maria's first impulse was to run when she saw the bear.   Donald's first impulse was to laugh when he saw what the committee was wearing. Anne's first impulse was to stand still when she saw the strange bird.  Later we were talking about fixing ourselves before we fix other people. I said we could write a book. The title would be :

Impulse control with Thing One and Thing Two.
How to stop being such a bitch !  We did it, and you can too!
People may have doubts, but its true!  You can control your impulses!

Monday, March 29, 2010

An Unexamined Life. No One is Going to Pin That One on Us.

According to Wikiquotes, Socrates, who gave us permission to navel gaze endlessly if all we happen to know is this one liner, "An unexamined life is not worth living", did not actually write the idea down. Born well before the days of blogging, Socrates instead traipsed around asking questions until he had a little band of followers. After his death, one of these followers, Plato, took on the job of creating a written record of some of the things Socrates had said.

I started thinking about that famous one liner because I'm not very satisfied with the last few posts I've made. This feeling of dissatisfaction is partly rooted in how long it takes me to spew out my ideas, or snotty questions to Thing Two, and in how little time there is in the day if I don't actually focus on doing the things which are so far in the back of my mind that they've actually fallen into the little hole filled with dustballs and important papers.

It seems important to me to keep a recorded conversation going here at Nowhere, and at the same time learn how to give the worldly important things, like filling out a bunch of long overdue tax returns, their due. Maybe I need a schedule, and more self-discipline.

I certainly need to review a lot of the information I have stored away in my brain, such as items from the collection of pithy sayings which are useful to pull out from time to time. But often I don't know much about who said them, or the context in which they were said. Luckily we now have our outboard brains. I'm sure trying to find the book of quotations which probably exists somewhere in the house, would have taken much longer than typing "an unexamined" into the top of Chrome and having the rest of the phrase pop up for my surfing pleasure.

It was interesting to take a romp round a few sites, reading up on Socrates, because so much of western culture refers back to ancient Greece and the conversations which began there. Seeing a painting of the death of Socrates, painted by one of the artists we studied in, I have to admit I'm confused by this, 19th century art history?... reminded me of how much there is to know about yesterday if the art of today is going to make sense.

Well, maybe not of today, are any rappers rapping about Socrates or Plato? Am I ready to recognize rap as art? Heck, I can't even remember if I took one art history course or two... ah, two, and Jacques Louis David would have been in 18th century, that makes more sense. Whew, the brain isn't completely mush. I will forgive myself for the confusion on the grounds that the themes and the references are so intertwined... which is part of my point on why I hope Thing Two will actually read the information I've linked to.

That's about it for examining my life for this morning. We are supposed to be at the riding stables in an hour and 35 minutes and the rider is still sleeping. I go to bed with good intentions of going walking to start the day and wake up unwilling to do battle to raise sleeping beauty, or to leave the fire unstarted. Must come up with a better plan! One that requires no enforcement!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Oh, Do Tell, Thing Two!

How very interesting!  What's the story? Who was involved in the study of these topics? What have you learned about each of the topics you list? When did you learn these things? Where did you study these skills?  Why did you choose to learn these particular skills? How did you learn each new thing? Have you studied grammar or proofreading at all?

What have you learned about schedules? Have you prepared a schedule for next week? What about for the April to June term? How are you coming along with that schedule? How's your report coming for the end of this term? What do you think you want to tell the Department of Education about your progress?

How do you evaluate your progress? If you abandoned the goals for this term that were on the original schedule, did you replace them with another goal? Maybe you did, but you didn't articulate it yet. I think that would be a bit like planning a grand journey without choosing a destination. I'm pretty familiar with that journey myself.

As for the library, what have you learned from the books you have been reading? What have you been reading? We have seen that you have provided a link to the Redwall series. Been reading anything else? What is it about the books you have been reading that has engaged you?

Are there specific books you want to find at the library, or do you just want to go fishing there?

What have you learned about gardening? Do you have an interest in gardening? Is it your own?

Okay, okay, I'll stop with the questions. I got up on the wrong side of grumpy. I worry about you. I see that you want to take the reins, it's a natural thing. And I see that we are easier in each other's company lately but I feel that you are not being well served by your time at home, we let things slide. You keep reminding me that you got expelled from home school as if that gives you leave to just wander through the days, exploring amazing things, like what good tops thumbtacks are and whether you can manipulate their path across the kitchen table by blowing on them... all good clean fun,

But, what if you need more than a wander through life? We don't even walk anymore. For me, it seems as if what you have learned about schedules is how to avoid following them! We have never discussed your being expelled and tried to resolve the issues that got us there. Time to read Summerhill, or just check out their site.

You've had cabin fever and started talking about boarding school, so of course I started thinking about it too, about what you are missing out on by being here with an adult instead of in a gang of kids. About the potential that you have ways of learning that you need to know more about, so that you can develop strategies to achieve what you want, whenever you decide what that is.

The weather is taking a break from being cold windy and damp and I'm going outside to work on cutting down the huge rose hedge, the hedge I planted. So easy it was, just drove branches in the ground from the rosebush that was getting too large below the kitchen window.

The rosebush with the sweet little white blossoms in summer that fill the air with a lovely scent for a few days each summer. The rosebush with small hips the partridge and waxwings like to lunch on. The rosebush my dear Aunt Jean gave me, as a little slip in a  coke bottle, with the words "You can't kill this."

I gave it a good try, leaving it in the coke bottle, on the kitchen windowsill for the better of the summer, while I tried to work out where to plant it. Yeah, it took me a long time to figure out the code. Beware of plants you can't kill. Habits can be invasive too. What habits do I want to change in myself? I'll think about that while I work on the rosebush project.

Learning, yes.

Hiya! Its Thing Two!  In the time that I've been homeschooling I've learned a lot about stuff that might not learned in regular school. I've learned alot about woodworking, and schedule making. I learned that starting in the middle doesn't work. Gardening and building and listening. Getting along with people. And getting a job done sooner rather than later can save you alot of work.

I've also started a small series of drawings. The Nervous Knight was inspired by some shoes, long and metal and pointy. I've drawn the knight from the front and back holding out his sword and shield. Imagine walking up to fight a dragon. Brr.

I've also got some major cabin fever, brought on by the bad weather meaning I cant go outside and nothing new to read. VOTE FOR LIBRARY! 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Connections, You Say? Invasive Weeds, Kids, and Parenting? Time to Draw the Lines!

Here's my chance to amaze you all with just how slowly I do figure things out. I've probably read everything I'm about to say in some parenting book or article at some point, and more than likely, unless you are still a young, not-yet-a-parent type person, so have you.

The key points on why invasive weeds and kids are similar:
  • Recognize the innate beauty of your weeds and your children.
  • Not all plants have to be roses to smell sweet.
  • Not all kids have to be interested in the same things you are to be interesting.
  • Appreciating the positive qualities of both weeds and children vastly improves the relationship.
  • There's a lot of talk about control, cooperation is more effective. Either way, thinking is required.
  • Research and observation, trial and error, practice, practice and practice some more.
So, with my tansy, the tansy of my dreams when I read the seed catalogue, it was going to be a lovely, unusual herb and we were going to be "blessed" with a lack of ants. It is not unusual anymore, at least not within about 400 feet of my house, rough guess, with some clumps appearing well down the road. Absence of ants is not a good thing, except in the sugar bowl or at a picnic. Wanting to please my mother brought about unintended results. I have been frustrated by the existence of tansy in my garden. If there is a parent out there unwilling to admit the temporary insanity of frustration with beloved children, please speak up, I want to gaze in amazement at you and your kids.

Last December when I was writing up the schedule for this term I kept asking Thing Two, so what about this, shall we do that? She kept picking up her head from whatever novel she was absorbed in, and saying some version of  "sure, sounds great!" I kept thinking about all the interesting things we would be doing and how the learning this term would set us up for the April to June term. I pictured us getting to the end of March, round about now, and being busy planning how she was going to set up her market garden business over the summer. Doing garden plans, spreadsheets, costing out seeds and working out how much time it would take to plant, maintain, harvest and take to the tailgate market in town. Looking at prices of vegetables and working out what she might expect to earn, and how much she might have to pay in costs.

Just like picturing the tansy as a plant that stayed where I put it and did what it said it would do, I pictured her researching cultures and creating dioramas and little posters and booklets and presenting these to, say a nice little group of folks we'd invite over. I pictured us beating her math demons into submission and improving my ability to read French with guidance from her demanding ear. I could go on about my imaginary three months.

The point is though, that imagination, useful as it is, does not actually move us from an idea to a finished product unless we have truly embraced the desire for that product and are willing to put in the planning and put down the distractions and haul or dance ourselves through all the steps between the glowing perfect imaginary X and the real X. I'm going to let you think about that for a while and go back to doing other real world projects. Projects that will help Thing Two be able to do the things she is interested in doing, and which I know I will enjoy as much, or more than I enjoy the feeling of great wealth I experience raking up my unexpected bounty from those few tansy seeds planted so long ago. 

May Thing Two's willingness to speak her own desires and tell her own stories increase with each passing day, and with each passing day may she realize that making decisions to please her mother, or anyone else, is sometimes a generous gift, but one which must be made with great caution, lest in her anxiety to please others,  the thread of her own great weaving become entangled in a thorn bush of confusion. For each of us, in whatever garden we live, it must be our own, and while we share its abundance and its care with others, still we must remember and ponder this: "The best fertilizer is the footsteps of the gardener."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Harvesting Weeds --Thing One is Growing Up.

Weeds have a bad rep. Some folks see a "weed" and move straight to strategies aimed at "getting rid" of what are really just native plants, or sometimes garden escapes, or accidental imports, without considering the properties of the actual plant in question. What can it tell us about itself, or about the habitat it occupies? Is it edible? Does it serve a purpose in relation to other plants or insects, or wildlife? Separated from its reputation can it be appreciated for its determination, brilliance of colour, sweetness of scent?

There's a connection here to parenting and to home schooling that is sometimes not any more obvious to me as a home schooling parent than the beauty of a dandelion is to someone who wants a perfect green lawn. I've never wanted a perfect green lawn, but I have had the experience of imagining how things would be if they were "perfect". Just check back to my original post if you wonder how often "perfect" is imagined around here. Or see this one to see how much faith I put in things like schedules to achieve the perfect life of learning and growing.

Are you laughing yet? Because if you have been touching base here in Nowhere at all this term, you know that no dioramas have been made, we haven't raved about our days speaking French to each other and the thing I view as the absolute basic first step to a perfect day, getting out the door at 7:15 am for an invigorating, healthful, enjoyable walk filled with great Mother and Daughter moments, fell by the wayside right after the wonderful green dress episode.

Here it is, almost the end of term and although we've been learning like crazy, it hasn't been much about our predictions. So much for the lawn seed of life. Now on to the invasive species. Years ago when the nuclear family I was learning the role of mother in moved to Nowhere and I started poring over the seed catalogue, I was thrilled by the description of tansy as a plant which was grown around houses to deter ants.

At the time this area was entirely tansy free and I had never laid eyes on the plant. I had, however, heard my mother's views on ants. She did not discuss their versatility or their wide distribution on the planet, although I will credit her with some statements of wonder regarding their social organization. Most of her views were of the same type as our hypothetical dandelion hater, focused on human/ant conflict. She worried about ants in the pantry. She worried about ants turning the house into a pile of sawdust. I looked forward to pleasing her by rendering her summer home ant free. I ordered tansy seed.

Tansy seeds are a bit like dust, not the bunny kind under the big chair, the mote kind you see floating in sunlight. They don't look at all like the promise of a sunflower seed or a bean. Definitely not the seed you sprout in cups with a room full of kids in primary. As far as gardening went, at that point in my life I was a kid in primary. I barely knew my alphabet. I was reading, but not necessarily comprehending that in some contexts "easy to grow" is code for "will out compete anything". When the tansy sprouted I was delighted. Something so totally unseedlike, so fragile in appearance, had actually turned into a plant! I rejoiced.

I continued to rejoice for so many seasons, transplanting clumps of tansy here and there, giving clumps away, for so long that I can now, without a shadow of a doubt, give myself the slow learner award. Tansy grows and spreads so easily that some thirty years later, I can at last recognize that it is invasive. It has taught me a lot. Sadly, I didn't learn my lesson about invasive plants quite quickly enough. Angelica and I are currently doing battle in an area in front of the house, and some sort of mint family plant with a rather pretty pink blossom is threatening to out compete the tansy in the upper garden. I'm properly worried about both of them. And, I admit to having introduced both of them to my domain. Having the slow learner award seems to be challenging me to keep my standing.

There is more to tell, both about the positive qualities of tansy, and my progress in harmonious relations with Thing Two. Stay tuned. I'll be back, but now, it is spring. I'm going outside to harvest more tansy stalks. They are hollow and raked into heaps make good bases for compost heaps. They break down slowly and are useful between beds to provide dry footing and long lasting mulch. There's plenty of it, and it's free. Such abundance! I feel rich!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Report from Thing Two

Little birds are so trusting. I'm building a camp (as you previously heard) and I set up a bird feeder. Not your standard bird feeder , but an apple with peanut butter and sunflower seeds. The next day I had a most wonderful experience. Some chickadees had found the bird feeder! I stood by a maple tree across from them and watched. There was also a squirrel in the brush pile. Suddenly a gray jay decided he wanted some of the apple and swooped down to get it. The chickadees flew down onto the hammock. Then they flew right into the tree I  was leaning on! Not a foot away from me! That is a wonderful experience. 

Monday, March 8, 2010

Dum dee dum dum...

Thing One here, wondering if one of the people Thing Two is trying to make life easier for is me. "What were you thinking?!?!?!!!!" is actually a question I'd prefer to erase from my repertoire of questions asked of anyone, at least with the punctuation of disbelief and annoyance represented above. I do agree that humour can work, at the same time I recommend to anyone attempting to use humour to diffuse a tense situation, that it is important to read your audience carefully.

Thing Two got mighty glum yesterday when some of what she was trying to accomplish with the wonderful camp she is building in the maple grove just seemed to be more trouble than satisfaction. It was towards the end of a long sunny day and she had worked hard scouring the area of softwood beyond the maple grove for dead wood  to create a lean-to and dragging it back. I spent a lot of time as a kid making little structures in a swampy area behind our house, in among the skunk cabbage, in what I now realize must have been little clumps of alders. I remember how satisfying it is, the excitement: there are trees and you want a shelter, and with your hands, and your strength and most importantly, your imagination, you do it!

A dead alder is easy prey, but spruce are a lot tougher to persuade to break than alders. When she invited me over to view her work I was impressed with the sticks she had managed to wrest from the woods. They were pretty rough though. Dead spruce has lots of little sticky out stubs of old branches, waiting to poke someone in the head or eye. I suggested using the hammer to wallop off the eye pokers. While I was worrying about sticks and eyes, she was looking for materials to cover her framework.

There's a spruce I'm planning to cut because it is crowding the Jerusalem artichokes, and therefore fair game for boughs, so I offered the clippers to her to harvest the boughs. When she began weaving those into her framework, everything started to slide. She tried tying the poles together. She tried angry language. In the garden raking, I felt the magic slipping. Soon Thing Two stomped out, muttering angrily. The whole idea was going bust. Snack time, I thought, followed by, we had lunch, didn't we and what time is it anyway? She was not stopping to chat, in fact she might as well have been wearing  a big sticker on her forehead "I don't want to talk about it or fix it or even do it anymore."

Since I had suggested earlier that we go up to the alder thicket and do some trail maintenance to liberate alder poles for her construction, but had gotten absorbed in raking weeds in the garden and mulching paths, I was sad to see her abandon the lean-to project without having invited me to go trail clearing with her in the first place. Thing Two is so often busy in the woods, I hadn't really recognized that she was ready for poles until she had called me to admire what she had accomplished. Now, as I saw the look on her face I was sad. I  wished I had done the inviting and that we had gone off to the alder thicket sooner.

It is a delicate balancing act I find, between offering help and taking over a project. I'm trying hard to make sure Thing Two gets to be in charge of her projects. We had had a conversation about parallel play while I raked and she cut boughs. Sometimes, I told her, I think that's the stage I got stuck at. I like being around other people and working independently, but I really need to learn more team skills. Now, lighting my sadness was a little light bulb, shining on the many times when I had abandoned something I wanted to do, when just a little help might have made a difference. So, off I went, little bowsaw in hand, to get a pile of alders ready to haul back.

At the same time, I searched for some Y shaped alders strong enough to make a second support for the lean-to as the angle of the poles Thing Two had already put in place seemed to make the space created really smaller than a camp should be. Once I had dragged them back and started setting them up I came in the house to find Thing Two. She was a lump on the kitchen lounge, entirely under a quilt, iPod tuned to Wizards of Waverly Place. I nattered about the alders I had cut and asked her to come and see what we could set up.

After checking that all she had to do was walk as far as the camp, she came out without enthusiasm, in fact the pout was pretty impressive. I said, unsure of whether this was old crone magic think or something with a bit of research to back it up, that if she smiled, she'd feel better. Now that I see she is passing the suggestion along I've checked for my source, and yes, there is supporting research in this July 1989 New York Times article. No doubt there's new and different research now, but for the minute I'll go with this on the grounds that  if we believe smiling makes us feel better we're likely to improve!

Today our patch of glorious sunny weather is slowly clouding over, so there's a few things to rush off and do, like a major haul from the alder thicket of standing dead sticks to use as fire starter for the rest of the week. Incredibly Thing Two's boxes of fire starters from October have only just run out. Pretty impressive. Having those wonderful boxes of tinder and kindling ready under the bench made the winter easy. A pile of potential fire starter for next winter is growing in the maple grove as Thing Two makes her camp. I'm sure that it is camp gold, with a little work every day, she will have plenty of goods to barter for provisions when camping season is in full swing.

This morning when I dashed out to put up the hammock, I had one of those sense memory moments where your whole being briefly visits another time. My time travel took me to just such a spring like morning 50 years ago, when I must have been heading for the side of the road to wait for the  school bus and regretting all the hours of outdoor time I was about to give up. While I'm sure there were compensations in being around other kids, I don't think that I ever fully felt that school time, despite the things I enjoyed, was a good enough reason for going indoors on a spring day. Now, I'm off to enjoy the next few hours outdoors and see how well I can manage myself on the work expedition to the alder thicket.

Advice and Bill Cosby

Hi, its Thing Two, and I hope that this advice makes life easier for people. Diffusing tense moments with humor is a good way to stop a fight. For instance, when your mom says " What were you thinking?"  a good reply is " dumde dum de dum...".  Its also good to talk about stuff because to make stuff work, especially in homeschooling, you have to understand what everybody wants. Talk quietly and keep your expressions calm. When you smile, the chemicals in your brain make you feel happy. When you're grumpy and pouting (although it is sometimes fun) can just put more people in a bad mood and increase yours.

Also some funny stuff about parenting with Bill Cosby!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Tempus fugit, so, yes, we've been having fun.

Always interesting to check on expressions you use readily. Time flies while you are having fun, in its Latin version actually translates according to Wikipedia, as "time flees" and the example given of the first use of the phrase is: "But meanwhile it flees: time flees irretrievably, while we wander around, prisoners of our love of detail." Finding that quote pretty much stops me in my tracks on my plan to give you a detailed run down on what we have been doing for the last three busy weeks.

But love of detail is my game. After all, it goes with the packrat gene quite well. Still, since it is a gorgeous sunny day with a lovely warm breeze, I'm going to fight for brief. We spent the first week since our last post doing some major log jam removal in our house. Shifting bookshelves, taking down bits of wall, creating places to hang coats and jackets. Those were my goals, that and seeing the floor of the room Thing Two abandoned several years ago.

Here in Nowhere we live in a post and beam home built around 120 years ago, perhaps a bit more. Post and beam construction means that there are no supporting interior walls. Except for in the new addition, which is modern balloon frame construction with gyproc walls, all our walls and ceilings are wood. So if we want to put up a picture or a hook we just hammer or drill and hey presto, there it is. I have loved this feature of our home since I was a child because it gives me such a firm sense of being able to manipulate my environment to suit my whims.

So while I cut out a few boards from one wall and moved them over parallel to what was left of that wall to create a clothes cupboard, I could hear Thing Two upstairs putting up shelves in her room and had the pleasure of knowing that instead of being in a classroom that belongs to everyone and thus can be manipulated by no one without a great deal of forward planning, she was able to make her space truly her own, and learn a few things about how wood behaves into the bargain. Since she has been spending plenty of time this past few months whittling and sawing, it all seemed to flow very sensibly.

We had a deadline for our projects, hers of emptying her room and mine of making better use of the downstairs common spaces, because, as we did in November, we were travelling to another part of the province to attend a gathering focused on the local food movement. That trip, visiting family, and stocking up at the farmers' market, devoured week two.

The gathering took place at Windhorse Farm and instead of time spent passively viewing power point presentations, it was another experience of growing together around conversations that matter. Spending a day with people who are passionate in their belief that access to locally grown food matters to all of us is a powerful mid-winter tonic.

Standing around a fire outdoors and going for a brief walk and meditation in the forest energized me and reconnected to me to some of what I learned on our first visit. Now when I reflect on that day or stand outside, I can hear in my mind Jim's calm voice suggesting that with our feet firmly planted on the forest floor we let our bodies sink into the earth, our breaths mingle with the breath of the forest, and our minds rest in space. It feels right to me. I particularly like the resonance of experiencing the starlit sky enveloping me when I remember to let my mind rest in space.

Just remembering to breathe deeply is always a great leap forward for me! The rest of that week I basked in the comfort of my role as Nana to two of my amazing grandchildren. There is nothing so wonderful as being in the presence of preschool children, when you know that they are cared for and loved as comprehensively as my eldest daughter and her wonderful husband care for this little boy and girl.

The effect of their love, and the nearly daily involvement of their grandpapa, is very evident in the way these kids move through life. At the same time, face it, kids are kids and their development demands a lot of testing of the limits! So, it is pretty wonderful to be Nana and to know that I am not responsible for the daily limit struggles. For me, what works in face of all that testing is a constant commitment to thinking on my feet and giving choices about everything.

It can be quite a trick to keep articulating choices to offer that are truly acceptable to you as an adult. Harder still sometimes, is sticking to the plan. The key is having an answer ready when the child says "I don't want to..." to both of the available choices. It is much easier for me as Nana than it ever has been for me as a mom, to remember what the next bit of the dialogue is. It is quite true, not only for children, but also for adults, that sometimes the available choices do not include something we really want to do. At that point, acknowledging the wish that things were different has to precede the statement that the choices are still the same. For me, this is usually the winning combination on moving forward with whatever project is at hand.

When Thing Two was about three I was finding life very heavy going as a single parent. I had rather too much on my plate for one thing: chronic low-grade depression, menopause following fast on the hormonal roller coaster ride of pregnancy, nursing and weaning, and an enormous new home based self-employment project. It was nuts. Looking back now, there are many choices I wish someone else had been able to lay out for me at the time. However, since I was in charge of outlining the available choices and had gotten my teeth sunk into one of the big ones with the strength of a madwoman on a merry-go-round, Thing Two had to toe the line on lots of day to day interactions. I suppose children often do, whatever choices the parents make about what they take on in life.

In the twenty-two intervening years between the birth of my middle daughter and the blessing that is Thing Two, a lot of my parental coping and management mechanisms had gotten rustier than old parts on an old car  in a maritime climate. Fortunately my sister, whose working life as Head Teacher in a nursery classroom in the UK, revolved around 3 and 4 year olds, was only a phone call away. Her knowledgeable support  gave me the life raft I needed.

Choices are meat and potatoes, or perhaps beans and rice, to her -- the essentials of good interaction between adults and children. Since I wasn't firing on many cylinders at the time, she gave me one, nearly all-purpose, mantra to cover the really sticky situations, like a three year old doing a cut and run in a parking lot. Or less dangerous, but still fully able to derail a day, getting up from whatever activity had peacefully engaged her the moment a business call was underway and beginning a loud go-nowhere conversation with a Thing One whose mind was working overtime to stay in adult business mode.

The mantra? "Can you stop yourself, or does Mommy have to stop you?" Other versions: "Can you hold my hand, or does Mommy have to put the harness on?" "Can you stop yourself, or do you need some help?" I don't think many people hear those mantras as warm fuzzy moments of parenting, but the essential reasoning behind them makes a lot of sense to me. And for Thing Two and I, they worked.

Some days she chose to hold my hand, some days she chose to put on the harness. As her dislike of the harness grew stronger, along with her understanding of what the available choices in the parking lot or crowded mall were, she learned to stop herself from running away, eventually even without having to hold my hand.

Achieving what we want in life is only possible if we have self-discipline. Self-discipline is a learned skill, we don't pop out of the womb with it fully developed, any more than mothers welcome their newborns to their breasts fully equipped with all the skills to feed them successfully.

Using the "can you stop yourself or..." formula  with young children gives them a basic grounding in one of the key self-discipline skills. Learning, during the preschool years, to examine your choices before expressing yourself with direct action, is essential to getting along at every age, in our families and in our communities, whether we home school or not.

Stating the choice as "can you stop yourself or...?" or simply as "can you insert desired behaviour here or...?" works because it offers, in terms which a child can grasp, what action is required.  "Your brother is playing with the toy. Can you stop yourself from grabbing it, or do you need help? Or if this is the umpteenth time today the hand has shot for the other child's toy, " or do you need a time out?"  Both options are acceptable to the parent. While neither may be acceptable to the child at first, repeated use of the phrase gives the child a chance to put on the brakes and consider her next move.

It also gives the caregiver time to draw breath and offer more help. "You wish you it was your turn to play with the truck, so you can use words to ask your brother 'when is it going to be my turn?'" Combined with the magic of a timer, using these systems creates part of a process that gives children the tools they need to make good life choices.

My sister also gives the very useful example of the white elephant in the corner when speaking to young children, and I suspect to most people. Think of what you want and state that, rather than giving the negative solution. "Use words!" is a much more effective thing to gasp than "Don't hit!" The point of the white elephant is that as soon as you mention an elephant it tends to fill up the mind. Better not to reinforce an idea you suspect might be forming in the jungle of kid play by using a word describing any undesired behaviour. De-coding "don't" takes a lot more mental agility than translating the word "hit" into action. I guess I think of it this way. Feelings are our first language and action is speech. As parents and caregivers our role is to teach a second language, words, which give all the gradations of action that allow for civilized interaction.

It is always useful for me to think about the early language years, when along with all the excitement of first word, sentence and  disagreement, parenting seemed so overwhelming and yet manageable at the same time. Back in the sixties, researchers did a project with results so definitive that you would think whoever holds the purse strings on early education financing would be falling over in the rush to institute well funded early childhood education, both for parents and caregivers. My sister told me about the High Scope Project, long ago, but apparently I was thinking about something else at the time, like the abysmal failure of governments to move early childhood education to the top of the budget.

High Scope's central concept, the plan, do, review learning model  is one I want to focus on here in Nowhere.  I think that Thing Two and I could use it to tether our imaginations to some of our goals, assuming of course that that might be a good thing. I'd say that we need some practice on each of the steps, and well, this hasn't been a brief post, has it, so perhaps that timer has my name written all over it. Like so many things we learn, self-discipline, whenever we begin to learn it, requires practice. I guess I'm at the review stage of life, making a plan to do better.

Week three of our disappearance? Short version, we came home and our internet signal was lost in space. Without a phone it took a bit of time to make a plan with the service provider, but now we're up and running again and considering how much time we had for other pursuits during the four days we were out of the cloud. It is still sunny and I can hear the drum beating out in Camp Guokir, so I'm off to enjoy spring before it is even supposed to be here. And yes, daffodil shoots are up.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

And for Mother, Gorgeous Yellow Tulips

Okay, Thing One here, to report that Monday was not the day of my dreams. Thing Two did not appear at the door dressed and ready to go. On the other hand, that meant I got to go for a walk on my own, a kind of wander through the woodlot.

Since I won't go out and leave Thing Two sleeping after I've got the kitchen stove up to fever pitch and piled a lovely lot of wood into it, in case the place goes up in flames and she sleeps through the fire alarm, I called her downstairs before I left and gave her a to-do list. Just call me the wicked stepmother, and call her Cinderella.

The woodlot walk was good. One of these moments I'm going to get out the Audubon Society  Field Guide to North American Mammals and look up the big sort of dog like tracks I saw, to see if I can figure out how to tell coyote tracks from fox tracks. That will be a lot simpler than the other thing I wish I could learn, how to haul wood out of the woods with a horse. A Newfoundland pony seems about the right size for me and the wood I have.

I've been reading Guerrilla Learning, How to Give Your Kids a Real Education with or without School and thinking that I might be a lot less fiendish mother if I took the suggestions in it to heart. One of the interesting things is that they keep giving me quizzes about my own learning experiences and learning goals. I keep reading them and thinking, I have no answers to these questions.

The other thing I fall over is the idea that I just might be too old to learn to work in the woods with a horse. I can fell and limb trees all right. I took a silviculture course back in 1987 and I have a nice chainsaw and safety gear and like to use all of it. There is plenty of work to do, even without removing any wood from the woodlot. But, there is also wood that we could use for heating and for building projects and I know I never want to let a piece of heavy equipment in my woodlot again, so it's horse's muscles or my muscles.

When I got back to the house Cinderella was hard at it and had got quite a bit on her list done. We had breakfast and admired the two large bunches of gorgeous yellow tulips she had gotten for me for Valentine's Day. They are a truly wonderful gift, one that I would never have chosen for myself and yet perfect. They have opened more and more each day and finally yesterday evening I was able to catch their amazing lemony scent. I know I will be looking for them in the bulb catalog for this fall.

There is no more fortunate Thing One in this world than I, to be blessed with such a generous, spirited and amazing companion as my darling Thing Two.

Power of motivation, eh?

I did it! yes! I got it! My perfect dress has arrived on Valentine's Day, along with a balloon and a congratulatory mother. Its hanging up on our clothesline at this very moment! Now we'll see, will I still be able to get up on time without my motivation and banging my head on the pillow seven times while chanting, get the dress! get the dress! get the dress?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

She Did It! She Did It! Doing the Dance of Joy!

Wow. That Diplomatic Dress Deal. Wow. She totally did it. A checkmark every day! So awesome. Can't wait to buy the dress. Best deal ever. She is actually waking up before the alarm goes off, the goal I had back in April of last year.

So so so, good. Now for the next step. Will the habit continue with out the carrot? I sure hope so, because it has been a great two weeks of being out and walking at 7:15. Well, almost, except for the times I made us late.

Dance of Joy! Here comes the green dress, green dress, green dress!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Way to Go, Thing Two, Tell it Like it Is. On the Record: You Are Right.

So, hard act to follow there Thing Two. You've definitely got the good questions laid out. What may really surprise you is how much of what you describe so accurately is also true for me. It's harder than I expected. There are things I want to do, too, that seem to be stuck semi-permanently in the almost started, partly finished, going to start soon, messy pile of rubble, broken dreams stage.

Like painting with you. Relaxing more together. Sewing. Reading. Making pots again. Having a comfortable house where guests feel at home. Making walking trails in the woods and walking on them with you. I could go on, but you get it, I know. There's that broken down, discouraged feeling that comes when you think you have the bits lined up just right to realize your vision of the dollhouse, or the family home, and just as you get one right piece to fit in, something slips and it seems like its going to be totally impossible. This is where your grandfather's voice chimes in: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again."

As strategies to solve our problem, yelling, crying, neither one of us has chosen a winner. On the other hand, as long we continue to make space for conversation, to ask the clear, tough questions you have asked, we are on track to the land of Possible. High five to you. I certainly want to change. For one thing, feeling frustrated and angry, yelling and fighting, is not winning me any friends in Nowhere. Furthermore, it feels awful inside.

Feeling awful inside is clearly something you can relate to, even if  you don't feel like I understand. I know that feeling like giving up, crying or spending time lying in bed when, in your heart of hearts, you want to be painting, or being hugged, or singing on top of a pile of wood, or twirling a stick, or watching tv shows on your iPod, or reading a book, or just about anything other than feeling frustrated, like you did something wrong, oppressed, yucky, is certainly as awful a feeling inside as yelling, feeling angry, like nothing I say is heard, discouraged, confused.

I used to spend a lot of time crying when life seemed too hard. Crying didn't work. I still feel yucky sometimes. The results are not good. Please notice the sometimes.

There are countless moments with you
when I feel amazed, delighted! amused,
filled with joy, love, elation,
thrilled by your very existence and being.

As for "feeling the love" my heart aches. I hear you crying and I hear the things I sometimes say to you when you are crying and I just want to curl up and die. It feels like being two people at once to me. It's as if  I am you, and I am my mother, actually it feels like being three people. The third one, the one stuck in the middle, trying to figure out how to get out, is me, Thing One. You know that kind of stiff hug, the one where I don't seem to be able to get huggable? I totally recognize what it feels like to be on your side of that hug. Now, sadly, I'm learning what it felt like to be on my mother's side of it. What we are doing is going to change that.

So, while you may think that I have all the power here and that you are helpless, it ain't necessarily so. There are times when I feel helpless. Do you remember how I used to say to you when you were much, much littler, "Can you stop yourself, or does Mommy have to stop you?" If we were somewhere that there was a lot of traffic and you didn't want to hold my hand, and I didn't want to risk you skipping gaily out into the traffic and getting squashed by a car, I could offer you the choice of holding my hand, or wearing the harness. Sometimes you choose one, and sometimes you choose the other. Whichever it was, it kept you safe.

Arranging some things as if we are having a business meeting, insisting on using email when I am standing right there! is the choice I make to stop myself. I don't want to just speak off the top of my frustrated head and come out with some foolish thing my poor mother might have said when she was at her wit's end. I want to learn a new way.  Here's the scoop. Emails don't YELL without some extra effort being made. Using emails gives us a chance to think before we speak.

Look at that very formal email you sent me after you were expelled. It was polite and it offered a solution. Or at least a first step towards a solution. It was a useful strategy. It got my attention. It gave us a quiet forum to make a plan. Please note: I am telling you that you did right. That email is one of the many things you have done well, and right, not wrong. It was a much better approach to the mess we were in than days and days of sniping our way around the house trying to figure out what to do next.

When I feel like yelling, or you feel like crying, each of us has a choice to make. We can keep on doing what we are doing, whether it feels good or not, whether it gets us what we want, or not, most likely not. Or we can  figure out how to handle the feeling under the yelling, or the crying. It's not easy, especially if you have a long held habit of crying when you are upset, or of yelling when you are upset, to learn to do something else. But unless the strategy is working really well for you and it makes you feel great, investing the effort in changing how you respond to the way you feel is one of the most important things there is to learn.

You are free to disagree with that, after all, it's my opinion, and you want to do things your own way.

What I plan to do is to think of the place I am when I am yelling as just a place. Not some horrible monster that has taken over my whole being by pouring a huge angry bucket of frustration soup over my head, but a place. As soon as I start to feel like a yell coming on I am going to say to myself, "There's a different place right next to this one."

Then I'm going to stand up a little more consciously, and feel my feet on the place I'm standing a little more clearly. Next, I'm going to take a slow, deep breath and step sideways, very deliberately.

That's my plan. I may need to make a few signs to put on the wall.

Be Sure
Brain is Engaged
Putting Mouth
in Gear.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hi, its Thing Two. Recently I've been reflecting that some stuff is not working out for me as much as I thought it would. For instance, I thought homeschooling would be easier. Even being expelled is not easy. Must I plan everything?                                                                                                                                                 
Why is everything arranged like we are having business meetings? Do you know much I hate that? Why do we have to use email when your standing RIGHT THERE?  How come I'm not allowed to do stuff my way?  Although I like being treated older, I'm being told how wrong I am almost every second. Nobody seems to understand me anymore. You could say I'm not exactly "feeling the love". It seems that mom is always on edge more, ready to yell and fight, and that I'm even more ready to cry and give up, run upstairs and lie in bed. My dollhouse project is lying on the floor wishing (like me) that I could stop and work on it, instead leaving it a messy pile of rubble and broken dreams. The only thing that wills me out of bed in the morning is my perfect dress, so essential to my perfect birthday party and my hope that easier times will come along with the better weather.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

In Which Thing One Opens the Door to the Room Marked "Worries About Home Schooling" and Thing Two Cooks Another Amazing Meal.

Yuck. It is dark in here. And scary. So much of what is in here has to do with who I am. Have I grown up well? Am I a good citizen? Have I contributed to society or am I just a little blot on the landscape? Am I selfish? Who is this home schooling project really for? Did I take it on to provide a reason for not getting other things done? Projects which I say I want to do but which I am afraid will be too much work, or that I might simply never be able to do?

How can I ever hope to set a good example for Thing Two if I am still figuring out my own life week by week? I already know that one of the reasons Thing Two gives when asked about why she decided to leave school is, "Well, I was going to fail anyway." No matter how many times I tell her that her teacher told me she was fine, that she wasn't going to fail, that reason continues to pop out. Second on her list is, "Well, it was so hard, and so much work."

Are the habits that Thing Two has which get her in trouble with me, and are ineffective for her, the same habits I have, that haven't worked for me? Have I handed on the worst of myself through simple inattention to my own self talk?  Inattention, and laziness, the friends of bad habits. Selfish and lazy, that might be me, right? Laziness! I mean, I have it good here with Thing Two around to help out. What's in it for her? Wouldn't she be better off in school and doing homework when she comes home? Isn't it a mother's job to bring in the firewood, cook the meals, do the dishes, the laundry, the sweeping and tidying?

Fortunately while I'm in here rooting around in all the junk, Thing Two is very excitedly preparing her first ever batch of spaghetti sauce. Supper looks and smells like it is going to be very, very good. And it is, the sauce is meaty and flavourful, the spaghetti is cooked just enough and not a second more. There is plenty of freshly grated parmesan.

What is even more delicious is the ambiance. A song singing, dancing Thing Two has produced the meal with determination and enthusiasm. Supper fell in her lap tonight because when we were in town yesterday for the square dancing workshop we made a quick stop in the grocery store. She saw a box of frozen meatballs and asked for it. I said no, and told her if she wanted meatballs I would buy some ground beef. She said yes. We came home with about a half a kilo of lean ground beef.

Today I remembered it was there and had to be cooked. Around two this afternoon I said, "So you are making meatballs for supper, right?"
" I don't know how to", says Thing Two with iPod in hand.
 "Search for a recipe" says I.

Quiet Sunday afternoon and we both drift back to what we are doing. Around three I notice Thing Two is getting out her extensive wood project on the kitchen floor, a remarkable bark doll house for her niece and nephew which has been under construction for a week or so. I see supper preparations dropping off her to do list. So, says I, "Did you find a meatball recipe?" Small disappointment follows, then much searching and consulting. At some point Thing Two realizes that making meatballs actually requires handling the meat. Too gross to contemplate, on to plan B, a nice meaty spaghetti sauce.

She gets to the kitchen and discovers it is not in working order. The pot she needs for cooking the spaghetti hasn't been washed, nor the frying pans and a few other things. There is a temporary revolt. I stand my ground, administer hugs, agree that one of the things that is the pits about cooking is coming into the kitchen and finding it not ready to go. Suddenly, she is smiling, finding her apron and making amusing bubbles in the dishpan. Wow. Kudos to my favourite cook, Thing Two.

Over supper she tells me about the wonderful apple corer and peeler she got to use when we were at a local food movement workshop last fall. Helping to make the apple crisp there, she also learned about digestion and why the act of cooking is so healthy for us. While we cook, Thing Two reports, our digestive system is being primed with the secretions it will need to digest the food we are preparing. How cool is that?

I'm not going back in that dark room tonight. Chalk up some big we're fine, thanks Xs on the door. The other comment Thing Two made tonight, in among the "this is so exciting"s and the "my first spaghetti sauce"s and the "it's soo much fun"s and "what do you think?"s was, "You're teaching me how to look after myself when I leave home!"

My mouth was probably too full of spaghetti, mmm mmm good, for my brain to do anything but smile then, but I'll say it loud and clear now: I'm sure going to miss Thing Two when that day comes!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Aw, Shucks, and Just When Things Were Going So Well, Too. But At Least We Got A Good Dinner!

Hey, Thing One here. The kicker-outer, grumbling, take my time and do something else with it, silly home schooling anyway, "older" scholar. No one said getting older automatically created a grown up. Unless a grown up always comes equipped with a powerful speaker system, and the Anxious Doubts cd on endless repeat.

Not a great soundtrack for a person trying to retire her perfectionist, pearls of wisdom, got it all figured out, let's just follow the plan I imagined, persona. Yes, I can hear you thinking, "and pretty controlling too." So right you are, all part of the territory. Nowhere is like that, full of places that turn out to be slightly different than you expected. Some of them are nicer than you could ever dream up. It's important to hold that thought.

You can be heading full speed up the hill at 7:15, topic at the ready, the day just glowing in your imagination when suddenly around the corner comes the big truck with the pushy driver. Wham! Your day hits the ice, sliding to a part of Nowhere you don't like to visit. You rev up the engine on your imagination drive and whisk yourself away. There, the schedule you set up is just right. People can't wait to hit the books, the topics are so close to their hearts. Heck they want to do more!

Yup, clockwork! Not one of those digital babies either, real precision meshed gears you can see through the glass back of a pocket watch. All the tasks around the edges of "school work" flow as if by magic to their proper places: wood from the pile outdoors to the pile by the stove, clothes from the lines in the living room fold neatly as they float to their tidy drawers, dishes clean themselves, doing counters and shelves while they're at it. But imagination, strong though it is, does not make it so. Banging your head against the wall by the schedule will not help.

So, you can see me struggling here. When Thing Two's queries like, "Well, why can't we just change the schedule, it's our schedule?" and "Why do we have to have a schedule, anyway?" dance up the hill with us, I have answers longer than our combined attention spans. While I'm droning on, part of me is jumping up and down saying, "Sure! What does it matter really, as long as we're busy and happy?" It's hard to jump up and down with your hand over your mouth.

See me divide? The droning on part of me is looking far down that trail. I glance at the shadowy bit of Nowhere inhabited by the big green mold monster and a score of other unfriendly characters. I squint to read the tiny print on their name tags. Bet you wish you hadn't done that and met me, eh? and Well, where did you think you were going to end up, you left home without a map! are smiling and waving, calling "Come on down!" I don't want to fall for it, I think their grins are fake.

Besides, they have friends named, Welcome, I'm Picnic! You must be One sandwich short of a basket! and Hey, if you had listened to me in the first place! It's never quiet, except when everyone is too angry to speak. Over  in a really dark corner there is a big power struggle going on. Well, don't blame me!, Sorry! I forgot! and Oh no! Were you saying something?! are making faces and exchanging sarcastic remarks as they try to see who can be the first to kick the door down and run out into the sunnier parts of Nowhere yelling and spreading misery.

We took a quick tour of that bleak area of Nowhere on our walk yesterday, just after I didn't fall on the ice as the early school bus came round the corner heading up the hill. I don't remember what we ... I say we, but as you will see it is really I, were talking about when Thing One interrupted me. I did not take it well. I won't say interrupting people is genetic, it's clearly more of a nurture thing. Those are the ones where you look at your kid in disbelief just as you realize she is holding up a mirror. I despise looking in that particular mirror.

Without that mirror though, how would I learn? I'd like to take this opportunity to ask forgiveness of  the countless people I have interrupted over the past six decades. It is bloody annoying and I wish I had learned at a much earlier age not to do it. I'm retooling that part of my brain, but please, don't be patient with me, it doesn't seem to help.

Thing Two has perfected the look. She gives it to me right between the eyes when I interrupt her. It seems to be having an effect. Using a talking piece helps even more. Negotiations on using her twirling/walking stick as a talking piece went badly last week (Note to both of us: ask first, don't just grab it out of the other person's hand. Wait! If the other person is speaking, don't even ask!). So far, neither of us has had the presence of mind to find something else to take out walking with us.

Lots of the rest of yesterday's walk went well. My new snow pants were doing the trick. Thing Two had taken to heart the phrase "dressed for the weather" in her determination to get the dress. Hearing the wind howl while she was still nestled under the covers she remembered what she had read about wind chill on Monday and actually bundled herself up enough to face -22.

We were amazing ourselves at even being out. Uphill, the road has views to the north, open to the wind off the lake. Almost at the crest, we recognized how cold it was going to be if we kept going. The subdivision road offers the protection of the woods and fabulous views of the river valley. There is only one house, where no one lives. We backtracked and went up there.

We shared a little fantasy, of what it would be like if there was a cohousing community there, houses clustered together to save the wild land we love, with a welcoming common house where we could enjoy a morning visit. The folks there would be the people eating what our not yet big enough garden might produce if we were a CSA site. We could feel the warmth of our imaginary neighbours' welcome.

Turning for home and seeing the whitecaps on the lake, Thing Two told me how excited she had been several summers ago when her English cousins were visiting and one day at the shore called out "Oh, look at the white horses!"  That was my learn something new every day moment, as I'd never heard whitecaps spoken of as white horses before. Thinking back to that moment, full of her fun memories from the summer of the English cousins, it is hard to see why the day derailed again later.

I don't even remember what little bit of the big ball I roll around when I'm wearing my dung beetle disguise I tried to pass off to her as a pearl of wisdom. I do know that a couple of times this week I've gotten out my schoolmarm voice and yattered on about fidgeting, not looking at me when I explain something, more fidgeting, and, can we stay on this one task for more than thirty seconds, puhleeeze!!!!

In that context, having her come into the kitchen because I had something important to tell her, and then, while I was doing so, having her struck so dumb with amazement by something she saw on the shelf and just had to tell me about instantly, was one more interruption than I could handle. That was the moment when she got expelled. From home school, for crying out loud! Can you do that? Yes, just before you reset the mouse traps and bleach that place on the shelf where the one, tiny, little, damn mouse poo was.

Bottom line seems to be that the parts of Nowhere that are not so nice have to do with parts of myself I'm not so happy with, and with that room I still haven't showed you, the one with the big sign on the door: Worries About Home Schooling. Like the real rooms in our house, there's a lot of stuff crammed in there. I was going to write about them yesterday but as I was getting ready to open the door, all this other stuff fell out and distracted me. As soon as my head clears and I remember what's in there, you'll be the first to know.

Here's one little bit that's been sticking out the door as we've gone from excited first day to having hands too wiggly to think about taking ownership of the textbook. It's more of the puzzle around why bother with a schedule. My dear dad was a great guy, as far as I was concerned. Viewpoints vary. As a kid I saw this:
  1. He was special 'cause he never had to do any of the day to day things houses and families require to be done, but he did make fabulous bagels and lox for Christmas morning breakfast.
  2. He never set me any more difficult hoops to jump through than to be quiet when I came into his room,
  3. I could use any of the great stuff he had: tape, scissors, paper, pencils, cool ruler thingy with shapes in it, as long as I put anything I took from his desk back where I found it.
  4. He never, as far as I can recall, had any part in disciplining me.
  5. He gave me a cheque book and made sure I learned how to write the details of every cheque I wrote in the register and tell him when my account was getting low. Luckily my vices ran to raspberry danish.
I put my pillow over my head if he yelled at my sister as she was so much older than I was that the basis of his displeasure was far beyond my ability to comprehend. His one fault in my eyes was to spend a great deal of time and energy on trying to save me from the mistakes he had already made. I took this activity as a direct challenge and spent an equal amount of time and energy telling him that I was planning to make different mistakes. I believed it was a fundamental right to go out in the world and make new mistakes. Who wants to learn from an old textbook?

He was sure I'd repeat some of the ones he'd made if I didn't follow his directions. Oddly, now that I think of it, he didn't actually tell me what these mistakes were, but he sure did want to save me the trouble of making them again. No wonder the long running game of family chess ended in stalemate. Now I realize that the general aura of mystery around his past pretty much ensured that I'd make some of the same whoppers.

Thus, the so precious schedule is a life raft I'm clinging to, paddling frantically down the home school river, trying to sneak some of what I believe I've learned in under Thing Two's radar. The water is moving surprisingly fast, maybe from the flood of mistakes I went out and made as soon as I left my parents' home.

Having a schedule at all is relatively new for me. I discovered how well it could work in 1993 or so, when I was 45, the teen years of my adult life. Finally having decided what I wanted to be when I grew up, a potter, I started a business. This required me to be in certain places at particular times, prepared to sell my goods.

It was a liberating experience to go from the unstructured life of getting up, wandering through the day, getting late for whatever was supposed to be getting done, having great ideas and not knowing the first thing about how to realize them, to sitting down in January when the first craft market application came in and making a schedule.

Market dates determined what days of the year I was loading my kiln, firing, cooling, unloading, and packing my van. Working backwards from each van loading day showed me the best before date for great ideas,  last wet clay day -- the deadline for making something with a reasonable expectation of it being dry enough to fire and take to a particular show.

Suddenly I knew, not only where I was going to be for the next twelve months, but what I had to get done when. Since my studio was at the road by my house and folks going by could see me in it, visitors popped in at their convenience. This was fun, as long as I didn't end up wandering off to the house with them for tea and a couple hours of chatting.

To help myself stay on track and give people something to aid comprehension of this new, more focused me, I wrote out my hours of work and posted them next to my monthly schedule in the studio. I could happily do an eleven hour day because I had tracked how my internal rhythms worked as a side effect of logging my time in order to have reference points for pricing my work.

So, here's my reasoning. Since there is no hope I can teach Thing Two the curriculum her mates at school are being exposed to, I am taking another path. First stop is that pesky issue of time management. The classrooms with no clocks, the report cards with "does not use time wisely" are behind her. But the learning is still ahead of her. Any reluctance I have to face the piles of questions in the room of worries only holds us back.

I suspect the box in there I have to tackle next is the one with the schoolmarm dress in it. There's a few other not-too-becoming dresses in there too, and a responsible parent tee shirt, right under the fancy hat and purse for days when every time I open my mouth the words, "what will people think if I let you...."  come out, each time at a bit higher pitch. Thing Two really has an attitude about that hat and purse, and it's not one that usually works to get them banished.

We may not have the perfect schedule yet, but I'm sure we need one. I spent too long fighting against routines, believing them to be constraints rather than helpful frameworks. With our beach band, the Excited Ideas playing so often, it's easy for Thing One and I to get swept into the flow. Staying there is another matter. If we are swept away for hours we risk missing shore leave where meals are regular and rest comes in decent sized blocks. Coffee and chocolate, yummy though they are, don't really keep our brains afloat.

The good ship Schedule may only be a leaky life raft so far, and the tide is certainly strong, but each day that we spend a little bit more time paddling and studying the currents brings us closer to the day when we can safely dive in, knowing we'll remember when to come up for air, food and R & R.

Since yesterday

Hi its Thing two. So yesterday two interesting things happened, in this order:

Number 1: I got kicked out of homeschool.

Number 2: I cooked supper.

Thing one and I are going to discuss whether I am going to homeschool myself, or continue the way we had planned.

The supper I cooked went like this: I made rice, and added carrots and kale to be steamed in with it, fried some onions, then scrambled some eggs with cheese and fish, added onions and fried that. Then I added some grated cheese to the rice and took it off the stovetop. Then i took the eggs of the stovetop. I served it (served with a French accent, so I guess I seeerved it). Later I added some Soy Sauce to my rice. Aaand thankyouverymuch.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Diplomatic Dress Deal (and other such words, some imaginary, with d)

Hi, its Thing Two! So Sunday we went shopping for snowpants for thing one (excited comment from thing one: I LOVE MY SNOWPANTS!) but also while we where there we devised  (divined? discovered?   dislopocated?) the Diplomatic Dress Deal.

(Cue classical music). The dress is about a mile too big for me, but with some complicated adjustments it looks gorgeous. Blueish, greenish, tealish, it looks almost mermaid like, with big sleeves and perfect ripples... (someone slaps me in the face).

Ow! Oh, right diplomatic dress deal. Well, Thing One agreed to buy it, if, for two weeks, she would not have to wake me up, but I would be ready at the door, fully dressed for the weather, ready for the walk. Day two, still going strong. Talk about motivation.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Whose Bright Idea Was This? A Little Bit of History From Home School in Nowhere

My sister, who has tons of professional experience as an educator, and as a lovely, clever person, will often say, "Oh, carry on, you're just at the whose bright idea was this, stage." This comes up when preparations are underway for a trip or party or any event people have been anticipating. It comes at the moment when people are getting discouraged, or frustrated, and are beginning to regret ever having gotten involved. It's the moment when worrying that things might not get done the way people imagined, or on time, accelerates to warp speed.  I'm often thankful that she has taught me to recognize moments of panic as passing breezes in the small storms of daily life.
Recently I watched Margaret Wheatley, in her very soothing voice, explain this change principle in the context of creating healthy communities, as everything is a failure in the middle. To see that this is not just a funny little repeating catastrophe particular to our own family has been very reassuring, since, with our decision to home school, the wbiwt fairy has been a frequent visitor to our home.
When Thing Two replies brightly to the question, "What school do you go to?" with "Oh I'm home schooled," the conversations start. Questions range from "Are you allowed to do that?" to "How will she (fill in one) ... go to college, get a job, be socialized, see her friends, learn anything...." While those questions are being posed, Thing Two has generally floated away on her butterfly wings to socialize with whoever else is where ever we are. In fact, usually people are too polite to ask outright "How will she learn anything?" with the clear subtext being, "with you teaching her." They don't have to put that into words as the Anxious Doubts already have a hit tune with that line in it, ready in the back of my mind. 
All those questions are valid and I spend time thinking and talking about them, and for some of them I have answers. Often for the whose bright idea was this moment, it's important to simply take a deep breath and move on. For the record though, here is how I remember the day Home School in Nowhere went magic. Thing Two and I were standing at our front door, admiring two huge trees which fill, every spring morning, with birds warming themselves in the high branches, where the early sun makes its first stop in our yard. It was April, nearing the end of the Easter break.
We might have been watching a squirrel checking our doorstep for snacks, or small birds dancing on the path. We might have been chatting or simply gazing in bliss, with no big yellow time dragon of a school bus roaring in our direction to eat up hours out of a bright day. Yet the time dragon's shadow visited us just long enough to set us wishing that the break was longer, or that school was over for the year.  Spring is so full outdoors, so much is going on with such excitement and immediacy, that, finally, it just felt wrong to miss it.
Once the idea popped out, there was no stuffing it back in. By May 1st the paperwork was being sent off, the older sibs had volunteered their support and the time dragon went whizzing by without stopping for Thing Two. We were on the loose, without so much as a purchased curriculum in sight and an amazing collection of conflicting expectations piling up on our already chaotic kitchen table. 
Garden season was gearing up and I had a thoroughly unrealistic amount of ground to prepare and seeds to plant. I knew that some of the reasons Thing Two wanted out of school were complicated by having moved to the city in December of 2008 and back to our home the following January. Two school years out of sync with your class is hard. Kid culture in the city was challenging and the school work was on a different track.
Our move home, with fun moments like no hot water, which dragged on for months, the mouse infestation blues, the fact that in winter much of our house is too cold,  a pile of debt from our move and starting a new job, was much tougher on my psyche than I had anticipated; adding a wonderful child to "teach" seemed beyond reason. 
When things seem beyond reason it is best to keep busy. Except for brief interludes trying to work out the technical details of learning online at 7 am with one of the adult sisters leading the class from her busy life far away, I gardened, nagged a bit, and watched Thing Two spend hours and hours and Hours! on the swing. She was happy, I was busy, always a boon for a kid who can make her own fun. My conclusion was, she is exhausted. She needs to swing. Her friend's mother gave the moment voice when she told me Bella's answer to "How do you like home schooling?" was, "I'm studying gravity on the swing."
In contrast to the ambitious curriculum plan I had produced to send in to the Department of Education, my goals were simple. The idea that a ten year old girl would want to spend time with her sixty year old mother seemed reason enough to cherish the moment. Looking at the issues which flowed from school, particularly the comment "does not use time wisely" seemed to point to some basic groundwork we could focus on. How long does it take to get dressed? How much time do you have to allow to get ready to go to your riding lesson? How long does it take for us to drive there, or to the library with the good French language collection? How hard can it be to learn multiplication and division? What goes on here with following directions? May and June, thought I, will be time well spent, if we just unwind a bit and find some routines that work for us. We'll have so much fun, watching the partridge and deer, and hares and all the birds, going for walks, and working in the garden together.  Yes. Believe it. I am that naive! If not, I'd miss so much.