Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Yarn Along (with Small Things)

I love the Yarn Along hosted by Small Things; in which we share what we are reading and knitting (or crocheting); two of my favorite activities!

Here are mine from this week:

I am re-doing the sleeves and adding a hood to the first boy sweater I ever made. The Cascade 220 has held up beautifully through the years, it's just the style that needs an update. Photos of finished product forthcoming. The book is the second in the Outlander series...sigh. Not exactly intellectual fare, but not stupid either, and lots of history from the places my daughter and I visited in Scotland back in 2010.

What are you knitting/crocheting and reading? Please share, let's try the system that Ginny is using over at Small Things; post a photo on your blog or Flicker or Google and post the link below to share. I would love to see what your projects are, both literary and woolish!

Monday, March 30, 2015

You're Never Fully Dressed...Smile

"Nothing is so disgusting to our sex as a want of cleanliness and delicacy in yours. I hope therefore the moment you rise from bed, your first work will be to dress yourself in such a style as that you be seen by any gentleman without his being able to discover a pinamiss." "Remember to...not to go out without your bonnet because it will make you very ugly and then we should not love you so much."(1)

Quote from Thomas Jefferson, much-lauded hero of homeschoolers and the father of "keep the government out of our lives, please," (Republicanism), in letters to his daughters, aged 10 and 6, respectively. 

So much for laissez-faire.

This is a sticky topic. And lest there be any bad feelings before the end of it, please know that; 1) I have always allowed my children to play in sand, mud, dirt and puddles with no regard to the state of their clothes or shoes, and; 2) I have learned much from my American mother friends who have taught me about freedom and not giving a hoot about what anyone else thinks. This is meant to be an exploration of the subject, open to debate on both sides. The debate is between total freedom (and the case could be made for freedom being linked to creativity) and making a choice for a child when his or her own innocence/naivete might produce unmerited prejudice. Is a kid in sloppy sweats, t-shirt and shoes meant for the beach or the gym:

viewed with as much indulgence from any adult he runs into as one in pants, a button-down shirt and polished shoes, or more simply, clean jeans sans holes and a clean sweater?

Is this good or fair? No, but is it reality? Is choice more important than reputation? Aye, mi!

My American roots and upbringing were already at odds with French culture early on. I still remember sighing and asking my husband's aunt how she managed struggles with her two children on what to wear every single morning. Her son was four and her daughter was seven at the time, and she simply looked at me, puzzled. "What struggle? I lay out their clothes, they put them on and we go to school."

Oh man. My three-year-old had definite ideas on what she would and would not wear, and she could make life miserable for the ten minutes or so every morning (remember, France has 5-day-a-week public school beginning at age 3),  while getting dressed. She had a "bib overalls only" period, for months on end.  A friend took pity on me and contributed a few pairs her boys had out-grown. And her hair had to be in two plaits, lest her teacher not recognize her in the morning. (She loved her teacher very much.) But then she had a nothing-but-dresses year, at a school where she spent recess on a tricycle and chasing after boys. Can you take a guess at  how many pairs of tights she went through that year? Nice, thick, cotton tights with pretty designs on them? Dang.

Early on, I took the view that children should wear what they were most comfortable in for playing and moving. I allowed them to choose their own clothes, and since they only owned one pair of shoes at a time, life was not so complicated. There was only the occasional regret from my mother-in-law that her grandchildren would shun skirts and button-down-shirts for stretch pants and t-shirts. (I still believe that a baby girl cannot learn to walk in a dress.)

Dressing as a creative outlet was taken to an extreme by my first two when they were tiny people. Every day, they would change clothes a dozen times, leaving heaps of laundry for me to refold and put away. They spent hours doing it, making up stories for each costume change, playing rather nicely together. To me, it was cheap entertainment and fostered imagination. To my French husband, who sometimes came home to the heaps of yet un-refolded "disguises", it was chaos.

Then we moved to the United States. The first year or so, my children were still wearing the clothes we had brought from France. Then, little by little, the new clothes looked less and less French. I mourned the shoes the most. Cute shoes for kids 13 years ago, were limited to baby shoes. Even though most of those were white, it was still possible to find shoes that were supportive and colorful. Then, the decline into sports/sneaker-hood set in. It was only a little bit of sadness, much compensated by the fact that we lived in a country that allowed for freedom of choice in so many areas, as well as more affordable shoes.

Up until two years ago, we maintained a family rule of "presentability in public," which meant that if you leave the house for anywhere but the gym or a park, you look presentable, which definition expressly forbids sweat-pants, anything with holes or beyond-old-and-sloppy.  Neither my husband nor I found this an unreasonable request. No one was forced into uncomfortable hosiery or ties, tennies were allowed, since that was about all the boys owned for shoes anyway.

Then my son became more skilled at debate than his father, a real feat of mental prowess. He very eloquently (and more importantly, I think, at length), made the point that if we maintained that one should be judged on what one wore, we were promoting superficiality and prejudice. He let him know that the values with which he had been raised; fairness, honesty, tolerance and acceptance were being betrayed by this insistence upon appearance. "Why dress up for someone just so they instantly think well of you?" was his argument. "Why would you want the good opinion of someone who has such shallow perspective?"

My point varied from his by one word; I never, ever said you "SHOULD" be judged on what you wore, I merely observed that you "MIGHT" be. Important distinction. I maintain that I am right, in this instance. My son was, from then on, allowed to go to high school in whatever he chose, sweats not exempt. However, when he first met his teachers, he had been dressed neatly and in what I considered school-appropriate clothing. First impressions make an impression. And creativity can be expressed through dress. However, I am not ready, just yet, to pronounce: "let them wear rags."

Differing views, as well as confirmations, as always, are welcome.

(1) Taken from "Founding Mothers" by Cokie Roberts.

More examples of grunge vs. "sharp-dressed" which, by the way, only ever happens to this extreme in our house when there is a baptism, wedding...or a school dance. And, going through my photos, as a mother, I know that I have never cared one way or another; they look just as cute to me in rags as in evening dress, and always will.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Taking the Time to...

1) Eat right, which equals cook, exercise, laugh, love, play a game of speed with your kid? (Yes, that last one was on purpose.) What is it that makes us among the busiest and least satisfied of all nations?

2) Enjoy what is beautiful in life. Go look at the river, the trees, the cacti, the people in the city, the gorgeous works we have taken the time to create from paint, clay, music and movement.

3) Get outside; we went snowshoeing last weekend for an hour or so. It was a sunny winter day, not too cold, and it was fantastic to be out of doors. It was a free event; look for them, locals, at the Wapsi and Nahant Marsh, or any naturalist center in your vicinity.

4) Do what makes you come alive, feel happy, enthusiastic.

I just found a note from 2005. I had four small children, the youngest was a baby, the oldest 8. It was a list of my accomplishments for the day, insanity:
-pumped milk for another baby
-led a parenting class at church (most likely after getting 5 children church-ready and there on time)
-baked 5 loaves of bread
-baked a chocolate cake
-nursed baby, changed baby (15 times)
-carried baby when not being fed or changed
-had a play date at my house
-hoed the garden and planted: carrots, sugar snap peas, spinach and radishes
-washed the cloth diapers
-cooked dinner while bathing 3 kids and nursing
-read Chapter 5 of "The Magician's Nephew" aloud
-put kids to bed, nursed baby


Mostly, I was doing all of the things I wanted to do.  I wanted a big family and I want to be here with them. It must have been a day when my husband was working out of town. Besides, this was pretty much a typical day for me.

Last night I watched a news report on communities that are teaching children about bio-dynamic agriculture and exploring nature in a place where time has slowed back down to natural rhythms. It sounds very much like a real Waldorf school. It also sounds heavenly. I would very much like this for my family.

The two teens say there's no turning back. They are used to their world and comfortable in it. I am glad they find happiness in their day-to-day lives, but I also say this way leads to madness, along with grumpiness, feeling unfulfilled as a human being and overweight to boot. To each his own...but I am probably right.

But I try to remember to compromise, after all, did it make me happy to see my favorite apron out in the yard on a snow woman? No, but it did please me to see the kids outside making snow people. Even the ones I cannot publish on a family blog because of the visual effects one can add with spray paint these days, rendering perfectly inoffensive snow people a perfect menace to the neighborhood.

One last snowman; the littlest one, made by my littlest child, all alone in the dark, (and happy as a clam, a clam who is not in the dark in the snow):

Monday, February 9, 2015

Jury Duty and Homeschooling

This is only about the 35th jury summons I have received from the State of Iowa, but it was the first time I was physically able to go for duty. The previous times I either lived in France or had a fresh baby to nurse, or once, very small children who out-numbered me five-to-one.

It did not go down quite the way I had expected. In fact, the whole experience was such that I came home and wrote a letter, at my kids' request. Here it is, it will be sent tomorrow. Note, that I was rather excited about the chance to be on a jury and the educational opportunities I thought it could afford us all.

Madame the Court Administrator, 

I had an unfortunate experience this morning that I wish to relate. I was summoned for jury duty, and though there were some obstacles, as for anyone in this situation, I decided to make the best of it and make it a positive, educational experience for my family. I was upbeat about serving as a juror, after years of living abroad and nursing babies had kept me from the many other times I'd been called to jury duty. 

We have homeschooled for many years, and we have become experts at learning in diverse situations. As my children's teacher, I am legally obliged to provide a certain number of days of instruction per year, and the summons came in the middle of a school semester. Nevertheless, we were determined to make a success of the endeavor. 

I spent many hours preparing curriculum and instructing the children in our court system, our government, and the importance of jury duty as a service to others; insuring that you also, would have the right to a fair trial should you ever be brought to court as a defendant. I coached the kids in proper courtroom etiquette, taken from the State of New York's website for children appearing in court. Citing the Supreme Court’s decision of 1/20/2010 as well as the 1st and 6th amendments, making jury selection a part of the trial and thus public, I believed anyone had a right to be at this part of the proceedings, as they would be able to attend any open trial. 

From 2nd grade to 12th, each of my children/students had their own level of lessons and preparation. This morning they were each given a folder with activities pertaining to justice, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the courtroom, a book and extra worksheets, and other things to keep them busy. I thought this would be a good opportunity to see justice in action, a real life civics day. 

We arrived on the 3rd floor of the courthouse this morning to report for duty, at 7:40am, so I would have plenty of time to settle them and be where I needed to be. 

Upon exiting the elevator I was instantly, and I do mean instantly, before asking my name or my juror number, told; “Are those your children? They can’t be here!” I politely inquired whether the proceedings were not public and whether my children were not, as citizens and students, allowed to observe. 

I was met with a rude, abrupt attitude and treatment, as though I were, in fact, the defendant and guilty of some enormous breach of the law. The county employee said she would ask the judge to come and speak to me if I wished. I did, and so we sat and stood, the five of us, around a bench in the hallway for the next hour. 

Finally, this same person returned, minus a judge, but with an answer; no. The children were not to remain. I mentioned that my daughter was eighteen and therefore an adult and could accompany her three siblings as such. Maybe they could quietly observe one of the five trials taking place that day? I was then told, in loud tones and in front of a hallway full of people waiting to check in; “I’ll go tell the judge that you want to argue!” She stalked off without allowing me to answer. 

Upon her return, and denial of the request for them to stay and observe with their sister, I asked if it would be O.K. for them to wait on the bench in the hallway. I did not know what to do with them. I was told the following; “If she’s eighteen, she can watch them at home.” (But she has her own studies and college prep to do at home.) “We give you four week’s notice so that you can make preparations before for your children.” (I did make preparations, as evidenced in paragraph two.) and “No, they can’t stay, they cannot stay anywhere if you are on jury duty. They have to go, now. Are you leaving to take them home or is she?” 

I would stay, but I made one last request to let them peep inside a real courtroom, for one second, because they were anxious to see what was actually inside. Again, abruptly and rudely denied, with the explanation; "There are jurors inside. There is a movie playing. We are preparing them now for selection! Leave!" Which was really my point, I wanted them to see the film and to watch, first hand, how the system worked. (Besides, they were dressed up and presentable for once at 8 in the morning.) 

My daughter drove them home to wait for me. And I walked into the courtroom, where people were still entering to find a seat and where the informative film did not commence for another 20 minutes. I spent the next hour in agony. First over the safety of my family. We have a rule in our house; one kid does not drive more than one other kid at a time. There was my oldest, with three of her siblings and not a great sense of direction. Second,what sort of lessons had they taken away with them? Probably not the kind I originally had in mind this morning. Third, I truly did not know, how I would reconcile conflicting civic duties; on one hand, jury duty, on the other, being the only person authorized to provide the required 148 days of instruction that needed to happen before the end of May. I wanted to find a way to do both, and that might mean a day or week of school break, home with their father, but what if it was a trial that went on for 3 or 4 weeks? In the end, the defendant did not appear for her trial, so our room's jurors were released. 

I returned home, to children who were still flabbergasted by the rudeness of one employee. There was nothing polite about the way my children saw their mother treated, in what they had learned was a place of justice, a concept which I hoped to further instill in them this day. Clearly, the court system is not meant to be day care. I was not expecting anything of the sort. I also understand perfectly that a judge could decide not to have a juror’s children in the same courtroom as the juror, once the trial was underway, in order to protect them all from the temptation of discussing the case at home. That is normal, as is the fear that they disturb proceedings somehow. However, we are speaking of school-age children,not toddlers, prepared for the experience of being in a courtroom, in a building where five trials were taking place that day, accompanied by an adult. 

I would like to know the following: is what happened today legal and normal? Are children simply not allowed in a courtroom? Are not the benches inside a courthouse public property? Could my children not have peered in for a second to see what a courtroom looked like? I had them study diagrams of where each party involve in different sorts of trials stood, but they could not visualize how imposing the judge's bench looks or the jury box from a diagram. 

I am, most sincerely, trying my best to raise responsible future citizens of both our community and of the world. This clearly includes following the law. Don't you think, though, that future generations would be more inclined to fully participate in civic life if they experience, at least once, and in a positive light, outside of juvenile or family court, the day-to-day workings of justice? I hope there is a way for us to do so again in the near future. I remain, 

Respectfully yours,

A post-script for blog readers: I will post a reply, or the summary of one, if I ever receive such from the Courthouse. Stay tuned to find out the proper way to serve as a juror and homeschool at the same time.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Books You Listen To

I imagine, dear readers, that, like me, you may, perhaps, have allowed yourself to become too busy to read as much as you used to, or as much as you'd like. I have three books, real books, begun, only one of which has any remotely educational value, as well as being full of historical anecdotes to keep your interest:

The other two are pure fun; Dune, the prequel, because as an adolescent, I LOVED Dune and all things sci-fi, but the Amazon link is puzzling, because it looks like there may be more than one prequel to Dune. As I may offend a fan more die-hard than myself, I will not link to anything. The other; (out of print, but available for $30 or $.01) Always Coming Home, Ursula K. le Guin, is because my book club declared it our February read. It is sort of putting me to sleep, but I bought it and read it I a few minutes, just after I finish my baby sweater,        and the matching hat,      and a blanket for Duncan and a sweater for other words, my knitting can get in the way of my reading. As can exercise and excessive driving to jobs on the other side of the river, children's appointments and runs to pick up farm eggs.

The solution? audiobooks...available at your library, or, when your library disappoints you once again with available titles (not that mine does on a regular basis, but you know, it happens); here;
 Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks
A book can be downloaded on any sort of device; phone, i-pod, talking Kindle (someone loaned me a Kindle with audio capacity this past summer for our trip to France). I did not believe I needed a device on which to read books, I like book-books, but it ended up being very nice to be able to have books with me on the trip. For Christmas, I finally broke down and accepted the gift of my own Kindle, but it is the most recent version, with a light, and it doesn't read books. On the old one, I could download audiobooks for the kids. This one, a Terry Pratchett classic, I purchased just because I firmly believed the voices and accents of the:

wee free men, are the magic of the novel and could not ever be reproduced by my pitiful efforts, even if I do render a mean Scottish brogue (according to myself).  I just can't keep it up for an entire novel.
I just finished knitting and driving to:

The link is to the book, which I read a few years ago, but re-listening to it on audio was a treat, and a revelation. I missed so much in this dense work when I read it years ago, and had no inkling of the southerness of the family without the delightful accents of the reader. Fabulous.
Today, my brain break is:

Truly, a waste of time and a laugh-out-loud, snort-up-your coffee sort of listen. I have it on Playaway from the library. I cannot recommend it for anyone under the age of 21, and being a mother would definitely make it more relevant to your life. The narrator alternates between yogi and spiritual reflections on life and the realities of her middle-class, stay-at-home motherhood existence. All I can say is that I can relate on some levels, and it is making me laugh my pants off this rough week of February. I will return to Barbara Kingsolver or Louise Erdrich next, they have been two of my favorite authors for over 20 years, when I was first assigned, in college in France;

and picked up a copy of:

What are you reading? Listening to? What do you prefer to read over listen and vice versa? If you are still wondering what I mean by a Playaway, you can find it in this post, in paragraph 3. You really do not want to live one more minute without knowing about these, free at your local library. Libraries also offer downloadable audiobooks through one or more systems such as If you have not yet accessed this sort of service, inquire at your library, they will walk you through the (very simple) process of checking out titles. No library, no time? Picky about your books? See the offer below or above, for audiobooks from Amazon:

Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks

And, please, give me some ideas for my next read!

*Full disclosure: I long ago signed up for the Amazon affiliate program, by which, with sufficient sales, I should earn a fee from items sold when linked directly from this blog. To date, I have never received a cent from sales, but I continue to provide the links for your convenience and in the hope that some day I will be able to make a living from writing. Guess I'll need a larger audience and a better marketing plan. But feel free to share how much you love this fantastic blog. XXX OOO Angela

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Discovering the Power of the Written Word; Unschooling-Style

Charles, at ten, is a happy, eager reader, but until a few days ago, was not an avid writer. However, he figured out how to bug his sister through note-writing last night, though where the impetus came from is anyone's guess. The first slip of paper read; "Greetings. Valentine is fit. I am a robot from outer space." HE was about be tied...when he found out the insult he had meant for his beloved sister had been turned to a complement through the mistake of a single vowel.

 Spelling instantly became a hot topic with him, after a second attempt gone awry to do harm through writing. He spends way more time than I seem to have free, asking me to spell this, or making sure he spelled that right. He said himself; "Mama, I am so happy to write what I want to write, instead of what you make me write."

Go for it, kid.

Spanish Co-op Class

I realized, after yesterday's post on Spanish Class, that I had not posted previously about this addition to our homeschool year; a co-op with one other family, two days a week, where we exchange children and areas of expertise to teach science and Spanish. Up until this year, the sheer number of children and a sometimes unpredictable schedule, have made me hesitate to take part in a co-op. The need to hold a daily rhythm was greater than the desire to take advantage of extra opportunities. Add to that illness, work, and simply children reluctant to leave the was enough.

However, when a good friend offered an exchange, just a small one; I would teach a Spanish class to her one son and she would take my TWO boys for a science class, Tuesday and Thursday each week; it sounded like an excellent idea. And here we are; five months into our lessons and having the time of our lives.
I studied Senderos, an approach to teaching Spanish in a Waldorf classroom, available there and at other Waldorf bookstores. I thought about what has worked well and not so well in past French classes that I have offered. I knew I needed a plan; one teen girl, three boys ages 7-10 would be my pupils, and their favorite thing to do (at least for the boys) is to tear around the house or the yard like crazed warriors, yelling battle cries and brandishing boffers or Nerf guns. First part of plan; lots and lots of "recess" time. This has been beautifully captured by their science facilitator on her own blog Archie Down! Next up; a set rhythm for each lesson. They have ten minutes or so to greet each other before we begin by reciting our poem. They learn new stanzas and work on a project, which may be drawing or sculpting...or spray-painting and glue-guns. For "Estando la Mora en Su Lugar," a sort of Spanish version of "There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly," we created a set of flashcards to remember the sequence of the mosca, rato, gato, etc. They each have a Spanish good book in which they write new vocabulary, dialogs, verses and illustrate to their hearts' content. Then they have free time. Once they have rid themselves of a bit of energy, we sit down and read together, in Spanish and English.

Content is not novel; colors, weather, clothing, food, numbers, the basics of what one needs to begin functioning in a language. We do many mini-dialogs, however, based on real-life, the same way I've been teaching French. "Come in, give me your coat. Honey, take his coat. You can put your shoes over here, etc." One of those dialogs was designed to be used in a special situation; eating out in a Mexican restaurant. We learned how to greet, request and thank politely, and then studied the menu to learn how to order before we went. Our server was gracious in speaking to us in only Spanish. It took her a lot longer, I imagine, than a normal table, but she was very patient and we left a good tip.  It was a fun outing!

Thinking of offering language lessons? Go ahead, there are many resources out there. Are you already teaching a foreign language in your homeschool or classroom? Please share your best ideas in the comment section below! And bonne journée!