Sunday, April 28, 2013

Worms, farm life, friends, and disc golf

OK, here's the broken record portion of this post:

I worked too many hours this month. WAY too many. Like, three times what I'm paid to work. What can I say? I am trying to be better. I have submitted for an increase of hours. If I don't get it, I have a revised job description that is realistic for the 12 hours a week I'm supposed to work. And no matter what, I'm going to try really, really hard to rein in my ambitions and hone my no-saying skills (no matter how scintillating the opportunity for the religious education program). It's hard, when you can just taste how freakin' great something is going to be, to act in accordance with your own boundaries and be realistic about the resources you have to work with to make things happen. I think every person who works in an institutional educational setting can relate to that. But it has to be so.

So, moving on, here's what's new in our lives:

A worm bin made at church with a big group of other kids, teens, and adults. This project took up several of those too-many hours of work!

A visit to the community farm. Too bad, though--we missed the farmers and left without being able to volunteer for the day.

At the university "Farm Friends" educational outreach event, we visited with many, many livestock animals. Baby chicks were cute as ever.

Practicing "milking" a "cow" at the same extension office event. I swear, these boys--Fox especially--would be pleased as punch to be farm kids. If I made up my mind to settle into it, I'd love it too, but that settling into the steady, home-focused life of homesteading is a scary leap for me. 

A homeschool co-op get together that was intended to be structured and scheduled, but turned out to be a pretty amazing play date (much preferable to my boys). The tension there is uncomfortable for me, and I'm presently trying to talk with the other moms who organize it and see how and if we're going to be able to keep enjoying the group without unintentionally sabotaging their efforts to hold lessons. But I have a feeling we're going to be pulling back and doing mostly the park play days.

Disc Golf in the rain. Eighteen holes, and still happy.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"Save Our River!"

Yep, that's us in the video, among 115 people, me in the black long-sleeved shirt, Woody wearing a bright orange life vest, and Fox with mostly just his little blond head peeking out from beneath signs and elbows. (We're solo from about 3:15 to 3:27, when we had stepped away from the crowd to be able to talk some and take it all in from a distance.)

The protest to keep huge commercial hog farms and the like out of the Buffalo National River watershed was pretty terrific. I had lined up help and was prepared to bail if the boys weren't into it, but they had a good time. Leading up to it, we talked about the river, and the problem of the CAFO, and the power of direction action. I reiterated how we could call Daddy Honey or walk back if they didn't like it. But it was like a street party with a mission, a gathering of many familiar faces from the co-op, the Goddess Festival, the community farm, church, and homeschool group activities, among other connections.

Woody loved the chants the best, but was also tickled by the clever and catchy signs. His spirits were high for nearly the whole hour, and he happily chatted with the many folks who asked him about the issue, homeschooling, and his experience with the river. Fox was glad to have an up-close view of passers-by from the other side of our UU banner; I think with the banner on one side of him and me on the other, he felt part of things, but protected from too much jostling. And I was flush with that wonderful feeling that I was among "my people"--the clean-water people, the peace people, the Standing on the Side of Love people, the Woody Guthrie songs at the protest people, the people who aren't afraid to call the land we stand on sacred, and who say it like it starts with a capital S.

We ran into our neighbor, Gavin, who is pictured there on the right talking to Fox.

I was thankful that my boys shared these people's smiles and felt their solidarity, and from the handful of my close church friends, their love and protection. I thought I'd feel weird about it, about being there with my church rather than on my own, about involving my kids in such a big and intense political action. But when it came time, the words, the mood, the experience--it all felt completely natural and good, not at all strained or coercive or divisive. The positive feeling was reinforced when I looked at my kids and saw how obvious it was that they were there by choice, were totally engaged, and were happy.

Monday, April 22, 2013

"Projects," things outside, protest posters, and an injury

All my attempts at weaving the photographed experiences of the last several days into a coherent blog post have failed me. So, I'm simply going to share them one by one:

Last week's cardboard castle figures were repurposed into illustrations for our home-made accordion book all about knights. I remember when I was teaching, activities like this would be the cornerstone of a lesson, the part where knowledge was applied, various modalities engaged, information was shared, and mastery was demonstrated (and then assessed). I am thankful for that not to be part of my life anymore. I thought it would be fun to make a book. Fox agreed. Woody jumped in to help when we were about halfway finished. It was a sweet afternoon together, and when it was done, it was done. Projects like these can be fun for kids, but when they're mandatory and comprised of an adult's requirements and judgments, they can be serious turn-offs. 

I am finding myself so busy at work that I am not able to relax into the splendors of the season. That's regrettable, and it's something I'm working on. Luckily, the boys do not share my challenge. We stretched a trip up to my work into an hour of playing sniper in the memorial garden. We were hoping to spot a member of the family of cottontails that lives somewhere on the property but they stayed well hidden.

Sunday afternoon and evenings are our last almost-always-unspoken-for periods of time to hang out as a family. This week, we played tennis together up at the park, me and the boys against Daddy Honey. We stayed for over an hour, everybody getting plenty of hits and plenty of misses and lots of running around. 

Tomorrow up at the college, the Secretary of Agriculture is coming to speak on the conflicts between rural communities and natural resources. It's timely, because a Farm Security Agency permit was recently granted to a hog CAFO within feet of the Buffalo National River, and horrific pollution with pig poop runoff is certain. So, the boys and I are going to the protest tomorrow with several friends. Ann Lamott has a funny piece in Bird by Bird about indoctrinating her son into all her good liberal causes. I had to laugh making these, thinking of what I was doing (and have done several other times when Woody was younger) as in that same vein. But, Daddy Honey will be on campus, too, and has agreed to come by and hang out with the boys if they decide they want to leave. But I explained to them why the hog farm was a terrible idea, a little bit about the practice and history of direct action, and why I wanted to go tomorrow.

The bees are nearly out of tubes their size. You know what's crazy? A few have started filling in spaces between bamboo shoots! I love how pretty they are with their iridescent black-blue-green bottoms, and how they don't care about me getting really close to their nests. The jumping spider hasn't moved on, though he/she seems mostly content to hole up there without bothering the bees.

Last week, Woody made a giant spider web throughout our house using thread. He took it down when he was done, but missed one string going from the bathroom's door knob to the edge of the dining room chair. Fox found it, running at full speed, and luckily closed his eyes before this was a really awful injury. I had a conversation with a most beloved close friend from Tallahassee yesterday afternoon, and I caught myself sharing story after story of how much of a challenge Fox is to me. Today, I am sitting with that fact, and trying to see him in a different light, a more accepting and delighted one.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Pirates, baseball, collections, and spring

It's hard to get a sense of time when reading a slice-of-life blog. One picture could represent an afternoon's worth of activity or a few minutes. In the case of the above, we spent about forty-five minutes this afternoon playing pirate. The boys were inspired by my having pushed the couch askew in order to sweep under it. Instantaneously, it was transformed into a pirate ship. The scowls and bandannas came out, as well as a couple of eyeliner mustaches, but they didn't wish to be photographed. I only know two pirate songs: "A Pirate's Life for Me," and one verse of "Blow the Man Down." So, quickly--so as not to lose momentum or hijack the play--I searched for a few sea shanties to have on as we pretended. I came across this fun site (fair warning--a song begins automatically when you click on it), and we went from song to song relishing in the catchy rhythms and lyrics about dead men's chests, bottles of rum, coasts, gold, murder, devils, sails, mateys, and marlin spikes. A few sword fights and a lot of posturing later, they moved on to something else. But it was a colorful time while it lasted, and in poking around the website, Woody was pretty excited to confirm what we'd read in other places, that Blackbeard and Jack Rackham and other pirates were real, and there were records to prove it.

Woody got two hits last night at his first baseball game! They were two foul tips, but only two other kids even made contact with the ball (an adjustment to the new-this-year pitching machine for 7 years olds), so Woody was ecstatic. 

That was big for us. He  had a really great time. But it was dicey leading up to game time. Just before it was time to go, Woody started getting goofy about catching the ball, making faces and jumping away from the ball and flailing around. Daddy Honey, who had come home early to be able to toss the ball with him a bit ahead of the 5:30 start time, started to get rather tense about Woody's reactions. You know how all of us have unhelpful voices in our heads telling us terrible untruths about the world and our place in it? Daddy Honey's tell him that not living up to one's potential is a terrible sin. When he felt himself getting upset far out of proportion to Woody's behavior, he turned the pre-game prep over to me (a distinct advantage of having more than one adult in a household, the ability to make a lateral pass). He hung out with Fox at the ballpark playground until the game started, then came over--relaxed and feeling better--to cheer Woody on.

At the game,Woody he was happy, and focused, and delighted to get Oreos as the post-game snack.

Cleaning off a shelf today, I found this tray, which used to hold little plastic horses. (Most of the horses have been lost, broken, or absorbed into other sets of toys such as Lincoln Logs.) We moved collections that had been housed in various other containers into this one, and sat for a while picking up pieces and talking about them. It occurred to me that this big collection contains additions from each of us in the family, from both states we've lived in together and several other places we've visited. 

Our neighbor Gabrielle gifted us with a few big morels from her yard again this year. I admit I staged this picture, propping them back up again in front of a line of dandelions that I like to look at out the kitchen window. We sauteed them and ate them in omelets for breakfast. We've yet to find any in our own yard, but the sheer fact that they are now a regular part of our experience of spring is still pretty magical.

The day came with Woody when he didn't really want to do collaborative drawings with me anymore, pictures that evolved with stories that we shared in telling. Fox, however, still thinks this is quite a good time. So this is our newest one.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Parallel Play at Home

Want to know how our Blue Orchard Bees are doing? OK! So, now there are NINE of them who are busily at work. And look at all the plugged-up holes! You can see the different muds they used based on the differences in color and texture. We've seen the bees going in head first to work on cells, then crawl out and back in butt-first, we're guessing to lay their eggs. We've seen a newcomer bee or maybe one who couldn't remember which piece of bamboo was hers hovering outside for a good four or five minutes, making a couple of accidental entries into holes that were already occupied before finding one just right for her. And the most fascinating and maybe a little tragic part today has been the arrival of a sizeable jumping spider; you can see it as a vaguely spider-shaped shadow in the recessed area at the top. The spider watches the holes and waits for the bee to come out. Mostly the bees come out too fast, but a couple of times it looks like the spider has gotten a hit and they've tussled a bit. So far, all the bees have gotten away and the spider moves silently back up to its hiding place until the next opportunity. I know all critters have to eat, but these girls only live 4-6 weeks, and they work so darn hard in an environment that's increasingly difficult for them. It's fascinating, and I do like spiders a great deal, but I must say that I'm really pulling for the bees this time.

The boys watched the spider for a bit, but then lost interest. Today has been busy with quiet, self-directed activity, which some days (especially when I have lots of work emails to return or dinner to prepare), is most welcome. But today, I found myself a little disappointed not to have little buddies to share time with. I was testing out a curriculum about herbs for this year's Camp UU, and I thought the boys might think some pieces of it were fun. But not so much. I respect that. So, we did a little parallel play, them doing their thing, me doing mine. Our house is nicely set up for this, being mostly one big room; I can still answer questions or come over to help, then give the space for the independence thing to continue. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Recycling Center field trip

A pretty great thing about the homeschool co-op is that other people think of and schedule fun things to do that you may not have come up with on your own. It adds variety and diversity to the days, plus other kids and parents who are more likely than the average bear to share or at least understand your approach to education.

Thursday's trip was to the recycling center.

The cubes of aluminum cans, weighing in at 800 lbs. a piece, were popular with the kids.

I can tell you that I did not expect it to be as cool as it was. I had done this type of tour in another city where I taught middle school, and there wasn't nearly as much to see, touch, and hear about.

As the facility coordinator talked about the bundled newspaper, which they sell to a Missouri company that makes it into insulation, Woody and Fox got distracted by a single panel of the comic Beetle Bailey visible on the side of the bale. (My boys. In a stack of a million words and pictures, they zoom in immediately on the military-themed one!) Woody asked about comics, and newspapers, and marveled at how many people seem to read the newspaper. I couldn't help but wonder what that pile would have looked like 20 or even 10 years ago when so many tens of thousands more people in northwest Arkansas were regular newspaper readers.

We spent the afternoon at the library--a third wonderful trip in a row--and then at our small neighborhood park. The park was busy with a group of six or seven kids, aged maybe 8 to 10 or 11. They were rowdy and rough with each other, and were calling each other names and putting each other down a lot. Wisely wary of that energy, my boys mostly stayed to the periphery of the playground and on the smaller sets. At one point, one of the older girls pointed to Woody, who was then standing on a nearby hill playing a sniper game by himself, and announced to the other boys that he was looking at their butts. I don't know if Woody heard or not. I was maybe twenty paces from her, so I walked over and told her that wasn't a nice thing that she'd said. She looked surprised, but said nothing. Another kid, maybe trying to be helpful, asked if I had meant what she said about farts wasn't nice? I said no, that what she'd said about my son looking at their butts wasn't nice, that she wouldn't like it if someone said that about her. Another girl quickly agreed, "Yea, that wasn't very nice." The first girl denied saying it. I told her I had heard her, and seen her point, that it was OK to have made a mistake, but now she knew it was unkind. Fox was pulling on my arm to take him to the garden, so we walked away.  We left the park after a little while and came home to eat burrito dinner. 

I don't feel as conflicted about these types of interactions as I used to. When Woody was three, and we had our first outing together after Fox was born, something like this happened. An older boy of maybe 5 (his name was Gunner) tried to get his friends to gang up on Woody and keep him off of the bridge. When it was just talk, I ignored it and played with Woody on other parts of the playground. But when Woody wanted to play in the little playhouse, the one boy pushed him out. Woody was beside himself. The older boy's mom didn't even notice; she and her friend were talking close by, but she didn't even look up when the squabble started. I wanted to shout down that child and smack his mother. (I reeeealy wanted to smack his mother.) As it was, overwhelmed with anger, hurt, disappointment in myself, and likely a good swell of postpartum hormones, the best I could do was pack us up and leave. 

I was a sensitive and naive young mother, and also unrealistic in my expectations of other people. But, that's where I started, and everybody needs a beginning to their story. I'm more experienced now, and have had the great benefit of being friends with other mothers who have been at this much longer than me, and who offer empathy, wisdom, perspective, and unconditional love. (Candice and Maggie, thank the heavens for you both.) And I've come to the conclusion that unkindness almost always needs to be checked, and it's good if it can be checked in a way that's clear and calm and leaves room for the other person to reflect without feeling resentful. The situation at the park Thursday was still hard on my sensibilities, but it was short-lived and OK. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Flowers and Bees

Spring in the Ozarks is breathtaking. Really and truly. Fall, too, but spring--my. I'll spare you the litany of the season's virtues, but I did want to share one in particular:
Two blue bee butts, one at the bottom center and the other in the upper right.

Can you see them? They're Blue Orchard Bees! Also known as Mason Bees, or Orchard Mason Bees. They're adorable. Woody and I made this bee house together in the workshop I co-led with my friend Kas last July at the UU church. It was before I applied for the job there, and the really great experience I had at this workshop is part of what inspired me to give it a go.

For a long time yesterday afternoon and evening, we sat out on the porch watching the bees fly up, pick out "their" bamboo shoot, climb in, and fly out again twenty or so seconds later. What they're doing in there is creating, from back to front, cells that will contain 1) a mud wall, 2) a pollen pillow, and 3) an egg. They make several of these cells going up the length of a tube, then they plug up the tube and move on to another. After filling four or six, they die. Their eggs hibernate through the summer, then they hatch, the larvae eat the pollen-nectar pillow, they pupate, and then the adult bees sleep in a protective cocoon until next spring. All this happens in the pitch-black of their individual cells in the tubes through the summer, fall, and winter. When it's time to hatch, early spring of next year, the first bee wakes up, eats its way through the mud plug, and all the other bees in the tube follow suit and climb out. They mate right away, then the males die, and the females start the nest-building/egg-laying cycle just as their mamas did.

It's fascinating, and also makes me feel a little lonely to think about.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Last night's pop-up castle-book fun picked right back up again this morning, which is a special and not uncommon circumstance with homeschooling. Kids can really, truly live with a subject of fascination, picking it up any time of day for days or weeks or months at a time, exploring it through reading, writing, watching shows, visiting places, telling their own stories, talking with friends, and of course, playing pretend. They get what they want and need, and then they move on.

I think I am at my best in the mornings. If I got enough sleep the night before, and if there's not something dreadful happening that day like going to traffic court or making a difficult phone call, I mostly wake up relaxed but curious, open to what the day may bring and happy to be alive. My kids usually wake up that way, too. I lay in bed or sit on the couch listening to the birds, increasingly able to pick out their songs and the names they call each other (thanks to my own recent fascination with bird watching). The air is often hazy and still sweet with the night's dew. The light outside is lavender-gray and soft at first, and then announcing itself in slants of bright, directed gold. Living downtown, there is also the beginnings of bustling about, cars on the road, neighbors letting out dogs, the first (or maybe second?) bell from the high school down the street. Once there are at least two of us up, there is the unfolding of plans for the day, rejoining toys left arranged in mid-play from the day before, recounting of dreams, watching cartoons, stepping out in the backyard with the dogs to lift one's nose and feel soft grass beneath bare feet.

And there's breakfast, favorite foods eaten fresh and gladly as the chatter and energy is on the rise.

Daddy Honey misses out on this five days a week, and I feel sorry for him for that. And on the weekends, the boys are so happy that he's home that they leap out of bed and run right in to accost him with stories, tickles, and requests for wrestling; relaxed is not a word I would apply to his experience of Saturday and Sunday mornings. So, this morning we took two three-years-ago-trendy ideas--crepes and food in cups--and combined them to bring Daddy Honey some smashing Honey House Homeschool breakfast. 

This morning feels particularly keen because last night was a late one, and fun. We ate a late dinner of tomato soup and grilled cheeses then stayed up talking and playing pop-up houses. Woody put himself to bed, but Fox and I lasted and lasted until he began to get surly and sleepy. Then, it was time and he was out, happily, in five minutes.

This morning, with everything still in its place, we got right to the business of making new recruits for the cardboard castle and otherwise finishing out the story. By the afternoon, they were done with it, and it was packed up and replaced on the shelf for another day. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

First Day of Baseball

Today was the first day of practice for the first team sport--the first organized sport--that Woody has ever played.

I couldn't take him. I asked Daddy Honey to go. I'm sure I would have done fine, but given the option to sit at home and fret rather than sit on the bleachers pretending not to fret with other parents who had done this for years already, I chose to chicken out.

Plus, my eyes teared up a little bit and my heart swelled to see him all dressed up and ready to go play. I needed to sit a bit with that feeling.

I was worried. I was worried that my always-unschooled, happy-go-lucky, sensitive, and belovedly oddballish boy would get teased, or looked at weird, or worse, torn down.

I'm not going to lie to you. I invited some unkind and prejudiced thoughts about the other parents into my mind. I have heard horror stories all year of Fayetteville baseball parents, and I may have heeded a bit too closely to the particularly nasty ones. I was playing out hypothetical scenarios where tucked-shirt, crew-cut, angry-faced dads yelled at my gleeful, silly, wooly-headed boy. In my mind, I was a witty, biting, verbally deadly hero who put the jerks in their places, and things did not end well for the imaginary dads. But even in one's own mind, one cannot fail to notice how such aggressive defenses contribute to rather than alleviates one's own child's inevitable hurt, confusion, embarrassment, and disappointment. I was that kid. I stopped participating in such activities and stopped telling my dad about my woes rather than risk the social torture of seeing his loose-cannon confrontations.

Clearly, I need to practice imagining myself being assertive and graceful. And a little change of perspective wouldn't hurt. But meanwhile, I am glad for Daddy Honey's willingness to witness his son's brave new endeavor. Woody was the only kid on the team who had never played baseball before (see the thing about Fayetteville? seven year old starters are behind. the other kids are veterans at age 5.), but Daddy Honey said he stuck it out the whole practice, was focused and content, and started catching balls toward the end. He had a really good time, and came home full of stories. When he couldn't remember anything else to tell me, he said, "Ask me questions so we can keep talking about it." There's a weeknight practice this coming week, then another Saturday one that I am going to have to do since Daddy Honey's working. 

I draw from my childhood Catholic roots sparingly, and though increasingly through my Unitarian Universalist involvement, they're becoming beautifully entangled with other sources of spiritual nourishment, this situation calls for a tap; I'll be asking Saint Ann, patron saint of mothers, for courage this week, and maybe for an extra dose of plucky resilience for my boy, just in case.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Imagination and learning

There is an Albert Einstein quote that I am quite fond of that goes like this:

 Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.  

Playing ocean creatures with the blue flowers on the ground.

What I like so much about those words is that they open a door out of the stuffy room where the only things worth learning are the Important Things and where a Good Foundation is defined and drilled. Even the door out of that place has to be imagined, which was tough for me when I first started learning about unschooling, maybe especially because of a master's degree in education. But once you've dropped that paradigm, then the whole world is your play place, and anyone who has spent any amount of time at all with young children knows that play is learning, and learning often happens best when it's playful. Another quote I read recently, a Sandra Dodd one, said that learning only stops being fun when you separate learning time from fun time. May that day never come!

Whoa! Jackfruit! The boys and I watched a Toot & Puddle episode from Brazil where they found a jackfruit in the forest. We'd never seen one in real life before today.


Playing lumberjack chopping down Henbit trees.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Puzzle Books

When we were kids, I remember my younger sister Kate loving puzzle books. I Spy, Where's Waldo, Mazes, Magic Eye, that sort of thing. She and my mom would sit on the couch under the lamp and read them after the bath and before bedtime. I liked the cleverness of them: puns as little clues, tiny hinting details, and illustrated equivalents of twinkly eye-winks.

We found such a book at the library today that, amazingly, I had never read before despite its 1989 publishing date. It was Graeme Base's The Eleventh Hour: A Curious Mystery, and Woody and I spent the better part of the evening working through the clues and cracking the code. He was really quite funny about it, insisting that the real work wouldn't begin until he put on his detective hat (his dad's gray Fedora) and got out his lab set magnifying glass.

Once he solved the puzzle, he immediately lamented that there weren't more  books like this. And so, I gave myself the homeschooling homework assignment of digging some up.


We did the Easter morning thing in our hotel room in Knoxville on the way back from Washington. Usually, we do a treasure hunt with maps and clues and such. This year, we went simple and hid chocolate eggs around the room and had a plain-view stockpile of candy and cash. The boys settled on a mutually agreeable division with Woody getting most of the chocolate and cash and Fox getting the big bag of jelly beans to himself. I had carefully hidden the eggs in sets of two to reinforce the idea of sharing the bounty down the middle, but they worked it out in a way that was much better for themselves. 

I finished a pair of wool shorts for my baby niece Juni. Long daylight drives are the very best for knitting, especially small projects like this that can be finished by the time you get home. I even started a second pair in purples. A lot of people say that one thing they don't miss about the baby years is the diapers. I don't feel that way. I miss the diapers. I liked seeing them all drying out on the line. I liked having a basket full of fluffy clean ones. I liked making my own diaper salves and lavender spray. And I especially liked the wool diaper covers. 

We stopped in Memphis on the way home and had lunch with family. Not exactly Easter lunch, but fun, spontaneous, and delicious lunch with cousin time on the side.