Sunday, November 25, 2007

getting caught up

Just in case anyone has been wondering why I haven't had anything to say for a month, here's the short version: George tweaked a shoulder and our precarious financial balance of the past year fell to pieces. So I spent a few weeks racing around like a nitwit trying to find and job and/or get my sewing stuff going well enough to pay a bill or two, all the while alternating between complete panic and overwhelming optimism.

Here's a bit of an update cut and pasted from an email to Jane:

Hope you've had a great holiday! Ours has been pleasantly mellow. This weekend Ray's off working at a xmas tree farm. Funny how different things are here vs the Chicago area. Here folks wait until after T'giving to buy a tree. Up there, if you don't have your tree by the weekend after, you're up a creek. Weird.

I've fallen back to an emergency back up plan I put in motion a few weeks ago. I got a job at a local plaster casting plant - its full time and I'm at "starting pay" which is crummy, but the casting and finishing isn't hard. I actually worked two days this past week and came home perky and happy to see my family both days, so that's fine. Around the end of this coming week I'm supposed to go out on an installation job, which is the only part I'm concerned about.

We're making those fancy decorative moldings that go way up high - ceilings and the corners between the wall and ceiling if you know what I mean. They aren't particularly light, but the big concern from my part is that all the guys are at least three inches taller than I am. I notice it periodically in the shop when I have to lift something off a table and the darn thing is just a *little* farther above my center of gravity than is really comfortable. So I'm interested to see how that plays out trying to hold something above my head while standing on a scaffold with a guy who's anywhere from three inches to a foot taller. It should be fun.

The boss dude (who has more hair than sense) wants everyone at the shop to be able to do every job - in part bc he's understaffed. So the installation part is the sticky bit. Good thing I'm creative.

Anyway, I applied for this a few weeks back and the secretary told me then that the boss dude was out of town. So I knew I wouldn't hear back right away. I kind of gave myself the intervening time to see if I could pull together a better short-term option, but unfortunately nothing has panned out in that regard. One tiny sewing gig and one tiny alteration. And George's shoulder is still complaining when he tries to do heavy stuff. So this job will pay the bills in the short run and we're working on the long run.

George has been enjoying the stay-at-home dad thing. He's a better housewife than I am, for sure. The kitchen is clean, there are plenty of clean towels, and the kids are happy.

Ray, as I said, is working this weekend. He's also been bartering work with the neighbor for fire-staff lessons and supplies. Plus experimenting in the shop. Oh, and he's back to playing God of War, which really challenges his logical thinking skills. He's so cool.

Mo is currently constructing a duck and an entire habitat for it out of paper, tape and foam. I have a feeling that once she's done it will attack the Lego city that's dominating the other end of the room. Much screaming and fleeing will ensue, I'm sure. She just love the screaming and fleeing parts. She keeps asking for a movie camera.

That's life in Dismal right now.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

running in circles, talking to myself

Things are a little hectic around here at the moment, so I haven't had much energy for bloggin'. I won't go into too much detail, but the quick and dirty is that I'm getting ready for my annual show - which is In my studio, so I have to get that all ready, we're broke, George is injured (not bad but enough to keep him from sawing, which is where the money's coming from) and winter is coming. Oh, and there's still a drought, although we've had some rain, we've also had to haul water from town a few times. Enough ranting. Its dull. I have some old posts in the "draft" folder awaiting pix, if anyone has been looking for my description of the unschooling conference. I think the computer has a virtual std, again, its slooooowwww.

I'm still on a bunch of message boards which are helping me stay sane. Here's a bit of a post I nearly deleted as off topic, but I like the ideas and want to hang on to them. It starts off referring to a question posted on "Unschooling Basics" - the usual sort of mom worries about kids getting too much "screen time" and sort of takes off from there.

***screen time***

Just wanted to pull this phrase out and ask you to analyze it a bit more. If your kids previously read a lot of novels (for instance) are they watching shows and movies and playing games that have novel-like qualities? That was something I found *myself* doing when we first got Netflix, and then again when I discovered fantasy role-playing computer games (there aren't nearly enough of these!) I had been used to thinking that movies and shows and games were somehow "less" than reading, but when I was able to step away from that I could see how I was choosing to watch and play the same sorts of things I would choose to read.

Something I was thinking about recently (oh, boy am I off on a tangent, now, too much coffee...) is that the collections of "seasons" of shows available on DVD and the incessant re-running of popular shows create a sort of "Charles Dickens" effect. You know how he originally wrote in installments for newspapers but nowadays we read them as complete works? Series shows are like that now. We can view an entire season as a complete "work" - something that wasn't an option when I was a kid. That's changed the way series' are being written. Sure, there are still shows that are being written such that the episodes don’t run together as a series, but there are authors who write collections of short stories around the same characters or places, too.

Anyway, back to Dickens and literature in general. One of the greatest disservices I think school does to the act of reading books is ask students to read a chapter at a time but also analyze the work while they are doing that. College courses don't do that - read the whole book by Friday so we can discuss it. Its more realistic. Just like watching a movie, you have to get through the whole thing once before you can start to talk about it. Can you imagine stopping “The Pianist” partway through to discuss whether or not something was being foreshadowed? Its nuts.

The thing is, more "educated" people who poo-poo television (I used to be one) use that same sort of back-assed process to discuss the lack of meaningful content (etc) on tv shows. Its a bizarre kind of willful ignorance - the same kind you would get from openning...oh, gosh, what's a really good example... *Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man* at random. Ever tried that? Joyce is trash if read out of context.

There's a sort of transition period for people used to reading alot but *not* used to watching tv whenever they want. I went through several years of not even having a tv, and then a few more of "just movies", so I've been through this transition myself. It didn't occur to me to think about shows, in particular, in the sorts of ways I think about books I enjoy reading. In part that was out of the rather snobbish cultural meme I'd internalized about the "superiority" of print over video, but I also think some of that was pure lack of exposure. There's a difference between watching a first run series episode by episode vs watching the whole schebang on dvd that I had never really appreciated until I was able to do both - and its the same sort of difference as reading a book for the first time in chapters vs reading the whole thing through for plot (or overview) and then going back for the juicy bits. Its no wonder I though tv was trash when I was trying to analyze single episodes. I had long since learned to ignore teachers who said to only read up to a certain point but was still applying that principle to tv. Nuts.

Whew, that's all I have in me for now, although I feel like that needs some kind of wrap-up (shrug). Back to the running-in-circles part of my life. Actually, today I'll be sewing in circles - I'm making phases of the moon wall hangings, hopefully to sell at the studio tour!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

travels part one - new england

We arrived in Woodstock CT friday evening, smack dab in the middle of the Fair. Yikes. All my landmarks were gone in a sea of lights and rowdy teenagers and it took an extra ten minutes to find Jane and Tony's house. It wasn't too bad, all things considered, but driving Into CT the friday of Labor Day weekend isn't the best of experiences anyway - the roads are jammed with upscale New Yorkers. Not that I'm bashing New Yorkers - they drive a whole heck of a lot better than Tennesseans, that's for sure! It was just a lot of traffic at the end of a long long drive.

The good news is that we got to go to the Fair. Jane very sweetly gave me some cash and a free ticket so that Mo could ride the rides and eat Fair Food (eeeeeewwww) while she (Jane) ran around helping a friend buy a car. It made a nice break for Mo in between all the travelling and hard core adult socializing.... hmmm, that makes it sound like I was going to an orgy, not a wake. Alas, these days my life is rarely that exciting.

The day after the fair was the Novakathon, er... wake, for my grandfather. He didn't want any kind of ceremony or service so, as my dad so well put it, we had a family get together and told stories and lies to each other. It was good to connect with family and good to hang out with people who expect a child to be bouncy and bored of adult conversation. Here's Mo playing twister with one of my cousins - that's what a Novak funeral looks like LOL!

Labor day itself we spent in Foster, RI, visiting with George's mom and sister and assorted friends. George's family has been going out to stay with Betty and Dick (last names?) for years and years, so it feels very warm and homey there. A good day of running around and swimming for Mo and others, although I was too cold to get in the water - it was chilly there, compared to our sultry TN summer! Betty had a new pink kayak that she was excited to show off - the pool ladder at the edge of the water is a clever device on her part for getting out of her new toy.
After another day of serious resting (lots of tv watching!) Mo and I headed out for the Live and Learn Conference in NC. We split the drive into two days both on the way East and the way to NC. The way out I made the mistake of thinking that leaving in the evening and driving until 2am would be a good idea - in terms of driving, it was great. The trouble was getting to the hotel with a 6yo who had just spent several hours napping in the car! I think I got five hours of sleep, but they weren't consecutive. So the way to NC we drove in the day and found a lovely Motel 6 with a pool for Mo to frolic in for a couple hours before bedtime. That worked out much, much better, but if I hadn't had to squeeze so much travel into so little space, I'd have spread it out over three days at least! and camped. I think I need a bigger tent, though. Or maybe just one of those "screen rooms" for hanging out at the site. So far, Mo has enjoyed camping, and its about the only way I'm going to be able to afford to travel.
Okay, I'm rambling... on to L&L!

in memory of

I finally emptied out the compost toilet - well, the "composting" side anyway. The other side is now all closed up for what I hope to be nine months of happy decomposition. The whole fly issue (for anyone who remembers the "gory details") turned out to have less to do with the compost toilet than I had feared and more to do with the health of the local cattle. Once we got the new ac and started keeping the house closed up, the flies went away pretty quickly.

Digging out the compost I had the same thought I always do, but with a new twist - I always wonder "am I going to be doing this in my 70s and 80s?" Just recently though (I have to consult a calender, but it was the wednesday before labor day) my grandfather, Henry Novak died gardening. He was nearly 90. So I spent my shovelling time thinking about Papa. He was a veteran - got the flag an' all - and an electrician, but I remember him best as a gardener. Its sort of nice to think I could be shovelling compost on my dying day.... what's that poem about being buried on the compost pile? Its romantic, in sort of a quirky way, and while I don't really know if Papa would appreciate it, I like to think my romantic streak comes through him and my dad. Oh, here it is, by Lee Hays:

In Dead Earnest

If I should die before I wake
All my bone and sinew take
Put me in the compost pile
To decompose me for a while
Worms water sun will have their way
Returning me to common clay

All that I am will feed the trees
And little fishes in the seas
When radishes and corn you munch
You may be having me for lunch
And then excrete me with a grin
Chortling "There goes Lee again"

No discussion of Novaks (or life in Dismal for that matter) is complete without a drop of irony. My grandfather's sister-in-law happened to have been named Lee and was also a gardener. They didn't get along all that well, but her name sits along his in the family tradition... Dennis Lee, Meredith Leigh, and now Morgan Lee, all Novak.

Just an added comment, in case anyone reads this interested in the nuts-and-bolts of compost toileting.... wood ash sucks as an additive. It makes the pile very dense, which I'm not sure helps the composting very much, but even more importantly from the idea of shovelling in my old age, it Heavy! I ended up referring to it as poo-crete by the time I was done. It seemed like a good idea back when we were producing more ash than sawdust or shavings, but in retrospect, yikes. Other poo-composters beware!

Monday, August 20, 2007


I've been redecorating the ol' blog, here. I'm liking the new colors and layout, but there are some old posts that are a little hard to read. I'll fix that eventually. I love having a photo at the beginning, though, and I'm sooooo happy that I figured out how to get the text to be readable over the pic (note to self: insert shape, transparency, fade edges). Ha! Now I can even do it again!

I'm slowly collecting a tag-list for the eight weird things game. I have a feeling the way I'm playing the game almost counts as a weird thing - everyone else seems to stick all their things in one post. Convenient, but it would take me all day to do something like that. I just can't resist explaining. If you've been counting and reading in chronological order, this should be number five, but I'd have to check to be sure.

Mirror and I had a conversation about weirdness just this morning. Mirror thinking I'm weird is definitely one of my weirder traits. I'll have to find a good pic of him to explain that, but in the meantime, here's a couple links to sites regarding Radical Faeries - the first is a very tame, Wikipedia link, the second is a link to pix from this past Beltane and may contain a small amount of Adult Content, if you look hard. Now you know something about Faeries, Mirror is one. I suppose I'm one, too, but there are differences of opinion to be had on that matter. I'm fine with that. I may or may not be a faerie, depending on the definition. Works for me. I stuck the wiki link over on the sidebar for future reference - I seem to use it a lot.

Anyway, the conversation wasn't about me, per se, but about Coco, who is absolutely the weirdest person I've ever met. I wonder if he has a blog? Hmmmmm. Coco is weird, in my significantly less than humble opinion, because there doesn't appear to be anything strange about him at all. Ever. He blends in seemingly effortlessly wherever he goes - if he chooses to. I mostly see him choosing to blend in. He's a Stealth Freak! But he's not so much sneaky about it as genteel.

I'm not genteel, but I don't think people look at me and think "radical faerie" either. Maybe "dyke" in the winter, when I break out the flannel, but these days I think I primarily look like a mom. Mostly Harmless. I don't really know why that would be strange, but Mir assures me I'm an utter wacko. Maybe he's trying to flatter me.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Mo lost her first tooth!
It took four carefully counted days of wiggling from the time she first noticed the loose tooth. It was quite the event around here. Her latest self-portrait includes the missing tooth as a feature (as well as her name written backwards). She's thrilled. She's also nearly 6! Just a few more days, but birthdays are kind of weird in our house (hey, can I use that for one of my eight weird things? whynot!)
For the past couple years Mo hasn't wanted to do anything about her birthday. She accepts presents, of course! but has been adamant about not having a party. This year I can't even get her to talk about it. She said she would like a cake, but she always says that... I made one yesterday just for the heck of it, in fact. And she's already got one "present" - a fishing rod "just like Iris has". I didn't see any reason to wait when I finally had cash. Actually, there's a second present, but she doesn't know about that one. I got a k'nex set with some gears in it, since she keeps asking me to build this gears project in her "physics for fun" book. Ever tried to make one gear, much less a set of different sized gears that actually work? Darn book has No templates whatsoever, just says "make these gears out of cardboard". Bwahahahahahhaha!
Ahem, where was I? oh, yeah, k'nex. I probably won't even give them to her on her actual bday, although it could happen. Most likely, I'll wait for a day when she's looking for something new and exciting and then pull it out TADA!
I don't know why Mo doesn't like birthdays. She seems to enjoy Savannah's bday parties - well, who wouldn't? Savannah's mom holds the most sensible kid parties I've ever seen. Once the kids arrive, Whammo! cake, presents and then free-play until things start to wind down a little and a trip to the local pool to finish. Virtually stress free for guests, and very little work for Luan. We have been to other kids' parties that weren't so kid friendly. Lots of waiting. Adult-directed games and crafts. Totally not Mo's scene. That may be why she's not excited about parties. Or it may just be her. I don't like to make a fuss over my own birthday, either.

Its not a getting-older thing, for me or her. She's been telling people she's six since January, and now alternates between saying she's four and 10. Go figure. So many of my friends are older than I am, I've started telling people I'm "almost 40" just to fit in! So its not about age.

Reading back over that last bit...go figure. The difference between four and ten is six. Mo's six. We've had a couple conversations about that - one where she asked me, "if I'm six how many years until I'm ten?" and another, more a bit of mathematical free-association involving the numbers 4, 6 and 10 that I won't try to relate since it was kind of confusing to me. Morgan definitely thinks more, and more deeply, about numbers than I ever thought a kid her age would do. She finds patterns between numbers and shapes and ideas and words that I can sort of understand. That's not weird, though. I have a feeling that a lot of that kind of thinking is perfectly normal and it gets trained out of kids in the course of "edumacation" and the ways concepts are grouped for "educational" purposes. That was one of the things that drew me into Montessori, where the criss-crossing of different "subjects" is sort of an ideal. Too bad its an ideal that isn't often realized, but that's a whole 'nother subject.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Phew, its summer

...and its hot. Bleh. The middle of the day is especially gross, so we've been staying inside or "going to the creek" to cool off. On days we stay home the house gets to looking, well, you can see the pic. It looks like that.

The good news, in terms of weather, is that it's been raining. Not enough to get the springs flowing, but we have a back-up system that catches rainwater off the roof of the barn. Yesterday the tank was full to the top and I did a bunch of laundry and took a twenty minute shower to celebrate. Last night it rained again. I haven't checked, but I expect the tank is full or nearly this morning. Yeah! Of course, that also means its muggy as all-get-out today. I think it may be a creek day.

The creek we visit is called "Dry Creek" - rather ironic this year in particular, since its one of the few that is not only flowing, but not noticeably low. Its spring-fed, and goes underground at several locations, which is where it gets its name. Long stretches of apparant dry. We go almost to the source - so its coooooold. If its the least bit cloudy, I shiver in the water. As hot as it's been, cold feels good. In six months I'll read this and roll my eyes, I'm sure.

The spot we visit belongs to some friends of ours - Lee and John. Lee's home most times and comes to hang out with us in the water. Right in front of their house is a wide section of creek where the water is about knee-deep. Just enough for me to float in and Mo to float or swim if she wants, but not so deep that I have to worry. I wouldn't take a nap or anything, but I don't feel like I have to watch her every second. Very restful for me.

A bit downstream, where J&L's property ends is another spot that's deeper. Deep enough for a little swimming for adults. Its shared with the folks who own the next bit of land, though, so the access is a bit restricted. Both parties (and since they're couples, that's all four adults) have to agree on the guest-list. Mo and I are "on", but that's all for our family, which is a bit awkward, to say the least. Recently, though, George has had a bunch of sawing jobs and Ray's been sleeping through the heat (and pollen) of the day. He's basically back to the vampire lifestyle, and longing for fall. He was sort of crowing about that the other day, actually. School starts soon around here, but since he doesn't have to go, he gets to look forward to fall and winter.
Anyway, Mo enjoys both spots, but especially enjoys the company of Charlie, the 13yo girl whose family shares the swimmin' hole. The pic shows the two of them playing in the water. Mo's been dabbling in learning to swim - casting aside her floats from time to time to tread water and do something that looks like a cross between dog paddling and the breast-stroke. She's also been starting to swim under the water, although she doesn't really like getting water in her eyes. We have a couple masks, but they don't seem to seal all that well, and she doesn't want goggles. She doesn't seem any more or less at-ease in the water overall than other kids her age who have had years of swimming lessons, so I'm glad we decided not to trouble with those.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Eight weird things

I got tagged in this goofy game of blog-tag that's been going around the unschooling boards. Here's the rules- looks like I've already broken one. Whew, that's a load off my mind:

~~~Each player lists 8 facts/habits about themselves. The rules of the game are posted at the beginning before those facts/habits are listed. At the end of the post, the player then tags 8 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged and asking them to read your blog.~~~

Someone, earlier in the game, commented that this group of bloggers is so "incestuous" as to be running out of new victims to tag. Guess someone finally found me. I enjoy checking out other blogs, so I've had fun back-tracking through other people's tag lists, but I'm afraid I may not be able to find eight whole untagged blogs. I went to check on one (Arun's) and Schuyler and Danielle had both tagged him. Figures. Maybe I'll tag Stupid Evil Bastard just for kicks.....hmmmm.

Here's the link to Schuyler's blog, which I recommend for cute kid pix and parenting wisdom:

I've already posted two weird things in other posts, so nyeh nyeh, go find 'em if you want to know. I'm terrible about rules like that.

A third weird thing about me is I'm allergic to peaches. I'd never heard of such a thing until I started puking my guts out after eating some peach pancakes for breakfast. Did you know that virtually all northern tree-fruits are related? No wonder I gravitate toward melons, berries and tropical stuff. I also seem to have a slight reaction to rose-hips, also related. Its little enough that I need other factors to line up to actually get sick, but I've started screening all my herbal teas for rose-hips. Gives a whole new meaning to: everything's comin' up...roses.

It Rained!

Its been....gosh I've lost track. Over a month. The creek's dry. The new spring held up until just before the rain, but now the water has dropped below the pipe. I made sure the rainwater catchment system was in order before the rain started, so we have some rainwater, but we'll probably be hauling water from town by the end of the summer, at this rate.

Funny how quickly one can go from being overjoyed about the rain to bitching about it. I worked for Barb at Morningside, yesterday and we pissed and moaned about mud and having to put the tarps down over the front of the loading area for the first time in I-dont-know-how-long. And I've been griping about having to put my shoes on to go outside. I've been going out in socks forever, it seems. Two years ago it rained so much we had mud in August! I'd be happy for a little more mud to complain about right about now .

I've been trying not to complain too much about hardship, these days, and realized I hadn't posted anything at all about our troubles, other than the compost toilet. It's almost a superstitious thing on my part. Like if I write about it, its more true or something. Its not vast hardship. We're broke and have had to replace two engines in two months. Its been rough, but through it all we've had people be just amazing to us with offers to help. I'm working on accepting that gracefully. I've been on the other side of that so many times - heck, just last week I was helping a mom who's living out of her car with her 5yo find a place to stay - I like helping and giving. I'm trying to remind myself that I'm giving others the opportunity to express their generosity.

George has work this week so I'm scrambling around for people to hang out with Mo while I work for Barb. Ray's home from his travels, but he and I had a little conversation yesterday, and I assured him that I would not expect him to do free childcare - or any childcare at all unless he really really wanted to do it. He was relieved. Since it rained yesterday, George was able to hang out with Mo, which means Shiloh could get things done and hang out with her today, instead. She's going out of town at the end of the week, though, so I still need to find someone for Friday. I have some ideas about that, though.

My clubs came, and I've been throwing them a little every day - still can't catch the darn things, but I'm having fun. I can catch one or two. Just enough to keep me going. I don't know about more experienced jugglers, but right now, its all about throwing. If I get the throw right, my other hand just magically catches the club. Its cool. There's this weird trust thing involved, too. I have to believe that two clubs will fit in the space (I call it "the pocket" I guess I need to learn the jargon if I'm going to talk to other jugglers) they have to move through. Intellectually, I know that they're not both going to be in the same space at the same time, but I can tell I'm not convinced. I keep throwing one "outside" the other, which means there's no way for me to catch it. Its only been a few days, though, and not even an hour a day. I think next week I'll find a day when Mo wants to watch Pokemon all day and take the clubs up into my bedroom and juggle in the AC.

I've decided that one weird thing about me is how little I swear. It is weird. I use words like dangitall and honked-off. I cuss more in person than in print, but I was kind of shocked when one of the guests was very very careful about not-swearing in front of Mo. What the heck? Oh, goshdarnit, there I go again! Geez.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

I just ordered some clubs!

I'm so excited. I haven't exactly been practicing juggling every day, so I'm not making a whole lot of progress, but a couple weeks ago we went to a party at IDA and I got to play with Maxzine's clubs. It was soooooo much fun! I mean, sure, I can barely even juggle two of them at this point, but even at a totally beginner leve its waaaaay more fun than balls or bean bags. They're big and colorful and they spin.

Oooooooh. Ahhhhhhhh.

It took me awhile to figure out the order form at Renegade Juggling - a process not helped by my waffling over colors. It occurred to me that I don't *have* to get all three the same color - and it certainly was helpful in learning to juggle to begin with to have my beanbags all different colors. Plus, I'm just *not* a matching-set sort of gal. So one is to be green, one orange, one pink, all with black trim, just to butch things up a bit. I'm bouncing up and down in my chair in anticipation. Its going to be a looooong 3-5 business days....

I decided to get a set of clubs *now* despite our financial destitution (getting better, but still...) because in the last two weeks George got himself a new bass-amp and an octave-mandolin. That's like a mandolin but bigger, but not as big as a mandola. Instead of telling him off for his impulse buying I smiled sweetly and asked if there was any space left on the card for me to buy clubs. He was soooooo relieved. He's really doing much better with the impulse buying thing. Last time he wanted something totally unneccessary and expensive he actually asked me first. And took it well when I suggested that it wasn't such a good time to be spending money on a fancy new tool that he really didn't *need*.

Mirror recommended Renegade Juggling as a source for fire-tape and other odds and ends for Ray to make his own fire-staff. I'm thinking we'll just buy one, but maybe Ray would rather a home-made. We'll see. That's where I got my clubs, too. I probably could have found them cheaper, used maybe, but the design-your-own-club feature sucked me in.

Ray's off visiting grandparents - George's mom for a week and then the other grandma. Amy will meet him there and, in theory, drive home with him. Last time it worked out, he had a new MP3 player from granny and was able to successfully not-communicate with his mom the whole way home, which meant he didn't have to call us from a truck stop and get us to come rescue him. Whew. He and I have fantasized about him talking granny into a Wii this time, so we're waiting on the game system until he comes back. That will go on the card too, unfortunately, but we spent the money I had saved on something pedestrian, like a week's groceries.

Okay, so I just made my first hotlink thingy. I can't figure out how to cut-n-paste the url, though, which is why there's only one and not ten thousand, like in some blogs I see. I'm sure there's a may be something I have to do in HTML, though. We'll see. If I start having a gazillion hotlinks (or even just two or three in a post) you'll know I figgered it out.

As a totally random aside, I just got tagged in a game of blog-tag by Schuyler (see the comment at the end of the compost potty post). I have to come up with eight weird things about myself and tag eight other blogs. I'll probably cheat on that second bit, and as for the first, there's nothing at all weird about me. Okay, I guess that's one.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Gory details

Our composting toilet is on the fritz. Its a home built system, not a commercial composting toilet, inspired by The Humanure Handbook, and this is the first major setback in five years. We've had little problems here and there that were relatively easy to resolve - smell issues, resolved by adding a ventilation fan, and fruit-fly issues that were taken care of by strictly regulating the disposal of fruit, and especially banana peels. This year the problem is the compost itself. Its not composting properly, which is resulting in the chamber filling up too quickly and a plague of houseflies.


Our composting system consists of two concrete chambers, filled from the top, each with an exterior clean-out hatch. Only one chamber is in use at a time. Basically, we fill side A, move the seat to side B, and while we're filling B, side A is merrily composting away. By the time B fills up and we have to shovel out the A side so we can use it again, it's compost, not poo. Just to be on the safe side, the compost is moved to an outside compost bin for a year or so before it's used on the garden.

Theoretically, with every poo wood shavings are added to the compost. Periodically I also add grass clippings and weeds to the chamber. The biodiversity seems to help the composting process. Usually it takes about nine months to fill one chamber. At some point in the process there's this almost magical effect where the in-use pile starts shrinking instead of growing, as the compost heats up, and then stabilizes. Its really wonderful, but it depends on a number of factors, and some of those factors fell apart this year in a way that is hindering the pile from getting hot.

The two big issues seem to be weather and pile management. I've been able to slack off on pile management in the past, when the weather has cooperated. This year its not cooperating. Its been dry, which has meant less mowing, and so less clippings to add. We also had a late frost, which I think really unbalanced the pile's ecosystem. It definately impacted the local insect population in general, and I think that's part of the reason we're having so many flies. They survived the frost better than some of their competitors and are now the dominent bug in the pile. Unfortunately, they aren't the best for making good compost.

The other factor that needs to be considered is Rayan - in terms of the compost, he comprises a significant increase in the quantitiy of poo added to the system without a corresponding increase in the amount of wood shavings. Figure that in with a decrease in the amount of clippings and you get a denser, and therefore less well aerated, pile.

I repeat: Yuk.

It has been less than six months since we switched chambers, and the in-use bin is almost full. That's unheard of! Especially with the outside temperature in the mid to upper 80s - it should be doing the magic trick by now. The pile should be going away. Its not. Its doing something weird and the flies are driving us nuts.

My temporary solution has been to return to the original humanure method ... the bucket. Sigh. I've set up a sketchy sort of outhouse at the back of the back yard and a compost bin for the bucket contents. I've "sealed" the chamber we were using and after just a couple days the fly population in the house has already noticably decreased. Whew. Since the summer looks like its going to be dry, I think we'll stick with the bucket system for awhile, until the usual time for me to empty the "composting" side, anyway. I'll fine tune things as necessary, but if you come to visit this summer, expect to use an outhouse of some kind. Its actually kind of pleasant to sit and listen to the birds instead of the ventilation fan.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Book links

I'm needing a place to "store" a list of books on discovery based learning, so I'm putting them here. They're good books - the first two more than the third, but that one kind of rounds out the view, so to speak. Very useful for anyone trying to understand how young children, in particular, go about learning "the 3Rs" without any kind of instruction.


Much More Than the ABC's: The Early Stages of Reading and Writing (Paperback) by
Judith Schickendanz

Literacy Through Play (Paperback) by
Gretchen Owocki

More Than Counting: Whole Math Activities for Preschool and Kindergarten (Paperback) by
Sally Moomaw (Author), Brenda Hieronymus (Author)

If I find more I'll add them later - if anyone reading this would like to suggest others, I'd appreciate that, too. I seem to get used as a resource.... that's what I get for being such a know-it-all, I suppose.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

essay by Morgan

What not to do at a stoplight
By Morgan

Feeding your kittens and cat
Drinking water
Dreaming that you’re karate chopping the tv
Lighting candles
Getting the mail
Calling your friends

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Saturday, April 14, 2007


I've joined a postcard swapping group. Even worse, I've been sucked in to moderate it. I'm kidding about the "worse" part. Its not that much of a hassle, just approving new members, but that makes number four. Six months ago I was quivering in my boots at the thought of moderating one group, now I'm the yahoo groups madame or something. Anyway, since this is an international group, some of the folks on the list seem to think Dismal, TN is an exotic location - and who can blame them? Its scenic, and the denizens have strange customs.... So I decided to make my own cards from digital photos. Took me a week to find the right paper, but I'm off, sending cards to places as close as the Carolinas and as far away as New Zealand. That gave the lady in our local post office a thrill, too, looking up rates to far off lands. It occurred to me that some of my charming relatives would like some postcards, too, so if you're charming and I have your address, look for a postcard. I'm posting a few here, while I'm at it.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Happy Bday George

Sunday was George's birthday. We had a fun, mellow day.

There's a new coffee house in one of the local towns - Watertown. George and Shiloh have been playing there on Saturday nights, and then going over to a friend's house to jam afterwards. Fun stuff. We took Mo to the coffee house a few weeks back and to the jam session a week ago, with sort of mixed results. She's a little too high-energy for those kinds of environments and I'm too tired by that time of day to be very interactive with her. So its been sort of fun but sort of stressfull. Friday night George took her to a party where she was happy to play with a little plastic guitar for awhile, but then started arguing with the band about the set-list. Not so much fun, so George brought her home and she and I had an okay evening.

Friday night was essentially the start of George's bday festivities. He went to the party (up at Pumpkin Hollow) and stayed good and late. Saturday night he went to the coffee house in Watertown and stayed out late. Mo and I jumped on the trampoline, captured frogs and watched the stars come out and Ray played on the computer, so we all had a great time. Sunday Mir and Shiloh came over for a lunchtime pizza party.

After lunch we (all except Ray) hiked up to the pond. The algae and water plants I tossed in several years ago have taken over, so Mir and I chatted about ways to pretty up the area. He wants to plant some lotuses and some annuals along the banks. Mo and I want to mow around the pond and bring our tent up there. She's been wild to go camping, and I still prefer my camp to include men in high heeled shoes and tiaras. I like the idea of having a place to hang out up at the pond, though. Its really pretty up there already, pond scum notwithstanding, with a nice view of the holler. On clear days you can see the top of Short Mountain, which always makes me smile. Last year I was stressed out all summer and didn't get up to the pond at all, but this year I'm hoping to be more motivated in that regard. If Mir's going to work on the pond, that will help me have reasons to get up there.

Mo had a fabulous time playing in the mud at the pond and I found myself wishing I'd brought the camera. Next time. For now, I've included a few random pix from this winter in this post which I've been intending to post for ages. I forgot to rotate the pic of the bass, but its still a nice image. George has built a couple basses this winter - one twelve string, pix of which have been making the rounds of 12string bass message boards. That's kind of fun.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Great Big Aaaaaaaahhhhhhh

I have my favorite room back!

A few years ago, George built a glorious porch on the back of the house for my b-day. Its one of those marvelous "gifts that keeps on giving" - every spring, and sometimes off and on in the winter, I get to open up my house and have one more room. And what a great room! Its 8'x20' - bigger than my living room - and until last fall the couch lived out there, plus a big slab "coffee table" and some end tables and oddball chairs. I tacked up some masonite along one side for Mo to use as an easel and strung clothesline to dry her artwork above it. Weather permitting, its our "messy project" space, and my lounging around space. Its outside, but sheltered and off the ground. I love it love it loveit!

Sitting on my porch, which is on the back of the house, I can look up through bare branches to my hill-tops in the winter. In the summer the leaves keep it shady and cool. Its on the morning side of the house, so on hot Tennessee evenings we can hang out there and eat dinner and watch the fireflies. There's a good view of the run-off creek and a tiny cleared patch I call the back yard, where I've planted asparagus and daylilies and coneflowers and various annuals.

The porch was full of junk until today.

This was one of the complications of Rayan moving into our very small house. As an every-other-weekend kid he didn't use any of the storage space in his room, so we filled it up with all the kinds of things people "normally" put in attics. The sudden change left us kind of at a loss, so we piled the stuff on the porch, which is reasonably sheltered, until we figured out a better solution.

Over the winter we've been sorting and discarding and consolidating that stuff and the heap formerly known as the dining-room table. We don't have a dining room, but we have my mother's table - a dainty cherry thing with those swoopy cabriolet legs. Heaping it with stuff wasn't optimal, but it kept Mo from climbing on it, along with providing storage. Our new family member meant we needed more "family" space, though, so we dug out the table (moved some of that stuff to the porch). We quickly discovered we didn't like eating at the table, so it went out to the barn and the couch moved in to the suddenly expanded living room. That was a good thing for the winter. Its nice having a larger living room, and we don't miss the table.

But its spring, gosh darnit! and I wanted my room back. I wanted to lounge on the back porch drinking coffee and watching the birds. It finally occurred to me that we have a whole pile of grey industrial shelving from Smithville's one coffee-shop closing (George knew the owners and got to loot - we got an old organ, lots of shelves and assorted guitar bits). With a little nudging on my part George agreed that the side porch would be a good place to put some shelves, magically creating the storage space we so desperately need. Tada! Last night and this morning he hung shelves and then he and I moved boxes and....stuff. He's on his fourth dump run, now, and I'm taking a break from my cleaning and arranging.

Once the stuff was gone, and everything swept, the lack of couch weighed heavily on me. Where would I lounge to drink coffee? I remembered the leftover lumber from my garden-fencing project. Aha! I foraged up some concrete blocks and cobbled together a rough-n-ready bench. It works. Its wider than my behind - the one significant dimension - so I can sprawl or lounge or curl up, as I choose. Phew. I tested it with a bowl of soup and Morgan cavorted around blowing bubbles and trying to catch them in her mouth.

As far as I'm concerned this is the official first of spring. Forget daffodils - the darn things start coming up in February! Moving out into my favorite room is It! I hearby declare it Spring in Dismal, TN.

Friday, March 09, 2007

much ado and other stuff

Rayan has had a girlfriend since last summer - a vaguely "gothic" girl named Ciara (pronounced Sierra) who's mother dislikes and distrusts him. I haven't spoken to her yet, although George has. I get the impression she wouldn't like or trust any guy her 14 year old daughter brought home, but Rayan's too much of a "bad boy" to ever win her over.

In the past she has placed restrictions on when and how much they could talk on the phone which has, predictably, led to Ciara calling after her parents are asleep. Not really an issue for us. One of the glorious advantages of homeschooling is we don't have to fuss over going to bed at a reasonable hour. Our schedule is pretty fluid.

She also doesn't like them to spend much time together, and only under her direct supervision. Charming. I've offered to talk to her - to Rayan - but he's under the impression that she's impossible to reason with, and George pretty much agrees. I don't know how much of that is baggage and how much is accurate, but so far I've stayed out of things at Ray's request. I've talked to Ciara over the phone a couple times when Rayan's been asleep or in the shower and she's pretty invested in coercion, which makes me think her mom could be every bit as difficult as Ray and George think - tell Rayan he better call me or I'll break up with him - that sort of thing.

Okay, so this is going to sound like a tangent but it ties in - what tangled webs these mortals spin! (is that the line?) George has been fretting over the fact that we have yet to mail in the registration form for FS@H due to our lack of funds. I've had good news from Jackie on that regard, but I'm not worried in general. No-one is breathing down our necks, and the boy's happy and not in jail, which is more than the school would be able to say if they had him. George is worried though - specifically he's been worried that Ciara's mom would "make trouble for us".

Back to the main plot... apparantly, Ciara's mom has been asking her what Rayan does now that he's not in school - the usual sorts of questions and hoo-haa from people who know nothing at all about homeschool. Ciara passed the question along to Ray, who commented that it wasn't any of her mom's business. As far as I know he only said that to Ciara, but its possible he said it directly to her mom. Less than 100% tactful, if he did, but I've said worse. And really, he's right - it isn't any of her business! But she's used to the public school idea that comparing two people's learning is not only appropriate but normal and good, especially when those people are under 18. I guess you can tell what I think about that. Its probably a good thing I haven't talked to her. I don't have any idea how to say that tactfully :(

So the long and short of it is that Ciara's not allowed to speak to Rayan until he appologises to her mom. George is relieved. I guess there will be more midnight phone calls for awhile. Eventually I suspect he'll appologise - I also suspect Ciara will threaten to break up with him if he doesn't. That's within the pattern she's set already.

It wouldn't break my heart if he finally decided she's not worth the headache, but that's probably contingent on him making some friends in non-school environments. He's met a couple homeschoolers at the skatepark, but has sort of lost touch in between winter and getting the flu (I was right about that! he got really really sick for a few days and is still recovering, to some extent). It will take a while to build those relationships, anyway.

He's also met a few hs'ers online -gotta love Runescape. Its too bad we can't get World of Warcraft, though. There's a "guild" of over fifty unschoolers last I heard. Boy oh boy would I love for him to meet some other kids whose parents think staying up all night playing computer games is cool - not to mention some of those parents. But our dial-up is way too slow. I guess there are a few WoW players who have dial-up, but a "good" connection speed for us is (brace yourself) 49Kbps. No shit. DSL is a ways away out here in the hollers. Bummer.

I'm hoping to bring him to the Live and Learn Conference in Sept and/or get him to Not-Back-to-School camp so he can meet some home/unschooling teens in a fun environment. I don't see Ray as wanting to spend the rest of his life in TN, much less Dismal, so in addition to making friends, I'd love to help him find reasons to travel, and making friends all across the US sounds like the sort of thing that would appeal to him. I suppose I should talk to him about that LOL! He's been trying out being a night-owl (or maybe a vampire) so I haven't seen as much of him as I'd like. I told him I've missed him, but I'm trying to be cool about that - I sooooo don't want him to feel pressured to change his schedule.

Monday, March 05, 2007

pooping toy

Bwaaahhahahahhahaha! OMG, now I've seen it all! Barbie, yes that's right BARBIE has a new dog that poops! I saw this just this morning on the lousy tv we have upstairs, so I'm sure I missed details. I can't decide if I'm totally appalled or if I want one. Mo wants one - a pooping toy? Cool! I do think its nice that someone finally figured out that little girls are as fond of poo and farts as boys. Mine sure is.

Okay, okay, I'm calm, now. I'm getting ready to do some cooking - or rather, I'm in the middle of doing some cooking, this is just the "procrastination" stage ;) I did something new and different for me the other day - okay, if you know me and you're reading this put your coffee cup down and swallow what's in your mouth, alright? don't say I didn't warn you - I bought meat at the grocery store. Told ya. I'm not going to eat it, though. Its for George and Rayan.

Here's the story: George has been eating meat for a couple years (?) but mostly fishy things and easy to prepare stuff. He doesn't really know much about meat, how to buy or cook it, etc. We had been buying lots of coldcuts and meaty soups for him and Rayan, but the soups, especially, are pretty costly. Anyway, we're surrounded by enthusiastic deer hunters, so we ended up with a bunch of venison this winter. George didn't know what to do with it, but I looked in my favorite cookbook (the plaid one, of course!) and found a recipe for beef-vegetable soup. It turned out to be a great way to economize, and the guys both love it. Now we're out of venison, though, so I took my courage in hand, waited for the higher-the-hair ladies to move away from the meat counter in the store and spent a merry few minutes looking at sale prices and determining best value, blah, blah, blah. Morgan was slightly interested, but more in punching the packages than their contents.

On that note, we bought her a punching bag. Its one of those things that stands about kid-height with a weight in the base so when she hits it, it pops back up. Fun. She's just head-over-heels in love with Sandy Cheeks on Spongebob, so she's been whacking and kicking a Lot. After far too many "nos" and "stop its" I went out and got a punching bag. She picked one with a picture of Scooby Doo on it but made a drawing of the big bad fairy from Fairly Odd Parents and taped it on the other side. Lots of tv-inspired fun going on around here.

A few years ago, that would have been an issue for me. I was pretty heavily saturated with anti-tv sentiment, including the notion that art, stories and games inspired by tv shows was somehow "less" than the same inspired by, um... books, fables and classical art. Duh. Now, I really love the way Mo mixes and matches characters and ideas from different shows - and mixes them happily with stuff from "books fables and classical art" as well. The other day she was making a "Fairy Magic Playset" based on one of our computer games. She decided there was no reason not to have a Playset for something that isn't Disney or Barbie or some other major franchise. If it didn't exist, well then, she'd make her own. You go, girl.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Mo art

Here are a few of Mo's drawings from this winter. She's been making lots of books, which are a little tricky to scan, but I've included one of her comic-strip type things. Sometimes these are lists or "plans" for what she wants to do or someone else, usually me! to do. Others are short stories or scenes. The pale aqua drawing with her name on it is one of her maps (just in case y'all want to come visit). There's also a drawing of a beach and, of course, Spongebob and Patrick.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

I've had the flu

Icky yucky yuck.
I hate being sick.
Now I'm slowly getting back to myself and I'm stiff and sore all over just from being in bed so much. Bleh. On the up side, its sort of revitalizing my yoga practice.

I stopped teaching yoga more than six months ago, and for awhile I just didn't do any at all. I had gotten pretty burned out and had lost my enthusiasm for my own practice. A couple months ago I started have the urge to do the occasional yoga pose, remembering that I used to like this stuff, not just do it "because its good for me". Getting sick seems to have really kick-started my interest again. I like the asanas. I like the way they feel and the way *I* feel doing them. Pretty sad to think that teaching made me lose sight of that for awhile.

In the mean time, I'm still stiff and sore and coughing. Yuk. Mo and George have both been sick too. Rayan hasn't *seemed* to get it, but he has gone through a phase of sleeping 15hrs a day, and I think he was fighting it off. Must be nice.

On a completely differnt note, I have a bunch of Mo-art that I want to scan in and upload, if only I can get the scanner to work! If not, I may try to take pix of some of it. She's making lots of books and comic-strip type things, and making everything she can think of out of paper. One day she went through an entire brand-new stack of computer paper and started another and I sort of flipped out - you wouldn't believe the mess in the living room. It looked like a blizzard! So I stole the rest of the paper and hid it. George teased me mercilessly until I relented and gave it back.

I have a new "mantra" for myself: unschooling is messy and inconvenient.

Saturday, February 03, 2007


It snowed thursday night - something on the order of an inch, which is high excitement here in TN. I worked for Barb (Morningside) on friday. leaving George to play in the snow with Morgan, which turned out to be a really good thing. Apparantly, Mo woke up and saw snow and immediately concieved the idea to make a snowboard. George was happy to help out - he went right out and found a board that was pretty bowed and cut a length of it. At Mo's direction, he rounded one end and set some screws in it for "foot straps". She's been watching a lot of Go, Diego, Go! and seems to have made some mental notes on the subject of snowboards - she definately had very specific ideas on the subject. Well unfortunately, an inch of snow and a piece of raw wood don't make the best combination for snowboarding, so George added a tow-rope. Mo was thrilled none-the-less.
Here she is in her snow-gear, all ready for the cold!

Once she'd had enough "snowboarding" George obliged her with a snowball fight and then went inside for home made snowcones. I'm posting this on friday and have spent over an hour making still more snowcones. I've mixed some foodcoloring with sugar to make sprinkles for them. Its been fun - except for the part where she decided I needed snow shoved down the back of my shirt - wonder where she got that idea....

Sunday, January 21, 2007

parallel play

I was thinking about "parallel play" this morning and remembered a related article, called "Leaning on a Truck":

This morning I was making "fried pies" - that's down home Southern cooking, if you haven't heard of them. I learned about them from my Ex (VJ), whose Granny was the epitome of Southern grandmothers. You know... when in doubt: add lard, and all that. She did have some great recipes, though (although I omit the lard, personally). Anyhow, fried pies are basically apple turnovers, but deep fried instead of baked. They're really yummy. George got a Southern Living cookbook a few years back for signing up for a Lowes card or some such thing, and there's a good recipe in there.

This is my second time making them, so I was modifying the recipe, as I am wont to do, and Mo came in and announced that she, too had a recipe to try. Oh, great, I thought, just what I need. The kitchen is a mess, I'm deep frying and Mo wants to play mad scientist. Fortunately George was floating around the house being bored so I enlisted him to keep Mo out of my way. Mostly he sat by the woodstove and helped open things, but that was enough for her to make two different kinds of goop, one (theoretically) drinkable, while I fried and fried and fried.

Anyway, what I ended up thinking about was that Mo does a lot of her learning from other people in this sort of parallel, leaning-on-a-truck style. She wanted to be in the kitchen in part because I was in the kitchen. She didn't want to watch me or help me, but she did want to be where I was, doing (essentially) what I was doing - but all her own thing. Interesting.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

now we're cooking with rayan

Here's a link over to the other blog about Rayan learning to cook:

Which includes some brief musings on the value of computer games. We've been playing this really fun quest type game for the PC, called Zanzarah - I bought it thinking Mo would like it. Fairies and elves and all that stuff. Turns out its a little too difficult for her to maneuver the character, there's a weird combination of mouse and arrow keys required that took even me and Ray awhile to figure out. So he and I have been playing it and having a good time. Predictably, he's better at it, but now and then I do something in a different sequence or catch a fairy he doesn't have yet. Fun stuff.

I ordered World of Warcraft, but so far we haven't been able to play it. Our computer has a "social disease" at the moment :( and we don't have the funds to get it taken care of, so its running too slowly to play something quite so elaborate. WoW is and online role playing game - more elves and trolls an' all, but since its online you get to communicate with other players all over the world. Rayan just loves that sort of thing so I thought it would be right up his alley - and some of the fabulous unschoolers I've been hangin' with online have set up a "guild" on WoW, and it would be soooooo cool if Ray could meet some of these folks. Anyway, I'm working on options, but some of those involve asking the neighbors if he can use their computer, so I'm flaking out. Bad mommy! No cake! Sunfrog is coming over this weekend to watch football, though, so I'm going to try to bring it up then.

Another thing I've been considering, wrt games, is getting one of those game systems that plug into the tv - Ray thinks maybe Game Cube, since that's what he had before. That has the advantage of freeing up the computer somewhat, but it doesn't have the social feature on online gaming.

Okay, so what's with the games, you may ask? When did Mer drink the kool-aid? George blames "the unschoolers" warping my mind with stories of all the valuble things their kids have learned while playing computer games. Could be. Playing the simpler, treasure-hunt style games with Morgan also helped. I found myself wanting more complicated games, but not really finding them until now. This was the perfect game to suck me in big-time! It has the light entertainment value of the trashy fantasy novels I love, and its complex enought that it takes a long time, and some planning and problem solving, to get through it. Its even (in a way) educational, but don't tell Rayan I said so. I'd rather he just enjoyed it.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Quilt pix et al

Here's the latest thing I'm working on - one of them, anyway. This is a background for a "tortoise and hare" quilt. I'm doing a sort of series that I'm calling (at least in my head) "myths, fables and fairy tales" inspired by the owl and pussycat thing. I really need a set of quilts that show off what I can do now - its like building a portfolio all over again, so its kind of frustrating, from that perspective.
I need to work on updating my website, too. A friend of mine offered to do it, but she's since become very busy and flaked out on me so I'm thinking of just doing my own. After fussing around with the blog thing some I feel better able to handle that - but if anyone wants to suggest a good template or whatever, I'm open to suggestion.