Saturday, September 12, 2009

what I've been doing

Here's a quilt I've been working on, for someone who likes "facets". Good clean fun.
While I'm working on a big piece, I like to keep myself entertained with little bitty projects. Here's a little sample piece for a miniature quilt, something quaint and traditional, with pieced baskets and appliqued vine and leaf stuff, except the vines and leaves transform into these little guys:
Funny how you can't tell size from a photo. The quilt at the top is 90x102" while the other is only two inches wide.

Friday, September 04, 2009

travelling with a conservative eater

While visiting family recently in New England, I came across fresh figs at the grocery store. I’ve never had a fig that wasn’t dried, or turned into paste. I was surprised at the color and intrigued by the shape and so bought a couple to try. Mo was intrigued too. She’s become more loquacious, lately, for her I mean. She’s still not in danger of talking anyone’s ear off but she liked the look of the figs and was happy to talk about them, ask some questions, and watch me eat one. Naturally, she didn’t want to try one, herself.

I say naturally because Morgan is a naturally conservative eater. I spent a good deal of time explaining that on our travels, since she doesn’t eat things most people associate with kids her age – not pizza or sandwiches or homemade mac-n-cheese. Most kids go through a conservative stage, but by 8 they’re usually coming out of it.

Mo’s a bit more sensitive to looks and textures than average, and that has a lot to do with her conservatism. She still has a fairly narrow range of foods and the tend to be light and fine: cereals and pale pastas (no whole wheat, please), tortillas and pancakes, cheese and tofu, chicken nuggets, bananas. There are a few other things, but you get the idea. Milk and juice form a big part of her diet, so we don’t cheap-out on juice, we get 100% and try new flavors whenever we can. She’s most open to experimenting where juice is concerned, but she rarely samples new fruit. Like I said, texture is an issue.

It was nice to talk with other people on my travels who have been down similar roads, either as parents or as conservative eaters, themselves. It was refreshing to hear tales from George’s mom of her passionate, strong minded children, of Liz liking things just so and George coming apart at the seams if his hotdog was cut in the wrong number of pieces. Good to know Morgan doesn’t just get it from me!

I was the proverbial picky eater. I recall there were foods I did like as a child, but most of my actual memories of dinnertime revolve around a sense of disgust as I would steal myself, over and over, to lift the fork to my mouth. I sometimes wonder how much of my vegetarianism comes down to being finally able to avoid all the foods I despise in one fell swoop. Certainly when I go to vegetarian homes and potlucks and feel a sense of nervousness at an unfamiliar dish, I can dispel most of that with a simple reminder to myself: its okay, its vegetarian. Its amazing how much that relaxes me. I don’t recall ever being disgusted by a mouthful of vegetarian food, even if the flavor didn’t appeal to me. I’m sure there must be some, but they don’t stand out in my memories.

Food is such a personal issue. Some people seem to be able to eat anything. Ray has always been able to eat foods he dislikes. He may complain about them, but he doesn’t struggle to eat them. I’ve watched Mo struggle to try a food she thought she’d like only to have the actual experience prove different than she’d hoped. I’ve seen her on the verge of tears when a food at a restaurant wasn’t what she expected. We ate out a bunch on our travels, something we rarely do at home, and I did a good bit of explaining and negotiating with wait-staff as a result. They were all very helpful, even found ways to charge me less for, say, a plate of “nachos” with none of the meat, salsa or guacamole listed in the menu. One waitress brought Mo all the popcorn she could eat at no charge at all. That was sweet.

It was wonderful to overnight at another unschooling house on the way home. I’m always nervous meeting people I only “know” via the internet, and we hadn’t really talked about food with this family. But Faith was perfectly happy to walk Morgan through their cereal collection even though we’d arrived at dinnertime, that was great. And despite eight hours in the car I was ready to do a happy-dance at the sight of real home-style vegetarian food on the stove (its okay! Its vegetarian). And its good to get back home to where Mo doesn’t have to ask if she isn’t in the mood to talk, where she knows where everything is and the microwave is conveniently located for little people. Good to get back to George’s home-style vegetarian cooking every night. Even if I can’t get fresh figs around here.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

forget it

I'd forgotten how loud airplanes are. On friday, Mo and I flew from Nashville to Philly to Providence, RI - two ups and two downs, next to no turbulence, just enough clouds. Great flights, especially for Morgan, who had never been on a plane before. She had a grand time, but spent the flights with her fingers stuffed in her ears. I remember that was my first impression of flying, years ago on an army plane flying to Alaska. There were no windows and it was soooooo loud. I'm glad Mo's first plane ride was more fun than that.

We were met at the airport by a sweet old lady who couldn't remember we weren't related to her - I have no idea who she was, but her daughter apologized and I reassured her it was fine. She was friendly and a decent conversationalist for someone who wasn't sure where she was or why or who I was or why we were talking. Mo and I rode the elevator with her and met up with Jane, also not related to this lady. Jane is my Fabulous Aunty, who forgets words. There's a word for that, but, well, you know... Its cute. She sticks her tongue out and taps the tip, or makes this funny gesture, like writing on her arm while I (or whoever) try to guess what she wants to say. If you're clever, this can be great fun, as Jane quickly gets distracted from what she's trying to say. I'm not clever enough, most of the time, and simply find the word, if I can remember it. Nothing like someone else being tongue tied to make me self conscious about my own lack of facility with the spoken word.

I'm terribly forgetful when I speak, not so much when I write. I think its because I think in images - even when I'm thinking words, I'm thinking of them printed, or typed. Now and then I get bogged down wondering what font my brain is using and can't remember what I'm talking about. When I write, too, I can cheat and look things up, check a thesaurus, dig up a website so I seem to know what I'm talking about. I do know what I'm talking about, I swear! I have a huge amount of information stuffed into my head, but don't always remember the sources. Lately people have been asking me about child development, and I know a ton about it, but then someone wants a source...geez. I don't know how I know this stuff.

Forgetfulness is a family trademark, it seems, on both sides. This morning George and I had breakfast with his dad, who kept saying banjo when he meant guitar, and then went back to George's mom's house, where she was wondering where the other half of her grapefruit had gone, having eaten it yesterday. Our days and lives are full of forgetfulness. I forgot I was supposed to be compiling a blog carnival, but I have an excuse for that - the whole going-out-of-town thing. My friend Lora and I were discussing forgetfulness not too long ago, about how you can walk into the other room and realize you've forgotten why. I have a whole strategy worked out for remembering in those situations, and Lora wondered why I didn't simply have a strategy for not-forgetting. I don't recall what I told her, though. George and I joke that one day we'll be a pair of old codgers living together, not remembering who this other person is, clomping around the kitchen, drinking all the coffee.

A few months back I was chatting with another parent, a school teacher and mom, who wondered how I can possibly know what my kids have learned if I don't test them. I asked her how she knows what her kids have learned a week after the test, and she conceded that it was a good point. I'd rather watch my kids forget and remember and forget again than to have the illusion that they "know" something because they remembered it long enough to spew it out on a form. I've forgotten a great deal of what I learned in school, but I remember cramming for spelling tests in grade school and then turning around and misspelling the very words I'd spelled perfectly on the test when I'd write. I recall it being a source of hilarity for my friends and frustration for my teachers.

One of my favorite quotable authors, Jeanette Winterson, has a line about forgetting... some buddah like thing about there being nothing to remember... Naturally I don't recall the details, and since I'm not home, I can't look it up. I'm pretty sure its in Sexing the Cherry, though, if you have a copy.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Recently I was at the local coffee shop and a friend showed me a picture she'd taken on vacation. It was a pretty bland shot of someone standing by a car, but in the foreground, captured in the flash, it seemed, was a wonderful glowing something - something with legs and wings. I asked if it was a mosquito. It kind of looked like one, and she'd just been to Alaska, so I was ready for a "the mosquitoes were soooooo big..." story. She kind of sighed and said "some people think so" and that was the end of that. Oops. It was one of those litmus test things. How cool is Mer? Will she say "OMG, is that a Fairy?" Nope. Sorry.

Its not that I have anything against the idea of fairies - or nature spirits or communicating with the unseen world or whatever floats yer boat. But I'm not into that these days. Its the evil little buddhist in me. I don't see any need to look for magic in the world because, frankly, I find the world pretty darned magical already.

It irks me when people do things like that, try to suss out if I'm "okay" based on some willingness on my part to Believe (or not). Maybe they're just looking for connection - probably so. And I can't connect in that way. If you want to talk about how lovely is a mosquito, caught in a flash, I'm right there. Beautiful in its articulated, chitinous majesty, possessed of the glorious power of flight. That's enough magic, right there. A normal, everyday miracle.

Those miracles are overlooked, disregarded, belittled. That's a sad thing. Dirt is miraculous, even without gnomes and trolls to populate it. Its rich with smell and texture. Rainbows are marvels of chance refraction without leprechauns. Snowflakes are a wonder without Santa Clause or the Nativity. Flowers are sexy without sprites living in them, and the ocean has no need of sirens and mermaids. Life is a miracle and a mystery. No-one knows why its here. There are theories - theories of chance combinations over millennia and theories of supernatural intervention, but nobody knows, really. Why is there life or why is any one thing, bacteria, plant, person, alive right now. Lots of good reasons why things die, but none why they don't. That kind of miracle. The quiet every day kind that get ignored because they're so commonplace.

There's a great bug movie, if you like bugs and other creepy crawlies, called "Microcosmos". Its got the sexiest snails ever to hit the big screen (no shit, you should see these two go at it!) and a great final shot of an "everyday miracle" a metamorphasis from a nymph, the new adult rising out of the water in a silver halo... and then you realize its a mosquito and sort of shiver all over as it flies away with that characteristic whine. Its beautifully creepy. For the record, I'll swat the little buggers in an instant, and squish fleas and ticks, and smush spiders... but they're still more beautiful than anything I could possibly imagine.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


Summertime in Dismal is creek time! The Dismal creek isn't really big enough for swimming (its more of a brook), so we head over to Dry Creek. The pic at the header of the blog is from Dry Creek, one of the swimming holes we visit. This year, we've been exploring new swimming holes along the same creek. Its been hot, so the spring fed creek water is a welcome relief, and I've found places I can drive right down to the water and not have to lug all our snacks and floats and chairs and snorkels and knitting and books and toys....

Going to the creek is timeless. Here's a journal entry from last year that never made it as far as this blog, that meanders into some newer commentary:

Morgan is sitting and watching the creek go by. This is the child I used to call "my ninety mph kid." She's still a busy, active young person, and has become quite the chatterbox at times, besides. Lately she's had these long slow silences, though. She's not "thinking" in the sense of having some kind of internal dialog. She's "just" looking around and taking everything in.

Daydreaming is frowned upon in our culture. Its wasteful or shameful or something. I remember feeling a need to conceal my rich fantasy life as a child. Too silly, too unrealistic, or worst of all too interesting to adults - you should write that down! But if I did, of course it had to be edited and critiqued. C'mon, Mer, you're smart, you can do better than this. So I learned to write in code or not write at all. And then had to learn not to think, besides.

I remember feeling that a good class, good book, good day was one where I wasn't tempted to daydream. Now I wonder how many parents are towing kids from school to club to activity - and how many kids are going along with that, even wanting that, to avoid that very same thoughtfilledness I eschewed for so many years.

With Morgan, I have the opportunity to see different kinds of thoughtfilledness. She has long, half-vocalized conversations with her self. She doesn't appreciate being interrupted, so I've learned not to ask what they're about. They seem to range across a variety of topics, from what I can hear; puns, numbers, the motility of crawdads and fresh water fish. Sometimes her thoughts become motion, or construction, or lead her to ask a question or share a discovery. Other times these monologues taper off into one of her slow silences. The silences are another kind of thoughtfilledness - although perhaps meditation or contemplation would be better words for that. She tells me, when asked, that she's not "thinking words." She's absorbed in the movement of the creek, or the venation of a leaf, or the details of the life of Sandy Squirrel.

More recently, Morgan has been doing a lot of writing, and she spends a good bit of time actively thinking about what she want to write and how she wants to write it. She paces, composing dialog or arranging plots, tapping her finger on her chin as she does so. She has a busy internal life, filled with characters, scenes and settings. Walking down the creek with her the other day she paused at each bend to view the upcoming stretch of territory and decide "this part is peaceful" or "this is the spooky part," as though she were a cinematographer looking for a setting.

The periodic glimpses of Mo's inner world fascinate me, perhaps more so because she expresses them so tersely in person. She still doles out words like little haikus much of the time, although, as I said before, she's much chattier now than ever before.

Morgan's friend Iris, with whom we have spend many days at the creek, is far wordier than Mo. I enjoy her blatant expositions. At the creek, recently, she was delighted to inform me that she was collecting sticks to build a boat so that she and her mother could go sailing. At the same time, Mo was conducting and experiment with a plastic toy boat, releasing it at the top of a small "rapids" and dashing downstream to catch it. Over and over and over, following the boat with her eyes as it spun into backwaters or careened over stones, each trip a different story in her mind.

Creeks are magical places, lending themselves well to meditation and metaphor, in addition to their more practical values - cool and wet on our dry, hot summer days. Every trip to the creek is a hundred journeys: scientific excursions to sample flora and fauna and geology, studies of physics and fluid dynamics, fantasies of sailing, of being colorful aquatic creatures, of building magical portals or discovering a Sacred Jewel shard, picnics, swimming practice and contemplative hours.

George's mom loves to travel, and yet she regularly sends cards and postcards that she makes of her favorite "creek" (as we'd say in the south, in New England they call it a river, heathen yankees that they are), the Ponagansett in Foster RI. She goes there regularly, as we go to Dry Creek regularly. It was a childhood haunt of George, and we visit it almost every time we go East. Creeks make good touchstones, like that. They are ever changing - the banks alter with heavy rain, the wildlife comes and goes, the seasons are clear and sharper, it seems. And yet, that continual change lends them an air of stability, an eternal quality. Its no wonder that waterways have such symbolic value in literature and religion. At the same time, they send us onward and they call us home.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Pigtailed Assault Teams Storm State Park

Okay, more of them had dreds than pigtails and the assault guns were loaded with soft foam projectiles, but there were teams, that's for sure! We spent this past weekend, plus a couple days, at Roan Mt State park for the semi-annual ARGH campout (that's Autodidactic Radical Gathering of Homeschoolers to the uninitiated). The theme of the weekend, for the under-12 portion of the community: Nerf Wars.
I was intrigued to see that the free form shoot-em-up quickly sorted itself into entire nation-states of children. They had grand names (my favorite being The Carrot Allegiance), cultural identities, alliances, feuds, and complex negotiations that lasted for days. At any given intersection of trails it was possible to find two opposing bands of armed Patriots shouting a conversation that might have sounded like this:

"Throw down your weapons, we have you surrounded!
"You do not! What team are you, anyway?"

"We are the Huggers and you are invading our territory."
"Well, we are the Princess Sisterhood and we do not recognize the validity of your organization."
"Hah! I got you! You're dead now!"
"I am not, I have fifty thousand hit points."
"You can't have that many. You can only have five."
"I can have as many as I want."
And on and on.

Unschooling children are great negotiators. I've seen that before, but we don't live in an area with a plethora of unschoolers, so its not something I'm used to.

That's not to say they were all little angels. There were bossy kids and whiny kids and kids who refused to acknowledge anyone else's rules. There were hurt feelings as teams formed and reformed many times over the weekend. For all that, there was little real fighting. Kids raised without rules, it seems, don't have any more trouble getting along than other kids. If anything, while many of the kids had control issues, none were actively mean. Older kids sometimes stepped in to facilitate disputes - Ray did at one point - and parents of younger children sometimes trailed along at a discrete distance in case anyone slipped in the mud and got hurt.
I confess to having spent the first day and a half fretting. I needn't have. I know my family, after all, but arriving at the ARGH gathering, I was the only family member who actually knew anyone at all (and most of those from online). I watched George and the kids lurk around the edges of groups and I fretted: surely I'd made a horrible mistake and they'd all be miserable. Silly me.

As soon as Mo settled in, she was happy to rampage through the campground with one nation-state or another, shooter in hand. Ray lurked and scoped and then all of a sudden was walking around with a group, staying up all night, exchanging email addresses. George took the longest. He didn't have alot in common with the other dads, and the kids weren't little enough to give him comfortable access to the world of moms for the most part. Eventually Mo dragged him off to a dress-up party, though, and got him settled. By evening's end he'd discovered bananagrams (have you played? its sooooo fun!) and the next day he discovered hiking trails. The pix are all from his hikes (new camera, I haven't a clue how to use it yet).
I had a fantastic time, once I stopped fretting. I knit and chatted and chatted and knit and hung out and played bananagrams (gotta get me some). I got to meet some of the wonderful people I know from online and see their kids in person. In case you are on the same lists as I but haven't had a chance yet - De (Bigwylma) is warm and personable, Faith has great hair and a wonderful smile, Kelly and Gail never stop talking! Kelli is fun and wonderful and has the most adorable curly headed boy (George was a curly headed boy, once, I'm partial), and Ren's every inch a drag queen. There were many more people than that, of course and I'm awash in names and faces (and needlework that purple scarf and its knitter... whatever your name was).
Unschooling teens are all gorgeous. I know I mentioned Kelli's (being partial to curls and also geekiness) but I was struck by the absolute beauty of the teenagers. It took me a couple days to figure out why, and I honestly believe its the unschooling. Without school to weigh them down, they have a lightness of spirit that schooled teens just plain don't. Even the quiet ones had that lightness. Even the ones dressed all in black, the freaks and the bad-asses. They weren't up all night knocking over dumpsters, they were up talking and laughing and... cuddling. Yeah, bad ass teenagers cuddling. I'm still reeling.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

March Blog Carnival -video games

I've fallen off the blogwagon, good grief! Its been months. Happily there's a blog carnival to inspire me.

I had an aha moment this morning, watching Morgan play. She was playing a video game while also creating one of her paper sculptures (this one looked like a robot dragon, but she said it wasn't and didn't seem interested in explaining). Its the sort of scene that runs utterly contrary to what one thinks (what I think, anyway) when someone says: playing video games - you know, the sort of rapt attention thing. Mo does that, but she also does something else, she multitasks while playing a video game. To do that, she has to keep pausing the game, but otherwise it reminds me a lot of the way she used to watch tv, back when we still had the dish. Sometimes she was all about watching, but more often, she just seemed to need the background and(here's the aha part) its not background noise she wants, its background imagery and, most of all movement. Ahhhhhhhhh.

That fits so well with the rest of her personality. When she's not making, making, making things, she's racing around at full speed - charging through the house, careening around the yard, bouncing and twisting and spinning around on the trampoline. I've heard more than once (although I've no sources for this other than "I've heard" so it may be one of those things "people say") that humans in general and kids in particular need a certain amount of movement in the visual field on a regular basis - it does something nice to our brains, its good for us, or maybe we're just wired to process a certain amount of movement and the circuitry goes wiggy when its not regularly stimulated. Whatever. There's some dispute over whether movement per se is sufficient, or movement in three dimensions is preferred (its amazing to me how much information is floating around in my head with no sources attached - where do I get this stuff?)

At any rate, whether this is something people in general need, or just something Morgan needs, she has figured out how to fill her "background" with motion while she's doing something comparatively still (the term sedentary really doesn't apply to Mo). Its interesting to see what she likes -interesting to me, anyway. She likes rapid movement, lots of changes in direction, even jerkiness is fine with her. Her favorite game, in fact, is an Ed, Edd, and Eddy game, which is excruciatingly difficult to control. "The Eds" don't walk or run so much as careen madly around the screen. I guess its familiar to Mo.

In addition to her Eds game and a few others, Morgan has been playing around with some 3d programming software called "Alice" for making simple animated movies and games. Its a free download (well, free for 40 days and then you can buy the graphics program, the Alice part is free-free) if you're interested. It works on a simple drag and drop format. The code is already pre-chunked (I don't know the technical terms) into meaningful parts like "turn left" and "take step" and there are some basic forms ready to use. No licensed characters, much to Mo's chagrin, but there are some cute furry animals, so she's made some movies with those. Unfortunately, they're in a format I can't figure out how to upload! The pic at the start is one of her game-concepts, though. That's Cat Morgan (notice the very long, sharp claws) saving the undersea world of Bikini Bottom.