Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Go Look It Up.

When I was a kid, "Go look it up" was a phrase used by parents or teachers who didn't want to "give the answer" to a child, but instead, wanted them to "learn something." It implied that a child would only learn something if they went through the motions of looking up the information, but they would NOT learn it if someone "gave" it to them.

Kind of funny, really, considering how much of "teaching" at that time was simply lecturing.

Somehow, spelling ended up one of those things that someone was supposed to go find for themselves. Except if it was on their spelling list, in which case, they were supposed to memorize it. If they forgot, then they had to go look it up, it couldn't be given to them a second time.

I guess there were rules for all that looking up.

Looking words up in the dictionary, or looking something up in an encyclopedia, were almost all the "looking up" opportunities to be had for young children. Assuming, of course, that they HAD a dictionary and encyclopedia. If they didn't, then they had to go to the library, which kept copies of those books, that people were not allowed to take home, because they needed to stay in the library, for all those trips people made there to look stuff up.  The library also kept a bunch of other "reference books" that a person could looks something up in, but those were not generally used by young children. I suppose the young ones were too busy looking up how to spell something, or using the encyclopedia to look up some subject in order to "write a report" on it.

Fast forward to today.

Things have changed.

Where "look it up" was previously a command given to children who asked questions, now it is an easy way for anyone to access just about any information about anything. Since the availability of resources no longer rests in the library, or even in a few books, but is, instead, the internet as the gateway to the information universe, it is easily available to almost everyone much of the time.

Much of the first world, anyhow, and to those who can afford the technology, anyway. For now, I want to look at that particular subset of people, rather than discuss why it is that it isn't, actually, universal. The following thoughts are about that population who does have access.

It started with search engines.
Then those improved.
Then there was Wikipedia. An "encyclopedia" that could easily and rapidly be edited and added to by anyone who cared to do so. No more waiting for some committee somewhere to decide what needed to be added, and then for them to write and edit and add. Which then immediately became out of date.

There are other collections of information, too, like the Internet Movie Database, or imdb. Plus, all sorts of other groups have started their own "wiki" for information about whatever it is that they are specifically concerned with.

There has been a veritable information explosion. The average person has access to more information in seconds than previous generations had in their lifetimes.

What to do, what to do, with all that information???

I can't speak for other people, but around here, we "look it up" all the time, in an ongoing way. We read newspapers online. We get directions to where we're going. We can find out a restaurant's hours and menu, and sometimes, even order before we leave home.

We look up words and concepts, find the text of documents that are hundreds of years old, and can look at pictures of practically anything in order to understand more about it or to find what we're interested in.

We look up actors and writers and plot points when we watch TV or movies. Find recipes while we're cooking.

And now, to make things even easier... most of what we read online has embedded links, so we don't even have to type in what we want to find out about... it's there with just one click.

The latest thing we've learned to do to get up-to-practically-the-second information on breaking news is to use social media.  News media find things out when they hear about them, and then they have to send someone there to look at it and report back. The people involved, however, are ALREADY THERE, and the information they have is raw, unfiltered, and in the moment. How accurate it is depends on the emotional content of the situation. Sometimes, they are much more accurate, having a first hand account, and other times, rumors fly fast when the stress level is high. Either way, you can get information before it is officially announced. You just have to learn how and where to look, and it helps to have a lot of contacts in different places.

No longer is "look it up" relegated to being a command from an adult to a child, and an avoidance of giving away the answer. It is a powerful, powerful tool available to bring information and ideas directly to a person much more rapidly than ever before. As people learn to use these tools, I hope they also continue to learn to use critical thinking in order to evaluate the information they find.

In fact, that might be the most useful part of all.
Someone who learns to evaluate the validity of ANY source of information, will make much better use of ALL of them.

So not only are we no longer limited to a few written resources, where children are sent to find things on their own, rather than being helped, we are moving away from the very idea that those resources are the definitive source of truth.

I think that's a good thing.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Lots of Opportunity

I'm heading off on a short adventure in a couple of days, to a conference. Last year, I attended the main conference by way of a scholarship, which made it financially possible. Even so, the hotel costs were enormous.

This year, I can't afford the registration fee for the conference proper, plus a hotel for  nights, but I'm going anyway, to spend a day and a half on the exhibit floor. My daughter is coming with me.

There are free classes available from three different organizations, plus over 300 vendors, most of whom give away something, ranging from a pen, to complete training programs. This is why I decided to go back, even though I can't go to any of the "real" classes.

The best part, though, is meeting up with the people we met there last year- bloggers we had known online for over a year, some of whom had been very supportive and helpful above and beyond their blogs. One of them, who will be back this year, comes to the conference from Saudi Arabia. Not much chance of me getting to visit with him there.

All the presentations and free materials and conversations all add up to tremendous opportunity to continue my own training and education plan.

In some ways, this is very different from how we as a family and/or as individuals, learn most everything else. We don't typically have any sort of "training plan" or try to gather materials to use for "educational purposes." We get stuff we're interested and do the things we're interested in doing, but most of the time, it isn't in order to learn something. Learning happens along with, or incidental to, the stuff we do.

In other ways, it's very much the same. If one of us wants or needs to know something, we figure it out, one way or another.  And that's what this is- stuff I need to know. Stuff I need to be able to do.

So sometimes, we DO specifically and intentionally decide to learn something in particular. Not as a byproduct, but as an activity in and of itself.

While we're off at the conference, we're hoping to visit the science museum right across from our hotel, if we can find the time. That part is solely for fun, not because it's "educational." There isn't anything in particular there that we are looking for, or hoping to learn.

It can be challenging sometimes to explain the difference between the two to someone who is still caught up in school ways of looking at things. Harder still for some people to let go of labeling and categorizing certain things as "educational" and other things as not.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Old Films, New Films

I haven't posted for a couple of days because I've been busy. Busy watching movies and collecting my thoughts for this post.

This isn't going to be a cheerful post.

I mentioned before about how we have always watched a lot of movies, and how you can learn so much from a film, beyond what the movie is about.

One of the things you can learn is the prevailing attitude about things portrayed in the movie. Sometimes it's obvious, and is part of the plot, other times, not so much. For example, various forms of discrimination can be in either of those positions.

You can also learn things about history that you were never taught in school, if you went to school. Things that are not part of "common knowledge" because history is not always recorded fairly or accurately, and often the very things people need to learn FROM, the things we wish had never happened, are the very things that are hidden or denied.

Last year, I saw a film that had good reviews. I did not know ahead of time what the topic of the film really was.  It was called Sarah's Key, and was about the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup in France in 1942, where the French police rounded up 13,152 Jewish people and shipped them off to concentration camps. Right. The French police, not the Nazis.

I had never heard of this event. Ever. I had no idea it had happened.
I came home from the movie and started looking things up. There is evidently a whole lot of history out there that I've never heard about.

So this past week, I had an assignment to watch two specific films that also fall in a similar category. This time, I was well aware of the general events of the films, but had not seen these excellent examples of propaganda. They are not comfortable to watch, at all. Stomach turning, even.

But they are important.

The first was a Nazi Propaganda film by the name of "Triumph of the Will." A lot of footage of the Hitler Youth, and of Hitler himself, including some speeches. Scenes of HUGE crowds of supporters.

The other was a film called "The Birth of a Nation." This film was banned in some places, and was reportedly used as a recruitment tool for the "second era" Ku Klux Klan.

Not a comfortable warm fuzzy film watching day.
Much to think about- and much I'd rather not think about.
I would not recommend these for small children.

On the good side, so this isn't a totally depressing post... I discovered that youtube has a lot of classic movies available in their entirety. There is a channel called "Openflix" that is well worth exploring if you like old films.

I also came across Cinevault, which claims to have "The Largest Collection of Classic Films Online." This is a great source for films that are in the public domain.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Coming From a Different Place

I went to a presentation this evening, where I knew that the person giving the talk would have a very different perspective from my own.  He would be coming from a different place, both literally and figuratively. I was right.

Even so, I listened with an open mind, and looked for areas of agreement- of which there were many. I looked for things I could learn form what he was saying, even if it didn't exactly fit my situation.

The thing is, it's always that way.
No one else's situation will ever be exactly the same as mine, yet all situations will have something in common. It could be more, or less, but it will always be something.

It seems to happen to me a lot, that someone else's perspective is different from my own. The part I'm trying to understand better is what it means for someone to have a different perspective, different beliefs, different assumptions. How does that affect our ability to communicate with each other? What do they see that I do not, and vice versa? How can I move toward being more aware of their viewpoints? How can I reach them with mine?

In order to connect with another person, to really communicate with them, you have to meet them where they are. If they can't understand you, they aren't going to get much from whatever you say.

I run into this all the time when the subject of education comes up. So much so that I tend not to discuss it with people unless there is a compelling reason to do so.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Making Biscuits

Real buttermilk biscuits, hot from the oven.
It doesn't get much better than that.

I don't mean the kind that come out of a can.
And I don't mean what we would call cookies but English people would call biscuits. Totally different thing.

I mean the kind that your grandmother used to make.
If, that is, your grandmother was from the Southern US.

Somewhere along the way, making good biscuits became one of those litmus test things for a good cook. I don't know how that happened, given that making good biscuits is possibly one of the easiest things in the world. Making that the standard for good cooking is a lot like judging someone's baking skills by how good their mud pies are. The process is very similar!

There is really only one thing you need in order to make excellent biscuits: you need your mother to show you how. Of course, she needed her mother to show HER how, and on and on back through the matriarchal line of your entire ancestry. If you don't have that, it's going to be a lot more difficult.

You can try a substitute Mom: there are, believe it or not, youtube videos of someone else's Mom demonstrating how to make a real Southern buttermilk biscuit. That might help, or it might not, since the directions are usually pretty vague, and assume a familiarity with the making of biscuits.

Even so.
I'm willing to make an effort to help you. Making biscuits is fun, tasty, and a great thing to share with your kids both before and after the baking part.

The first thing you need (besides your Mom, but if you have your Mom, you don't need me!) is a large bowl. Preferably a corningware bowl, in one of the truly horrendous colors they used to make them in (mine is avocado green). Wear an apron- you're likely to get flour all over.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, if you have that sort of oven. If you have one that uses some other settings (like they do in England, I'm told) get a thermometer, and use that to figure out what you need to set it to. It probably doesn't have to be exact, but it shouldn't be too far off.

Sift a bunch (that's a technical term) of self-rising flour into the bowl. How much you use depends on how many biscuits you want, of course. I usually want a lot, so I use a lot of flour. Don't use more than your bowl will hold.

Make a well in the center of the hill of sifted flour.

Put some shortening into it. Crisco. Lard. I wouldn't use all butter.
That's another technical term. Some. You've baked before, right? So you should have some idea of a typical ratio of shortening to flour in most baked goods. Start there, and maybe add a little more. More shortening makes for a lighter biscuit. To a point. What point? I have no idea.

Use your hands to start blending the flour and the shortening. Use a light touch, and don't let the shortening start to warm up from your body heat.

Once it's mixed up a little, so there aren't huge globs of shortening sitting there, pour in some buttermilk. How much? I don't know. Some. A puddle of it. Mix everything together. (It's going to stick to your hands, so don't be surprised by that.) If it's too stiff and dry, add more buttermilk. It's going to be cold, mixing the buttermilk in by hand, since you keep your buttermilk in the refrigerator, right?

Here's the part no one can tell you: mix until it looks and feels like biscuit dough. It should be pretty soft, but not too wet. Not sticky. Not too dry and stiff. Don't overmix it, or the biscuits will get tough. Add more of whatever you need more of to get it to turn out right. When you are starting out, you might want to mix flour into the wet ingredients, instead of trying to mix the other way around, and don't feel like you have to use all of the flour in the bowl. Just mix it in until it feels right, and stop. Once you have more experience, you'll be able to estimate more accurately, and will have a better idea of how much of things to use to only sift the amount of flour you want.

Once the dough is right, break off a piece of it that will make a biscuit the size you want to make.  Remember they will rise in the oven. Using your hands, slightly roll and tuck the edges underneath to make a rounded but somewhat flattened ball. You know. A biscuit shape. You can roll them out and cut them with the open end of a tomato sauce can if you want, but it's quicker to just hand form them.

Put them on a cookie sheet, barely touching, and bake for 20-25 minutes, depending on how big you made them. They should be a little brown on the bottoms, and starting to be golden on the tops.

Next comes the best part: finding out if you made biscuits, or if they are a bunch of duds.
You might be a little nervous the first few times That's okay.
Break one open with a fork. Steam should come out. Butter or something similar should go on.
If all is well, remember what you did so you can do it next time.
If not... remember what you did so you don't do it the next time!

Your biscuits should be light and fluffy on the inside. If they are tough, or chewy, you either used too much flour, too little shortening, or you mixed it too long. Adjust those things and try again.

Once you've gotten to where you can do this without looking at any instructions, and you consistently turn out good biscuits, it's time to pass it on to your kids. Because it doesn't take any measuring, and the recipe is pretty forgiving, it's a great recipe to play with with small kids. Who doesn't like mixing dough by hand? Even a very young child should be able to help with this one.

If they turn out to be duds, you can always give them to the dog and try again.

They are best right out of the oven.
They don't keep very well, although you can try to heat them up if you want. They are okay that way, but it's kind of like the difference between fresh brewed coffee and instant- from what I've been told anyway. I hate coffee.

I learned to make biscuits almost literally at my mother's knee, since that is about how tall I was at the time. She used this method, and also had another method that uses both baking powder and yeast. That method has an actual recipe, with measuring and everything, but it isn't nearly so traditional.

That was my adventure for today. Making mudpies, without the mud part.

Monday, February 20, 2012


Every now and then, I stop and refocus myself. I take time to look at my priorities, and see if they are clear to me.

I've been spending a lot of time lately posting unschooling-related stuff on facebook, right when I've also started this blog. Part of the reason for the blog was to gather some of my thoughts in one place, and instead, I seem to be broadcasting them.

Today, I'll consolidate a little.

There's something I wrote somewhere- and oddly, now I can't remember where, or in what context- that people have started quoting.

"Try to make each choice, each decision, from a place of evaluating what is really happening, what really matters, rather than from any script in your head or the cultural pressure or preferences of other people. "

One person sent me a note, telling me she had quoted it, and saying that she thought it applied to many things besides unschooling.

She's right.

It applies to everything.


Every relationship, every habit, every moment. From the serious and important, to the small and lighthearted, every choice you make needs to be YOUR choice.

Once I figured that out, it changed my whole life. As I told that person today, it was in learning to do this for my kids that I learned to do it for myself. To live my life on my terms, by my beliefs. To do what I think is right, even when everyone else disagrees. 

Many, many things about my life are not quite standard American behavior. :-)

My lawn is unmowed.
My relationships unlabeled and undefined.

It isn't that I just do whatever I want, and damn everyone else.
It's that I carefully consider my choices, rather than make them blindly.

At least that's what I try to do. I still get tripped up sometimes, and have to take a step back, re-evaluate, and unwind some tangled up thought processes.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Finding Me

It's a funny thing. I remember parts of my childhood, but not all of it.  There are some seemingly meaningless moments that I'll never forget (like visiting the folks down the alley who had turtles in a big tank) and years that I can't really remember any specific things from.

It would be interesting to be able to compile all the things I do remember, to see what that looked like. Where are the gaps? When are they? WHY are they? What is missing?

When I look back at my early childhood, the bits I remember are kind of adorable. A lot of stuff to do with various animals. Like the time I was at a neighbor's house, and we were on her porch killing cockroaches. This was in the south, so I mean they were some gnarly big cockroaches! Big enough to need to whack with a hammer. Not the tiny little "roaches" seen around here, that aren't really even big enough to bother with.

I remember this one day, we were on the porch, and waiting for the cockroaches to come out so we could whack 'em. One did. So I did. BLAM! Right on his poor little roachy head. Squished him nearly flat.

And then was overcome with guilt. I bet you saw that coming.
The rest of the memory involves me trying to nurse the roach back to health. I made him a little bed on a napkin, and brought him water and food and petted him and sang songs to him and otherwise tried to bring him back to life. It was not to be. As adaptable and good at surviving as cockroaches are, it's not a good bet when what little brains they had are now somewhere outside their heads.

Other memories include finding a turtle and keeping him in my wading pool, or the time I caught the bullfrog right as we were leaving to go somewhere, so I put him in a peanut butter jar, where he filled the WHOLE jar, with his little froggy face pushed up against the side. Or the time my parents found me petting the nice snake on the head and crooning to him... as the cottonmouth was preparing to bite me. Which he did not, I'll have you know. He was a VERY nice snake.

I have a lot of such memories. Snakes, frogs, turtles, kittens, puppies, all sorts of critters and bugs and such. I also remember spending most of my time outside, and much of it alone, wandering the neighborhood, befriending the little old ladies. When we lived "out in the country" I spent most of my time in the woods, or in a tree.

And then...
there was junior high and high school.

I liked school, for the most part, or at least I think I did. Funny thing, though... I don't remember most of it, especially high school. I remember a funny moment here and there, and of course, I remember most of  my time in marching band, since that was the only reason I was really there, as far as I was concerned. But everything else? Not so much.  There is a chunk of time, several years, that doesn't really fit the rest of my life.

It wasn't until later on that I figured that out.
If you took my life up until about the age of fourteen, and then removed a chunk from then to around when my kids were born, and then you sewed the edges together... it would appear to be continuous. Who and how I was before high school, and who and how I was right about when I had my first child, make sense together. But the part in between?  UH...no. Not really. As if I was abducted by aliens or possessed by some creature that made it so I looked like me, but wasn't. Not that it was all terrible; it wasn't. But it was, overall, disconnected in many ways.

For a long time, I thought this was probably a somewhat inevitable thing, that everyone would go through this period of time, in their teen years and into their twenties, when they departed from who they had been. Perhaps it was a search for independence, a breaking away from their parents. Finding themselves. Something like that.

Interestingly, I haven't seen it happen with my kids. Or with other unschooled kids I know. Their lives look mostly continuous.
So now, I have to wonder... is it an AGE thing, or is it a SCHOOL thing?

I had a wonderful early educational experience.
Then I had what was fairly typical at the time. Not horrible, not negative, exactly, but not inspiring, either. Just... bleah. There. Required. Some good things, some good teachers, but a lot of just plain boring. A lot of trying to be... what was expected.
Now I think perhaps it took me a long time to recover from that, to find the thread of ME and put it back together, to become what I had been headed towards very early on, but got sidetracked from.

I say this because the things I do NOW have far more in common with what I did, what I enjoyed, what I wanted to be when I was FIVE than with what I thought I wanted to do when I went off to college.

If only I hadn't had that long detour, who knows what might have happened?
It wasn't even a detour. Detours can be great, taking you a new way, to see things you hadn't noticed or known about before, but ultimately, you find your way back to where you were headed.
What happened is I got LOST. The part of me that was really ME got trampled and buried and stuffed in a box somewhere, and left by the side of the road, on the way to... nowhere. And it was there for a long time. A brief glimpse of sunlight once in a while, but overall... stuck in a box, unable to get out.

Maybe that's what life should be. A series of detours, so you really learn your way around. That way, having been on all different routes instead of only one known one, whatever happens, you don't GET lost, since you've at least seen that way before.

On the bright side, at least I found me.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Map Mania

I was reminded today of a project we did when the kids were younger.

I came across some books called "Free Stuff For Kids." Some of the stuff listed was actually free for the asking, but a lot required at least a self-addressed stamped envelope, and some asked for small fees. We went through the books and sent away for a variety of things. Coupons, stickers, pencils, etc.

By FAR, the best thing in the book was a suggestion that turned into a huge project for us.

The suggestion was to write to the Tourism Bureau of every state, and ask for tourist information.

So we did.

Do not do this if you aren't prepared for the result!

We got a HUGE amount of information.
Best of all: free maps. Beautiful maps.

Each state sent out something different. Some sent a map and a photocopied page or two. Others had an entire large envelope full of maps and information about various attractions in their state.

We read it all, I think.

To start with, we love maps. I had seen a house where the entire downstairs was wallpapered in maps. We didn't go that far, but for a long time, had one entire wall covered in maps.

Besides the maps, we learned about state and national parks, and various tourist attractions. My kids learned the meaning of the term "tourist trap." We found out all sorts of interesting information about every state that we had never heard of or even considered.  Things like the state bird or animal, but also history, demographics, unusual geological features, etc.

If I were the curriculum sort of person, I'm sure we could have used this material for YEARS worth.

We didn't. :-)

We did spend a lot of time with it, though, and as far as I know, I still have the banker's box it all was stored in. We used some of it to plan a trip or two. We used the rest to imagine going places we'll probably never go.

If you are interested in such things, here's what we did, in a nutshell:

First, it took some time to find the addresses of all the Tourism Bureaus. Some were in the book, but some were not. It would likely be easier now, what with a bigger, better internet.

We sent a letter with each request, explaining that we were interested in learning about the state. I don't remember if we told them we were homeschoolers or not. Some of them, we expressed an interest in traveling there, if that was honestly the case.

Some of the places had information available for how to request information, whether they wanted an SASE or not. Most did not ask for it, and had their own special envelopes they used. Any that had specific guidelines, we followed.

We sent most of them out the same day, and part of the fun was seeing how long each took to respond. We kept track, but I don't remember what the time range was. Some took a lot longer than others, but we ended up getting a response from all 50 states. I might suggest spreading it out more because if you get things from several states in one day, it's really too much to explore all in one day. It would be better to get one a day, or one every other day. There's no way to really plan it, though, since they don't all take the same amount of time.

Writing about it now, I am tempted to do it again. It really was a lot of fun looking through all the material, especially the maps and pictures. There are a lot of places, "attractions" and things to do out there that we had never heard of!

If you want a lot of pictures for a collage or something, this would be a great source. If you have a kid (or are a kid!) who really likes to get stuff in the mail, this is unbeatable!

I bet it would be possible to do this with some other countries, as well. Also, places like Disney offer free trip planning resources, too.

Be aware that it is a lot of paper, and you need to consider whether you really want it in hand, or if you'd rather do a similar project just looking online. I would guess that by now, most of the same information and images are online anyway. Not so much, back then.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Glad My Life is My Life

I had some challenges today.

Without going into it all, I'll say that it made me glad for my life, and especially for my relationship with my kids.

We aren't perfect.
But it's a lot better than some I've seen out there.

I have a young friend, who at 16 has already decided what she wants to do with her life, and has a job doing it. She has had this job for over two years, and has progressed in responsibility and in skill.

Sounds great, right?

Unfortunately, her parents aren't happy about it.
They want her to quit work and focus on school, so she can graduate and go to college.
Neither of which she has the slightest interest in doing.

For some reason, they are blind to the fact that she is already working, already doing what she wants to do. She doesn't need to spend some number of years doing things she DOESN'T want to do, in order to get "old enough" to figure out what she wants to do.

My challenge is this:
How do I support this friend without creating more conflict in her relationship with her parents?

Part of the problem is that I think her parents, although decent, loving people, are misguided.
They have priorities, opinions, and parenting practices that are extremely different from and opposed to mine.
I see it making my young friend miserable, and yet, there is little to nothing I can do about it.
They aren't going to seek my advice, nor listen to it given unasked.

In addition to things at home being challenging for my friend, things at school are even worse. Again, I won't go into detail, but it's WAY worse than when I was in high school. I am thanking my lucky stars that my kids didn't go there. I can't imagine sending a child there- but most parents locally do.

It is very uncomfortable for me to see the differences between the relationship I have with my kids, contrasted with "typical" parent-teen-young-adult relationships. I see so many ways that people could just let go, lay off, relax, and have much happier and productive lives, but most people won't even consider it.


On the other hand, it sure makes me grateful for what I have. No joke.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Love Song for Pineapple Sally

I've known all along I'd eventually write this post.
It's a tough one to write because even now, so many years later, there are so many emotions attached.
I always knew there would be.

Some things stay with you forever.

So I'll tell the story, at least the story from my perspective, and most people reading it won't really understand what I'm saying. It was more than it was. It was once described to me, years later, as "a time when we were surrounded by angels."

Once upon a time, there was a band.
Six guys, most from Long Island, who ended up in this hippy town in upstate New York.
They were friends as well as bandmates.
And all was good.

They played original music, progressive-jazz-rock-out- I'm not really sure how to describe it music. Some was a little over the top pop-related, except when they'd turn it into a jam in the middle. Some was avante guard from the first note. Some had words, some didn't. I think everyone in the band wrote at least a few songs. If I wanted to, I could probably still sit down and make a list.

They were way, way ahead of their time musically. No question. Excellent musicians, all of them.

But as good as they were, oddly, what they were most known for wasn't really the music, at all.

I still remember the first time I saw them, at the old Strand Theatre. Some friends had suggested I go. I think they had been going to hear the band for some time, but I wasn't as easily able to get out to hear music, not being able to drive, and not generally being allowed to go most of the places where bands played: bars. But this wasn't in a bar, and I got a ride.

When the band came on stage, the energy in the place changed. First came a few notes, like they were warming up, maybe, and some chimes, a little work on the cymbals, sort of atmospheric, building, building to... I had no idea what.

When the song really started, people came out of the woodwork, almost literally. Men and women, many of them dressed in white, or in long skirts, flowing clothing. And they danced like nothing I had ever seen before.

This was not the kind of dancing typically seen at concerts, or to "dance bands."

First, they clearly all knew the music note for note.
And the dancing was expressive, it was connected, it was joyous. They danced alone, or in pairs, or in groups, mirroring each other, playful.

I could not tell whether this was actually part of the performance, or if it was open to anyone who was there and felt like dancing.

Turns out, it was both, really.

The band was most known for these dancers, the audience, who showed up at every show. I'm pretty sure the band didn't really ask for that to happen, and there were times when I wondered if they even liked it, or if they thought it was too... something.

And it was. Something.

It took me three shows to get up the nerve to go out there for one song. The last song of the night.
At the fourth show, I danced for two songs.
After that, I don't think I missed a performance, or a song, unless it was literally impossible for me to be there.
I spent half my freshman year of college on a greyhound every weekend to wherever the band was playing.

For anyone still reading this far...
No. This was not the Grateful Dead.

Once I was one of the dancers, some interesting things happened.

First, I no longer had ANY self-consciousness about getting out there and dancing in front of people, even knowing that many people thought we were all "weird hippies." I didn't care what anyone thought.
This is HUGELY important.
What I learned is this:

In general, other people don't pay any attention to what you do.
If they do, they don't say anything, and they don't remember it five minutes later.
If they DO say something, they still don't remember it later.
And who cares? Who cares what someone else thinks about a person doing something that hurts no one, and brings them joy?

I made friends there that I'm still friends with today.

And the other thing...
the angels.
I can't explain this part, at all.
But when I walked into wherever they were playing, I was part of the world. I existed in the same dimensions as everyone else on earth.
When the music started, within a few notes, we were transported... somewhere else. Somewhere that transcended time.
And no, for the record, I was not on any drugs.

How could a band, a simple rock band, have this effect, or matter, in the long run, at all?

I don't know.
But they did.
I don't expect anyone who was not there to understand it. I really don't.
I'm sure you have had your own experience that made such a difference to you, and it's probably something you can't explain any better than I can explain this, and that's okay. We each have our own path.

For a time, my path intersected with some interesting people and musicians, in an odd way.

Before the end of my freshman year, the band split up. I understood why at the time, and hated it anyway. I will never forget the last show, when they packed the very same theatre where I first saw them. Thousands of people, and all I could think was "Where were all of you all along?" Why do people often only appreciate something as they lose it?

They all went on separately in the music world. Of the six, five still make their living with music in some way, whether it's composing, recording, playing, teaching or engineering, and one died an untimely death from complications of diabetes.

After the band split up, something very strange happened, that I still don't completely understand.
It was true that some of the people who danced were also students at the local alternative school.
Somehow, the name people used to refer to the dancers was totally transferred, to become the name used to describe the students at that school.
It was not intended to be complimentary. It was used in much the same way that some groups of people use "dirty hippy" now.
People who really were a part of it didn't mind being called that, and didn't care that the people using the term thought it was an insult.
The band split up in 1980.
The name continued to be used for years after the band split up, long after those people had graduated, long enough that no one using it, or being called it, had any connection to or knowledge of where the name came from.
I have heard it used as recently as last year.
I think that's really, really funny, and very interesting.

Zobosend, Feb 15 1980
Thirty-two years ago.
A lifetime ago.
And yet.
Some days, I would swear to you that the angels never left.
RIP Jeremy Werbin (1953-1997)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Do You See What I See?

Have you ever wondered if other people see color the same way you do?
How would you ever find out?

If, for example, I see the grass, and to me, it looks green, then it is likely that however it looks to you, you've learned to call that "green," too. And while if you see green the way I see red, I'd think that grass that color would look really weird, to you, it would seem normal.

Also, I can see 17 shades of red, and still recognize all of them as "red," even though they are not the same. How do we do that? How do we place colors into categories, so we know which is which? Where does "red" stop, and pink, orange or purple begin? How do you know? And do we all agree?

I've pondered these questions more than once.

Yesterday, my son sent me a link to this video:

Especially where they talk about the testing, with the two different groups finding different questions "easy."

While watching this, I wondered if what they are seeing differently, is that they categorize color not by frequency, but by what is called "color value." Value is defined as the relative lightness or darkness of a color.

My first experience with color value was when I started quilting. Some quilts really use color in fabulous ways, choosing not only for the hue (what we typically just call color), but for their value. When I first became aware of this, I also became aware that I could not order color samples by value, at all. My perception of light or dark was too connected to the hue, and/or to the surrounding colors.

Turns out, there is a tool that makes it simple.
Here's a link to one I chose because it's the first one that showed up when I searched. If you actually want to get one, look around. This is only so you can see what it is.

Basically, it's colored plastic that you look through. It filters what you see by removing most of the hue, and you'll see a grayscale version of the colors and patterns- and be able to match the darkness and lightness quite easily.

Playing with these is really fun.
Start with a bunch of fabric samples, and without looking through the filter, try to match them up by relative darkness and lightness. Then, look through the filter, and see if you would still sort them the same way.
Or, do it the other way around.
While using the filter, sort the fabrics. Then look to see how different the hues might be, even though they have the same value.
It's very interesting.
You'll get better with practice, and eventually should be able to discern between hue and value without being distracted by either..

Using both things correctly can make or break a quilt's design.
I found someone's blog that has an example of a quilt made with attention to the color value, and it even includes two pictures of the same quilt, one in color, and one in grey scale, so you can really clearly see how it works.

Back to the video... it was the description of the tribe having a word for "dark colors" and one for "light" colors, and that water was considered "white" while the sky was considered "black" that made me wonder whether that is the difference in how they categorize color. I'll probably never find out, but it makes sense to me.

Monday, February 13, 2012


It's the eve of one of my least favorite "holidays."
Valentines Day.
The day people without a partner can't escape having it shoved in their face.

I could tell some awful stories, but I won't.

Instead, I'll mention my favorite holiday.
It's not really one holiday; it's four associated holidays.
One of them comes up very soon.

Cheap Chocolate Day.
Feb 15th, The day after Easter, Nov 1st, and December 26th.

Our family celebrates a different list of holidays than, well, anyone else I know.

In addition to Cheap Chocolate Day, we celebrate the first day of every month.
We celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving, instead of American Thanksgiving.
We celebrate Grassroots in the summer.

There are stories behind each of these that I might write about some day, but not today.

The thing about holidays, in my opinion, is that they are highly personal.
There are some religions that don't celebrate holidays at all, and some spiritual traditions that celebrate every day.

I often really surprise people by our "holiday policy" for the classes I teach. We decided years ago that only celebrating some religions' special days, and not others, is not fair. That leaves us with two options. One is to take off ALL holidays, without discrimination. However, if we did that, there wouldn't be any days when we could work. So we choose the only other way to treat all religions and holidays equally: we don't take ANY of them off.

This means we hold classes on Thanksgiving, on Christmas, on New Year's Eve and Day, on Easter, on any day that happens to be a day of the week when we regularly hold classes.

My Jewish students love that I have classes on Christmas, since they often have little to do that day.
The non-religious people seem to like having classes on Easter.
None of them seem to want to work out on Thanksgiving.

The funny part is the reactions of the parents.
I can't even begin to count the number of times parents have called to check and re-check, whether we are REALLY holding class on Christmas Day. They don't believe their kids. They have to check.

When we explain our policy, everyone seems to agree that it makes sense... and yet, they still want THEIR holidays "respected." I respect them. By not treating any of them differently. I also understand that sometimes, people have family interests or obligations that means they are not available for other activities that day, and if that's the case, go with your priorities. I have to trust people to be able to make the decision that is right for them.

Mostly, I end up with the more "standard" holidays off, anyway, because people choose not to attend. But not always. We've had some fabulous small, personal classes on days when most people needed or preferred to be elsewhere.

Personally, since I love what I do, it is what I prefer to do on my "days off" or on "holidays" anyway. There is no better way to celebrate than to do what you truly love.

I'm leaning closer and closer to that "celebrate everyday" attitude.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cooking Shows

My daughter and I have been watching a lot of cooking shows lately.

The first cooking-related show we watched was some time ago, "Kitchen Nightmares." We watched it a few times, and found it interesting how the restaurant owners seemed to end up ignoring all the advice they were given, go back to their own way- and promptly go out of business. Some of the changes that were recommended were extreme, for sure, but it seems to me that if you bother getting professional help, you might want to recognize that maybe they know more about it than you do. I guess not, though. At least not the ones we saw.

Recently, we started watching "The Next Great Baker" and had so much fun with it, that we started watching other shows as well.  We've seen "Cupcake Wars," "Chopped," "Worst Cooks in America," "Top Chef," "Kitchen Boss," and the first few minutes of "Iron Chef America."

The appeal, for me, is seeing what people do with the challenges they are given. What do they come up with? What would I choose? Would I like what they made, or not? Are there techniques that I'm not familiar with; things I could learn?

The answers vary with each show.

In "The Next Great Baker," there are techniques I've never tried. I bake a great cake, but am not much of a decorator, really. I've tried a few times, and really enjoyed it, but haven't spent enough time practicing to be able to be consistent. I've never used fondant, and although it looks fun, I'm not crazy about eating it, so I probably won't ever work very much on it.

"Cupcake Wars" is a little like a guilty pleasure sort of novel. Pretty, but not a lot of substance. We watched it tonight, and in the discussion afterwards, agreed that some of the bizarre flavors that people seem to favor don't really do much for us. Give me a really excellent chocolate cupcake, with a fabulous buttercream, over some Chai flavored cupcake with green icing piped onto it to look like grass, but it looks more like a hairball to me.  I far prefer solid excellence to something bizarre for the sake of being "different."

We've only watched "Chopped" once, so far. Interesting format, four people, three courses, one person eliminated each time. They are given a set of ingredients for each course, and the combinations are unusual, to say the least. Again, I prefer less bizarre flavors to eat, but I do find it interesting to see how they choose to combine things. I would not have wanted to eat any of the courses I saw, but overall, I think they mostly did good jobs with coming up with something in a very limited amount of time.

"Worst Cooks in America" is our most recent new show to watch. They auditioned people who were nominated by their families as terrible cooks. How sad is that? The show starts out with two teams of eight, each mentored by a professional chef through an eight week "boot camp." One person from each team is eliminated each episode, until there are only two competitors left, and they each cook a three course meal, using their mentor's recipes. We saw the final episode of one season, and they both did so well it was difficult to decide which we would have chosen.

"Top Chef" is probably the most classic cooking of them all. They expect the competitors to have a culinary education, and to have a strong foundation of basic cooking skills. This show reminded me of how much I know without realizing that I know it.

"Kitchen Boss" has the same host as The Next Great Baker, and we really like Buddy, and find him interesting, so we started watching a second show of his. We've only watched one so far, so I don't really have much of an opinion about it- except it's Buddy, and we still like him.

We only watched a few minutes of "Iron Chef America" because we didn't like the format of the show AT ALL. Not even enough to finish the episode.

All this cooking show watching goes hand-in-hand with the focus we've had around here for the past several weeks of doing a lot more cooking, a lot more experimenting with food. All four of us are participating in this cooking Renaissance, and it's pretty interesting.

I don't really remember not being able to cook. My daughter also doesn't remember not cooking. Both boys have had a few things they could make, but only recently have become interested in learning more.

Being able to cook is such an important skill. Food is important. It's all caught up with culture, family and comfort. Tradition. Many relationships begin with a shared meal. Families are sustained by good food.

I remember learning to bake bread with my mother, and learning to fry the perfect southern fried chicken with my father. Now, my kids will remember learning to cook with me. They will likely cook with their own children, should they have any, much like we've been doing. The very thought makes me smile.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Members of the Family

On the website of the local animal shelter, they post pictures of the animals available for adoption, and a little bit of information about them. Often, that information includes how the animal came to be at the shelter. I can't count how many times it has said "the family moved and couldn't take the animal with them" or "the family had no time for the dog" or various other reasons people give for why they don't want their pet anymore.

I can't imagine.

Our animals are not "pets," they are members of the family.

As members of the family, they have the right to be treated with the same consideration as anyone else. They deserve to have their needs met. They deserve respect for who they are, for how they learn, for their nature.

This doesn't mean the animals "rule the house" any more than "doing what they want" means my kids run wild without considering anyone else.

It DOES mean that some things around here are a little different from other, more "mainstream" homes.

I'll give a few examples of what I mean.

Example number one:

When we got our puppy, we decided to "crate train" him. I don't actually know what most people mean by that, but what we meant was that he had a crate to be in when we weren't home, so that he didn't get into things he shouldn't get into, and I think we were also told, at the time, that he'd be easier to housetrain because he wouldn't want to soil where he sleeps.

We had a crate.
He slept in it.
But the rest was a little different.

For one thing, there was very little time when we weren't home. He was out of the crate most of the time, with one or more of us right there with him. A puppy is a baby, and needs just as much attention.

At night, he slept in the crate, and I slept on a mattress on the floor, next to him. He needed not to be alone just as much as my kids needed not to be alone when they were babies. Babies aren't meant to sleep alone. The plan was that I'd sleep there until he was interested in sleeping places other than his crate. What happened was a little different. We had a house fire, and spent the next several months living first in hotels, and then in trailers, so we didn't have his crate or our usual living situation. We adapted.

When we moved back into our house, he slept wherever he wanted. Sometimes near me, and sometimes not. He was older, and that phase was over.

Example number two:
Currently, we have a pair of kittens. They are nearly cats now, but still have that crazy kittenish playfulness. Unfortunately for us, one of them likes to chew things. Everything. Especially laptop charger cords. We could get angry. We could try to "punish" him, maybe smacking him whenever he chews something. But he's a kitten, and it is his nature to chew things, and he is incapable of understanding what he should and should not chew.  Our challenge is to respect that nature, while protecting our stuff.

We're learning. We're finding ways to keep cables up where he can't get them. We keep an eye on him and don't leave him in a room with a charging laptop. We're getting special covers that go over the cables, so they aren't the size he prefers, and so if he chews on them, it will be the cover that is damaged, not the cord. We are ALSO finding toys for him that meet that need to chew, and spending more time playing with him. Needs don't go away just because they are inconvenient, with animals any more than with kids.

Example number three:
This is a combination story, involving my cat and the dog.

My cat is getting older. We have lost two of our cats in the last year- his best friend included. He's lonely.

He also, for a while, was having issues with urinating outside the litterbox.
Most of the time, on my laundry.
Either there, or on my bed. Sometimes while I was sleeping in it.

This did not make me happy.
Not even remotely.

The question was, what to do about it.

I did some research, to see why a cat would do such a thing.
Was there a physical cause? A psychological need?

It turns out, there was both.

When my sister told me about her cat being diagnosed with diabetes, and described the symptoms, I immediately suspected we might be having the same issue. Her vet suggested that she first try to control it with diet (not successful for her cat, sad to say) so I decided to at least try that, and see what happened. If things got worse, we'd see the vet, if they got better, I'd figure it was a good choice, regardless of what the underlying cause was.

Things got better.

At the same time, I did some research to look for ideas about how to "retrain" my cat. One psychiatrist's website talked about cats using "inappropriate urination" as a way to get attention, when all other attempts failed. I didn't think I was ignoring his attempts to get attention, but you have to admit, this method certainly got attention, immediately, every time! So I wondered if it might be part of what was going on, especially because he was mourning the loss of the two cats he had grown up with. His only cat friends.

I started paying more attention to where the cat wanted to be, and mostly, he wanted to be on me. On my lap, on my shoulder, across my chest, depending on what position I was in. He wanted to sleep next to me. So that's what we did.

I also started sleeping in the couch in the living room, where he could have access to sleeping next to me, and I didn't have to worry so much about my mattress and laundry and everything else in my room that he seemed bent on destroying.

Once I made that move, I noticed another change.

The dog, who had been waking me up at o'dark thirty to go out, suddenly wasn't doing that most of the time. Before, he had often woken me more than once before I was ready to get up for the day, and with me in the living room, he was waiting later, and sometimes, not waking me up at all.

Moving onto the couch seems to have improved a number of things, including no more waking up multiple times per night, and no more cat pee soaked blankets. I'm still sleeping on the couch. It's unusual, perhaps, but for the moment, it's working better. Much better.

It can be a little harder to figure out what animals need, in order to meet that need, but otherwise, it's the same process as raising kids. We all stay flexible, and pay attention, and consider what the needs are, and what works to meet them, without worrying too much- or at all- about whether our solution is "normal" or okay with anyone other than us. All of us adjust and make allowances for what is going on for the rest of us.  I would no more expect my animal family members to feed themselves and meet their other needs, than I would an infant. We're all in this together.

The other half of this arrangement is how to deal with the kids' needs, if I'm sleeping on the couch. It's great to meet the needs of the dog and cat, but what about the people? Don't they have a say? What if they want to watch TV, or play a video game, or watch a DVD? What if they simply want to be out in this part of the house? What if they want to use the kitchen, which is right next to the couch, with no solid wall in between? Do they have to postpone it, or stay as quiet as possible?  Our answer is that no, they don't. I can sleep through most anything, and if I get woken up, I can fall back asleep easily. I recognize that by being in the middle of the house, I am accepting the possibility, and even likelihood, of being woken up by other people wanting to be in the communal space in the house, and I'm okay with that. We have an agreement that if they wake me, I won't be angry about it.

Now that the cat is no longer going outside the box, I may start napping in my room, and see what happens. I don't want to transition back too soon, but I do eventually want to sleep in there again. My bed is quite a bit more comfortable than the couch, for one thing!

Friday, February 10, 2012

How Do These Things Fit Together?

The other night, when my daughter and I were on our way home at around 1:00am, we needed to make a quick stop at the grocery store for two items that we didn't want to wait until the next day for.

A large can of Crisco, and a 12 pack of toilet paper.

Now, maybe that doesn't strike you as humorous at all, but we thought it was pretty funny! We imagined the cashier trying to figure out what was so important about those items that we went to the store at that time of night to get them- and only them.

This goes back to something I used to do when I was a teen. One of my earliest jobs was in a small grocery store. The work itself was not particularly mentally challenging, so I used to entertain myself however I could. One way was to look at the items a person was buying, and try to figure out what they planned to do with them.

Sometimes, it's fairly easy.
Someone buying a bunch of chips, dips, cookies, sodas and beer, is probably planning a party. Or maybe they're just college students.  Who knows?
A birthday cake is a giveaway, as are other holiday-themed items.

But sometimes, you just have to wonder.

There was a woman who came into the store every day or two, and only bought several heads of iceberg lettuce, and a couple of bottles of prune juice. I never saw her buy anything else. To this day, I'm a little concerned about her health.

I still look when I'm in stores, to see what combinations of things people have in their carts, or on the belt. Sometimes, if it's a particularly interesting combination, I'll ask them about it. Some people welcome the conversation; others look at me like I've suddenly sprouted two heads.

I'm not the only one who is intrigued by unusual combinations of foods. There is a show we caught the other night, called "Chopped" that is a cooking challenge show. The competitors are given unusual combinations of ingredients, and have a limited amount of time to come up with something.

Wow. I just tried to find a listing to remind myself what the combinations were the other night, and I found an episode list for all the seasons of the show. It is in its eleventh season! I had no idea. The episode list includes the lists of ingredients. It's very entertaining!

We were watching the first episode of the 11th season, with the following combinations:

  • Appetizer: huckleberries, black beans, green plantains, octopus
  • Entrée: champagne, skirt steak, yuca, coconut
  • Dessert: chicha morada, Cotija cheese, mangos, shoestring potato sticks
Yeah. I don't know what I would have made out of those, either.
The winning dessert was a cotija cheese and mango ice cream, with chicha morada sauce and shoestring potato brittle. Sounds... fascinating.

My family calls such things "California food," meaning a combination of foods that would not typically go together.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


I've been thinking about the significance and importance of environment.

There are two main types of environment that I've been thinking about: a person's "natural" environment, meaning the place where they live, and the environment that they create, or that is created for them.

As I was growing up, we moved a lot. Even so, there wasn't a huge difference in the various places we lived, in some ways. We lived in a small town, and moved to smaller towns. For a while, we lived "out in the country" meaning pretty rural. I have not ever lived in a large, inner city type of environment.

Since my oldest child was four years old, we've lived in the same place. This is something I wanted for my kids, to "grow up" in a particular place, rather than moving all the time. In my first 18 years, I lived in about 13 different houses or apartments. My daughter, at age 18, has lived in the same place her entire life.

This means that city things, for the most part, aren't part of my reality most of the time. Certainly not part of my comfort zone, and not at all for the past 20-something years. No public transportation, professional sports teams, no high rise buildings, big apartment buildings. No choice in delivery food, either. Low crime rate, no fear walking around our "neighborhood" alone in the middle of the night. On the flipside, there's a creek that runs through our yard, and we are surrounded by fields and woods. We regularly see a large variety of wildlife in our yard, including a bear once. It's dark at night and we can see the stars.

Other people have very different environments. Some live in places with high crime rates, a lot of illegal activity including drug usage, very little privacy, very little "green space" or access to nature- totally different from here.

People readily see that such a difference in environments makes a difference in what people do in their lives. What they see as possible affects their choices in life. It affects what they have access to, and what they aspire to.

So why is it that people don't recognize the profound effect different educational environments can have? Why don't they see the importance of the emotional environment?

Why would anyone send their child, every day, to a place that stifles their curiosity, or to a place where they are bullied?

I frequently see stories of bullied kids, and yet, the parents keep sending the child to school. I don't get it.

One of the reasons I teach has to do with creating an optimal learning environment. Years ago, when I observed my mentor teaching a class, I was struck by the supportive and respectful environment. I saw a gymnasium full of children who exhibited self-discipline, who were focused and interested, and who were willing to trust everyone in the room enough to get up in front of the group to do something they weren't entirely sure they knew how to do. Most people would have been too afraid of embarrassment.

Since then, I've learned how to intentionally create and maintain such an environment. It wasn't a huge stretch, but some of the details dealing with a large group were new to me.  The short version is that trust is earned, and vitally important. People don't learn in an environment of fear.

Why is that so hard for people to recognize?

Midnight Ride and a New Game

Did a favor for a friend tonight. Drove to a city about an hour away to pick something up, largely because we're night people and he is NOT. For me to drive for a couple of hours in the middle of the night is not unusual at all.

The first part of the adventure was adjusting to driving an unfamiliar car, since we used his car. Very interesting. I knew, already, that driving a car is a very specialized activity, meaning that people are highly expert in driving their OWN car, down to very sensitive responses to the feel of the car, the way the brakes engage, where the clutch releases, etc. In a different car, it takes a little while to adjust all those finely tuned skills. I successfully did not put us through the windshield, and I never stalled out, although I thought I was going to a time or two at the beginning.

The unexpected part, the new game we ended up playing, takes a little more explaining.

We are a family of car-singers. Do you know the song "Photograph" by Nickelback?  With this verse:

We used to listen to the radio
And sing along with every song we know
We said someday we'd find out how it feels
To sing to more than just the steering wheel

Well... we're in no hurry to get there. We're pretty happy with what we've got. 

Of the four of us, three of us almost always sing along with whatever we're listening to, and some songs, we've worked out who sings which part, so we even harmonize.

I'm not sure, however, that anyone else listening in would find it so harmonious. If someone ELSE is in the car, we don't usually sing so much. Or at least not as loudly.

Much of the time, it's my daughter and myself in the car. She has an iPod and an adapter so she can play songs from it through a cassette player, so she is in charge of the music.  Besides singing along for fun, we also sing along for "not falling asleep while driving" purposes. We even have a selection of things that are good for keeping me awake.

Remember? I drive long distances at night relatively frequently. Falling asleep would be a bad, bad thing.

Tonight, we were in an unfamiliar car. It has a cassette player, so we thought we'd be all set for our usual  habit, of singing along to our favorite songs.

What we DIDN'T know, is that this particular cassette player doesn't work all that well.
It blanks out. Randomly, both in frequency and duration.
We know it's the cassette player that has the problem because when it starts making sound again, the iPod has been merrily continuing along, and the song starts up again, not where it left off, but where it would be if it had been playing normally all along.

The first few times it did it, we were kind of bummed.

Then we started ignoring it, and just singing along anyway, as if it had never stopped.

After a few of these, we realized some things.

First, even if you have sung along to a song a thousand times, you may not actually know the words as well as you think you do.

Second, if it turns out that you don't, it can get pretty funny in a hurry.

Some songs, we know very well. Some we can fake it through. Some, we came to a complete full stop, with much giggling.

By the time we got home, we had been having so much fun that we wish we could make our car do it on purpose sometimes, just to play with it. Plus, as an added benefit, it definitely kept us wide awake!

There is a TV show that does a similar thing, called Don't Forget the Lyrics! I watched part of it once, and the way it works is that they play part of a song and then suddenly stop, and the contestant has to continue the lyrics for a few words in order to continue in the game.

Our car version is more fun, but clearly lacking in monetary prizes.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Different Perspectives

Spent a lot of time today, noticing how often people can't let go of their perspective on things.
Facts don't matter.
Arguments don't matter.
Common sense doesn't matter.
It's the way they see it, period.

Hard to know what to do about that sometimes.
I prefer to be respectful and kind, but sometimes, that doesn't seem to work so well. So much has to do with were they are coming from and why. It seems people get themselves into positions they feel compelled to defend, tooth and nail, no matter what.

None of this is new.

When I first started homeschooling, I heard a lot of questions and concerns, and a lot of criticism of my choice. Interestingly, while I could reference many sources of information I had used in my research and thinking process, by which I came to my decision, most of the people who were critical of me could not offer ANYTHING to back up their position, other than that's what they "believed." They discounted my well thought out and considered position entirely, in favor of their knee-jerk reaction.

Most seemed surprised that I had spent a considerable amount of time and effort to make my choices. They thought I was being "lazy" or that I hadn't thought things through. Nothing could be further from the truth!

So here we are today, many years later, and I still run into people who stand by their assumptions, and ignore that I have years of experience now, in addition to continuing to think, consider and learn the entire time.

And it isn't only in homeschooling that I see this sort of attitude. I see it everywhere. In the Fire Service there are plenty of people who are so stuck in how they see things, regardless of advances in training and equipment, so much so that they refuse to move into the 21st century. Everywhere you look, there are people who prefer to stay the same rather than change, who would cut off their own nose to spite their face, rather than admit they are mistaken. They won't listen to what anyone has to say, at all.

It's incredibly counter-productive, to say the least.

Someone recently reminded me that if you aren't aware of your own bias, you can't accurately evaluate anything. Most people seem to believe they don't HAVE a bias.

It's odd.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Thoughts from 1998: Language of Learning

Here is one of the things I rediscovered from my old website:

Thoughts on unschooling and the language of learning

A message I posted in one of the unschooling folders on AOL:
Subject: some unschooling thoughts
Date: Tue, Jan 6, 1998 6:33 PM
I had a few thoughts today... (quit laughing, Lori!)
I was thinking about how people learn languages. I think most people would agree that the best way to learn a language is immersion. To live somewhere that the language is spoken, so you are surrounded by it, and you pick it up through context, because you need to know it, and by using it. That lessons may or may not be helpful, but on their own, they're nowhere near as effective as immersion is.
Then I was thinking about how our kids learn *everything* that same way. That we speak math here, we speak science here. We speak the "language of learning" at our house. So the kids pick it all up through context, needing to know, and using it themselves.
What I was realizing is that this is, I believe, part of why unschooling works as well as it does, and why some people seem not to be able to understand the concept. I know of homes where the "language of learning", especially math and science, are definitely *not* spoken. People who do not live lives filled with learning *can't* see how kids could learn by living. It would be like telling them that my kids will learn Mandarin just by living in my house, without anyone ever being here who speaks it. It makes no sense.
So I'm wondering why it is that some homes speak the "language of learning" and some do not. And I wonder if homes where they do "school at home", with lessons the primary mode of learning, speak this language less, or if there wouldn't be a noticeable difference between a "school at home" home, and an unschooling home.
Here we are, just over 14 years after I originally posted those thoughts.
I had forgotten writing this bit about the "language of learning," but I still believe that it's true.
Lately, I've written a few things various places about the paradigm shift people go through to become unschoolers, and how the language on each side of that shift may use the same words, but they don't have the same meanings. Unschoolers have an entirely different world-view and basic beliefs about what is good and right and true about how people should live and learn. I now believe that there is a HUGE difference between "school at home" homes and unschooling homes. 
It is this very thing, the abundance of resources and opportunity and discussion, that "learning" is not separate from everything else, that is the difference. Also, we are not only literate, but numerate, and well-versed in a wide variety of pursuits. Discussions cover a very large range of topics, and look at things from a variety of perspectives.
Anyone who sees learning as a special event, who still talks about teaching and lesson plans and curriculum and unit studies and such, is on a very different path from ours.
I saw a lovely little video yesterday, a performance of the "Three Little Pigs" by a comedian who had rewritten it "as Shakespeare might have." His point was that people have very small vocabularies these days. That Shakespeare had a working vocabulary of 54,000 words. Current day Americans have an average vocabulary of 3000 words. (Those are his numbers- I've seen many widely different claims for what those numbers are, but one thing is clear: the average vocabulary is rapidly decreasing.)
I wish there was a way to find out what mine is, what the vocabulary of my kids is. I bet you dollars to doughnuts that it's larger than average, by far, and likely much, much closer to the Shakespearean figure. It is much easier to discuss a wide variety of topics when you have the vocabulary to support them. It is difficult to manage a discussion about a concept you have no words for. Likewise, with a family of people who are actively engaged in learning all sorts of things all the time, we are able to share that with each other, enhancing the learning environment here.  All the knowledge and experience we gather adds to the variety of ways we are able to talk about things.
It is that comfort level with discussing ANYTHING that makes the difference.
The question still remains: why do some people live a life of constant abundant learning, and others do not prioritize learning at all, leaving it for somewhere and somewhen else?
Just came across a chapter from a book by Lucy Calkins, called "Raising Lifelong Learners." The chapter starts with "Talk: The Foundation of Literacy."She has some good stuff to say about the importance of talking with your children. I especially like her bit about how many adults don't really talk with children, they ask them "fill in the blank" questions, as if that was conversation. It isn't.