Friday, December 12, 2014

Bonnie, part one

Well, I haven't written a good blog post in a while, so why start now?  I just miss writing.  The problem is, most of the things I think about anymore, I forget.  Except the annoying things, and the ones unsuitable for publication.  It's too bad, because it seems once I write a thing down, it is gone from my head.  Poof.  The thought no longer swirls around up there.  So great.  Now my good memories are gone but the bad ones are still there.

It might be a good thing if we all had an anonymous blog where we could write down every horrific thing that floats around in our brains.  Never to trouble us again, it could go off into outer space where no one would ever see it.  And then maybe those thoughts would be gone.

Well now wait, I do have some childhood stories left... Oh lots of bad ones, but here's a good one I've thought of lately--my old friend Bonnie. Bonnie was not my first, or last best friend.  But like other friends I have had, she was much more wonderful than I could ever deserve.

We lived in a big old house in Wilmette.  I have lived many places, and I have to say that rich kids can be the most psycho.  Sorry if that offends anyone.  Anyway, I lived there from part of kindergarten through third grade.  My first couple of years or so there were spent trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to avoid being bullied.  I had many different strategies for this and the whole thing is really another story.

The happy ending to that would be when one day a moving truck appeared, two doors down from my house.  Not beaten down to the point of complete hermitage yet, I made my way over there to see what was up.  To my delight a friendly, tall, curly-headed blond girl appeared.  She was very nice to me, and it was a cold cup of water in that neighborhood.  Unfortunately she, Robin--although truly an angel of light brought into our midst-- was about to pass me off to her younger sister.  Alas, Robin was a year older than me; and we all who have been in public school know what that means--can't be friends.

Reluctantly I eyed Bonnie, who looked much more my speed.  She was blond also, but not curly, very regular.  She did not greet me with the grace and poise of her older sister.  She was just a normal seemingly kind of dorky kid like me.  I was not thrilled, but resigned to the fact that this was to be my new friend (after begging Robin a little bit).

I will have to tell you more about Bonnie next time.  She really deserves a whole post.

Friday, December 5, 2014


I never fit in anywhere--ever.  This may account for my habit of looking for similarities with other people, relating with their stories.  I often repeat back to them something from my life that feels like, to me, it mirrors their situation.  Trying to empathize, I probably just come across as self-absorbed.  And maybe I am.   And maybe that's why I don't ever fit it.

I have tried to assimilate, with little success.  Like in high school.  I could neither be a true burnout nor fit neatly into any other group.  I guess I was more of a burnout than anything else, but always considered myself too chicken to fully wear the title.  At heart I was probably a nerd, but too chicken to go for that as well.  Once, I announced to a high school counselor that I was going to switch over and become a jock.  It was radical.  I had hoped my plan would somehow get me out of the rut I was in.  But the counselor told me it was a dumb idea, so I dropped it. 

I get irate when I think of my high school counselors.  I was floundering, so desperately.  But maybe she was right.  She had said something about how becoming a jock would not do what I wanted it to.  Maybe that other counselor who told me I'd never get into U of I, "so don't even bother trying," was just using reverse psychology.  If he was, it worked.

I remember in college, there were groups of friends who seemed to be together constantly.  I bounced around.  I mean, I've always had a couple of close friends, so I'm not saying I'm a loner exactly, but more of a one-on-one person.  I have friends; it's just that they are usually in different spheres.  I guess that's not unusual.  Maybe everybody feels this way.

But I have trouble joining a church, or a group, or a camp of thought.  Like, I cannot put my whole self into it.  I just have to stay on the periphery.  I was thinking about this in terms of homeschooling.

In homeschooling you have everything from people setting up a schoolroom in their basement with desks and pledging allegiance to the flag every morning--to radical unschoolers who don't think a kid should be told what to eat, when to go to bed, or to come in out of the rain.  And then there are all those gradations in between.   And theories about learning and what to learn and when and how... I can usually meld with them up to a certain point, and then, poof.  I can't. I am not an unschooler, but I am unschoolish.  And maybe it is that -ish that defines what kind of a homeschooler, and person in general, I am.

It is not that I am not passionate.  I think too passionate is more likely.  I cannot put my heart into what I do not completely accept.  This gets me into a lot of trouble.  But it is my way of navigating the world. 

In my exercise class there is sometimes a part of a song in which there is no choreography for a couple of measures.  Then you get to go "freestyle,"  like you're going to go all crazy  or something.  I'm definitely not doing that.  No. I am uptight in that instance.  But in life, in my own living room, in my own space...I'm all as a bird.

Thursday, June 26, 2014


Though it was never my desire to soliloquize thusly whilst mowing the lawn, it was my inscrutable habit.  Had I dared at any time imagine that the inward muttering against my neighbors was finally ceased, mowing would dredge it from the swarthy depths of my cursed nature.

The afternoon was pleasant enough, mild and calm, the summer sunlight diffused by nature's gentle breath. The grass-blades a perfect length for shearing, mowing was a blessed occupation in my eyes.  Here I found time to reflect, undisturbed by the children's prattle, though spectres of that aforementioned choler sometimes threatened to steal my repose.      

Rounding the flower gardens, a curious delight enveloped me in clipping the rascally green stalks so wont to leaning into their betters--elegantly plumed yellow and tiger lilies, pearly white and pink blossoms effusing their parfums (more so when upon occasion I erred and shredded one of their delicate heads).

This fair mowing day I reflected upon the ladies' tea I had attended not a fortnight ago.  The candor and intelligence of these lovely women had greatly impressed me, and awakened a desire to avail myself more of the library.  Indeed, I had recommenced a perusal of literature quite recently upon the suggestion of a dear Aunt whom I greatly admired. 

Having just concluded that brilliant volume, Silas Marner, I was presently ensconced in a book I had once vowed never to read, Jane Eyre, considering it (as an impetuous and somewhat repugnant youth) as no more than a "glorified romance novel."  

But to return to my lawn-mowing musings--I have discovered in myself an idiosyncratic response to all things literary. Without premeditation, I will generally begin to speak within my mind in whatever style of language wherein I am momentarily immersed.  The narration of my thoughts is spoken chameleon-like as to whatever influence I happen to be lately under.  Or, peut-etre, dear Reader, this is already apparent.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

It's the Little Things

One of my all-time favorite movies is It's a Wonderful Life.  It is one of those movies that comes together so well--the writing, directing, acting, filming, sets...that it becomes greater than the sum of its parts.  There are many reasons to like this film, with its lovable characters, great story, and message of hope.  But it also contains a small detail that sums up a big part of the concept for me.  It is that knob on top of the stair post.

Upon their marriage, George and Mary Bailey adopt a big old abandoned house in great disrepair.  Initially George doesn't see the potential in it, but Mary describes it as romantic. She works hard over the years fixing it up while raising a bunch of kids, as George is busy under the stress of his job. 

For some reason, they never get around to fixing the finial on the newel post at the base of the staircase.  I can imagine, as a homeowner, how this could easily happen.  There are always so many projects that some never get done.  Or, it could be like my son's bedposts.  Three of the four finials always come off, and no matter what we try to do to fix them it never works.

Anyhow, whenever George is going up the stairs he inevitably grasps the knob only to have it come off in his hand.  Then he has to go back and replace it.  This is profound to me because it is just how life really is.  There is always some little annoying thing (or many, really) to encounter every day, over and over again.

Poor George, in desperate straits and at the end of his rope in the story, just about loses his mind with rage when that knob comes off.  I know the feeling well, as many times in maniacal frustration I have taken out my fury on inanimate objects.   Not that I have ever been in the situation he was in.  It took a lot to push George to that point.

And yet he does get there, to where he wishes he'd never been born.  Until through "divine" intervention George comes to his senses, kind of a twist on A Christmas Carol...

As George sees the world through new eyes suddenly everything is different, although his predicament has not changed.  It is before he is rescued that George runs through the town abounding with joy and thanksgiving, yelling "Merry Christmas!" to everyone including his nemesis. 

As George bursts into his home looking for his family, he runs up the stairs--inadvertently grabbing the knob--he turns, holding it tightly, he lifts it up and kisses it! 

Of course, every moment of every day cannot be like the high point of a movie.  There will always be annoyances and problems, and I won't usually feel like embracing them.  But how I do respond reveals my heart.  And it has much less to do with the circumstances than I like to admit.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Some of What I Didn't Say About Homeschooling

Someone just asked me about homeschooling, like how you do it legally, who checks up on you, and whatnot.  I sometimes get a bit defensive in those situations and just present the facts--about how we are indeed complying with the law and not neglecting to prepare our kids for life in the "real world."

I also had not mentioned in my last post how great homeschooling can be. So here are some of the things I like about it. I don't think everyone should homeschool, and I don't ever try to talk anyone into it.

Homeschooling is cool partly because I get to learn right alongside my kids and, not being a kid anymore, I actually like to learn things.  For instance, I never really learned grammar in school and think it's important, so we are learning grammar.  That is my idea of fun, which proves I am a real teacher.  We also read poetry aloud and sing hymns together, which the boys like too, believe it or not.  I do afflict them with writing assignments, but often they get off easy with letters to relatives.

History is one of my favorite subjects.  Included in that is a lot of geography, because you have to know where you are talking about to understand what is going on.  My kids know basic world geography better in elementary school than I did as a college grad. We started world history three years ago, from the beginning of human civilization. We have worked our way chronologically to where we are now, at the American Revolution.  I think it makes sense to do it this way.  When we reach the present, we will start back at the beginning again and see what we've forgotten!

All my sons are good at math.  Because we homeschool, I can keep them right where they are pushing their limits.  John is two years ahead in math, but not in other subjects.  In fact we are still finishing last year's grammar book (it's hard).  I love that flexibility.  For science, we plowed through a couple of textbooks already this year and are now checking out library books on subjects of interest.  I don't know if it's true of everyone, but one thing we've learned about science experiments is that they frequently don't work!  Which is a part of real research, I'm guessing.

We touch on some foreign language.  For Spanish, I read a daily page out of a story Bible en espanol, and John tries to translate it into English.  John & I are also learning Greek, very very slowly.  I want us to be able to read the New Testament in its original language.  For art I mostly torture them with making them draw what they see, but we do the obligatory clay pots, tempera paintings... For music I teach them piano, which is the hugest test on my patience. 

P.E. is essential when you have boys.  I always make sure they get that in!  They get some of that "social interaction with their peers" people are always freaking out about on sports teams, and at church.  And though I do count church as part of their school, we also do Bible as a subject at home.

I read them a good story Bible.  It is pretty thorough and has gone along well with our chronological study of history.  We also memorize sections of Scripture together, like Psalms 23 and 100.  That is a great thing to do. I highly recommend it.  And John is reading through the Bible on his own now.  He is in Joshua, and insisted on reading right through all the genealogies, etc. in the previous books, though I told him he could skim.  

Aside from all the academics, it is enjoyable just being together.  We are never rushed or hurried with our schoolwork, unless I am out of my mind, which sometimes I am.  It's nice now to have the internet whenever we have a question.  And there are many other homeschoolers doing different interesting things, pursuing them in ways that homeschooling especially allows.

Being around other homeschoolers keeps us challenged and encouraged. We are some of the most laid-back homeschoolers I know, and we probably need to work on that.  But I know what for me is the main thing.  And I'm keeping that the focus.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Homeschooling is better than a poke in the eye.

When we first began to homeschool I was so motivated, so excited--so young.  I guess I had to be pretty driven to even get started with homeschooling.  To find out about it I had to go to the library and seek out an old article I had once seen in the Tribune on microfiche.  We had no internet then.  And homeschoolers were not so common. 

We were broke in those days. I used to make my own worksheets.  I mean I wrote them out by hand --no copy machine, no computer even.  I can recall hand-drawing enlarged pictures of ants, copied from a library book, with lines pointing to their various body parts, connected to blanks for the kids to fill in. 

We went on nature walks, collected leaves, pressed them in waxed paper--all that good stuff.  We did "hands-on" learning, made sugar-cube castles, mobiles, staged plays, took lots of field trips.  We went to hippie-homeschool conventions and camp-outs...  Those were our pre-Christian homeschooler days.  Our comrades were unschoolers and all sorts of creative types with widely varied approaches.  By and large that group was pretty laid-back, and a lot of fun. 

How did we even get into homeschooling?  Well, we had managed to buy our first house in a pretty bad neighborhood, and the school was kind of rough, I mean, it was an elementary school. My oldest son went through kindergarten there and had a pretty good teacher (although I got called many days to come get him because he had "headaches," which I think were from boredom).

But the next year that teacher left, and my second son got the new young teacher, who had no patience for little kids.  And all the cool stuff--the artwork, rice table, books, puzzles, colorful learning stations that my oldest son had enjoyed--had all gone with the old teacher.  The room seriously looked like the Whos' house after the Grinch had stolen Christmas.  Like with a wire hanging from a nail on the bare wall.  And it was gray.

There was also the first day of school that year, when I looked at my little first-grade son, and he was SO small...and it just freaked me out that he was going to have to sit at a desk all a little man going off to work...and he was just SO young.  And then my second son going too, my baby, to that dismal place, leaving me...alone.  I felt like the government was stealing my children.  And after I dropped them off I went home, sat on my couch, and cried.

I had other reasons for pulling them out.  For one thing, there wasn't even any playground equipment at the school.  At least we had a swingset.  Also, my oldest son's headaches and boredom continued.  I was sure my younger son had very high intelligence but his teacher just noticed that he was "not very good with scissors," which turned out rather ironically if you know my Tim.

Anyway, there was no use trying to get them into a private school--they were all booked up.  So, off to the library I went, and the journey began--which was supposed to be a temporary solution, by the way.  We put our house on the market 11 months after moving in, not appreciating the bullets and stray dogs bouncing around the neighborhood.  Not to mention the robberies, prostitution, murders... Let's just say we bought an education.  But the plan was to homeschool until we got out of there and moved to a "decent" neighborhood.

Well, you know how that goes... It took us 2 1/2 years to sell and by that time we were so into homeschooling that we could never go back.  Both of my oldest sons homeschooled through highschool, have graduated college, and are off living their lives.  I wouldn't trade one second I had with them. 

My husband and I became Christians in 1995, and decided that we had made a mistake not having more kids.  So, it took a while, but here we are twenty-three years later (after starting homeschooling) and I have a fifth-grader and another first-grader.  The only school they've ever known is at home.  I started out this post feeling really burnt-out and old and tired.  But remembering all that has made me glad.  It's all worth it in the end.  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Carpetman

 The Carpetman

T'was a friend of a friend
that once we had hired,
to replace some old carpet
which was greatly expired.

He did a good job
and he did it real fast
so we never forgot him,
though many years passed.

When we found once again
the need to replace
some tattered old carpet
which had no more face,

We called for this man,
so skilled at his craft,
and hired him again
to tackle the task.

But soon we would learn
how times had changed,
as our good carpet man
had grown very strange.

He took our down payment,
Well, I payed him in full,
remembering him worthy
and so on-the-ball.

So he took all that money
to buy carpet we'd dug, 
but when he came back
he brought the wrong rug!

"So sorry," he said,
"But it can't be returned--
you'll just have to take it."
Then we knew we'd been burned.

The stuff was inferior,
not at all what we'd picked,
but now what to do with it
since we were sticked.

We came up with a plan
that was better than none,
and gave that new carpet
away to someone

Whose basement had flooded
and cost them a lot
so at least we could help a wee bit
in their spot.

Then off to Menard's
we went to procure
some carpet we liked
and of which we'd be sure.

The Carpetman came
and installed the new stuff
although we'd paid double
we were happy enough.

The stuff looked so good
we decided to do
the hall and the stairs
with the same carpet too.

Being not-too-bright,
we asked for a quote
on installing the rest.
"Hey," said the bloke,

"I owe you guys one
so I'll do it for free,
you buy the carpet
and then just call me."

So back to Menard's
and another truck rental--
by now you can see
how we're just kind of mental.

Of course Carpetman
would never show up,
for months now
the carpet rolls gathering dust

Wait in vain here and there
for the guy to arrive
something always comes up
as we enter month five.

'Tis very sad
how he's strung us along
but my consolation
is writing this song.