Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Magic of the Garden

As my interest in photography has been rekindled by Flickr (it's kind of like having a non-stop photo gallery, show, art class, and coffee shop all at the same time), I've been turning my own attention to the magic of everyday things. Often in the morning or evenings I will prowl through the garden or woods, just looking with my photographer's eye. The kids have accompanied me, sometimes just one of them and sometimes both. It's become a wonderful time to spend together looking at things.

M. and I discovered these tiny spiders hatching on a sweatshirt in our laundry hanging outside. It's amazing how fully formed they are, and that they can spin perfect tiny webs, yet they are not much bigger than the head of a pin. I took this photo with my finger in it just for the size comparison. Within a few hours, all were gone from the sweatshirt, off to make new lives for themselves. As we just watched the new version of Charlotte's Web, we were reminded of the scene where Charlotte's babies all float away. We could imagine these spider's tiny voices as they walked around on my shirt.

On another morning, after a night's rain that left the garden smelling wonderfully green, Miss A. and I walked around looking at the raindrops on spider webs on the ground. I love how just the presence of a child can make you see the magic in things you might otherwise miss or take for granted. Since the weather has been unusually hot this week, the kids discovered mirages on the road. Ever since then, they practically shriek with excitement when they see them, and then there is the running mirage commentary "it's shrinking, it's shrinking, it's gone...". Something I haven't noticed for years is suddenly fantastic and wonderful when they get so excited about it.

Once again, I find myself amazed by the journey my kids are taking me on. They turn my eyes outward in new directions, or allow me to see old things in new ways. They see the magic of everyday things, and beauty everywhere.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Blogs That Make Me Think

A couple of weeks back, while I was on vacation, my writer-friend Dorcas, whose blog is here, tagged me as one of the blogs that make her think. Besides feeling very honored, since Dorcas is one of those people who can write about Ordinary Days in a way that makes each moment extraordinarily beautiful, now I actually have to think about which blogs make me think (though I have been assured that my toaster will not explode if I do not tag anyone else, which is good since I've been taking my sweet time thinking about this!)

Pondering this, I've realized I don't really go out of my way to read blogs that make me think. I don't read a lot of political blogs, activist blogs, historical or geographical blogs. Mostly I like reading people's personal journeys with the topics that inspire them the most. So on that front, I've been most inspired to thought by blogs from two triathletes:

J. at Ironman Life, who can write about Ben Gay and being stuck on hold with Verizon's customer service and make it all so hysterically interesting you just have to keep reading.

and TriJack, who often intersperses his journey of training for the Ironman with writings about his life as an ER doc and single father to four young kids. I will sometimes find myself days later pondering something he said.

On the Unschooling front, Sandra Dodd has made me think for years and years, and re-examine assumptions and question old realities. She's not afraid of putting her strong opinions out there, and while I don't always agree, they always make me think.

There's also Doc's Sunrise Rants. Not confining herself to just matters of homeschooling, Doc touches on diversity, events in her life, her farm, and all kinds of matters of interest. She also puts together a blog carnival called The Country Fair that's always inspiring.

And a blog that has nothing to do with unschooling, triathlons, or any of that, but always makes me think is Allison's An Unsealed Room: A Window on Life in Israel. I "met" Allison on a due-date email list. The only thing all of the women on the list had in common is that we were all due with a child in September of 1996. It's one of the things I am most grateful to the internet for: the ability to see and hear about lives that are very different from our own. Allison is a great writer who always has something interesting to say, from a perspective I might not have considered.

All in all, the internet brings such a great variety of people, ideas, and viewpoints to our doorstep. It's an everyday miracle that we typically take for granted. Just thinking about this post has made me realize how much I would miss these faraway voices if I didn't get to hear them again. So here's a moment of gratefulness for the internet, and for the people who choose to put their thoughts out here for the rest of us to ponder.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Catching Up

It's been a busy couple of weeks since getting back from our Disneyland trip. Immediately on our return, we were thrown into a pretty hectic week with dress rehearsals for the play Little Women that A. was in, then two performances on the weekend and her violin recital that same weekend as well! I also played a duet with her at her recital, which means I had to really knuckle down and practice so as not to embarass her (I am much more likely to mess up on stage than she is!). I was also training pretty hard for a triathlon I did this weekend. Of course, there was also Mother's Day which I meant to blog about (and may still do so), but suffice it to say that we had a wonderful day together - the kids and my hubby brought me breakfast in bed, we went on a family bike ride, enjoyed the sunshine and, as with every day, I was grateful for this amazing opportunity of motherhood that has come my way.

But despite the overall activity, many small and wonderful things have also happened. M., who has had long hair for a very long time now, decided to cut it all off and donate it to Locks of Love. He had been mulling it over for some time, but the decision came very rapidly one morning and we took him up on it and took him to the hairdresser's. Wow, he looks so much older (and of course just as wonderfully cute and handsome) but very very different. I'm still getting used to it! We've also had the tadpole project going (they have front legs now!), the usual activities (another Karate belt test coming up in two weeks and we are all practicing hard for that, A.'s end-of-year dance recitals will be the same weekend, planning summer camping trips, too!), and on our way to my triathlon this weekend we took a side-trip to see a B-17 that landed at our local airport.

This was perfect timing since we've been watching a fair number of WWII movies lately. We saw Memphis Belle again, one of M's favorite movies, and we also watched Tuskegee Airmen and had some great discussions about racial discrimination stemming from that. So when I was out hanging up laundry and I heard the unmistakable rumble of four radial engines overhead, I called the kids to come quick and we saw this beauty flying above. She's been out at the airport all weekend and we got to take a tour and crawl through all of the spaces inside. When you see a movie like Memphis Belle and then you're actually in there looking at the real plane, it has such a huge effect. Looking at that ball turret hanging below the plane and imagining being squashed in there and completely exposed to enemy fire, well it's pretty chilling. We found, as usual, that the people who fly around with such a museum piece are always willing to talk about it and talk history. They've immersed themselves in the history of the era and love to share. The last time we were looking at an old warbird like this, the gentleman talking to us about it started telling us about when he had been on a ship at Pearl Harbor and had to jump overboard into the harbor and watched all the boats going down. It is amazing to be able to hear history from a first-hand perspective, and as the people who experienced this amazing era are starting to become few and far between, it's great to have the opportunity to talk to them while they are still here to tell their own stories.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Elephants Don't Play Video Games

It seems that in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings (and other random acts of publicized mayhem), every internet group is discussing violence and its causes and implications in our society. This is no less true on parenting groups, where it seems to tend to settle on culprits such as violence in movies, TV, and that devil incarnate, video games. These are what I tend to think of as external influences, perhaps even tangential ones. Much is made of them, but sometimes I wonder if they act as does the purposeful wave of the magician's hand as he diverts your eye from the truly important action. Now I'm no defender of Mortal Mayhem V6.0 or whatever the latest blood-n-gore action on the screens and movie theaters is, but I think to be mistaking such things as causal factors is to either deliberately or inadvertantly ignore the greater societal truths.

When we were on vacation last week, we had the benefit of getting Animal Planet on our hotel TV (a channel we don't have in our cable lineup at home). So we were watching a special on Rogue elephants. In the past, rogues were rare - often a newly-matured male on a testosterone-fueled rampage. But these days they are becoming increasingly common, purposeful, vindictive, and downright violent. Elephants are killing rhinos (a previously unheard-of act) at astonishing rates. In one game reserve, officials shot three bull elephants responsible for the deaths of 63 rhinos. And they turn on each other as well: in Addo Elephant National Parkin South Africa, up to 90 percent of male elephant deaths are now attributable to other male elephants, compared with a rate of 6 percent in other, more stable elephant communities (does that sound similar to differences among human communities?) A biologist studying these elephants on the television show we were watching offered up this bit of wisdom (I paraphrase from memory here): Young elephants are experiencing traumatic incidents as youngsters, and are being taken away from their elders and family structure and left in scenarios where their only social encounters come from equally immature peers. In these scenarios, they resort to bullying other elephants and to killing elephants, rhinos, and humans. Funny, though, they don't have access to violent video games.

I was instantly struck by the parallels between the elephants' behavior and our current society's issues with violence, particularly among adolescent males. Breakdown in social structure, kids who do not grow up with the influence of stable family elders, or kids who are removed too early from family relationships and intimate bonds (elephant studies have shown that young elephants stay within 15 feet of their mothers for nearly all of their first eight years of life, an age by which the average American child has spent a huge percentage of their hours in daycare, preschool, schools, and before and after-school care) are all factors we share with elephants. In elephant herds without the older matriachal females who have typically presided, calves are now being born to and raised by ever younger and more inexperienced mothers, in a downward cycle that mimics one being played out by younger and younger teenaged mothers in our own culture.

Not that there are any easy answers to this dilemma, either for the elephants or for ourselves. The New York Times has a fascinating and informative ten-page article from last fall called An Elephant Crackup? that I found while searching for more information online about these issues with Rogue elephants. One take-away that I got both from watching this TV program and from reading the article is that no act of human connection, either with each other or with animals is unimportant. I know when I was a new mother, I was very passionate about Attachment Parenting, breastfeeding, maternal bonding, mom-care over non-necessary daycare, and parental attachment over larger school institutions for "socialization". But that passion felt unanchored by much more than my own intuitions that such things were of huge and overwhelming importance. Too often they are seen as personal choices, and any discussion thereof must be tempered with a necessity to validate all other choices as somehow equal. When looked at from this ground-level viewpoint, a mother's choice to breastfeed or to put her child in daycare is a very small and personal choice. But when we look at overall patterns of attachment and social fabric, the choices we make on a daily basis combine with everyone else's choices to weave a pattern that either draws us closer to a society of cooperation and harmony, or one of destruction and violence. These small personal choices are of the utmost importance, and anything we do to help parents, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and community members draw together and form strong bonds benefits our entire society.

As for those pesky video games, I see them as symptom, not disease. They're the snot that sprays out when a rhinovirus has invaded a sinus passage. But they're not the virus. What possible lure would choking a virtual victim hold over someone who is intimately connected to their family, friends, and community? Such acts are like the rhino-murdering elephants: sad aberrations that point to a disintegrated social fabric.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Dispatches From the Frog Kingdom

They have legs! And we seem to have at least six survivors out of seven so far, though there may be seven. They've got a nice big habitat and like to lurk around in the plants and the mud, so we might still have all seven with us, it's hard to tell. They're getting rather fat and turning greenish and growing these cute little legs!

We did have an issue with stinky tank syndrome and I had to start changing the water out more frequently and scrub off some algae, but they seem to be eating well and obviously growing so I think we're doing okay. Of course, my husband asked "so tell me again why our dining room table is pushed all the way against the window and being taken over by a giant tank?" Why darling, it's because the little froggies need some sunlight every day, and, well, because this is a household of adventures where magic and excitement trump having a perfectly set dining room table. Same reason there's a tent in our front yard today, and a Lego "movie backlot" that M. built on our livingroom floor. We clean up well, but at any given time there are adventures going on here.

Speaking of adventures, it's cool to see how something fun from vacation (visiting Universal Studios as well as the "Hollywood Backlot" area of California Adventure park and taking a drawing lesson from a real Disney animator) has spawned a whole lot of creative playing here. M. has built a movie lot for his Lego guys and is urging me to finish up downloading photos from the camera so that he can use it to make another animated film of his little Lego guys.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Back From Vacation

I'm having one of those "I can't believe it's Monday" moments right now, which tends to happen every week but this week will be more of a shock than most. It's always hard to re-adjust to the hustle and bustle when you come back from vacation. Although, since this vacation was extremely busy, maybe it will be easier this time. We took yesterday and didn't do much of anything (including unpacking suitcases) just to relax and unwind. We were only gone for a week, but managed to hit Universal Studios, the La Brea Tar Pits, Sea World, the San Diego Zoo, and three days of Disneyland. Phew! More photos and observances to come, for sure.

This is my third trip to Disney with the kids, and this time my mom met us there to kick off her newly-retired journey around the country. Luckily, the kids are early risers and very hardy sorts because we were at the park at opening time, came back to swim in the hotel pool in the afternoon, then were back until the park closed each day. They probably walked five or six miles a day, maybe more. Homeschooling definitely gave us an advantage for this vacation, because we managed to go right after Spring Break but before the summer rush. Disney wasn't open the longer hours that it is in spring break, but we found that 12 hours a day was plenty, and the lines were very short, the park uncrowded, and the weather lovely but not too hot. We were able to do things like go on the new Buzz Lightyear ride about ten times (trying to better our score) and walk right up to get on Pirates of the Caribbean and Space Mountain. With three days at Disney, we were able to see pretty much everything we wanted to, and many things twice or more.