Saturday, October 1, 2011

Thrills and Chills in October

Mindie's been intrigued by scary movies for a couple of years now but we've been careful about what she watches because she's easily scared. Not that we tell her "You can't watch this" but when she wants to watch something we think is beyond her we let her know exactly that and why we think it might be too upsetting for her. She usually agrees and that's that. But I've been wanting to help her find more scary movies that she can enjoy. It's October now, we have Netflix, and it seems a good time. The hubs and I usually go on horror binges in October anyway so this year I'm gearing it to movies Mindie can enjoy.

Shan doesn't do scary movies, which is fine. She has a whole host of movies that she enjoys watching alone so that's what she's doing while Mindie and I explore the darker parts of our psyches.

We kicked off Terror Fest 2011 today with "Scream." Mindie's never seen a slasher flick and I was somewhat concerned that the gore might put her off. She wasn't particularly bothered by it, though, and even pointed out some of the tricks and techniques she imagined they used after the film. I think we'll probably still avoid particularly brutal slayings for a while (sorry, Saw) but it's good to know that we can up the "ick" factor in her life a little.

If I had it to do over again I probably would have kicked us off with "A Nightmare on Elm Street" or "Halloween" since both are heavily referenced and homaged in the movie. Even more sad was the fact that she had no idea what I was talking about when the principal comes on screen and I yelled, "It's the Fonz!" She did recognize Drew, Neve, Skeet, and Matthew Lillard.

Tomorrow: Halloween (my all-time favorite slasher flick)

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Day in the Life of a Public School Kid

Mindie is 13. She's in 8th grade at a public school. Here's a summary of her day today.

6 AM Get up and get ready for school. Mindie checks her grades online on Monday mornings, looking for updates as the teachers spend the weekend grading. This morning she realizes that there is no way she can pull her math grade up enough to make A/B honor roll. Normally she would take this philosophically. She's not married to good grades. But today that's a crushing realization because Dad promised her a trip to Carlsbad if she made A/B honor roll. She's been putting in extra hours with Dad on math, sometimes as many as 3 per night on a single assignment, to try and boost that grade. But today there's no doubt that Carlsbad has slipped through her grasp again. She can't hold back the tears.

7:30 AM Walk out the door with Dad to go to school. On the drive Dad explains that he's learned a little something with this whole math thing and says that her effort will be enough to earn her the trip even if she doesn't make a B. Hopefully this will be a lasting lesson about the uselessness of grades in an arbitrary curriculum.

8 AM Arrive at school in PE clothes. She's required to be here this early but school doesn't start until 8:45. This is the mandatory tutorial period. Whether she needs extra help or not, the school makes her be here. If she doesn't need help from a teacher she'll spend the next 45 minutes "socializing" in the cafeteria, which for Mindie means reading a book or sketching. If she does need a teacher's help she'll have to track that teacher down like a cagey deer scenting buckshot and chase the wary teacher back to a classroom where she can beg for assistance. We tried this a couple of times with homework questions but the teachers were inevitably not available.

8:45 AM Go to phys ed. Since the school added on new athletic facilities summer before last, general PE kids are no longer allowed to use the locker rooms to change or freshen up. Generally Mindie goes to school in her PE clothes and then changes quickly in a bathroom after PE. The teacher generously gives them 3 minutes before the end of the class period to do this. 24 girls, 4 bathroom stalls in a bathroom that's open to the public, 3 minutes. Fun times. Sometimes Mindie doesn't bother to change after PE because she doesn't have time. She just sprays on some body spray and slathers on extra deodorant. Usually when this happens she goes ahead and changes at lunch.

9:40 AM US History to Reconstruction. Mindie likes this class. She comes home talking about the Roanoke Colony and Jamestown.

10:35 AM Teen Leadership. This is taught by the US History teacher. It emphasizes self-esteem, leadership, character development, and public speaking. One day they each made a flag that represents themselves. Another day they gave a speech about "Who I Am" to the class accompanied by a visual aid they constructed with items gathered on a nature walk. Mindie considers this class a blow-off. She's not far wrong but good things can still come of a blow-off class. One of the class activities is writing letters to classmates. This led to the apology letter from the witchy girl. It also led to the following gem from a classmate, "Dear Mindie, You are very good at things. I wish you success in any activities you are or will be in." We're still laughing about that one weeks later. On this particular day the teacher assigns a new project. The students will be writing an essay of at least one page about a time they were in a leadership role. If they have never been in a leadership role they will write about a leadership role they would like to assume. This will be the first grade of the second six-weeks grading period (which begins next Monday). As such, students are required to create an outline AND rough draft to turn in tomorrow. The assignment is given 5 minutes prior to the end of the period. It is homework.

11:30 AM Exploratory Careers class. This is Mindie's other blow-off class. The ag teacher teaches it. But 8th graders can't take ag so they take EC which is ag with another name. They're learning parliamentary procedure, which is no doubt somehow career oriented in ways I don't quite fathom. Sometimes they take a break from parliamentary procedure to muck out the ag barns or hose down the livestock trailers. The teacher is nice, though. He gives out candy to students who answer questions correctly, a flagrant violation of state law and something which endears him to me. He also enjoys using students as examples in theoretical anecdotes to demonstrate points he's making. He often uses Mindie this way. She's not sure how she feels about so much attention being drawn to her.

12:25 Lunch. If Mindie didn't change after PE she does so now. Then she either goes through the cafeteria line and eats a school lunch or sits down with her sack lunch from home. Each table in the cafeteria seats six except for one desk that's situated alone in a corner for a special ed kid who doesn't cope well with others. Mindie usually sits at the table nearest him. She still can't explain what's wrong with him. He's nice to her and vice versa. Sometimes they talk. She says he's really creative and always sketching or writing music. Sometimes he shows her what he's creating before an adult comes over and makes her stop talking to him. Also seated at her table is another special ed kid. This kid is sweet but it's not hard to see why she's special ed. She's mildly retarded and most of the kids avoid her. But Mindie can't stand to see things like that so this girl sits with Mindie who protects her and offers her a friendly face. The crying blonde girl from kindergarten also sits with Mindie. She's totally self-involved by this point and doesn't treat Mindie particularly well but she's not especially mean either except in that careless selfish way. A geeky sophomore sits with them. She and Mindie share many interests but the other girl has some - impulse control and anger management issues. If she doesn't like what somebody at the table says she tends to ruin their lunches with a fist in the middle of the food before storming away. A couple of other girls sit there, too. Mindie doesn't know them very well. She tries to be nice to them but they just look at her.

12:55 PM Science. Integrated Physics and Chemistry. We're still not sure why Mindie's in this class. Why any of the 8th graders are in it. This is not the state curriculum for 8th grade. This is the curriculum for SOME 9th graders. Mindie struggles in this class. The teacher hands them the textbook and a packet of photocopied accompanying materials each day and has them turn in the previous day's photocopied packet. They skipped the first two chapters, the overview and introduction, and jumped straight into the algebra. In a class that's still taking pre-algebra, which Mindie is struggling with. She usually brings the work home and Ben and I spend hours trying to teach it to her at night. We've got an 89 average. :-D

1:50 PM English. Or Reading. Nobody's sure which. They're both taught by the same teacher and it's pretty much her whim that dictates which they'll do this period. Mindie's a good reader. She reads at a college level. Unfortunately she hates literature analysis. There are right and wrong answers in literary analysis and she can't seem to grasp which is which so she stopped giving answers. Sometimes they do vocabulary. Today's vocabulary worksheet asks students to use context clues to match up the words with their meanings. Two of the words are bewilder and baffle One means "to perplex; to frustrate, hinder, or interfere with." The other means "to confuse terribly; to puzzle." She gets them wrong.

2:45 PM Math. Pre-algebra. Mindie struggles with this. She sits patiently through the teacher's lecture and demonstration. She asks questions when she doesn't understand. Then the teacher assigns the homework. Mindie opens her book and gets to work. The noise level in the class rises. Mindie only finishes two problems before holding her hands to her ears, unable to concentrate. She brings the rest home. By the time she makes it home she's forgotten most of what the teacher said during class because she didn't really understand it, even with questions. I asked her today, "What does the teacher say when you tell her you don't understand?" "You don't have to UNDERSTAND, just DO IT." That's useful right there, folks. You don't have to understand math, just do it. This from a woman who educated her daughter at home for 5 years. Today that daughter is a year ahead in math. But does she understand any of it?

2:15 PM Reading. Or English. Whatever. By this point in the day Mindie's too tired to care much anymore anyway. She's just counting the minutes to go home. Since the construction started in spring of 2010, she also usually has a splitting headache by this point in the day. At first the secretary/nurse was sweet and gave her Tylenol when she went in complaining of pounding pain in her brain but as the weeks went by and the headache returned daily she started coldly sending Mindie back to class. Eventually she refused to let Mindie into the office anymore. Mindie wanted to start taking her own Tylenol but somebody told her that the drug dogs that routinely visit alert to over-the-counter meds, too, so Mindie's scared to try it, especially after that one time when the drug dog alerted to her ALTOIDS and she had to turn out the entire contents of her backpack in front of the whole class. Apparently the final humiliation was dumping out a small pouch full of feminine hygiene supplies to an unappreciative co-ed audience. Today, though, brings only the headache and the unrelenting boredom.

3:50 Finally the last bell rings. Trudge out to Mom's car. The dog barks frantically and worms his head under her hand for affection. She's too tired and uncomfortable to show much enthusiasm but eventually she gets buckled up and snuggles the dog, unwinding a little. Today Mom has some Jimmy Buffet playing and she cranks the volume to "Love in the Library." She asks if Mom would mind her loading that song onto her MP3 player which leads to a discussion of how complicated it would be to rip a CD to MP3 (not very, but do very many of them and it become more drudgery than Thanksgiving dishes). Mom asks if she needs the bathroom, knowing Mindie shares her fear of other people overhearing bathroom noises and often won't use the school bathroom because of it. Today Mindie got too desperate to wait so she has no urgent needs. Yay because Mom wants to run to Wally's on the way home. At Wally's they pick up several packages of treats for the gerbils and guinea pigs.

4:45 PM Finally at home. Unload Wally's loot, pour a drink, and go to check on the piggies. Buddy is ill. He's hardly moving, barely responsive, and refuses to eat. Mom looks his symptoms up on the 'net and says he'll have to see the vet tomorrow. Mindie puts him in another cage, apart from his friend Fudge who hasn't exactly been a doting nurse. Worried about Buddy but still have homework to do.

5 PM Start the homework. Math. Science. Outline and rough draft for Teen Leadership. Read a chapter for English/Reading. Start with the reading. Easy and relaxing except for the part where the main character dies. Luckily Mindie never could really get into the book so is pretty unimpressed when he dies in his father's arms. Move on to science. No algebra today, just sketching elements. Fun almost. Start the math. Struggle through, only skipping two to ask for help later. Do the outline. Take outline and math to Mom and Dad to look over. Mom helps with the math problems. Mom gets frustrated with one problem, says they don't give you enough information to answer it. Helps Mindie figure out the three possible solutions depending on how each party is traveling in a train question with no direction indicators. Technically it's a snake and rat question but Mom remembers the days of two trains leaving a station so she calls it a train problem anyway. Even Mom agrees that black mambas and rats are way more interesting. Dad turns green and asks both of them to work somewhere else.

7 PM break for dinner. Check on Buddy. Mindie suspects he's dead, comes running to Mom for help and/or confirmation. Mom confirms Buddy's "formerly living" status and skips dinner to dig a small grave. It's not remotely 6 feet. That would take a backhoe in the midst of this drought. But it's deep enough to deter neighborhood strays from disinterring the remains. Mindie eats in tears then goes back to her homework. Dad checks over the math, Mom finishes burying the guinea pig, and Mindie writes the rough draft.

8 PM Mindie finishes the paper but freaks because the rough draft is three lines shy of being a full page. Mom points out that this is only a rough draft and doesn't even have paragraph breaks, reassures Mindie that the finished paper will be a page easily. She goes to Dad to figure out how to fix the math problems she got wrong on the homework. Mom starts writing this.

9:30 PM Finally done with homework. Not really a relief because it's time to get ready for bed. Treat the dog. Give the surviving guinea pig his daily dose of spinach and hay. Decide not to take any chances and disinfects the entire cage. Also can't sleep with the quarantine cage in the room; that would be too sad tonight. Mom moves the quarantine cage out while Mindie scrubs the primary cage down with vinegar. Shannen treats the cats and her gerbil, showers, and goes to bed. Mindie's barely seen her today. She mentions to Mom that she misses Shannen on days like this.

10:30 Mindie finally washes her face, brushes her teeth, and goes to bed. Her last words of the night are, "But I doubt I'll sleep." Mom returns to this blog wondering once again why she does this to her kids and taking comfort in the fact that it won't be much longer. Tomorrow the school is hosting their first ever open house. Parents are invited to come tour the new facilities and chat with their student's teachers. Even though this will be Mindie's last week of school, hopefully forever, Mom is strangely excited about the open house. Mindie's nervous about how excited Mom is about chatting educational philosophy with the teachers. Mom promises not to embarrass her.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Tales From Public School 2

Mindie is in Integrated Physics and Chemistry this year. The teacher is a former homeschool mom. I say this only because her daughter is in the class as well and this is a very bright, well-educated girl who is in several classes with the grade ahead of them so I don't question the teacher's ability to teach in general. I do, however, question her ability to teach in a public school setting. She claims to spend an average of 20 hours per weekend on teaching work but if she is, it's not on prepping for this class. The basic format of the class the past five weeks has been "Here's the book about stuff. Here's the photocopied packet from the textbook publisher for this chapter of the book. Read and answer the questions."

Mindie is thoroughly confused, has no clue about anything she's read, and is incapable of doing the packet of questions. I spent 2 and a half hours yesterday reading the chapter myself and attempting to help her with some of the homework. We made it through most of one page except for the two questions for which we could find no answer in the book. Ben's been working with her for an hour and a half today, using not only the book but the internet, video lectures from Khan Academy, and an old college chem textbook. They still can't answer the two questions we skipped yesterday but they have completed another page. Just two pages to go.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Strange Twists and Turns

Mindie is still in public school. She's in 8th grade in the same building she's been in since kindergarten. If she were going to continue in public school until graduation she would still be in that same building. With pretty much the same group of kids. Each grade has a class. Sometimes they gain a kid or two, sometimes they lose a kid or two, but mostly it's the same kids. Mindie went off to kindergarten a sweet, happy well-adjusted girl with a kind heart and lots of people skills. She was a natural extrovert and she'd done extremely well in preschool with other kids. The first day of kindergarten there was a little girl with long blonde hair just like Mindie's. She cried all day. Mindie, sweet soul that she was, treated the little girl extra nicely. The next day the little girl cried all day again and Mindie went out of her way again to offer comfort. By October the little girl still cried all day most days. Most of the kids in the class avoided her because she was weird and it was unsettling to be around this sobbing kid. Not Mindie, though. Mindie offered this little girl every drop of kindness and comfort in her body.

By first grade the other little girl usually only cried through first period at school. By then she was attached at the hip to the only kid at school who had been kind to her: my daughter. Which set BOTH of them apart from the other kids who still didn't want to be around the strange wet-faced child. By this point I knew the little girl's parents and understood that she had a really rough home life. I recognized how emotionally needy this kid was and I knew in my heart that as long as Mindie was friends with her, it would keep Mindie separated from the other kids because this kid wasn't going to miraculously start fitting in. But what was I supposed to do? Encourage my kid to be as uncaring as the other students? If Mindie had the capacity to be kind and supportive of this girl I wasn't going to discourage it.

At this point Shannen had started kindergarten and was experiencing her own social isolation. She was naturally introverted which probably didn't help matters but the bottom line was that a little girl in her class had taken an instant dislike to her and made it abundantly plain that she was going to make Shan's life a living hell. If other kids came over to play with Shan at recess, this girl would grab them by the hand and drag them away to play something with her. Before school and at lunch the girl could be heard across the room imitating Shannen's habit of brushing her hair back and speaking in a most unflattering manner. I spoke to the kindergarten teacher and she agreed that the girl was being incredibly mean to Shannen but asked what she was supposed to do about it? Students needed to learn to work these things out for themselves.

In this way things rocked on until last year. The pattern of bullying and social isolation became increasingly worse for both girls. New kids would join the class and be told "Don't be nice to THEM! If you're THEIR friend nobody will like you! They're WEIRD!" When Mindie was in fourth grade a new girl joined her class. The new girl was extremely shy and in a lot of emotional disarray from her parents' impending divorce. This girl had been homeschooled until fourth grade. Again Mindie adopted a hurting, lonely girl. The two were friends all through the fall term and Mindie and her little blonde friend (still awkward but no longer crying daily) listened to the new girl's confidences of how rough life was right them. They comforted her and worked tirelessly to cheer her up. The lonely duo became a trio as the new girl was isolated by association. Then over Christmas break the new girl went back to homeschooling. At the start of the next year the new girl was back and apparently determined to make some changes. She snubbed Mindie and her friend and went out of her way to ridicule them in front of peers. She had become part of the social majority but she was better at it than most of her classmates. She was downright witchy to Mindie, while most of the other girls in the class had been content to ignore her. Soon the boys joined in tormenting Mindie. They refused to use classroom resources like chalk or globes after Mindie and the teacher played along without comment. If anyone accidentally brushed up against Mindie they would make groaning and choking noises as loudly as possible while rushing to grab a classroom tissue and "clean themselves off." It became a classroom game to try and get Mindie or her friend to touch someone else's supplies to "contaminate" an absent or inattentive classmate. It was behavior Shannen had already been experiencing for two years, since she was in second grade. Teachers watched impassively. Aides looked away at recess as my girls and Mindie's friend were teased and shoved.

At this point my kids were coming home in tears daily and I felt helpless to help them. I'd been subjected to much the same treatment when I was in school and still had no idea how to make it stop. I talked to teachers and was told the same thing over and over, "If we catch anyone being bullied we try to stop it but we can't be everywhere. And being mean isn't the same as bullying anyway. Your kids just need better social skills." How were they supposed to develop those if nobody would even TALK to them in a civil manner?? At the time the school didn't have a principal. The superintendent did double duty so I talked to him. He acted shocked and very concerned and promised to look into it. Months of inaction later I checked back in. He once again acted shocked and concerned. This became a pattern at the school. Teachers knew what was going on but administration never had a clue, no matter how many times they were informed BY ME.

By the end of the 2009-2010 school year I'd given up hope that the school was willing or able to fix anything. There are no private schools in the area but lots of other area schools. I looked into all of them. All were worse than the one my kid went to in terms of academics and several had reputations for being more cliquish and bullying. I spent all summer trying to "homeschool" the girls in hopes of taking them out of school. But the time wasn't right yet so they marched back off to misery in the fall of 2010. That year things were marginally better for Mindie. She had returned to being ignored by her classmates instead of actively persecuted. By then it was a relief to be invisible to her peers. The highlight of the year for her was when one of the girls in her class told her that if she would lose weight and grow her hair out she would almost be pretty. It was the nicest thing said to her all year. Nothing was better for Shan and by the end of the year it was clear that it was crushing her. Luckily I was learning about unschooling by then.

This year Shan didn't go back to school but Mindie's still there. It's a small school and people do notice things. A couple of weeks into the school year, Shannen's lead tormentor walked up to Mindie at lunch and asked where Shannen was. Mindie told her Shan was being homeschooled because she was sick of being miserable and bullied. The girl looked Mindie dead in the eye and said (according to Mindie, who imitated her voice with a fluttering hand motion), "Oh, it wasn't because of mEEEEE was it?" Mindie just looked away and returned to eating. A couple of weeks later Shan ran into the school to tell Mindie something one afternoon and ran into her old nemesis. The girl said, "Everybody's saying you left because we were mean to you and bullied you." Shan, with great dignity, told her, "It doesn't matter now. It's in the past." The girl responded, "It was me, wasn't it?" while looking at the floor. Shan repeated her first answer and strode away. I think it was cathartic for Shannen. It's probably the closest she'll ever get to an apology and Shan reported that she wasn't sure how to take it. She felt torn between it being sincere remorse or possibly being the opening to a cruel trick (it wouldn't be the first time the girl had been emotionally manipulative to get a deeper jab in at Shan).

Meanwhile, Mindie has finally been making new friends at school. The "new girl" who was extra witchy to her has been making friendly overtures along with another girl that has been in the class since kindergarten. In the "Teen Leadership" class that Mindie's enrolled in the teacher makes them all write letters to one another. The only rule is that the letters can't be mean, they must be encouraging in some way. Today Mindie got two letters. One was from an upperclassman in a similar class. The girl wrote that she didn't know Mindie very well since they rarely spoke but she had always seen how kind Mindie is and that it always made her smile to see Mindie and Shannen together at school because they were so kind to one another. It was sweet but it made me want to scream at the same time. Of course Mindie and Shannen were kind to one another. It was the only kindness either of them got at that place. If they weren't nice to each other, nobody else was stepping in to fill the void.

The other letter Mindie got today was interesting, too. It was from the witchy girl. Basically it said, "Dear Mindie, I'm sorry for being so mean to you. I thought if I was nice to you I wouldn't have any other friends. Now I see, though, that the other girls aren't real friends anyway. They're the worst kind of people who are nice to everyone's face but mean behind their backs. You're twice the friend they'll ever be. Please forgive me for how I treated you." Every word is true and understandable. I've never been in that situation but I can understand how she felt and thought. But the mama bear in me wants to roar, "Sure, NOW you say that. The day AFTER Mindie tells you that we're planning to take her out of school next week! Great timing, kid!"

I asked Mindie, when she showed me the letter, if it changed her wanting to be homeshcooled. She said, "Not really. I mean, it's nice to have friends but I have friends who don't go to this school anyway. And it's not really the friends thing that makes me want to come home. It's the school thing. I don't think school is good for me or right. I'll be kind of sad to leave some maybe friends behind but I still want to leave so I can really learn things right."

Twists and turns, my friends, but the road is still going to the same place. It still leads right back to our home and our hearts. Ben's still being cagey. But then, he was cagey about Shan up until about five days before school started, too. It's just how his head works. He mulls and mulls but once he reaches a decision he acts on it quickly. He admits that a big part of what's holding him back is how strongly opposed to homeschooling his mother has been. But as we talked about that last night he reluctantly admitted that what was best for our girls was more important. And his eyes are being opened more and more to how harmful this school is to our kids.

He was shocked to discover that Shan, who has never fallen from the A honor roll at school, has no idea when to start a new paragraph when she's writing. He was even more dismayed when he realized night before last that neither of them had any idea how to neatly write a math problem on a sheet of notebook paper to work it because the teachers never wanted them to show the work; they just wanted a neat, clean answer sheet full of nothing but answers. He's been confused for years how Mindie can keep having such trouble in math when she gets it so instinctively. Finally the other night I handed her math homework help off to him and he realized that she was transposing numbers and losing track of what she was doing in the middle of the problem because she kept erasing and working algebra from memory to keep her (half-page) answer sheets neat. The "sloppy, lazy" mistakes she was making suddenly made sense to him. As I cede more and more of the public school stuff over to him (partly because he has the time this year and partly because I *don't* anymore) he's seeing the holes and gaps that I've been complaining about for years. And it's bringing him more and more to my way of thinking. I wish I'd known so much of this sooner. I wish I'd known that I could educate them without SCHOOLING them. I wish I'd known how to show him what was wrong. I wish I'd known they could have friends and normal social interaction by getting away from school and the weird, not-at-all-normal social interaction there. Most of all, I wish I'd known that if *I* don't stick up for them, who the heck will?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Carlsbad Caverns field trip report

So I'm back from the Carlsbad day. It was fun and it was nice to meet a few more homeschooling mamas. Shan was happy to meet a fellow female comic book geek and book nerd. The two of them talked about everything from systemic solutions to verbal bullying to "Little Women" vs. "Jo's Boys."

My big relief of the day was that I didn't feel like I had to hide my unschoolyness. In fact, when some of the other moms asked me the inevitable "what curriculum...?" question and I used the "u-word" two of them nodded with understanding! Neither is a radical unschooler but they know what it is and don't dislike the concept. And since I'm not rad yet myself (yet. YET!) it seemed kind of ok. They're all pretty relaxed eclectic anyway with various degrees of planning and enforcing. We had a nice chat about Charlotte Mason and the pros and cons of her methods since one mom is solid CM and another incorporates CM principles. And all of them were big on letting a child follow his/her natural interests and gifts and were living that in their families.

We ended up having 8 kids and 4 moms along while a 5th mom stayed home with most of the toddlers/preschoolers to just play. The kids ranged from 4 (he didn't want to be away from Mom and that was ok, too) to 13. One mom's 16 and 17 year olds stayed home (one had a college lab to be at and the other just didn't care to come along). Shan and the other girl were the ONLY girls, so it's handy that they're the same age and have a lot in common.

The best part of the day was watching the natural interests of the kids. Each seemed to have their own focus as we did things together but they all melded and blended so wonderfully. The 4-year-old was fascinated with every tiny cave pool. The 7-year-old boys were constantly on the lookout for wildlife. The 10-year-olds split into two camps - one that related everything back to the military, seeing the cave as a potentially useful military resource; and one camp (of 2 boys) that viewed caves as a frontier, the cutting edge of scientific discovery and was deeply interested in new discoveries that were coming out of caves. Shan was busy identifying new speleothems while her friend photographed the natural beauty of the cave and even helped Shannen out by taking some shots of formations Shan hadn't noticed before.

The moms were relaxed and enjoyed our own interests without feeling pressured to be "watching the kids" or "teaching the kids." If we heard a question we answered it but we didn't hover, testing their observations or forcing "education" on them. One mom took the lead on the hikes and a mom with a camera brought up the rear with the other two of us floating in between based pretty much entirely on how our legs were doing and what we saw that interested us.

I was the "native guide" for this one since my family knows and loves the Carlsbad cave system and caves in general. For a handful of points of interest I did make sure to stay in one place long enough to at least point it out to everyone walking by and answer questions if they had them. I was also the one to let our "lead mom" know what we could and couldn't get by with given our time constraints (we had a guided tour of some limited-access parts of the cave at a scheduled time to work around). The park rangers had expressed concern that we wouldn't have time to complete the full 1.3 mile trek around the Big Room and still make our tour group but I assured everyone that we could do it easily. I think they saw short legs and assumed a much slower pace than a pack of energetic boys normally runs at.

Our miracle of the day was the bat flight. Due to the drought and oncoming winter, that last few weeks of evening flights have been very small, sometimes as low as 1,000 bats coming out to hunt. Last night, though, we estimated about 20,000 bats leaving the cavern. The park rangers' "official" estimate was closer to 50,000. Despite fatigue (we ended up hiking over 4 miles by the end of the day) we stayed and watched the amazing exodus into the desert sunset. After the first few groups left the cave, I started watching the kids instead of the bats. I watched as each child reached their "OK, I think I'm done with this activity" moment and was amazed at how each one then settled quietly into some other activity that wouldn't disrupt others who were still engaged with the last activity. It warmed my heart to see them not only dedicated to learning, but considerate enough to be aware of others around them. That's no small thing for so many active, squirming boys in particular. Our reward, beyond the normal reward of knowing how awesome our kids are, was to be pulled aside by various members of the public to hear how great our kids are, how well behaved they had been all day, and how much they impressed the people around them. I think the best was from a woman who said, "I've been a teacher all my life. Your kids are homeschooled, aren't they? We never would have gotten that out of a class of kids." As much as that made me want to swell up in pride, it really just made me sad for all of the kids in public school who would LOVE an opportunity like we had yesterday but can't have it because they're in public school.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

They're Blinding Me with Science

My house is full of science experiments. Mindie has taken over the pseudo-foyer (a weird dimple off the living room that is in no way separated from that room except by shape) for a plant experiment. She has document boxes with shop lights clamped to them, each sporting a different 85 watt colored halogen bulb. Inside the boxes are zipper bags with wet paper towels and peas. The basic point of this experiment is "How will the color of the light affect the germination and growth of seeds?" She didn't want to use peas; she wanted pumpkin seeds because pumpkins are just way cooler. Unfortunately, she's public school and this experiment is on a deadline of 14 days. Pumpkin seeds can take that long to begin germinating. So she's using peas which germinate in about 7 days.

Nearby is the beginning of Shannen's science experiment. Hubby wants us more structured in science; I want us unschooling. Our compromise was to look at the objectives for the year in science and let Shannen figure out how she wanted to meet them. Ecosystems was a major theme in the objectives and Shan thought it would be great to design one of her own. She's scrubbed out a 10-gallon aquarium (we have tons of the things) and is researching to figure out how to build an ecosystem. She's off to a great start but doesn't want to put it all together and fill it with plants and critters until she's pretty certain of what she's doing. Luckily we're homeschool and her deadline is "When you're ready."

Meanwhile, an assortment of other less-formal science tools and toys are sitting around the house. A rubber band gun is handy to demonstrate principles of physics (and inflict pain on siblings). Sugar water is forming crystals on a string in a corner of the kitchen. A bowl full of mineral and rock samples rests in a prominent place in the living room for anyone that wants to observe properties of minerals (or just fool around with pretty rocks). The telescope is set up and a pair of binoculars hangs nearby along with a couple of constellation and star identification guides. They've recently been used to observe an annual meteor shower. They'll be used again in November to observe "Mindie's meteor shower" (the Leonids usually peak on Mindie's birthday and she has adopted them as a right and fitting tribute to her birth from the heavens). In between whenever anybody is interested in the night sky they're welcome to head out and star watch. And many, many more.

My kids have never seemed all that excited about science classes at school. They're interested enough in "real" science but reading science textbooks or listening to endless lectures or filling out vocabulary worksheets has pretty much dulled any enthusiasm for the sciences. It's nice to see a home alive with science.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Where I Admit a Host of Parenting Flaws and Fail to do Laundry

I admit it. I hate laundry. Well, specifically I hate folding and putting away laundry. Especially the daughters’ laundry. I can manage top undergarments because they’re different sizes so the difference is easy to spot. But they generally wear the same size shirts and some crossover in pants sizes so I can’t tell whose is whose. So I tend to put off doing laundry until a crisis arises. Crises like, “Mooom, I don’t have any clean bras! Or pants.” From the tone of their voices when issuing declarations of this nature, the bras are issues of national importance, while the pants are a nuisance side-note, more informational than anything.

My laundry avoidance occasionally leads to some interesting conversations in our household. I line the kids up and ask, “What do you need me to wash right now, in the load I’m putting in the washer this instant, if this is the only load I do tonight, so that you will have a full set of clothing to leave the house in the morning?” I’m sure you notice the oddly specific nature of this question. The reason will soon be revealed. Eldest responds, “I don’t have any jeans and I’m not wearing a skirt to school but other than that I’m ok for tomorrow.” The Younger adds, “I’m fine on everything. Except underwear.” This last is, in fact, a side-note to the kid. Underwear is apparently not essential clothing in her world, nor are socks. A boob harness is vital but underpants are less important than lip gloss. I don’t get it either. I look both kids in the eye. “So you,” pointing to The Eldest, “need pants to wear tomorrow. And you,” my finger turns to The Younger, “are out of underwear. So if I throw some jeans and underwear into this load y’all are going to leave the house in the morning fully clothed, right?”

The Eldest nods eagerly. The Younger comments, “Well, I’m not actually out of underwear; just sort of low. But I have a few pairs; enough for tomorrow and the next day.” My face pinks slightly. My mind screams, “This is not the question I asked!” but I keep my cool. “So you don’t actually need underwear in this load right now?” She shakes her head hesitantly, sensing my lack of cool.

I try again, “You,” pointing at The Eldest, “need jeans. You,” The Younger, “don’t need anything for tomorrow.” The Eldest again gestures in the affirmative. The Younger pauses a split second before saying, “I need underwear. And pants.”

Wait, what?? This conversation is degenerating rapidly. She now needs two items. But she doesn’t actually need one of them. But it’s easier to just go along now. What’s a pair or two of underpants in the load, right? “OK. I’ll go wash what you guys need and… Wait a minute, you have pants! I just put a pair in your pile and you put them away not five minutes ago!”

“Well, yeah, but I’m generally sort of lowish on pants. I think I only have like three pairs.”

“But – but – that’s not what I –“ I splutter, my face taking on the hue of a tomato. I sigh, take a deep breath, count to five and continue in resignation, “OK, I’ll wash you some pants and underwear.”

Friday, August 26, 2011

Show and Tell

I read the saddest thing this morning. It was just a sentence or two but it broke my heart a little.

[Mood and tone] are often confused and middle school students can't seem to find a way to differentiate the two, no matter how many times they are told that tone is what the author/narrator's attitude is towards the text and that mood is the reader's attitude toward the text.

Wow. That attitude just takes my breath away. "No matter how many times they are told" seems to me an expression of frustration. How often do we as parents and educators share that feeling? "I've told you and told you...!" Or, as my mother often phrased that same exasperation, "Do I have to jump up and down on your chest to teach/remind you to breathe???"

If nothing else, I've been very forcefully reminded lately that only the smallest portion of learning comes from being told something. And yet as adults we persist in believing that if we tell someone a thing enough times it will sink into their [presumably thick] heads and they will finally learn it. Stop and watch children convey information to one another. They use their entire bodies, miming actions, sketching pictures, holding up finished products, imitating sounds. Remember the old school assignment where you write instructions for a simple task such as making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? I don't know how that assignment played out for others but in my class the teacher proceeded to demonstrate following our directions to the letter and made a huge mess. Because telling conveys only a small part of the experience. Imagine if we had been allowed to make the sandwich while describing our actions. Imagine if we had gotten to add a diagram of the steps or even a picture of a completed sandwich. Teaching incorporates so much more than telling, telling, telling.

What have you been telling your kids that you could express in another way?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Plank Pullin' - The Prickly One

This is one I've been meaning to do for some time. I have plenty of planks to pull. So let's start the deconstruction!

I'm brittle. Sensitive. Whatever word it is you use to say "I get my feelings hurt far too easily and frequently feel snubbed or slighted when no such thing was intended." The Hubs will pick up something laying on an end table and I fly into defensive mode, determined to show him that I am NOT a bad housekeeper - the jerk! How dare he insult my homemaking skills! By - um - errr - picking up - after him - self? My mother-in-law and sister-in-law will run out of town shopping together and one will ask if they can pick anything up for me. Steam begins to billow from my ears. My eyes cross. Blood boiling. They've snubbed me! They could ask me to go but noooooo, they just - kindly offer - to do me - a - favor?

I think what makes it worse is that this trait reminds me so much of my mother. How often would that woman irrationally fly off the handle at some perceived slight that never happened? I've really felt convicted about this lately. The funny thing is, what kicked off the conviction was an incident that I'm still not convinced wasn't an intentional slight. Either way, though, it brought to my eyes the fact that too often I respond with a flash of anger to a perfectly harmless thing somebody does. And as I think about my own mother and her responses I remember that constant feeling of walking on eggshells around her, trying not to break the wrong nerve and cause her to lash out. This is what I've probably been doing to my own husband and daughters.

I can't promise an overnight change but at least I finally noticed the giant log in my eye so I can start taking steps to fix it. Possibly one toothpick at a time, but that's better than nothing. And I promise, if you chime in with an opinion here, I won't bristle up and snap at you ;-)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


It's a little ICU ala Bohemian Bowmans.

This week we want to: survive the week. That's pretty much my only goal. Shannen wants to do other things like hanging out online with friends, "getting" another math thing that's frustrating her, read more books, and generally have fun.

The kids are: amazing me with their drive to do things that I can't imagine wanting to do. Like the math thing. They're spending time on Khan Academy, watching lots of Netflix documentaries, scouring my DVDs for musicals, and driving me crazy begging for carbonated beverages.

I am learning: compromise. I stink at it. But I'm learning. I'm also learning a lot about learning. Which is neat.

I am struggling with: compromise. LOL Seriously, it's hard (she whined obnoxiously). Have I mentioned that hubby and I are not in total agreement about how to best educate our youngsters?

This week is the first time: I've gotten to sleep before 3 AM in a looong time.

I am grateful: for the time I'm able to spend really CONNECTING with my kids and the chance to watch them become amazing young ladies that I'm proud to count as friends.

One thing I have changed in the last year is: how I'm able to talk to my girlies about subjects that make me very uncomfortable.

Tales from Public School 1

This will probably be an ongoing series for a while. I intend to chronicle the silly, the ridiculous, and the downright stupid that I notice in my older girl's public school. Texas is now 2 days into the 2011-2012 school year. Here's what has tickled my funny bone so far:

The first day of school, Mindie came home talking about her classes. This year they have a new class called "Teen Leadership." Apparently the purpose of this class is to, in Mindie's words, "teach us how to work in groups and feel good about ourselves." I'm going to refrain from commenting on how often those two are mutually exclusive goals. What I would like to point out is how the teacher began this class. They were to introduce themselves by standing up and saying, "I'm [name] and I like myself." I asked Mindie if this increased her self esteem. Her eyes rolled back up in her head and she replied, "Yeah. Because if I say it enough it'll be true, right? I'm Mindie and I like myself. I'm Mindie and I like myself." She continued the chant for a while, becoming increasingly silly with it. This is one of my pet peeves with "self esteem" as preached by public schools. Apparently, to hear educators talk, self esteem is something that can be obtained through repeating untrue mantras and collecting hollow compliments. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of self esteem. It is, to be perfectly honest, one of the reasons Shannen is staying OUT of public schools this year (and hopefully for the rest of her years.)

The second day of school brought two more funnies. Apparently there was a school assembly this morning. They watched a movie about "a guy with no arms and no legs who goes around to schools to talk about stuff. A lot of the females in the audiences get all teary." I asked Mindie what the point of the movie and/or the speaker was. "I don't know. I got bored and kind of zoned out. Don't be different or something." Since I'm reasonably certain the school didn't put on a presentation about the joys of conformity hosted by a differently able person I can only assume that this presentation failed in an epic way.

The other funny was a little more subtle. Mindie told me the school is cutting down on the amount of time between classes. In the midst of major construction they now have 4 minutes to move between classes. She also outlined the new tardy policy. On the first tardy of the semester students will be assigned a 30 minute after-school detention. The second tardy will get a student "swats." Obviously this isn't a "ha-ha" funny situation but I find some gentle humour in the thinking behind these two changes together. I wonder if anyone at the school even put these two policies together in their head before setting down rules.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Fork in the Road

If this process we're going through toward unschooling is a roadtrip, we've hit a fork in the road. After much thought, discussion, and prayerful consideration we've reached a decision for the next step in the journey. Shannen will be staying home this year. Mindie will be returning to public school for another year.

The reason for this is that after talking with The Hubs about it all, we felt like Shannen had the most to gain by staying home. Public school has been hard on Shan. The bullying because the first week of kindergarten. It's gotten worse from there. Most days after school last year, Shan got in the car in tears. A clique of girls long ago targeted Shannen for "outcast" social status. By second grade when the class got two new girls, the clique had exerted enough social pressure that Shan had no friends. The clique ostracized and excluded anyone who tried to be friendly to Shannen. The new girls were told that Shannen was a "snobby b-word." One of the new girls chose to cozy up to Shannen anyway so the two are friends in isolation. They sit alone at lunch. They play alone on the schoolyard. They're not invited to anybody's birthday party and when the class is forced to sing the birthday song to either of these girls, the female part of the class silently glowers instead of singing. Now that middle school has arrived a new taunt has been added to the chorus of jeers. My daughter and her lone friend are now "lesbians" and "perverts." If either of them so much as glances at a boy, she's teased for days about being a "slut."

Academically Shannen has spent the past 7 years being an A-honor roll student. Twice now she's scored perfectly on the objective verbal/language skills portion of the state standardized test. She's been reading on a college level since 4th grade. Her math skills are weaker, but only by comparison. She's excellent at mental math but gets a little lost in writing it down sometimes. She's capable of doing math a level or two ahead of her grade.

Unfortunately her organizational skills are very poor. She frequently loses assignments, often after she's already completed them. She forgets homework, forgets to bring home the books necessary for the homework, forgets to return the homework. Her locker (as well as her bedroom at home) is full of trash mixed in with useful things. Her handwriting is sloppy and nearly illegible at times. She scares us all when she uses scissors because of the way she holds them pointed toward her belly but no matter how many times we guide her in holding her scissors properly, she always defaults back to that dangerous position. She was 7 before she learned to tie her shoes and she still has trouble tying them well enough to stay that way for very long. We blamed it all on her being a lefty for a long time but I've wondered in recent years. We've tried many, many strategies to help her learn some minimal level of organizational skills but so far haven't found one that works for her.

The other big problem we've had with her may sound familiar to parents of children with Asperger's syndrome. When she's motivated to learn something she learns in minute detail. When she's not motivated there seems to be very little we can do to get the information into her head. Luckily, so far her intelligence has kept that from hindering her at school too much but she's probably on the verge of hitting a brick wall in regards to math. Meanwhile, if "Star Wars" were a school subject she'd be operating on a Ph.D. level of work. Similarly "Harry Potter" and "Percy Jackson" are subjects in which she can share a level of detail in which probably even the authors are uninterested. As a matter of fact, most anything in the Greco-Roman mythos is intimately familiar to her.

She recently came to me complaining of boredom. I thought I might try to "teach" her how to wiki-surf. We went to Wikipedia and she entered "Greek mythology" at my direction. Then she turned to me and said, "Mom, I've already read this." I told her to be patient and click on one of the links in the article. She'd read it too. I told her to click another link. After two hours of systematic clicking and paging back I discovered that this was something with which she was all too familiar. She had already read EVERY link in the main Greek mythology link and followed each link in those articles. She's basically read Wikipedia on everything remotely related to Greek literature and mythology. For kicks and giggles I decided to try something. I found an old test in my files from a college course I took in mythology and had her take the test. All of the objective standards were 100% correct when she finished but the majority of the test was short answer and essay. I spent two days looking up some of the things she included in her answers. She was right on all of it. Beyond that, she showed a high degree of analysis of her information. I pulled up a few other mythology tests online (tests from college courses, not the silly Quizilla style things) and she aced those as well. This kid is probably capable of doing grad-level work in mythology. But it's amazingly lopsided for her. Greek and Roman mythology she knows inside and out. She grasps an overview of Norse mythology but has no interest in it at all. Japanese mythology is almost as intimate as Greco-Roman. She's apparently still working through Egyptian mythology in her head. She can repeat stories about virtually any figure in Egyptian mythology but she can't draw conclusions about that information yet or relate it to other mythologies.

With all this sort of thing in mind, we felt like Shannen had a lot to lose by going back to school. But The Hubs is still nervous about chucking it all to homeschool. I suspect that his very disapproving mother might have something to do with it. Either way, Mindie isn't as hampered by school. What harm it probably does her seems minimal. She fits in better with her peers and has many friends of a variety of ages both within and outside of the school environment. School might not challenge her as much as I would like but it provides her with opportunity for intellectual growth. It doesn't seem to stifle her creativity or curiosity since she still comes home and pursues learning and creating opportunities on her own initiative.

And so when two paths diverged in a wood, we took both paths.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Theater Chronicles: Pt. 2 - On the Source of My Current Joy

I started last night's blog off with how happy I am right now but I got a little verbose before I made it to my point. I'm almost there, I promise.

"Kids Say the Darndest Things" was a huge success for me. But some of the process of getting there was frustrating. I was working with mostly completely inexperienced actors and actresses. The director had never worked with so many kids nor so many novices. And I was working with my daughter among them. It was difficult and it certainly didn't end in complete success but it started me thinking and sharpened my appetite for teaching. It was never teaching itself that I was uncomfortable with, just the other stuff that goes with teaching in a school environment.

The biggest task with this group of kids was getting them to project. Maybe 3 in our cast of more than 20 got it in the beginning. I hit upon a technique or two that got around a 100% boost in volume out of the kids I tried it on. It's really two variations on the same thing. I tried it first on Shannen at home. I could not seem to get through to her how to speak from her diaphragm. Finally I just socked her in the gut. Not hard enough to hurt her but enough to leave her slightly breathless. In that moment I saw the click. Air comes from there! There was an immediate 50% volume increase as she struggled to figure out how to control that air. There were two problems with that technique. I could get away with doing it to my daughter but I didn't think I could go around punching my cast members. And besides, it made the idea of using her diaphragm click but still left her trying to figure out what to do with it.

After a day or two of thought I hit upon a more effective variation. I stood behind Shannen as she practiced her lines with my arms around her, hands resting on her abdomen just below her diaphragm. As she spoke, I pressed inward forcing just a little air out. As she repeated the line I pressed harder. Her volume began to rise. We repeated the activity five times with me pressing harder each time. And suddenly sound exploded from her. My quiet, mumbling daughter was issuing words that carried through the house. I took my hands off and the volume and resonance continued. By jove, she had it!

My next victim - er, pupil - was a young man of the same general age who was working and struggling to improve his performance. I could see him take director's notes each night and incorporate them into his next performance. He clearly wanted to get better. I pulled him aside and repeated the exercise I used on Shannen. He was a quick study and only took three tries to make the connection. That night I watched him onstage as we rehearsed. He sat up straighter when performing his lines and a few times I caught his arms crossed over his diaphragm. He was giving himself the mechanical push I had used to kick off a vastly louder performance.

I was hooked. I was teaching and I loved it! But there was a storm cloud brewing on the horizon. Shannen was moving into "I know, Mom!" mode. She was mentally tuning me out. And worse, she resented having to do it. My enthusiasm was overwhelming her fun. I backed off for the rest of the play. This was her spotlight and she deserved the space to find out if she liked it. Even though I was itching to push her to give the performance I saw buried in her, I resisted the urge.

Luckily for both of us, my own love of the limelight has dimmed some since my youth. By the time we were done with "Kids Say the Darndest Things" I was worn out and ready for a break. I knew there was going to be a performance geared for young actors over the summer and this time I was going to stick to the plan and only work backstage.

The summer play is "Narnia" and I stuck to the plan. I'm general backstage crew. I'm listed on the bill as properties master but I'm also in charge of sets, organizing backstage crew, and hair. The only time I set foot on stage is when the lights are out or the curtains are closed. Strangely, it's giving me new opportunities to work with Shannen on performing. The "Narnia" directors are a husband and wife team and they're fairly hands-off in terms of teaching but they're asking a high degree of performance from the cast. Shannen is struggling to give them what they expect. Because I'm not in the cast with her it's giving me a degree of separation that makes her more willing to accept guidance and mentoring from me. I'm not as much of a teacher in the formal sense now and yet I'm teaching her more and more.

At first she was only willing to let me run lines with her so that's what I did. As staging progressed, though, she was turning to me for guidance on how to meet the directors' requests. One of the directors would say, "Shannen, your words have to cut through their bickering here. You have to be commanding." Shannen would come to me at a break and want to know how. She would practice the lines and look to me for suggestions on improving them.

Finally a couple of nights ago we left rehearsals with her frustrated and upset because she just wasn't getting it all. When we got home she and I hunkered down in her room and I was able to introduce my peculiar blend of classical and method acting. The Method made sense to her but just as I had found long before, it's difficult to use for a younger actor. The lack of life experience limits the pool from which an actor can draw as well as the depth of that pool. But like many young actors, Shannen is a keen observer of the people around her. If she hasn't yet experienced the profound sorrow to fuel a tragic performance, she's seen people around her experience a much deeper sadness than she herself has felt. I encouraged her to draw not only on her own well of experience but on her observations of others. How did I act when my mother died? And suddenly she was able to portray sorrow with genuineness. In "Narnia" she's playing the eldest boy, Peter. Shannen is the youngest girl in our family, though. By connecting Peter to her older sister, Shannen has taken on the strange blend of bossy and nurturing that seems so natural to an oldest child.

We were even able to draw on other actors' performances in loved movies. Peter leads the Narnian army in the second act. Clearly Shannen has no personal experience from which to draw to command troops or run a battlefield. What she does have is a deep and abiding awe for the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. With a nudge in that direction she was able to weave together a powerful general who inspired love and loyalty in his troops. She found the voice to shout orders above the din of battle. She pulled up a well-spring of strength to face an overwhelming force in a battle that seems doomed. She even found the softness to connect with her stage siblings in that hopeless moment before battle is joined without losing the edge of desperation and determination.

All that remains for Shannen in this performance is her greatest challenge: to let go and show the happiness and exuberance that she keeps tightly bottled in her own life. It was sadly amusing last night to watch Shannen onstage with everybody else as Aslan returns from death to aid Narnia in the final battle. The other actors were bounding around the stage, animated in their joy. Shannen stood to one side with a stoic (and strangely sardonic) grin barely passing her lips. After several attempts from the directors to get her to "happy up" they finally gave up and moved on with the scene. After we got home I holed up in her room with her again and we tried to find something for her to hold onto in her head to let the happy flow but we never really got close. With each idea she wavered between sarcastic amusement and maniacal glee. We'll keep trying today and every day until we get it, but I'm not sure she's ready to let that wall down yet.
In the meantime, though, I'm having more fun than I ever dreamed possible. Seeing things click for her, watching her improve, learn, and really hone her craft is more satisfying to me than a million standing ovations. And it's giving me dreams again. I'm thinking of other ways I can share this love and passion with other "students." Except students isn't the right word at all. The more I'm de-schooling myself the more I think "partners" is a better word than "pupils." For whatever knowledge I have to impart on young actors, they have as much to teach me. Learning isn't a one-sided relationship at all, I'm discovering.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Theater Chronicles: Pt. 1 - Of What Came Before

I'm so far beyond happy right now. When I was a teen I had a career plan. I was going to be a drama teacher. It was going to be wonderful and I was going to ignite a passion in young people. At some point in my first year of college I started thinking about that dream in realistic and concrete terms. I began to imagine not just the awesome classroom exercises I would lead or the public performances I would direct but also the "staff development" meetings I would sit through, the teacher evaluations I would endure. I thought for the first time of those students who took drama not because they had a love of the stage but because it was the class their pencil dropped on in the "fine arts credits" column. I began to wonder how I would grade students who had a great deal more enthusiasm than talent. And suddenly I knew that I wasn't cut out for teaching, at least not in a public school setting. I switched majors to something more practical that I wouldn't completely hate and I shelved a dream.

When I gave up the dream of teaching theater I also shelved being a part of the theater. First I had studies to concentrate upon. Maybe later I would have time for my silly hobby. Then I had small children who needed me. Maybe when they grew up I might have time for my silly hobby. Then I was in a small community and the theater group was probably cliquish and I was shy. Maybe someday I'd get the gumption up to indulge my silly hobby.

In January, my then-11-year-old daughter told me she wanted to try her hand at acting. I can't say I gave it much thought beyond agreeing that she could audition for a play "sometime" if a suitable part came up. She was elated and in her youthful passion she mentioned it to a church friend who happens to serve on the community theater's board. In February my mom was dying, I was driving 160 miles a day to be with her in the hospice then returning home each evening to care for my family. One evening when I checked messages there was one from the church friend. "Hey honey. I just wanted to let you know they're doing the cutest little play called 'Kids Say the Darndest Things' and holding auditions in a week. It would be just perfect for Shannen, don't you think?" My heart skipped a beat. My brain went into overdrive. She HAD to be in this play but how on earth was I going to manage to get her to auditions and help her learn lines while my mother was 80 miles away dying? I was so conflicted. Finally I decided to take her to auditions and just see what happened.

Luck was on my side, sort of. The first day of auditions there was a nasty ice storm. That meant no trip to sit with Mom that day. We slid into a parking spot in front of the theater and both girls and I trooped into a frozen theater. Almost literally. The plumbing had completely frozen. The heat wasn't working. It was cold and miserable. But I was in a theater again for the first time in 14 years and it felt like being home. A sad, shivering group of kids assembled in the front of the house. Two adults besides the director were there. Another joined us later. I helped Shannen fill out her bio sheet. I had a few words with the director. I volunteered to work backstage if needed. It was something my mother did in my early theater years, too. If she was going to have to drive me into town for rehearsals and hang around waiting, she might as well be productive and keep an eye on me. More often than not she served as a dresser, assisting people with quick costume changes.

I sat and watched kids read parts. I'd like to say Shannen was a shining star but she wasn't. She was better than many of the hopefuls with no prior experience but there were plenty better than she was. And then the director pleaded for adults to audition for the part of the host. I watched the dad stumble through a painful reading. I debated internally. I tried to talk myself out of it but somehow my body shot up against my brain's will. I grabbed a pencil from the pile near the bio sheets and I stepped up onto the stage with a script.

Let me flash back for a moment to a time when I was around 12 years old myself. I was an avid reader and frequent patron of the local library. I had discovered an author named Erma Bombeck who made me laugh even though I probably didn't identify with a lot of the humor. On the shelf near Erma's offerings was a small tome entitled "Kids Say the Darndest Things" by Art Linkletter. I checked it out one day and had finished reading it by the next. And then I read it again. And again. I couldn't have told you then what it was in Mr. Linkletter's writing that struck such a chord in me but I knew that he spoke to a very private part of myself. Sure, the things he mentioned the kids saying was funny, but that wasn't what I got from his book. There was something in HIM that appealed to me. It would be more than 20 years before I understood what it was. My point is that I identified with this role. Strangely, in January before I knew about this play I had been watching YouTube clips of the show to try and cheer myself up as Mom's condition wore me down.

When I stepped on stage that evening, some amazing things happened. The first was that my passion for performing was reignited. I hadn't even been aware of the loss until I felt it return. The second was that some part of Art Linkletter came through me as I read his words to my audience. I don't mean in that corny "channelling" way. I wasn't possessed. But that something inside me that had been stirred so many years ago reading the book for the first dozen times came alive and poured out of me. It was a sense of wonder, awe, amazement, and yes, amusement at the minds of children and a burning desire to share that with the world. I wanted people to see the freshness with which the young view the world and to laugh not only at the obviously humorous misuses of our language but at the innocence and yet timeless wisdom of their genuine observations.

I guess I wowed the director but I honestly don't remember much of my performance because I was lost in it. She took a few days before letting me know for sure I had the part but I could tell when I left the theater that night that it was mine. My certainty wasn't because of her behavior but the simple knowledge that it was MY part. I hadn't been acting on that stage. I was sharing myself through someone else's words. Thalia, the muse of comedy, would never let that part go to anyone else.

When I was offered the role I told Dee, the director, "I might as well warn you now. My mom's in a hospice in Odessa and she's dying. We don't know how long it will take but that's going to complicate your schedule." She, in her wonderful way, said, "I figured something like that was going on. Don't worry. We'll work around it. I want you for this part." At the same time, Shannen was offered a role in the third scene as one of the principal interviewees.

Mom passed away a week later. I'm sad that she wasn't able to be in the front row on opening night to see TWO of her girls on stage together. In my more maudlin moments I comfort myself by thinking that she was on the front row in Heaven although I really don't believe that any more than I believe in Greek Muses. I think in Heaven, being with our Creator pretty much eclipses our interest in what's happening back on earth. But since nobody's ever come back to tell me for sure, I figure the possibility of me being wrong is enough that I don't mind the occasional comfortable delusion.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Truth About Schedules

I suffer from chronic depression. One of the things that makes that worse is lack of structure in my life. But the flip side is that when I'm overscheduled, I'm seriously stressed. I constantly walk a tightrope when it comes to structure without rigidity. My kids obviously feel the effects of my little circus act and, sadly, suffer the ill-effects when my foot slips from the wire.

Last summer we "played with" homeschooling. Being type A, I had lessons planned down to the minute. In the end, the rigidity of my self-imposed schedule put us all off of homeschooling. But it's still been very much on my mind and in my heart. Which is why it seemed like kismet when I made friends with an unschooler online this year. Unschooling suits mine and my children's natural inclinations much more than "classroom at home" homeschooling.

But one of my reservations about unschooling initially was the lack of structure. Over the past couple of weeks I've been thinking, praying, and experimenting. Finally tonight I stumbled upon an epiphany. Quite simply, we can have a flexible schedule. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Duh, Mari! Aren't you supposed to be smart???" And yes, thank you, I believe I am pretty smart. But one of my major flaws (should I save this for the Plank Pullin' meme?) is that I tend to think of real-world things in very black or white terms. My thinking has always been, "I need schedule. Therefore I will schedule every minute of every day and follow it strictly," or "I hate schedules even though I need them. Therefore I will do what I want except when outside forces impose a schedule upon me."

What I decided today and will experiment with for a while until we make it work is that I can create a loose (hour by hour, broad) schedule and follow it unless something more absorbing comes up. So I started by relaxing the summer schedule I had started with. It looks something like this:
9 AM - up and at 'em. Eat breakfast, clean up, get ready to face the day!
10 AM - Outside time before it really heats up out there. Do whatever we want outdoors in the fresh air
11 AM - Back inside for a little housework. Do whatever needs to be done to make the house a friendly place to be
12 PM - lunch
1 PM - kitchen time. I try to do a little cooking or baking daily even if it's to give away or put in the freezer for the future. The girls love to help and can do whatever they want in the kitchen with me
2 PM - creative time. Already mentioned this in an earlier blog post. Anything that's creative is a-ok, individually or together
3 PM - get our bodies moving. If anyone wants to brave the beginning of the hot part of the day, they're welcome to do so. Otherwise, we have workout DVDs, exercise equipment, and music all over the place. As long as your body is moving, you're doing fine
4 PM - free time to pursue whatever interests you
6 PM - Mom's putting dinner on. Do you want to help or keep pursuing your own interests?
12 PM - bedtime so we can face another day well-rested

And here's where the epiphany comes in: if we're doing creative time (or whatever) and everybody's having fun and doesn't want to do something else, who's making us?? We can be the boss of the schedule instead of the other way around! This kind of schedule can give us some structure to make me feel like I'm doing something and keep the kids from getting into boredom fights (you know the ones I'm talking about - the kind where they pick at each other just because they have nothing better to do) but if we get engrossed in a project, we can see it through until we're done with it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I CU - a little belated ;-)

OK, I'm a little late, but better late than never. I think maybe participating in this meme will help ME deschool.

This week we want to...finish up Daddy's t-shirt, do some tie-dying of our own.

The kids are...Mindie is very focused on working on her website. Shannen just wants to read (no surprise).

I am learning...that a couple of art projects is enough on the list of goals. I struggle with wanting to go back up to that first sentence and add ten more objectives because it feels "sparse." I'm learning to let go and not overload us with my good intentions and guilt issues.

I am struggling to show the hubs that we can do this and we don't want to go back to school next fall.

This week is the first time...LOL there are lots of firsts for this week. One of the big ones is that this week is the first time Shannen has been willing to do something without me outside of school. She begged and begged me to audition for "Narnia" with her, but I just really wasn't feeling it, so she's been begging and begging me to stay for rehearsals. Finally Tuesday, for the first time, she let go and didn't ask me to stay. I'm glad to see she's finding something she enjoys independently and is starting to branch out make make friends.

I am grateful...that I've met such a fabulous group of Christian unschoolers! Not only are they bringing me peace about unschooling, they've welcomed me as a friend and accept the weirdness that is ME. They've shared their children with my Mindie, who is discovering that she's not as weird as she thought she was; she's just been a very big, bright fish in a very small, dark pond.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

That u-word again

I haven't mentioned to the kids that we're trying this whole unschool thing out. Last summer we tried "homeschool" and it was an unmitigated disaster. I didn't want to saddle them with my wacky experimentation this time and since this entire educational philosophy is very holistic, I thought we'd try it without them knowing we were trying anything at all.

Unfortunately I underestimated the keen eyes and mind of Mindie. She's on Facebook and asked me yesterday about all the sudden new friends popping up on my Facebook page. I tried to shove it off as "this group I joined" but she wasn't about to be blown off that easily. After many questions that I answered as vaguely as possible, I finally told her the group was for Christian unschooling. "Un-what-the-huh?"

I explained some of the educational philosophies. "There's an educational theory that if you leave a student alone to pursue what interests her, encourage her, equip her to follow those interests, and then let her fail or succeed on her own without forcing her to study things she isn't interested in or ready to absorb she will eventually learn the things she needs to know without hating the learning process or clubbing her brain into mush along the way."

"Hey, I like that theory!" But I wasn't ready to let it pass so easily now that we were talking. I decided to play devil's advocate.

"Well of course you do. It's an excuse to do nothing, right?"

"No way! You could learn better this way. And you wouldn't be doing nothing, you'd be learning, right?"

"What if you decided that all you were interested in was playing Guitar Hero?"

"Yeah, that's fun," she started, "but I couldn't do it for like a whole year."

"Just a whole summer?"

"Yeah, but it's summer. I have to let my brain breath from all that stupid stuff they keep cramming into it at school. Besides, you know it won't last all summer. In a few weeks, I'll be ready to do something new and different."

"You think so?"

"Well yeah! Once I really 'get it' I'm ready to learn something new. That's why I hate school so much. They never let you stay on something long enough to really get it but then when you finally do they keep making you do it and do it and do it even though you already know how!"

"Ok, but how would you know what to learn if nobody told you what you were supposed to be learning?" I posed.

"Hmmmm...good question. I guess I could learn the things I need as I need them."

"But if you need to know how to solve an algebraic equation, are you going to have time to go learn how to solve it?"

"I dunno. How often am I going to need to know how to do that anyway?"

"I do pretty often. Like when we're going to San Antonio and I want to figure out where we'll need to stop for gas so I can plan when/where we're going to eat. I have to figure that we leave Lamesa with a full tank of gas that'll comfortably get us about 300 miles. But it's about 350 miles to San Antonio. So how shy of San Antonio will we be when we need to fill up? And what time do we need to leave Lamesa for us to hit that point around a meal time?"

"Yeah, but Mom you don't need ALGEBRA for that. Just - y'know- logic and math stuff."

"Sweetheart, algebra is just APPLIED 'logic and math stuff'"

"Oh. It never seems that way to me."

"That's because school presents it as these equations with no context. And besides, you haven't had 'the click' yet for algebra. You know, that moment where it finally makes sense?"

"And that's why we should be doing the unschool thing!"

That's my girl.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A fun day

We did errands today, which is always -erm, interesting - with my girls. We played our word game as we did them. At one point Mindie got the letter "e" and shouted "emasculate!" in the post office parking lot, which earned us all "a look" from the gentleman parked next to us. Mindie had heard the word but didn't know what it meant. She learned what it meant after we got back in the car and we all had a nice talk about not using unknown words in public. Another "fun" moment with the word game had Shannen musing "Hmmm...what's a body part that starts with c?" To which, Mindie smirked and burst into giggles. I warned her off of explaining the source of her mirth.

Yes, the word game continues. They've added a new layer of challenge. With no formal agreement, they've started trying to use words that fit into some category or have some sort of similarity until somebody can't find another word that fits classification and then they move on to another one. Body parts have been done and I was surprised with their grasp of anatomy. They did cars for a while but got bored with it. They tried adverbs and then adjectives. They introduced the game to a friend this evening and she got them doing words with Latin roots. The game continues to mutate, educate, and entertain.

We started through a box of books that Shannen rescued. The book situation is reaching critical as more and more teachers retire at the girls' school and offer up their classroom libraries to their students. Few of the students are interested and the school library refuses to take them, so Shannen brings home boxes and boxes of the things. When we go through the boxes we weed out multiple copies to parcel to others, pass on books of no interest to the girls and books too far below their reading level, and then try to shelve what's left in with our own library. Unfortunately that's getting to be difficult because we're running out of walls for bookcases. It's helped that I'm converting my cookbook collection to digital which has freed up a bookcase for now, but I expect that to refill by the time we're done with the latest batch of rescue books.

This evening Shannen had rehearsals for "Narnia" and the director finally assigned parts. Shan is a host of bit parts which suits her fine. She's even more excited that her host of bit parts are all on the - stern? mean? evil? - side. And she's not required to do any singing, which elates her. She was very pleased that the director told her that her voice was a little weak but her acting was exceptional. That's my girl! And Mindie and I join rehearsals next week as we all begin working on costuming, sets, and props. My favorite part is that I'm not wardrobe mistress or property master but I get to have a hand in both and I'll get to help dress backstage on performance nights. Mindie is excited to get out of the booth and work in the wings this time.

After rehearsal the girls invited their friend along to the concert. I'm flattered to be "a trustworthy adult" (something I've never considered myself ;-) to the friend's father. It was a beautiful performance put on by a trio of Julliard juniors who call themselves, unsurprisingly T.R.I.O. It's an acronym for "Teaching and Rehearsal Internet Outreach." Apparently one of the girls, after having a pre-audition "rehearsal" via Skype with a touring professor had an epiphany that this was a method to share quality music training and mentoring with students in rural areas who had limited access to well-trained musical instructors. The performance is a fundraiser for this project. The young ladies played French horn, piano, and violin. It's an unusual chamber composition for which there are limited arrangements (well, actually there's ONE arrangement) but the girls overcome this by arranging their own compositions.

We got a few stares because the three girls were in tanks, shorts, and flip flops but nobody said anything to our faces. Personally, I'm of the opinion that music doesn't have a dress code. The girls were enchanted, even Shannen who usually makes faces when Mindie and I flip to the classical radio station. The reception afterward was nice and the girls were beautifully behaved. I was most impressed and have resolved to take this trio more places.

Now we're home and getting ready for a decent bedtime because the girls are going to Lubbock tomorrow with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law for manicures, pedicures, and shopping. Thank heavens somebody else is willing to take them for the girl stuff because that last trip to the salon just about killed me. It's amazing how much energy "girl stuff" sucks out of me. Normally, three hours of sitting with a book is awesome but somehow, three hours of sitting with a book while people around me get their hair done and talk about girl junk is draining.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Word games are fun for everyone

Verbal skills in this house are king, queen, monarch, emperor, figurehead, supreme authority, and everything else. We love, love, love word games, word puzzles and just generally words.

Yesterday the girls started playing a word game that's lasted for 2 days and counting. Every time we're together but not involved in conversation we're playing. Over baskets and baskets of laundry (Mt. Washmore is dwindling rapidly) one girl will say a word. The next person says a word that begins with the last letter of the previous word. There's no strict order to "turns" except that I'm limiting myself to one for each of the girls' offerings. If someone has an inspiration, they shout it out. The girls have surprised me with their vocabulary (and I didn't think that was possible since I'm sick to death of hearing how amazing their vocabulary is). Words have ranged from lagomorph (the fancy taxonomy for rabbits and hares) to xenophobic (fear of strangers or foreigners) to equinox. And those weren't MY words. I haven't wanted to interrupt the fun for "spelling lessons" so if there's a question about what letter a word ends in, I just supply the spelling and we move on. Stupid silent e's sometimes still trip them up.

What word games do you play with your kids?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Unschooling in public schools?

An interesting topic sprang up yesterday on the Unschool group on Facebook. We were talking about "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." It got me thinking about my own public school experiences. Honestly, I went to a pretty "average" school district. They weren't exceptional in any way. But along the way, I did have some pretty exceptional teachers. They were the teachers who really made an impact on me because they saw how I learned and worked with me to make the most of my education instead of trying to cram me into the mold of the other students.

I was a very motivated learner. Even a stifling public school couldn't crush that out of me. I did best with open-ended self-directed assignments. Math was rubbish for me and it wasn't just the usual math problems that most kids have (although I had my share of them, too). Verbal-oriented subjects were my best. Part of that is because I'm just a very verbal person. The other factor there, though, was that verbal subjects (language arts, reading, English, social studies, etc) were more suited to the ambiguous assignments that I craved. I fell off in English with teachers who gave assignments like "Read the section on adverbs and answer the multiple choice and true/false questions at the end of the section" and really shone when the teacher assigned "write a story using 20 adverbs." In fact, when I had those kinds of assignments, I often found myself working in 50 or 60 adverbs just because I could. I would experiment with adverbs which didn't end in -ly. I would deliberately not mark some of my adverbs and see if the teacher noticed them. It became a game of wits and some teachers joined in with enthusiasm.

Even teachers who didn't want to test wits with me are among some of my favorite teachers, though. By my senior year in high school I was burned out and didn't care much anymore. I only needed my English credit to graduate and was kicking myself for not having taken it at some point in summer school. You weren't allowed to take only one class but certain vocational programs allowed you to do half-days so that you could work the other half-day. I took advantage of that, dropped out of AP English in favor of "regular" (or in my social circle "stupid kids'") English, threw in a handful of technical/vocational classes (two of which were repeats of courses I had already taken for college credit) and pared myself down to a four-period school day. I went home at noon, killed time, and went to work at 3:45 in an after-school program for elementary kids. Because I greatly reduced the challenge of my English class, I discovered that I had already read all the books to be covered for the year. I started skipping English more and more often.

My teacher noticed after about 7 weeks that I attended only on test days and to turn in assignments, but I was acing those tests and assignments. So we had a little confab. If I didn't start showing up to class, she was going to be forced to fail me even though my average was a 99. What was the problem? I admitted I'd already read all the books and that the class discussion was boring and basic. She hatched a brilliant plan. I had to show up to class every day during attendance to be counted present. While she took attendance I was free to take orders and collect money and then go on a "doughnut run" for the class while they discussed the novels. I was technically present because I was there at attendance, I was doing everybody a favor, and I wasn't bored. The condition was that I had to keep my average above 95 and I was to double any numeric criteria on assignments ( ie if an essay had to be 500 words for the rest of the class, I had to write 1000 words). For the rest of the year, I did daily doughnut runs for my classmates. I finished senior English with a 98. I actually re-read several of the novels to keep my papers flowing. And Mrs. Wilkinson goes down in history as one of my favorite teachers ever.

I know that Mrs. Wilkinson would have been severely reprimanded and maybe even lost her job if our arrangement got out but she was willing to go out on a limb to nurture the fire for learning in me. I bet she never dreamed that she was also fostering the seeds of rebellion that would end in "unschooling" because there just aren't enough of her to go around in public schools.

I need to give this a title but I stink at titles

I haven't posted in a couple of days because there really just hasn't been much to share. It's been a lazy few days around here. There's been lots of playing "Rock Band" and lots of reading webcomics.

Mindie archive-binged on DM of the Rings and sucked down the entire story in one day. She laughed so hard I'm surprised she's not dead of suffocation. The pressure is mounting again for me to DM a family D&D game, so I'm working on it. I really don't feel equal to the task of DMing, but I'm the only one willing to do it and it seems a small price to pay for a gaming fix. I'm looking at my collection of pre-packaged adventure modules to see what can be adapted into something interesting because I'm just not feeling creative enough to invent my own from scratch.

Shannen will be joining the game for the first time. She's been after me for ages to let her play but I really wasn't sure she was ready until recently. I guess we won't be playing in Ravenloft, though. Not a huge deal since Ben doesn't care much for Ravenloft campaigns anyway.

Ben also made a deal with the girls that if they'll get their rooms really, really, really clean by tomorrow night he'll take them to GameStop and buy them anything except a new console. We'll see if that happens because with a day and a half left, they've not really put much effort into the cleaning. That's not such a big deal for Mindie because she's a fast worker when she decides to do something, but Shannen has one speed for everything and that speed is "so slow I'm moving backward in time." It's not at all uncommon for her to take days just getting her room habitable again. I have a feeling her plan may be to beg Mindie for help. Guess we'll see how it all plays out.

Friday, June 10, 2011

I was up with the roosters (OK, not really, I slept until 8) and out doing yard work. Mindie joined me and I showed her how to run the lawn mower while I ran the string trimmer. I reminded her a couple of times not to run over the cord but I don't think it sank in until the mower suddenly "stopped working." The cord was neatly severed. Luckily, it was just a ratty old extension cord that's easily replaced and nobody was injured or even mildly shocked. Almost as lucky is the fact that she had just about finished mowing the back yard anyway.

We came in and she went back to work on her web page, which is turning out to be an absorbing and multi-skill project for her. She's learning some new photography skills and may soon be ready for the good camera instead of a crummy phone camera. She's also been sketching like crazy with plans to upload them to the page as well. So soon I guess I'll be sharing my multi-function printer with the flatbed scanner built in. After piddling with that for a bit, she was off to whomp some Rock Band booty. She's surprisingly good at the game.

Shannen slept in, as usual, until I woke her up. Poor little night owl. She had apparently been up late reading some books on Egyptian mythology. Thanks, Rick Riordan :-) She's really following in my footsteps with her love of the classical world. Luckily, I think she has a much more solid Christian foundation that will keep her from faltering as she studies. Anyway, after a little breakfast, she dragged out "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" and spent a good three hours reading aloud from it, reader's theater style.

By the time Shan was done with C.S. Lewis for a while, Mindie was bored with Rock Band, so Shannen took over. Mindie came in to watch thriller movies with me. I take that back, first she finished up a documentary about the economy, national debt, and the history 20th century American fiscal policy through the modern day with me. It was preaching to the choir for me, but Mindie got some good stuff out of it and we had an interesting (and I hope enlightening) discussion of different worldviews. Mindie was under the misapprehension that "everybody" wants the government out of their lives so we talked some about the broad spectrum of what citizens want from their government. Apparently our strongly Libertarian views have influenced her more than we realized. After that we went on to a haunted hospital movie (I love 'em). This led to a neat discussion on the "less is usually more" philosophy of horror media and how there could be exceptions (this movie provided the hands-down scariest-looking antagonist I have ever seen - she will be haunting my nightmares for a while and honestly, I don't normally get affected by makeup or CGFX). Now we're watching a nice haunted house flick, but the tension was getting a little too intense and it was time for a break. You know it's time for a break when a character goes into the bathroom and you announce to your daughter, "She's going to open the medicine cabinet then close it again and something scary will be behind her in the mirror" then you watch exactly that scenario unfold and you still try to remove one another's body parts. :-P So we took a break, discussed horror tropes (thinking Mindie might be borrowing my new copy of Stephen King's "Dance Macabre" soon, she has some good thoughts on the subject and seems interested) then decided to do some cool-down before going back.

Oh, and it rained today. Only for about 3 minutes, and not very hard so probably not a measurable amount of precipitation but the smell was heavenly. I've been in a lot of wet places in the world but there is no smell I've ever encountered that's quite like a west Texas rain. Rain in west Texas smells of growth and green and fresh ozone all mingled with rich soil and something else that I can't even place. I wish I knew how to bottle that smell and give it away to the world. I think it might end all war if everybody would just sniff a bottle of "West Texas Rain" when their tempers start rising.