Archive for June, 2008

An unlovable character, sure, but he does occasionally spout a bit of wisdom.

I’m about halfway through John Irving’s A Widow for One Year. The reason, in fact, that I haven’t blogged in a few days is that I’m halfway through John Irving’s A Widow for One Year. And while I do apologize for my absence, I don’t apologize for being halfway through this book.

If ever I get enough time in my days to actually attempt novel writing, I would hope that I’ve read enough Irving for it to have rubbed off enough on me so that I might actually have even the tiniest smidgen of his talent.

What I’d like to share with you here is a little passage that comes early on in the book, that says a lot about both modern public education, and modern private education. In this scene, Eddie and his father have gotten lost on their way to the ferry, and they have finally pulled into a gas station to ask directions. Eddie is sixteen and a student at Exeter Academy. His father, Joe (Minty) O’Hare, is a teacher there and an alumnus as well.

They stopped at a gas station, where Joe O’Hare made his best attempt to engage in small talk with a member of the working class. “So, how’s this for a predicament?” the senior O’Hare said to the gas-station attendant, who appeared to Eddie to be a trifle retarded. “Here’s a couple of lost Exonians in search of the New London ferry to Orient Point.”

Eddie died a little every time he heard his father speak to strangers. (Who but an Exonian knew what an Exonian was?) As if stricken by a passing coma, the gas-station attendant stared at an oily stain on the pavement a little to the right of Minty’s right shoe. “You’re in Rhode Island” was all that the unfortunate man was able to say.

“Can you tell us the way to New London?” Eddie asked him.

When they were back on the road again, Minty regaled Eddie on the subject of the intrinsic sullenness that was so often the result of a subpar secondary-school eduction. “The dulling of the mind is a terrible thing, Edward,” his father instructed him. (pp. 38-39)

The dulling of the mind. What an incredibly apt description of what today’s public education does to our children’s brains. We call our children “bright”; then we send ’em off to school where all that brightness is rubbed off. Sometimes permanently.

Or we send ’em off to private schools where their minds aren’t dulled quite as much as in the public schools, but then the kids run the risk of sounding a bit too much like Minty. So, our choices seem to be: dull and sullen, or bright but arrogant. Where is the middle ground?

Oh, that’s right. In homeschooling.

50 extra days.

Two years ago today, I quit smoking.

Had I known two years ago that within months of giving up the smokes, I’d be uprooting the kids and moving all the way back East, I probably would not have quit. Had I known what the ensuing year was going to be like: moving with a toddler, living in a tiny little farmhouse with water that stank and no dishwasher, I probably would have upped my daily intake to at least two packs a day. Had I known that that whole year would be filled with massive amounts of uncertainty and stress as we struggled to sell our house in a dying market, and as RegularDad heard rumor after rumor of layoffs and relocations back to Colorado or to California or even to Vietnam, I’d have switched to something unfiltered.

This is why it’s good that we can’t see the future.

Because it’s really only been in the past two months or so that I’ve finally reached that point where I’m really glad that I quit, and that I didn’t start up again.

Things are settling down for us. Finally. The kids have made great friends, we’ve gotten into a new house, and although this house needs quite a bit of work, it really has become my very favorite of all the houses we’ve ever lived in.

I guess I’m just glad we got through this move without picking up the nicotine again. (RegularDad celebrated his two year milestone of being nicotine-free on June 11. Everyone tell him how cool he is!) I owe a lot of thanks to RegularDad and the RegularKids for putting up with my crazy mood swings over the course of this move.

And I think I owe all of you a big giant THANK YOU as well. Because for the past two years, more often than not, I’ve blogged instead of smoked. Many, many thanks to all of you. For listening to my bullshit, and keeping me going.

For the record, here are my stats:

As of this writing I haven’t smoked for 2 years, 9 hours, and 32 minutes.
I’ve not smoked 14,628 cigarettes.
I’ve saved $3, 015.32.
And I’ve added 50 days and 19 hours to my life.

I’m thinking I might have to spend 50 days in Europe at some point. And at least on of those days I’ll have to go to Naples and have some pizza.

If you want to quit smoking, but you can’t, go here and do EXACTLY what they say. It really, really works.

 

Leaving the nest.

Top left: Mama cardinal keeping a close eye on her little ones who’ve made their way out of the nest.

Top right: Papa cardinal, looking on and looking good.

Bottom left: Baby cardinal, hanging on.

Bottom right: Mama cardinal, showing him how it’s done.

That’s pretty much been the scene in my backyard today. The cat has been yowling all damn day. And there’s this suspicious-looking pile of very small, delicate gray feathers over near the swingset. And she hasn’t really been all that interested in the dry kibble I always leave out for her. But she did chow down on the Fancy Feast I finally set down for her her. So, maybe all the birds made it.

Maybe.

From www.wild-bird-watching.com:

The female [cardinal] builds the nest while the male keeps a close eye on her and the surrounding territory for predators and other males. The female will be the only one incubating the eggs.

 The male’s duty during this time is to feed her on the nest and protect their territory from intruders.

Once the young hatch, both will feed them. Two broods each season are attempted. The nest is made up of twigs, bark strips, vines leaves, rootlets, paper, and lined with vines, grass and hair.

You can find the nest placed in dense shrubbery or among branches of small trees. Generally 1-15 feet above ground.

Laying 2-5 eggs that are buff-white with dark marks. The female incubates the eggs for 12- 13 days and the young leave the nest in 9-11 days after hatching.

 

Fly Away Home.

Eat. Pray. Love. Read. Rinse. Repeat.

Every once in a while, I like to go down to my local Borders bookstore where I:

a) blow the college funds on trash fiction and vanilla lattes
b) take a little break from the kids and the house
c) regain my sanity
d) all of the above

hmmm…oh, yes…OPTION D….

Anyway, I’d been seeing this book, Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert displayed prominently on the nonfiction shelves for quite a long time, and I kept avoiding it. Why? Well, first of all, it’s nonfiction, and I have only a certain amount of time to read during the week, and I prefer to spend it on fiction or poetry. And second of all, it looked suspiciously like a self-help book, and I’ve grown a bit tired of all the self help literature out there. At some point, you have to stop READING about how to fix yourself, and just… FIX yourself already.

Anyway, so I avoided this book, until my mother-in-law (the one who wishes I was dead) recommended it to me.

At first, I was all suspicious. After all, she had just told me that she’d never used iceberg lettuce in her life and had no idea how to break it up and mix it in with the Romaine lettuce. Why would I listen to her literary recommendations? She can’t even rip open a head of lettuce. (Or perhaps the truth is, she can, but she wants me to think differently. She wants me to think she never fed her kids iceberg lettuce because iceberg lettuce is the BASTARD CHILD of all lettuces, and no self-respecting mother would ever put that in front of her children. Maybe she was just trying to unbalance me, make me feel like a bad mother.)

But then after the whole lettuce incident, she showed me this book and said: you can keep the book; it’s not something I need to keep on my shelves. And so I did, because 1) free books are just too good to pass up, and 2) she liked it, but not enough to keep, which meant that the book definitely had possibilities.

So, I took it home with me, and let me tell you: IT’S A KEEPER.

 This book chronicles a year in the life of Elizabeth Gilbert, award-winning writer, who has just come through a bitter divorce in which she lost everything. She takes a year off of life to travel to three countries, Italy, India, and Bali. In each of the three places, she learns everything she possibly can about three things: pleasure in Italy, prayer in India, and balance in Bali.

Gilbert has an excellent sense of humor, and truly takes you with her on each part of her journey. Here’s an excerpt from one little moment in Italy when she and a friend travel to Naples because another friend of hers there told her to go to a certain small pizzeria that makes, quite simply, the BEST PIZZA IN THE WORLD. 

Giovanni passed along the name of the place with such seriousness and intensity, I almost felt I was being inducted into a secret society. He pressed the address into the palm of my hand and said, in gravest confidence, “Please go to this pizzeria. Order the margherita pizza with double mozzarella. If you do not eat this pizza when you are in Naples, please lie to me later and tell me that you did.

So Sofie and I have come to Pizzeria da Michele, and these pies we have just ordered — one for each of us — are making us lose our minds. I love my pizza so much, in fact, that I have come to believe in my delirium that my pizza might actually love me, in return. I am having a relationship with this pizza, almost an affair. Meanwhile, Sofie is practically in tears over hers, she’s having a metaphysical crisis about it, she’s begging me, “Why do they even bother trying to make pizza in Stockholm? Why do we even bother eating food at all in Stockholm?”

All’s I’m sayin’ is: that’s gotta be some damn good pizza. Kinda makes me want to go to Naples. Like, tomorrow, perhaps.

After four months of pure sinful EATING in Italy, Gilbert goes off to an ashram in India where she changes gears and gets down to the business of fully experiencing all that a life of prayer has to offer. It takes her some time to get used to it, to clear her mind, and this is why I love her. Her early experiences with meditation remind me of my own, here in my house with a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old, where every 5 minutes or so, someone is calling: MOM? Hey, Mom? Mom! Mom? There you are, Mom!

These aren’t the right years for me to attempt any sort of serious meditation, I guess.

After four months in India, Gilbert moves on to Bali where she spends the rest of the year keeping company with a wise old medicine man, a young woman who’s also a healer, and an intriguing older Brazilian man named Felipe. All of them teach her valuable lessons about family, love, and balance.

If you haven’t read this one yet, go out and get it. It’s worth every cent and every minute. And it definitely deserves a place on your shelves afterwards, no matter what my mother-in-law thinks. And about that iceberg lettuce, I asked RegularDad about it, and he assures me that all they ate when he was a kid was iceberg lettuce. Drizzled with bacon bits and some sort of dressing laced with high fructose corn syrup.

Guess she didn’t unbalance me after all.

More strange tales from modern high schools.

Here’s an interesting little news story for ya:

Pregnancy Boom at Gloucester High

Apparently, there’s a record number of high school girls at this school expecting babies because they all made a pact with each other to strive to get pregnant and then raise their babies together. The town is heavily Catholic, and birth control is not advocated by the community, and two of the school officials ended up resigning in protest or resignation or perhaps just sheer mental exhaustion after trying to promote birth control to these teens and being told to stop it by the mayor and the town in general.

And here’s my favorite part: the reason all these girls are doing this, apparently, is because they’re all looking for unconditional love. Check out this quote:

The girls who made the pregnancy pact—some of whom, according to Sullivan, reacted to the news that they were expecting with high fives and plans for baby showers—declined to be interviewed. So did their parents. But Amanda Ireland, who graduated from Gloucester High on June 8, thinks she knows why these girls wanted to get pregnant. Ireland, 18, gave birth her freshman year and says some of her now pregnant schoolmates regularly approached her in the hall, remarking how lucky she was to have a baby. “They’re so excited to finally have someone to love them unconditionally,” Ireland says. “I try to explain it’s hard to feel loved when an infant is screaming to be fed at 3 a.m.” 

(emphasis is mine)

Hello? They don’t feel loved unconditionally. So… they’re… having… babies…. It really says something about modern family dynamics, doesn’t it?

I know, I know, this isn’t really a homeschooling issue. But it’s not exactly doing much to SELL ME on the idea of actually EVER sending my daughters to high school, either.

Yeah. We homeschool. Unconditionally.

Because we all need a good laugh this week.

Considering all the bad shit goin’ down in the news this week, what with all the flooding, and all those kids (homeschooled or not) that died because they lived in abusive situations, I figured it was time for a few minutes of good old giggling.

Here’s Tim Hawkins on parenting.

As for all the hype about the “homeschooled” kid who died this week, go here and here for details and opinions. I’m all: Yeah, what THEY said.

Homeschooling had nothing to do with it. And I’m not exactly sure anyone sane would call what that woman was doing “homeschooling”.

 


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