Wednesday, February 23, 2011

where the boundaries ‘lie’

We follow the model for Classical Education as described in The Well Trained Mind, by Wise & Bauer (minus religious education).  Well for one month we did anyway.  That month when Beach was willing to let me lead her learning.  The one that started on a warm Saturday morning at the pool with her lap swimming free-style perfectly & ended on a snowy Saturday with her kicking ass in the back stroke.  I sat on the bench with the other parents on the edge of the pool watching & balancing my coffee carefully writing curriculum, planning every move for the week to follow.  

The next day, Sunday in Jamestown, not the one in New England, the one created in our front room with blocks to give her something interactive to do while I read Early American History we found ourselves drifting from the path to follow Beach’s interest not in settlements & ships, or of kings & queens, but in quirky little details of settlement life.  Leaving curriculum behind us moving cautiously from the Mother Country of Classical Education to the new savage land of Unschooling, heading our own adventure in pursuit of happiness & those ‘little candles with the plate built in’.

Afternoons reading in my bed, board & card games, hours in the mountains along rivers, piles of Eyewitness DVD’s from the library, & the seemingly random fluttering of topics replaced a set curriculum.  She was happy.  ~The End~  But wait there are two of us here & my need for some structure (aka control) didn’t go away.  At heart I am a manic Dictator with a secret selfish agenda of sameness, ritual, & order.  Together we are like Pride & Prejudice…& Zombies.  No, not that bad, but we are a little bit The Giver meets Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!

So, we settled on the island of ‘in-between’ where we don’t quite technically ‘home school’ or ‘unschool’ but work nicely between the two ideals.  I offer materials & plans until Beach either pushes them away or runs wildly & happily off with one.  My job then is to let her go, offer support when & where she requires it.     

We still keep a History & Science note books in the style suggested by Classical Education standards & loosely follow the time line for history.  The rest of her learning is up to her.  She likes to write so we learn to spell.  She loves working in quality workbooks as much as she loves puzzles, mazes, & hangman.  She loves science & math so we pursue them daily.  She likes to read & we read a ton!  Another remnant of Classical education whenever possible we read whole original sources, sort of a soap box issue for me :) 

Our time is now defined by days at the Gymnastics Training Center where Beach puts in 2.5 hrs twice a week as a competitive gymnast.  Her coach describes her as a hyper-focused perfectionist who is popular with her team mates & the very best at standing at attention (lol).  Well then, I suppose a little unschooling can’t hurt, ‘at ease soldier’.      

 Favorites we have read:

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, Winnie-The-Pooh, Charlotte’s Web, Pippi Long Stockings of the South Seas, The Velveteen Rabbit, The Forgotten Door, Harry Potter books 1-4, and the whole Ramona series.        

Favorite educational games:

  1. Sight Words Bingo, by TREND
  2. LIFE
  3. UNO
  4. Busy Bug Collector, by Lauri

Home school agenda this week:

  1. Finish the Giver & The Five Little Peppers.
  2. Start Harry Potter book 5.
  3. Pick a topic science or history & begin collecting information & data for a report.
  4. Spelling the days of the week & months of year.
  5. Create our own Mad Libs.
  6. Do a dozen or so workbook pages in BrainQuest Grade 1 & Grade 2.   
  7. Study Ancient Egypt (again).
  8. Start The Wind in the Willows.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

the trouble with nudists

Since I am the one writing this blog about my family & our life I think it only fair that as introduce us further I start with myself. To quote the Bare Naked Ladies “I have a history of taking off my shirt.”  I’m not an exhibitionist I am simply a time-challenged-changer.  We visit a lot of hot pots.  It is a cheap or free family multi aged activity we all enjoy.  Most of my ‘wardrobe malfunctions’ occur on the banks of undeveloped hot springs.  So you’d think I would be pleased to stumble across the nudists.  And at first I was but we’ll have to back up a bit to the beginning where all great adventures are born in the mountains in the mud.  

The Dirty Dash is a mud run advertised as:

“Have you ever said to yourself, “Marathons are too easy, and Triathlons are for sissies?”
We haven’t either…those races are really hard. Think about it…the first person to run a marathon actually died. HE DIED!...and he probably didn’t even have fun along the way! Well let us introduce you to the new race in town…THE DIRTY DASH. This race puts all other races to shame. The Dirty Dash is where a military boot camp meets your inner five-year-old’s fantasy and subsequently converts boy to man and then…man to swine.
You’ll need endurance to trudge up mountains of sludge, courage to overcome uncompromising obstacles, a complete lack of shame to wallow in pits of mud and a smile to show through at the end!”

And I am a runner.  So I spent more than half the summer training for the DD.  Along with my team mates 4 girls & 1 guy we ran as Brother Brandon’s Brides sporting black Sister-Wife t-shirts, it's a Utah thing.
“Sister Wife Brown, you have just finished running a 10k through the mud over walls, bales of hay, through tunnels, & a crazy sick swamp what are going to do now?”
“I’m going to Disneyland!”  No, wait I’m not.  That would suck. I have mud places you can’t imagine mud being.  I’m going to the only place my head is ever still, where my heart is clam, and there is no time, to Utah’s West Desert & Baker Hot Springs.

Four hours later driving in the dark drinking gas station coffee Beach asleep in her car seat we roll into Baker for a well deserved soak.  Only the place is crazy alive with campers & tents.  There were more people there than the last three towns combined!  We have 5 living things in the van, two adults, one child, & two dogs.  Well then, let’s be considerate & make sure they are okay with the dogs. 

Colby slips out into the landscape of camper land. I dutifully wait.  Okay I’m bad at waiting.  The second he leaves I strip to a bikini while convincing Beach she has to wear a swimsuit because we don’t want to freak other people out.  I grab the wine & the kid & start walking the wrong direction.  Oh yeah, I am bad at direction too.
I wander down a row of motor homes & the whispering begins, “She has a child.”  “The child.”  “A child.” “Oh my, a child.”
It’s creepy, ever read The Witches, by Dahl?

Okay, so with the newly anointed Christ Child, the miracle of the wine, the creepy voices whispering above the bond fire, & me wandering into the desert like Moses I realize this is not the last story I want the narrator to report of my life. 

Not wanting to look too stupid in the dark in front of strangers I pretend I meant to do this by showing Beach the night sky exploding in stars unobstructed by city lights before turning back.  An older woman grabs my hand, “Oh excuse me are you with Colby?”  It’s the way she said his name all dreamy & sexy & I think ‘wow dude that was fast’. 

As it turns out she met Colby & his Apollo like athletic body at the hot springs.  She begins to explain to me that the dogs are great, & Colby, well we already know how she feels about Colby, & I’m okay, (hey I’m more than okay in this suit after four months of serious training!) but the offensive kid has to go. 

We step out of billowy blushes me-bikini-child-wine & strange older lady into the rising gray mist to face Colby-2 dogs & 30 naked adults the water peeking out just behind their glistening butt cheeks. 

Important fact: Baker Hot Springs is on public land, it’s a small world after all but the nudists have a not so small legal issue. 

Second important fact: these are not the nudists of my dreams.  Yep, not what I envisioned when I heard the word ‘nudist’ but I will spare you my idealistic vision of what naked people in groups should look like I’ll just say my disappointment was much like the moment my older sister proved to me that there was no Santa (& no Spin-out 360 big wheel in my future) by showing me all my wrapped Christmas presents hidden in our parents room.

The legal issue, Utah State law states they can’t be around children while congregating nakedly but clearly no clause about physical fitness. The discussion Colby was engaged in plummets south very quickly when the Child clutching a yellow rubber duck comes into view of the group.  A wave of unease moves through them & as the Child’s mother feeling the negatively directed at her, the tightening of the grip of her little legs around my waist, I instantly morph into a grizzle bear. If you’re a mom you know what I’m talking about.     

Their point, we have to leave because they can’t be around Beach.  Our point evolves from 'hey there is room for everybody' & 'we won’t tell if you won’t', into my point which became ‘hope you all know where your left your keys cause I’m calling this one in and you all might want to get going!’ 

I am an angry mom who just ran a 10k mud run at high altitude & then drove 4 hours to get in that water & pink shriveled parts were not going to stop me and nothing was going to separate me from my child. 

Colby on the other hand was catching a very subtle under current of something less wholesome.  Noticing the way the crowd would shift their eyes in the same spot, to the same man every time the ‘Child’ was mentioned.  He decided it was time to get his family out of harms way.  

Colby takes instructions to another spring near by.  Unfortunately this was the moment I boiled over. The two things you have learned about me 1. I am not good at waiting.  2. I have the worse sense of direction on the planet.  Well here is the third, for all the crazy inappropriate things I think (& write) I hardly every say them out loud, on purpose anyway.  So back to kid on hip, wine in hand, rocking a bikini in the night air & out it comes, “For all the nudity around here I sure don’t see any f$#&ing balls!” Silence falls through the group Colby gasps then snorts, choking back a giggle & leads us away.

I hate to admit that the other springs are better.  Three magical pools out in the field surrounded by grasses, a thousand shades of green blanketed in stars & whiskey clouds.  No one around & suits not required, no bears in sight.  Just don’t tell the pack of nudists because we don’t see eye to eye.  Maybe the only thing we can agree on is Colby, he can be pretty wow.  And life is like this, the idea of something like Santa or Nudists can be so great so grand so pure in your mind.  Like a naked seven year old running through a field, two moons shinning in the night but it only takes one drop of evil to spoil it for everybody.  

‘We all live down stream’.  And no matter how poor my sense of direction is I will always manage to find myself in hot water.                 

Friday, February 18, 2011

hey kid, why aren’t you in school?

When I find myself wondering ‘what have we done?’ what makes us think we can educate this kid? and where did I leave my coffee? A thousand beautiful images flash through my mind, images of little blonde Beach, naked, streaking past the window chasing butterflies through the yard in the middle of a school day.    

But since I understand what isn’t better than what is I remember this: her tiny pink cheeks and brown eyes wedged between the slats and her fists clenched like a prisoner on the black bars of the kindergarten play yard fence.
Yep, a little prisoner in a school uniform; the kid who never let me pick her clothes, whose first words after ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ were ‘by myself’.  The kid who at 5 can scale the highest rock wall at the climbing gym, swim the length of the community pool in all strokes, who can hike unassisted any mountain trail I can. 

The kid who when some unsuspecting parent on the playground innocently says encouragingly to their child “look at that sweet little girl she’s not scared she is doing it” will evoke yelps of “oh don’t let your kid do what she’s doing it will get your kid killed!” from those parents who know that Beach is really an 84 year old woman housed in a young body of a super star athlete with nine lives!  

So, it is that kid, Beach the Brave, sentenced to the baby playground for her ‘own safety’ that screams institutionalized mayhem at my soul.  The devil on my shoulder is an NPR program about a father, who was a movie critic, whose son dropped out of high school and was home schooled by watching old movies together, heaven in my heartSee film home schooling.         

In defense of NPR & the devil, & my sick idea of heaven, none of SCHOOL was making sense, not really.  The standing in line, the waiting to stand in line, the practicing standing in line, followed by practicing your lunch number to stand in the lunch line, hand washing in the hand washing line, testing in the test talking line, and lining up to line up.      

Don’t worry academics matter to me.  I am a scientist. And Vocabulary lessons were the straw that broke the camel’s back.  Three months in to the school year, I was standing in the doorway waiting for the lunch bell to ring to walk Beach home from school.  She was the only ½ kindergarten out of 60+ kids.  I watched the teacher hold up a photo card of a typewriter, then of a ‘corded’ telephone.  The kids not responding other than a few nose pickers twitching with jack pot green bugger joy as she named the objects for them.  Beach’s hand slowly moving up until officially raising of the hand occurred & begrudgingly called on, “I know that those are a typewriter & a telephone but couldn’t you also categorize them relicts?”  

The teacher sighs, this battle between her & Beach is now 2 ½ hours old, “I suppose they could, but Beach we are working on our vocabulary not grouping.” 

“Why? Grouping them together would make it more fun, the chairs with the table and rug and all the animal cards together.  Then we could write a story with them”. 

While my ADD mind is thinking you were showing my child baby flash cards when I could be teaching her chemistry and yeah, let’s write a story sounds fun, the straw drops, falls, plummets, “But Beach that is something kids do much later in school right now we need to all learn our words.” 

Beach corrects her, “But those aren’t words they are pictures and photographs.” 

The teacher smiles, “I know you can read already but none of the other kids can.  If I was holding up words no one else would be learning.” 

Beach in action her internal sense of justice kicking in, “Yeah-but I already know all this.”

And kicking the dead camel just incase I, Doubting Thomas, had any doubts about what I was going to have to do, “Then Beach, please just sit quietly so the other kids can learn them too.”


“Beach would it break your heart to not go to school anymore?” I asked on the 15 minute walk home past wild chickens, polygamist communes, and abandoned crumbling houses. 

“No mom,” she said gathering up pieces of fallen nature, a stick, a stone, a dead flower. “It would set my heart free.”

Her last day of state schooling was the Friday before her sixth birthday when her teacher wished her happy birthday and jokingly cautioned her not to lose all her money on her b-day trip to Las Vegas.  Beach’s response, “Don’t worry I won’t my dad taught me to count cards.”  The teacher smiled uncomfortably at me maybe realizing for the first time that I had allowed her, to protect my finagling of the ½ kindergarten experience, the faulty assumption that we were polygamist because I am an ‘involved’ mother in a skirt, Colby in his Quaker-ness sporting old style Van-Dike goatee, & we are white in this neighborhood.  “She’s good too.”  I offered.  Needless to say we didn’t return to kindergarten instead I sent a letter which the teacher said she had expected.    

So what have we done? The right thing for the right kid, who calls public school ‘do this do that school’ and thriving at home with me. 

What is home schooling like for me? Like being atheist in tap-shoes trying to tip-toe out of a church in the middle of a prayer.  I really don’t wish to offend others by my choice or view but sometimes just our existence is offensive; I’m used to this.  “What grade are you in?” joins the question “Are you a member?” in this very small innocent & presumptuous valley. 

What advice would you give a new home schooling parent? None, everything you need to know is already staring you in the face.   

Oh yeah, why do we home school?  Because there isn’t enough science (& for that matter sex) taught in school, because her education belongs to her & this is what she has chosen, because she is a self-directed learner who could be educated by a deaf & blind Howler Monkey, & because while I was writing this Beach dumped the play mobile box out lined up and dressed ten people, called me over to pick my two favorite and gave me their bio’s then asked, “Can we write a story about each of them?” Yes, of course we can.  Now where did I put my coffee? 

what do you mean you killed the skunk?

The first thing you should know about urban farming is it involves animals.  Sort of a shock to me, not that small raptor like creatures would take over our lives inside & out but everytime I asked for an animal the answer was 'yes'.  Chickens, yes! Turkey, yes! A second dog, yes! A third cat, yes! A pair of ducks, yes! Guinea pigs, yes! Rabbits, yes! A snake, why not! Okay, hold on there Noah, this is making camping very complex.  Some mornings I feel like the little old lady in the shoe…shouldn’t we have an adult in charge of this crazy bus?
Missing from that list is the one animal that Colby really wants, a skunk.  I think the dogs would like one of those fancy cats too.  As luck would have it shortly after we moved in ripping out all the carpets and drapes, erecting a garden and a chicken coop, and moved some fences around & back again.  Before we could get to stumbling across some kid outside a grocery store with a box of free de-scented skunks, a skunk found us.  Oh, it must be fate, proof the Secret works, Oprah I believe! Okay, not fate but a way more powerful force- chicken shit, which attracted it to our chickens.  
The two most often asked questions on our urban farm on the wrong side of town after did you feed and water the ______, are 1. Was that a gun shot? 2. Do you smell that?
The ‘that’ is a skunk in the hen house unless the two questions coincide which means the polygamist down the street just answered the oldest question known to mom’s “What’s for dinner tonight?”
“Do you smell that?” accompanied the dogs.  Damn: H2o2, baby shampoo, dawn.
(PS doesn’t really work because what odder you do manage to remove is then replaced by wet dog in your only real functioning bathroom, shrug, pee outside boys but stay away from the fancy black & white cat) 
So skunk loving Quaker-Colby went out to save the flock while I washed the dogs.  Now the kids, the 4 'Van-Trap' children despite the late hour are not on the steps singing good night.  The oldest child a girl is gagging over the dogs, the middle two BOYS are putting on the war paint, the youngest is preparing a spot in her bed for the skunk to sleep in.  
I’m waiting in the doorway of the mudroom for news and when it comes it isn’t good.  The skunk has hunkered down in the coop refusing all of Colby’s maneuvers to dislodge it.  The ducks are doing the march of Jericho around the coop with the ark of covenant attempting to summon God but the chickens their feathery asses hovering above the skunk are too stupid to be scared.  “I don’t know what to do,” he says.  Oh but I do, arms akimbo, hat down over my eyes, trigger finger twitching “Get your gun!”  Maybe it didn’t go like that.  Maybe it was beer in hand, child on hip, hair in eyes, “don’t you have a gun or something?” 
If this was Law and Order this is where the police would separate us.
Q:  And Mr. Ries when Ms. Brown suggested you get the gun she meant for you to do what exactly?
A: Shoot the skunk. 
Q: And Ms. Brown when you suggested that Mr. Ries get his gun what did you mean for him to do with it?
A: Fuck if I know, threaten it.
Q: Mr. Ries what did you do?
A: Killed the skunk. 
Q: Ms. Brown when you found Mr. Ries in the moon light, the sweetest, most gentle man you know, lying on the ground in your words 'army-man-style' with the gun and the flashlight aimed at the skunks head saying he had killed the skunk, by the way what was your grade in Comparative Vertebrate Morphology?
A: An A Sir. 
Q: You are a biologist?
A: Yes.  
Q: So when Mr. Ries told you what he had done, shot the skunk in the head from 5 feet away, that it had released all its scent, killed over, and stopped twitching your exact words to him were what? 
A: How did you know you killed it?

Farm fact one, if you shoot a small animal in the head with a gun from 5 feet away it is called killing.  Fact two, dead skunks smell worse than live ones.  Look, I led a very sheltered life as a sweet Mormon child in the affluent Harvard-Yale district of SLC this is all news to me.  I think in a way it was news to all of us, the oldest child, shortly there after the afore mentioned killing, moved back in with her father, raw life did not suit her vision of her high school existence.  The boys all got weapons and skills to defend the farm. We decided to delay reading Lord of the Flies.  Threw out the movie Lion King, the youngest having learned the cycle of life. 

Chickens are too stupid to learn anything.  Apparently so are dogs.  But every once in awhile in those silences between couples walking together knee deep in green wild grasses the kids hopelessly lost playing in the field or petting the neighbor’s horse, one of us will lean over to whisper in the others ear, “How do you know you killed it?” and laugh because this is how we want to raise US; knee deep, hopeless lost, and laughing.  Hey, I was wondering if we could get a goat?

hiking without happy meals

"Hiking without Happy Meals; a modern paradigm chronicling the struggles, pitfalls, & successes of life, running, urban farming, & home schooling in these crazy modern days.  Life is our classroom, let the craziness begin."
The life style we have chosen to pursue is a clash of cultures on just about every level & every turn, luckily for us instead of a hostile war of the roses it is a true love story or maybe better said a romantic comedy.  Welcome to our lives!
We are a Blended Family & on occasion a Freudian slip will make that more accurately a Blender Family.  Between my partner B. Colby, a green builder with an international up-brining and me, a scientist, a writer, & a very unlikely S@HM we have 4 kids, their ages ranging from 21-7.
Colby is a visionary and a dreamer, the architect of our life. I am his ‘faithless’ sidekick with a bad case of goat envy.  He is logical, I am always puzzled, he is methodical & mathematical, & I am unpredictable.  But just when that seems to make sense he will take the lead in inappropriateness leaving me in amazement. Together we abandoned our lives in the hip Sugar House district of SLC 4 years ago to move west of the city, down 1700 South to the wrong side of town, across the tracks to a small urban farm (1 acre) near the Jordan River.  It is paradise found, at least for me.  Mostly we farm humor and mishaps but among our sell-able products are fresh brown & blue eggs, lettuces, tomatoes, and sock monkeys (m.o.b dolls).
SLC Peoples Market