Ziggy the Pinhead

Somehow at dinner tonight the kids got me talking about teachers that didn’t like me and the trouble I got into in school. We had a lot of tangents, but the best was this:

Me: and I had a binder with Ziggy on it . . .
14yo: you had a Ziggy the Pinhead binder?!
Me: no, that’s Zippy the Pinhead. I had Ziggy . . .
10yo: you had a Ziggy Stardust binder?!
Me: no, but I wish I did

I really don’t like it when parents foist their hipster signifiers on their kids, but it still made me smile to think I have a family where these

are more obvious cultural references than this:

No offense to Ziggy. Anyone who can go 40 years without wearing pants is alright with me. And lest I come off like a GenX foister, let me confess that my 10yo spent much of the afternoon having a marathon session with this:

1 Comment

Filed under raising girls, Unschoolish

In the Wayback: Muriel’s Wedding

There’s circuitous route to how I got the the main subject of this post, but it’ll just take a minute. For reasons I won’t get into I’ve had to pay a little more attention to my teen’s online life. One thing I’ve learned: she will reblog nearly any pro-woman, pro-gay, pro-transgender, pro-feminism, pro-choice, anti-rape post that crosses her path on tumblr, and she will call out female friends who say they are not feminists. I’ve started compiling a list of “feminist films for teens,” so we can watch some together and with any luck even talk about them a bit. (I’ll post it later, but feel free to share any thoughts.) As I’ve been building up my Netflix queue and reading through lists, I’ve also come across lots of movies that I loved as a young woman, to watch again.

Muriel’s Wedding holds up well, largely because of its two lead actresses, Rachel Griffiths and Toni Collette. Both have proven in later films and television (“Six Feet Under” and “United States of Tara,” for example) that they can really act. So although Entertainment Weekly was right in saying that the movie is flawed because we never really see who Muriel is, underneath, because she’s Toni Collette we instinctively feel there must be something of depth and value there.

There’s far less dancing in the movie than I remembered. I watched it thinking I would see several scenes of lip synching to Abba. There’s one, and it’s fabulous, but apparently I merged my own joyful apartment-bound Saturday nights with my memory of the movie. I would have sworn the girls performed Fernando together, but I guess that was me and my roommate instead.

I don’t know what happens to Muriel at about 1:10, but that’s where her transformation starts. Somehow at 1:33 she’s already a different person, even if she needs the rest of the movie to really feel it.

As so often happens when I watch movies from my past, I can’t help noticing my sympathy shift from daughters to mothers. When Rachel Griffiths, as Rhonda, tells her mom “I love you but you drive me nuts” as she leaves home, I think of my own teen daughter at least as much as I think of my mom, a line of strong, slightly(!) demanding women who love each other like crazy but need their space. If I raise my daughters well, there will only be room for one XX human in this house someday. And Muriel’s mom — well, I’m not sure what I think of that plot twist, but the small, cowed life she lives must be one big reason why Muriel runs like hell in the other direction, however stupidly.

I would watch this one with Violet, if she wanted, but I don’t know if the ABBA obsession would be enough to carry her through, and the idea that a wedding is life’s great prize might not be so much wrongheaded to her as utterly foreign.

Is it “feminist”? I have to put that word in quotes because I don’t know what that means as an adjective describing a movie. It passes the Bechdel test, women in the movie can be sexual without being slutty, Muriel is overweight without it being the focus of her character or the movie: in other words, women can talk and have bodies on their own terms.

But I loved the last scene in particular, where the girls ride away from their hometown of Porpoise Spit in a taxi, first shouting “goodbye” out the window to the mall, the beach, the plaza, and then just smiling at each other. It reminded me–somewhat randomly–of the end of “Valley Girl,” when Nick Cage and what’s-her-name look at each other and smile as they ride away from the chaos they caused at the Valley High prom. It’s a “yeah, we just did that” look and a little bit of a “you and me against the world look.” For Muriel and Rhonda especially it’s an “I love you, too” look, because the prize for Muriel at the end of “Muriel’s Wedding” is not a husband or a boyfriend, it’s a friend who thinks she’s awesome for no particular reason at all. So much so that she can believe it too, even without a wedding.

Wayback rating: Worth the trip

Leave a comment

Filed under grown up life, homeschooling high school, Movies, raising girls

June heats up

Our schedule was really getting smooth and predictable there for a few days. Then summer started happening for real. Visitors from out of town — two sets at once! — summer camp, a trip to the Davidson Young Scholar summit (we’re an out Davidson family, so ask us anything), a 48+ hour power outage, crushing heat and humidity, a writing class at the Loft, and summer colds. All this in the last 2 weeks.

Where was that math book again?

I haven’t quite figured out how to adjust, knowing that July and August probably won’t be that much different. Once Violet bounces back a little more we’ll work it out. In the meantime we’ve been taking advantage of Victoria being away to watch some classic PG-13 movies, including Spinal Tap (which was rated R! who knew?) and Dumb and Dumber.

I still harbor a hope that my unsocialized girls will be the next Farrelly brothers.

Leave a comment

Filed under Homeschooling, homeschooling high school, Movies

Summer School

Not a week goes by without someone asking about online support for homeschooling high school — where are all the conversations we used to have back when the kids were younger?

I suspect they are happening in our own minds as we drive to endless rounds of activities — even my relatively antisocial teen seems to spend a surprising amount of time socializing, yet she still can’t drive.

We took a lot of time off of various studies during the fall and winter, and then the spring was so snowy and gray it took all of our energy to stay alive and not go Hunger Games on each other, so a little bit of summer study here and there is in order.

Violet has started precalculus, so that when theater and other things get too hectic she feels free to take some time off. She’s using Thinkwell — our first time using Thinkwell for math — and generally finds Ed Berger entertaining.

I have been sitting with her and knitting for most of the lectures and problem-solving — and I admit every once in a while I get too excited and say “but couldn’t you do it like this?” and grab a pencil and solve part of a problem myself. Let’s call that modeling enthusiasm and collaborative effort, shall we? Anyway, after last fall didn’t go so well I realized that it’s important not to mix up independence and isolation. So I sit in a comfy chair near the laptop and knit and check in periodically, and the whole process of catching up with math feels much warmer. Also, I really like watching her solve problems — as much as she doesn’t like math, she is pretty fluent with it, and I imagine even artistic unschoolish 14yos need an experience of feeling competent, logical, and rational at least once a day.

She’s also working on Chinese and drawing drawing drawing, and I keep trying to slip her new books so she isn’t *always* reading something she read three years ago.

Victoria, now 10, blew my mind last week when she told me she would be worried about going back to school because she thought she was “slow” and didn’t know as much as other kids. Lori Pickert touched on this aspect of homeschooling in a recent blog post, as if she had been reading V’s mind.

I really didn’t know how to respond to this. I don’t like to make a big deal out of test scores with the kids, but — girl, have you seen your test scores?!?! In any case we are keeping up with Singapore math and some history reading. We ditched the Sonlight history readings about the world wars — the light really seemed to go out of her eyes as we read day after day about trenches and fronts and artillery. I know some kids really dig that, but it was turning her off after many years of loving our history reading time, so I set the Usborne World Wars book aside.

We’re trying to get in the habit of compacting all this into two hours or less, so we have lots of time to enjoy the sunshine. Luckily (?). there hasn’t been a lot of sunshine so we’ve been able to approach that goal gradually. Then again, if there were more sunshine maybe I could get the kids to get up and dressed before noon.

3 Comments

Filed under education, gifted education, homeschooling high school, Unschoolish

Love Forever

If I’ve learned something since the last time I posted it’s that I can’t teach a class, volunteer, hold down a job, and write a blog.

If I’ve learned something else, something more interesting, it’s that you never know when things will change or how, but you know they will.

When I was a high school student I wrote an op-ed about the injustice of sodomy laws, then on the books in the majority of states and upheld by the Supreme Court in 1986. “Someday,” I told my mom, “people are going to think about civil rights for gay people like they think about civil rights for black people, like it’s just obvious.” (Put aside the incredible naivety I had about how people think about race.)

Although the Supreme Court reversed itself in 2003, most of the first years of the twenty-first century were marked by the passage of cynical “defense of marriage amendments” mainly designed to get conservative voters to the polls to support candidates. Not very encouraging.

As everyone knows, Minnesota recently became the first state to vote no on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages, rejecting that strategy and demonstrating that the tide was finally turning nationwide. Not long afterwards, it became the 12th state to vote in favor of marriage equality. Good stuff. Very exciting and moving.

Today I was listening to the radio in the kitchen, to the station KDWB, THE station for teens and young adults that I have been gradually forced to allow to share air time with my beloved public radio. A song came on and it took me back to 1990, when I was listening to KDWB on purpose, for myself, in my apartment. I called in to complain because the DJ was making fun of “limp-wristed” guys in “lavender polo shirts.” For real? The guy hung up on me.

More than 20 years later, KDWB has moved from homo jokes to playing this beautiful song. Change is good.

Leave a comment

Filed under Catholic stuff, grown up life

Teen Reading List for Spring

I had been worrying throughout the fall that my 13yo wasn’t reading enough. She was doing a lot of rereading old books, leafing through comics, and checking tumblr, but not poring over new novels like years past.

This semester will be different thanks to her co-op activities. A few teens have organized their own weekly book club, and these are their choices:

Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones
The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
Maze Runner, James Dashner
Chosen, Ted Dekker
The Card Turner, Louis Sachar
The Mortal Instruments, Cassandra Clare
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
The Golden Compass, Phillip Pullman
The Last Dragonslayer, Jasper Fforde
The Book Thief, Marcus Zusak

What a great list, right? All the books were proposed by the kids – they have excellent taste. So far they have organized their discussions themselves: the first meeting they mapped Maze Runner and for the second one of the kids made a Jeopardy-style game about the book.

For the class I am teaching – and it is kind of interesting having your own kid sitting next to you in class, alternately being a teen among teens and being your kid – the reading list is crazy, but awesome:

Jonathan Swift, “The Ladies Dressing Room” and “A Modest Proposal”; Alexander Pope, “The Rape of the Lock”; P. G. Wodehouse, Code of the Woosters; Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest; Flannery O’ Connor, “A Good Man is Hard to Find”; Chaucer, “The Miller’s Tale”; Kurt Vonnegut, Sirens of Titan; and short works Joseph Addison, Dorothy Parker, Italo Calvino, Woody Allen, Mark Twain, David Sedaris, Edward Gorey, and Garrison Keillor.

I am feeling torn about “The Miller’s Tale.” I did promise flatulence in the class description, but I didn’t count on how hard it would be for a few of the kids to talk about body stuff in front of each other. Looking for substitutes, I Googled “great farts in literary history.” Do not do this unless you have a strong stomach.

On reflection this seems a little light in mood/substance compared to previous reading lists, but after a fall of dystopian literature, that’s probably a good balance.

4 Comments

Filed under Books, Homeschooling, homeschooling high school, writing life

Still Here!

Despite a long silence, all is well and busy here. We’ve gotten through a busy play production, some unusual work for me, and a vacation in Florida. Bring on the spring.

I’ve also been spending a lot of spare time prepping to teach a literature class for teens at our homeschool co-op. This sounds like a small thing, and probably should be a small thing. As it turns out, however, there was a reason I got a PhD in English. Cracking open the Pope and Swift after a long absence was like reconnecting the power to an abandoned amusement park in my brain — flashing lights! clanging bells! circus music! And that’s just the class prep part.

I write about literature of all sorts almost every day for my freelance work. It’s almost always interesting, but it doesn’t allow for getting up close and personal with a work the way even preparing for teaching does.

I’ve set up a tumblr for the class, but really it is kind of a buffer zone where I can put some of the overflow of my excitement — Oh my gosh! Look at these illustrations! I love this couplet! — without totally overwhelming the students.

(Was that an oblique confession that poking around tumblr looking for lit/ed bloggers has been distracting me too?)

I’m updating a few times a week, so check it out. And oh my gosh! Look at this illustration!

"The Cave of Spleen" by Aubrey Beardsley, based on Alexander Pope's "Rape of the Lock."

“The Cave of Spleen” by Aubrey Beardsley, based on Alexander Pope’s “Rape of the Lock.”

1 Comment

Filed under education, grown up life, writing life

World Nutella Day, and some projects

Oh my gosh, has it really been more than 2 weeks since my last post? Too many things happening.

Want proof?

Since last posting about Project Based Homeschooling I took some time to make some space for creative activity around the house. I confess, I did not do as much as I’d hoped. I moved some furniture around in the breakfast nook to make the shelves more accessible, and I labeled all the cups holding the pens and pencils and sorted them by type.

These are two of my favorite projects that have appeared since then:

Project Based Learning 2

I came into the kitchen to find Victoria, my youngest, painstakingly painting old seashells with paints she found in the shelves somewhere. To be honest, I don’t know how she found either of them or what made her think of putting the two together, but there it is.

Project Based Learning 2

This is Violet, my older, preparing to sew. She loves the webcomic Homestuck, because she is 1) an aspiring comic artist and 2) a teen. She found the hat-making tutorial, made a list of what she needed, and then dove in. She even made the horns (see below) twice, because she didn’t like the first set. And she did it cheerfully. And all I did was drive to the fabric store because I still don’t really know how to run the sewing machine. I’d venture to say this is the first time she’s used the sewing machine in 2 years, and that was for a pillowcase.

Project Based Learning 2

Every time I say to myself “why is she unmotivated?” I need to look at this picture. (And every time the kids give me crap about taking their pictures, I’m going to say that Lori Pickert said I should — though they won’t believe it because I’ve always taken too many pictures.)

Project Based Learning 2

I’ve also cleared the decks to do Journey North with Victoria, which we’ve never done before. I’m being sensible and letting someone experienced show me the way, following along with Melissa Wiley. This is the kind of project-y stuff that always screams “homeschooling” to me — working together, combining disciplines, posting up cool graphs on the fridge. I have no real educational aim in doing it except increasing my joy in homeschooling by participating rather than directing.

Project Based Learning 2

With joy as our goal, how could we resist World Nutella Day, which is apparently a real thing. (There is Nutella inside those whipped-cream covered crepes.) Appropriately, a friend sent me a message today with this quotation attached:

Life is meant to be a celebration! It shouldn’t be necessary to set aside special times to remind us of this fact. Wise is the person who finds a reason to make every day a special one.

So we make crepes, or hats, or painted shells, and I try to get comfortable with nudging that towards the center of our day instead making it stay on the margins. I’m still adjusting, leaving more of my own work until late at night now, which means it doesn’t get done or it gets done very slowly. Still, I make myself sleep in and whenever possible try not to push us very quickly in there mornings. There are only so many days to take fuzzy good-morning pictures like this:

Project Based Learning 2

4 Comments

Filed under art, Homeschooling, homeschooling high school, raising girls, Unschoolish

I’m Reading a Book!

When I was pregnant with my first baby, I read tons and tons of books about childbirth, child rearing, child development. Like many young women, I knew I was ready when I was sick of all the expert advice and couldn’t stand to read any more.

Something similar happened with homeschooling. I read books and discussed curriculum and scoured the internet, and then — I didn’t. I just did it the way I wanted to do it, and the umpteenth time someone wanted to talk about math curriculum I would try very very hard not to slide under the table.

But there has been a buzz around a new book, so I did something I haven’t done in a long time: I got a new book about homeschooling.

It’s Project-Based Homeschooling by Lori Pickert, formerly of the Camp Creek Blog, and now blogging at Project-Based Homeschooling. I’ve read most of it but am looking forward to going through it a bit more slowly and also talking it over with friends.

My one disappointment with the book thus far is that it is mostly oriented towards younger children. She does speak about adapting ideas to older children and teens, however, and I will be spending some time thinking about how to do just that.

Regardless, I like the book for the same reason I assume people often like certain books: it says things I already think, but in much better ways, in more affirming ways — in this case in gentler ways — and it brings that vision of what I wish I were doing that much closer to reality.

Here are a few tidbits from the introduction that made me so happy I bought my first homeschooling book in years:

Surprisingly often, people will champion self-directed learning for children but not allow those children’s parents the same freedom and respect. . . . Your kids should learn at their own pace, follow their interests, and you should trust that they’ll eventually learn everything they need to know. You, on the other hand, should get with the program, right now, 100%, or else.

So true! How easy it is for any of us to slip from advocate to browbeating zealot. I loved this more solicitous approach, inviting you to give some of these ideas a try from a sense of generosity and helpfulness. So much easier to listen to than hearing that your children are in danger of failing academically or having their tender creative souls squashed like helpless bugs unless you shape up.

And then, this:

The freedom that we have to create a life that works for us, our children, and our families is priceless. We should never trade it in for a handful of magic beans — a purist approach that comes with a set of pregummed labels, a rule book an inch thick, and threat of eviction from the tribe if you deviate from the center of the path. As you explore new ideas — in this book and elsewhere — about how children learn and how we can help them learn, I hope you keep a firm grip on your own opinions and values. You can build a life customized to your beliefs and prioritizes. Don’t settle for off-the-rack.

So true again! It can be disillusioning that the most countercultural groups can demand the most conformity, and anything “alternative” is co-opted so quickly as a product sold back to you: everything you need for a brave new lifestyle, all in this convenient package.

I’ve written before that homeschooling our kids made us aware, as adults, of how wide-open our choices really are. That doesn’t mean radical change is always in order: one happy result of our sense of freedom was realizing that we love living right where we do. And if I’m being honest, sometimes I would choose the feeling of “doing it the right way” over waiting to see where an uncharted course takes us.

What I like about Project-Based Homeschooling is that it is more like a companion on the journey than a map. Lori Pickert writes in a way that accomplishes just what she’s advocating: she’s a resource, an encourager, a hands-off mentor, never forgetting that the project of being a homeschooling parent belongs to you.

3 Comments

Filed under Books, education, Homeschooling, Unschoolish

New Year’s Learning Notes

And we are back to school, whatever that means right now. (Longer post required)

For Victoria, who is 9, she likes the reliability of subjects that we do regularly. Math, history, and French. But she also likes to make, and do, and sing. I am in love with the Klutz paper dresses kit she got for Christmas — she cracked that thing open and started making the most adorable little outfits you ever saw. After the first one was a little crooked, she had the concept down and there was no stopping her.

Totes Adorbs

Totes Adorbs

It’s so funny, because she also recently started participating in a little engineering club (BEST — Bridging Engineers Science and Teaching — ps can we agree no word-person was consulted in the formation of that acronym?) and she is so intimidated. How can a child who figured out, after about 2 minutes of advice from a Sewing Idiot (i.e., me), how to draw and cut out her own sewing patterns on paper by measuring a doll form and calculating seam allowances, cut out the fabric pieces, and sew them together feel intimidated by a few wheels and a battery-operated motor? And for that matter, why is attaching a motor to some wheels “engineering” while navigating the complexities of constructed clothing is “crafty girl stuff”? (Longer post required)

will sell for 2 dollars (observe the giant Tardis that has come to Hogwarts)

will sell for 2 dollars (observe the giant Tardis that has come to Hogwarts)

Violet, 13, is just drawing and drawing, lots of sketches for a webcomic she is plotting. She has memos on her phone and text files on the computer–the planning, I think, is the best part. Apart from the drawing.

Drawn on the computer/tablet

Drawn on the computer/tablet


She continues to study Chinese and linguistics in a pretty-much self-guided way. She’s staying with her chemistry course and keeps saying she wants take AP Physics next year. (Apparently physics will be “easy” because studying chemistry is so incredibly painful and physics is fun.)

And — knock me over with a feather — she said to me yesterday, “I think I need to start doing some math. I feel lazy not doing any math.” She has not formally “done math” in quite a while. Last year she was taking both physics and chemistry, and that seemed like enough math for any 12yo who doesn’t really love math. This year she was perfunctorily working through some geometry but we abandoned that — the level of perfunct seemed to guarantee that next to nothing was going to be retained anyway. One thing we are learning is that there is a degree of presence required, not only from her, but from me, to make things happen. Oddly, trying to be more unschooly seems to require more presence — of a certain sort — from me rather than less. (Longer post required)

We haven’t yet figured out what “doing math” will be. She wants to review before starting the Thinkwell Precalculus we bought, and maybe in the end we’ll put that aside for something else anyway. In any case the next two months, for her, will be all about Julius Caesar, her first performance in a Shakespeare play, unless you count the staging of parts of Midsummer Night’s Dream we did during her 9th birthday party. And all about drawing.

Experimenting with the new markers

Experimenting with the new markers

Throw in some fencing for Victoria and piano for both girls and lots of reading and trying to get some outdoor time in the winter and we are full-on back to something is that not quite vacation, even if it isn’t really school.

Leave a comment

Filed under art, gifted education, Homeschooling, homeschooling high school, raising girls, Unschoolish