Thursday, June 30, 2011

I Just Realized...

I finished NaBloPoMo June.


Writing every day has been a good exercise for me, especially writing on the blog. Unlike a journal, knowing that someone, somewhere might read it at some point makes me at least try do a good job with it. But knowing that in reality very few people will actually read it, I am comfortable writing about whatever's on my mind at the moment I sit down at the computer. Kind of a good balance between writing "with the door open" and "with the door closed" as Stephen King would say.

It's interesting - when I'm blogging daily, I notice things differently throughout the day. I pay attention to things, events, feelings, and expriences that I might not otherwise think so much about. "Maybe that's what I'll write about tonight," is a thought that occurs to me a few times per day.

Kind of like being in Therapy.

As a result, the benefits of daily writing haven't just been limited to the time I actually spend writing, but extend to the rest of my day as well. I also enjoy looking back over what I've written, remembering things I might not have remembered, sharing things with Savageman and the kids, etc.

Sometimes I catch myself thinking that 15-60 minutes per day is too long to spend on this, but when I consider the fact that I watch no television, play no computer games, do no crossword puzzles, and spend very little time on Facebook or Twitter, I realize there are worse things I could be doing with my time.

So I guess I'm a fan of writing.

(Okay, that was really corny, but it's the closest thing I could find to a post on this month's theme. July's theme is Swim. Maybe I'll do better with that one.)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

In Case You Thought I Was Nuts...

I'm reading more from Different Learners: Identifying, Preventing and Treating Your Child's Learning Problems today. And I'm finally at the part where it describes things parents should do to prevent learning problems, or to lessen their impact on a child already genetically predisposed toward them.

I'm happy to say that we've been pretty diligent about most of this stuff, right from the start. There are advantages to starting out your parenting life while in a graduate program in Developmental Psychobiology. Disadvantages also... but advantages.

Starting with avoiding environmental toxins. Before, during and after the baby is born.

Moving on to breastfeeding. Which I did for 3-5 YEARS with each child.

Early nurturing - holding, bonding, soothing... essentially, attachment parenting.

Brain-friendly nutrition. Healthy, additive-free food, in as close to its natural state as possible. Also, being aware of the role food allergies and intolerances play in ADHD and autistic-spectrum disorders and seeking to identify them.

Quality sleep.

Limiting screen time. We have no game systems, we have no cable TV. No TV on in the background, and computers and facebook are locked and require parental permission and monitoring.

Explicitly teaching self-regulation and other executive functioning skills.

Avoiding overstimulating environments (like crowded classrooms).

Allowing skills to develop on their own timetable - not forcing things before they are ready; not holding them back if they're bored.

Promoting LOTS of exercise, especially outdoors, in nature, and lots of unstructured free time to play.

While Dr. Healy is an educational psychologist and most comfortable in the traditional school environment, she has a lot of positive things to say about homeschooling, and in particular, unschooling, based on the experiences she's had with people who were allowed to develop at their own pace, rather than be forced into the school's timetable and then be labeled and discouraged when their individual pattern of development did not fit there. She couldn't deny the definite advantages of taking this path if the parents are willing and able.

Several times in this most recent book, she talks about how hard it is to be the kind of parent who goes against the societal norm, reads labels and refuses to feed her kids the typical "American" diet, questions the one-size-fits all school system, limits her children's screen time and media exposure, seeks out alternative educational methods, etc. It really isn't easy, and we don't do it just to be weird or because we think we're better than anyone else - we do it because we know what the research says and we're doing our very best to help our non-neurotypical kids develop as well as they can.

Reading books like this one help remind me that we really have been doing our best to control the things over which we still have control, and help me realize that things really could have been a lot worse had we not been vigilant (sometimes annoyingly so) about these practices.

So I will continue to say no to chemicals in the food, no to commercial TV and game systems, no to overstructuring and under-exercising developing minds and bodies.

Let the chips fall where they may. I will tell them I did my best.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Mastin Kipp's blog, The Daily Love, caught my eye this morning.

You know, because when a guy named Mastin has nurturing life wisdom for you, you need to at least find out what he has to say.

And tonight, when I snuggled up with Little to watch Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, I was reminded of it again. The story of the Smart Girl who feels like she has to act stupid so people will like her always gets me Right Here.

A blog post for another day.

In any case, Mastin's thought for today: Be radically yourself and let the chips fall where they may.

Altering who you are in order to make someone else like you isn't fair to yourself, or to the other person. Pretty obvious, right?

Ah, but Mastin goes a step further. It's not just a matter of not lying about who you are or pretending to be someone you're not. He recommends being radically yourself. "Open up, be a dork (yes, I am projecting), be a little crazy, be sweet, kind, generous and all those things you wish to have in someone else." Celebrate if you're rejected for being yourself - the person who rejected you wouldn't have appreciated what you truly had to offer anyway. "The right person will stick, but only if you have the courage, clarity and self-love to let go of the wrong one."

Difficult, but true. It was no accident that Savageman and I picked Billy Joel's Just the Way You Are as our wedding song. It was important to us that we knew exactly what we were getting - that we knew the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of each other, the things on which we could agree, and the things on which we would never agree. It isn't always pretty to look at, but at least we can say our eyes have been open.

Knowing that someone loves and accepts all of you and not just the parts that look good or mesh with their own ideas - and choosing to know and love and accept them as well - is a whole other dimension of friendship. It's a huge risk. But honestly, life is too short to settle for less.

Feeling blessed tonight to have the people in my life who love me for the whole, quirky person I am - and who know I love them just as completely.

(Y'all know who you are - mwha, mwha, mwha!)


Monday, June 27, 2011

High on Life

And exercise endorphins.

When people hear about how hard we push ourselves in our martial arts classes, or stories like how I finally agreed on Friday to spar with the 3rd degree black belt guy after months of being afraid to do it, (the phrase "teasing a Grizzly Bear" kept running through my head the whole time) the next question is often, "Why would anyone want to do that??!"

And I laugh, because when I stand in their shoes, it does seem a little crazy. Heck, sometimes it seems crazy when I'm standing in my own shoes.

But the answer is This. This feeling.

Peaceful, euphoric, calm, clear-headed, spent, energized, centered....


I spent two hours working out tonight as usual. One at kickboxing, one at class. It was hard work. Tonight, kickboxing ended with 50 pushups, 200 crunches, and 100 leglifts. Through the course of the class, we did over 150 more pushups and I can't even count how many crunches and leg lifts - all between the rounds of actual kicking with our partners. In the second class, we did even more of that, in addition to forms and fighting techniques that were mentally challenging to remember and execute correctly as well.

But I left feeling great as always. Stronger than I ever thought I could be. Pleasantly exhausted. Invincible.

Nothing else does this for me, and I doubt I can think of anything that would. (Anything legal and healthy, anyway.)

This is the motivation that keeps me going there day after day, week after week, month after month for almost 2 years now. I look forward to going, and while I'm there I gladly push myself harder than I need to. Because I know how great it's going to make me feel.

Taking my happy self up to bed, where I will sleep like a rock for the next 8 hours, then get up and do it all over again and thank God for it.

It's reshaping my image of myself. It's rewiring my brain. It's making me strong. It's keeping me happy.

I can't wait to go back tomorrow.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

New Stick

Savageman found me a new hiking stick while he was at Cub Scout camp. He peeled the bark off of it and found that underneath, the wood was pale and smooth and quite beautiful. We asked the camp naturalist what it was and he told us it was Tulip Poplar.

Tonight, I sat in the garage with Little, who just received his Whittling Chip (Cub Scout proof that he is responsible enough to use a pocketknife) and a new knife of his own. He practiced shaving and carving some sticks and I worked on my new hiking stick, sawing off the knots and sanding the ends and the rough places.

We worked and chatted and I heard all about camp and the funny antics of the different counselors and kids. He was especially enthralled with the BB shooting, the swimming, the fishing, and the soap carving. He frequently asked if we did this or that same thing in our Girl Scout troop, and I told him about that.

It reminded me of one of the things I've read over the years about communicating with boys - they tend to open up more when they're engaged in another activity. Not that Little has ever had a problem talking - he's a regular chatterbox most of the time - but the conversation we had while we were working on our sticks was an especially good one. Maybe it was also good for me, since it was keeping my hands busy at an activity that left my mind fully available for the conversation.

Now it's done, and I love it. I'm looking forward to the many hikes on which I will use it, and I know looking at it will remind me of the night Little and I bonded in the garage over our camp experiences. Of all the gifts Savageman could have bought me or found for me at camp, this was the absolute perfect thing.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Welcome Home

Savageman and Little just finished 3 days and 2 nights at Cub Scout camp.

We drove out there to meet them and to enjoy dinner and the closing campfire program tonight, which was very much fun.

Little looked very grown-up in his uniform, and was very proud of all he had learned and accomplished over the last few days.

Savageman clearly had a good time bonding with his youngest offspring. He looked rugged and a little weary, and smelled like Outdoors.

I love the smell of Outdoors.

So that's all I'm going to blog about tonight.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Jammin' Once More

I had the pleasure of yet another girls' night in the company of my beautiful singing buddy with the amazing voice and the incredibly awesome taste in music.

And I'm actually writing this the morning after because we stayed up until sunrise, rocking out to all of our favorite music long after our other friends had turned in.

How it feeds my soul to stay up late with a Kindred Spirit, sharing favorite songs and singing and playing guitar. This was actually how I met my husband, staying up all night at the retreat for incoming college freshmen, playing a guitar we had found and jamming to our favorite music. He and I became best friends that night, at the age of seventeen, thanks to that guitar.

There's something about belting out a song together that connects people, cleanses the psyche, lifts the heart. It's cathartic, and today my spirit feels lighter and I want to sing and dance some more.

I'm sure later on today the fatigue will hit me, but for now I'm Good.

Beautiful night. Beautiful people. Beautiful music.

It doesn't get much better than that.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Or Not...

"What do you mean, you submitted my paperwork!?! I'm still thinking about it!"

"But the other night, you said..."

"I said if! Not when, if!"


Good thing nothing is set in stone and I'm only out the $2 Notary fee. He added Tech Ed to his Pro School list. So now it's not just the cafeteria food.

At least he's thinking about substantive reasons.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

My Own Little In-Service

"What are you reading?"

I was sitting at the pool with a friend who also happens to be a public school teacher. I held up my book, Different Learners: Identifying, Preventing and Treating your Child's Learning Problems by Jane Healy, one of my favorite educational neuroscience authors.

I read these kinds of books when I can. Not only was developmental psychobiology my field pre-motherhood, I have spent the last 15 years raising and teaching one very bright child with ADHD and various comorbid issues and now another who so far can only be described as a "late bloomer" in the academic sense. Two very different kids with two differently-wired brains who require two very different approaches.

And then there's Middle, who thankfully does just fine.

With the other two, the thinking and reading and learning about what they need and how to help them get it never really stops. Dr. Healy's book helps tease apart the confusing maze of labels: ADHD, dyslexia, autism, Asperger's syndrome, non-verbal learning disorder, social-emotional learning impairment, executive function disorder, etc. She explores how the fast-paced, stressful culture in which we live affects brain development and how lifestyle choices can help or harm children at risk for these problems.

She and I think alike about many of these things, and it's always gratifying to see that eating carefully, limiting screen time, honoring children's own innate timeline for certain skills, allowing plenty of time for exercise and unstructured free play and many of the other things we have made a priority in our home and our homeschool are things she recommends.

Sometimes, when I look at the problems the Teen is still faced with, it's good to remind myself of what the first therapist we saw told us about our parenting practices. "Imagine how much worse things might have been had you not done all of those things." What a powerful sentence that was for me, at a time when I felt I must be the worst parent in the world. Dr. Healy's books have the same reassuring effect on me.

So I'm reading this book at the pool, jotting down notes, reminding myself to look up different terms and researchers when I get home. "It's like your own personal in-service!" she joked.

But she was right! Regular teachers regularly go through these trainings to better meet the needs of their students - why wouldn't I be doing the same for my homeschoolers? Thinking about it that way made me feel like a bona fide professional. An Expert in the Field, even. :-)

Later, I watched an interesting lecture on non-verbal and social-emotional learning disorders and the struggle to diagnose and treat problems in the face of so many overlapping issues. Fascinating stuff, but as with everything else in this realm, I come away with more questions than answers.

It's not easy - it's never easy - but when I look at things through the lens of books and lectures like these, I can honestly say I feel a lot better about the good that we have done, even though we've had to be quite countercultural to do it.

Just because the culture is unhealthy doesn't mean we have to be.

Just because we're having problems doesn't mean they might not have been a lot worse.

Sometimes a good in-service is exactly what I need.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Plan

The Plan for next year is to homeschool Middle again.

I think.

Trying to pin him down to a position on the matter has not been easy. And I, being the Enlightened Parent that I am, care about his position. There's nothing worse than trying to homeschool someone who'd rather be somewhere else. Homeschooling is a privilege, and a service I am happy to provide for willing children. But it's not a prison sentence, and it's not the only quality show in town. Schools, both public and parochial, have plenty to offer as well.

So, by this age, I tend to leave a large part of the decision making to the child in question. It's a big responsibility, and a big decision, as he keeps reminding me. I can give him information; I can even give him my own opinion and preference. But ultimately, I want it to be his choice.

It's been hard for him to decide because with both choices there is much to gain and much to lose. But that's part of life, as I mentioned recently. Homeschooling will enable him to sleep later, put in shorter more focused academic hours doing subjects he has helped choose, give him the freedom he enjoys to structure his days the way he wants, and allow him to spend more time at martial arts and with his other homeschooling friends. On the other hand, going to school would enable him to spend more time with his school friends and eat in the cafeteria. I can think of a bunch of other good reasons why he might want to go to school, but those were his only two when I asked just now.

Which is probably why we're homeschooling again next year.

Our evaluation went really well today. I think we both came away feeling like he had done some really good work this year, even with the freespirited approach I took with him after leaving the cyberschool. We went to lunch together afterward and talked about The Decision and pieced together a list of things he'd like to study next year if he's home.

It looks something like this:

Math - Geometry. He's almost finished with Algebra I, and the Teen will be in Sophmore Geometry next year, so they can help each other. Plus, Geometry is fun.

Science - Psychology. Whatever he wants, I've got it or I know where to find it. I've had two years of undergraduate work and 5 years of graduate work studying and teaching the subject, and there are so many different subfields to explore - neuroanatomy, biopsychology, social psychology, sensation / perception, abnormal psychology, developmental psychology, learning theory... We can overlap with experimental design and statistical analysis, research paper writing, even history and literature. Very exciting.

History - I'm insisting he needs more American History; he insists that it must be post-Civil War. Deal. (That part's more interesting for me too.)

English - Reading is never a problem for him. He cranks through a novel or two a week when he's trying to avoid his other work. But we both know he needs more writing in his life, so we agreed on a completed writing project every two weeks. I also want him to learn more about using software like Powerpoint and Publisher, so I'm going to insist on more of these types of projects as well. We have a good grammar and vocabulary curriculum we're using, and of course, we diagram sentences. I love diagramming sentences.

Music - He's still working on learning to read music and play the piano, even though it isn't His Thing. That's okay. His evaluator encouraged him to Offer It Up.

Art - I want to actually do the projects I chose for last year and never got around to trying. We have some great art books and lots of art materials. We just need to make it a priority for a change.

Phys-ed / Health. Gee, I wonder... :-) He calculated the number of hours he actually spent in martial arts classes last year (not counting when he was just there hanging out). It came to 11 hours per week. And he won 7 trophies in his first year competing. Good kid.

Home-ec - Thanks to Little, he's had to learn to cook. Because when Little asks for help with a recipe, I often send him to Middle, who then has to get involved. I'm sneaky like that. And of course, the laundry and gardening and housework and bugeting and shopping and bill-paying are all part of the homeschooling experience around here from a very young age.

Enrichment - He's asked for more field trips to places like D.C. With friends. I am happy to oblige, and we have no lack of travel companions to choose from. Giving more of the planning responsibilities to them will improve their self-confidence and decision-making skills - very important at this stage of development - so that will be one of my goals. Also, having him follow up with a writing or art project afterward.

Wow - I just read over this and it sounds really exciting! The trick, of course, is to actually do all this cool stuff. But with some good pre-planning (starting tonight) this could be a great homeschooling year for us both.

Off to re-organize the bookshelves...


Monday, June 20, 2011

Portfolio Night

Our first homeschool evaluation is tomorrow morning.

Yes, we've been homeschooling for the last 9 years, but this is the first year that one of the school-age kids was not enrolled in a public cyberschool. This year Middle was on his own, which means that we had to file an affadavit with the school district and now, at the end of the year, have to meet with an evaluator to go over what we did.

I'm hoping we did a good job.

Looking back over the year, I'm pretty pleased with much of what we did, but also wishing we'd done more in other areas. Math went much better than expected; History much worse. I'm chalking it up to 5 years of intensive history through the cyberschool - in any case, he was burnt out on the subject.

I'm looking forward to hearing the evaluator's feedback and suggestions for how to proceed from here. We still go back and forth about whether he should go to school next year or not, but I'm already thinking of ideas and possibilities for next year. Seventh grade is probably the last year I will be comfortable having him at home; I feel strongly about the boys going to high school and I think a year of eighth grade helps to prepare them for that.

As always, when I ask him what he wants to do, he is as torn as I am. I think he'll be fine either way, and either way has its pros and cons.

Rarely are decisions like this black or white.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fathers' Day

... began with a 2+ mile run with a friend I hadn't seen in a while. It was nice catching up, and a new thing for both of us to run with someone else.

Starting the day with a run makes such a difference to me. Usually I sleep in on Sundays, getting up just in time to do the morning routine and get to Mass. Today after the run, I worked in the garden for a while, helped my neighbor put the canopy on her swingset and had coffee before getting into the shower. I had a more productive morning, and more energy throughout the rest of day, thanks to that run.

Extra energy came in handy today - I did a bunch of shopping and made a special Fathers' Day Feast featuring ingredients from the garden. We sat down together as a family and used the good china - which I haven't brought out in years, although I keep vowing to do so. It was nice to have an excuse, and I couldn't think of a better reason than to celebrate Savageman and all he does for us (and all he puts up with, for that matter.)

Sweet man...

Saturday, June 18, 2011


I finished reading this book yesterday. It was all about happiness.

(Just the fact that I finally had time to read and finish a book at all made me pretty darn happy. I credit all the hours I've recently spent sitting in the shade at the pool.)

In any case, this was one of the books we had considered reading for our book club, and I was already familiar with The Happiness Project website, so when I saw the book at the library, I grabbed it. It's the kind of book that's chock full of things you probably already know, but really don't mind hearing again.

Gretchen Rubin, the author of the book and the blog, takes a year of her life to research what makes people happy and apply this knowledge to her own life, in little ways, with a different focus each month. For example, January is "Boost Energy" month - because it's hard to do all the other things if you lack the energy to do them, February's focus is love and marriage, June is titled "Make Time for Friends," September's theme is "Pursue a Passion." In each chapter, she discusses some research or age-old wisdom regarding the topic of the month, and then describes her own experiences, challenges and discoveries found in applying these concepts to her own life.

I enjoyed it a lot, and I will be checking out her blog more frequently for reminders of little ways to get more out of life. It felt good to know that a lot of the things I already do are supported by research, or were things Gretchen thought were good ideas too. Very cool to see her working through NaNoWriMo and using the same book / project plan I've used to attempt to write a novel in a month. Of course, she actually finished hers. Maybe next year for me. I'm sticking with blogging for now.

Writing on this blog, taking time to notice and jot down things that make me happy, eating and sleeping right, exercising and learning a new skill, looking for ways to connect with friends and make others happy - these are all ways I've increased my own happiness over the last few years.

Here are the Four Splendid Truths Gretchen arrives at in her book and on her blog:

First: To be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.

Second: One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy; One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.

Third: The days are long, but the years are short.

Fourth: You’re not happy unless you think you’re happy.

I think I'm happy. And I'm off to read to my Little bear and watch a movie on the couch with Savageman.


Friday, June 17, 2011

Weeding... Again

After a busy week, with little extra time for things like the garden, I was greeted today by... those same old weeds. Back again.

Remembering the lessons I learned the last time I really cogitated on the act of weeding, I surrendered to the task at hand.

Considering I had not kept up my daily maintenance, it was a large task indeed. Just about every surface was covered in some kind of little sprouts of grass, prickly thistles, maple trees, and goodness-knows-what-else. In addition to the weeds, the raspberries, which are fine as long as they stay on their own side of the netting, were working their way through. The squash plants were getting a little too friendly with the tomato plants, hugging them with their grabby tendrils and choking them.

It was horticultural anarchy.

I needed to restore some order here. After separating and rearranging the good plants, I began the actual weeding.

As I was working, I noticed that this was different than my last major weeding project. The plants were much bigger and healthier, and it was easy to tell them from the weeds. So while it was still work, it didn't really require all that much thought or decision-making. Plants were plants, weeds were weeds. The difference was obvious.

And again, it reminded me of life. (Weeding is not that interesting for me. I have to think about something to pass the time!)

As we fill our gardens and our lives with Healthy Stuff, and that Healthy Stuff takes root and grows and takes up more space, the weeds that would choke that healthy growth are easier to identify and remove. The negative thoughts that hold us back, the messages that we're not good enough, the hurts and rejections, the bad habits and time-wasters... they're all weeds that we can see more easily for what they are in a garden filled with a variety of healthy plants.

It was one of those insights I was eager to share with the Teen, who has taken up meditation recently. When I came in, I tried to share these insights and describe how today weeding was my meditative act.

He, of course, thought this was hilarious, and spent the next 5 minutes or so mocking the idea of weeding as meditation. But he's fifteen - I guess that's his job. Fortunately for me, I have fairly low expectations of myself as a writer/philosopher/Zen master and also fairly thick skin. :-) The little weed of his rejection: Pulled and Tossed.

Maybe he'll have a texting lull and will read this blog post in a fit of boredom.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Making Peace

A very wise friend visited my childbirth class tonight.

Not only is she a wonderful and well-informed advocate for gentle birth and empowered mamas, she is a labor and delivery nurse at the hospital. So she essentially has a foot in both worlds - how we would like it to be, and the reality of how it often is.

Two of the couples who were there tonight are planning home births. The other two are planning to be in the hospital. She gave it to them straight, and it was clear that this bothered them somewhat, but I'm still extremely glad she came.

Sometimes I think that, as natural childbirth teachers, we set our hospital couples up for unrealistic expectations. Yes, you can do this. But will the doctors and hospital let you? That is often a separate question, and one I really can't answer for them, not knowing their individual circumstances. It's important for them to know the culture they may be running into when they arrive at the hospital, and then they have some decisions to make.

"What if my doctor says no to what I want?" was the question of the night.

And the answer was, ultimately, "You need to decide how important it is to you. If it's that important, you fight for it or change doctors. If it's not, you go along with their way - but you make the choice to do that and you take responsibility for that choice."

It's an important step, and an important distinction. And it applies to all the decisions we make, not just those regarding childbirth.

How many times would we like to have it both ways? How often do we put off making a decision until it's too late and the decision is made for us? How often do we make a choice, and then look for ways to pass the responsibility or the blame onto someone else?

By doing this, we can allow ourselves the peace of mind that comes with convincing ourselves that the negative circumstances of our lives are not really our doing. Someone else made me do that. Someone else made me feel that way. Someone else is responsible.

We can allow ourselves to be victims and feel bad for ourselves and ask others to feel bad for us and complain and make snarky comments about the person or persons we hold responsible for our troubles -

- or we can take responsibility for our own choices and decisions and work to create the kind of life we want for ourselves and our families. Without regrets, without giving away our power to anyone else.

Powerlessness is for small children. By a certain age (and I'm certain that this happens younger in our household than in most) people are expected to make decisions and live with the consequences of those decisions. I hear myself saying it all the time - "It was your choice to do that." Depriving children of the experience of making their own choices and realizing the natural consequences of those choices teaches them both entitlement and victimhood. Not empowerment. Not responsibility. Not maturity.

I'm writing this to myself as a reminder, as a caution, and as a means of understanding those who would prefer to blame others for their unhappiness rather than make different choices.

With each choice we make, we gain some things and give up others. By choosing one path, we deprive ourselves of what another might have offered. And it's important to be at peace with that.

It's when we recognize that the choices we make are ultimately ours that we can truly feel powerful and in control of our lives. Only then can we truly let go of the envy and resentment we feel toward others who might have chosen a different path, or the blame we might be tempted to shift onto others.

An important distinction between those who would prefer to remain children and those who are ready to grow up.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Yellow / Stripe

Two pieces of black tape were added to my yellow belt today. That's all they are.

But oh, they mean so much!

In this case, they represent an estimated 1-2 hours per day, five days per week in class, countless hours of practicing outside of class, 5 new Hapkido techniques, 2 new forms, 5 3-step fighting techniques, beginning Kumdo (sword actions), continuous sparring, and a huge leap ahead in my endurance and fitness level. All within the last three months.

I'm almost an Advanced Student.


Now I'm in the front half of the room when we line up much of the time. I have 9 open-hand forms to keep track of, 36 Tae Kwon Do actions, 30 Hapkido techniques (so far), 25 fighting techniques, 5 hand techniques, 2 Nunchauku forms... am I leaving anything out?

Between now and my green belt test, there will be more added, including the first Kumdo form. I'm enjoying working with my bokken at home, especially since it is nice enough to practice outside right now. Swinging a sword around in the house is strongly discouraged around here.

Even when it's Mom doing the swinging.

Have I mentioned that I love my martial arts classes?


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Drum Circle

Too tired / too busy to blog again. I'll write about my day with the Teen tomorrow and maybe post some pictures.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Got back late late. Will post more in the morning, but we had a great time, both at the Emeril taping and during our travels in NYC.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Packing for NY

Little and one of our Young Lady friends are off to NY today to appear on the show described below. Considering that his dream is to be a famous chef someday, getting to meet and be a guest on the show of Emeril Lagasse is beyond thrilling for him.

As for me, I'm looking forward to a day and a night in NY with a very dear friend and our two kids. And oh, yeah - meeting Emeril.

From the Breaking News column on The Futon Critic:

"Five Special Diners Join Emeril At The Chef's Table on Each Installment of the on New Daily Cooking Show Scheduled to Launch September 26th

"New York, June 1, 2011 - Hallmark Channel has the hottest reservation on television: a seat at "Emeril's Table," beginning September 26th as part of the network's daytime line-up. A food icon who helped redefine what a cooking show could be, Chef Emeril Lagasse gives the genre yet another reinvigoration with his new informative, entertaining daily half-hour cooking series, produced in association with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Emeril invites viewers to join a group of five special diners at the chef's table for an intimate shared experience that includes a cooking lesson and recipes geared toward their interests. Whether they are newlyweds, moms-to-be, fire fighters or vegetarians, the guests and viewers at home will benefit from breaking bread with the renowned chef each day. As Emeril inspires and engages them - even answering some of their most burning culinary questions and food dilemmas - he'll also share fresh, fun ideas, recipes, tips and techniques. After all, Emeril knows that food is love and both are meant to be shared!

"This show is really my favorite kind of cooking lesson, it allows me to connect with five special guests at my table as well as the viewers at home," says Emeril. "I love being able to interact with people in an intimate setting and cook with them one-on-one. For me it's about creating memorable and entertaining experiences and celebrating great food with great friends."

"Chef Emeril Lagasse received his first culinary experience from his mother, Hilda, when he was a boy growing up in the small town of Fall River, Massachusetts. Upon high school graduation, Lagasse was offered a full scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music, but decided to pursue a career as a professional chef. He earned a degree from the respected culinary fortress, Johnson and Wales University, and later received an honorary Doctorate degree from the university. Lagasse is now the chef-proprietor of 12 restaurants in New Orleans, Las Vegas, Orlando, Miami, Gulfport and Bethlehem. The recognition and awards he has garnered have made him known to food-loving Americans everywhere. In 2005, he received the "Distinguished Service Award" from Wine Spectator for his significant and long-lasting contributions to the wine industry. In 2006, he was inducted into the MenuMasters Hall of Fame by Nation's Restaurant News. In 2007, he was named "Restaurateur of the Year" by New Orleans CityBusiness and in 2009, he received the "Lifetime Achievement Award" from Food Network's South Beach Wine & Food Festival.

"As a national TV personality, Emeril has hosted over 2000 shows on the Food Network, and is the food correspondent for ABC's "Good Morning America." In addition to his television presence, Emeril has a new, live, call-in radio program, Cooking with Emeril, which airs twice weekly exclusively on Martha Stewart Living Radio on SIRIUS XM. He also has a column in Everyday Food magazine where the chef and his six-year-old son, E.J., provide delicious family-friendly recipes. Emeril is the author of 15 bestselling cookbooks including Emeril's New New Orleans Cooking which introduced his creative take on Creole cuisine. His newest release, Sizzling Skillets and other One-Pot Wonders, hits shelves September 27th."

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Adrenaline Rush

So I'm in the process of getting ready to go out the door so that I can catch the last half of Little's baseball game and the Home Run Derby this morning when the phone rings.

It's Savageman. "Everything's okay... I think... but um... he got hit in the face with a baseball. So when you come, can you bring one of the good ice packs and a towel? Oh... and maybe you should call the dentist... I think they have Saturday morning hours."

An image flashes through my mind of Little and his cute little face, his little mouth, his little teeth - mangled, bruised, bleeding, broken, hurting.


Not to mention that the kid is supposed to leave for NY tomorrow so that he can be on TV Monday cooking a meal with Emeril. Do I call to cancel? Or show up only to have them take one look at his stitched up, toothless, swollen face and send us home?

I summon the brothers, jump in the car, take off for the baseball field, only to realize I've forgotten the ice pack and have to go back.

We get to the field and I park sloppily, then sprint over to the field, where Little is... at bat.

He gets a single, they score a run. On the next pitch, he gets to second and they score again, ending the inning - there's a 3 run mercy rule in effect.

He comes over and looks... fine. He goes back in to pitch.

At the end of the game, the coach presents him with the game ball - he calls it the ToughMan Award because all Little cared about when he got hit was getting back in the game and having a turn to pitch. He teared up when he got the award and gave the coach a hug. A rare show of emotion for Little, maybe becuase it was the last game of the season.

Sweet little thing... Can't they dress like this for every position?

(As if the cooking show wasn't enough, he was also photographed by a news reporter last week.)

Friday, June 10, 2011

I Love Being a Girl Scout

And I'm sure I'll write a lot more about that topic sometime, but for now, it's late and I just want to say what a great day I had with my Troop, the younger Savages, and the very wonderful Girl Scout Leaders and parents today at Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom.

People ask me why I'm a Girl Scout Leader when I have no girls. My answer is always the same - I'm Girl Scout Leader because I have no girls. My scouts and my friends' daughters are the closest I'm going to get at this point in my life to having daughters of my own, and I look forward to spending time with them, hearing about their lives, and being one more cheerleader for them as they enter what can be very challenging years for many girls.

The fact that I don't have a girl in the Troop often frees me up to just be the big sister to them, which is an added bonus. (And nice for me, having had neither a big sister, nor a little sister growing up.)

Bottom line - I live in a house of men. I'm surrounded by them and their male energy all the time. Getting out of that every once in a while and immersing myself in a totally female environment feeds a very hungry part of my soul and I am grateful for the chance to do this every so often.

Even though I still wound up driving there with a car full of boys - which was actually really fun too - it was a Girl Day for me and I had a great time.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Last Day

Tomorrow is the last day of the Teen's Freshman year.

I think we're all ready for a break from the stresses of high school. The question is, will the stresses of summer vacation be worse?

Transitions are Not Our Thing. Already I feel us clashing over setting new limits. He's chomping at the bit, ready to exercise as much freedom as he can.

And we're in his way.

The best thing that can happen for all of us is a good, full-time summer job. Preferably one that involves hard physical labor.

Just think - he can get in shape, sweat out 9 months of school stress, and get paid to do it.

I'm taking the other two and a Girl Scout troop to an amusement park tomorrow, so we'll have a day apart to regroup and think, and he'll have a day to continue his job search.

Please send positive vibes - and job leads!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Easing into Summer

We started the day in School Mode, but from lunchtime on, we were in Summer Mode.

Considering the temperature outside was in the mid-90s, it seemed appropriate.

Schoolwork was accomplished quickly this morning. Around lunchtime, the other homeschooling friends came over and we all headed to the pool.

This is a nice week to go to the pool, since most of the schools are still in session. It was still crowded, but more like a dinner-time level of crowded, which is fine for me. My favorite hours to be at the pool have always been from 3-8 - just about when the camps leave, the pool bus for the local neighborhoods leaves, and families start packing up and heading home to make dinner. This is the time when there are just enough people there to make it fun, but not so many that it's hard to find a free spot in the pool.

So we had a good day. My friend is fun and interesting and easy to be with, and our kids have a great time together. When it came time to head over to karate, they were having so much fun we gave them an extra hour. Two hours tonight at the dojang instead of three. Oh well...

I thought after being out in the heat for hours I wouldn't want to do both kickboxing and class tonight - but I went anyway, and was glad I did. Kickboxing was brutal - and amazing. I was even more drenched than usual, if that's possible. There's something about getting to that point where there's nothing else in your head but counting 300 crunches or running 7 laps or holding a side plank even though your arm is shaking... The endorphins kick in, the world goes away, and I completely surrender to what I'm doing and thank God for this body and this strength that I never knew I had.

And then I changed and went to class and started learning my green belt material. Green is sort of the bridge between Intermediate and Advanced. If we'd had a category in middle and high school for "Least Athletic" I would have won it. It took me 40 years and 3 kids to find my inner athlete, but I found her and I love her.

So glad the summer schedule will mean more days like this for me and the boys and our friends.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Filling the Tank

"Do you ever get bored?"

My good friend and I were sitting out on the back porch, enjoying a drink and an impromptu tête-à-tête this evening. I gave the question some thought and then answered, in all honesty, "Definitely not."

"Me neither. My day is so full of things to do, I never have time to be bored."

This is true for me as well. I have a hard time just finding time to read, and I never just flip on the TV like I did in the years before I had kids. All day long, I'm going from one activity to another, with no more than a few minutes in between.

This isn't to say that I'm complaining, or that the things I'm doing are unpleasant. On the contrary, I'm pretty darn happy with the structure of my life right now. It's taken years to get here, but I'm finally at the point where a good chunk of my day can be spent doing things that fill my tank, rather than just drain it all the time.

Including sitting on the back porch discussing such matters with a friend.

It's a completely different feeling, approaching life and its responsibilities on a full tank for a change.

Different enough that it's easy to notice when things are getting out of balance and I'm drifting toward empty again. Back when I was running on empty all the time, I didn't know any better. Having finally achieved a sense of what "full" feels like, it's easier to make the necessary efforts to continuously find ways to nurture and sustain that fullness.

For me, it's exercising, spending time with my women friends, cuddling with my husband, laughing and doing something creative with my kids. If I can pack some of that into every day, my tank stays full enough that I have plenty to give, and still plenty left over for myself most of the time. I feel happy and fulfilled; I don't turn to eating or watching television or whatever else I used to do simply because I was bored or feeling empty.

This isn't to say that there aren't hourly, daily or weekly variations in the level of the tank - of course there are. But for the most part, I'm running on full more than empty these days, and it has made a big difference in my life.

I think Savageman and the boys have appreciated the fact that I'm happier and nicer to be with as a result, so it has made a big difference in their lives as well.

Feeling very grateful tonight for a life that is anything but boring and for good friends and family who share in it and give it so much meaning.

Monday, June 06, 2011

I Scream You Scream...

"Mom, what's that bucket thing on the top shelf in the garage for?"

"Oh, that. That's actually an ice-cream maker. Dad and I bought it in college."

I saw by the delighted look on Little's face that I was in for it now. A myriad of alternate possible responses filled my head. "It's a foot soaker." "It's a pot for a plant."

"It's..." too late. The secret was out.

That was about a week ago. Every day since then, he's asked if this was the day we'd make homemade vanilla ice cream.

I've actually done a good job of dragging this out in a good way. In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin describes four stages of happiness. To get the most out of an experience, we must anticipate it, savor it as it unfolds, express happiness over it, and recall it afterward.

So the next day, we got the thing down from the shelf (and left it lying around in our front hallway for a week for people to trip over, but that's another blog post). Another day, we found the little recipe book for it and looked at all the recipes. This weekend we picked up the milk and cream we needed for the vanilla recipe. And today I got the salt and ice and we finally made the ice cream.

I really milked the anticipation stage. :-)

To make vanilla ice cream, you heat the milk on the stove, dissolve in the sugar and salt, then add the cream and vanilla and chill it. Then it goes in the covered metal churning bucket which goes in the larger bucket surrounded by crushed ice and salt. (A good science lesson about ice and salt was enjoyed by all.) This particular ice cream maker just needs to be plugged in - it does the churning for you.

As it churned and froze, it expanded and filled the container until it started to leak out the top. The ice cream was really soft, but I remembered it needed to harden in the freezer before it was really ready. While we waited, we heated up an apple pie and Little and I made a blueberry cobbler.

There's nothing like fresh, warm pie and cobbler topped with homemade vanilla ice cream. It was positively delish. I think we did a good job savoring our afternoon's work.

And now I'm expressing my happiness over it, and I expect we'll all have happy memories when we look back on the day in late springtime that we made our own ice cream.

Thinking it would probably taste good with some Kahlua on top....

Sunday, June 05, 2011

The Shadow Knows...

And while we're speaking of courage and facing our demons...

Got the link for the latest Mark Brady blog post in my inbox today.

In it, he talks about the power of our "shadow" - basically, the repressed stuff about ourelves that we hide, that we don't want to acknowledge or show to anyone else. It's where our prejudices, insecurities and envy come from, although we won't admit it.

What happens when we don't work to understand our shadows? He says:

"Shadows get projected out onto other people. You can’t avoid running into parts of your own psyche. Since the things in your shadow are a part of your own psychological make-up they have to and they will show up somewhere in your life. In other words, if you just can’t stand to face some of your own stuff, you will end up seeing your own stuff on someone else’s face.

"The word projection is very apt. We’re all familiar with movie projectors. . . . With unacknowledged shadow material you’re the projector. You’re that little machine in the back creating the image. The image is coming from you. But the place where you see the image is on the screen in front of you. You see it in another person, or group of people. Causes a lot of heartache in the world... you can be equally sure it will wreak havoc with all the personal relationships in our lives, especially the relationship with our kids."

Well put, Mark. I couldn't agree more.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Still Here

I tested for the yellow / stripe today.

And I'm happy to say that I (so far) have not come down with any weird sickness.

As for the test - I had mixed feelings going into it. As I mentioned before, I hadn't planned to test this weekend. I had new material to learn in a short amount of time, and I had to do a lot of work this week to get to the point where I felt confident enough to do it in a testing situation.

I'm sure I made mistakes during the test, but I always make mistakes under pressure. Keeping my mind clear and panic-free will be an ongoing issue for me, and I will always be working on perfecting my techniques, my stances, etc. I may learn something new, but I will never feel like I've truly mastered it - there's always something I can do better.

Having said that, in many ways, I felt better about this test than I did about my previous ones. This time, I had something I needed to prove to myself, and regardless of how I may have looked on the outside, that's exactly what I did.

This test was the perfect culmination of my last three months in martial arts, in which the theme - for me - was Facing Fear.

In addition to building up my endurance in kickboxing class, one big step for me this quarter was starting Friday night sparring. Sparring as in actually putting on gloves and foot pads and a mouth guard and pairing up with someone to hit and kick (and be hit and kicked) - to use the techniques we learn for real.

I'd been dreading this for so long, but had promised people I'd do it after I got my yellow belt. And they didn't let me forget it.

So I started doing this, and while it's still probably my least favorite thing to do (next to grappling), I've been doing it pretty much every week. And rewarding myself with dinner out with the other karate friends afterward.

Fear of not being perfect - of letting myself or my teachers down - is another demon I constantly wrestle. In many ways, it's a good demon. Yesterday, as I was obsessively running through form after form in the empty room, one of the tougher instructors commented that, for a yellow-belt, my stances were actually very good. While I was happy to hear the compliment, I knew that if my stances had improved, it was because of the attention and criticism of my female mentors at the school, who are quick to notice and correct a hand or foot in the wrong place.

Testing this weekend might not have been the wisest choice in their minds, but they also counseled that it's my journey and I had to do what I felt was right for me.

When it came down to it, I had something to prove to myself this week, and it had more to do with my fears and limitations than the timing of my material. Sure enough, a huge part of the test today turned out to be of my endurance - continuous sparring, grappling, pushups, burpees - answering my own questions about how far I can be pushed without breaking.

Monday I will go back to working on my technique, but today I am happy that I had the opportunity to face my fears and prove to myself that I could do this, even with some new material, even with the inevitable mistakes.

And having done that, I'm satisfied tonight.

Looking forward to the lessons that await me in the next 3-6 months.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Must. Stay. Healthy....

I spent much of this week focused on the upcoming belt test.

Working to psych myself up for it, I started the day with a run and then took a good hike on the AT with the boys and a friend.

Then Savageman came home. Not feeling well. Said he might have a stomach thing.

The Teen was looking a little funny also.

I was beat and in need of a power nap. After about 10 minutes of light sleep - next to Savageman who was out cold - Middle came and found me.

And told me that the Teen was puking in the basement.

Needless to say, Middle, Little and I got out of the house as fast as we could. Little headed for the grandparents and Middle and I spent the night at the dojang and the pizza place.

The way I see it, I need to stay healthy for about 15 more hours. My test is from 10-12, we'll probably go out for lunch afterward, and there's a self-defense class for my Girl Scout troop at 2:00.

Then I can crash as hard as I need to.

15 more hours... I can do it!

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Weeding the Garden

I'm trying to make it a habit.

Every year, I plant a vegetable garden, and every year, at some point, I let the weeding go and it becomes so overgrown that I can't find my veggies. Or worse yet, my veggies don't grow and thrive as they should because they are crowded out and choked by all the weeds.

This is the one thing that I am working to avoid this year. Every time I take the compost out to the bin, I try to stop and spend a little time weeding. Even if I don't have time to do it perfectly, even if I only take 5 minutes to pull the biggest and most obvious offenders, I am making that small investment. As a result, I can see my veggies clearly, they are growing well, and I am enjoying my garden more.

The time I spend weeding is often the only quiet, introspective time I have during the day. The boys stay away for fear of getting roped into the chore - there are no distractions like the computer or the radio - just me and the plants and the weeds and my thoughts.

Today I got to thinking about the act of pulling the weeds and of regular maintenance and the metaphor these provide with regard to other areas of life.

Questions arose.

Why pull the weeds in the first place when I know they're just going to grow back? Why do I wind up repeating the same work over and over and over again?

Answers came.

Pulling the weeds is important because they interfere with growth that is supposed to happen. They take up resources that need to go somewhere else. They obscure the things that should be seen and recognized. They are a distraction from the beauty of the healthy things in the garden.

We do need to pull the same weeds over and over again, but by doing that, we keep them from getting too big, we keep their roots from spreading too wide, we minimize the impact that they have on the good growth. It may be impossible to stop them completely, but accepting the fact that regular attention and maintenance is necessary for the health of the garden makes it easier to do the small amount of work it takes.

And it's better to stay on top of these things than to wait until they reach a crisis point.

I noticed that, just as in my life, there are parts of the garden that are generally pretty easy to stay on top of and keep weed-free, and parts that require a lot more vigilance. Some parts seem to always have some weeds, no matter how hard I try to keep them at bay.

As I thought about this today, it occurred to me that it is better to just accept that one patch or another that will require more work and may never be as healthy as the other parts. I need to just be happy with the progress that I do see, rather than focus on the fact that it's still not what I want - or even worse, to give up completely.

Sometimes the act of weeding has value in itself, regardless of whether the difference is obvious. You never know what kind of impact this work is having under the soil.

In any case, I'm trying to be more aware of the things that I need to nurture and the things I need to discard, both in my garden and in my life.

Hoping that the attention I'm giving to both will prove to be productive.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Change of Plans

Now that I've decided to test this weekend, my already busy week just got rearranged.

I got up with the birdies and practiced until Little got up. We did some work, got Middle up and drove across the river so I could lead a La Leche League meeting (I'm filling in until the Harrisburg Group gets some Leaders accredited.) They didn't really need me today, so after about 45 minutes, I excused myself and took the kids to the library.

Then home, then lunch, then schoolwork, then time to head to the dojang for Picture Day.

The nice thing about Picture Day was that there was room and time set aside for practice. And several supportive and helpful black belts to offer assistance, for which I was very grateful.

I'm still not as fluid as I'd like to be with my more recent material, so I have much to practice between now and Saturday morning. The only way to get better at this stuff is by doing it. Over and over - with increasing levels of attention devoted to things like which way my right foot is pointing, whether my hand is turned up or down as I bring it back, whether I over-rotate a turn, etc. - in addition to knowing the correct sequence of moves.

And that's just while practicing the forms.

Middle and I practiced for a while after dinner tonight - the power was out, so there wasn't much else to do anyway. I'll do a little more before bed, then get up and go to the morning class, probably return for the afternoon class, and then there will be a special practice session Friday night. If I make the most of the time I have at home and at the dojang, I will feel more ready.

Considering I started this week expecting to take it easy since I wasn't going to test anyway, this is a big shift for me. A belt test is at least 2 hours long and is physically and mentally challenging enough to need a few days of psychological preparation. Glad I'm getting that now.

Hoping it will go well so I can spend the summer working on my green belt material.