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Month: March 2011 (page 1 of 2)

rockin’ the inhome conference

Sometimes our fears get the best of us. But other times our desire to become more than we are today pushes us past those fears into risky territory–full of promise and peril. For adults this can be life shaking. For kids, it’s just growing up.

This past weekend, Aidan who is 7 now showed us just how much he’s growing up. We attended the 14th annual InHome conference in St. Charles, IL, which is always a good time. Over 400 homeschooling and unschooling families gather from around the country to learn together, have fun [singlepic=873,300,300] Aidan relaxing at hometogether, and celebrate life together for three packed days of dances, presentations, workshops, exhibits, talent shows, relaxation, and socializing. We’ve attended this conference for three years running now and each time it gets better. This year was by far the best as we ventured out to take full advantage of all the conference had to offer. (Aidan wouldn’t have had it any other way.) For days leading up to the conference, he was rearing to go–totally jazzed to do everything.

We arrived Thursday evening just in time for the “Meet and Greet” event. Aidan joined in right away, playing a series of hilarious cooperative games put together by Karen Ritter and her crew. (Thanks, Karen!) The kids had a blast crab-walking about the ballroom, swimming like fish, touring the resort via scavenger hunt, and chasing each other about in all sorts of fun ways. Aidan’s desire to join in the fun this time was 180-degree turnaround from last year when he spent most of the time cowering behind his mom–only venturing out toward the end through the gentle cajoling of Chris. This year, the moment we walked in the door, he darted out there in a flash leaving Chris and I standing dizzily in the doorway.

After all the fun the night before, Friday morning came pretty early. We started off the day by constructing a rubber-band car project, which, while pretty challenging, proved to be a lot of time. Aidan got a bit anxious when the facilitator stressed how important it would be to work efficiently as every minute of the workshop would be needed to complete the car. (AJ doesn’t like working under such time pressures. Can you blame him?) But he handled it really well, and in fact completed the car successfully. It’s a cool project.

From there, we headed over to the exhibit hall where Aidan and his Earth Scouts group were participating in a flea market sale. This was an opportunity for all the kids at the conference to peddle their wares; but Aidan’s Earth Scout group took the opportunity to sell handmade crafts and toys to raise money for Japan relief through UNICEF. Aidan talked with all sorts of people as they made their purchases; he solicited passers-by, collected money, and made change as needed. All in all, the kids raised $106 for their cause in just one hour. Not too shabby.

From there, Aidan took in an afternoon of workshops–learning about states of matter, magic, and physics. While he took in all that, I had the opportunity to hear some cool perspectives from some pretty well-known unschooling folks, starting with Pat Ferenga. Ferenga worked very closely with John Holt until his death in 1985 and is the president of Holt Associates, Inc. Ferenga is a big name in homeschooling/unschooling circles and has appeared in the national media many times as an expert in this field. So, it was pretty cool to hear him speak–and quite fun. The man is filled with energy and has a great deal to offer (even if he can’t quite keep to a one-hour time slot, but what unschooler can? :-) In addition to Ferenga, I heard Blake Boles talk on what he understands as the practical side of John Gatto’s work (while also plugging his unschool adventures program for teens, which is intriguing and kind of makes me want to be an unschooled teen). Then, I had the sincere pleasure of hearing Sandra Dodd along with her daughter Holly talk about parent/child unschooling relationships in an intimate small circle setting. I don’t know what to say–all very cool people indeed with great insights to share.

The heart of the day was really packed with fun activities and inspiring insights from some great minds for all of us. But this was nothing compared to what came next. Aidan had decided to participate in the evening talent show. He wanted to play his keyboard while singing two songs–“Love Me Tender” and “Humpty Dumpty.” Once again, it’s important here to remember that Aidan spent most of his first seven years hidden behind his mom’s leg (or most recently behind his long hair) to avoid being the center of attention in anyway, so when he told us that he wanted to do this, we were caught somewhere between joy, disbelief and real anxiety over it. Chris and I were both really worried about how it would go for him. Of course we supported his desire to do this and encouraged him, but we worried that anxiety might get the better of him and the whole thing might go south. (Picture head pounding on the keyboard, shouting at the audience from the stage, and kicking over amplifiers). In retrospect, I know that this fear was my own and not Aidan’s. At his age, I would never have had the courage to do what he did.

There we sat watching one act after the next take the stage. We watched. We clapped. Each kid was great. Then it was Aidan’s turn. I could tell he was nervous. (And I was really nervous.) He took the stage, as I helped him get his keyboard set to play. Aidan donned some special attire for the big show–complete with Elton-John-style big glittery glasses, a little bling bling, and streak of orange hairspray to punk out his hair. He was looking hip. We worked out the tech details with amplifiers, mics, keyboard settings, and the like while DJ Daddy G (aka Greg Callozzo, our emcee for the event) introduced him. Then he began. Check it out.

He did it! And he did it well. It was so amazing to see how far Aidan has come, but what was even cooler was to see the sense of pride and accomplishment he had in himself once he had done it. “I’m so proud of myself,” he later said, and I was proud of him too. From that point on, we were flying high. We celebrated that evening at the family dance–kicking-up our heels, limboing, doing the bunny-hop and the chicken dance, the electric slide, and freestyle dancing we shut the place down. And all of this was just the first full day of the conference.

The next day was filled with still more fun–great presentations, folk music, foam noodle tag, mythology, drawing, good food, and celebration. And Aidan had yet another chance show his growth over the last year as he took part in the Imaginarium Fair where the kids showcase some of the projects they’ve been working on and answer questions about them. Aidan brought a small collection of his favorite Lego projects along with a portfolio of his drawings and other artwork. Once the tables were set, the fair coordinators went around to talk with each child to see what they brought to showcase. When Bob Segall, one of the very nice coordinators, came to Aidan’s table, they talked at length for a good five minutes. Chris and I hung back and let Aidan have his moment. It was really great to see him engaging with another adult in this way. He’s getting so much more confident with each day that passes. It’s quite amazing.

It’s really funny to consider how these little moments that for me and Chris are some of the most precious of our lives–moments we will likely hold onto forever–are for Aidan just fun fleeting moments of another day. He’s just growing up after all. As I stand here with a lump in my throat marveling at the images of our lives, pondering parenthood and life’s greater meanings, he’s tugging at my arm pulling me toward the ice cream shop. God, I love him.

feed your family (healthfully) for only $2.90

Recently in one of my classes we were discussing food and our ecological footprint on the world. One topic that kept resurfacing was how many of my students would love to buy more organic foods but the cost is just too high. Not only is the price not right, the other main argument that many of them made is that it just takes too long to make a healthful meal. And it is these two factors–cost and time–that often leads to people eating crappy food. This sentiment is one I’ve heard not just from my college students (who you might expect to not always eat the healthiest of foods), but from other adults and parents that I talk with.

I really don’t understand why anyone would subject themselves to the fast-food garbage that they call food.

In addition to this discussion, I keep seeing these commercials lately from the typical fast food restaurants enticing customers with their low prices. You know the ones–“Feed your family for under $4” and in small print it clarifies that this is “per person.” Given the hard economic times I can see how this might sound good for many.

But all this got me thinking . . . is it really true that you can’t eat healthfully without spending a fortune or without spending all day in the kitchen?

Thinking about this I decided to break down a couple of our recent meals to see the cost and time factor.

The first was a meal of Tofurky brats and dogs on buns, organic baked fries, organic steamed veggies, and a salad. While some of this food was processed, it was a simple, fast meal (less than 30 minutes) in which everything but the bread was organic and non-GMO. And average cost per person for this meal was $3.65!

The second meal was a casserole dish that is extremely fast and easy to throw together–less than 10 minutes. However, cooking time does take awhile at 1 hour–but then the casserole is in the oven leaving you plenty of time to do other things and not just slave away in the kitchen. The dish consists of Tofurky kielbasa, frozen and fresh organic veggies, organic potatoes, and organic cheese. This dish alone comes out to be just $3.08 per person (sometimes even less because we often have leftovers with this dish). Being the bread lover that I am, I typically serve a loaf of bakery bread stuffed with roasted garlic hot out of the oven, bringing the total up to $3.58 per person for a really easy, nutritious, and tasty meal.

Galloping gargoyles! It is possible to eat healthfully for less and not spend all day in the kitchen.

One last meal that I recently prepared was a recipe for chickpea and potato curry over rice. Using canned organic chickpeas and canned organic tomatoes saved me on the preparation time. All the other ingredients were organic as well, including the rice. The total time for this meal was about 35 minutes and the cost came out to only $2.90 per person! This meal does require some more uncommon spices, so if someone doesn’t have these on hand the cost might be slightly higher.

I have to say I, myself, was a little surprised by these figures. I actually thought the cost per person would end up higher. Our family has been trying to make strides in eating healthier, and due to this I am willing to spend more on organic and non-GMO items. But, breaking it down like this I see that in comparison to those typical fast-food places we can actually eat better, more nutritious food for less money!

Using an expression my son loves–galloping gargoyles, IT IS possible to eat healthfully for less and not spend all day in the kitchen doing so! Now, with these two main arguments of cost and time not holding up to my test, I really don’t understand why anyone would subject themselves to the fast-food garbage that they call food.

on reading how we are hungry by dave eggers

I’ve been reading Dave Eggers’ collection of short fiction entitled How We Are Hungry and found myself underlining passages throughout. They seem important, as if I will return to them again at some point. So, I thought I would jot them here, using this post as a kind of commonplace book. So much of the work resonates with me–from the quiet desperation of the characters, to the honest and unflinching use of language, to the larger theme that binds the collection together. I savored this collection and found myself reading it slowly and deliberately, chewing each morsel a hundred times before swallowing. I could wax philosophical at length over much of the work, but for this post I want to focus on one story–“The Only Meaning of the Oil-Wet Water.”

The story centers on a woman by the name of Pilar who one day flies to Costa Rica to meet her longtime friend, Hand. Told from third person limited point of view, we experience the narrative filtered through Pilar’s psyche and spend much of the time lingering in her thoughts about her relationship with Hand, about life and its invented meanings.

The conflict in the story is an internal one–between Pilar, her disires, the person she is and the person she wants to be. We see such conflict eking out in the following passage.

She counted the reasons she should sleep with Hand: because she was curious about sleeping with him, curious to see him naked; because she loved him; because sleeping with him would be a natural and good extension of her filial love for him; because there existed the possibility that it would be so good that they would change their ideas of each and then think of themselves as a pair; because to deny one’s curiosity about things like this was small and timid, and she was neither and didn’t ever want to be either; because he had really wonderful arms, triceps that made her jangly in her ribs and tightened her chest; because she was not very attracted to him when away from him–she’d never thought of him while in the tub or flat on her bed–but in his presence she didn’t want to walk to eat, she wanted to be nude with him, under a dirty sheet in a borrowed house. She wanted to hold his shoulders; she wanted to go snowshoeing with him; she wanted to go to funerals with him; she wanted him to be the father of her children, and also her own father, and brother; she wanted all this while also to be free; she wanted to sleep with other men and come home to tell Hand about them. She wanted to live one life with Hand while living three others concurrently. (32)

Pilar wrestles between the forces of what she wants and that which she feels is possible or expected of her–what is socially proper. She wants these things, and in fact she could likely have them if both her and Hand chose not to complicate it. But how often do we see human relationships that are not complicated. It’s as if we are predisposed to making things messier than they need to be. Why is that? Is it that we struggle between our baser instincts and our rationale minds, which have the potential of overriding such instincts? Is it personal, religious, or cultural ideology? Is the friction of social norms and expectations rubbing against our own hope to find happiness? What are we so afraid of?

As readers, we are privy to Pilar’s internal struggle. As she analyzes the possible impact of what she chooses or fails to choose, she concludes, “How many times in life can we make decisions that are important but will not hurt anyone? Are we obligated–maybe we are–to say yes to any choice when no one will be hurt?” (50). This line had me thinking for days. I believe so many of us are programmed to be unhappy or to create unhappiness in others (which is the same thing). The notion of our interconnectedness is a compelling one. Certainly, our actions affect others. One gentle tug on the web of life radiates in many directions and is felt in distant places by distant people. This is true. However, what if we were faced with a decision–with an action–that was really important, but would do no harm to self or others? Truly how often do we face such a choice? When we do, are we compelled to say yes–if for no other reason by virtue of the scarcity of such an opportunity?

“Sex invented God,” Pilar observes scrawled on a bathroom wall (44). What do we do to avoid happiness? Having survived 12 years of Catholic education, I should be an expert in answering that question. God–certain versions anyway–and the institutions built around the notion work as tools of control, often undermining the pure happiness that life offers us if we simply say yes. Floating free out in the surf, Pilar considers this question of God and happiness and the meaning of it all.

She closed her eyes. Opened them, closed them. She could end this world or allow it. This was a moment when a believer, a thoughtful believer, would think of God’s work, and how good it was. The waves were perfect to the right and perfect to the left… For a while she was enchanted by those who proposed that God was in nature, was all around us, was the accumulated natural world. “God,” they would suggest, “is in all living things. God is beauty, God is in the long grass and the foam finishing a waterfall.” That sort of thing. She liked that idea, God being in things that she could see, because she liked seeing things and wanted to believe in these things that she loved looking at–loved the notion that it was all here and easily observable, with one’s eyes being in some way the clergy, the connection between God and–

This reminds me of the scene from the Oscar winning film by Sam Mendes American Beauty (1999) where Ricky shows Jane the most beautiful thing he’s ever filmed, and he is overwhelmed.

Sitting there in the dark with Jane, watching a plastic bag dance in the wind, Ricky confesses, “Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it.”

But a single contained God implied or insisted upon a hierarchy that she didn’t accept. God gave way to a system of extremes, and implied choices, and choices required separations, divisions, subtle condemnations. She was not ready to choose one God, so there would not be this sort of god in Pilar’s world, and thus the transcendental deity–

But then why God at all? The oil-wet water was not God. It was not the least bit spiritual. It was oil-wet water, and it felt perfect when Pilar put her hand into it, and it kissed her palm again and again, would never stop kissing her palm and why wasn’t that enough? (51-52)

We all hunger for something–love, freedom, pleasure–but so many of us have gotten into the habit of starving ourselves. There is so much beauty. Often it is simple. Right before us. It’s of no greater meaning or complication and it’s as fleeting as life. It’s time to eat and love and overflow; faced with happiness and beauty without harm to self or others, we are obligated to say yes.

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