Monday, September 28, 2009


Doesn't Balance Man make it look easy? Standing there, surrounded by nature, insouciant, on one foot. The everlasting rock beneath him, the seasonal and nourishing pumpkin behind him, the sun on his shoulders. The weighted bar he holds pulls him down, and yet lets him balance more easily.
Evelyn made him as a birthday present for a friend. It is hard to see the work when he balances there with such apparent ease. She whittled him out of a branch.

Then she stripped and whittled a supple branch to make the balancing rod he holds. The weights are two circles of a hollow stick she sawed off with her leatherman. They are filled with clay from Williamsburg.

To hold his balancing rod on she needed glue. But Balancing Man is an all natural kind of guy. So Evelyn combed the backyard in search of soaproot. She peeled it, boiled it, mashed it and strained it to make glue.

Here she dabs on the glue. But not before moving the bar left and right, turning it slightly backwards and forwards, making tiny microadjustments until he balances just right, on one foot. She needed some help, because before the glue balancing man would drop his bar, and then she'd have to start all over again.

Evelyn gave her balancing man to her friend. I was so sorry to see him go.

But, Evelyn, if you are taking orders, I think I would like a balancing woman with three children on her shoulders.

What balance would she strike as she tried to stay standing and provide balance in their lives and in her own?

Time for free play.
Costume and photograph by Clementine

And time for coloring Medusa heads on Grecian urns.

Time for whittling balancing men, and time for writing balanced arguments.

Time for her children and time for herself.

I got some time making new friends and meeting in person friends I knew from their blogs. The girls were pulling me to leave, but I resisted, enjoying so much conversations taking place in real time instead of ever unfinished in posts and comments.

Friends are life's balancing rod. The longer the rod, the easier it is for balancing woman to stand.

I am so glad to add these women to the balance:

amy : diary of a domestic animal

sarah : urban. prairie. forest.

molly : a foothill home companion

tricia :: wonderfarm

tara : tara.mama.wendy

But as I think about it I am not sure where the children should go. Not only on Balancing Woman's shoulders, for sure. They are also part of the rod and the weight. Their joyful smiles and silly tricks, their hugs and kisses, their imaginary friends and bedtime stories are the counterweight to the woes of the world.

And as they get older they are even a lot of help around the house.

After dinner we were out on the court playing sharks and minnows. Evelyn and Clementine are faster than I am now. I'm only good for a few seconds. In between rounds I went and balanced, panting, on one foot on the rock that balancing man was standing on in the photo.

It didn't seem so hard.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pillow Talk, or Therapy Needed

A couple years ago I read that many kids who struggle with reading have a focusing problem called convergence insufficiency. It was so sad, the article lamented, that these kids weren't getting treatment when CI could be diagnosed simply by watching the eyes track a pencil eraser in toward the bridge of the nose. The eyes should track together smoothly.

I grabbed a pencil and I tested Ev. Smooth.
I tested Clem. Raggedy.

And I shrugged it off. Probably a chicken and egg thing. She doesn't focus up close, so she can't. When she spends more time reading her eyes will learn to coordinate.

But they didn't. And I forgot about the study for a while.

But at 9 the girl who loves to listen to Dickens on CD won't read anything but Calvin and Hobbes. So I took her to the eye doctor and they do the same test I did with the same results. Except it was even clearer this time. The doc did it three times. Her left eye at some point would just jump ship and look straight out while the right stayed on track.

I should probably schedule some couch time with a therapist for having not acted on what I learned years ago.

Clem went in for the comprehensive testing yesterday.

It was at a university center where they have doctors in training. We get led into a narrow room with chairs on both sides. The four of us are sitting knee to knee with four doctors (three of them in training) opposite us.

"So, you brought the whole gang!" says the doctor in charge.

"We homeschool," I explain. It is always the whole gang.

They nod.

They explain the testing. She'll need to have her eyes dilated to find her "true prescription". She could be farsighted, the doctor explains. Her young eyes could be compensating enough to pass tests, but not to maintain concentration.

"Have you ever had your eyes dilated?" the doctor asks Clem.


They look at me. "I think she has." I have a vague memory of disposable sunglasses.

"You have to protect your eyes from sunlight after the dilation," the doctor says.

"Oh yeah! I have had that," Clem says, brightening. "Remember, mom? That time you made us wear pillowcases over our heads."

I see a shadow pass over the eyes of the four doctors across from us.
I can just see them thinking. Homeschooling mother makes children put pillowcases over their heads.

I am thinking where the heck did she come up with that? When she was a toddler she used to wriggle herself inside a pillowcase behind the pillow. Then she'd bumble all around the house bumping into things and falling down and laughing her head off. But I distinctly recall weighing in on that activity and I was not pro.

Though when she did it wearing her dad's giant shoes I had to laugh, too.

There are more tests next week, including the dilation (note to self: bring pillowcase). After that she'll start vision therapy. I have my fingers crossed that it brings everything into focus for her.

She's grown up so much from the little girl, who, if I left out any three container type objects in no time would have one on each foot and one over her head. Boxes, mixing bowls, plastic pumpkins, and yes, pillowcases.

But no matter what she might say on the therapist's couch one day: I didn't make her do it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

No Talking Allowed

So Clementine was working on her math and getting frustrated because she now has to copy some problems from the computer screen and work them out on paper. She draws well and has excellent fine motor skills, but she has always chosen to write very little.

Instead of writing words and numbers, she draws them. They get fancy doodles. She spends a long time making a one with a flag and base.

I realized that our push for math was going to require a push to write as well. I browsed through my groaning shelves of unused books. I was about to put my finger on a Handwriting Without Tears (my own handwriting experiences in school were full of tears) when I stopped on Games for Writing instead.

I flipped through it and stopped on The Silent Game.
So I wrote to Clem.

"We are going to play a silent game. No talking allowed for 15 minutes."
I had no idea how she would take this. An hour and many pages later I got this note:

Sometimes silence is golden.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Calculating an Education

Ev and Clem do math online. It comes in manageable 20-minute bites. This afternoon I asked Clem to do a second session.

Clementine: But I already did math.
Me: At school you'd be doing more than 40 minutes of math every day.
Clementine: Yeah, but at school I'd be able to not pay attention.

Research agrees with her. A meta-analysis of studies of online vs. classroom learning found online learning more effective.

I was planning to skip right over my yearly September ritual of questioning my approach to homeschooling, but then I stumbled upon Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. I know, I'm a year behind on my reading. But his analysis of why Chinese kids excel at math has me nursing scraped shins. (Psst...if you haven't read the book it's because....they work hard. But read the book, the whole story is fascinating.)

Five years ago when Evelyn was in first grade at the beginning of the year she said her favorite subject was math. By the end of first grade she said she hated math. I blamed myself for killing her love. But five years of taking it easy has not made the kids embrace math. So I figure 40-60 minutes of math a day can't hurt.

The more they do the easier it will be, right?

And heh, with the online math, they can't not pay attention.

And it is not as if Clem won't still have time to invent Marie Mantoinette (which comes out of studying the French Revolution and keeping a pet praying mantis at the same time).

Or to set up a romantic dinner for two. (They look like they might devour the flowers, or each other, for dinner.)

And Ev won't have time to whittle wooden whistles.

Or construct bird traps out of handwoven baskets.
At least, that is the calculation I am making, for now.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Huckleberry Preserves

It is at least ten degrees cooler in Huckleberry Preserve than it is at our house. We escape to its mossy trails overhung with bays and bordered with swordferns and bracken.

Glimpses of the view across the canyon reveal how different this microclimate pocket is from the surrounding area.

We are here for huckleberries.
The first we find are not yet ripe.
But then we find them.

Ripe, their color is somewhere between Greta's eyes...
...and her boots.
For a while not many make it into our cups.
Greta pouts about not having as many as her sisters. They pour some of theirs into her cup and her smile is this big.

Now she can't see the bottom of her cup.

Back at home the huckleberries are so small some pop right through the masher whole.
Eventually we get them all.
It is our first time making preserves. Our berries yield 1.5 cups of crushed fruit. We need two cups. Evelyn leads me down into the backyard where she has found wild blackberries. We return victorious with just enough blackberries for 1/2 cup, crushed.

One of our jar lids didn't pop. It will have to go in the fridge.

Might as well have some now.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

This Comic Interlude Brought To You By...

We were camping this weekend. The kind of camping where you have to bring your own water and the toilets are the pits. In other words, pit toilets.

A friend's son said he preferred the smell of the rotting sea lion on the beach to that of the outhouse.

So I take Greta in there. I have visions, however unreasonable, of her falling down into the pit. And I have to...jump in after her to save her from drowning? Let's not think about it.

She assures me I can release the death grip on her arm, she is ok. I stand nearby trying not to breath.

After a few moments:

Greta: I love this bathroom. (sighs) I wish we had one like it.
Me: What do you like so much about it?
Greta: (indicates railing for disabled) It has this bar I can hold on to. And it has a window...(looks up, pauses)...with flies on it.
Me: (I burst out laughing....I can't help it)
Greta: (indignant) What? I like flies! They're cute.

This is from today. We're home from camping and packing to leave again tomorrow.

Greta: (very sad) My friends in my imagination won't play with me.
Me: Why not?
Greta: (after deep sigh) They're on vacation.

From a few weeks ago:
Greta: I had a horrible nightmare.
Me: What was it about?
Greta: All the princes in the world died.
Me: (sensing where this is heading) So there was no one left to marry?
Greta: (sadly) Only normal people.

See you next week!