Friday, May 28, 2010

Radio Days

Evelyn had a treat today--hearing herself on the radio!

A few months back reporters from the California Report interviewed her and other kids about survival skills they were learning at Trackers.

I was sitting at park day today when a friend came up and said, "I just heard Evelyn on the radio!" Then my phone rang. My brother in law had heard it too.

So we caught it at 6:30 when it was rebroadcast as we were driving home. Click on the California Report link above and you can hear it, too. Maybe Evelyn is destined for fame like her great grandma, who starred in Radio Days with Woody Allen.

Ok, she actually had just one line. But it was a good one.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tween Safari

The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people's reality, and eventually in one's own.
-Susan Sontag

Patience was wearing thin in the back seat.  Feet and hands were straying across heavily defended borders.   So I handed back my camera.  Giggles ensued.  And this is what I found when I took the pictures off.

So there you go, you have been a tourist in the reality of three tween girls in the backseat on a long car trip. How 'bout them nostril hairs?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day and MMD

It shouldn't be that hard to provide an ideal education to three kids, should it? The federal government, for example, has been on a quest to figure out the one ideal education that will work for all kids everywhere. So finding something that works for three should be a piece of cake, right? Right?

Hold on. I am not hearing the chorus of homeschooling mothers of three saying that it is no trick at all to meet the educational needs of three children. Certainly mothers of two have no trouble.

I'm getting silence here.

I suspect that even mothers of one find that what their child needs changes over time and what worked once suddenly doesn't.

So I have been reading Mel Levine's A Mind at a Time. Everyone's got a different mind, he says, with its own unique strengths and weaknesses. Mel Levine explains cognitive processes and breaks them down into component parts. Someone who has attention issues, he says, may have them for a variety of reasons. It could be a difficulty filtering distracting input. Or it could be a difficulty sustaining mental effort. The ways you would cope with those two problems would be very different: the first might call for a quiet, uncluttered place to work, the latter for work in short bursts, or keeping a diary to try to discover if there are patterns to when mental energy is high and when it is low. I have found the book very absorbing and informative.

Take this:

Does your child keep losing gloves, pens, sweaters, homework assignments, and lunch money? Does he forget to take the field trip permission slip to school? Are all the tattered pages falling out of his bulging loose-leaf binder? Does he have trouble finding a place to write his book report because of the heaps of socks and underwear occupying his desktop? Does he forget to remove one of his socks when he takes a bath? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then your son or daughter may be suffering from a material management dysfunction.

I read this not merely nodding my head, but with gooseflesh. It was downright uncanny. This perfectly Right down to wearing a sock into the bath. I did that once. And then a few times more because I thought it was so funny the first time.

Mel Levine says he shares this dysfunction. "We materially disorganized martyrs spend much of each day in vain quests for lost objects." Where the heck are my keys anyway? And the library books? I am now a persona non grata at all library systems within a 25 mile radius of our home.

When I was a kid I had the messiest room in town bar none. Whenever my brother's room was messy my dad would ask if I'd helped him decorate.

I can't say that this is all owing to a glitch in the spatial ordering system of my brain. Probably part of it has to do with a deep-seated hatred of tidying. When my mother would tell me to clean my room I would throw myself on my bed and sob and fervently wish with all my heart that my room would clean itself and be again and again disappointed by the failure of magic. I tried it again yesterday and dammit, no luck.

I remember many years ago now I was listening to a Rick Roderick lecture on tape and he said that philosophy is like housework, you have to do it every day. And I thought please, no, I have no idea what that means, but tell me I'm not supposed to do housework every day.

I cope with this now by 1) having a housecleaner and 2) having a garage. A new friend once made my week by looking in my garage and saying, "Ha! I see you are not a perfect housekeeper!" It was the first time that anyone had ever, even for a moment, made that mistake.

But now I wonder if part of my hatred of cleaning isn't my underlying material management dysfunction. I just love how absurd that sounds, by the way. As I was telling a friend about my MMD I forgot the elaborate game of Greta's creation that she had pressed into my hands and let fall all its minuscule paper pieces. There goes my MMD acting up!

But back to the cleaning. When the kids come to me and say, "Where does this go?" I think, how should I know? Where do things go? I wonder where all my lost things have gone.  Is that where they are meant to be?  Are they enjoying a better life with someone who never forgets where they are?  So I say, "Just stick it over there." I end up, when the house needs to be tidy, sweeping whole tablesworth of stuff into crates and then shoving the crate in the closet or the garage.

I sometimes imagine a lone counting bear in one of those crates crying out, "Why have I been cruelly separated from my kin and consigned to this half life of disuse in a crate in the garage with one lego, one unifix cube, one wood block, one game token, one timer, one glo bone, one knex, one puzzle piece, two playing cards and a broken baby toy as my companions?"

My house is Dorian Grey and the garages and closets are its true portraits. It might look tidy, but scratch the surface and you will find instead of puzzle pieces and game pieces united in their native boxes, a useless diaspora of them evenly spread throughout.

Or that would have been the case up to a couple weeks ago.

You see, my mom had been visiting. And Clem wanted a vivarium. So I set her the task of getting rid of half her stuff. My mom dug into it with us. But that issue I was talking about, the random crates, reared its ugly head. We had collected dispirited clusters of counting bears and puzzle pieces still longing for the rest of their kin. The project spread to every room and closet in the house.   I remember the moment when we found an overlooked closet and I shouted Eureka!  The widgets!  We had four or five of them but up to then the great mass of their kin had been lost.

I call it the Great Sort. I should mention that my powerhouse mom was recovering from surgery.

Here are some before and after pics.  This is the sorting table. Look at it!  I could never have tackled this without help.  Dinosaur, game piece, parsley growing kit, bath toy, tops....

Now imagine an entire dining and living room filled with this chaos.
And here we have the reunited pieces.  Ah, order. Hello wasabi, what are you doing here?

A herd of horses....

Playmobil people united with their accessories, but
not necessarily their hair.

Glo bonz....and a sneaky stuffed rooster!  This was supposed to be an "after" shot!


A closet with two crates containing size 6-7 clothes and size 13 shoes.

More than 12 crates of sorted toys are in the garage awaiting donation.  And several more crates of clothes.  I couldn't bear to throw away toys missing parts knowing that one day I would find that missing arm or spring and then I'd regret that I'd consigned a hunk of plastic to the dump needlessly.

And here is the best part--we assigned places to the things we kept!  I no longer need to treat "where does this go?" as a mind-boggling existential question.

It was in this context that I opened A Mind at a Time and read this:

There's hope; parents can help a child organize a home office with labeled drawers, shelves and boxes. Sometimes parents need to take over entirely the chore of keeping a kid's workspace neat so he can acquire a taste for material order.

I feel so lucky to have a mom who is still willing to help me out with the chores that are overwhelming.  I have actually, over the years, acquired a taste for material order, without acquiring the skills to bring it about.  I may be 41 but when it comes to organizing I am still that kid sobbing into my pillow and wishing for magic.  This time my wish came true.  And thanks to my mom I now I have a whole lot less material to manage. 

Ok, now that the housework is done for good I can get back to finding that ideal education for my three kids.

P.S.  This is for Laura...hope that even if we can't keep all those damned playmobil people and their accessories together for long we can at least keep track of the car keys.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


The year was 1849, or maybe it was 1852 or perhaps 1872.  I can't recall.  In any case, not far from North Bloomfield

 in a clearing on the banks of Humbug Creek, some miners had made a camp.

They brought their gear in wheelbarrows down to their canvas tents

and then made their way down to Humbug Creek to pan for placer gold.

It was called Humbug Creek for a reason, and no gold did they find.

Soaking wet and freezing cold, they made their way back to the clearing to prepare for the coming night.  They'd need a bench to keep them off the cold, damp ground:

 A lantern:

And a candle to put in it:

Most of the miners had been down at the creek panning for gold and had missed the terrifying sight of the cauldron of wax catching fire and threatening to burn the camp, the forest and perhaps even themselves before a few of the brave and resourceful put it out.

Round about three o'clock, by someone's pocketwatch, they heard tell of a richer strike not far off.  It was so rich that a mining company had bought it and set about hydraulic mining, blasting away hillsides with modified cannons

and creating a 2 mile long, 600 foot deep canyon that would come to be known as Malakoff Diggins.

Some parties undertook a trek to the mine.  The late afternoon sun grew hot and the miners stripped off their flannel shirts to get cool while inspecting the equipment.

Back at camp they were welcomed by a true feast.

Someone rang the bell to call everyone to dinner (but not this little miner).

And others began serving chicken and dumplings, black beans, green beans,

and switchel to drink

and for dessert peach and blueberry hand pies.

After dinner a miner by the name of One Eyed Charley took out an English flute and played Sweet Betsy From Pike and Oh California as others hammered away on unfinished projects.

Domingo Ghirardelli happened by and sold hot chocolate by the campfire from a canvas tent:

After supper feverish work resumed on the lanterns as the sun was going down and no one wanted to stumble about in the dark.  With lanterns lit someone had a notion to strike out for the old graveyard.  There many a story too chilling to recount was told.

By the light of a full moon and their dwindling candles the miners made their way back to their canvas cabins and settled down to sleep.  Sometime in the night a fearful storm set in.  Tent flaps blew open, rain leaked upon the miners' meager possessions and blankets.

Hot coffee and flapjacks with chocolate chips saved the morning.

Some miners, disillusioned with the lack of gold and uncomfortable conditions, apprenticed to a blacksmith.

I do believe some of them were hooked.

With rain unabating the miners packed up, abandoned their wet tent cabins

and headed back toward Frisco and warm, dry beds for the following night.