whole life unschooling

someone was recently asking greg how homeschooling was going and he answered in the usual vague fashion of, “ok, I guess.”  this person then went on to express concern and disbelief, stating, “well, I hope you’re doing SOMEthing.”  right-o.

when he reported this interaction to me later, I was slightly bemused.  “just tell him we’re ‘whole life unschooling’.  that should satiate him.”  just a fancy way of saying that we’re doing nothing (I already wrote a post about that here) but it actually sounds legitimate and kind of smart, I think.  basically just livin’ life and going with the flow.

it seems like people are more concerned these days with what a kid is learning vs. how and I think that’s sort of backwards.  I consider the most important component of my “homeschooling” to be the mood, tone or atmosphere that I set in my home.  this incorporates not only our home feeling “homey” but more importantly, is really about our relationship with each other.  if I can make my relationship with my kids as good as it can be, that is if I can connect with them, empathize with them, and show them unconditional love and support, then the rest is an after thought.  I really think that these things are the most important in determining whether or not a person has the tools to lead a happy, fulfilling and “productive ” life ( i like to use parenthesis a lot.  I feel they are an underutilized literary instrument).

besides  this, at this point, I consider my main objective in a day to give them as much freedom of speech and choice as is bearable (to myself and society.  one can only take so much screaming:).  this way, I feel, in the future, they will have the confidence to assert what they want and they will know themselves enough to realize what it is they are interested in and how they want to go about learning about it (a.k.a. I want them to have a strong sense of self).  now, that doesn’t mean being selfish nor does this line of parenting necessitate negating all polite behavior in favor of self-expression.  on the contrary, I hope that they will be extremely conscientious and courteous people eventually, but ones who were also granted that small period in a person’s life when they are first finding their voice to be able to use it to wield some power and make things happen.

as of yet, they don’t have many “interests” to speak of, but I trust in peoples natural insatiable curiosity about life and the time will come for all of that.  as for now, I think more just playing and being kids serves them better than anything that hints of structure.

I am excited to see where their interests will lead once they do begin to have them in earnest.




in an ironic turn of events…

i have just finished washing my breast pump equipment and a couple of bottles i had to dig out and dust off.  what’s the occasion?  ha.

the occasion is that, in an unlikely turn of events, joel has been bottle/formula fed exclusively since this past friday and will continue to be so until next monday, when i am no longer on the antibiotics that are trying fervently to rid my body of a heinous festering wound that developed early last week randomly and proceeded to get worse and worse.  i finally ended up with some minor outpatient surgery and a prescription, in my hand, for ten days of no breast feeding and a strong course of antibiotics.

“i can get drunk every night for ten nights,” i told my mom in line at cvs to procure the meds that would render my breast milk useless, toxic, no good, junk.  may as well fill it with booze to boot.  if only it were that kind of vacation.

but being sick with kids is no vacation, nor is anything that adds to your to-do list.  such as washing bottles, mixing formula, warming bottles, etc.  i mean, i was barely keeping ahead (yeah right) of the game before i had to somehow find the time to add all of this on to my agenda.  kids don’t care if you’re sick.  they can barely register that you are also a human being with needs and feelings let alone that you might, for some reason, be uncomfortable, or that you might need like two seconds without having to jump up and get a snack or save joel from plummeting to an early demise down the basement staircase.  (i started off as their host when they sucked away at my nutrient supply from in-utero and they continue to suck away at my very life force.  yet, ironically, at the same time, they seem to add to it tenfold, so there’s the balance i guess.  they take and take, but, standing at a distance, they still give much more than they steal away from you, all said and done).

and if you think that just because i’m getting a “break from breastfeeding”, that i’m actually getting a break from breastfeeding, think again.  i still need to pump and dump multiple times per day to try and keep my milk supply up so that when the ten days are done, joel can easily jump right back on the breastfeeding bandwagon without missing a beat.  so, until further notice, i’m breastfeeding a machine.  it’s not quite like clasping a living baby to your body, but what can one do?  i shouldn’t complain.  if this had happened while ruth was a baby, i’m sure she would have been in the midst of a ten day hunger strike.  at least joel will take bottles.

how’s it going?  the phrase “like i need a hole in my head” has been floating through my head at various points throughout the day lately, if that at all sums it all up for you.  in short, it’s going…..ahhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!   ahem.  not bad.  joel is taking to formula quite easily, and even knows what i mean when i ask if he wants a “baba”.  it makes me a bit nervous wondering if he’s getting enough fluid or proper nutrition, but because it’s only temporary,  i don’t worry too much.  ruth is coping in her usual fashion whenever anything is out of the norm, pushing any feelings or thoughts down deep,deep inside so that they bubble up again later and manifest as any number of outrageous and insane behaviors (dear eric clapton, please let three pass by quickly and be forever buried in my memory, never to be revisited again.  amen).  so, that’s always a nice addition to whatever else you’re already trying to cope with (ass pain and formula feeding on top of every day life).

and what has this fiasco taught me?  surely, there has to be some silver lining, some saving grace, some wisdom gleaned.  number one is the obvious: never leave the first appointment without oral antibiotics (in other words: trust yourself, not a doctor, with your health, be assertive, not a push over, jesus, grow some balls already…).  more generally, appreciate your health because, though we are much more than our bodies alone, we depend heavily on them.  much more heavily than we usually appreciate until something goes wrong.  and we are all at the mercy of our physical experience on this earth.  so, be good to yourself (and eff anybody who is not good to yourself (‘cept your kids…you are their personal punching bag:)).

side note: what the heck formula people, with these nighttime feedings?  for the birds.  dunno how ya’ll do it for 6 months or more.  the crying, the getting up, the warming of the bottle…much easier to let the kid latch on and then just drift off into brad pitt land again.

more on all this later.  it’s been quite the fiasco.

we been to the zoo. how ’bout you?

hello, prairie dog
hello, human kid

the zoo is one of those special childhood memories of a person’s first connection with animals.  or, it’s where we go when we don’t wanna stay home all day, need some exercise, have a craving for french fries.  your pick.

i have been to the zoo twice with ruth by myself, something i wouldn’t have touched with a ten foot mental pole last year.  now, she does a pretty good job of staying close by, and has been there enough to get the premise: we need to keep walking from animal  to animal, which you may think is an easy enough concept, but takes a while for a young kid to grasp.

the hardest part is probably going to the bathroom, in which case, i have to take ruth into the stall with me telling her in an urgent manner the entire time not to touch anything, while she squeals in delight as she unrolls all of the toilet paper onto the floor ( i always make sure to scrub her hands extra thoroughly after these exploits).  i don’t look forward to the days of ruth having to use the bathroom in public places.  it seems every time i am in the bathroom at the zoo, i am glimpsing my future self as there is always some mother in a stall with a young kid berating him/her to try and use the potty or they will have to go home, etc.  i don’t like my future self.  she seems stressed.  frazzled.  and desperate.  i see a lot of bathroom stall loitering in my future.  why don’t they make them bigger, with a lounge chair thrown in there?  some reading material?

ruth loves to see all of the animals and enjoys the freedom of leading the way as i mostly let her free range while we are there as there is not too much harm that can befall her.  except being run over by foot traffic or one of those employee golf carts.  but she does pretty well.

at this time of year, there are babies abound.  the river otters have three, there are three baby grizzly bears that put on an entertaining display, and there is even a surprise baby camel.  i guess the mom camel could have been on that one show “i didn’t know i was pregnant”.  or the zoo keepers could have been on a show called “i didn’t know my camel was pregnant”.  in any case, there is the new bundle, er, gawky walker, of joy, weighing in at 109 lbs. when it was born.  (kinda makes you feel good about your own weight, doesn’t it?  i thought so too).  ruth loves babies and crinkles her nose up at them and says, “aw!”

ruth’s favorite exhibit is probably the fountain in the middle as there always seems to be a family of ducks that hangs out there and she gets to throw pennies in (you can’t throw pennies at any of the other exhibits.  well, you could, but the zoo keepers might not like it.  you might be escorted out of the zoo in one of those employee golf carts).  she also loves the reptile house and especially the alligators that lay with their mouths gaping.  she does a really good impression of an alligator where she lays down on the ground (more than likely somewhere really dirty like the floor of the super market) and says, “roar!”  she also does a very realistic impression of a lion where she stays standing up and says, “roar!”  (this is rather similar to her tiger and dinosaur impressions with a slight change in inflection.  ok, no there isn’t.  they are all identical).

she also loves the horses in the farm portion of the zoo (which, i’m just going to say it, is in desperate need of revamping).  she feels a special affinity for horses and is part horse.  if she is in the right mood, she gallops instead of walks.

the only other hard part, besides leaving, was when i finally had to break down and put sunscreen on her.  this resulted in her running away into the landscaping where i had to tackle her and forcibly apply the lotion as she thrashed and screamed like i was butchering her with a knife, to the horror of onlookers.  just trying to prevent skin cancer forty years down the line.  nothing to see here, folks,  keep moving.

as usual, by the time we reached the back of the zoo, the point furthest from the exit, she had had enough and i power walked all the way back to the entrance, ruth sitting stoically in the stroller like a ninty-year-old, a blanket tucked around her lap (yes, it was probably 85 degrees out and i didn’t miss all of the “are you crazy lady?” looks cast my way).

on the way back home in the car, she screamed for about twenty minutes and made me wrench my shoulder in a way it should never be wrenched in order to hold her hand over the seat while driving, before she fell asleep in a sweaty, sun-beaten heap and i could finally relax and blare the stereo really, really quietly, let my thoughts drift, and enjoy the ghettos of detroit passing serenely past my windows.

this is not a food blog

sorry, all you foodies out there.  much love.  however, i do feel the need to step out of my box for a minute to share with you a recipe that is awesome, a recipe that i haven’t made in over two years, but used to be a staple for me, ever since i learned its secret from a good friend’s former boyfriend who was a vegan, and also 1/8 lebanese, or something.  the first bite reminded me of a round belly, of gentle kicking under the shirt, and also, the salty air of the coast of maine, wading through fog-soaked vegetation, isolation, in other words: summer 09′.   it is time to revisit my roots.

the recipe list, as for all lebasese dishes, is surprisingly short and simple.  how can so much flavor come with so few ingredients?  trust me.

1 cup lentils

6 cups water

2 onions, diced

a butt load of olive oil (1/4 cup)

1 bag spinach

the juice of one lemon

salt to taste

the first thing to do is to pour the 6 cups of water and 1 cup of lentils into a pot over high heat, bring to a boil, and then turn down, partly cover, and simmer…for a long ass time.  the bag on the lentils says 45 minutes, but maddy was always the authority on the done-ness of the lentils, so don’t ask me.

boiling lentils
this is easier at home than on our two-burner propane range in maine

oh, i guess i should explain maddy.  in the summer of 09′, i spent 2 and a half months living off the coast of maine as a contractor for the u.s. fish and wildlife service working on a seabird island.  the island was actually two islands, “the brothers”, each tiny and picturesque chunks of rock jutting out of the seabed.  that summer, maddy and i were the 2-man team that worked “the brothers”.  we did seabird surveys, set traps for predators, monitored the nests of some nesting black guillemots, drank a beer every evening and talked, talked, talked.  anyone who has done field work knows: the relationships you form with people you do field work with are much more intense than your everyday friendship.  maddy and i were a culture of two, quickly filling in roles to each other: friend, co-worker, partner, sister.  people used to say we acted like a married couple.  we bickered, bantered, knew each other’s habits, tendencies, and rituals.

anyways, another thing that anyone who has done field work can tell you is that dinner is the most important part of the day.  no time sheet to punch, no one around to tell you when you have done enough, the beginnings of dinner preparation mark the end of a work day, time to relax and forget about the lurking weasel who is after bird eggs, the guillemots on their nests with new peeping chicks, the atlantic puffins and razorbills off the coast bobbing along, waiting to be counted.  they would all wait until morning.

maddy, having arrived in maine from a string of previous field jobs, and having spent two years in france, teaching english, had a descent amount of recipes under her belt, and also an experimental attitude towards food and cooking that i found greatly freeing.  most days, i took her lead and was the resident chopper, grater, stirrer, and sous chef.  this soup was the only recipe that i brought with me that i felt was good enough to share.  and once i did, it became our weekly or biweekly staple, with maddy tweaking bits of it here and there, until we both walked away with the permanent memory of the soup poured over our brains, the roar of the atlantic ocean in the background, the calls of seabirds, the smell of seaweed.

ok, ok. you twisted my arm. here is a picture of western brothers, and the cabin that was our home for over 2 months
here’s maddy. scrub that bird blind!
and here’s me pulling vegetation away from our electrified sheep fence meant to keep the island sheep away from the area where terns may have nested (none did).
and here is another picture of our fog-drenched island, just for shits and giggles

in any case, while you are boiling the lentils, you can begin heating up the olive oil over high heat as well, dice the onions (maddy would also add a clove or two of minced garlic, up to you), and dump them in.  this is a simple recipe, but this is the labor intensive part.  you have to continually stir the onions until they are caramelized, which takes about 20 minutes or so.  if you let them sit there for more than a minute or two, they will burn.  what is the difference between a burnt onion and a caramelized one?  a burnt onion is black, and a caramelized onion is a dark brown.  you are basically deep frying the onions in olive oil to a near-burnt state.  see below.

“before” onions
“after” onions
by the time they reach this state, the front side of your body should be about 10 degrees warmer than usual. when you step away from the stove top, it is like walking away from a fire on a cool night (it is a wonder that ruth wasn’t poached like an egg in amniotic fluid while i used to make this when i was pregnant, my bulbous belly bouncing against the front of the stove).
observe: a caramelized onion. i can’t emphasize the importance of this level of done-ness. it is where all of the flavor comes from.

it is helpful to begin the lentils a bit before the onions as you kind of want them to be done at around the same time.  if you need to, you can just put the onions aside, as i often do, being so bad at timing, until the lentils are done.

by the time the lentils are done, your water should look a bit brown.

i say here again, i am no expert when it comes to lentils.  that was all maddy.  when it is just you and one other person, you find that you fall into your own little niches, take on various duties and responsibilities that, if the other person ever stepped in to do them, would feel way wrong.  i never tested the lentils.  maddy never fried the onions.  however, my tactic copies what i saw her do, which was to scoop out a few lentils and eat them.

yes, this is an ice cream scooper i am using. i am not rich when it comes to kitchen paraphernalia.

anyways, once you determine that your lentils are in fact done, add some salt.  the amount is up to you.  i grew up fearing salt and have become somewhat sensitive to it in my older age, but maddy loved the stuff, and showed no fear (she would add 1/2 a teaspoon).  it really does bring out the flavor a bit.  then, dump the onions into the pot with the cooked lentils.  yes, all the oil too, you don’t want to waste a drop.

the rest is super easy.  you add an entire bag of spinach to the pot.  add this a couple handfuls at a time, as it will wilt and shrink way down.  you can add as much or as little as you’d like.  you’d better believe that, in maine, maddy and i would never have used all of our spinach in one shot like that.  no, it was a precious commodity and was not to be squandered.  i like baby spinach versus full-sized as it makes for smaller bites of spinach, but it’s up to your discretion.

yes, you add the entire bag

the last thing to add is the “juice of one lemon”, for which i clearly use just lemon juice.  however, if you wanna be a bad ass, then go on with your bad self and juice a lemon.  how much again, is a question of personal preference.  in maine, we didn’t have lemons or lemon juice, but would zest oranges, and add some of the orange juice.  truth be told, i like the flavor of orange zest in here better than lemon, but am too lazy for zesting these days.  i add about one and a half tablespoons of reconstituted lemon juice.

i know, i’m lame. this is lemon juice for pussies. so be it.
this is what your soup should look like when it is finished

stir it all around for a few seconds and you’re golden.  if you wanna leave it on the range for a bit longer, you could do that, too, if you wanted to blend all the flavors around for a while (although, i think it is important that the spinach be “just cooked”, rather than totally mushified).

enjoy.  in maine, when our noses were cold from the dampness of the ocean, we would sit in our canvas chairs, bowls of steaming lentil soup in our laps, NPR on in the background, as always, and press our faces into our soup bowls, breathing it in as we ate.  afterwards, we would place any leftovers in the cooler we had wedged under a big rock outside of our tiny cabin, our refrigerator.  then, we would wash our faces, a nightly ritual, and go to sleep on our bunk beds.

it is interesting to me how a recipe that was originated probably hundreds of years ago in lebanon made it’s way to me, here in dearborn, where it was perfected and evolved on an island off the coast of maine, and reminds me of the salt of the ocean, floating seaweed, takes me back to that summer when my nephew was born, when maddy was like my spouse, and also, of being pregnant with ruth.

it just goes to show you how food is so much more than just food (this is where mc donald’s falls short).  it is passed down through generations like fables, changes hands like antique china, evolves with each person who handles it, and is a memory imprint of aroma, taste, feeling, thought.

don’t forget to have seconds.

making the rounds

i know i’m about to sound like scrooge, but: “spring break is over!”  (yay).  now there are no school-aged kids mucking about during the morning and early afternoon hours at the parks, running to beat each other in line at greenfield village, the little dears.  they are safely tucked away back at school where they belong (evil laughter).  ruth and i are able to get back in the old routine, leisurely moving from one piece of equipment to another at the parks, taking our time, watching people come and go from their houses, preoccupied with work, life, their eyes glazing over us.  we are part of the background like a tree or the sky.  i like it this way.

“how are you doing back there?  are you ‘dood'(good)?”  i ask ruth who is behind me in her bike seat patting my back as i pedal.  “yeah,” she says.  we are on our way to donutville, u.s.a. up on ford road for a breakfast doughnut.  i have lived in this neighborhood for three years and it has taken me this long to really get a feel for my neighbors and to get to know some of the different stories unfolding under each roof.  as i said, on this side of town, people keeps it real.  there is no block party with halal hotdogs, moonwalks, and gossip.  it takes time to weave your way into the fabric of life here.  (i think that greg, ruth, and i are more like a hot pink synthetic fiber amongst a thick blanket of strong cotton and wool naturally-dyed fibers, but whatever).  i see the usual people maintaining their lawns, a few mothers with small children out beating rugs in the backyard, the one guy who smokes on his porch is out smoking on his porch.  i’m sure they know who i am at this point.  “there she goes, on her way to donutville,” they might be thinking, if they have been using their powers of deduction by the wax paper bag we often carry back with us and the smell of deep frying grease we exude behind us.  we pass by ruth’s “beam” ( a telephone pole not yet put upright, but lying on it’s side on one of the aprons down the block from us that ruth practices balancing on).

we sit down at the counter facing ford road with our usual: a glazed chocolate doughnut for ruth, a small black coffee for me, and watch the traffic whiz by, listen to the local news blaring too loudly from a tv mounted behind the counter, chit-chatting about this and that, observing who comes and goes.  there is the smell of coffee on a burner, doughnut grease (so thick it gives you heartburn just smelling it), and a lingering faint hint of cigarette smoke from all of the decades that smoking was allowed in such establishments.  a few mail people come in, uniformed up, taking a break on their route, older men in small groups, talking politics.  a lot of people just run in to grab coffee and leave immediately.  ruth likes to spin on the stool.

after that, we make our way over to one of our regular parks and find it pristine and empty.  ruth dapples in swings, then progresses to the slide, and then picks up some rocks and then announces,”home.”  after loading her back into the bike seat, i notice that one of my mittens has gone missing, but i don’t fret.  we’ll just pick it up tomorrow along our route.

after muddling around in the kitchen, tossing chickpeas into our food processor, with classical days on 90.9 on in the other room, ruth pushing a stuffed animal around in a stroller, i realize that, “we’re out of tahini.” ( a vital ingredient in hommus, my daily staple.  i eat it on whole wheat arabic bread with a pile of spinach on top.  it has enough raw garlic in it that my skin gives off that bitter aroma through the pores).  i announce to ruth that we need to go on an adventure for tahini.  “no tahini,” she says, but lets me put her shoes and coat on anyways and buckle her into her car seat with minimal struggle.

we take our place amongst the mid day shoppers, that is to say, the retired and the unemployed.  i let ruth pick out the broccoli and throw things into the back of the cart.  we get not one, but two (i like to have a back-up) big jars of tahini and a fresh loaf of arabic bread.  the check out people probably know me as the annoying lady who picks out the obscure vegetables that need to be looked up in the code book.  the cashier tries to say “hi” to ruth who just stares at her expressionless, sizing her up.

“thanks,” i say as we make our way out the door and then back home.  hommus for lunch and then a nap.

when did life take on such a small scale?  i pick up toys instead of do yoga.  in lieu of hunting jobs, i hunt clothes for ruth, activities to sign up for, the damn diaper cream.  i don’t swear.  instead, i make endless funny faces for ruth, her lunch, phone calls when she sleeps.  i steep in showers, letting my brain melt out my ears, down the drain, emptying my head.  but the clutter builds up again too fast.  the clutter of concern, of worry, of thinking and planning.

we move through our small circuit like molasses, our feet solid and firmly planted.  here.


i had forgotten the healing powers of newborns.  their smell must be in the lavender family, triggering the release of certain chemicals in the olfactory center of the brain that lower the blood pressure, slow the pulse, relax deep muscles and tightened ligaments.

they are like soothing heating pads.  place them over a bum shoulder and see the effects.  better yet, hold them to a strained heart and observe.  their warmth can penetrate layers of skin, tissue and bone to reach the very core, whatever is there.

i’ve heard of people going to volunteer their time holding sick newborns.  they need touch.  human to human.  how about a reverse therapy?  newborn therapy.  what physical or psychological ailment could they not be like a warm balm to?  like in “my big fat greek wedding” with the dad putting windex on everything to heal it or fix it.  have you got a stuffy nose?  smell this baby.  a bruise or a cut?  get near this baby.  congestive heart failure or circulatory issues?  hold this baby.  male pattern baldness?  baby time.

i should volunteer in a room full of newborns.  i could be the resident burper.  maybe that would finally banish all of my heartburn issues, get rid of my planters warts, whiten my teeth.  maybe it could cure my hypochondriac-ism, being amongst all of  that new life like a field of violets.


rainy day speculations

it’s days like this, when the baby is with her grandparents and i’ve gotten a descent amount of cleaning done, to the point where i feel justified in sitting and writing for a minute, that i wish greg and i were the type to keep booze in the house.  i’m not talking about getting wrecked here, just putting a mild buzz on and blaring the radio.  innocent enough.  however, the closest we have to any kind of fermented beverage in the fridge is kosher dill pickles.  the soaring of pressure in the arterial walls from the salt might feel a little like drinking alcohol.  if i get desperate enough to try it, i’ll let you know.

i thought i would take this opportunity to write a little ditty that has been on my mind for a short while, something i have been pondering.

i’ve heard that young kids love consistency.  they need it, they crave it.  is this true if you are consistently an asshole?  is it better to be an asshole all the time, for the sake of consistency, than to be mostly not an asshole, and only sometimes dabble in assholery?

i ask because my husband and i are mostly not assholes.  in fact, we are mostly the type of parents who are intrigued by every little stick ruth finds on the ground, every rock she puts in her mouth and attempts to swallow.  we are the type to give ruth choices as much as possible, to listen to every incoherent babble searching for meaning, encouraging expression, explaining things to the point of ludicrousness (wow, spellcheck.  are you sure that’s a real word?  ’cause i’m not).  taking every opportunity to make connections in her little brain, point out birds, trees, people, narrate every move we make (“and now, i’m dumping in the chickpeas and putting the lid on because i don’t want to get splattered.  what do you think will happen when i turn this on?  would you like to hit the button?”) with the utmost politeness and patience.  and then sometimes…..we’re assholes.

my mom was an asshole.  but she was always an asshole, so it was ok.  i think i can remember waking from a nap and feeling out of sorts, only to have my mom storm in and snatch me up, still talking to a girlfriend on the phone propped between her ear and shoulder, clearly perturbed that i had interrupted her mid-day soap-opera-watching with a cut-short nap, and thinking, “oh good, mom is still an asshole.  everything must be fine and right with the world.”  or something to that effect.

so, i’m wondering, are we doing ruth an injustice by mostly being nice and sometimes, probably seeming to her out of nowhere, being assholes?  being short with her?  impatient?  rude, even?

if kids depend on consistency, are we doing ruth a disservice by not being assholes all the time?  just a thought…now…where is that pickle juice?