29 August 2008

Gearing up to homeschooling ... Year One

Sorry I've been so quiet.

Mark is doing extremely well. He is healing well and was able to move from the general care floor up to physical therapy today. He is sounding as cheerful as I have heard him sounds in a very long time. I know he's still in pain, but I suspect that the relief that this isn't playing out as a repeat of last winter must be even more of a relief to him than it is for us. Rod is still staying over there with Matt when I'm not at work, and that seems to be working out better for everyone.
Jack is happier about his routine not being so different, now that I am home to spend the evenings with him, as I always do, though he is still very clingy with me and extremely disconcerted to wake up before Rod gets home in the morning. He is also somewhat disconcerted to have reached a height and weight that makes it very, very hard for us to pick him up in a family hug like we used to do. (And as hungry as he's been in the last few days, I think he'll be taller still very shortly.)

Our curriculum is still morphing, but it's getting ever closer to final. The latest big changes are that the more Rod and I have talked about how to work homeschooling into the boys days, the more I have come to feel that it is about covering material thoroughly, not about running races. I have written up the curriculum several times with variants that are intended to address Rod's concerns. Each time I do, I am more satisfied with it.

I think I mentioned a while ago that that we had decided to get away from the whole "scheduling" thing, so I started to rewrite the curriculum in "units" of supporting and progressign materials that could be finished in a month or six weeks -- or could stretch out longer, depending on what was happening.

Once I removed the time limits, I found that there was room for more depth, and so I added a bit more material from here and there.
Then I cam across a book that, while not exactly a "living book" does approach history in the same way we do. It starts history with the big bang...so I am thinking about making that the "core" of our history curriculum. The catch is that there are 70 pages before we get to the Paleolithic, where I had intended to start and around which I had based Unit 1. When Rod mentioned being concerned about how to schedule everything, I started to consider whether we might want to start more slowly. Eventually I renamed Unit 1 and created a new "jump off point" in which the boys will read a couple of stories, but will mostly discuss what history is and recap the history of the world up to the Paleolithic, which Jack is pretty familiar with. They can use the recap to put some icons on the very early timeline and put it all into perspective, but there is far less material to cover and most of it is pretty familiar, so if they want to skip over some things, or speed through them it will be fine. That will give them someplace to start more slowly, and later they can add all the other subjects.

Once we start adding subjects, Rod will let me know which books really work for them and which don't, so we can refine things further and move faster through what remains.
My big regret is that all of this sounds like so much fun that I wish I could play, too!

24 August 2008

Mark update

We saw Mark last night.

He is exhausted and in intense pain (he refers to it as 'pain storms') but he says the doctors are talking about releasing him soon. From his colour (very pale) and the fact that moving at all sets off a pain storm, I wouldn't think it was likely in the next couple of days -- though next weekend seems within the realm of possibility.

I have been home with Jack this weekend while Rod stayed with Matt, and Jack has been happy as a piggy.

Rod has suggested that it would be least disruptive to Jack if we swap. I will stay with Jack and Rod will stay with Matt. Rod can get here before Jack wakes up, and I can get to work on time, and that will mean that Jack will have his days with Dad and his usual evening routine with Mamma.

We're going to try that.

22 August 2008

More updates

The news about Mark continues to be good. When I talked to the staff in the ICU early yesterday, they were planning to move him off ICU and into the general wards since he was seeming to be quite well, aside from the pain. The nurse said "We're keeping him on ICU for 24 hours because the surgery was so invasive that we think it wise to keep him under close observation, but in this case it seems largely a formality."

Things are well here at Mark's place. Matt is able to distract himself from worry with the Olympics, though the deep, anxious furrow to his brow when I bring up his father's progress says volumes. He is very happy with the good news so far, but I can tell that there is an element of "heard that before" to his acceptance of it. That's OK, I have some of that, too.

Since Matt stays busy, I have been getting a fair amount of scrapbooking done -- and tonight, Rod will be here with Matt so I can spend some time with Jack. (Jack has proclaimed loudly that he doesn't miss me at all -- but last time he was angry at me for weeks after I got home. I am expecting the same this time. Fortunately, he a sensible little boy and he only remains angry while Rod is there for backup.)

Progress continues on Unit 1 of our curriculum. We decided that rather than putting a time limit on it, we would put together a unit that, if done consistently, could be done in a month. But if not, we finish when we finish and move on to Unit 2. It's a pretty deep curriculum and more time will actually be to the good. Anyway, I have ordered History Odyssey and once that comes in, I will complete Unit 1 and I will probably put that up on the web for public access. That way our school friends can see what our home school looks like -- and our home school friends can tell us we're crazy. *laugh* Like I said -- it's pretty deep, and Rod has strict orders to tell me what isn't working for them, so it an be dropped from future units. I'll only replace it if we agree that we need something on the topic, but that's not it.

Anyway, on to work...

20 August 2008

Mark update

We got news from the surgeon. After seven and a half hours of surgery, Mark was moved to recovery at about 4pm. The surgery went exactly as the surgeon expected, and unless there are any unrecognized neurological complications, Mark is right on schedule to be on his feet and home in a week or two.

I am here at Mark's place with Mark's son, who is relieved beyond words that everything seems to be going so well this time.

I hope to have more good news by tomorrow evening.

Good night, all.

18 August 2008


Our friend, Mark, has been through a lot. He's was widowed young with a special needs little boy to raise on his own, and lately his own health has been challenging.
Last fall, he underwent spinal surgery to free some nerves that had become trapped and to fuse several vertebra. While they were in there, they discovered much bigger problems than they had anticipated. The surgery that should have had him in the hospital for a few days and home for a month recovering took three surgeries and many months in the hospital, and recovery has been slow.

The doctors recently discovered that one reason the recovery has been so slow was that the surgery "didn't take". The problems are serious enough that there is no choice but to go back in and fix the mess.

Needless to say, Mark isn't happy with the prospect. I can't blame him. The doctors are predicting a week or two in the hospital this time. For Mark's sake, and for his son Matthew, I certainly hope this surgery goes better than the last one.

Please add him to your healing work, if you do such things. Mark has been through more than enough!

17 August 2008


An update on Grace.

I mentioned some time ago that Grace had run away.
We haven't seen her since.

Although we haven't seen her and we have no real idea what happened, we all felt a week and a bit ago that she was gone forever. The family story is that she has found someone better to live with, but Jack has started including her in the tally of friends and pets who have died recently, so I think he senses what we do.

So, for the first time in a long, long while, we are a catless family.

Heritage Festival Report

We took Jack to the Ypsilanti Heritage festival last night. It was fun.

Sadly, the reasons I enjoyed it were probably not so good for the festival.

The festival was smaller this year, with fewer vendors and far fewer people in attendance. The weather was perfect -- sunny but reasonably cool, and we were able to walk through the whole festival in about two hours, and at no point did I feel anxious about the number of people I needed to dodge. (I have probably mentioned before that I am not keen on large numbers of people in small spaces.) We even made it over to see the heritage reenactments, though Jack was so uninterested and over stimulated that I had to satisfy myself with a quick walk-by. But that was OK. It's the first time I have managed to get over there at all.

Our main reason for attending the festival, though, was that they had scheduled the fireworks show that was rained out on Independence Day for yesterday evening at Frog Island park. We went early and got premo seats right up front of the amphitheater style seating and on a nice high cement step.

As the evening progressed, it became quite an event -- there was a vendor there selling light sticks and flashing jewelry of various kinds and another vendor selling cotton candy (fairy floss). As the sun set, dozens of children ran through the grass playing with their light sticks and each other, and it got wilder as the light grew dimmer.

Once it started to get dark enough that the children looked like streaks of coloured light flying around, we bought a stick for Jack and he joined the fray.

Jack's ability to make friends any time and any place has always astonished me (he must get that from Rod ) and last night was no different. He was in the thick of it from the first moment and before too long, he was leading more charges than not.

But the thing that really got my attention was that Jack was able to run hard and fast for a couple of hours with few pauses and no evident strain! I could never have done that at 5! His stamina was astonishing!

16 August 2008

Getting to be abou that time...

Jack is five, and the "back to school" rush has started.

We, too, are preparing for the start of a new school year. Our first year curriculum is under way and we have the materials for the first one-month unit.

This is so exciting!

15 August 2008

Grandpa John is home!!!!

We were beyond excited to hear that John was able to return home yesterday after all!
Never make assumptions about the outcome when a determined witch is involved!

We love you, John!

13 August 2008

The art of letters

I write a lot of letters. Perhaps 10 or twelve a month. Most of them are social, a few are business letters or letters to politicians.

I receive far fewer, of course. Only two or three of my recipients are regular corespondents.
Every so often, one of my kids will point out to me that letters are "out of style" as a means of communication, and they will point out that they hang out on messenger looking for me and in a pinch, they drop me an e-mail.

And it is true. I do get a chance to chat with them on messenger reasonably frequently and I do get the occasional e-mail from them.

So, why do I persist in writing letters and sending them off into a vacuum?

I guess a large part of it is that I understand letters to be important. A lot of what we know about history, we have gathered from people's letters. Some of my favorite historical novels are written in the form of correspondence.

Phone calls are good in their place. They're immediate and can be intimate. Certainly the sound of the voice of a loved one is not something I would want to forfeit. But a phone call is ephemeral -- you can't pull a phone call out and read it over and over again. A phone call won't be there for your heirs to read and come to an understanding of who you were 100 years after you're gone. And a phone call may not come at the right time, and so it can be hurried, interrupted, or cut off abruptly.

Messenger, the same. I enjoy the immediacy of it and it certainly makes it easier to communicate regularly. I don't know how I could have survived Jack's first year without messaging. I was at work from the time Jack was six weeks old, and I would have missed his most of his firsts, except that Rod kept me posted all day with quick messages. It wasn't as good as being there, but i didn't feel cut off from what was happening and, ironically perhaps, I was better able to focus on my work because i felt "in touch". But I couldn't pull those messages out today and read them over and over again and they certainly aren't there for posterity. And messenger means you have to be at the computer, something I find I don't have much time for these days.

E-mail is a little more immediate than a paper letter, and certainly quicker to write and send. It's also easier to save to reread. But it can't put you in touch with everyone. At least not yet. Letters can reach anyone who has an address - - not everyone is online and people who don't receive much e-mail don't check their mail often, so it's not a reliable way to keep in touch.

Letters do take a few more moments, a little more trouble, than a quick e-mail. Nothing says "I was thinking about you" like a letter in the mailbox, precisely because it takes a moment to pull out pen and paper - - maybe a few minutes more to handcraft a greeting card -- it takes a few minutes to write legibly whatever is on your mind. It takes a slight effort to get a stamp. All of those moments add up to an unspoke message that the person receiving the letter matters to you. Matters enough to think about them and take a bit of trouble for them when you don't have to.

You can tuck in a tea bag or a photo into a letter and make it "a moment together" when you can't actually be together. You can take the time to say what might not seem important in casual conversation. You can record the days of your life, to be read and reread by someone who cares about you and if you're lucky you can read the 'record of days' and the important thoughts of someone you care about. You can even forge a deeper relationship, even with someone with whom you share four walls.

Everyone still checks the mail box, so your letter will arrive and be found. The letter may not arrive at the right time, but the envelope can sit in a pocket, a sweet promise of a moment together when the time is right.

You can share a letter around the family or amongst friends. That has been the case with letters that my grandfather wrote to his cousin when he was "away at the war". Those letters aren't earth shattering, but their homeliness has spoken volumes across the years to all of his descendants who have read them. One comes away with a sense of the young man who wrote them - -his vocal rhythms, what was important to him, the way he expressed himself. I cherish those letters.

And so, I write letters. Maybe 10 or 12 a month. I don't know whether anyone reads them a second time or saves them. I don't know whether my letters have the same impact on anyone as other peoples letters have had on me. It doesn't matter, really. I write letters and I participate in the written conversation of the ages. I record my dailiness, I ponder things that are important to me, and I take a moment to focus on loved ones and try to forge a slightly closer relationship with people who matter a great deal to me.

In the end, to me, that is the art of letters.

11 August 2008

Rod's Video Blog

Rod's been messing around with video-blogging over on astrosage, you might want to check it out...

10 August 2008

Some things you just don't want to know...

I am bemused that someone wandered into Chez Smiffy (the blog, not the house) looking for "pictures of Smiffy naked".

No. No, you really don't want to see that; truly you don't.

07 August 2008

Sharing your pagan faith with your children

Lately I have been receiving notes from acquaintances and friends asking me about how to share their various pagan faiths with their children. (Obviously I am being mouthy again, else how would they know I have such strong opinions?!?!?)

Anyway, most of us have all grown up "outside the faith" and discovered it as adults.

That can make it tough to figure out how to share paganism with our children. Part of the problem, of course, is that we mostly learned about paganism through books (our intellects) when we first discovered it, and it can be hard to pass that along to small children.

Often we *do* have a strong emotional reaction, especially once we start practicing with a group, but it's not usually a "verbal" emotional reaction...that is, there are still no words that we can use to share the emotional truth, because the only words we have for it won't tell our wee ones much.

Adding to the challenge is that unlike, monotheistic religions, there is no one "catechism" for most pagan religions, so what is important will vary a lot from one group of pagan parents to another, and that means that each family has to decide from scratch what it is we want to teach in the first place. ;)

In many ways the best religious education grows organically from what we do rather than what we teach. While you're working on the "what", try to think back to how your parents taught you about their religion, and then use methods similar to the ones you liked. In the end, those are what will speak to you best and your child might well like them, too.

Now, on to the "what".

One thing we all share is a reverence for nature. Nature Study is a Victorian educational philosophy that a lot of pagan families have adopted and it can help us to help our child develop his or her own reverence. It starts with the noticing of leaf buds, bugs, flowers, etc, and goes on to more involved kinds of noticing and then more involved study of botany and zoology.

We can start with "nature study" just about as soon as the child is old enough to go for walks and then step it up as they're ready for more depth. At 18 months, we'll point out trees and flowers and grass, and ants, and ducks, and dogs. At three, we'll start noticing that there is clover in with the grass, and that ducks like to hang out together and geese like to hang out together, but they don't usually hang out in a big group of mixed water fowl (unless someone is feeding them).

As your child approaches six or seven, you can take nature study to an even greater depth. You can learn more about how formal nature study is done, complete with leaf rubbings and observation journals, on several web sites and Victorian books available free on the web. These are not pagan sources, but you can adapt what you learn:
In your noticing, you can point out various herbs you find growing and mention the plant's medical and magickal purposes. Demonstrate how to harvest them properly for tisanes, infusions, and ritual use, and then follow up with a lovely cup of herb tea you harvested yourself. Mint is wonderful, as are raspberry leaf and strawberry leaf.

Beyond nature study, you can introduce the Wheel of the Year at about the age of five. By five, most children have enough memory of previous years to begin to understand the cycle of the seasons and so the wheel of the year. We can discuss casually what Sabbat we are celebrating and what it means in your own particular faith and compare it to the last Sabbat and to the next. Maybe talk about how you celebrated last year and the meaning of what you'll do this year.

Another thing that you can do is create a children's 'Book of Shadows' to cover the religious and spiritual topics that you have discussed with your child so that you can review everything together regularly. Make sure that it has lots of visuals -- drawing, photos, etc.

Chants and simple songs are your teaching friends! If your trad has a collection of poems and chants that you use, they make really superb teaching tools. Five year olds memorize better than anyone else, but children of all ages respond to music and sing alongs! There are chants to cover most important topics, so that can cover a LOT of what you need to do. If your group doesn't use much music, you can get music from Libana (We use A Circle is Cast) and Reclaiming (we like Chants). We don't have it yet, but we also hear great things about Circle Round.

If your group doesn't have trad poems, you can find some cute, kid-friendly poems online at the Bigwood Family site. I particularly like the Kids Charge of the God and the Kids Charge of the Goddess. ;) Read the poems together often, write them in your book of shadows, or use them in ritual with your kids.

Another project is to learn about the altar, if your trad uses one. Examine the stuff on your altar and discuss what each item means. (You might want to leave it at one item per week, and then spend time talking about that thing and finding things that could represent the same idea) and then help your child build his or her own altar on a small table in his room or on a chunk of wood under a tree, or whatever. It's best to let your child use whatever speaks to him -- leaves, toys, stones, etc-- on his altar. Ours is, after all, and "experiential" religion.

One thing to remember, is that it takes a long time for children to internalize lessons they have been exposed to. Present the material, and then leave it alone until they have questions. If we let the process be, they will explore the idea in a thousand-and-one ways on their own, and then blurt it back at us as their own discovery, just when we figure they have forgotten it.

You might like to read books about the old gods from the ancient classics. You can find a lot of them online, free.

Above all, celebrate with your child. If you can, attend public gatherings or bring them to celebrate with your group whenever it's appropriate. If you work alone, include the children in your circle.

I expect there's a lot more to say, but I'm writ dry for now.

Good night.

The Dangers of Plastic Bags

This probably isn't news to you...but it sure is sobering.

04 August 2008

A year (or three) of endings and loss

OK, as this year has marched on, Rod has mentioned several times that we are having a Pluto experience.

Pluto, who is mythos, is the Lord of the Underworld. The sweetheart who inspired winter when he kidnapped the sweet young Persephone, causing her mother, Demeter, Goddess of lifer and growth, to grieve for a year.

In astrology, Pluto represents death, loss, destruction, and that slow relentless change that we think of as "aging". He rules my house of security and possessions, one reasons I have always had such a quiet and secure life of plenty. . Pluto is a slow mover. In the last 50 years, he has traveled less than half the distance that the moon travels in a month or than the sun travels in a year.

Anyway, I looked at my chart this morning. Sure enough, the household astrologer was right. Pluto is nearing a conjunction with my natal Saturn. In mythos, Saturn is associated with Chronos, or time. In modern culture we would recognize him as the "old man" in the New Year's pictures of the old man and the baby. Saturn represents rules, strictures, limitations, and responsibilities. Another friendly fellow. He rules my house of daily life and routines.

Anyway, in January 2007 Pluto crept up to within whispering distance of my natal Saturn. Then began the adventure with friends being hospitalized, and later so many deaths and so much sense of loss. There he will stay until late January 2011. (I haven't the heart to check that he doesn't go back over the area after that...he often backtracks and has been wandering back and forth over the sensitive spot for the last two years.)

Once it's over, we can find a new "normal".

*sigh* At least I can see the side of the tunnel. Tunnels have an end.

02 August 2008


I had one of those interesting days yesterday. The ones where everyone is beautiful.
Now, obviously, around home, that's not surprising. I live with Jack and Rod!

But every so often I have a day when everyone I see strikes me as beautiful. Not "conventionally" beautiful -- these aren't hallucinations, but rather the flashback to 30 years ago, when I was struggling with my self image.

Like most young women, I grew up watching television and reading magazines. I grew up with the ideal of airbrushed beauty and impossible standards. Like many young women, I held myself to that standard of beauty and came up far short.

I was shorter than the "ideal" and a lot softer and rounder (I only became really fat later. Not that I knew that then.) I hated the way I looked and I was depressed, because try as I might, no amount of dieting ever hardened my curves or sharpened my soft features. I used to cry about the need to eat -- at least a drug addict can go cold turkey, but for a dieter, the struggle is eternal. (And in my case fruitless.)

Eventually it dawned on me that I was never going to "succeed". I was far to far from the ideal to ever attain it. About the same time, I started browsing in women's bookstores. I came across books and magazines that talked about those beauty standards and pointed out that they have constantly changed across time and cultures.

As I began to understand that there could be many standards of beauty, I invented a game. I would sit at a bus stop or a public place and watch people. I would study each one for the thing that made them beautiful.

At first it was difficult with some people, but gradually I began to find beauty in almost everyone. I noticed how even coarse, uneven features can be lit up and made really beautiful by a smile. I noticed that a marred complexion often sits over features that are otherwise lovely. I noticed how supposed "imperfections" faded in the face of a dignity of bearing and confidence. I noticed, even more compelling, how otherwise lovely features could be spoiled by an ugly expression.

It became a habit, so that today, I find beauty in most people.

But sometimes the intensity of that beauty is turned up so that I don't just notice it, but I am astonished by it. Yesterday was one of those days. Maybe it's all the loss in our lives lately. Maybe it's a transit.

Whatever it was, it was a comforting thing.

I'm sure almost everyone has seen the Dove Real Beauty campaign. I sure wish this ad had been around when I was a young woman. It could have made the whole understanding thing so much clearer

01 August 2008


I have managed to walk almost three miles a day almost every day for the last couple of weeks. I'm glad about that. I feel stronger, walk faster, and it makes me hope that I can see my seventies still leaving the youngters in the dust, like my Mom! Or at least able to keep up with jack as long as he needs me to.

Rod and I went to see Dr Sickels lecture about wholistic care of diabetes last night.

He's very good and very up on his research. (It's so amazing to find a doctor who knows as much about the latest research as I do. My current endocrinologist, Dr Chang, does too -- but she's an endo, so it's excellent but less amazing than it is in a Family Physician.)

Dr Sickels mentioned a few herbs and vitamins I could be taking and why they are helpful, so I will add a few more to my morning collection. Even with all thes tress, I have my average blood sugar back down to 5.3, where I like to keep it. (Normal is between 5 and 7, depending. Diabetes goal is "near 7".) I had been up to 8 sometimes just before I went on insulin, even with everything I tried to do, so this is a big relief, but more herbs and vitamins may help me to cut back on the amount of insulin I need and that would be a very good thing.

I have finally gotten copies of First Language lessons and Simply Grammar to check out and decide which one we want to use. They both seem nice, so I may alternate until Jack shows a clear opinion. We have also gotten Minimus Latin -- well, the student book. We can't afford the teachers book, so I will be pressing my high school Latin into service and hoping for the best.

Grace is missing. She escaped on Tuesday morning and we saw her, but couldn't convince her to come in, as late as Wednesday eveing. But all day yesterday there was no sign of her. I'm worried.

I think this may be what depression feels like.

Everything seems overwhelming and I feel too tired to deal with it, but in a very difefrent way than the hypothyroid exhaustion I am more used to. For one thing, I never, ever have trouble sleeping when I need my thyroid dose adjusted. For another, thinking isn't hard and physical exertion actually makes me feel better for a while. Wierd. I don't feel sad, and I guess a part of me had persisted in equating depression with sadness since they look similar. I do feel "wooden" socially, but any sadness is a reaction to the depression and not a part of it.

I know that this is almost certainly a situational depression, and it's not debilitating, so I am taking some St John's Wort in the morning and we'll see what happens.

Time I was gone - - I'd best hit the showers. Sorry about the whining. I hope to post coherently again soon.