31 January 2009

Is my Mom cool, or what?!?!?

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Emotional whiplash

The last half week has been an amazing journey. Planning to sell a house and move across the planet with no notice is frantic making.

First, the important part. We're not leaving for Australia right away after all. Oops. Sorry for alarming everyone.

The rest of the story...

Back on December 12, it was announced that as a precursor to a round of layoffs, my company was offering a generous voluntary separation package to a limited number of people. After discussing it, Rod and I decided that a) we would apply and b) if we were accepted, we would take it as a sign from the universe and use the money to settle things up here and move to Australia.

We do intend to move close to Rod's family, though we had hoped to do it with a certain amount of dignity -- you know: a job awaiting and enough cash to set ourselves up, a market in which we can sell our home for at least enough to pay off the mortgage, that sort of thing. However, since the total layoffs coming are HUGE and the economy here in Michigan is such that I can't expect to find a job if I lose this one, Plan B seemed the most prudent approach. (The financial crisis is world-wide but, if it comes to that, Australia is a much better place to be poor and we are not likely to have such a big lump of money offered to us very often.) I applied and we went on with our lives.

I got a letter on Christmas Eve saying that my voluntary separation offer had not been accepted, but there was no indication why, so I assumed that it was because I had been too late. ( Only the first hundred applicants would have their separation offers accepted, and I hadn't managed to reach Rod to discuss it until many hours after the announcement was made. I understand that I was about #187 on the list.)

Then, on Wednesday, as I was heading home for the evening, I checked my mail one more time and found the announcement that, for various reasons, everyone who had applied was now being offered the separation package, unless they had been disqualified because their skills were considered "critical".

I had never had any indication that *my* skills were critical or even particularly singular, so I jumped to conclusions.

It took me two days (and much investigation of inconsistencies in the situation) to discover that my name had been added to a critical skills list and I was not actually eligible for the separation package.


So...we aren't moving precipitously after all. The good news is that since my skills are listed as critical for the time being, I will be relatively safe during this current round of layoffs.

(No promises can be made about the next round, of course...this is the auto industry. In Michigan. We can but live in hope.)

However, this experience crystallized in Rod's mind his need to be home. He came here seven years ago leaving his close-knit family behind "for a while" and he has become aware of how deeply he misses them.

And so, as alarming as this experience was, it has kicked off a whole new epoch for team Smiffy. We won't be going in six weeks, but in four or five years, we expect to have worked ourselves into a situation where we can leave with dignity and plenty of time for civilized goodbyes. It has become much more than a vague 'someday" plan for us.

In the meanwhile, as Rod mentioned over at Astrosage, the coming times are going to be hard ones. Since we will evidently have the relative luxury of a home and an income, we plan to focus a lot of our energy on helping to build the community support network we see as a critical piece of the answer to how shall we all survive. Plans are sketchy at the moment, though Rod and Jack are off at a shelter preparing breakfast for women and children in crisis right now -- but I'm sure we'll have more to say about that as plans crystalize.

29 January 2009

Uh oh ...

I forgot about Mercury retrograde. It turns out that there may be more to this story than it sounded like last night.
Out of respect for learning ones lesson, I am not saying more right now, but watch for more news by Monday. (Maybe sooner if there is clarity to be had.)
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Well, hasn't our life been turned upside down!?!?!
But our decision is made. We always knew that we intended to move to Australia. That has been the deal since the very beginning. But I think we always assumed it would be a slow process of saving and planning and saying "it's time".

Ha! When has Mother ever let things happen that way in my life? The big things are *always* a shock, somehow.

Realistically, we have to look at the fact that our livelihood is based in an industry that is dying. It will probably make a comeback, but that doesn't mean we would be able to weather the storms intact, and Michigan is not a good place to be looking for work right now. I believe things will get worse before they get better, and perhaps the best thing we can do is to become one less strain on the local economy.

So, we wrote our goodbye notes last night and we will start preparations today to move to Australia in six weeks or so.

Know anyone who wants to buy a really great house?

28 January 2009


Well. The buyout offer came through after all.
We have 24 hours to decide.

What that means is that if we accept it, we will be headed for Australia in a few weeks. (Meaning Chez Smiffy goes up on Craigs list...) If we decline, we could still be out of work but without money or job prospects.

Woah....tough decisions and little sleep tonight, I think.

I will be back -- truly!

Ironically, my head is stuffed to overflowing with blog posts, and I find that I just don't have time to sit down and write them.

I have been very, very busy at work -- working overtime whenever there isn't some pressing after-work obligation. (That happens when the same amount of work has to be done by a shrinking staff. This is an excellent opportunity from my perspective, but it does have its demands.) We make and eat dinner and the day is gone.

In between times, when I do sit down to write, I have been plugging away at units three and four for Jack. The guys are very nearly done with Unit 2, and I had postponed work on any further lessons until Rod was able to discuss what we needed to add, subtract or change with some real experience under his belt. But now, I think we're on our way. Of course, not only do I need to write the lesson, I also need to find the supplementary resources (and occasionally write them.)

So, I'll be back when the lessons are written and life slows down for a few minutes. (Mercury is direct by the end of the week, I think, and that should help.)

25 January 2009

Congratulations, Jack!

Jack was invited to his first chess tournament this weekend. We figured it would be a good experience and a lot of fun for him, so he went. We didn't expect him to win or place, of course. He hasn't been playing chess for very long.

But he did.

Jack won third place in a field of 16! We're proud of him - - that's not bad at all. :D

Even better, he had fun and had a chance to play basketball between rounds of chess. (Four times, he tells me.)

So, it was a nice weekend, but that was the high point.

18 January 2009

Quick update -- back soon...

My apologies for the silence. Just about the last thing that you heard, I was very ill.

I am much better now, but after a day of vomiting and a week of nausea, during which I wasn't able to keep my medications down, I am having some thyroid level troubles.

I'm coping fine, even though work has been insanely busy - - but I have little energy left for blogging right now. I am hoping that as I get my thyroid levels up where they belong, I will feel inspired again.

A brief report, though. The snow has been marvelous!

We have had as much snow so far this year as we have had all winter in recent years -- and the paper announced that it was "Break out the pina coladas: The brunt of the latest snowstorm and viciously cold temperatures is over, and the mercury is expected to climb to a balmy 24 today." (That would be -4 C).

The Swedes are fond of saying that there is no bad weather, just bad clothes. So far, I would agree. We're having a blast! (Though I am not looking forward to the heat bill next month.)

More soon...

14 January 2009

A strange and interesting trend

What a strange and interesting trend...


First the town of Arjeplog (pop 3,100 ), near the arctic circle in northern Sweden offers all comers 25,000 SWkronor (($US4,000)  per person or 100,000 SWkronor per family to move there.


Now, Hamilton Island, off the Great Barrier Reef is advertising for "the best job in the world", $105,000 to spend six months on the Great Barrier Reef island scuba diving, snorkeling and hiking and enjoy at least 25 nearby island resorts, as well as blogging and chatting with tourists and news reporters. 


Fascinating.  I wonder what's next...



13 January 2009

Getting the story straight...

"Mamma, where did you meet Dad?"

"At the Adelaide airport."

"Did you fall in love with him right away?"

"Yes, I did."

"And did they have to make a wedding right there at the airport?"
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12 January 2009

Oh well...(Jack)

Too bad you don't find my winter wonderland post interesting.

Oh, the irony...

I have been home for weeks ... so when do we get the stomach flu?

All day yesterday, I felt "off". Not horrible, just tired and grumpy. Late last night I started feeling decidedly awful and by 11pm, I was very, very sick. Too sick even to call in -- every move triggered vomiting.

All night long I was so sick, and I finally forced myself to crawl to the phone and call in. By midnight, Rod was sick, too, though he held his own until mid-afternoon. But poor Jack has been essentially holding down the fort much of the day. Rod was able to stay awake, but not much more. Now I am upright, though still very, very ill. Jack will be making his own dinner.

Yuck. I am so glad is who he is...with most kids this would have been untenable.

10 January 2009

On the mend

About 11 last night, Jack woke up from a many hour sleep looking like a new child.
He was a bit wobbly on his feet, but he was cheerful and ravenous. We started him with a sip of water. That stayed down well, so we offered him "thimbleful of Kambucha. That was OK, so we moved up to an ounce of chicken stock with barley water. He was fine and still hungry, so we moved up to a cup of homemade applesauce. After that, he was eager to try a half cup of "breakfast ice cream". (Basically a frozen smoothie).

He took a taste or two, but at that point an hour had passed and he was ready to sleep some more so we moved him upstairs. I don't think he made it all the way through the latest chapter of Hans Brinker before he succumbed to Morpheuses healing spell.

The storm has passed. We are, however, going to hole up this weekend and take care of refeeding the poor little guy and do our best to keep him quiet.

I'm also not convinced that he won't still be contagious for a few more days and this is definitely not one to share.

09 January 2009

Sweet even when he's sick...

At 4:30 this morning, I awoke to a small boy stroking my face. He had awakened to tell me that "one of my lungs hurts". When I asked where that was, he pointed to his lower abdomen.

I know that there is a digestive upset going around, but at 4am, I don't think well. I suggested that he try to get some sleep, and maybe his lung would feel better in the morning.

At 8:30, he woke me looking very frightened -- and then his eyes got wide and he covered his mouth with both hands. I twigged to what was happening immediately, and we dashed for the bathroom. In the end, we made it, but not before he and I both needed to change our clothes.

This heap of blankets contains one very sick little boy.
Rod made up some clove water, and Jack tried that -- but both times it triggered more vomiting, so it's obviously not going to help with whatever this one is.

The poor boy fell asleep in his Dad's chair, so I made a "bed" for him in the office, where he can doze and still be close to me. Once he woke up, he has been alternating famished and extremely nauseous. He has had a bit of water and a bit of clove water and one sip of chicken stock, but since he has to wait a half hour after he's sick, and then hold down water for a half hour, there hasn't been much chance for anything substantial.

And in spite of it all, he tries to smile.
Once he woke up, though, he has been sitting on my whenever we haven't been next to the toilet in anticipation.

But the thing that has amazed me, is that though Jack gets snurfly several times each year, he almost never gets digestive upsets. I remember these being just horrid when I was a kid -- they're extremely uncomfortable and they are pretty frightening. In spite of his lack of experience, through it all, he has been so sweet and patient. When he's famished, he has been chanting "patience, patience, patience". When he's really sick, he croaks, "this is hard, but it will be better tomorrow." Through it all, he tries very hard to smile at me.

He's gone back to sleep now, poor guy. But I have canceled all of our plans for the next several days. Even if he feels better, he should be quiet and recovering.

08 January 2009

Nature walks ...

Over the last couple of days, I have had a chance to participate in Jack's playgroups.

I was delighted that they both turned out to be nature walks this week!

It delights me to see Jack spending so much of his life out and about in the woods, in every (reasonable) weather.

I will admit that without the incentive of a group, I doubt I would get him out as much as is good for both of us.

Rod is better about it than I am -- they get out to "notice" at least three or four times a week.

We do have a few friends, though, who are out and about every day that isn't horrific. I would wish for that habit -- but what with one thing and another, I'm not sure it will happen any time soon.

I remember way back when, when TJ and Corey were small. We didn't have any form of transport other than public buses.

We were out in every weather and they were strong, strong boys. They could walk fast for a mile and they could keep moving for several miles, when they needed to. I was sorry for the hardships they faced, but I was amazed at what they were capable of.

To this day, neither of them is afraid of exertion, and both, despite genes that might suggest otherwise, are fairly slender and very muscular. Jack faces the same genetic lottery with two very robust parents and a heritage of diabetes on both sides of the family, so I would like him to have the same sturdy habits.

Our genetic phenotype seems to be strongest and healthiest when we get plenty of exercise on a very frequent basis.

(Rod and I both feel strong and exhilarated when we've been working hard over a period of time. Sadly, making a living these days makes that tough.)

Of course, the playgroups aren't always out in the woods -- next week they're reading Owl at Home in preparation to a group adventure to the theatre to see the stage play, and there is some talk about seeing Stuart Little on stage the week after.

Rod has made some wonderful contacts!

I will be back at work next week, but I have a much stronger sense of what Rod and Jack do all day, This has been fun.

Homeschooling without a school room

It's pretty common to find on home school lists, questions about how to best arrange the school room when you start homeschooling.

I did a lot of research myself -- until I realized that we wanted to make homeschooling and learning a part of our entire family culture and so we didn't want to segregate it into a room of its own, where, like in school, learning was something you "have to do" for a certain number of hours a day and then you can get back to having fun. We want the learning to *be* the fun!

That said, we still need to keep our materials organized, lest they take over completely.

What we have done, it to make the "school materials" a part of the decor in the main room where we socialize, eat, and live. I'll show you around, if you promise not to sneer at the mess. ;)

This is the stereo, which we use for audio books and music. Of course.
You can see here, the main cabinets. In the pair of brown, closed cabinets (leftover kitchen cabinets found on the roadside on trash day) we keep some of the materials for future years. Because it's out of sight, we don't keep anything there that we want to use soon. We tend to forget that its there.

The white cabinet (from Target) contains our materials about homeschooling on top and Jack's art and craft supplies in the middle. In the bottom cabinet are Jack's hands on materials. If it's there, it's his to use "whenever". At various times it has contained a "cutting box" lego, a pouring exercise, a "tongs and cotton balls" transfer exercise, lego, counting bead box, and stuff like that.
In the big book shelf in the corner (really inexpensive particle board) is our main shelf with current materials. They're arranged roughly by "subject".

Since history is our spine, the top two shelves contain a lot of history that might be useful this year. The next shelf is science. After that, language, music, and art. Books get pulled off this shelf at the beginning of a unit and put back on this shelf as they're completed for that unit if they will be reused for another unit or "released into the wilds", either of our house or someone else's via the kids book exchange.

Also, the table is where most of our work takes place.
This is the material for our current unit. (As you can see, we're nearing the end of a unit.) On the round table (KMart) is all of the read-aloud material. In the basket shelf (25 cents at a resale shop) is the material for Jack to read for himself.
And, of course, the time line, above the current materials.
We also have a lot of craft materials upstairs in the craft room, but that I won't be photographing until after I clean up there. ;)

It works well for us, and I thought it might reassure people who are afraid they can't homeschool because they live in a small house or don't have a lot of money to set up a classroom. Most of this was furniture we already had and pressed into service. A few things we bought (or found) especially for the purpose. But we didn't spend a lot. It doesn't resemble a "school" -- but it does the job of keeping us organized.

07 January 2009

Time well spent - purges and educating a young man

This week on furlough has been a perfect opportunity for the New Year Purge. I am not done yet, though I have finished the downstairs (except for the office, which is Rod's domain) and found four boxes of stuff to donate.

St Vincent de Paul was happy to take our kitchen stuff, leaving the excess from the magickal cabinet and the homeschooling cabinet to find homes for.

Next job -- the upstairs. That doesn't get as much attention as the downstairs, so I may generate a lot more boxes up there. Especially in my poor craft room which has slowly become the "home of the unclaimed. (I think every home probably has one. Its the place where you put whatever you don't want to deal with right now until that mythical "later". )
We have also made progress on the time line. It has been sitting, folded up, on top of the china cabinet for months as we tried to figure out how to best hang it. We want it to be secure -- but also easy to pull down in sections so that we can easily add new items to it.

We settled on attaching it to foam board and then punching holes in the board to hook over nails. So far so good. (Except that we ran out of foam board and had to run out and get more.)

Jack and I have already started making our tokens to add and I was surprised at how perfectly they work. Of course, I also realized that we have been bopping all over history in our explorations...we have some paleolithic characters to add from our reading -- but we have also explored Ben Franklin, Louise Braille, Pythagoras, and Beethoven. (Poor Beethoven is folded in half at the moment. )

I liked the idea of the time line -- but now that we're actually using it a bit, I like the idea even better, because it's making the timing of events much easier to put into perspective. As we study different places, I suspect that it will be even more helpful to see that "while Europe was doing this, China was doing that".

Jack continues to be Jack. He discovered Mah Jong yesterday and has a new love. (I doubt it can unseat chess, but he's absolutely enthralled for the moment. Then, at bedtime, he decided to read a chapter book to me before I read his chapter book to him. He chose The Adventures Of Ulysses. I didn't really expect him to get far, but he read two chapters aloud. He stumbled on some unfamiliar words, and I have discovered that he he uses his phonics, finally -- but not on complex, multi syllable words. On those, he mumbles. *laugh* I asked him not to mumble but to stop and show me the word so I can tell him how to say it, since it's hard for me to understand the story when he mumbles. He stopped reading then, so I'm not sure if that's going to backfire or not...

He's become such a complex person, has my Jacky. I have been trying to introduce art to his list of explorations and he has been resisting me. It perplexed me. He loves matching the art cards...he enjoys colouring with me, but mostly he resisted new adventures. That is so unlike Jack.

My "technique" of trying to introduce art has changed from inviting him to play -- to which the answer is usually "no thank you" -- to just sitting down in the parlour with the materials. Then he sometimes joins me.

One day, I had started to play with block crayons at the table. Jack Joined me, but after a few minutes, he started to look angry and said accusingly, "You're too good for me".


I was mystified...I was noodling away on my own paper as he worked on his, and from my perspective this came out of the blue. Lucky for me, Rod was nearby and observed the exchange. He told me that he thought Jack wanted me to show him how I was getting the effects I was getting. (I had been carefully avoiding pressing him to try for any specific outcomes since I had managed to turn my older kids off the whole idea by being to focused.) I said I didn't know that, because Jack hadn't asked, but when I asked him, jack said that "yes", he did want me to show him. So I did. As I was showing him, I remembered a couple of other times when he had announced "I can't do that" and had walked away from a project. I wonder whether he had been waiting for me to show him how then too ...

Miss Debra, our artist friend, was over for dinner last night. She graciously talked to me a bit about teaching art to young children -- and then she initiated a game with Jack that seemed to turn his whole perspective around. He pulled out his
Magna Doodle and was showing Miss Debra how he likes to make dots and then connect them. (A pen control and writing exercise he and Dad do.)

Debra joined in -- he made a shape and then she turned the shape into something. This went on for an hour, with her gradually shifting the creating to Jack. By the end, Jack was creating recognizable characters...something he had never done before.

She also brought some of her in progress art to show us...and it was very cool to see what she is doing with one theme. She also talked about a few things that hadn't come out quite like she had hoped and how she planned to try this or that to turn them into something else.

I learned *so* much last night! I know nothing about art technique other than what I have taught myself in the craft room in the last couple of years. I certainly know nothing about teaching art. But Debra turned Jack around from "I can't" to "look what I can do!" in an hour. I was amazed. Especially because I remember the "I can't". That was me until not too long ago. I love preRaphaelite painting and I was always so unhappy with my own results because not only couldn't I manage anything that beautiful -- I could never manage anything even cartoonishly recognizable. Jack and I learned last night that maybe we had both been approaching it backwards. Maybe the idea is to start -- and see what it looks like, and then work with that.

Now I just have to find a way not to kill the new spark I saw in Jack last night!

Yikes! We have our pagan homeschoolers nature walk in less than an hour -- I'd better go wake the family!

05 January 2009

Sad farewell

Today, my family is saying goodbye to my fathers younger brother, Clarence Delaney. He was a sweet, shy man with a wonderful sense of humour and we will all miss him.
He died this morning at about 6am. He had not been in good health for some time, and while the family is grieving our loss, it is also a blessing. He had gotten down to 75 pounds before he died and wasn't able to walk after Christmas.

This is the only photo I have of Uncle Clarence -- taken with my Dad and with their younger brother Bob. All are gone now.

04 January 2009

What the Aunties started ...

The Aunties, Auntie CeCe and Auntie Dee (Jack's Goddess mothers and parental pinch hitters) invited us over for dinner last night.
As always, the company was amazing and the food was delectable. (Auntie Dee treated us to what she called "Georgie-style, African American, cuisine": chicken cacciatore!) and Auntie CeCe pulled out all the stops and made a strawberry shortcake for dessert! Yum!

Toward the end of the evening, Auntie CeCe brought out Jack's Yule present. Ed Masessa's Wandmaker Guidebook. Now obviously, I had seen this series in stores, but the price was pretty high when I saw them, and I am ashamed to admit that I saw how beautiful they were and just assumed that all the effort had been put into the graphics and the content would be very poor. That has, after all, been largely my experience.

We have found that the content is actually pretty good. The history is deep enough to trigger conversations and the cautions and what "magic" there is, isn't so far off that we can't work with it. It has turned out to be a truly excellent trigger to get Jack really interested in studying the finer details of our way of life.

The book talks about creating your own magical space to work in, and Jack and I immediately had to redo Jack's altar. The one he'd had since he was three was simply "too baby-ish". The new one still has those dreadful power cords messing up the energy, but we do what we can. He now knows more about what his altar is for and what needs to be there than I had been able to get across to him.

Next, time we sat down with the book, we learned that one must never trust store-bought oils (not an unfamiliar concept around here), so I taught Jack how to make his own oils.

We decided after some research that orange oil sounded about right for his wand, so we chopped up an orange peel while we talked and then stuffed the entire peel into an herbals bottle. Then we used an eye dropper to fill the bottle with extra-virgin olive oil, charged it, and it is now sitting in an east-facing window to absorb the energy of the sun and the moon until Imbolg.

So, we are working our way slowly through the book, going back to revisit critical points every so often. Jack is fascinated by the little pockets with 'secret" information in them, and seems to really be coming to grok that magic is 9/10 patience.

(It helps so much that the book that the Aunties [fonts of all wisdom] gave him says so!

It's after midnight. The last of the thank you notes is written, and we have learned more about magick tonight than we have in a LOOONG time. I'm exhausted, but I am also content to have been here to see the moment of inspiration that has allowed us to explore these things...

Thank you, Aunties! We love you!

The end of the holidays...

I did eventually get the last banner made --

And my gorgeous, talented, and extremely considerate daughter-in-law included us in her annual cookie baking with the children. Since we couldn't be there and cookies sent from Sweden would be stale before they arrived, she made some beautiful paper replicas and sent them ... and I was so pleased that I turned those into another banner! Isn't it beautiful?

But now...the time has come to put it all away until next year.

This is has been a very nearly perfect holiday for me.

My only regret that of all the Solstice celebrations we were invited to, *all* were canceled due to the weather. But on the other hand we threw a small, impromptu circle for some close friends and that came off beautifully, so we did get to celebrate and all is good.

The Church of Universal Poultrology

I just heard from Mother Clucker about her new project: The Church of Universal Poultrology.

I am highly entertained.

01 January 2009

My winter wonderland by Isaac

How we built it:
I'll give you a little advice. Get some plaster. Dump the plaster in. Leave it overnight. When it's morning, put all the animals you have - not dinosaurs -- in and let the kids play with it. You need to get some more plaster for the trees, though. We haven't done that.

What we do with it:
We drag the animals and if you have one of those springy things and you have a boy...well, you know, it looks like dry grass and it is up in the air and when one of the animals stands upon it, the animal flies up into the air... well, depending on the boy's hand and depending on how old the boy is.

A fascinating article...

Jan Wolter has written a fascinating article attempting to help liberals to understand what it is that make so many good, decent people to unhappy about the concept of gay marriage.

I think he did a great job and Jan's writing is always engaging and informative.

Welcome 2009!

Happy new year year, everybody!

(Though it looks like it's going to be a rocky one, so I also wish everyone the comfort and support of close relationships, great strength, enough to eat, and a warm place to sleep until things turn around.)

We had plans this evening, but when it came time to dress to go out, we realized that what we really wanted was to be at home, just the three of us, so that is what we've done. But now I'm totally exhausted.

Happy new year and good night.