Saturday, September 30, 2006

Reason 94: Breakfast in San Francisco

Why do I homeschool my kids? An anecdote, that is also a reason:

While we were having breakfast one day, Maya started asking me about Queen Elizabeth I, her sister Queen Mary, etc. Why? I’m not sure. We had been watching a DVD of the old BBC series with Glenda Jackson (excellent, by the way) but that was ages ago. She probably had been reminded of it by seeing the cover of After Elizabeth that was reading – a portrait, naturally, of Queen Elizabeth, even though the book is supposed to be about the aftermath of her reign. Anyway, all of a sudden we were having a fairly detailed discussion about the Tudor family, and how Henry VIII wanted so badly to have a son, and why, and what happened instead, and so on and so forth. When abruptly Ziad weighed in with some scientific question that I don’t remember now, and we started thinking about how to figure out the answer.

The couple at the table next to us left to start their day of tourism in the city, and as they passed our table the husband leaned over and said “I love the way you’re teaching your children, Mom.”

Not to say that doesn’t happen to other families, but to me that is a real homeschooling moment. (And I don’t mean that my children are gifted or special because they happened to be asking me these questions over the breakfast table.)

Nurturing their love of learning is one of the most joyous endeavours a parent can undertake.

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Friday, September 29, 2006

My week in review

Today is the seventh day of Ramadan. The first week is almost over. There were ups and downs, naturally, but so far things seem to be going OK. Looking back on the week:

Saturday: Nabil was sick. Ziad and Maya had guitar class. For me that is three painful hours of sitting quietly in a chair just waiting for it to be over. After class we did some errands, then got home only to find that I was misinformed about the time for breaking our fast. We dashed out of the house to my mother-in-law's, and got there just barely in time to eat.

Sunday: Ziad and Maya and I went to Monterey. It was a beautiful day. We came home early, in plenty of time for me to make dinner. Nabil still wasn't feeling well, but at least he felt better.

Monday: Difficult. Too much running around. Ziad and Maya started (different) science classes in the morning, then more errands, finishing just in time to take Maya to her first chorus rehearsal, then get them dinner, then go back to a meeting for chorus parents. Very bad driving, lots of errors in judgment, and I lost my cell phone to boot.

Tuesday: Guitar class. Not so bad. Nice, in fact, because they are both past the basic stage and playing musically interesting pieces. After guitar class, the first ever meeting of the origami club, which was lots of fun.

Wednesday: A birthday party. At the roller rink. Ziad was so cute (I'm sorry, but that's the only word, even if he is almost nine.) He could not keep his balance for long at all, and kept alternating between collapsing and falling spectacularly, but he always got right back up and kept a huge smile on his face the whole time. He loved it, although much later in the day he got a little ticked off about people laughing. At the time, however, it felt like laughing with him, because he was having so much fun with it. Then chorus rehearsal for Ziad (we LOVE that teacher) and home.

Thursday: A completely useless day. Unless you count reading lots of magazines that have been piling up over the last few years as constructive. The upside is that I'm not so tired this morning.

Friday: That's today. We'll see how it plays out. I have lots of plans, but then, I always do.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Life is precious

Nina Wesson

Vivian wrote an excellent follow up about the death of our friend Nina. I have been wondering all this time about how it could have happened. It seemed (and actually still seems) so senseless. And the thing is, for me, knowing more about her last days makes it scarier still.

Because Nina was not neglecting herself. She went to bed, went to the doctor, had her husband take her to the hospital. She knew she was sick and she was trying to get better. Tragically, no one, not the doctor'’s office, not the emergency room nurse, no one who could have helped, took her condition seriously until it was way too late. And I want to know (of course no one ever will) when was that moment that she crossed over the line? When the nurse practitioner sent her for a chest X-ray, could they have turned it around then? Did they even take a throat culture? Should they have done more testing that day? What about the emergency room nurse who didn'’t rush her straight in?

I'’m wondering how many people remember when Jim Henson died? I thought at the time how scary it was that he just didn'’t take his illness seriously until it was too late. Sound familiar? Maybe that'’s because Jim Henson also died from a Strep A infection. This is not just about moms who sacrifice for their kids until they have nothing left. This is about how serious illness can creep up on you without warning, and how the medical profession can let people down, with life or death consequences.

What about the little girl who died of meningitis a few years ago? When her parents took her to the doctor, he didn'’t take them seriously, even though they told him she had been exposed to meningitis recently. How can you protect yourself and your loved ones against people like that? How many of us are strong enough to know when we need more care, when our needs are not being met? How many of us have the information to ask the right questions, to know when it'’s serious and when we'’re OK? For example, do these tragic deaths mean that we want to insist on antibiotics in every case? I don'’t think so. Some people might say that the liberal (profligate even) use of antibiotics is contributing to the rise of these killer strains of infection. In all of these cases, though, strong antibiotics given early would have made a difference.

I personally don'’t know the answers to these questions. This is the aspect of life that scares me the most --– the way you can be blind-sided at any minute. I don'’t walk around worrying that I'’m going to die from Strep A, or that a car is going to plow through my living room window without warning, or that someone is going to run a red light as I am driving through an intersection. All of these things have happened to people I know, however. The fragility and vulnerability of even the most mundane aspects of our lives is something most people gloss over on a daily basis. How could you function if you didn'’t? It is true though, that every moment we walk on this earth is truly a gift and a blessing, and not something to lightly take for granted.

Sunday, September 24, 2006


Two days down, and we are doing OK. Nabil was very sick yesterday, but he is better today.

Ziad and Maya and I went to Monterey for the morning. We were waiting at the door when the Aquarium opened, and raced inside to see the white shark. Vivian already wrote about it here, so I'll just say it was great to see him.

After the Aquarium, we went to the State Historic Park in Monterey (you guessed, it another passport stamp) which was really great. They were having a plant sale, which was unexpected, and they had pink yarrow, which was even more unexpected, but also great, because I've been wanting to plant some for quite a while.

Home by 3, dinner at 7, now everyone is getting ready for bed.

Saturday, September 23, 2006


Today is the first day of Ramadan for our family. Traditionally, Ramadan begins with a moon sighting -- the first night of the new moon marks is the first night, and people begin their fast the next day. This can lead to some uncertainty about the proper time to start fasting, and it seems that not every agrees. The uncertainty is limited to a day or two, though, so by tomorrow everyone will be fasting together, and will continue for the rest of the month.

I have a lot of intentions for this month. It can sound intimidating, to fast every day for a month, but it can also be a good opportunity to step back from routines that may have become ruts, to evaluate and reflect, to try to be better. And of course, no matter how hungry or thirsty I get, I know that evening is coming and I can break my fast eventually. Not everyone who lacks food or water has that luxury.

People ask me a lot whether children fast. In general, the answer is no. I know families where the children fast maybe for one day out of each week, or for part of a day rather than a full one. Those are options Ziad and Maya may or may not choose to pursue. As they get older they can participate more if they want to. To me, fasting only has meaning when you choose to do it.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Compliments of a mom I know:

I'm sorry that the group of boys in this class are trouble for Ziad. It's such a great strength of homeschooling that you aren't forced to put your children in unhappy environments as happens in the public schools (I speak from experience).

I never would have thought of this, because it's been so long since I had a child in a public (or any kind of) school.

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Monday, September 18, 2006

Extracting honey

is a lot of work. I never knew. I guess I need to learn more specialized bee vocabulary to talk about it accurately, but the gist of it is this: bees make honeycombs full of honey in open rectangular frames. After they fill up the combs, they seal each end, so that the frame is full of honeycomb that has a thin surface of beeswax. So to get the honey out, you need to take off the cover (or cap) on each side, using a knife or a comb, or something.

The thing is, you don't want to destroy the walls of the honeycomb, because it is too hard for the bees to build it back up. So there you are, honey dripping everywhere, holding on to the frame with one hand while trying to gently remove the thin covering of wax from one side and then the other. It is slippery work, and much hotter than I would have expected.

Once the honey is exposed, the frames are put into contraptions much like salad spinners that use centrifugal force to remove the honey. Obviously, any sane person would be using electricity for this job, but as part of our hands-on learning experience, many parents were using the hand-operated models. I hate to say this, but the only ones who were really any good at getting the honey out were the dads. Whereas I was much better at the fine-motor task of uncapping. Hmm .... Not too PC, but there you have it.

After the honey is spun out, it is filtered, to get out remaining bits of wax and the numerous dead bees that somehow had gotten mired in it. After more than 20 people working for at least four hours, we had made only the smallest dent in the number of frames ready to be uncapped, but there was honey everywhere. Massive quantities. We brought home four jars.

The lovely smell of warm beeswax stayed with me well into the evening.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The sequel

So Maya had her first visit to the orthodontist today. It turns out that it's too early too tell whether her teeth will end up crowded or not -- she hasn't lost enough of them yet. The orthodontist wants to see her again in six months just to check on how things are progressing. I myself am all in favor of this plan, because it means that if (when, actually, who are we kidding?) she needs to get work done, she'll be a little more used to him and the office and the chair and the whole routine.

I have to say, that right from the start, this seems like an office that spares no expense. Which means, of course, that they are providing lots of amenities that are built into their charges. So I had to ask myself, do I think it is worth it to pay the extra money for the nice waiting room with the TV, the extra office staff, the nice stationary? I thought it over for a while, and was eventually forced to admit, that for me, the answer is yes. It's nice to have Maya in a place that tries so hard to do everything right, and to make her as comfortable and happy as possible in a situation that is not going to be all that comfortable or happy no matter how hard anybody tries. I like it that they go the extra mile, even if I do know that I'm the one who is paying for it.

As for me, after spending basically the whole day yesterday in bed, I still have a sore jaw, but am feeling very rested. The dentist's office called my cell today as we were coming home from the orthodontist, to enquire after my health and well-being. So I gave them the update. No one mentioned rescheduling. Even though I plan to try a different dentist next time, I'm still going to give myself a good margin of time before starting over.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Trials and tribulations (too much complaining)

We seem to be hitting a bad patch dentally. Maya is having trouble with her permanent teeth. Apparently not enough room in her lower jaw for them. So now my little six year old has an appointment with the orthodontist tomorrow.

I myself was due to have some fillings replaced today. It was my first procedure with a new dentist. She's not all that new, though, being as I already had the exam and x-rays done, and my husband has been going to her for years. So it was odd that I felt a strange "Get me out of here!" feeling when she started to give me the anesthetic. The injection itself was one of the most uncomfortable I can recall experiencing. And it was that odd pre-injection anxiety that initially made me discount the sickness I felt almost immediately post-injection. That's crazy, though, as I thought at the time, because I am not afraid of dentists or their injections. There's no way it was just psychological. The fact is, I felt really sick, really quickly, and when the hygienist came back I thought it prudent to let her know. Dizziness, nausea, sweating. Just really bad. Then the dentist came into the room, and the first thing she said was, "Get the oxygen." I didn't know whether to be glad they had oxygen or upset that she thought I needed it. I thought how horrible it would be if the last time I saw my children was as I was rushing out of the house to go to the dentist's office.

The dentist herself was kind enough to explain that most probably the injection, which contained a vasodilator, had probably gotten directly into my bloodstream rather than going into the muscle; the effect is an elevated heart rate and the symptoms I had experienced. I certainly appreciate her acknowledging that she had misdirected the injection. I also liked it that she decided not to continue the procedure. I certainly just wanted to go home at that point, but was conducting a vigorous internal debate with myself about being wimpy and inconveniencing her scheduling, etc., etc.

I'm not going back, even though I feel some need to let her know that I don't hold the drug reaction against her. I do hold the painful injection against her. I can still barely open my jaw, and I still feel somewhat ill, and for a while this afternoon I had a vicious headache on the side of my head.

I'm going to try Maya's dentist next. My teeth still need fixing. We're going to have a long talk about their anesthetic policy before I agree to any procedures, though.


We joined the 4-H because I always thought it sounded cool, and my children are still small enough to go along with my odd enthusiasms. And this time, it really panned out for us. We joined the beekeeping club.

The club meets at the History Park, and the guy who runs it even has kid-sized beekeeping outfits. Little teeny moon-men in their protective white gear, following the beekeeper around and helping him out with the hives. Very cute, and yet also slightly surreal.

Ziad and Maya loved it. Now they want their own beekeeping suits, but at $150 a pop, I think we'll just wait and make sure their enthusiasm doesn't wane. Although, did I mention that they look extremely cute? If we still enjoy the beekeeping club this time next year, and I can figure out a way to sell it to my husband, I see hives in our future. Honey galore! Lavender honey, too, because I already have so many bees on the lavender in my yard that I can't actually pick any until the blossoms are all dead.

Next up: guinea pig club, field trip club, and robotics club. (I was very surprised to see the 4-H going into robotics. They also have a music composition club, and a public speaking club. They've really branched out since I first heard about them.) And in the meantime, I have a feeling we're going to get our membership fee back in honey. We go to our first extraction on Sunday! Very exciting!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Wildlife viewing at Pt. Lobos

We're walking down a trail. To our left is a sheltered cove with a white sandy beach. The trail goes along a steep cliff, which rises to our right, covered with small bushes and a few trees at the top. Suddenly a large brown bird swoops out from somewhere along the cliff, flying only a few feet over our head. We stop to watch, as does a couple who are walking towards us on the trail.

"What was that?"

"I don't know, it kind of looked like an eagle? Could it be an eagle?"

"Yeah, I think it's an eagle."

Then Ziad chimes in, very confidently, "It's a juvenile bald eagle."

"No, that can't be a bald eagle, see how its head is all brown? It must be a golden eagle."

But guess what it turned out to be? Apparently juvenile bald eagles are brown all over. You can tell they are not golden eagles by their beak color (this information courtesy of a ranger we encountered later). We watched it flying in circles overhead, then it settled into a tree on the opposite side of the cove. After a bit it dove down toward the water, but in the process went behind a small outcropping of land, and I lost sight of it.

Ziad has been saying all summer that a golden eagle was perched in our orange tree when he was downstairs all by himself. I always thought he had mistaken a hawk for an eagle, but now I am more inclined to believe him.

Anyway, after walking the trail for a bit, we hiked down to another cove, with a smaller beach, and I scanned the water with my binoculars while the kids played in the sand. And, just as it was getting time to leave, I got the most amazing view of a large adult sea otter who appeared seemingly out of nowhere. I wished I had listened to my husband's advice to look for binoculars with a digital camera built in. This sea otter was just floating around, enjoying the afternoon, and I swear I saw him fold his arms behind his head, just like someone leaning back in a comfortable armchair. He seemed interested in us, and looked our way a lot, but kept his distance out toward the mouth of the cove. He was visible to the naked eye, and clearly a sea otter rather than the otter-look-alike kelp that has fooled me so often, but through the binoculars it was even a better view than you could get at the aquarium. These were my birthday binoculars I was using, for the first time that day. I love them! They are perfect!

The last really interesting thing we saw was a butterfly, one that none of us had seen before. We still haven't identified it, but it was a very pretty orange butterfly with lovely light orange stripes running along its wings and small patches of pink near the shoulders.

We were only at Pt. Lobos for an hour, but it was obviously the right hour. Next time I'm not leaving till I see a whale.