adventures in living in a home/school

Most people have a general idea of what home schooling is. What they don’t realize that there are infinite variations of how to go about teaching your kids at home.

My 12 year old grandson is home schooled and has always been. I live with him and his family, and so I am usually right in the middle of it all. My daughter is the facilitator — and that’s what she is, more than a traditional “teacher,” (although sometimes she does play that role). She has chosen not to work at an outside job, so home schooling has become her passion, and she is involved in the regional home schooling community.

Learning here is part of living, and most of the time my grandson learns all of the basic skills, as well as research, communication, ethics, history, civic responsibility etc. etc. as part of some interdisciplinary project in which he becomes involved because he has expressed an interest in it.

The computer is right next to the dining table, and when some question comes up in conversation at a meal, he can turn around and research the answer. He has become very proficient at using the computer to further his learning, either by using actual programs that my daughter has downloaded or by researching and creating his own base of information.

Television also plays a big part in his learning. From Mythbusters to Pawn Stars to documentaries on the History and National Geographic channels, he absorbs information like a sponge.

As an involved observer, there is so much I can write about the processes and the products of home schooling. But what prompts me today is his latest project: pygmy goats and can we have them here as pets.

This interdisciplinary project has just begun and will last until spring, when we will make a decision whether or not we can and will actually get a goat or two. Or three.

In the meanwhile, he has been emailing back and forth with the local zoning office and reading online abut the care and use of goats and how they might be used as a source of income (weeding vacant lots in place of having them mowed). He has ordered a book about the care and feeding of pygmy goats. Over the next several months, there will be visits to places that sell pygmy goats and conversations with the folks who raise them. There will be exercises in figuring out how much land they would need and how to provide for their shelter. These exercises will include a lot of math for measuring as well as for finances.

My role as “grandmother-in-residence” is to listen, encourage, ask questions, and share in the excitement of discovery and adventure. Not at all a bad way to spend part of my retirement time and energy. And, actually, pygmy goats, as their popularity on youtube has proven, are fun to have around. I wouldn’t mind that at all.

Mag #227

Magpie Tales is a blog “dedicated to the enjoyment of poets and writers, for the purpose of honing their craft, sharing it with like-minded bloggers, and keeping their muses alive and well.” Each week, it offers an image as a writing prompt

Go here to read the pieces about the image that others have written.

tintype 1850s

tintype 1850s

Legacy

He was the one (she whispers,
her gaze time-shifting from the photo
caressed by fingers trembling
with fearless age and old desires).

I saw him by the shrine at the crossroads,
where he sprawled beneath the ancient willow
offering newly weaned kittens
to passersby by, like me,

strolling home from morning mass,
smelling of incense and warnings
against the lure of strangers offering
mysteries beyond our simple path.

His dark eyes burned, even through
the dark glasses he wore, turning my skin
liquid, my hands yearning for the silk
of his shirt, the brocade of his waistcoat,

his lips hinting of arrogance and sweet
submission. Instead, I took a kitten,
smelling of some other incense,
redolent of mythic midnight fires.

That was not the last of him in my life.
We were each other’s secret, and we shared
each other as we shared the cat, who loved
us both in her dark feline freedom.

I wrote this poem about him back then,
before he left to seek another destiny,
following the call of his blood
and the hypnotic drift of the Danube.

River Man

There are others I have wanted,
but you flow like the river
through my out-stretched hands.
I would not catch you if I could.
Instead, I ride the edges of your tide
and let the strength of your windswell
wash the stones from my hair.

Low Empathy: the root of all evil

LOW EMPATHY

I am obsessed with the conviction that our human race is devolving because we are losing our capacity for empathy. And I am not alone in believing that is the root of all of the evil in this world.

On the other hand, there is increasing research that is proving how other mammalian species are actually evolving in their capacity to feel and demonstrate empathy. All you have to do is do an online search for “animal empathy,” and you can spend the rest of the day being amazed and gratified at the increasingly widespread “humane” behaviors of our non-human brothers and sisters. (Do an online search for any of the areas of human violence in the world today – shootings, rapes, war zones…. — and you will spend the rest of the day, perhaps, starting to believe as I do.)

The tendency for humans seems to be violent. An online search for “human violence” will provide support for that assertion.

But it’s really more complicated – and overwhelming – than most folks are willing to admit.

Individual research projects are showing that there are complex connections among the healthy functioning of the brain’s “empathy spot,” the levels of the aggression hormone testosterone, the harmful psychological (and, perhaps neural) effects of violent sports/games/language, and this crisis of morality that is plaguing our species.

After spending the past few days searching online for perspectives on this issue, the best piece I have been able to find (although there are others) is “Why a Lack of Empathy is the Root of All Evil,” by psychologist Simon Baron Cohen, who offers this general definition:

Empathy is our ability to identify what someone else is thinking or feeling, and to respond to their thoughts and feelings with an appropriate emotion,” writes Baron-Cohen. People who lack empathy see others as mere objects.

And so we have rampant misogyny, bigotry, border disputes, extreme nationalism, racism,war, violence of all kinds.

What is fascinating to me is that the home of “empathy” seems to be in the brain itself. Scientific research has identified an area of the brain associated with empathy – the anterior insular cortex.

In other words, patients with anterior insular lesions had a hard time evaluating the emotional state of people in pain and feeling empathy for them, compared to the controls and the patients with anterior cingulate cortex lesions,” said the researchers.

This area of the brain that has been proven to be affected by a variety of variables, including testosterone levels and exposure to violent media.

One of Baron-Cohen’s longitudinal studies – which began 10 years ago – found that the more testosterone a foetus generates in the womb, the less empathy the child will have post- natally. In other words, there is a negative correlation between testosterone and empathy. It would appear the sex hormone is somehow involved in shaping the “empathy circuits” of the developing brain.
Given that testosterone is found in higher quantities in men than women, it may come as no surprise that men score lower on empathy than women. So there is a clear hormonal link to empathy. Another biological factor is genetics. Recent research by Baron-Cohen and colleagues found four genes associated with empathy – one sex steroid gene, one gene related to social-emotional behaviour and two associated with neural growth.

Contrary to what gamer developers would like us to believe, ongoing research is tending to prove that areas of the brain associated with empathy are being affected by constant exposure to violent video and other games.

New preliminary findings suggest that brain activation is altered in normal youths with significant past violent media exposure while viewing violent video games.

The reasons for our devolution are obviously complicated and involve some combination of nature and nurture and the opposite of nurture. As a culture and society, we seem to be intent on denying how we actually are encouraging a diminishment of empathy in favor of greed, selfish amorality, and vested interests — whether they be political, religious, economic, or national.

Of course, it’s easier to deny – from climate change to chemical food contamination, to promoting and glorifying violence – than it is to tackle the daunting job of trying to undo what we have done. But if we don’t, we will be a dead species before long. We will destroy ourselves from the simple lack of empathy.

I am hoping that some less corporate-manipulated and more holistic researchers will be able to bring together all of the factors that are pushing our species over the precipice of widespread violence and come up with a convincing argument for the necessity to put the brakes on across the board. Coming up with a plan after that is maybe more than government is capable of now. But if we don’t….

Having been a fan of speculative fiction my whole life and witnessing the manifestations of many of those “fictional” speculations, I don’t hold much hope.

Mag 217

Magpie Tales is a blog “dedicated to the enjoyment of poets and writers, for the purpose of honing their craft, sharing it with like-minded bloggers, and keeping their muses alive and well.” Each week, it offers an image as a writing prompt.

dog sofa

Mag 217 (Go there to read what others have written in response to this prompt.)

Your Perfect Spot

There is no better place
than this untrained oasis,
where medieval fancies
embellish instant facts,
urging the mind to weave anew
what lies, shelf-dormant,
among the dust.

Here your best friend waits
in rumpled comfort
for your return from silence
to the lively clatter of clutter ,
the ritual engagement with
the antics of digital cats.

Mag #215

Magpie Tales is a blog “dedicated to the enjoyment of poets and writers, for the purpose of honing their craft, sharing it with like-minded bloggers, and keeping their muses alive and well.” Each week, it offers an image as a writing prompt.

Mag #215 (Go there to read what others have written in response to this prompt.)

The King of Cats, 1935, Balthus

The King of Cats, 1935, Balthus


Cats assume their royalty and we comply,
grateful for a brush with imperial head,
pleased to be chosen to share what they will.

They order with a blink, a flick of tail,
and we serve their needs like slaves,
allow them access to our most intimate moments,
forgive their wanton carelessness,
accept the noble arrogance of their stare.

Cats are kings because they believe they are,
and they have convinced us
that it is in our best interest
to believe as well.

“Common Living Dirt”

We were all out digging and clearing today.

I come from a family of Polish farmers on my mother’s side. (My father’s side of the family were more educated and tended to be white collar workers in old Poland.)

I love digging in the dirt. It has to be in my genes. And that’s also probably why my son is now part owner of a herd of urban goats and just loves taking care of them.

And that’s why this poem by Marge Piercy is one of my favorites:

The Common Living Dirt
by Marge Piercy

The small ears prick on the bushes,
furry buds, shoots tender and pale.
The swamp maples blow scarlet.
Color teases the corner of the eye,
delicate gold, chartreuse, crimson,
mauve speckled, just dashed on.

The soil stretches naked. All winter
hidden under the down comforter of snow,
delicious now, rich in the hand
as chocolate cake: the fragrant busy
soil the worm passes through her gut
and the beetle swims in like a lake.

As I kneel to put the seeds in,
careful as stitching, I am in love.
You are the bed we all sleep on.
You are the food we eat, the food
we are, the food we will become.
We are walking trees rooted in you.

You can live thousands of years
undressing in the spring your black
body, your red body, your brown body
penetrated by the rain. Here
is the goddess unveiled,
the earth opening her strong thighs.

Yet you grow exhausted with bearing
too much, too soon, too often, just
as a woman wears through like an old rug.
We have contempt for what we spring
from. Dirt, we say, you’re dirt
as if we were not all your children.

We have lost the simplest gratitude.
We lack the knowledge we sowed ten
thousand years past, that you live
a goddess but mortal, that what we take
must be returned; that the poison we drop
In you will stunt our children’s growth.

Tending a plot of your flesh binds
me as nothing ever could to the seasons,
to the will of the plants, clamorous
in their green tenderness. What
calls louder than the cry of a field
of corn ready, or trees of ripe peaches?

I worship on my knees, laying
the seeds in you, that worship rooted
in need, in hunger, in kinship,
flesh of the planet with my own flesh,
a ritual of compost, a litany of manure.
My garden’s a chapel, but a meadow

gone wild in grass and flower
is a cathedral. How you seethe
with little quick ones, vole, field
mouse, shrew and mole in their thousands,
rabbit and woodchuck. In you rest
the jewels of the genes wrapped in seed.

Power warps because it involves joy
in domination; also because it means
forgetting how we too starve, break,
like a corn stalk in the wind, how we
die like the spinach of drought,
how what slays the vole slays us.

Because you can die of overwork, because
you can die of the fire that melts
rock, because you can die of the poison
that kills the beetle and the slug,
we must come again to worship you
on our knees, the common living dirt.

Sit, Walk, Write

According to Natalie Goldberg, writer and teacher, the order should be “Sit, Walk, Write,” but, as is my nature, I fudge things to fit my nature. Following directions is not one of my strong suits. I improvise.

When the temperature hit 50 degrees today, I went out for a stroll (again, my nature) under a clear and sunny sky. The cool breeze brought the non-scent. of a waning winter. There is still snow on the ground. Vague puddles cross my path.

I can barely hear my footfalls, although that can be more the effect of my diminished hearing rather than the soft tread of my measured heel-to-toe pace. I doesn’t matter.

Cracks in the asphalt form telling mandalas, and I wish I had brought my camera to capture the symmetries of these unexpected partnerships between man and nature.

A young woman jogs past me and turns up a hill that I always find too strenuous for my strolls. I am not going anywhere. Have no place I have to be. It is that time of my life when strolling is the way to go. (Unless, of course the Amtrak Writers Residency project picks me to “sit, ride, write.”)

The same young woman passes me again, this time going the other way. I wait for her to pass me yet again, because three is a magical number, but she doesn’t. Is there meaning in that?

A young boy, about seven years old, walks past me on the other side of the street. He is pushing what looks like a doll’s carriage; it’s too small for a baby. When he walks toward me later, coming the other way (it seems like everyone is coming and going, but I just keep going), I stop and look through the mesh into the stroller. It’s a big orange cat. He says the cat’s name is Oliver. I look down at the logo on the stroller. It’s a pet carrier. Why not.

When I sit, it’s on the sunny front steps with my daughter and grandson. We sip our teas and chat. I need that kind of company/togetherness, and they provide it. I feel lucky.

In a moment of silence, I wonder how my son’s goats are doing. It is the year of the goat. And of goat therapy. Sometimes magic happens.

The clouds finally drift in from the west, and the breeze picks up.

Now it’s time to write. And I am.

almost the best time of the year

The best time will be summer, when the vines are loaded with tomatoes and beans and peas and, hopefully, the couple of exotic edibles, the seeds of which I planted in March and the seedlings of which I planted today: peach/mango/melon and cucamelon.

With my bum knees precluding any dancing or even minor walking, gardening seems to be the best exercise for me, and I, along with the rest of the family worked up a good sweat today — they tilling and enriching the garden soil and planting some seeds; I tinkering with the little shade garden plots and tending my seedlings. The little orange birdhouse (upper right of photo, below) that my daughter made last year from scrap pieces of wood in the cellar, has just been taken over by a pair of Carolina Wrens.

The Northeast is a marvel-filled place to live this time of year.

the readied vegetable garden behind the bank of glorious spring blooms

the readied vegetable garden behind the bank of glorious spring blooms

basil, parsley, sage, dill, garlic scapes seem to be doing well; some tomato seedlings are iffy, but I haven't given up on them.

basil, parsley, sage, dill, garlic scapes seem to be doing well; some tomato seedlings are iffy, but I haven’t given up on them.

the little shade garden by my little porch is overrun with Creeping Jenny -- but that's just fine because I keep moving some to other parts of the yard that are bare

the little shade garden by my little porch is overrun with Creeping Jenny — but that’s just fine because I keep moving some to other parts of the yard that are bare

the prettiest part of the yard is always the Japanese maple and the Buddha statue

the prettiest part of the yard is always the Japanese maple and the Buddha statue

I took the photos with my new LG Optimus G Pro from AT&T. I figured I’d treat myself with the money I’m saving by not having to buy cat food and litter any more — and also not having the expense of dance/exercise classes because of my bum knees. One door closes, another door opens.

NaPoWriMo #7

sunning3

she has asserted her place in this house,
sprawls there every afternoon
at the same time,
leaving behind both
play and stress,
whatever mess she made
of paper and string,
even the cushions left
to lure her into comfort;
she chooses, instead
all that she needs: a sill
wide enough, a window that
floods her with sun.