Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Unschooler's Gathering of Ohio (U.G.O.)

Our first Unschooling conference... A late evening trip to Target the evening previous for clearanced water shoes and an additional set of swim floaties and life jacket was interrupted by a phone call from my father informing me that my grandmother had passed that evening. As she lived in Texas and I don't have any money, I was unable to make the trip for the funeral. Jon and I committed to taking the kids down to meet the rest of the family later this fall or winter instead. None of my family there has ever met my children as we're all very lacking in the spare funds department and making the 24-hour car trip with two small children seemed impossible until recently. The funeral was held Saturday. She was buried on the family land next to my grandfather, Manuel, who passed away in the early weeks of my pregnancy with Aleks. Aleks now has his name: Aleksander Manuel. We never had a girl to consider using my grandmother's name, which was Rebecca.

She was my favorite grandmother of all my many grandparents. She taught me to make tortillas and bought a piano when I suggested she should have one. The Monday before her death, she was talking to my Aunt Anita about having had so many of the grandchildren at the house that weekend. She told her she wanted to call me to tell me that she regretted my not being there and to catch up. We spoke on the phone regularly in the last few years and wrote letters to one another. I don't know anyone who still writes to their grandmother, but I did. I would tell her all about what the children were doing and how my life was. I wrote long-winded letters, just as I write long-winded blog posts and everything else. They were hand-written on small pieces of decorative stationary in slanty cursive that never stayed in straight-lines and went on back and front for sometimes a dozen pages.

My grandmother's letters to me were usually just a couple of pages, often on greeting cards for holidays that people don't usually send greeting cards for, like Independence Day. Her handwriting, which was lovely and spiked, was cramped and sometimes difficult to read, especially as they were written almost in dialect. She always had to continue onto the back of the card above where it said Hallmark or Carlton. She told me about the cousins and the dogs and the health problems of all my relatives. She would send me article clippings and once a photo of her rose bush blooming in February - or was it April?

Jon's favorite story of us is about an argument we had. Last year in a phone conversation, we were talking about raising kids and she made some mention of listening to Dr. Dobson on the radio. She asked if I knew who he was. I groaned and started going on and on about how horrible he is because he wrote about how mothers make their sons gay by coddling them. I talked about how homophobic and hateful and awful that was. She said that lots of gay people, including some of our family members, are very nice and all, but that they were still going to Hell. I lectured her about going to that church of my Uncle Tommy's too much and how it was filling her mind with hate and that they were preaching hate and she should just be done with the lot of 'em. I laughed the whole time too. It was so nice to have this grandmother that I could argue with about incredibly controversial moral issues and still be laughing and fine with her. I outright yelled at the poor arthritic woman on the phone, though never with anger. It makes me giggle a little just thinking of it.

It's funny too, because when I was a kid, I remember we'd always let Tommy's kids watch things they weren't supposed to on TV when he wasn't around. They weren't even supposed to watch TV. They're Pentecostal and only ever listened to Christian radio or classical music. I have to think that Mozart would have been off-limits if they'd been around 300 years earlier. Grandma didn't seem to mind the crazy heathen world when I was little. I don't think she minded too much in recent years either. Maybe she just pretended otherwise at those tent revivals where she spoke in tongues and ate live chickens or whatever else it was that they did.

My mother said she was a really cool lady and I have to agree. My mother still makes her recipes even though she and my dad haven't been together for 28 years. The first time we went to bee school (my parents keep bees), my mom entered my grandmother's Mill Hollow bread recipe in the honey cooking contest under my name and I won a strand of Christmas lights with plastic bees over them. She also makes her Sour Milk Cake for every birthday and any holiday when she can find an excuse for it (you can find her recipes at the bottom of this post). I'd like to think that when I die, I'll be remembered by my grandchildren as a really cool lady.

We went to camp on Thursday as planned, thinking there was a possibility the funeral might be delayed and I could leave early and work something out. Thinking back, I don't think there was a way I could have made it. There wasn't enough time to get things in order. I say this because I have to rationalize my absence as I deeply regret missing it. On the other hand, it's good the funeral was early because by Tuesday, the family was boarding up the three houses on the land in Goliad and evacuating to Austin due to Hurricane Ike.

UGO was held at Camp Akita, which was actually a Christian summer camp (the Christian part was weird for us - there were Jesus fish on the corn hole set???). They rent it out to groups. The land is really beautiful. My sister Natalie came with the kids and I on Thursday and Jon joined us on Friday after classes for the rest of the weekend. As soon as Jon arrived, he noted how stupid it was to cut down all the trees on this hill above the pond as all the buildings will eventually slide into the murky depths due to the lack of roots to prevent erosion of the landscape. Ever the environmental historian and decidedly grumpy, Jon brings such joy to all our excursions. I mocked him for being such a downer.
After dragging all our crap down the hill in 85-degree weather, we all stripped of our soggy clothing and put on swimsuits for a dip in the pond. Aleks claimed the new life jacket and purple swim floaties.
Bastian used our old set. I find that the boys have the most autonomy in the water with the combination of both flotation devices. Since I make skinny kids, the jackets tend to float up around their necks, but in conjunction with the water wings, they're able to swim quite freely. The pond was quite large and had a diving board, a floating dock, canoes, paddle boats, a row boat, and fishing rods. I jumped off the high dive for the first time in my life. In the past, I'd mostly stood at the edge staring down for half an hour before turning around while all those in line behind me groaned and made fun of me.
We were told to bring a flashlight for each member of our family, but we seemed to have completely lost the boys' headlamps. Where they've gone, I have no idea. If anyone is psychic and can locate them as well as a AT-AT/Storm Trooper transformer, and a rubber Cerberus, please let me know. The kids had fun with our normal flashlights, nonetheless. Anna, Jonas, and Lavinia were in the cabin next to us, so there was much running back and forth and playing in all the bunks and shining light in each others' eyes.
Walking up to breakfast one morning (or was it lunch? Oh how things get so confused), Jonas and Aleks found a giant reed that had broken free of the others, or perhaps he pulled it off, but they broke it in bits and had lots of fun using it as a weapon. Of course, a little while later, Jonas came into the kitchen crying terribly as he was punctured badly in the hand. What we learned from the borrowed first aid kit is that iodine hurts much worse than initial injuries. Next time, we will run all the way down the hill and all the way back up to retrieve my own first aid kit with the much preferred hydrogen peroxide and triple antibiotic ointment (which I need to replace with A&D when it runs out).
Aleks got hurt too. He called it his "door cut" as it was from the door hitting his foot when he opened it. He was sure to tell me all about it too. No iodine necessary.
Aleks was really into starting fires. Friday afternoon, he tried to rekindle the previous evening's campfire by rubbing sticks together. Natalie showed him that it's better to spin it than to simply rub as you conserve energy. We urged him away from the wood and out of the charcoal. He did help another dad start the campfire that evening, which was good fun for him (less fun for me when I couldn't find him after).
Friday was also my scheduled "funshop" (so called because as unschoolers, it's preferable to "workshop" even as a contrived attempt at organized community - which, while contrived remains optional and functional, yet enjoyable to mock, as are most things). I did a noise/music-making funshop for the littles. The schedule ended up being perfect as it was during the challenge course for the 10 & ups, so they were all off somewhere deep in the woods scaling giant pieces of timber erected upright. Meanwhile, the littler ones all shook their groove thangs and had a noise parade through the lodge.
Aleks was off somewhere playing his mixed up version of Monopoly and Bastian was incredibly tired and clinging to me for dear life while all these rascally kids got down with endless noise. I eventually took Bastian and Lavinia back to the cabin since they were so so so tired while Anna waited for the kids to finish with the basket of instruments I brought. We didn't think they'd just keep going for so long. There were three girls hanging on for something nearing an hour, slowly and steadily, as if mesmerized, clanging their symbols over and over like some mechanical rabbit...
The communal restrooms were something of an event whenever we had to take all the kids in. Bastian and Aleks liked to crawl under the stalls (ew) and lock all the doors, which we then had to coerce (ack! bad unschooler word! ha!) them into unlocking them again as their lithe little bodies were much more adept at getting beneath than us. Bastian enjoyed the mirrors a bit as a distraction while others pooed and peed and brushed their teeth in unison.
Papa arrived on Friday evening during a communal dinner of tacos and endless arrays of corn-syrupy desserts. Saturday he took the boys fishing, which another father had been so kind as to instruct Aleks in the ways of early Friday. Aleks has wanted to fish for ages and would often try to catch the minnows in local creeks with bits of grass or sticks. It was quite exciting for him to learn to cast, but I think he got bored after awhile of not catching anything. He asked me if people really caught boots or if that was just in cartoons.

During one of our several boat rides, we spotted little fish and a giant bullfrog.

When Papa took the boys out to fish, I stood on the high dive and jumped (again - five times total!). Aleks asked Jon why I was naked because I'm super super pale and my bikini was white, so I looked naked. We spent most of Saturday during the day in the pond, fishing, swimming, and getting sun-burnt. My scalp got burned and it started finally flaking off all the dead skin today.

Saturday in the late afternoon there were a series of discussions - one about real food by a naturopath/chiropractor, which was a welcome interruption to the steady supply of Flavor-Ice available free in the cooler (somehow I managed to keep my kids to only two each - that I know of). The discussion ultimately lead to a group of families (us included) skipping on dinner and joining their collective foods to make what someone termed the Renegade Potluck. It was a great Potluck - we had ratatouille, corn on the cob, pesto, tons of fruits, veggies, cheese, & crackers, smuggled Chardonnay, and some phenomenal grass-fed, free-range meats cooked over a fire with a grill-top Neil constructed.

The second discussion was about Unschooling the Special/High Needs Child. We discussed Aleks' taking off some more, which I think I've discussed in every parenting discussion I've come across lately. I did feel a little like I didn't belong just because I know the real aim of the discussion was for children with SPD or on the Autism/Asperger's spectrum and I feel like a gate-crasher with my neuro-typical children. At least I think they're neuro-typical. I did talk about them being feral, however. That I think made me fit in a bit.

Ian took this photo of me while we discussed plans for our Renegade Potluck. Sitting here helped me get more sun-burnt.
And I took one of Anna who was parked on the balcony waiting to see when the Real Foods discussion would end so she could talk about having crazy children.

While we lazed about before the discussions, Bastian's sandwich was eaten by one of Barbara's dogs. And Jon harassed Anna, which he does really quite well...

After our renegade potluck, we made s'mores around the campfire for the third night in a row (the kids had never had them before because Jon was vegan for so long and we wouldn't allow marshmallows). They were delicious, as always. Bonnie had a big stick with lots of branches that she put all sorts of marshmallows on to roast 10-15 at once. I prefer my marshmallows burnt and taught my boys to catch them on fire for me.

After s'mores, it was to bed for the children. Then some of us adults drank a ton more of our smuggled Chardonnay around the campfire yelling about Japanese anime and the Holocaust (specifically drunken conversations about how Barbara's people killed Jon's people - all in good fun, of course) until the wee hours of the morning. Anna and I demonstrated our singing skills, as we always tend to do after many glasses of wine. We all got about four hours of sleep before packing it up the next day, sweeping out the cabins and driving back home.


Grandma Martinez's Tortillas
(as given to her by her sister-in-law, Esther, so she could properly feed Manuel)

4 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
6 tablespoons shortening (1/3 rounded cup) *we use spectrum naturals non-hydrogenated
About 1 cup very hot water

Mix shortening in with dry ingredients with hands. Add hot water all at once & mix with spoon. Kneed with hands until smooth & not sticky. If you put too much water, add more flour. Bake on hot grill or skillet. Very good fried in hot fat with cinnamon & sugar or syrup.

Mill Hollow Bread

2 cups milk
3 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. salt
1/2 tsp. honey or sugar
4 cups unbleached flour
4 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup wheat germ
2/3 cup honey
2 Tbs. unsulphered or blackstrap molasses
2 Tbs. melted butter
1/2 cup very warm water
2 envelopes active dry yeast

1. Heat milk, 3 Tbs. butter, salt, molasses, and 2/3 cup honey. Cool.
2. Pour water in mixing bowl with yeast and 1/2 tsp. honey. Let stand 10 mins.
3. Add milk mix to white flour. Beat 2 mins.
4. Add wheat germ & whole wheat flour.
5. Knead.
6. Place in greased bowl. Cover. Let rise til doubled.
7. Punch down. Knead. Divide into 3 equal parts. Cover and let rest 10 mins.
8. Shape into loaves and place into 3 greased loaf pans. Cover - let rise til doubled.
9. Bake at 350° for 40 ins. Brush tops with melted butter if desired.

Banana Bread
1/2 cup margarine or butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 overripe, mashed bananas
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
pinch salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cups pecans or walnuts, chopped

Cream butter. Add sugar. Beat until fluffy. Add eggs, beat. Add bananas, beat. Add flour, soda, salt & vanilla. Mix well. Stir in nuts. Bake in greased & floured loaf pan at 325° for 1 hour or until knife comes clean.


Anna said...

well I'm seriously impressed that you've gotten this all logged already. I enjoyed reading it, even though I lived it once already. ;)

Do you believe that I failed to get a single picture of our trip. The hell is wrong with me? I was too busy having funning and plotting fake food protests, I suppose.

Anna said...

oh yeah, and what you said about your grandmother (and the picture) was really beautiful. She really does seem to have been a cool lady.

debra said...

Great photos, Anna. Lovely story about your Grandparents.
It was good to meet you and to have the opportunity to chat. And I loved
B is for Bob!!!

Rachel said...

Lovely post. Anna! Your grandmother sounds like she was pretty darn fantastic, and it's so wonderful you had that long and close relationship with her. I will definitely try out some of these recipes.

And the unschoolers gathering sounds like it was a complete success! Yay for gathering unschoolers! (Especially to do it around the same time as the big L&L thing was happening, in a way to occupy yourselves with a smaller gathering if you can not do the big one, hee hee. We should have planned such a thing, as I was feeling a bit sad this year to miss the last one.)

Brian said...

Awesome. It looks like Ivy was having fun at the music funshop. I promised to get our pictures sorted and posted tonight (Donna put a few up on her blog: but the three of them are actually at Kalahari today and have the camera and the memory card! My brother-in-law got some free passes, and they haven't made it home yet.

Regarding the Christian fish icons everywhere -- Donna noted that the in the camp logo the fish is standing upright, almost as if it had.... evolved!

Thanks for sharing the reminiscences of your grandma too.