Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Art Day: Animal Mobile Beginnings

For Art Day, I planned to make animal mobiles, like those made in India. I saw a simple example years ago at the home of a friend whose daughter had constructed one of yarn and egg carton pieces. I figured we could give that a shot and embellish them a bit further.

We only got so far today as we had to wait for the paint to dry. Next week we'll attach "heads" and eyes and all manner of do-dads along with affixing them to string with beads. I tried to decoupage a few, but it was quite time-consuming and I was a bit distracted chasing down littles with paint-soaked hands lest they touch my couch. We have fine beginnings nonetheless. In my magazine collage box, I found an article about Philip Pullman as well, whom I love, so after everyone had left, but before I cleaned up completely, I sat and read it. I might have to try another reading of His Dark Materials at some point. I love it so and surely there was much I missed.

Completed mobiles can be seen here.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Aleks Decides Dinner, With Walk

Aleks decided that we should all go to Tommy's for dinner, then head to the park to hopefully meet up with his new friend, Iris, who we see there with some frequency (and who he ran into there on Saturday). Alas, it rained and got much colder, so the park was not to be. We took an umbrella and walked to Tommy's for dinner anyway. Mama was the only one to bundle up properly, however, as she is a freeze baby and knows it.Aleks was dismayed and Bastian delighted to discover that the raincoat no longer fits Aleks' long arms (and hasn't for some time, despite what they might believe), but fits Bastian's three-year-old arms quite well.
At dinner, Aleks had grilled cheese, Bastian had pizza, we all had fries, and the boys both drank hot chocolate. Yummilicious junk food for our bellies. Aleks also learned about the Great Lakes and all their names, though I'm not sure if it was in context enough to remember all of it.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Earth Hour

We forgot about Earth Hour until it was already 7 minutes in, but we managed to get the computers off, the lights out, and the battery chargers and nightlights unplugged to participate for a bit. If I'd had my wits about me, we would have gone much longer, but we were expecting company and I'd failed to plan for it. How lame of me. Nonetheless, there was lots of opportunity for learning about the proper use of fire and matches (and possibly the encouragement of two budding pyromaniacs - ack!). I love glowing candle shots. There's lots more at Earth Hour's Flickr Photostream. The boys got out lots of extra candles. Mostly they accidentally blew them out then insisted on relighting them.
I folded laundry to candlelight. It's probably a good thing that I couldn't tell which was the right side of the handkerchiefs - it doesn't ultimately matter how they're folded, I just have obsessive tendencies...

On a Bicycle Built for Two

Aleks got himself all dressed to go outside to play. He has a unique sense of fashion.
The neighbors came out too with a tandem bike brought from a trip to New York. Aleks tried out the horn, which sounds like clowns are coming. I was confused about the origin of the sound until I came out to see it.
Bastian, with an equally unique sense of fashion (though I suspect his outfit was just utilitarian rather than planned like Aleks'), explored the neighbor's tool set. Learned about ratchets and the neat clicking sound they make.
Then I got to go for a ride on the tandem bike, something I've wanted to do since childhood. Managed this one before my 30th birthday, lucky me. Riding a tandem bike is not at all simple. Turning is difficult and not turning, as the rear rider, is even moreso, despite its importance (starting to turn will shift your weight, possibly knocking everyone off the bike).
Aleks and Bastian posed for a photo op. Having not yet managed two wheels and being quite short, they will have to wait awhile to try this out. Still, quite the adventurous lazy Saturday afternoon.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Unschooling Co-op

In discussing the rigidity of homeschooling co-ops, some friends and I (while dyeing eggs with plant materials whilst our children ran amok and feigned a slight participation) wondered what an unschooling co-op would look like. I thought it would be just like what we do anyway. On Tuesdays, we get together at my house for "Art Day" and only sometimes ever make art. Instead, the children play and discuss and scheme and whatever else it is the children do. On Fridays, we get together at another woman's house for "Lego Club" and only sometimes ever build with Lego. Instead, the children play and discuss and scheme and whatever else it is that children do. Meanwhile, the mothers might make a craft or celebrate a holiday or simply drink tea and chat about how stressful things have become (despite all our time spent making crafts and drinking tea) or about unschooling and rigidity in things that are not unschooling.

On Friday, instead of building with Lego, we made lots of dyes from plant materials (clockwise from top right): turmeric, onion skins, beets & red cabbage, and blueberries. We also used some old liquid chlorophyll I had but couldn't stomach (it was minty and salty! blech!!!) to make some green. We used about a quart of liquid for each pot plus two tablespoons of white vinegar for mordant. After the dyes boiled for a long time, we poured them in bowls so the children could dip eggs in cooled liquid. Dyeing the eggs raw in the boiling materials produced the darkest results and also the most edible eggs. We also tried pre-hard-boiled eggs which became rubbery and inedible if boiled again and produced light colors if dipped in cooled dyes.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Examples of Socialization

The most prevalent argument against homeschooling has always been the question of socialization. When we say it, we imagine that homeschooled children are sheltered from making friends and learning the knocks of life in the big bad world where playground bullies roam free and important, lasting relationships are made over the sharing of half-pint chocolate milk at the lunch table. We assume that these experiences are essential to life in This Modern World, that they teach us more than we could learn elsewhere. I don't believe that this is what we're really talking about when we discuss socialization, however.

Socialization in the school setting is about becoming socialized not about socializing; about becoming integrated and acculturated to doing things institutionally. Doing things institutionally is about learning how to follow rules, be obedient, lower your expectations, and exist in a culture of scarcity: scarcity of attention, resources, space, and love. This is what we're really teaching in school: how to exist in a box, not how to think outside of it or throw the whole damn thing away. This serves our culture, it does not challenge it.

In a culture of consumption, of specialization, of independence over inter-dependence, we end up emphasizing the very things we try to "teach" out. Diversity training doesn't actually get down to the dirty work of dismantling systems of oppression that keep people in poverty, in line, and out of the way. Which is not to imply counterproductivity, just that the whole picture is fundamentally flawed. We provide quick fixes that create minimal progress to all-encompassing problems. The problem is the entire system, not these small parts.

But what can we do? We are but small people trying to fight massive, invisible structures. One step is to practice peace in our private lives and continue the fight as best we can. Practicing peace oddly takes a bit of imagination. Imagine a world where we met all kinds of people - some we like, some we don't like - through all kinds of activities, but without the institutional structures that create and sustain hierarchy, where reward and punishment are so wrapped up in the daily existence that they become necessary and inevitable and create competition constantly. Competition for space, attention, resources, love... Competition that results in constant anger, jealousy, rejection, sadness, envy, rage...

Imagine a world where we were all just living, working, cooperating and collaborating as need be, drawn to positive relationships, in which the incentive is to resolve conflict well by stating and respecting one another's needs and desires in order to sustain the relationship. Imagine if a child's world were just your life with your friends, family, and your sometimes-enemies and your frenemies and the people you hardly know, who are maybe a little weird, but you need to work with so you learn to ignore the quirks or even appreciate them and get on with it. What would you learn from that? If you talked to the garbage man and the postal woman and the coffee shop girls and the doctors you see and your parents' friends and the folks at the library and saw your parents living and working and getting along as best they can, finding ways to figure out what to do with anger over conflict and how to fix things.

Because that's my life. I have to deal with my neighbor and I'm angry with her, but we resolve the conflict and my children witness that. That's pretty true of all our relationships and almost all of my kids' interactions with adults are positive. Which means that they feel supported to be who they are and to love who and what they love. There's no self-doubt.

Imagine a world where a three-year-old teaches a 27-year-old neighbor interested in Heavy Metal and neuroscience to play Connect Four (and how to win by manipulating the rules).
Imagine a world where a 23-year-old blues guitarist and a 6-year-old artist both love Star Wars and spend time building Lego cars together.
Welcome home to socialization that is respectful, mutual, collaborative, and creative.

Monday, March 23, 2009

How Many Secretaries Does it Take to Solve the Medical Industry Conundrum?

This pretty much continues from this post and this post. It just gets better. So I called on Thursday afternoon to ask the plastic surgery people to send the x-ray upstairs to the dentist. It's up one floor. The lady said she'd call me back because she had to figure out if that was kosher and where it was. She did not call me back. I was clear about needing to know quickly. So today a couple of hours before our dentist appointment, I called to find out where our x-ray was. I got transferred to Marie because she would know. Marie was all, "why'd they transfer you to me? Charlene would know." I was on hold for many minutes. Charlene is nowhere to be found, they will call me back. They did not call me back.

I went to the plastic surgery desk before our appointment. Told the receptionist my problem. She paged Charlene. I sat down with Aleks. Waited. Receptionist didn't say anything to me. Smiled sarcastically. I asked if Charlene was going to find it or what. She recommended that I go ahead to the appointment and they would send it up when they could. I was willing to go behind the desk and find the damn thing myself, but didn't bother to offer.

Went to our appointment. Explained the situation with the x-ray a number of times as well as the need for the pre-authorization for the extraction. I was asked when the ear tube surgery was scheduled for several times as well only to tell them that it wasn't scheduled since I knew I had to coordinate it with them. I don't know why that's a hard thing to understand. I thought it made logical sense. Finally, yes, dentist will do surgery. Very nice gentleman. Knows our other dentist. Recommends I have other dentist send a copy of x-rays (which I called in this very afternoon). Walked me down to talk to the insurance lady about scheduling the surgery.

She did not seem like the brightest lady. Again asked when the ear tube surgery was scheduled for. Sigh. Told her the situation. She figured out what she needed to do, but did not know what to tell me about scheduling the surgery. Couldn't even tell me they'd call me or that they'd go ahead and schedule after the pre-authorization would come in. Seemed like this would not be so automatic and that I was going to have to take a lot of responsibility. I didn't want to wait to schedule and then have to remember to call everyone back in or to keep calling to see when the pre-auth came in, but they weren't really giving me a lot of information about what an easier thing to do would be. So I was left to solve the problem myself. The insurance lady didn't really help, so I left feeling sort of confused.

I walked about 15 feet to talk to the lady that schedules for our ENT. I knew where she sits, so that was good. And she was there! Which she never is. I told her the situation. I needed to schedule for these two procedures and I needed to make sure that she had set the process in motion for the ENT portion (though the surgery wasn't in the Aleks' online chart and she was told nothing of it - effing great) so when the authorization came in we were ready to go. She didn't really know what to do about that either though. Like, how would she know if the authorization came in? And if she did, that means we'd have wait until who knows when before scheduling the surgery and then who knows how long before their schedules would match up. So I suggested she schedule the surgery for the end of April/beginning of May and hopefully the authorization will have come in by then. She said she'd work on it tomorrow and took down my number.

Then, lucky me, while we were having a snack at au bon pain, I got a call from my friend who informed me that he had finally spoken to his mother and sadly, no, she will not do my taxes for my failed business for me. So we discussed the situation and its complications for awhile and that just made me feel more stressed out and nauseous. So I took appropriate steps to find a CPA. Hopefully that works out because I can't handle having to do my stupid taxes when I am this effing stressed about everything.

Monstrous medical corporations suck something awful and while things are handled (by me) as best as they can be, I am just annoyed and stressed to the gills with this crap. My stomach just knots - I hope this all goes through and that I don't have more that I have to do without having known about it or that suddenly becomes due. Ugh.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

In Waiting Rooms

In the afternoon, Aleks had speech therapy as he always does on Thursdays. Bastian brought along a Tyrannosaurus rex, an Australian Frill Lizard, Godzilla, and a legion of zombies, including the zombie dog to entertain himself with while Aleks practiced saying "ARRRRRRRrrrrr..."

Another Day, Another Doctor's Visit

Today we met with the plastic surgeon to discuss the possibility of upcoming procedures. At first, the doctor thought Aleks was five for some reason. So he said we didn't need to do anything. Then he found out he is actually six-and-a-half and decided that he is indeed ready for a palatal extender. Turns out Aleks has a rather wide arch already, so that may mean he won't need to have it very long (I hope). We do have to wait for the two teeth that the pediatric dentist recommended having out to come out and to heal before the palatal extender can be placed, however. So it's on to coordinating the ear tubes and the tooth extraction. Which proved to be more problematic than I'd expected it to be.

So the hospital (if you can call such a massive medical corporation a mere hospital) doesn't take our insurance. Our otolaryngologist (ENT) who works at the hospital takes our insurance for some reason, but other doctors there and the hospital itself do not. I'm not certain how this all works out. We can see all the specialists at the cleft clinic and some of them can do Aleks' surgeries, but we can't just walk in and pick whoever to do necessary work for us. And oddly I went to this hospital for my occupational therapy after I had my hand accident, so I have no idea what their deal is.

At any rate, we cannot just get a dentist to pull the teeth. Our pediatric dentist can't do it as he no longer works in an OR. It also turns out that you can't coordinate an out-of-hospital/system provider with an in-system provider, so I can't use an outside pediatric dentist to work with our inside ENT. The plastic surgeon told me to talk to his receptionist and have her call upstairs to the dentists to find someone to see us today.

The appointment lady tried to schedule us for the end of the month upon these instructions. I corrected her and she said she didn't think there was a pediatric dentist up there at all. I told her I just needed someone to coordinate the surgery with to pull the teeth. Nothing too complicated, but I didn't want Aleks to have to go under general anesthesia twice for two separate but very simple out-patient procedures when we could just do them at once. She saw my point and suggested I go upstairs and ask them myself. All the while, Aleks was drawing pictures for everyone he met.

We went upstairs to talk to the dental people. They were pretty confused too. This system is so ridiculous. This is why health care needs to be well-coordinated and, more importantly, free for everyone. Aleks gave them free art, they should be able to get us in and out and know what the heck they're doing. So eventually we were able to discover one single dude who could help us and who would consult with us on Monday. We also learned that it will take about a month to get our insurance to approve this out-of-network provider & procedure. Which is fine as the time is not an issue, but is annoying nonetheless.

Then I realized that the plastic surgeon has our x-ray of Aleks' teeth that I had to drive 25 minutes to pick up and now the dentist we're seeing on Monday will need a copy too. I called this afternoon to try to see if they can just let him borrow it for the time being, or even give it up and settle for post-operative x-rays, should those become necessary. I haven't received a reply yet, which makes me nervous. I'll need to get that ready immediately or else run downstairs from the dentist and steal it from the plastic surgeon myself on Monday.

So it's another appointment with another specialist before we can definitely arrange a date and time for this surgery. All of which will add to our file of medical records. Whenever we find ourselves moving, I'll have to request my own copies of all his surgical records and clinic visits to add to this file from his first two years of life:
It doesn't seem that bad, all things considered. That's some cleft/craniofacial reports which are usually just a page or two long plus the surgical records from his first four surgeries. This upcoming surgery will be his sixth.

Generally, my approach to all of this is practical, and that's been true even with the back-and-forth of appointments lately. The last week or so, however, has found us facing greater stressors than usual with the loss of my cousin in an accident in Iraq and the sudden death of a colleague of my husband's. Additionally, we don't have a move for a sweet job lined up for the fall, so our economic position has been tenuous and our future remains uncertain. Our emotional life has been put through the wringer. We've kept our heads about us in a larger sense for quite some time, but today and yesterday I have been feeling wholly overwhelmed. There are no words for it, really. I'm just totally and completely in the thick of it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Art Day: Fairy/Gnome/Zombie/African Safari Houses

We caught an extra-special glimpse of spring with 65° weather, ideal for working outdoors. We decided to build Fairy Houses, though Aleks rejected the idea of making them for fairies. Thus they were to be "Caveman Caves" though no caves got built exactly as Aleks has been fixated of late upon hypnotism and wanted to run about outside getting Ivy into quiet spaces to have her gaze at his forehead whilst he spoke in a soft drone. Bastian helped build a large fairy house with me, though. Miranda and Ivy also each built a bit, as did our additional guests.I made the largest of the Hobbit holes with Bastian and others aiding me. We dug sticks in a half circle, threading bits of bark between them, then covering with dried Iris stems, leaves, and finally moss. A T-Rex stood guard outside.
Zombie men and zombie dogs trolled in the garden.
The gnomes gazed wisely and fearfully out and the Monkey King sat in meditation, making unknown mudras, keeping the zombie hoards at bay by method of zen.
Miranda made a little lean-to.
Ivy created a den for all the big cats.
It had a chandelier and soft carpet inside.
Then we walked to the toddler park to play. One little girl brought along two of the gnomes, who went for rides in the sand toys.
Aleks wore his cape all day. This was part of his hypnotist costume. He never did successfully hypnotize Ivy into thinking she was a bat.
We all wore green for St. Patrick's Day, though I'm not entirely convinced of the necessity.
Donna and the girls brought cucumbers to make some geckos like in the book Play with Your Food.
The eyes were squished on with cheese.
They weren't long for this earth.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Gathering Raw Materials

Since it's to be nice outside, for tomorrow's Art Day we'll be building a fairy house. Well, Aleks has decided it will be a caveman cave, but whatever. We also speculated that it may be for elves, goblins, hobbits, dwarfs, or leprechauns (especially since it's St. Patrick's Day). It'll be for something.

We don't have much of a yard, though, so we needed to gather some raw materials to use. Since it was nice today and Aleks wanted to go to the park, we went to Shaker Lakes after picking up x-rays at the pediatric dentist's office (to take with us to the cleft clinic on Thursday).

Before I realized the kids had smudged up my lens earlier, I took a few photos. Aleks thought these sticks would be handy. I told him they were bigger than we needed. Bastian helped carry a bag to put our goods in.
We gathered sticks, stones, bark, moss, and leaves.
Under some moss, we found a little ant colony, only recently moving due to the warm weather, I'm sure.
Beneath some bark, we discovered this larva which looks to have a stinger. We were careful not to touch it, whatever it is. UPDATE - We have discovered that this little larva turns into a fly. Specifically a Xylophagid known as Xylophagus lugens.
This bush was just changing a brilliant red color.
Before leaving, the light turned to the perfect evening glow that yields such lovely photos. The boys played on a massive downed tree while I arranged to meet Papa at the Co-op after...
...and took photos of myself.
Spring feels here, if only momentarily. I'm sure it will snow again yet. Yes, my button says "I'm a wizard."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Architecture in Helsinki - Heart It Races

The boys and I just watched this video a number of times. We think now we might make puppets for Art Day sometime soon. They loved this. I just loved the song, but the video is quite fascinating as well:

Friday, March 13, 2009

Aleks' Alien Costume

Aleks made an entire alien costume out of paper and string. This is the face. I'll have to take other pictures of the whole getup, along with the Knight of Gondor costume we made from duct tape and cardboard.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

New Dentist

On Wednesday, Aleks went to see the otolaryngologist and discovered that he needs ear tubes again. He was originally scheduled to get a new set in the fall when his old ones had come out, but then the pediatrician had noted no fluid and no signs of infection, so we canceled the surgery and followed up with the ENT again. At that time, there was no fluid and everything looked good, except his eardrums weren't moving properly. So we were scheduled for a hearing test. Aleks' hearing was fine, but the pressure levels were not good. So we had to follow up again with the ENT. Hence this Wednesday appointment.

The fluid is back and the pressurization issue indicate that while his Eustachian tubes might be working, they're not working effectively. This is common in children with cleft palates as the musculature of the soft palate that has not formed correctly is connected to the Eustachian tubes, thus causing them to not function properly. So he's going to have another surgery to place his fourth set of tubes.

I knew that we had an appointment coming up for the cleft/craniofacial clinic since we'd missed ours back in February due to illness, and that there may be other things we needed to do at that same surgery. Aleks is approaching the age where he'll be ready for his biggest of all surgeries, the bone graft. Before they can do the bone graft, however, he must have a palatal extender placed in order to widen the space for the bone. It needs to be in place for 6 months or more. I'm not entirely certain what all it entails or if they'd even recommend doing it under general anesthesia, but before we go making appointments, I needed to make sure there wasn't anything else.

Additionally, I knew that Aleks has a couple of teeth inside the cleft area that have been deteriorating since he was about two and that it might be high time to get them pulled. We've had terrible luck with dentists though. We were originally told by the dentist at the cleft clinics we've attended very, very little. All they ever said was to see a pediatric dentist. Why they themselves are not pediatric dentists is beyond me. We went to see a pediatric dentist when he was 2, but I'm not certain if I ever saw the dude himself or not as the place was like a cattleyard for moving poor people about and it seemed we saw someone different every time. It was BS, plus they never said anything at all about doing something about the decay (which was mostly okay with me). I went there a couple of times, then switched to going to our regular dentist, who I don't really like either, and who so helpfully told me that I should see a pediatric dentist about the decay. I believe we went back to the stockyard one more time for another useless check up, then just did a regular checkup last summer at the family dentist and said forget it.

Well, since it's been looking worse, and we're already having to have another surgery, it seemed high time to find a new ped dentist and figure all this out. So I looked in our provider directory and picked a name. Turns out, he's great and has 30 years experience working with kids with clefts, used to do the craniofacial clinics, and has a family member with a cleft lip and palate. He still does a lot of typical American dentist stuff, like fluoride rinses, but I think I can live with that for some actual conversation and progress. Aleks drew 7 million pictures for the entire staff while we waited. The whole design scheme was great - it looked like very expensive interior decorating from 1979.Then he got his teeth cleaned and his very first x-rays.
The x-rays were developed and I was exactly right - those two teeth need to come out and it should happen at the same time as the ear tubes. Now we just have to go to the cleft clinic, see what they want to do, find a surgeon to rip open his mouth, and a really good secretary to schedule it all, and we're good to go.