Sunday, December 16, 2012

Critical Mass

So much for feeling better.

A friend from childhood posted this resource from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), on dealing with national tragedies.

I had to take a break from the computer for about a day. I haven't watched any of the video coverage, and I probably won't. Just seeing pictures of the young victims is about all I can handle. So much for staying calm.

I mentioned the effect of music on stress in my last post. That's how I get through the seemingly endless chauffeuring I do as a homeschooling mother. We jam out in the car! I listen to current popular music -- well, alternative. My daughter and I like to talk about our favorite artists and songs. She really likes Owl City, so I try to keep an eye out for new songs for her.

Anyway, yesterday involved driving to the next town for a haircut* with my son, and my favorite radio station, which came on the airwaves when I was in high school, doesn't usually talk news, so I turned on the radio. "A gunman killed 26..." CLICK!

I haven't spoken about this with my kids yet. They are pretty well-connected with other kids, so they're bound to find out pretty soon. I will need to discuss it with them tomorrow.

Today we attended a VEX Robotics tournament at a middle school in a town south of us. My son is on a small experimental community team, which meets twice a week, about 22 minutes away. Their robot had a catastrophic failure today, and they're not sure how to go about fixing it. They have a few weeks before the next event in January.

It was weird being in a school. As these tragedies have happened, I have often been thankful that we are rarely gathered in spaces with large numbers of people due to our homeschooling. It seems like putting all our societal eggs in one basket, to me. I totally get that because of the way communities are laid out that one room schoolhouses or neighborhood schools are thoroughly inequitable. But on the other hand, I see that sending kids across town to school with hundreds of other children serves to impair the building of a supportive bond within a community. Not to mention the promotion of ageism from a very young age, and dissolution of family spirit through the segregation of siblings.

My own mother worked from the time I was 10 years old until a few years ago in the school system as an attendance clerk. Yeah**, my mom was that lady with whom you would be in trouble if you were late or absent. So, I was that kid who was never absent. Things were a little weird when my son was a toddler. We would go visit grandma at work, and all the other office ladies would ogle him. My eighth grade English teacher, the one who assigned us Moby Dick and The Count of Monte Cristo, who really liked me, even though I didn't even *try* to read those books... she was the Vice-Principal at my mom's school. It is a middle school, one that some of my friends attended.

When the topic has come up, I think I have run across one person in my whole life who liked middle school. Or junior high. Or whatever it was when you were that age.

You know, that age when suddenly most of the things you're thinking about seem like things you shouldn't share with your parents. Yeah, that age.

Early on in my homeschooling journey, my homeschooling support group book club decided to read the book Hold On To Your Kids by Drs. Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate. I still haven't read the second half of the book, about adolescence, because, ohmygod, when I had a toddler, I did not want to even think about said toddler becoming an adolescent. But, uh, something happened, and now I have an adolescent. So, that book changed me forever, and here's why.

I've mentioned here before that I struggled with depression, and sometimes I have wondered why I didn't "top myself" (a British saying I learned today from a friend) when I thought about it. The book answered that question. I had a large support network of other adults besides my parents who made no bones about the fact they really liked me and cared about me when I was a child and teen. I would never be able to list them all -- that's how fortunate I was -- but I can give a few examples.

First, there was my art and piano teacher, who I met when I was five, and who continued to be an influence in my life until I was 14, and I decided I hated formal piano and art lessons. Through her, my mother and I were in a group called "The Ladies' Sewing Circle and Terrorist Society" (we even had t-shirts) where we did handwork like sewing, crocheting, knitting and embroidery. Some of those ladies, I considered my friends. One of them even paid me for a piece of my artwork, which I now own again.

Then, in maybe the fifth or sixth grade, I joined the quilting group at my church. We made many quilts for auction, which sometimes sold for as much as $1000. We met in a few of the members' houses, and at the church. I learned enough about quilting from these ladies that I went on to make several quilts of my own when I went to graduate school, and as a new mother. One of the organizers was a friend's mother; she passed away this year from Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, and I still get a little catch in my throat whenever I think about it, looking around my home, thinking about all the ways she personally influenced my life.

I served on the Library Committee at my church as a young child, helping catalog the books, typing up the cards for the card catalog. I counted the elderly women on the Library Committee as my friends.

Anyway, I know that I was never particularly sure how my peers would have responded had I done something terrible to myself. For all I knew, life would continue on for them, playing their soccer, kissing their boyfriends, and I would just be a distant memory. But having made good connections with these adults, creating things together, without any appraisal from them, I knew that if I left this Earth, that a piece of them would die, too. And I couldn't disappoint them like that.

So, I did what any book-loving (as long as I got to choose them) 16-going-on-40-year-old would have done. I bought myself a book of meditations, which I still find useful.

It's unfair to assess my friends like that. They would have been irreparably damaged if I had chosen self-harm. But I can say, having experienced something awful my sophomore year of high school, that teenagers are not ready to help each other when things get serious. At least they weren't in the 1990's. Maybe now that they lose so many peers to suicide, it's old hat.

And this, Dr. Neufeld explains, is how we manufacture adolescence. By making kids rely on other kids for emotional support, they fail to make mature decisions, or deal with tragedy in healthy ways.

So, when we would visit my mother at work, it was difficult. I liked the ladies there, but the institution itself reminded me of the loneliness of peer-dependence and adult-enforced compulsion. And I was the "A" student. I felt like I needed to leave to be able to breathe again.

My mother confided in me that she was embarrassed to tell her coworkers that I had chosen not to put my children in school. But as my children grew older, it turned out, most of her coworkers totally understood why a mother would choose to homeschool if she were able.

So, this is precisely why, when I hear that community members are not allowed to help in schools, and that after-school programs aren't happening because the school district, for some reason, can't afford to pay janitorial staff, it affects me physically. I feel like I want to vomit.

I am certain that people choose to become teachers because they want to make a difference in the life of a child. They wish to be that person students can trust, that person who cares unconditionally. But then, they are faced with the ugly reality that their job is to evaluate each and every one of these children -- to require them to read things which may make them never want to open a book ever again., a part of the Institute for Democratic Education in America (IDEA), has facilitated a new school model at the elementary level which allows teachers to spend the first two hours of each day getting to know each student. The students get to pursue interests in those first two hours in an unstructured manner. The teachers report that the students have become more independent, and attendance rates have gone up (without my mom barking at them!***).

So, this is why, when I'm driving my son and his friend to their robotics club twice a week, I try to chat with them about what matters to them. We talk about Minecraft, and we talk about the music on the radio. Earlier this week, the Imagine Dragons song 'Radioactive' was playing. When our friend got in the car, he said, "Cool. Imagine Dragons! Have you heard their song 'It's Time?'"

And I said, "Yeah! I have it on my phone. Do you want to play it? Hey, I heard on the radio the other day that 'Radioactive' is about reinventing ourselves. I think that's cool. I think we can reinvent ourselves at any time."

So, he took my phone and queued up "It's Time," and when it got to the part that said, "Now, don't you understand that I'm never changing who I am?" I giggled.

"What?" he said.

"Well, this song is about not changing." I mused.

I think we decided that if one wants to change, or doesn't, it should be up to that person.

And I think each child should have an adult in his life who will support him, whether he wants to change, or not.

Making this tragic event about anything else is simply a distraction, keeping us from turning this ship around.


* I got bangs.

** I realized this week that I say "Yeah" a lot. After the BIF8 Conference, and specifically the talk given by Tom Yorton of the Second City Players about using "Yes, and..." I have been trying to consciously use that approach. But now I see, I was doing it already. My version just uses the more informal "Yeah, and..."

*** Sorry, Mom.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Never-Ending Summer

I feel so much better having written about that school stuff -- getting it out of my head was so cathartic!

I didn't get to post yesterday, because I've been pretty busy.

We have this basement space that was a big reason we purchased this house. It's no big deal, it's just that it was actually *finished* space. I've never lived in a house with a finished basement; in fact, when I was growing up, I slept in a partially-finished basement until my parents had a second story put on our house when I was ten. When the construction work was being done, we had a burglar. He probably thought the house was vacant, since it happened on the night before Christmas Eve, and there was no roof on the house!

Anyway, I woke to some noises at the end of my room, where the basement stairs ended, and my mom (still) keeps her sewing machine, and saw a flashlight. I was terrified, of course. Somehow I didn't pee the bed. I just lay there, pretending to sleep as best I could, until I heard the footsteps go back up the stairs, and then was able to breathe again. The only thing that was taken was some cash from my father's wallet.

So, anyway, I have a strange relationship with basements. I see them as opportunity spaces. In the unfinished room next to my bedroom we did (and my parents still do) their laundry. There is also a kiln in there, and a kick-wheel for doing pottery. We did a lot of pottery at our house when I was growing up!

As long as they're not touching me, spiders don't scare me.

I think, too, I've always been a tad envious of homes with a nice comfortable basement space -- with a pool table, or air hockey, or foosball, and a place to watch movies, and a place for guests. So, we got this house.

On the day after we moved in, the sewer backed up into said finished basement. (Hello, Mr. Insurance Man, if you are reading this blog, your comapny doesn't cover this lonely problem my house has, so you can go on your merry way). Crap. Literally.

It took me three years of living here to see the pattern. Every November or so, we would have The Backup. Well, that would happen as long as I called the regular sewer rooting company, which used an auger-like device, to clean the sewer line. It involved going in through the basement window and across the carpet (ewww), so after that, we had the special carpet-cleaning company come and sanitize everything. But then, after having the sewer line camera run, we realized we had bellies in our sewer line. Our house was built within the last 30 years, so that's an unexpected bummer.

The next company I called used a pressurized system to clean out the lines, and the second time they came, we realized they could use the sewer access for the RV parking we have, so they don't have to come in across the carpet anymore! Hooray!

And, we figured out the problem... fat. Yep, all those bacon drippings and coconut oil, even the tiniest amounts I was washing down the sink, were collecting in the bellies and occluding the poo exit for our house, such that one overzealous wiping session could leave the basement filled with...

Yeah! So, anyway... I have them come clean the lines every Fall, and I am careful to wipe out all my pans carefully with a paper towel before washing them, and, (fingers crossed, knocking on wood), no problems! Except that I forgot to call last Fall, and I haven't called yet this fall. And it got cold. They can't do it when it's below freezing.

So, anyway, the space is pretty nice, and I have tried several permutations for keeping our junk (there's so much of it -- mostly books and crafting stuff and board games) down there. But we never seem to make it down there. And people don't really stay with us anymore, now that Erick's parents live across town. Which means I've gotten really lazy about keeping things clean. Especially down there.

We were working on learning electronics on one side of our big project table, and doing claymation on the other side. It was nice because we could leave half-done projects down there and not worry about picking up. Except that my sister would really like to come visit, and it's totally not toddler-friendly down there. Nope. In fact, one time when my other nephew came to visit once, he and my daughter got into the craft cabinet and spread all the beads all over the carpet. Thank goodness for vacuums.

And, there have been dog issues down there. Grr. There's a door, and keeping it closed eliminates the dog problems, but folks don't always close the door.

So, anyway, I spent last weekend and the earlier part of this week doing some major stuff-shuffling, because I wanted to move all of our messy stuff into the guest bedroom and take the bed out of there, so I can lock that door when we have young guests. And we moved L's daybed down into the larger rec room area, so there's essentially a king-sized bed down there, which we can sit on to watch movies. Lucy got the queen-sized bed which we were using as a guest bed. And that left a lot of space open... for a sauna!

The sauna arrived yesterday, and I was mostly ready for it. We were instructed by E not to put it together without him. He loves assembling things, much like I did at that age.

I've been thinking about getting a sauna ever since I had organophosphate poisoning when we moved here seven years ago, and E had arsenic toxicity. It's probably a good thing I didn't get it then; I was in much too delicate a place for sauna therapy at that time.

But now, I've become aware of the health benefits of infrared light; especially the near infrared spectrum, at 660 and 880nm, which helps recycle the copper moeity in the mitochondrial enzyme cytochrome c oxidase. We've been using "chicken lamps" around our house for recovering from illness, and reducing stress and inflammation, and counteracting the negative effects of blue light (which turns off cytochrome c oxidase), for about a year now. For a while, I was traveling to a nearby tanning salon for red light therapy, but it was quite costly, and I figured out it would only take about a two years of doing that to pay off a red light therapy bed.

Our summer this year in Colorado made this seem all the more important. In June we had a huge fire nearby which left our air quality in such poor condition that our county and neighboring counties were advised to stay indoors. Then, it was over 90 degrees fahrenheit for a record number of days -- well into the end of August, if I recall correctly. So, our outdoor time was pretty much zilch.

I figured we would see the bad side of that pretty quickly, and we did. It's been a frequent illness fiasco here this fall. But the good news is that we are recovering from these illnesses very quickly with fat soluble vitamins and chicken lights, and our moods are good.

L even had all the symptoms of strep disappear in about a day, sitting under a chicken light.

This is the kind of crazy stuff I think people need to know, but that I worry about posting in a public place, but here I am, posting it.

I get a lot of questions about chicken lights, so I'll just go ahead and post here what I got at my local Home Depot.

1) 250W BR40 Halogen Flood Light
There are also 125W versions, which will use electricity, but that also means less of this luscious energy for your mitochondria. There are red ones, which would mean less of the blue spectra, but this is what I prefer to use at my work and reading spaces.

2) 300W Brooder Clamp Light
This is just one example, and this is the one from Home Depot. I got other ones at my local farm supply store.

Oh, and I am getting rid of all those terrible compact fluorescent bulbs in my house, one at a time. I still have some in areas where we don't use the lights very often, but in our living spaces, it's all halogen and halogen incandescent. The halogen incandescent bulbs are available even at the local grocery store, and use about 20-30% less electricity than a regular incandescent bulb.

From Wikipedia:

"According to the European Commission Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) in 2008, CFLs may pose an added health risk due to the  ultraviolet  and blue light emitted. This radiation could aggravate symptoms in people who already suffer skin conditions that make them exceptionally sensitive to light. The light produced by some single-envelope CFLs at distances of less than 20 cm could lead to ultraviolet exposures approaching the current workplace limit set to protect workers from skin and retinal damage. Industry sources claim the UV radiation received from CFLs is too small to contribute to skin cancer and the use of double-envelope CFLs "largely or entirely" mitigates any other risks.[49]

"A 2012 study comparing cellular health effects of CFL light and incandescent light found statistically significant cell damage in cultures exposed to CFL light. Spectroscopic analysis confirmed the presence of significant UVA and UVC radiation, which the study's authors conjectured was attributable to damage in the bulbs' internal phosphor coatings. No cellular damage was observed following exposure to incandescent light of equivalent intensity. The study's authors suggest that the ultraviolet exposure could be limited by the use of "double-walled" bulbs manufactured with an additional glass covering surrounding the phosphor-coated layer.[50]"

And let me just say, the sauna is awesome. The winter is not only *dark,* but *cold,* which is a metabolic stressor. I have some local friends who saw the benefits of getting a regular hot tub a few years ago. I think it is just a regular hot tub, but the larger of the two lost a significant amount of body fat using it every night throughout the winter. We do tend to lose metabolic momentum over the winter. We usually blame that on overeating through the holidays, but living in Northern climates, we have the additional metabolic stressors of darkness and coldness. So, the sauna is my plan to combat that stress.

Meditation and music are also regularly touted as ways to combat stress. The sauna I got has a sound system in it, and it's nearly impossible not to melt into the music and let my mind go blank while sitting in there.

We're also interested in the possible effects on some skin problems we've experienced, so I am eager to see what becomes of those.

Today, we pushed the 500 pounds of sauna into the corner of the basement where it will reside. I guess that makes it official. We own a sauna. To celebrate, this afternoon, I shampooed the carpet.

If you don't have space or money for saunas or chicken lights, you can simply go for walks near dusk or dawn year-round and get the benefit of more red than blue light. But if you're on the blue-light-emitting computer screen reading about all this weird stuff, and seem to miss the appropriate windows, then maybe some chicken lights are in order.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


This was a crazy, hopeful, and exhausting day.

I am so fortunate that my mom-in-law is here, so she could play with the kids today, and get them to their acting class. It was like cloning myself, except much better, because I got to spread the exhausting wealth.

(Really, Java? Update EVERY DAY? Is that really necessary?)

So, the day started out by meeting at the local coffee shop with Monika and my school board member. I was really nervous about it. People are usually confused as to why a homeschooling mother (or relaxed or eclectic or unschooling, or whatever I am at the moment) would have any business talking to people like the local school district superintendent, or the other administrators, or the school board members. They themselves are puzzled at first. If I have such a sweet deal on my end, why talk with them?

Well, because... I think more people can have this sweet deal. It's not out of reach.

Research shows that what standardized tests measure best is socioeconomic status. If that's true, then my kids were going to "be fine" (on the basis that doing well on a standardized test means "being fine") no matter what. And, no matter how much song and dance we do, are we going to raise the test scores of kids in the lower socioeconomic levels, if that's what is really being measured?

Judging from the information that a child's likelihood of staying in school through adolescence is directly related to whether or not he or she was talked and read to by an adult before age 3, it's my opinion that the school system, whether or not its true purpose these days is to make factory workers or not, is trying, the wrong way, to minimize this "achievement gap" which is really a resource gap from early childhood.

I think it's safe to say that most teachers become teachers because they have a passion for making a difference in the lives of children. Only now, because of legislation like No Child Left Behind, and Race to the Top, they are slaves to standards and bureaucracy, rather than serving the young souls for whom they care so much. So often, the finger is pointed at them.

There's a lot of finger pointing going on, because everyone is under so much pressure. We could try pointing fingers at the administration, but I can tell you that those folks are doing more than we know, too. These are also people who went into the field to serve young people, but instead, they too are slaves to standards and bureaucracy. They collect all the information given to them to report to the State so that the schools can get money, so the teachers can eat and clothe their families, and the school buildings have light and heat and cafeterias with food.

Every cent that goes into schools has to be justified by hours in a seat (that is the October Count, if you are in Colorado), and now test scores.

So, if we are incapable of changing the achievement gap through forced education, the schools with the lower test scores and attendance (from the lower socioeconomic strata) are going to continue to have less and less funding.

Rather than be a slave to the almighty dollar (which is easy for *me* to say), because we really can't get in a time machine (a TARDIS!) and go back and make sure that child was well-nourished in the womb, or that his or her parents only had to work one job a piece, so that they would have time to read and talk to that child, there are two major things we can do to remove barriers to success for these learners.

We can provide opportunities. We can provide resources.

Well, unless your school district is one that has decided that after-school programs will now pay rent. Then, the lower-income schools and families will automatically be locked out of using that *public space* after school. And, if your school district has decided in addition that after-school programs must be attended by a certified teacher employed by said school district, and said teachers are already overextended, then you might just see most of the after school programs disappear.

And, of course, if you have too much homework to participate in after school programs, or there is not adequate transportation to where they happen, because the school district cannot provide buses to take you where things are happening.

The school day, in general, entailed much boredom for me. Like everyone else, I lived for that last bell. That's when the fun began. So many opportunities for growth and learning were provided after that bell, like drama club, Odyssey of the Mind, Optimist Club, Mathletics, United Nations, dancing, art, gymnastics, piano... all the things that don't "count" in traditional schooling, but serve, rather, to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to college applications.

In our city, we have a fairly large pool of retired individuals, many of whom worked in engineering at the original Hewlett-Packard facility. We have many talented artists, too. But these folks aren't considered useful as mentors by our current school district policy. They have a system for background checks in place. Why not use it?

Liability. Nevermind that most of the big news-making stories of late, the ones that, when I hear about them, drain the blood from my body as fast as light leaves a room when I flick a switch, happened in schools, and were perpetrated by people who are part of the school system.* People who would have passed a background check. Before they cracked. Students, or teachers. The people whose performance we are watching so closely these days. The people under a great deal of pressure. (*Note that because so many of us are affiliated with the school system -- a third of the world's population is school aged -- the chances are pretty high already that tragedy will somehow be associated with schooling).

We have essentially put community and school in separate silos, not allowed to intermingle during the September through June, 7 am to 4 pm time periods. So, for most of a child's life, he or she is not allowed to interact with the whole of society; rather his greatest connections come from those he makes with other immature humans. Any connections he makes with adults are usually fleeting, and fraught with assessment. Every adult has an agenda when they meet a child. We're all consumed with worry about the future of the planet and these children, we can't help ourselves. "So, what do you want to be when you grow up?" And then we give our stamp of approval, or we don't.

So, when I brought up this troubling situation of tweens entertaining the idea of suicide, I thought my school board member would be surprised, but he was not. He knew all too well of this phenomenon. And he also said that he hears over and over in his position with his church, the message that "Nobody knows me" from the youth.

Teen angst. Adolescence. What if these are manufactured, and not natural, phenomena? What if they are the natural outcome of an existence without relationships in which one can be authentic? What if they are the natural outcome when every adult in our life has some sort of agenda for us?

And that brings me to exactly why I am so passionate about this topic. I was working on a PhD in Neurobiology and Molecular Biology in the mid 1990's, having completed an undergraduate degree in Psychology. My specific interest was the biological basis of Learning and Memory, and our laboratory was interested in the mechanisms underlying Alzheimer's Disease. My specific research was on the relationship between estrogen and memory. In the background research I did to prepare my hypothesis and research design, the groundbreaking work had been done on one particular topic -- that stress hormones, particularly the glucocorticoid cortisol, block memory formation.

That's right. So increasing the pressure on every child to do better, and every teacher to *make* those children do better, may be accomplishing the opposite of what we intended. Instead, our "achievement" (since we like that word so much) yielded adolescence, teen angst, low test scores, and a population who has learned to be helpless. Because the harder the system tries -- the more stress is placed on achievement -- the harder it becomes to "achieve" or even remember what was "achieved." So, why try at all?

For this reason, whenever I sense stress in my children, during a learning situation, I encourage them to take a break. And, well, nothing is compulsory for them, so any learning they do is usually in the context of neurotransmitters of pleasure. It's amazing how much they remember.


On the biological front, I've been studying a text written by Gerald Combs. The Vitamins: Fundamental Aspects in Nutrition and Health was published earlier in 2012. I purchased it -- the first current textbook I have purchased since I left the educational system in 1999 -- because it looked like it had a good recent summary on the research done on Vitamin K2. I was not disappointed! I read that chapter back in April of this year, and after a busy summer, have finally picked it up again.

Related to the rest of my post today, and heavy on my mind, are the long-term effects of malnutrition in utero. See for yourself (from page 318):

"Animal studies of long-term potentiation, a synaptic model of learning and memory, have revealed that maternal deprivation of the vitamin during gestation and lactation specifically reduces the development of the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor subtype in the young. Although the metabolic basis is not understood, these effects appear to be related to the loss of dendritic arborization in vitamin B6 deficiency. These lesions are thought to underlie reported effects of impaired learning on the part of the progeny of vitamin B6-deficient animals and humans."

Considering how I was wasting B6 on a low-carb diet, I wonder about the potential effects on babies born to mothers in similar situations. More research for another day.

Monday, December 10, 2012

It's Complicated

I know, I said I was going to do this a long time ago, but I am going to write more. I am going to make a daily reflection here -- so the posts will be less "packaged" than they were, and instead will contain all the ramblings in my head. I suppose this will put the onus on me to label each post appropriately so if I put any useful information here, it can be found again!

Monika Hardy has been doing a daily "detox" on YouTube. I am not ready for that kind of self-putting, out there. But I do need a place to dump the stuff that is collecting in my head, for sure.

There's a great blog, by Kate Fridkis, an unschooler, called "Eat the Damn Cake." At the end of each post, she has an "unroast" of herself -- and says something she likes about herself. I should do that.

It touches this deep part of me. She talks about her encounters with other women and their subtle or even not-so-subtle self-judgement, and what she's thinking when she witnesses it. I usually find myself thinking, "Yes! That!!" But often I can't read it, because it makes me get back in touch with that part of me which, I fear, will always be sad. Sometimes it feels better to ignore it, or pretend it's better.

Maybe it's not a bad thing to have one finger on that pulse; today I realized again that I can use it to help others. Not for the first time today, I spoke with a woman who confided in me that her tween had mentioned suicide. Barely a decade on this planet, and already entertaining the idea of leaving it. Like the other mothers with whom I have spoken, much thought and effort had gone into the choice of school, but despite the best efforts, the child was not connecting -- not with the other children, not with the teacher, not with the learning material. This helplessness did not arise from parental lack of caring.

We all want so much from our children, we worry so much for them, for their futures, that we forget to take into account their wants and worries. We don't mean to do it. It just happens. We get so focused on outcomes, that we forget the Person.

We give the impression to these young souls that our love for them is conditional. It depends upon whether or not they remembered to feed the dog, or pick up their socks, or make their beds, or how well they performed on their exams. But actually, it doesn't depend on these things -- it just looks that way on the surface when that quick "I love you" transitions into a question of Checklists.

And it's so hard as a young soul, not to see the futility in this. The dogs continue to need food, the socks will still end up on the floor, the bed will become unmade again, and no matter how hard I try, I just can't seem to get an A on that exam.

If you had the choice of getting off the treadmill and taking the time to figure out what parts of it were helpful or meaningful, wouldn't you choose that over unplugging the treadmill altogether? What if that choice isn't yours, and you know it? Then unplugging the treadmill is the only readily apparent option.

If we focus too much on the outcome, we risk the possibility of having no outcome at all.


A few weeks ago, I learned about this project that Google is doing where a phone app was asking what the user wanted to know over several points in the day.

I thought that would be a great thing for me. I'm often generating questions in my head, when I don't have the time to write them down. So, I decided to start making a list of some relationships I want to research, many of them stimulated by my participation in an online study forum. Maybe I'll write about what I find.

Here's the list:

Cortisol and histamine

K2 and angiogenesis

Total body polyunsaturate estimate

Oxalate and repiratory quotient (RQ)

Oxalate and K2

Autoimmunity (PQQ rabbit hole?) <-- I am not sure what I was thinking here. :)

PQQ and quinone metabolism

Hla genes

Melatonin and Serotonin


After I wrote all these things, I spent a few nights looking into some Genova Diagnostics Organic Acids test results for a friend. That was one big huge rabbit hole! I ended up researching about three times as many of the things I have on that list above, just to make sense of the results.

So, here's me being transparent: I'm fried. I've been up late for the past few nights looking into some of these questions, and then my empathetic capacity was more than depleted this morning. I am a veritable sponge for pain, and I felt so strongly for this mother, this boy and their family. I see so much potential there! Such beautiful people, trapped by systemic expectations.

But I've seen these relationships change, so I know things can change for them, and that they can move on to something even better than what they expected.

I have a big day ahead tomorrow; when it rains it pours. I'm either putzing around in my pajamas, happily reading, or I am double- or triple-booked. I'm triple-booked tomorrow.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

On GAPS and Safety

The Gut and Psychology Syndrome diet was created by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride for her child who suffered from learning disabilities, and was based on Dr. Elaine Gottschall's Specific Carbohydrate Diet, a popular intervention in the "biomedical community" of parents treating their kids on the Autism Spectrum. Below is a letter I personally wrote to the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) in response to the growing popularity of the GAPS diet with WAPF members for treating all manner of health issues.

If you want to see the Weston A. Price Foundation's response, you will have to get your hands on Volume 13, Number 3 -- the Fall 2012 Issue of Wise Traditions.


I think the Foundation's endorsement of GAPS has pushed the Carb Wars further in the low carb direction. People appear to be making the illogical conclusion that because it is effective for some children with Autism, not only is it good for all kids with Autism, but it will cure everything. In 2006, I successfully treated my own son in the context of a well-rounded Weston A. Price Foundation recommended diet, which included fruit, maple syrup, honey, rapadura, raw milk and soaked grains, so I don't see the utility in GAPS for all Autism Spectrum Disorders. From my online forum experience and as a past Chapter Leader I have endless feedback that GAPS has become a panacea rather than a temporary therapeutic approach.

In 2009, I personally got swept away in the low-carb wave, and by Spring of 2010, was battling fatigue, depression, hair loss, dry skin and menstrual problems. My son's anxiety returned, and my kids have since not been as healthy as they were in 2007 and 2008, on a well-rounded Weston A. Price Foundation-inspired way of eating. All the broth and liver in the world did not make up for the effects of the lost glucose. We are still recovering from that experiment!

WAPF is itself is a non-profit organization. I believe its most important contributions are in the areas of connecting consumers with local, nourishing foods, underscoring the importance of animal foods and saturated fats in the diet, and highlighting the destructive effects of food additives. Those recommendations alone have the potential to make a great impact on the health of any individual. Unfortunately, I think a lot of the Chapter Leaders are in the health business and are thus biased, more apt to follow trends, or recommend things that worked for them personally, without understanding that there may be no universal solutions. Quite a few of them are demonizing carbohydrates. Many benefit from the client base attracted by the Weston A. Price Foundation. All of the "Real Food Bloggers" (like the ones who try a diet on the bestseller list because it mentions Green Pastures CLO) and tangentially-related health professionals (Chris Kresser, Paul Jaminet), even if they don't speak at the conference, definitely affect the direction the organization is trying to take. People turn to these sources to recreate the kind of support they get at local chapter meetings. Their well-marketed messages, in the interest of attracting hits, advertisers, and clients, are becoming louder than the organization's message.

While Price himself discovered that there were healthy individuals all over the world eating many different types of foods in different combinations, Chapter Leaders, bloggers and Paleo gurus are spreading the message that "carbohydrates feed yeast, fructose causes fatty liver disease, and glucose spikes insulin!" This type of fear, coupled with the rapid weight loss one experiences on a low-carb diet, is driving people to try extreme diets in the name of improving their health, rather than taking a balanced approach. GAPS, for a person who is still struggling on a well-rounded WAPF diet, looks like the perfect solution. The basic tenet that glucose fuels a healthy metabolism via mitochondria and thyroid is now overlooked. Somehow we've made this all about the intestine, and for folks who are unfamiliar with the context of a whole organism, these scientific arguments are difficult to sort out. I got sucked into it, too. Scientists are fallible. They make mistakes in their research and in their conclusions. The idea that there is a perfect solution at all is a logical fallacy in itself.

I am suspicious that these low-carb approaches do not support hormonal health in menstruating, pregnant, or nursing women. Furthermore, its safety during pregnancy and breastfeeding has not been established. Pregnancy ketosis in animals is analogous to toxemia in pregnancy, and can be induced by simply reducing a pregnant animal's feed ration. This organization's mission, from what I could tell when I originally joined, was especially to prevent the malnourishment of mothers and children, and thus, I cannot understand why so many "volunteers" would advocate the use of a diet which promotes ketosis, specifically in this population. I think if the organization is going to support the use of the GAPS diet for "curing" all these health problems, at the very least, its safety during pregnancy and breastfeeding needs to be investigated before harm befalls unborn children.

Amy Lewark, MS
Ohio University Neurobiology '99

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Make it from Scratch - Scratch @ MIT 2012

The kids, over the last year and a half or so, have become prolific "Scratchers," members of a growing online community using MIT's Scratch programming platform. Everett had learned several other programming languages before a recommendation for Scratch had been passed my way. So, when he became interested in what looked to me to be a dumbed down version of much more complicated programming he was already doing, I was a little nervous.

Why was I nervous? I think that person in me with eighteen years of formal education was concerned that he would lose skills he had gained using something so simple. It seemed akin to building things with Duplo when one had been building complicated robots with Lego Technic.

He would quickly show me that I was absolutely wrong.

Not only did he continue to work on projects in C#, JavaScript, and other languages, he figured out to do some pretty powerful stuff using Scratch. He created a game which can be downloaded onto two computers using the Mesh functionality, which allows playing over a network, so it even includes the ability to chat. He's experimented with both physics and math simulations, as well. He was inspired by other users to created his own operating system using Scratch, which he called OllieOS. He even embedded it in his website (although it's still under construction, he tells me).

Not having to worry about semicolons and right parentheses freed him up to really tinker.

In the process of all that tinkering, he came up with a list of things he would improve in Scratch. So, I asked Monika if she knew anyone on the Scratch Team, and she got us hooked up with Karen Brennan. We did an interview on Skype with Karen and another graduate student from Harvard, Mylo. It was less of an interview and more of a one-hour Scratch geek out. Lucy and Everett had so much fun, and ever since then, the Scratch Team has been elevated to celebrity status in my kids' minds (Erick joked that Karen Brennan is Lucy's Justin Bieber). Just a few months later, we had the opportunity to see Karen speak at a Donnell-Kay educational discussion, "What Matters and What Counts in Education" held at the Denver Botanical Gardens.

So, when Karen recommended we attend the Scratch @ MIT 2012 Conference, we immediately knew what we would be doing in July. This conference was designed for educators, but did have a handful of kids in attendance. It was really the perfect conference for someone who is trying to change education, surreptitiously or not. And I say that because all around me were the people in the trenches; I could feel the awkward adolescent nature of this revolution. There were plenty of discouraging things happening, alongside plenty of inspiring ones. There were over 400 attendees from 31 different countries.

Here are quite a few highlights from the conference:
  • Lucy and I attended the "Physical-Digital Chain Reaction: WeDo and Scratch" session, where during the course of three hours, we created a giant Rube Goldberg Machine, which passed a bouncy ball through the physical and virtual space of nine computer stations (computers from all over the world -- our neighbor's computer had entirely Japanese Text). We used the Lego WeDo sensors and motors to interface with Scratch, sensing when we received the bouncy ball from our neighbor on the left, and then passing a ball to our neighbor on the right, after it crossed through the Scratch program on our screens. That's Lucy and I counting to start the machine.

  • Erick and Everett attended the "Diving Deeper With Scratch 2.0" session, which I assume was intended for more advanced users to discuss technical aspects of the upcoming Scratch 2.0 release. Whatever went on in that session got Everett really excited to attend college someday. Apparently he asked a lot of intelligent questions, and then got to share some of his hard work with people who could appreciate it! One of the people attending that session was Mariana Ludmila Cortes, the President of One Laptop Per Child in Mexico. It turns out she is a homeschooler, too!
  • Karen and Mitch Resnick, director of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT were the first Keynote session. For those of you who are unaware, the Logo programming language and the idea for Lego Mindstorms were born at MIT, under the direction of Seymour Papert. I wish I had taken notes, but if I had, that probably would make my blog post longer than necessary. :) Suffice it to say, everyone was pretty pumped after Karen and Mitch discussed the history of Scratch and how it has made its way into schools around the world, influencing the development of computational thinking in our next generation.
  • Joanne Barrett of the Out-of-Door Academy in Sarasota, FL gave a 5-minute Ignite talk entitled "Getting Computer Science into the Curriculum" -- the most important points being that the focus on learning standards is crowding out time for technical education (a theme we would see repeated many times during the conference). I honestly thought I heard her say that Florida was dumping STEM education in 2013-2014, but I can't find any references to that online, only references to the University of Florida axing its Computer Science Department. On a more practical note, she said that getting students to understand the x/y axis was the hardest part of getting them going in Scratch. Here is a little game that shows the concept pretty well.
  • Barbara Manchee from Pittsford Sutherland High School in Pittsford, NY discussed promoting self-directed learning in her classroom in her presentation "Creative Thinking thorough Game Design and Multimedia." She said that using an ice-breaker activity helped students to loosen up and feel comfortable exploring. She advocated use of video tutorials and Scratch Cards (see links on her web page).
  • Friday started off with a bang -- the Keynote Speakers were Connie Yowell, Director of Education for U.S. Programs, MacArthur Foundation, and Jan Cuny, Program Officer, National Science Foundation. According to Cuny (referencing the Bureau of Labor Statistics), one half of all STEM jobs in the year 2020 will be in IT, and two thirds of the *new* STEM jobs will be in IT. Cuny believes that pretty much every discipline will require a foundation in computing in the future. Currently, only 19% of students take an academic computing class in high school. About 20,000 high school students take the Computer Science AP Exam each year, compared with 240,000 who take the Calculus Exam. Most schools have something called "Computer Science" in their coursework, but in most schools, it is not programming, it is keyboarding or word processing. Most of the funding for STEM classes is targeted at middle and high school grades, but kids have usually chosen a technical field by the time they are in 8th grade, so in that sense, the educational system is missing the ball. Well, that's just the beginning of a very interesting talk which delved into the topic of Badges, as well.
  • A resourceful team of people from the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, Margaret Low, Philip How, John Rendall, and Marie Low, gave a great presentation called "Sensing Our World." There was a huge turnout, and only an hour of time, but in that hour, we learned how to use the PicoBoard along with an index card and pencil to make a slider control in Scratch. Other controllers made from household materials are listed on their website. An important concept discussed in this session, as well as in the poster presentations is that touching the real world with programming makes it more enticing to new learners. There is something magical about interfacing with reality; perhaps that is why robotics programs have become so popular, with computer science lagging behind. But, the really profound thing about this group of individuals was the approach they have taken. They have set up a network of volunteers that go into schools in their area, and create these educational opportunities for the students there. Really, they just barge into the school and ask them for a time when they can use the computer lab, educate the teachers about these things, etc. I found it very inspiring -- rather than resting on their laurels, lamenting the fact these skills are being overlooked in the schools, they are providing the opportunities for the kids who may want them in after school programs. It's a lot like what Ken and Liz Rayment are doing in Loveland, CO with their non-profit company, Action-Works, which has brought robotics to all but two schools in our district. It's a testament to the power of community.
  • I didn't get to attend the session on "Getting into the Digital Music Game with Scratch" run by Jesse Heines and Gena Greher from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, but my informant (Dianne O'Grady-Cuniff from Virginia) said it was also spectacular. All of the resources needed are on the website. But the other interesting tidbit Dianne shared with me is that because of the grant money they acquired, Jesse is able to refund educational expenses for any tech educator who brings along a music teacher to their workshops!
  • Saturday morning was a Keynote session I think a lot of people were eagerly awaiting. Several teachers, students, the STEM Coordinator and the Superintendent from Ramapo Central School District in Hillburn, NY presented on their experiences using Scratch in their STEM curriculum. The students shared their projects, including the difficulties and triumphs they encountered while making them, which elicited a lot of delight from the audience. Ramapo's motto is "Educating for Personal Excellence." They had quite the impressive STEM curriculum for their 2nd-4th graders, including multiple units from EiE and NSF for each quarter. Overall, I left this session feeling thankful that kids were getting to experience these sorts of things more than once a week or once a month (as I did in Gifted and Talented special sessions in Elementary School), but still feeling a bit unsettled about it, particularly when one of the teachers displayed her rubric for assessing the students' Scratch projects. I think a lot of Everett's projects wouldn't have been given a very good assessment using the litany of requirements contained on her rubric. For one thing, he very rarely uses sprites he draws himself. But I certainly wouldn't place less value on what he has learned through his experimentation with Scratch because of that.
  • After that, we attended the Show and Tell session, which was a lot of fun. First, user randalpik shared his very detailed cat and mouse game, Basement Showdown. Then Lucy, puppypaws, showed the wolf drawing tutorial she made. User warriorbunny shared a fish simulation she made. Some Japanese middle school students shared hotsoup's project, which models natural human movement. Japanese users masaishi and kyrie0513 wanted to share a mesh game they had made, but for some reason, the network in the Events Space wasn't supporting mesh at the time. Everett, who is knector, shared a game he had made called Fruit Scratch, which worked with his web cam. (You can't see it on the website, because it is only on Scratch 2.0, which hasn't been made public yet). He ended up showing it because the first project he made vanished into the ether due to a bug when he saved it, and the second one used mesh (we figured out watching the Japanese folks struggle unsuccessfully to get their mesh project working, that he needed to think quick and show something else).
  • And, it turned out that the mesh not working enabled us to connect a bit with Junya Ishihara who helped start the first Coder Dojo in Tokyo
That was really all just the tip of the iceberg, but we sure did have a lot of fun! The atmosphere at the Digital Media Lab was so hopeful. Sure, there was a certain amount of frustration, but I think, for the most part, there was a shared feeling that we're on to something really promising, and I've never seen such a gathering of people so dedicated to changing the future. I wish I could bottle that inspiration and share it with everyone I know.

Mylo made a video of his impressions of the Scratcher Space, the area where the Scratchers tinkered which was played during the Closing Keynote, and you can see it here. You might see someone familiar, and his creation in Scratch 2.0, around the middle of the video, if you pay attention.

Well, those were my impressions at the conference, but you can delve in deeper:

Mitch and Karen shared their impressions on the MIT Media Lab Blog.

The Conference Twitter feedFlickr photostream and Storify.

Matt Arnold's Storify and blog.

Kim Wilkens' blog.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

History in context

My daughter has developed a keen interest in the lives of others. It began, I think, when we took a trip to Washington, DC, and in the National Air and Space Museum, we were fortunate at the very beginning of our visit that day to catch the start of a docent's tour, at a plane built by the Wright Brothers. The charismatic older gentleman then took us over to the beautiful cherry-red plane flown by Amelia Earhart, described the woman's bravery, and Lucy was simply captivated. At the end, after hearing the story of the Mars Lander, we went over to the gift shop to see what was there. It was there she spotted it -- the Doring-Kindersley biography of Amelia Earhart. Up until this point, at just seven years of age, most of her reading revolved around cartoons like Garfield and Peanuts, children's fiction novels in the Warriors series, and any book about dogs.

My parents, with whom we had traveled, and Erick and Everett, all had things they still wanted to see. But since it was my third journey to the museum, and Lucy's feet had long ago exceeded their quota of steps for the day, we headed to our rendezvous point within the museum and waited for the others. It was only a few seconds after finding a place to sit that she eagerly pulled her new book out of the bag and began reading.

Sometime in the next few days, we went to the Lincoln Memorial, and naturally, its gift shop, a tiny little closet of a place, hid many biographical treasures, as well. A biography on Lincoln himself, from the same series of books I mentioned before, was the treasure found there.

We didn't have a lot of time to hang out at the place we rented near Union Station, but when we did, she was reading. Some mornings, it was difficult to get her to leave, as she was busy reading her "bio-graffies."

When we went to the National Museum of American History, which had wonderful things like the original Muppet Puppets, we saw a wooden boat -- The Gunboat Philadelphia -- which had been sunk in Lake Champlain during the Revolutionary War, and had been in Brigadier General Benedict Arnold's fleet. I'm never sure exactly what she is thinking when we are traveling through these very educational, yet fun, and sometimes overwhelming, places. But standing there, reading the sign at the bow of the Gunboat, she announced, "Wow. So this ship was sunk about 100 years before Lincoln was President." I think I've only done two pages of Singapore Math with her in her entire life, when she was about five years old, so her proclamation came as a huge surprise to me. Somehow, she has picked up this ability outside of the context of endless math drills.

A segue -- I loved that museum. I hated history as a teenager. Learning it was a requirement to apply to the prestigious universities I once wished to attend. In the early afternoon, I simply was not able to force myself to listen to the stories told by my teachers. If the lights went down and a movie was shown, I took the opportunity to take a nap, almost every time. Trying to read those dry textbooks at home after a long day of school didn't go much better. In fact, my focus and attention were so poor during those classes, although the rest of my grade point average was excellent, at some point during every history class I took, I risked passing with a "C." Apparently, what I did learn stuck pretty well, because when the kids ask me questions about history, I am usually able to give them an accurate answer (I always double-check, because I'm just not confident in that area). History, to me, is much easier to learn in the context of something meaningful.

So, when we got down to the basement of the museum, and I got to see the plastics revolution in the 1950's, and the advent of the Birth Control Pill (which I like to call "The Bitter Pill") in the 1960's, coupled with the atomic bomb, and all the things made from coal tar (toluene, trinitrotoluene or TNT, food colorings), I was in Nerd Heaven.

A trip to Washington, DC was more educational for me than many years of schooling, with regard to learning about history. This was my third trip, but it was my first trip in the context of owning my learning, and having some life experience under my belt. It was my first trip in the context of being an adult, having to pay bills, actual taxes, and really seeing suffering that happens in the world.

Most of the great learning experiences there are free -- the monuments and the Smithsonian Museums -- but there are a few which cost a pretty penny that are worth the price. The International Spy Museum was out of this world. Now, I was a big fan of Agents 86 and 99 when I was a kid, and read all the Encyclopedia Brown I could get my hands on, and geeked out on Mulder and Scully as a young adult, but this museum brought my appreciation of spies and spy technology to a whole new level. It's clear that the spy industry drives technology, for one thing. But it's also interesting that espionage has been a huge part of history. (I would love to write more, but I don't want to spoil anything, in case you decide to go).

Another great, but not free, museum to visit is The Newseum. Admission gets you in for two days, and if you're not with little kids, you will need two days to see it. I have a few journalist friends, but never really thought about how important journalism is. If you are even reading this, you are so lucky. There's a big map in the museum showing which countries have uncensored internet, for example, and those countries are few and far between. The fact that I can write this blog, which in many ways has information which flies in the face of the American Educational System and Medical Establishment, is amazing. Forget about TV news and newspapers -- the next time you complain about the partisan news establishment, imagine living in China.

Continuing my segue, we were there on the weekend that the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was opened. Erick and I took an evening after seeing the Kennedy Center with the rest of the family, to walk around and see all the monuments at night. I think we walked four miles that evening. We met the family one last time to see the Einstein Memorial in front of the National Science Foundation, and the kids sat on Einstein's lap. Then, we forged on.

Since my last visit to DC, with the National Young Leaders Conference in 1991, a monument to Franklin Delano Roosevelt has been installed, inscribed with his quotes from a time the nation faced similar problems as it does today. How could we have forgotten? How?!

We got to walk through the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial the night before the opening ceremony. We could hear James Taylor rehearsing (which sent chills down my spine, as his album was the one I chose for Lucy's birth), and walked to the brightly illuminated area, filled with African Americans from all over the country, many crying, taking it all in. Earlier in the day, we had heard Al Sharpton giving a speech at the base of the Washington Monument (which was closed for repairs from the damage during the earthquake) on the President's American Jobs Act. It felt like we were witnessing history in the making. Again, these things Martin Luther King, Jr. said... how could we forget?!

All that to say, for less than the cost the federal government pays a local school district to educate one child for a year, we took four people to Washington, DC, and had a profound educational and cultural experience. Perhaps it is not worthwhile, though, because nobody has tested us to see if we learned the required bits.

This spring I was feeling a little stir-crazy, and took a trip up to Avon, CO for a week with the kids. The plan was to drive right up there, settle in, and do whatever it was the kids wanted to do. But as I was driving west on I-70, nearly at Genessee, I was suddenly overwhelmed with nostalgia, and took a detour. As a kid, we regularly drove up to the mountains, not because we were skiiers, but because my father worked for the Colorado Highway Department (before they changed the name to the Colorado Department of Transportation, or CDOT) as a bridge designer for 33 years. He designed the retaining walls in the Glenwood Canyon, which keep the mountain from sliding down onto the road. He designed or checked the designs of all of the bridges in that corridor. So, we stopped to see the Buffalo Herd Overlook, and then went to see Buffalo Bill's Grave. Unfortunately, the museum itself was closed, but the gift shop was open!

"Oooh, Mom! Maybe they have some bio-graffies!"

Yes, they did. They had Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill. Lucy woke diligently each morning before the rest of us, to read them. I was very surprised to find her laying on the sofa, reading. I never asked her to read those books. She wanted to read them. When she saw that I was awake, too, she would share what she had read.

"Mom, Annie was adopted by this person who promised her mother that he would put her through school, but he didn't!"

Before our trip, she had decided she wanted to be a journalist. She carried a notebook with her, and write down everything we did and said for the first day and a half.

We made sure to stop on the way home and catch the museum on its open day. I didn't know that Buffalo Bill was the first comic book superhero.

She hasn't exhausted her enthusiasm for learning about people and history yet. We watched all of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s genealogy shows on television -- Finding Your Roots, Faces of America, and African American Lives 1 & 2, and the NBC show, Who Do You Think You Are? After watching those shows, she was so interested in learning about the history of families that she wanted more shows, and we started watching a genealogy show on Brigham Young University Television called The Generations Project. She still enjoys that show, even though it's about everyday people, rather than celebrities.

We ended up visiting a local homeschool curriculum store and discovering a series of historical fiction books about regular people throughout history, called Dear America. She has read about a French Slave in Nova Scotia, traveling on the Oregon Trail, and is currently reading about the voyage of the Titanic.

We watched all of A History of US on Netflix, and when that was done, she wanted to watch biographies. Last week, after watching National Geographic specials about the White House and the Presidents' Photographers (which ended up being an extension of an exhibit we saw at The Newseum), we watched documentaries on Nancy Reagan, and then on Jimmy Carter. The next day, she wanted to watch two two-hour long documentaries on John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. She had exhausted my patience. I could no longer pay attention. I didn't know how she could possibly want to watch any more. I wasn't sure she was actually getting anything out of them anymore.

Many of the topics covered, even in the children's versions of these biographies, are very serious. I do not censor what my children read; for one thing, I am not able to read books as quickly as they do. For another, I have no dreams of protecting them from the "Real World." I don't want there to be too many surprises when they finally leave this nest. I would rather help them navigate these difficult topics while we are close, and use them to help grow our foundation of trust. I want them to know that no discussion topic is off limits with us, that our love is unconditional -- that we are a safe place.

Her brother had recently read Larry Gonick's Cartoon Guide to Economics: Microeconomics, and since then, the Cartoon Guide to Economics: Macroeconomics had been released, so I got it (along with a huge stack of other books) for him to read. He still reads a lot of Peanuts and Garfield when he doesn't feel like reading "more serious" subjects, but as soon as that book on Macroeconomics came, he read it. Not having studied economics myself, I asked him the morning after he read it, what the difference between micro- and macro-economics was.

"Well, microeconomics is like personal finance and businesses. Macroeconomics is like countries and planets," he explains.

"Oh," I said, "Well, what's something interesting you learned from reading those books?"

"The government can help control the economy by raising or lowering taxes in a recession."

"Really?" I said, thinking of the current economic climate in this country. "What does the government need to do right now?"

"Uh, I don't remember. I may have to read it again."

And then, right on cue, Lucy came into the doorway of the kitchen from the next room, where she was listening, and said, "Well, when the government lowered taxes when Ronald Reagan was president, it *created* a recession."

<Ba-doom-boom, ching!>

She has since given me a list of about nine more biographies she wants me to procure.

Friday, May 25, 2012

I/O Error

I have a problem. It's a really big problem. Or, at least, I've let it become a really big problem. I networked with so many different people, and read so many different blogs, I can't handle it all anymore. Last year, I implemented some changes that gave me increased energy and lifted my mood, and I took that opportunity to overextend myself. Only it didn't feel like it at the time. But now, it does.

Over the last few weeks, I've reduced my networking to a few groups on Facebook, and really, I even stopped reading my newsfeed for a while. So, if you had something interesting going on, I probably didn't know about it. The last few months were marked with my computer being on most of my waking hours, and the number of tabs on Chrome so many that sometimes all I could see was the little icon saying which tab it was. When it got that bad, I would copy and paste the links from the things I wanted to read someday and send them to myself in email. I have about a half-dozen emails like that buried in my Gmail, going back to somewhere last fall, along with hundreds of messages I marked as "important."

To compound the problem, I purchased a bunch of books to read... all books I intend on reading someday, but for now, I just have to do it in little bits and pieces.

What is going on?

I think I am reinventing myself. Or trying to find out who I am. What do I like? Who do I like? How do I want to spend my time? What lifts me up? What brings me down?

I describe myself as a "recovering control freak" in the About Me section of this blog. What made me a control freak in the first place? What made me want everything to be "just so?"

I *think* it has something to do with school. Okay, I'm *sure* it has something to do with school. I had 20 years of it. I remember having the edge shaved off my happiness when I would receive a report card and have a "minus" next to one of the A's. The one-hundred-percents were few and far between. Somehow, I let that all feed into my belief that I was never quite good enough.

Monika Hardy, someone I greatly respect, often cites this quote:

"Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation."
Oscar WildeDe Profundis, 1905
Everyone around me seems to have these really intense standards in some respect or another. It doesn't take long, in chatting with someone, to find one. There will be some subtle judgement of another, some lack of empathy. Sometimes I even find myself doing it, and it leaves me feeling unsettled forever after.

Am I living up to my standards, or those of someone else? Honestly, I don't know what my standards are. I really don't. I've been surrounded by those of others, and have been given direction for so long, I've lost myself.

In parenting, I can tell you that my standards are a lot different than I thought they would be. My goal for my kids when they grow up is for them to know how to find their own happiness, not be able to write perfect sentences or do matrix math. Maybe, as someone who struggled with depression, I want them to be able to have the one thing that I have found elusive -- a strong sense of self-worth.

Once upon a time, I found joy in painting and drawing. I found joy in writing. I found joy in building things. When I was in graduate school, I found joy in reading and doing research. What happened? I know I love those things, but I am afraid. I think I am afraid I won't live up to others' standards, and it won't be enough for me to just love what I have done myself.

In the words of Alfie Kohn, I have been Punished by Rewards.

This morning, I took a step in a different direction. I played the piano. I haven't really touched the piano for several years, except to dust the keys. I started out with the easy stuff I played in 1983, so I wouldn't be too hard on myself if I missed a note. I enjoyed hearing the music I once made in my youth, back before my band teacher came to me and suggested I pursue music in school, and I replied that, "No, I want to be able to feed myself," when secretly, I think I was worried I would be a failure.

A year ago, I started carrying a drawing pad and artist pencils everywhere I went, hoping that I would catch up on my drawing. Well, I didn't get much drawn, but my daughter, never having been punished by rewards, quickly filled up every page of each pad I kept in my bag. Hopefully she won't need courage to pursue her passion someday, she will just do it.

Even with this blog, I started it, but I am afraid to write. Certainly, I should be able to write profoundly like the "professional" and friend bloggers I have followed. Shouldn't I? But no, I go months and months between posts, out of pure fear. I'm always thinking of things to write, but rather than write, I throw myself into social networking to see what everyone else is doing, who everyone else is being.

Just thinking about it, I have the following fears about writing...

1) What I write will be nothing new. It will have been written before. It will be trite -- a waste of time.

2) What I write will annoy people. It will anger them. I will create enemies.

3) What I write will not please my English teacher.

4) What I write will be wrong.

I hope my kids never have these fears. I'm trying to provide an environment which encourages them to explore and create without fear of criticism.

These kids have had time and space to explore and create this year, without judgement (unless their parents have been providing it). They had time to fail. They had time to get comfortable with failure. It was a risk they took, and they claim it yielded *actual rewards.*

This is my time, thirty-seven years late, to explore and create. This is my space.

Time to reboot.