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Archive for the ‘Geekery’ Category

I haven’t really talked much yet about one important part of my life.  Homeschooling.  Parenting choices make for one of those conversational topics that are best avoided, like politics and religion.  Just bring up breastfeeding at a baby shower and you’ll see what I mean.  You may as well toss meat to hungry wolves.   Of course, that makes it great fodder for blogging, right?

Kinesis builds marble run

The life of a homeschool family may be slightly unusual.  Since we are in the midst of moving and packing, I must admit that we have gone into summer schedule a bit early.  Lots of Nova specials on Netflix, and other things we can thrust upon our children while we pack. We’ve been studying the Civil War, so today they started watching the first episode of the Ken Burns series. Kinesis was assigned to draw a picture based on the episode, Entropy to find one interesting topic and research it further. In reality, Kinesis drew a quick picture of Lincoln, then started a wrestling match with his brother which went downhill from there, so they will have to watch it again tomorrow. The road to wisdom is difficult and cruel.

When you admit that you homeschool, there are some frequent responses, range from the positive, (“Wow!  That’s awesome!  I wish I could teach my kids, but it must be so hard!”) to the questioning, (“How do you handle testing?  Will your kids go to college?  What about socialization?”) to the outright hostile, (“You don’t even have a teaching credential, and you are going to remove your children from public society?”)  Folks who don’t homeschool often don’t know much about it, or think they do, or don’t realize quite how diverse a community it is.  So while I know it’s been done before, I’m going to give you my top ten list of common misapprehensions about homeschooling.

1.  All homeschoolers are unsocialized geeks.  This is completely untrue.  I know plenty of well-adjusted young people who were homeschooled.  One common trait is that because they spend much of their time with adults, either with their parents or out in the world rather than isolated in a particular peer group, they tend to relate in more mature fashion than many of their peers.  There are many studies that support this thesis.  http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all~content=a746434208     My kids, however, are unsocialized geeks.  This has nothing to do with homeschooling.  They would be geeks in school, just like Flash and me. 

2.  All homeschoolers are brilliant.  Homeschool kids come in all ability levels, just like all kids.  There are indications that most homeschooled children test better than their brick-and-mortar schooled friends.  I would argue that having a very small teacher-student ratio is a large part of this.  If every public school teacher could sit down individually with just a few children instead of 30, those kids would learn faster too.  Our children, of course, are indeed brilliant.  Usually.  Most of the time.  Often.

3.  Homeschoolers are all fundamentalist, science-hating neo-con crazies who want to keep their kids away from the liberal homosexual agenda.  Many conservative Christians do indeed homeschool.  But there are plenty, I would posit a majority, who like us just want to do the best for their kids educationally.  We are very science-friendly, my kids know about evolution (even watched the three-part Nova special this week), and religion has very little to do with why we chose to homeschool.  They may or may not choose a different path–Entropy decided for a while that he wanted to be a high school teacher from watching Glee. 

Entropy meets author Patrick Rothfuss

4.  Homeschooing is so hard, my family could never do it.  Well, yeah, if you have that attitude, sure.  But lots of things are hard–training for marathons, raising kids, mastering Expert level on Rock Band.  People do those things all the time.  Seriously, there are so many resources out there that homeschooling is no longer unusual.  You can buy curriculum, find things online, join local groups, or even go the public-school homeschool route. 

5.  Homeschooling is easy, your kids just lie around and play video games while you ignore them all day, right?  Um, no.  That’s called child abuse, not homeschooling.  My kids only lie around and play video games after we attempt to beat some knowledge into them.  Kidding!

6.  Homeschoolers don’t support public education.  While there are those who choose to homeschool because they are opposed to public schools on principle, we are not those people.  We always vote for school bonds, and think that public schools are not only necessary but that they should be given the best resources possible.  We simply don’t think that they are the best choice for OUR children at THIS time.  I mean, I may never sail into the Port of Los Angeles, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important to build, or that my family doesn’t benefit from the increased commerce it supports.  A well-educated population is good for everyone.  We’re doing our part, and are glad for them to do theirs.  Go public school teachers! 

7.  Homeschooling takes place at home.  Sometimes.  But the big secret that homeschooling families try to keep quiet is: everything is less crowded during the week.  Malls.  Disneyland.  You can tote your books to the beach on a Wednesday, and not have to fight for towel space.  I’m particularly fond of Starbucks as a venue for school.  Free wi-fi, snacks available, and plenty of caffeine to keep me motivated.

8.  There is one homeschool curriculum that everyone follows.  Not true.  I would guess that homeschoolers in general are better educated about a variety of forms of pedagogy than any other population, including teachers who tend to be trained in one approach that meets standards.  That means that there are unschoolers who follow child-led learning, school-at-homers who follow the state standard and use textbooks, and classical homeschoolers who enter into the great conversation with historical sources and great books.  We are sort of reformed-neo-classical ourselves.  We teach Latin, read great literature, and make sure our kids have a healthy dose of geek culture as well.

It's science!

9.  Moms homeschool, dads work.  Uh, yeah.  Well, talk to Flash about that.  Stay at home schooling dads are certainly a minority, but they do exist.  I’m married to one.  I do the planning, he does implementation.  It works for us.

10.  Homeschooling is for everyone.  Nope.  Just like any other lifestyle choice, it works for some and not for others.  We love it, and I can wax rhapsodic about the benefits of homeschooling.  Sorry, friends IRL, it is just so much a part of our life I can’t help the occasional outburst.  We somehow seem to do well spending almost all our time together as a family, learning together, laughing together.  (OK, this is intended as sarcasm, as I can hear my Kinesis and Entropy arguing in the other room.  “Don’t throw your shirt at me!”  “You hurt my leg!  I’ll never walk again!” ) 

It’s the life we choose.  I like that my children are familiar with Beowulf, and Greek mythology, can sing the Large Hadron Collider rap and don’t know that Gilbert and Sullivan are not cool.  I have a kitchen cabinet full of chemistry equipment (all safely labeled, you know).  We can play games and watch TV and go on trips, and it’s all educational, and it’s all part of life.  Even our upcoming trip cross-country will be a great opportunity for learning, as well as fun.  It is work.  It is hard.  But if we didn’t love it so much, we wouldn’t do it.

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You may be familiar with this term.  If not, you are most likely familiar with the process.  Productive avoidance is completing a pleasant task that you want to do, instead of a task that is far more urgent, but not enjoyable.   I had a coworker once who, when pricing a paint job, spent days playing with his computer paint program and printing out examples of what the church building would look like in different colors. This was back in the days when that was a real time-sink… not simple clicking, you had to manually draw each pixel.  Of course, for true productive avoidance,  it’s important that you make it absolutely clear to everyone around you that what you are working on is not only necessary, but absolutely critical.  

So, for example, this morning I was washing dishes.  My kitchen window overlooks my front porch, and there, like a vision in the morning light, he stood–the FedEx guy.  Under his arm were two tiny boxes.  All the way from China.  And as I looked at him standing there I thought about all the books that need to be packed, kids clothes that need to be sorted for fit, bathrooms that really need to be cleaned, and I knew that none of that would happen.  At least not today.  Today was iPad 2 day. 

I immediately called Flash at work (it’s his day off from being a SAHD on Wednesdays), to let him know of the arrival.  Entropy was as excited as I was, and we sat and took turns carefully opening the carton, removing the white Apple box, tearing the plastic wrap, and then slowly sliding it open.  Remember when Charlie is looking for the Golden Ticket?  It was like that, with significantly more squeals of joy.  I then got busy synching, downloading, and finding new apps.  Would the same things from my iPhone still be usable, or should I even bother with them?  In preparation for this moment, I had already jailbroken my iPhone, and it was set up to be its own wi-fi hotspot. So when we are out and about, I can still surf the web charge-free on my wi-fi only iPad. It’s so exciting! 

 And what about a cover?  I hadn’t ordered one, so as soon as Flash came home early from work we hit the Best Buy.  I ended up with a green smart cover, and a really cool clear cover for the back from Belkin.  It’s awesome, works together with the smart cover and solves the problem of the exposed metal on the back.   I can be hard on electronics (*cough* killed 4 Kindles *cough*), so I wanted something tough but that would leave the engraving on the back visible.

Geekery, check.  Technology, check.  But whence the moving?

Well, you might remember that the entire plan behind obtaining these iPads is to allow us to cut deep swathes through our library, cruelly casting many volumes into the rummage pile.   So setting up my iPad, accessing my Kindle books, and all the rest is truly a move oriented task.  It’s on the master to do list.   Thus, this was an absolutely important activity for me to complete, and the fact that no actual boxes were filled today is not a measure of my diligence.  Really.  It’s not just fun.  Seriously.  And I’m not just writing this quickly so that I can get back to computer nerd heaven.  What I am working on is not only necessary, but absolutely critical.

Ain’t it the truth?

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If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that sometimes you just need to hit things with swords.  Big sharp swords.  Since I’m a sedentary middle-aged woman, I do it virtually.  After my bout of movie-induced-melancholy last night, the chaos of boxes and packing and housekeeping were overwhelming me, and an email offering a free week of World of Warcraft just happened to appear in my inbox.  Darn you, Blizzard marketing department.  You’ve been spying on me.   

Smashing things feels incredibly soothing right now.  It’s like antidepressants, with sound effects and treasure.  Of course  WoW is a money pit.  After buying the program, you have to subscribe for $15 a month, which means $30 because if I subscribe, Flash will too.   I’m still on my free week, so we’ll see.  I don’t have the latest upgrades and they want to sell me those.  We have so many moving related expenses and I don’t have a regular income yet… but gaming is still way cheaper than therapy.  Not that I’m giving up therapy any time soon.

The last time I played Warcraft regularly was a couple of years ago.  At that time the boys were younger, and didn’t really notice if mom and dad locked their bedroom door at night so we could sneak in some roleplaying.   In the game.  Get your minds out of the gutter.  Now, however, launching the game attracts Kinesis and Entropy like magnets.  “What are you doing?  Why don’t you kill that?  Go climb that tower and jump off!”  The fact that they have their own games to play during quiet time, their own DSs, access to a computer with subscriptions of their own to ClubPenguin and Lego Universe, and in our living room sit an XBox, a Playstation 3 and a Wii does not distract them from hanging over my shoulder and kibbitzing about Cuteypie, my new troll character.  This has led to the development of new geek parenting phrases, such as “Go play your own MMOG! Now!”

There have been some changes in the game in the past two years.  The graphics are better, and I find the gameplay smoother.  Yet it still is a world populated by adolescent males and those who act like them.  Sometimes I just have to turn off the universal chat function.  I prefer to avoid guilds and PVP and just play solo quests, or group up just with Flash, doing lots of crafting along the way.  You know, the girly stuff.  And being in the same room on side-by-side laptops saves a lot of time on chat. 

Of course, computer gaming is a time sink.  I probably could have packed the kitchen cabinets I had my eye on today, but instead I got up and logged on for a while… and then the while grew… and grew.  I’m going to have to set some strict limits if this is going to continue.   The whole time we were watching Dr. Who (and more about that tomorrow) I was preoccupied with wondering where Flash and I would find some level 10+ quests in the Ogrimmar region.  When you can’t focus on the Tardis, you are officially hooked. 

Anyhow, that’s all for tonight.  Gotta go fight some bristleback quillboars.  You know.  Mom stuff.

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“Quot libros, quam breve tempus.”

We’ve been officially packing for a couple of weeks now, and we are still working on the books.  In fact, we are only about halfway done sorting and packing just the library.

Time for a story:  Years ago in the days B.C. (Before Children), Flash and I moved into a tiny apartment as caretakers of an historic adobe.  We crammed ourselves into the miniscule one bedroom, which of course meant that a significant portion of the bedroom, living room, and kitchen were filled with books.  The previous caretaker dropped by to give us a set of keys.  As he stepped into the living room, he looked around wonderingly and said, “So, who’s the egghead?” 

We both are.  If by egghead he meant “reader”.  After two decades of marriage, the only difference is that we’ve expanded into a much larger house, and acquired Entropy and Kinesis and all of their books as well.

This is the library, halfway packed:

At least, this is one wall of the library.  Then there are the other three walls, and the four shelves in the boys’ room.  And the three in the downstairs hall.  And the schoolroom books–five full bays.  And the books in our bedroom.  Flash only has two, but I have four.  And all of them chock-full of wonderful, beautiful books.  Books that contain stories we love, information we reference, glorious pictures and the wonderful scent of ink on the page.  Heavy, heavy books.   Books that take up space.  Lots and lots of space.

I remember reading Farenheit 451 as a child and trying to figure out what book I would commit to memory in case of post-apocalyptic fascist state takeover.  At the time I was going to be Alice in Wonderland, now I’d probably be a pretty good Pride and Predjudice, but I aspire to be Moby Dick.  If you haven’t read Farenheit 451, now’s your chance to do so. 

Our reservations have been made, and we are indeed going to limit our household goods to 5 storage pods, so most of the books are going to have to go.  In preparation for the move, we’ve ordered iPads for Flash and I, and Kinesis and Entropy will be getting Kindles, particularly for school books.   We spent the day as we have others, picking up armloads of books and trying to decide if they are keepers or going to be sold in our upcoming garage sale. 

The criteria are fairly complex. I’ve had a Kindle for a couple of years in an effort to keep our book purchasing to a minimum, but you can see how that’s worked out.  Even after several moves and prior cullings, we are still inundated with books.  So, if it’s available on Kindle, we’re getting rid of it.  Unless it has really awesome illustrations.  Or is signed.  Or has deep memories associated with it.  Or… OK, no, we’re getting rid of it anyhow.  So we now officially have around 25 boxes of books to keep, and twice that many to jettison.  

Somehow it feels like a sort of betrayal on our part.  Like selling good friends, just because they’ve gotten old and unwieldy.  So many of my childhood memories are tied up with the printed page.  I grew up running from the goblins with Bilbo, being bosom friends with Anne, philosophizing with the Red Queen, solving mysteries with Hercules, sailing the seas of Narnia, and basically consuming stories at an astounding rate.  Now seeing them go is difficult.  Even painful.

Yet I keep telling myself that it is the words I love, not the paper.  The printing press is merely one technology to share information, and though my Kindle may not smell of ink, I can be just as lost in the story.  Circumstances are forcing our transformation, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.  Having an entire library that I can carry in my purse is pretty awesome.  I’m still not ready to give up my notebooks and fountain pen for Evernote on my iPhone, but who knows… perhaps some day.  Or maybe not.

Just for fun, here’s Flash’s side of the bed. 

Stick around, and one day I’ll post about the 50,000 or so comic books in the garage and how many of the 5 moving pods they will fill.  Sigh.  He really is a great guy.

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Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.  — Carl Jung

Yes, it is indeed that geekiest of holidays: Star Wars Day.  In our family that means an all-day full length marathon of Star Wars movies.  Of course, Flash and I disdain the new three, so the kids watch Jar-Jar and the adults wait for the real thing.  The fact that after over (ahem) thirty years of watching the film we know most of the lines by heart doesn’t seem to reduce the fun.

Except–if you’ve been paying attention, you know this whole “change my life, move across the country, engage life anew” blog inspirational thingy was originally spawned by my own diagnosis with severe depression.  And the problem with severe depression is sometimes it crawls back and bites you on the ass.  Today was not a good day.  I had horrible nightmares all night, and by the time morning came I was ready for a full-fledged withdrawal from the world and an overly melodramatic cry. 

So I coped.  Maybe not as well as possible, but I made it out of bed and not a tear escaped.  I even joined my kids for part of the first trilogy–although if anything is able to induce depression, George Lucas’s take on the prequel to one of the great mythological pieces of the 20th century will certainly do so.   If there is any point to my ramblings this evening, it is that the loss of joy that happens when your brain goes awry is truly incomprehensible.  Me?  Not enjoy Star Wars?  How is that possible?  For almost 20 years I’ve been dealing in a professional capacity with people suffering from depression, but I just never really got it.  Well, I get it now.  It sometimes feels like life will never be the same again, as if someone has mysteriously changed the world from full HD color to a grainy black and white. 

Perhaps that is what inspired my incredibly ambitious plan of jettisoning our worldly possessions and spending the summer travelling across the country.  I’m looking for something to remind me of the color, the joy, the simple pleasures that have become difficult for me to grasp at times.  Some days it is there, and then others like today I wake up and it slips through my fingers like smoke. 

And, of course, may the force be with you.

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My experience of the past two years and my ultimate social and mental defeat (albeit temporary, I have hope)  has led me to reflect on what I have discovered about the nature of  community.  Strangely, for someone who has spent her entire adult life employed by churches (dare we say, “church communities”) I’ve always struggled with finding true community.  A place where the metaphorical masks come off.  It’s not that I don’t have a wonderful family, fantastic friends… but those I am closest to are all members of a very small subculture.  Geek tribe.  Ironically, a place where literal masks sometimes go on.

Now, you may say that I might have to be more specific about my allegiance.  That the real geeks are (choose your personal favorite):  comic geeks, science geeks, cosplay fans, hobby boardgamers,  computer nerds, anime otaku, schoolgirl goths, nerdcore rappers, yaoi readers, SCA reenactors, old-school role-playing gamers, sci-fi fanatics or anyone who owns any sort of t-shirt referring to the above.  It’s a cross-section of geekery like you only see at Comicon.  And… it’s my tribe.  And if you have any idea what I’m referring to above, it’s most likely yours as well.  Yep.

As I’ve struggled the past two years to create lasting friendships in a new community, I’ve realized that ignoring my own geek tendencies only compounds the problem.  I live a double life–pass for vanilla by day and then come home and have fun with my family.  So one of my dreams is that as we travel across the country, as I journey into where and what I want to be, I am able to be authentically… me.  Just me.  The woman who spent much of the past week jailbreaking her iPhone so it looks like a Star Trek TNG Padd.  It’s fantastic.  Regardless of whatever stars the other sneeches have on thars.  Isn’t that part of the human condition, how God created us to be?  And, importantly, I must ask the obvious question:  Can I be myself and still find ministry in my life? 

Tonight I’m having Mommy/Son time with Kinetic.  We are watching favorite movies like the original Indiana Jones and a couple of Harry Potter movies, plus he spent some time playing Oblivion while I watched.  Ice cream is involved.  We’re going to “sleepover” on the couch and watch movies until we fall asleep. 

  We’re able to have this together time because Flash and Entropy are out at one of their favorite   Friday night events–Magic The Gathering league play at the game store.  It is mostly attended by men from their 20s to middle age, but 9 year old Entropy fits right in.  Tonight he wore his Requeza hat.  (That’s a Pokemon, for the uninitiated.)  He’d worn it all day.  Entropy was amazingly well-behaved, asking people’s names, introducing himself, shaking hands.  Then it happened, as he interacted with one of the few kids his own age.

Kid sitting next to Entropy says, “Dude! You have your own Requeza hat!  That’s awesome!”

I want all my life to be like that.  Dude!  You are awesome!

Back to the boxes tomorrow.  The mountain grows behind the couch, and the empty boxes have taken over the entryway as well as much of the living room.  That’s for tomorrow.  For tonight remember: there are only 10 types of people in the world, those who understand binary, and those who don’t.

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