Tuesday, March 03, 2015

On the Road (and Boat)

One of DOB's practice areas is serving as a Guardian Ad Litem, which is a court-appointed person who looks into the needs of an incapacitated (or "alleged incapacitated" if the case is just beginning) person and makes a recommendation to the court.

Lucky for us, he got appointed on a case that required him to travel to the San Juan Islands one weekend and the city of Bellingham another weekend in order to make a thorough investigation. (It really was necessary! And court pre-approved!) For the first trip, we brought all the kids along and got a highly adorable rental cabin with a very mossy hill out back. For our second trip, we left the kids with Their Majesties and spent some time poking around used book stores in a very fun historic district.

Unfortunately GAL work isn't usually so glamorous and mostly involves travel to the nearest nursing homes. Still, it was fun while it lasted.

It left me with some more thoughts on accessible travel, such as that while a ramp that runs at a 30 degree angle from the door to the main road and then directly into the sea is technically a wheelchair accessible entrance, it is more than a little terrifying. Actually, hills in general are not all that wheelchair accessible, but I'm not moving us to Nebraska even so. Getting a fully accessible room at the second hotel was awfully nice, though.

Thursday, February 19, 2015


QOC: You look exhausted.

DOB: It's all this administrative stuff. There's so much more than I thought there would be.

QOC: Well, if it's any comfort, it's not more than I thought it would be. Since I thought it would be a horrible monster that would take over our entire lives.

DOB: Why didn't you tell me that?

QOC: Remember how before we started I was kind of dragging my feet and not really getting excited about it?

DOB: No.

QOC: See? You were in your own little world. You wouldn't have listened.

DOB: Well, in *my* world, administrative stuff is easy.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

The Master and His Emissary, Pt 3: Education

Final thoughts on The Master and His Emissary. (Part 2).

Perhaps the best picture of the differences between the right and the left brain approaches in education was given by Charles Dickens, in Hard Times. Mr. Gradgrind, the teacher devoted to Facts, is examining the students, first Sissy Jupe, whose father is a horse handler for the circus:

'Your father breaks horses, don't he?'
'If you please, sir, when they can get any to break, they do break horses in the ring, sir.'
'You mustn't tell us about the ring, here. Very well, then. Describe your father as a horsebreaker. He doctors sick horses, I dare say?'
'Oh yes, sir.'
'Very well, then. He is a veterinary surgeon, a farrier, and horsebreaker. Give me your definition of a horse.'
(Sissy Jupe thrown into the greatest alarm by this demand.)
'Girl number twenty unable to define a horse!' said Mr. Gradgrind, for the general behoof of all the little pitchers. 'Girl number twenty possessed of no facts, in reference to one of the commonest of animals! Some boy's definition of a horse. Bitzer, yours.'

 . . .
'Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth.' Thus (and much more) Bitzer.
'Now girl number twenty,' said Mr. Gradgrind. 'You know what a horse is.'
The irony, of course, is that Girl Number 20 is the only one in this conversation who knows what a horse is. Gradgrind and Bitzer know only a list of words so distant from reality that they have almost ceased to have meaning. There can be no question who would be the best one to care for a horse.

But the kind of learning that Gradgrind and Bitzer have engaged in is something that can be taught and measured. You can go round to a school and set out a piece of paper and find out how many approved facts about a horse the students have memorized. It is exactly what the left hemisphere loves: measurable, identifiable, transmittable. And exactly where the left hemisphere is weak: by itself completely irrelevant to reality.

The kind of knowledge of a horse that Sissy has, though, cannot be measured. You cannot really "teach" the knowledge of the right hemisphere. It must be learned by the learner's own connections. At best you can do what Sissy's father has done: be with the learner and the thing and care about it in front of them.

Sadly, most of our society's thoughts and deeds about education have been caught in a left-hemisphere death spiral for several decades. We know that what we are doing doesn't really lead to learning in any meaningful sense, and yet we can't let go because we have to have something that we can measure. So we do more tests, more detailed lists of benchmarks and standards, and just keep taking things farther down the same road of increasing futility. (Which of course, is not to say there aren't still plenty of good teachers who really do help their students--but I think everywhere you find them you will find it is because they care, not because they have amazingly detailed benchmarks to follow.)

Of course the left hemisphere shouldn't be shut out of education altogether--it just needs to be kept in balance, to remember that it is the servant, not the master. At some point, Sissy ought to be able to put into words what a horse is. (Perhaps she could already if it were not such an obviously pointless exercise.) But that can only come after she already knows the horse itself, and can only be useful if she remains in touch with the living, breathing reality of horses.

I think this articulates why I find Charlotte Mason's educational principles so compelling. She articulates and maintains the balance consistently throughout education. Poetry, art, music, literature, nature are not nice extras or frills--they are the essence of education. Skills and facts are only useful if learned in the context of those realities. And we cannot force education on the child, nor do the work of knowing for him . . . all we can do is bring him into contact with it and leave it to him to form a relationship.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Quick January Book Post

It's actually kind of nice to have some record of books read. So I'm going to try to do this more regularly this year.

In addition to finishing The Master and His Emissary and Rob Roy:

Galahad at Blandings, by P. G. Wodehouse. After reading Rob Roy, I really needed a book where everybody behaved as they should (in the narrative rather than moral sense). Wodehouse never fails to deliver. Also, pig-keeping.

Manalive, by G. K. Chesterton. Chesterton can't help but preach, even when he's writing novels, but he's having so much fun doing it you can't really blame him.

Deep Down Dark, by Tobar Hector. The story of the Chilean miners who were trapped underground back in 2010. This is an extremely well done work of its kind, effectively blending individual stories into the larger drama and managing to tell a story without ignoring the untidiness of real life. This is for the church book club and I'm looking forward to discussing it with them next week. Also, I learned a lot of Spanish cuss words our Spanish teacher hadn't mentioned.

In progress, but not finished: The Idylls of the King, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Epic poetry has been a very slowly-acquired taste for me, but I am finding this highly readable. This is being done with an online homeschool forum, and we are having some very lively discussions. But we can't agree on the right way to pronounce "idylls."

In February so far:
Out of the Silent Planet, by C. S. Lewis. This was chosen because it was a $.25 book sale copy so I didn't have to worry too much about dropping it in the bathwater (which happily didn't happen). I always love revisiting Malacandra. When it comes to scaling appropriateness levels, though, this series has Harry Potter beat by a mile. I bet Duchess and Deux would enjoy this one right now, but they are not going to be reading That Hideous Strength for a long, long time.

The Handsome Man's Deluxe Cafe by Alexander McCall Smith. For some reason I enjoy Mma Ramotswe, with her traditional build and wide feet and practical wisdom and mechanic husband, much more than I enjoy Isabel Dalhousie, with her trust fund and young, artistic boyfriend and live-in help and abstract philosophizing. OK, maybe for several reasons. Scored this one at a clothing exchange.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Why I Do Not Wear Yoga Pants

I realize that this is a rather personal matter, but we all know that it is essential to the wellbeing of the entire world that each and every one of us expounds in detail on the contents of our closets and the why and wherefore. I just want to say that this is only my personal conviction and I wouldn't dream of it imposing it on anyone else. Nonetheless, it's important to tell it to everybody. Because.

So, to understand this story, you must first understand that I grew up in a very old and rather drafty farmhouse, with no heat on the upper two stories. It was cold in the winter. Very cold. Our beds generally had a number of wool blankets under the quilts, and our standard pajamas for the winter once we outgrew the zippered footie kind were thick sweatsuits. We never quite woke up to sifted snow on the quilts--the walls were snowtight and also we had a depressing lack of blizzards--but it was a similar idea.

Back in those long-ago days, people generally labored under the notion that there was one kind of clothes for bed, and another for daytime wear. When we rose in the morning we changed in our frigid rooms into our long johns and jeans and sweaters for daytime wear. Especially--and this is what seems especially strange nowadays--one would never, ever appear in public or greet visitors in night clothes. It had nothing to do with decency, as evidenced by the fact that our nighttime and daytime clothes were equally bulky. It simply Wasn't Done.


About the age of 10, I noticed that some people wore sweatsuits as daytime wear, both for their intended athletic purpose and sometimes for other occasions. Especially sweatsuits with decorative tops. One of my acquaintances, a girl about my age, wore them on every occasion. Admittedly she wasn't a fashion leader, but still, it was plainly something that was Done.

And I had a few sweatsuits with decorative tops, bought by my great aunt who did such things, no doubt, and not by His Majesty who always found the 75% off sales of the mix-and-match sport solids.

So after much deliberation and in the spirit of experimentation that has fallen upon me with mixed results throughout my life, I decided to try wearing one of these decorative sweatsuits to an evening church event.

About five minutes after arrival, I realized my mistake. I was wearing pajamas in public. It was exactly like one of those nightmares where one discovers one's self to be wearing pajamas in public (I suppose nobody has those sort of nightmares anymore, but they were common back then. Perhaps people still have nightmares about being naked in public, though, and they are roughly similar only slightly less exciting.) Only it wasn't a nightmare, it was real, I had done it to myself, and there were two hours and twenty-five minutes of church event to go.

Somehow that evening ended and I returned home and never, ever wore sweat pants out in public again.

What I later discovered, however, was that the deep psychic scar I had impressed upon myself did not limit itself to sweat pants. I could not wear *any* cotton knit on my lower extremities. Even perfectly legitimate knit skirts and dresses, which were clearly not sweat pants, after a short time would betray me and I would be left with that uneasy and inadequate feeling of appearing in public in a nightie.

I finally swore off knits on the lower half altogether. And so, when everybody else got yoga pants and debated where they should and shouldn't be worn, I didn't. (Except for one pair, which I use for doing exercises and occasionally curling up on the couch with a book and such pajama-suitable activities.)

I suppose I could get counseling for this and try to undo the damage and free myself to wear yoga pants, but at this point it's easier to just keep wearing jeans.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

One Month In

Friday night was the annual county bar dinner, which we first attended five years ago as newcomers, awkwardly showing up as the very first people there. Now the room full of strangers is one full of friends and colleagues, and we got many words of encouragement and advice for our new venture.

One of them was to journal, so that we can look back in a year and see how far we've come. Well, I was going to anyway.

I tend to measure exhaustion by the standard of the year the twins were born. I am sure there are more exhausting things humans could undertake--higher-order multiples--but it's likely to be the most exhausting thing *I* ever undertake.

So, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being a beach resort with food brought to your lounge chair and 10 being newborn twins and two preschoolers, starting this firm has been a 9, pushing 9.5.

Well, DOB doesn't do things by halves or ramp up slowly. We had a new office to move into (temporarily, we'll move again in a couple of months into permanent space), a paralegal to pay, equipment to set up, email and website to get working, all the existing clients he brings with him from his old firm and all the new people who started coming through the door even before we have it.

I haven't done that much actual lawyering yet; instead I get to be the person who spends hours on the phone with the internet service provider, trying to figure out why our email still isn't working (it is now, though, after about a week of soul-sucking phone tag, and now we get to call again over the bill). And writes the checks. There are a lot of things to write checks for.

Everybody wants to offer you bundles of services, but none of the bundles quite do everything, and then somebody has to figure out which one does what and how to get the most of what you need for the least overlap.

So, very much as when the twins were babies, I have been very busy and I'm completely exhausted and yet somehow it doesn't feel like I've *done* anything. But this Friday I get to go to court.

And meanwhile there's been kids to be fed and educated and DOB has, inevitably, injured a muscle in his shoulder, putting him down to one functioning limb, which always makes life more complicated. Fortunately we have some well-established school ruts to run in, and I pulled out a trick from way back in those days and made up a 3-week rotational schedule of meals so that I don't ever have to think about what I'm going to fix for supper again. Yes, it's all boring and it's time to ignore the inspiring and novel things other people are doing. And this time the kids are big enough for some significant choring, so the house hasn't completely fallen apart.

But, we've made it through the first month. And if we can just figure out the billing, we should make it through next month, too.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Master and His Emissary, pt. 2: More Thoughts

Initial book review here.

The premise of this book, that an overdependence on the left hemisphere is pervasive and heavily reinforced by current culture, resonated with me because it made sense of various things that seemed connected but I couldn't quite put my finger on how.

Like the difficulty people seem to have in handling the relationship between individual and universal experience. It crops up constantly in blog and online article wars, but I think that is just a place that is manifested, not its origin. Mostly there are people who conclude, "My experience is X, therefore X is true for everyone (or at least everyone in the category I have drawn)." Occasionally there are people who think individual experience is only that and tells us nothing of general value. And every once in a while there is a person who has an individual experience and is able to draw from it general applications while recognizing that it is not a hard and fast categorical description. However, such a person, knowing what they are up against, usually has to hedge their statements with so many qualifications and caveats that it is hard to get the point, and they are still jumped all over by people who just don't get it, who cannot fathom that something can be both individual and general and yet not hard and fast universally applicable.

In general, there seems to me to be an intolerance of fuzzy edges--if you can't draw a bright line test (as lawyers call it) between two things, then there's no meaningful difference between them at all. But really, all edges are fuzzy if you try to hone in too closely. At the molecular level, the line between my pants and the chair would be hard to spot, but it's definitely there. There's an inability to appreciate context and the whole that cannot ever quite be reduced to a check list or bullet points. (Indeed, sometimes it seems there is an inability to read or write anything that's not a checklist or bullet points.)

And there's an over-fondness for categories, for categorizing ourselves and everyone around us, as if people existed primarily as a compilation of their categories.  If someone doesn't fit so well in a particular category, then we must either get rid of the bits of them that don't fit OR create yet another category. When perhaps what people need is to not be categorized, but treated as an individual, whole person in relation with other individual, whole people.

Then there's the way often religious fundamentalists and materialist fundamentalists sound so much alike, in their insistence on facts, facts, facts. (I remember one lady saying that she referred to the Biblical "accounts" rather than "stories," that word that suggests, well, that facts themselves are not the most important thing.) 

And this may seem off the wall, but there's the quest for novelty and even transgression in perfectly ordinary pleasures. Enjoying the same things we have enjoyed before is never enough; people get bored quickly and we must always be chasing after something new. If someone's really trying to sell something, they'll label it naughty or sinful, even though it is merely a rich dessert or fancy lingerie. Apparently we have to *pretend* it's bad to enjoy it; we can't just be there, enjoying it for itself.

Even more vague, there's the sense that everything is awesome and yet people are unhappy; not just unhappy with the normal unhappiness of humans, but unhappy in a way that is rather different in human experience; unable to just be, needing to be either working or entertained, or else hopelessly bored. A sense that people are disconnected, not just from each other, but from themselves.

These things seem rather different, and yet there seems to be a common thread somewhere. This is what The Master and His Emissary ties together: all of these are aspects of a left-brain dominated outlook, an outlook that is very good at taking things apart, sorting and classifying and pinning things on paper, but not at all good at being alive, at seeing the whole thing, at remaining in contact with the world itself.

Next time, I still have some thoughts on how this relates to education.