COUSs, Carrots of Unusual Size
When we planted our kitchen garden last fall, the twins got a little too enthusiastic about scattering seeds. Areas and spacing within areas went by the way side. This is Houston, so any seed stuck in the ground will grow—it might not survive the heat, but it’ll sprout. As our plants sprouted, we lost track of what we had planted where. So I completely missed when the carrots came up. They grew until the stalks were really huge and long and I wondered what weed those little white flowers peeking up over our wall were.
I didn’t realize they were carrots until I went to the garden to get some thyme. I noticed the top of the root on those crazy-tall weeds. I pulled them up and got the COUSs, Carrot of Unusual Size (and Shape).
I almost need a wide lens to get the carrot tops in a photo.
I also got Siamese carrots too. I figure this is from the lack of spacing control. They grew together.
They might look ridiculous, but they are still tasty. Pretty produce of consistent shape and size—it rarely tastes like much, much less what it is supposed to taste like. Funky looking and tasty is better, though next fall I will monitor the seed scattering more closely.
New blog format is up. (Again.)
POSTED ON Apr 14th 2015 BY LESLIE LOFTIS UNDER Blog Admin
I’ve been on maintenance mode off and on for a few weeks so the lovely Anna Moore of Anna Moore Designs could get the new format up for me. It is still a work in progress as I add the links. Homeschooling has cratered my work time and my writing has become like gardening, in the sense that it is never done, although I have finally come up with a garden plan. (More on that later.) I am adding links on the “Links” page now. Soon “Other Feeds” will have links from Twitter lists that I’ve put together for a variety of topics.
I am not a hairdresser.
It’s not a personal tragedy that interferes with my ability to do good hair.* It is a lack of talent. I am not, nor have I ever been, a hairdresser. And I think the character building day my son had last week is a right of passage for sons who do not have a hairdresser or a barber in the family. I will not be posting his picture, but he calls it his “Dumb and Dumber” hair. I did not intend to give him the Jim Carrey bowl cut, yet…
As I tried to fix it the next day—we did not have time to go to a barber and he told me that he was not going to school again without a fix—I told him this was payback for what he did to his sister when she was three. As so much time has passed, I feel comfortable posting a picture of that piece of handiwork.
This is actually her second shearing by her brother. The first time, he cut pieces out of her long locks. They were blowing in the wind and he was “cutting the wind.” A cute page boy cut later, and all was well. But then, he decided to cut it again. There was no saving style this time. This picture was taken just after Calvin’s second adventure in haircutting. I’m in the background trying to set up the first available hair appointment.
I also tried to comfort him with the fact that I had done this to myself a few years ago. From my last blogpost at my original blog, An American Housewife in London:
Like most people, I had over indulged over Christmas and never made it to the gym. Two weeks of neglect is usually no problem, but by the time the kids were well, I was heading into week 4 without exercise.
The first glance at myself in the aerobics mirror was the first time I noticed the storm heading my way. I was…dissatisfied with my appearance. Then, in a leap of logic that only makes sense to mothers of young children, I thought perhaps bangs would help. They were supposed to balance out my slightly fluffy face. Of course, I was way behind on all of my to dos and couldn’t make it into my hairdresser for a color a few weeks previously—I had my mom teach 7 year old Cupcake how to color my grey, but back to that in a moment—so I cut them myself.
I think I have mentioned previously that prior to post-pregnancy hair loss, I had straight hair. Now I have curly hair. Do you know what happens when you cut long curly hair? Yes, that is correct, the curls tighten making the hair shorter than where your scissors snipped.
Compounding my problem: the color.
Cupcake had done a fine job coloring my hair. I don’t do highlights, I just cover grey, and for that the modern box stuff is much cheaper than a salon job and up to the task. It was my first time, however, and like wall paint color, the box color is deceptive. I had chosen a color perhaps 2 shades darker than I wanted. Complicating matters, since Cupcake was learning, she went slowly, so the color stayed on about 15 minutes longer than the recommended time for typical hair. In short, my hair is very, very dark. This only accentuated my now too short bangs. I look ridiculous.
Happily, that haircut grew out, as bad haircuts do. My son’s will as well. Actually, after I called my friend who happens to be a hairdresser and asked her to tell me how to fix the bowl, his hair looks better and I now know what I’m doing. I told him next time it wouldn’t be so bad. He said there will be no next time.
He is a wise boy.
* Steel Magnolia reference paraphrasing Darryl Hannah’s comment to Dolly Parton. It’s been years since I’ve seen that movie, but the phrases still play on repeat with certain trigger words: hairdo, freezes beautifully, red velvet cake…
The New Homeschool at Wit’s End
Remember some posts from a few months ago, one about how I was a once and future housewife and the other about the lack of rhythm in motherhood? I wasn’t kidding. I had just gotten settled in three part-time/freelance jobs, when…
We pulled our 7 year old twins out of school for homeschooling. This is week three of the Homeschool at Wit’s End. I am writing a long-read on How to Make a Homeschool Mother, one complete with research on curriculum fads’ failure to teach. (In our case, we have Texas standardized testing, STAAR, and a version of common core math called Math in Focus. It is one of the many spinoffs of Singapore Math.) I will cover the curriculum details soon, but until then—my writing time had severely contracted, obviously—a few initial observations and a short “why?” answer since many have asked.
- Telling my peers, especially my conservative peers, that we’ve started homeschooling gets the same type of reaction as telling them I’m expecting. “Oh, congrats!” “You’ll do great!” “Exciting news! Be sure to check out [website, curriculum, blog]. They have a ton of good info.” They have been helpful, supportive, and encouraging to a one.
- If I’d known homeschooling was going to be this easy, I would have done it last fall. Granted, I’ve now seen enough to know that “easy” highly correlates with “schedule”. Luckily for me, designing a schedule and sticking to it is one of my strengths. One day, when I turned over the morning start to my mom so I could hop on a conference call, I learned exactly how important a schedule was. Scheduling is not her strength and the bickering started not even 5 minutes in, while they were still in their pajamas. (Having them get dressed is part of my schedule.)
- A friend told me that I would find homeschooling much easier than the after school homework hassle. She was absolutely right. The homeschool bloggers type the truth—you can do a full day’s curriculum in under 3 hours leaving the rest of the day for play, field trips, or hands on learning. And I know that the work we are doing will teach them skills beyond test performance. Which gets us to the why…
So why did we pull them home?
Our elementary school has changed. It is trying to keep up with the new fads in education, specifically the quest for test scores. In the school’s desire to enhance test scores, they are not only doing Math in Focus’s ‘5 ways to solve a problem in 5 minutes when a flash card memory and 5 seconds will do’*, but also have upped the standards for reading and writing. Pushing skills forward sounds great and is all the rage in education theory, but it is a failure in actual education.** Furthermore, teaching a child to read is not the same thing as teaching a child to perform reading on a test. These may sound like synonymous goals, but they are not.
By November my girls’ home behavior turned south. It took me a while to figure out it was stress from the sense of failure for only doing 1 out of 5 things well on any given day. One twin had a particularly hard time. She works in streaks and the teacher was unable to let her establish one skill and then move on to the next. That is what my son’s teacher had done at our beloved London school.
This kind of problem is more common for boys. Calvin would have been crushed here. Since he and his sister have a similar learning style, however, I can compare tactics. Mrs. Hindson, Calvin’s teacher, had experience, classroom autonomy, and no standardized test looming. She was able to nurture Calvin’s love of learning rather than quash it. She saw his streak learning and his late bloomer pattern. She worked within it, establishing his reading first. Plus, the school taught phonics. (It was an education fad resistant school. I knew Hill House was great, but I continue to learn just how great it was. I not-so-briefly considered returning to London, just for the school.) As anticipated by Mrs. Hindson, Calvin bloomed late and all at once. Now he’s the kid who reads The Transom and talks Napoleonic battle tactics with the dads at Laser Tag. He loves learning. I don’t have to do much with him but point him to the good books.
Back here in the now, however, the school’s goal is the STAAR test, and so a kid like Calvin, who is inclined to master one complete skill at a time, looks like a potential score drag because if your goal is testing a kid, then you can’t back off of math pressure to establish reading–which is all the more nonsensical since some of the early Math in Focus skills are word problems. Seriously, we parents would get notices on top of the regular “how to help your kids with their homework”—a bit of helicopter pressure I reject on principle— reminding us that we would need to read their math homework to them because they didn’t yet have the reading skills to read the homework themselves. The common sense idea that kids should perhaps work on their math facts while learning to read and then start word problems after reading was well established? Gone. And don’t even get me started on creative writing as handwriting practice.
Whereas, my son started reading later than his peers but loved school, my youngest daughters are reading later and they feel stupid. More than anything else, that worries my husband and me.
If this new curriculum requires me to go to take tutorials to learn the new “improved” methods so I can drill my deflated children after 8 hours at school because the new methods have so many options or are otherwise unreasonable that they cannot be mastered in the school day in time for the children to perform for the standardized tests upon which they think their intellectual self-worth hinges, then I’m going to teach them myself, my way, without smothering their natural desire to learn.
So, in mid-Febuary, we opened the Homeschool at Wit’s End. It is going quite well. They’ve improved in skill and attitude. No regrets. Just a lot less time, temporarily. Remember, there is no permanent rhythm in motherhood.
My husband on the Chelsea Mum Run, taking our elder children to a school we loved. I miss this school run.
* That’s my tagline for Math in Focus, not theirs, obviously.
** Read the whole thing, but the link is for the bit about Head Start’s failure to deliver on it’s purposes and the bit about comprehension, teaching to the test, and 3rd grade failure. The last is something all of my elementary school teacher friends have talked about for years.
Nine Year Olds Cost the Most and Other Sickening Surprises from Google Alerts about Heavy Topics
I’ve recently reorganized my Google Alerts. The one that riveted me the most from last year was my alert for “gang rape”. I received daily collections of 5 to a dozen articles about gang rape from places like India and Pakistan. The stories often ended in in murder or suicide of the victim. It was overwhelming and so out of line with the occasional flurries of gang rape articles in the United States, which were usually multiple reports on one domestic event in which the accused had already been arrested. The only time US links drowned out links abroad was during the Rolling Stone journalism scandal.
The US media only covered a small fraction of the stories from abroad, and not even the worst of them. That’s partially why I was surprised. I assumed they had covered the most sensational but not all. Actually, they cover hardly any, and those aren’t the worst. The US media has a well-earned reputation for going for the drama, except it seems in the cases of gang rape outside the US. The public might be forgiven for not knowing how difficult life can be for women in other parts of the world.
When I added Google Alerts this year, I didn’t expect any of them would surprise me more than the “gang rape” alert had. But I added an alert for “Christian persecution.” Not only am I getting more links than for gang rape–covered by specialized outlets not news organizations, of course–but also, some of the links are compilations compilations, long compilations, of reports covering everything from burning alive, to sports teams removing crosses from soccer jerseys so as not to offend Muslim sensibilities, to price lists for kidnapped Christian women and girls. Nine year olds are the most expensive. They cost about $175. It’s all at the link.
Below is today’s update.
The War On Christians
While in 2014 the days of throwing Christians to wild beasts in the arena may be behind us, the persecutionof Christians around the world isn’t. In fact …
Flag as irrelevant
A Modern Tradition for The Twelfth Night
POSTED ON Jan 04th 2015 BY LESLIE LOFTIS UNDER Entertaining, Holidays
I’m an Advent and Twelve Days of Christmas purist. I wrote the whole thing up last year but keep needing a quick link for the women’s night out on the twelfth night, which I am trying to import from Ireland. (Stuff like this is one of the reasons I keep blogging even though I usually write elsewhere.) The whole Advent and Christmas discussion is here, but this is the bit on the “The Holiday That Time Forgot”:
The end of Christmas used to have its own rich traditions. In addition to being the day decorations had to come down—otherwise they had to be left up all year to avoid bad luck—the Twelfth Night was a bit like childhood Opposite Day only with more mischief. It is The Holiday that Time Forgot, which is a shame because it sounds like loads of fun. From King Bean and Queen Pea to Little Christmas, there are many Twelfth Night traditions one could revive.
The Irish Little Christmas tradition caught my attention. It started out as a women’s tea party, the little cake and sandwich kind. The women socialized after leaving the men at home to do the housework and childcare for the day. In the modern era, it has turned into a women’s night out to celebrate the end of the busy Christmas season.
That’s the tradition I stole. For the past two years I’ve gathered about a dozen of my girlfriends at a local pub to toast the end of Christmas. We’ve had a lovely time and highly recommend the practice.
A warning though, we’ve had some confusion about the date. Determining the Twelfth Night of Christmas isn’t as easy as counting. Different Christian traditions count Christmas differently. Some count Christmas Day as day one, while others count the 26th as the first day of Christmas. And in many old calendars, a day began at sundown the night before. So there is much confusion on whether or not Twelfth Night happens on the night of January 5th or 6th.
If you plan any Twelfth Night festivities, you will need to specify the 5th or 6th of January. When trying to revive and modernize a dormant tradition, I advise simplicity. I called Christmas Day day 1 of Christmas, used the modern midnight as the date line, and, therefore, declared the Twelfth Night the evening of the 12th day which is January 5th.
This will be my third year. We’ve done rain and cold and still had fun. This year the 5th happens to fall on the evening prior to most kids returning to school, so turnout might be smaller than my invite list. But it takes three to cinch it as a habit. So some friends and I will venture out for a half pint at a local pub and raise a glass to the arrival of the Three Wise Men. (Depending on the calendar math used, the twelfth night starts Epiphany, which is when the three kings arrived to meet Christ.)
(I’m a little grouchy that I will have to toast them without Strongbow. The perfect apple cider is distributed by Heineken US, who have apparently decided that the way to expand the US cider marker is not only to add new sweet ciders–Jolly Ranchers in a bottle according to the unimpressed Facebook group–but also to discontinue importing the good, dry cider. Yasha just broke the news to me two days ago, as I swigged my last of my Strongbow stores, hence my grouchiness. The FB group recommended Mangers Irish Cider–Irish cider to import an Irish tradition. That’ll work.)
Christmas Questions of the Life Admin Kind
But there’s more. There has been some chatter in declared feminist circles about gender holiday roles. Is it gender bias for women to wrap the presents? I tend to agree with Amy Otto here that this is much self-imposed ado about nothing
. Domestic chores need to be done and done competently, but whipping up a storm about is is complete waste of time. More importantly, marriage, and family, is about partnership not scorekeeping. This all came to mind last night as per the stereotype I sat on the floor in my husband’s study, cutting up red and gold paper and running out of sticky tape.
My eldest daughter joined me, and so, the lady Lofti wrapped the gifts. But where were the manly Lofti? They were in the kitchen making dinner…and the mulled wine we give away as gifts…
and keeping us–or me–supplied with an adult beverage. Yasha has started teaching Calvin the art of drink mixing. Although my son is quite the mixer now he’s still a novice. My sidecar is delicious but he made it “up” which is not very conducive to gift wrapping. I did manage not to spill.
These are but details. The father-son bonding is happing. The grandmother-mother-daughter bonding is too. Who cares which set is in the kitchen and which set is in the study? The gifts are wrapped, the house smells fabulous. And we are waiting on Santa.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.
*Link to the Kindness Elves variation because one of my girlfriends highly recommends it.
The Force Awakens—from what? And other Star Wars musings.
POSTED ON Nov 28th 2014 BY LESLIE LOFTIS UNDER Pop culture
I interrupt this Black Friday, or in my case Advent prep, madness with a little geek timeout. The Star Wars Episode 7 teaser trailer came out today. A couple of things, first, I don’t like the title. How can the Force “Awaken” now? Isn’t that what it did when Luke refused to turn to the dark side? (Update: I changed the title and published a post at PJLifestyle on this awakening. I could muse on this for a while.)
Second and more important, I get the notes they are trying to hit in the trailer, the Millennium Falcon flying and a new red lightsaber in which the hilt is part of the weapon–which has already become a meme:
But the trailer stirred nothing in me. I got no hint of a story and as I’ve written elsewhere, I don’t think Hollywood is very good at telling stories anymore. It was, after all, the missed story that killed the prequels.
About the prequels
My version spilled out when ari, my commenter, turned research assistant, now hopefully turned blogger (no, I’m not pressuring her at all) and I got into a conversation about the fascist origins of school lunches. They started out of the need to grow soldiers. (I’ll make her post on that as soon as that blog is up and running.) On food and Star Wars, ari had noted: [edited for flow to make sense out of our email thread]
Most notable nourishment in the series is a school lunch meal on a cafeteria tray, at a recognizable school lunch table. Future soldiers eating. Accelerated childhood- scenes of intense study- no playing. No horseplay, no summer camp. No swimming.
Scenes with people eating food- Anakin and Padme flirting over dinner- and Anakin is griping about Obi- as close to a family as he’s got- Luke and Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru- where Luke is begging to go to the Starfleet Academy- again with the bickering- and the clones eating off school lunch trays. There are three other consumable scenes- two at a bar- and one at a diner- the Han Solo and Greedo bar scene, the Kenobi and Anakin chasing the assassin, and the Dexx’s diner scene. No food gets eaten by a principal player. I’m not even sure Kenobi sips his drink. The two kitchens shown- Beru’s and ( possibly) the Mandalorian father of the clones– you see a lot of tupper-ware-ish plastic, but not any food. [Nope, Beru was cutting fennel root while Luke and Uncle Owen bickered. And she forgot Luke nibbling on a ration stick after crashlanding on Degobah, but the omissions bolster her argument.]
Star Wars is a modern version of Wagner, and really one of the most perfect fascist film series ever made. I mean, there’s even an essay about how George Lucas cribbed Leni Reifenstahl’s entire oeuvre- her “mountain adventure” movies when she was an actress, and then the graphics from her work as a director.
I hadn’t seen the fascism, that is, the elevation of the state, in the food, but I had seen it in the plot. I had thought the prequels were going to go after the fascist nature of the Jedi. The reason Anakin fell was because they had tried to sever all his ties with everything but the Jedi State. They tried to make him submit. He wouldn’t. But he was unmoored from everything so he split off.
Here Lucas made his error.
Lucas was right that a separation from Padme could turn Anakin, but he was wrong about how. Anakin wouldn’t turn against the Jedi just out of fear of her death in childbirth. He would have to see the Jedi cause his separation from her. That would trigger his rage. Admittedly, Lucas tried to bridge that with Palpatine’s offer of knowledge the Jedi wouldn’t use, but that is an act of omission or just ignorance on the Jedi’s part. That Anakin will be angry with the Jedi, true, but to get him to slaughter younglings, you need more than anger. You need him to think he is fighting for an idea. That’s where the fascist story was. For instance:
While afraid of Anakin’s power and his friendship/power play against the Jedi Council with Palpatine, the Jedi find out Padme is pregnant. They kidnap her or some such, planning to take the child and raise it, anon to Anakin, within the order. They have done this, separate the Force sensitive from their families, for centuries. Isolation and detachment from larger culture is what they do. Taking the baby would have been the obvious play to them.
So, they order Anakin to stop all contact with Padme or face excommunication. Actually, I would have liked it if Padme had to out her pregnancy to the Order because she was having force premonitions through the twins (totally plausible with the blood based Force theory) and realized that the Palpatine was the Sith Lord. She saw the danger to the Republic and her husband. She sought help from the Council. But they saw the child and Anakin’s defiance of rules as a threat as well as the Sith. They take Padme until she gives birth.
Either way, Anakin sees the Order as a threat to his family and his ally. Palpatine doesn’t even need to out himself as Sith to Anakin. He only whispers in his ear about how the Jedi are really the bad guys, out to control. Destroying Ani’s family and keeping him, the all powerful One, under their control are just means to their ends. This Anakin will destroy the Jedi and go to rescue his wife who is now so freaked out and worried about her baby she seeks shelter with Ben. Now, we can see a young, powerful man manipulated by pride. It turns to jealously and an epic mentor/student battle.
Yoda and Ben have a crisis about what the Jedi did wrong. They think their error with Anakin was taking him in when he was so old and couldn’t detach from his mother. They both isolate themselves to think, as is the Jedi way. But they handle the twins differently. They separate them so the Emperor can’t feel them as easily but decide, perhaps at Padme’s insistence, to let them grow up in a family. For the first time they will truly trust the Force to tell them when it is time for training. Padme goes into hiding with Leia as her nanny and later dies of heartache. And under the Emperor’s control and influence Vader becomes the controlling State he thought he set out to destroy. And like his predecessor, Dooku, he does not realize his error until Sidious prompts the new apprentice to kill the old.
But Lucas was apparently too much of a state worshiper to fully embrace the implications of the Jedi State. He set the story that way, but didn’t follow though. The story became Anakin’s crazy and unpredictable internal struggles and people reacting nonsensically to them. So it just became visual artistry with no story to back it up.
The new trailer doesn’t give me any hope that the next trilogy will do better, Lucas or no. Granted, I’m a little jaded about Hollywood messing with favorite modern myths.
A few Star Wars Black Friday shots
Since it is Black Friday, a few geek items anyone reading this post might like. You can get the Falcon church key, above, at Think Geek, the mugs on etsy. No idea where my sister-in-law got the decals. And it’s hard to tell, but in that sidecar in the double olds glass–that’s a Death Star ice sphere. Totally cool. My brother got it for me. Happy shopping.
There is no Such Thing as Rhythm in Motherhood
POSTED ON Nov 21st 2014 BY LESLIE LOFTIS UNDER Uncategorized
Years ago Maverick told me something that unnerved me a little at the time, but which I quickly learned was the truth. Until recently I just thought it was the truth about life with young children. Nope. It’s just the truth.
Back in the days when our kids were babies and I was trying to get some motherhood rhythm, she told me scheduling was great, but just as soon as you get used to a schedule, it changes. School schedules killed rhythm, as did Yasha’s business trips, our trips home, growing up, illnesses. Don’t even start me on potty training, the only aspect of motherhood upon which I will never reflect fondly. A steady schedule sticks around for about six weeks and then something changes.
Now, for readers with young children, that I felt inspired to write about this little truth on the switch to Daylight Savings weekend probably doesn’t shock. I routinely got bedtime and waking rhythms down just in time for Fall Back or Spring Forward. And it shouldn’t shock parents that Fall Back was weeks ago, and I didn’t manage to publish this little post. More events intervened. These were tragic, not for me, for a friend. Yet I wouldn’t trade being present for her for any sort of rhythm. (What happened in her life, that I’d trade, it just wasn’t on the table.)
It’s all ‘life is what happens when you are making other plans’. Life really isn’t your plans. It’s what you do when the big, and the little, moments come. It’s taken me a long time to learn, but the rhythm I’ve got has one baseline beat, my husband and I, and then it’s pretty much improv jazz.
I kept looking to the next hurdle to jump and then I’d get into a rhythm. That’s what I thought this summer. I had huge writing plans for summer. It quickly became apparent I wouldn’t do those. I actually wrote just a little less than I planed over the summer, just not on the topics I had planned. I thought it was an anomaly. No, it’s the norm.
I have finally learned—I hope— to switch predicted progress with steady progress. Despite the lack of predicability, I do still get things done. (All of this blog is getting ready to change, by the way.) Years from now, I might be able to reflect and hear the rhythm. For now, however, I’ve got a basic daily rhythm—sometimes.
And that’s just fine.
Who is Lena Dunham?
POSTED ON Nov 03rd 2014 BY LESLIE LOFTIS UNDER Feminism, Pop culture
I know many of you have no clue who she is. She’s a twenty something author who wrote a HBO series, GIRLS, about her life. It’s not really her life, but she plays the main character, Hannah, who is based off Dunham. GIRLS is coming to its 5th season soon but by the ratings it seems that everyone who has ever watched an episode has written about it. (Guilty.)
In the blogosphere and new media, Lena Dunham’s comments and actions drive feminist commentary and conservative criticism. She did that lose your voting virginity to Obama ad two years ago. She recently became the spokesperson for Planned Parenthood. She was also the woman on the Vanity Fair cover that Jezebel offered a bounty for the unaltered photos, assuming that Vanity Fair would Photoshop her shots as, by model standards, she is heavy. That’s the long way of saying, all the writers talk about Lena Dunham and when she is involved, things get mixed up.
But if you are wondering why she’s in your feed now, she just published a memoir (for which she got a multi million dollar advance; odd for a twenty something, no?). In it she compares herself to a sexual predator for her curiosity about women’s bodies because she used her little sister to explore. If you are curious, the memoir is called Not That Kind of Girl.
A poor title but a great write-up on Lena Dunham and over-sharing
One of my all time favorite SNL skits, up there with Jesse Jackson reads Green Eggs and Ham. Tina Fey joins GIRLS