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Oct. 9th, 2015

The burgeoning independence of my younger kids is so adorable.

Elise (8) has started making herself salads. Ever since she realized she could do this, she does it at least once per day. She includes things I might never think of, like raw broccoli and sliced peppers. She's so proud of herself every time.

Today I taught her how to make herself a cup of tea. Soon after she was sitting there at the dining table with a salad and tea, giddy with her feet swinging.

Jake's 10th birthday is just a few days away. He decided he wants to invite some people to go see Hotel Transylvania 2 together, on the day. Some of them are former classmates, so today around the time that school dismisses he and Isaac walked there with the invitations to hand out. It's half a mile down on our same street, but you can tell they felt like it was a grand adventure. Which was heightened when a torrential downpour started on their way back home and they arrived laughing hysterically and soaking wet.

Isaac's cell phone is in a bag of rice.

Isaac was going to heat up leftover soup, today, and turned on the wrong burner - one that was under the soup tupperware. So we had one of our annual "house filled with toxic plastic smoke" evacuations. At least it's slightly less hot these days.

I have some field trips lined up for Jake and Elise and am hoping they pick up some homeschooled friends they can see during school days semi-regularly. One is to a library for a geode and crystal thing, and the other is to a little farm and pumpkin patch that has a whole slew of activities planned for everyone coming. I also joined every local-ish homeschool related fb group that exists.

I am kind of embarrassed to say one issue I'm having is that I just don't want to have to hang out with a lot of local homeschooling moms. I want to find activities where either I can find people I actually click with, which would be great, or I can drop the kids off and pick them up, which is also fine. I really desperately don't want to get back in the swing of regularly spending hours with people I just don't relate to and/or who I'm not comfortable with, because I "have to," while the kids run around nearby. The field trips we have coming up are ones that involve groups I'm not familiar with, so maybe I'll actually make some friends. I miss a couple of PATH moms up the road who I use to love catching up with, but their kids have aged out of school altogether and people are moving away.

This is hard to explain - I don't dislike moms as a group by any means. But, I'm way past the point of trying to make friends with other moms just because they're also moms. It's like if I like someone and get along well with them, and they happen to have kids, great!

I often find my relationships with childless people to be a lot less complicated. They don't have any kids to bring or get a sitter for or keep them from being available! They also haven't had to navigate, and potentially become completely lost in, the identity crises that come from having so much of your time, energy, and resources being devoted to your kids.

I suppose I've always been out of step. When I was a teen mom, I didn't know any other mothers, at all. I didn't even have the internet. When I started homeschooling and attending LLL, later on, I was still 15+ years younger than everyone else in the groups, and in a lower socio-economic bracket. Now, it seems like everyone my age is having babies. But we haven't had diapers in the house in over 5 years, and I have definitely Moved On from the pregnancy/birth/breastfeeding mindset and perspective. I am the Girl Anachronism!

Other local homeschooling moms, here in our town - at least the ones I've been exposed to - are mostly cleaning houses or working evenings and weekends to make homeschooling possible, and they rarely if ever drive up to Miami, and being in college seems pretty weird to them. I got a lot of "must be nice" comments when I mentioned a roadtrip and we were asked what things were over and over when I brought food to a place - about, like, a container of Sabra hummus (they had never heard of hummus! Or Fresh Market...or a french press for coffee...or chai...)

I don't know if I sound horrible, but I don't want to spend all my time explaining stuff, or apologizing for things. I'm tired of friending people on facebook and seeing that they're really into protestant christian minion memes, and direct sales of Thirty One/Herbalife/Jamberry.

Yesterday was Grant's birthday and I went all out on his dinner and cake. Everything came out great. The day before, his best work friend gave him a Super Mario chess set and took him out to dinner, and then he arrived home to a kid-made banner and a pile of presents. He's also gotten cards in the mail from his mom, his dad, and his sister. The day itself was lowkey but nice; he took the day off and we did things like go out for Indian food for lunch, and get the gas powered weed eater he wanted since the electric is a huge pain and apparently he's in full swing, ultimate suburban dad mode now :)

I really want him to feel loved and worthy. I think about this a lot. He has some self worth issues and they rear up in random ways, one of which is this tendency to be like, "my birthday doesn't matter." Except that his birthday is the anniversary of the day he came into the world, and he's basically the best thing that ever happened to me - he's pretty amazing all around - soooo..... Tres important.

My Research Methods class continues to be top notch. Since having to do the training for the Human Behavioral Research lab certification, and doing studies on campus, I've had to register for a Qualtrics account and design a survey, write debriefing material for a study, and use SPSS to run statistical analysis to include in a paper. Every task we're set is wildly intimidating at first, which makes me feel like a serious champion whenever I conquer another one.

I have a B in Stats so far - next test next week.

I took a moment to relish, earlier, that I was looking at an entire paragraph written in french and could piece together what it meant. That wouldn't generalize to any french paragraph, but it was still encouraging. When composing my discussion board posts, I now know when Google Translate is telling me the wrong thing ;)

Biopsych is hard but great. I've gotten 100 on the last few quizzes and those quizzes are BEASTS - I was missing one question every time, the first few weeks. When you miss one on a 4-5 question quiz, it really counts. Piling up some hundreds is good.

I had a harrowing experience at the gynecologist. It was just shit, basically my cervix is really far back and tilted backwards and so in an effort to verify my IUD placement during a pap smear, everything from yanking to forceps was tried before we settled on "I'll just go get an ultrasound."

But, my period is somehow miraculously falling cleanly between that pap smear and the ultrasound, so yay?

And, I'm finally starting to really feel better from the illness mentioned in the last entry.
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A couple of days ago, laid out on the table for a pap smear, my gynecologist said, "Have you seen a dietitician? Skinny people live better, longer lives." This seems underhanded, no pun intended, when said by someone who is pushing your soft inner thigh fat around.

I don't really deny she's right, although the "better" part is subjective, and some might argue that life is better with cheese fries and alcoholic milkshakes. Healthwise, and social-advantage wise, the evidence is clear that she's speaking truth.

I am starting to doubt it's possible for me to be thin, though. Certainly not "skinny," as she referenced. I've never been skinny in my life - I was born 10 pounds, 4 ounces, and am chubby in my kindergarten graduation cap and gown pics. I've been hot and healthy and curvy, as a teenager, but I was never a thin girl - let alone skinny.

Maybe you watch SciShow and you've seen how Hank Green says in his obesity video that being fat is objectively bad, but also that it's caused by everything from genetics to industrial chemicals, and linked as much or more to gut bacteria as diet and exercise. That is a heavily researched and cited video that is hard to refute. Many other scientific voices are saying the same things as Hank.

Or maybe you saw that Salon article quoting a bunch of new research, earlier this year:
If you’re one of the 45 million Americans who plan to go on a diet this year, I’ve got one word of advice for you: Don’t.

You’ll likely lose weight in the short term, but your chance of keeping if off for five years or more is about the same as your chance of surviving metastatic lung cancer: 5 percent. And when you do gain back the weight, everyone will blame you. Including you.

This isn’t breaking news; doctors know the holy trinity of obesity treatments—diet, exercise, and medication—don’t work. They know yo-yo dieting is linked to heart disease, insulin resistance, higher blood pressure, inflammation, and, ironically, long-term weight gain. Still, they push the same ineffective treatments, insisting they’ll make you not just thinner but healthier.

In reality, 97 percent of dieters regain everything they lost and then some within three years. Obesity research fails to reflect this truth because it rarely follows people for more than 18 months. This makes most weight-loss studies disingenuous at best and downright deceptive at worst.

There's a great docuseries called The Weight of a Nation that also explores how cultural forces, environmental factors, and more, are combining to make us fatter and make it really, really hard to lose weight and keep it off. I believe it was the 3rd episode that explored metabolic changes that happen when you lose a great deal of weight, that make it much harder to maintain a weight afterward than it is for someone of a similar weight who had never been morbidly obese. As in, the person who lost the weight would need to consume about 300 less calories per day, vs the person who'd always been thin, when controlling for every other variable.

All of that (frustratingly) backs up Grant's and my experience these past couple of years. We both lost around 30 pounds, and then promptly gained it all back plus some, to be at mutually all-time-highest weights. We're both looking at round 2 - which is more like round 22, let's be real - and feeling more than a little disheartened.

Part of me really, REALLY responds to fat- and body positivity campaigns. I have a bathingsuit I think is super flattering, and I swim in public. I live in public. I have a husband who thinks I'm ravishing. I've found a few places I can reliably shop for clothes I genuinely like, on and off. I'm not afraid to do just about anything, and get pretty shocked when I find out other overweight people avoid being SEEN in public, eating in public, etc. I've got a good and full life, over here.

And my blood sugars, blood pressure, and cholesterol are all still awesome - probably due at least in part to us cooking from scratch often and eating tons of fresh fruits and vegetables. Aside from the occasional coffee, tea, or wine, I only drink water. Don't be fooled, now, I eat A LOT and I know it, and I eat a lot of fat - even when I'm eating very healthy, I just want fat all the time (olives, avocado, whole eggs, cheeses, etc). But I also think I eat a lot of healthy foods, and that helps me out in the body chemistry department vs someone fat who chows down on more cake, coke, and McDonald's? Who knows, maybe I've just been lucky.

Except that I get sick - a lot. And I stay sick for a long time, when I do. I never really connected that to being fat. Just now I was reading online, though, and I saw that a really disproportionate number of those hospitalized for flu are obese. Obesity was proven to be an independent risk factor for getting the flu, in 2009. Basically, being fat screws up your immune system. You get sick more - in general, not just with the flu - and you get sicker when you get sick. Here's the National Institute of Health, explaining it in more technical terms via PubMed. The
CDC actually lists those with body mass index greater than 40
as one of the subsets of people who need a flu shot, along with infants and the elderly and immunocompromised!

But, guess what? Flu shots don't work as well for the obese.

Kinda like how the morning-after pill doesn't work as well for overweight women. And who knows how many other medications.

I know someone (online) who is super active, fat positive, and strong. She bikes and walks often, is in circus school for crying out loud - she's also got a badass career and is a great mother. She had a terrifying pulmonary embolism a couple of years ago, related to the Nuva ring - which is much more likely, if you're fat. Like how ovarian cancer is more likely if you're fat. And about a million other things. I don't have the will to keep linking everything, but I assure you, this shit is easy to find if you go looking independently.

Basically, obese is not something you want to be. These health risks are freaking me out tonight on a level that nothing else I know about my weight ever has. This is going to be on my mind in a big way now, every time I come down with anything.

What good is my full life, if it's cut short? By infirmity or death, or both (one after the other)?

So... do I just believe I can be in that tiny sliver of people who manages what is basically statistically impossible? Even if the reality is that losing and regaining over and over is much worse for you than just staying the same amount of fat, over time? My therapist, annoying ass that he is, really likes to say it's just a matter of "making a decision, and sticking to it." Which is sort of hilarious, since he's a type 2 diabetic with a pot belly that's been on some diet or other as long as I've been going to see him (about 2 years now) with little if any result. Obviously everyone does better at doling out accurate advice than following it?

I'd give a long sigh right now, but I'd go into a coughing fit.
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Sep. 29th, 2015

Ananda and Aaron arrived home last Friday night from their high school's annual fine arts camp - 4 days, 3 nights. They told us stories for hours.

I felt so proud of Aaron (who had never been there before, and was texting me the first night that he couldn't sleep and didn't like it). He ended up having a great time and being really glad he went. He spent some time playing a tall console piano that he's still missing, in a room with 3 other students, and said all of them cried. Which is basically exactly how his piano playing effects me. Ananda then had to hear about it all week from them :p She only gets excited if he's playing something recognizable that she's into, like the theme from Howl's Moving Castle or Carol of the Bells, around Christmas.

The photography teacher apparently saw him for the first time and immediately asked if she could take pictures of him, and now wants to try to get him modeling contracts.

Aaron2 Aaron1

^Those are pics I took of him after he got his ears pierced.^

The biggest thing, though, is that Annie's gay friend E asked Aaron out, the night of the bonfire (Aaron is straight). He turned E down by saying, "I wish I could be into you because you're a great guy. I'm sorry it's not that easy - I'm really proud of you for going out on a limb, that had to be really hard." E went back to Annie and said, "your brother just didn't date me in the most epic way imagineable."

He is still him, and so he had a story about a panic stricken old guy screaming "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?! GET OUT OF THAT TREE, NOW! FEET FIRST!" I nearly killed him myself after he described going back alone to examine a yellow jacket hive after the swarm fell upon a girl who had to be taken to the hospital. I mean... he has seen My Girl. Get it together, Aaron.

He also came home WITHOUT his @&#)($ dance bag (that had jazz pants and shoes, ballet shoes, dance belt, dance tights, tank tops and more in it...)

Anyway. Ananda mostly laughed hysterically describing cabin antics, prank wars, and inside jokes. She also came home sore from moving constantly the entire evening of their dance, and knowing some new dances. She liked it better than last year, which was her first year, and that is saying something.

All in all it seems to have been money well spent.

Saturday was a complete fiasco that involved things like Aaron coming in my room with skates and pads in hand at 3:56 saying, "Mom, I'm supposed to be at Super Wheels at 4:00!" and Annie realizing, while we were out, that her iPhone had vanished. Teenagers, man.

Sunday was sleeping in and french toast brunch.


Then Grant and I went, alone, and got iced coffee from the farmer's market, and walked around Pinecrest Gardens for a good long time.

Aaaaand Sunday night, the seven of us met Shaun and my friend Kristin's mom, Melanie, on the beach - where HUNDREDS of others were as well, including fire twirlers and drummers - and watched the moonrise/eclipse. It was great. We had an awesome view, bags of food, spent hours in the water. I drank too much wine - or perhaps just the right amount.

The weird thing is that when I got home, my bathingsuit bottoms were FULL OF SAND - like, between the layers of fabric there is a TON of sand. You can gather it up into a big ball. I mean wth. I guess I'm going to have to cut the lining open to get it out? Sheesh.

Yesterday/Monday was good. Highlight of homeschooling was probably when Elise wanted all the details of how doctors get to people's brains, to operate, and Jake had to leave the room for that explanation... she is very consistently fascinated by death, medical procedures, anatomy, etc, and almost never upset by any of it. He is extremely sensitive to those kinds of things, and really irritated by her fascination. The last time I had a blood draw, he stayed in the waiting room and she was so inquisitive that the phlebotomist enlisted her help with things like swabbing the area and feeling the vein as it puffed up o_O

Annie had an orthodontist appointment in the afternoon - her impacted canines are STILL not out, though they're much lower down now than before. I also officially made our last payment on her braces, yesterday. Gooooood lord. Between pulling the baby canines (dentist), the braces themselves (ortho) and her oral surgery (specialist), we and our insurance have paid something like $13,000 toward her mouth in the past couple of years! So glad Aaron and Isaac don't need orthodontics.

Annie's mouth, day 1.

Annie's mouth, yesterday.

Her bottom teeth are so much straighter now! It's weird how clearly you can see the tiny chains from the impacted teeth (which get shortened gradually at every visit now).

I had to invest a chunk of the evening to my own school work - I had a French test, a Research Methods quiz, and a Research Methods lab assignment due last night. As soon as I finished Annie and I hit it out the door to go to a free outdoor Jose Gonzalez show featuring our favorite food trucks.

Cristy, me, Jose Gonzalez, and Annie, after the show was long over.

Cristy's Shaun's girlfriend and has only known us for a year or two. Elise hogs her bigtime when she's around, but she adores Isaac. Ananda and I realized as we talked after the show that she had no idea Isaac was ever in any way difficult or complicated. He's come so far and is doing so well that just seeing him now, she was thrown to learn he was a high needs baby, tyrannical toddler/preschooler, etc. I love it. Just telling her a couple of stories, I could see Shaun get the war-torn look of someone who has had to be in a restaurant when someone starts screaming, and has had the movie paused for half an hour every 10 minutes further in so we could try to wrangle Isaac...for years. It really impacted our ability to do anything, we always had to plan for Isaac - from bringing an inflatable dingy for Isaac to be pulled in because he wouldn't wade through the sandbars with us because he hated water, to... everything. It's impossible to overstate. It's so great that he's where he's at. I love that he can be happier now, and that we don't have to struggle all the freakin' time. The transformation over the past couple of years has been so radical.

This has already been written here and there over several hours, and is probably disjointed enough. I promised some people who are done with their workbooks that we'd visit Pet Supermarket and look at fish.
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Live Oaks, Killing me Softly...

I am staying at my sister's house since yesterday afternoon, with her older kids and a few of mine, while she and her husband stay at the hospital with their youngest. Isabella (3) had been acting lethargic and uncomfortable, with a distended belly, for too many days, so they took her in. She has some kind of non-mechanical bowel obstruction - apparently that's something that can happen after a stomach bug, when swelling or twisting of the intestines caused by inflammation from the illness won't let anything through.

The good news is that's usually treatable with a resting period of not eating for a couple of days. So she probably doesn't need surgery or any other radical intervention - just IV fluids and observation, along with some meds to make it hurt less and lots of probiotics.

Since I am basically The Princess (and the Pea), I don't sleep well at other people's houses, on couches. There is a very precise confluence of events, involving nudity and too many (specific) pillows and a lot of room and a blasting fan, that all have to transpire for me to only suffer my normal level of insomnia. But after I cleaned the kitchen from dinner and made Elizabeth giggle until she wasn't sad and otherwise acted responsible, I did manage to get really excited and start longing for a new kind of roadtrip.

I found this picture on tumblr, of a 350 year old oak tree (verified via other sites):

To say I love it is not saying enough. These trees make me ache in the chest. I can't drink them in enough.

I go out of my way to drive through tunnels of "old" live oaks in the Gables pretty regularly, and those are babies by comparison. This is one of those, that I've been using as my facebook cover photo for awhile:

I mean I accidentally found myself among live oaks at sunset on my last roadtrip and almost lost my damned mind.

Last night I learned there are various individually named and dated live oaks that are hundreds of years old. Angel Oak is in Charleston, and more than 1500 years old. <--DO YOU HEAR WHAT I'M SAYING?

The Angel Oak tree:

(from tumblr user rorybore)

(from tumblr user nottheleaningtowerofpisa)

(from tumblr user gregfoster)

(from tumblr user cgawel)

I would like to encourage you to go find more angles to view this tree from ;) There are endless streams of pictures of it in the "Angel Oak" tag on tumblr and on Instagram.

You can also visit "Oak Alley Plantation," where movies like Interview With the Vampire (and many others) were filmed...

Though they are sad places, with slave quarters intact, and a lot of sordid history. I suppose it's all kind of dark.

I found this image last night - the "Tree of Redemption."

It's a lot to take in. The South as a whole is so awful, and lovely, and weird, and haunting, and ultimately my opinion is something like "It's not the trees' fault! They were here, first!"

Hopefully they'll be here after us. And I'll get to hang out with some more of them soonish.

(Angel Oak again, this time by tumblr-er leahdeleah)
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My whole life is education. A lot of it is very good, much of it is deeply exhausting, some of it is very challenging - which can be both great and terrible.

Driving 3 kids to and from school for 45 minutes, twice a day. 7.5 hour per week driving to and from the school! Going to all their various open houses, too, and contacting their teachers, buying their supply lists, asking how it is, buying them more supplies, sitting up talking about it, handing them more money, filling out stacks of forms.

Homeschooling 2 kids. Reading to them, taking them places, guiding them through things, assigning them things, sitting down to meals with them, sitting down at the computer to search for things they're wondering about, checking over their pages of writing or of problems, getting everything out for something.

My school. Hours at statistics homework pausing and unpausing lecture videos with a calculator and a notebook. Reading and reading and reading assigned reading about neuroanatomy, "the triune brain," the modules for my training certification to do research, slides forEVER on research projects and lab criteria. Adobe Connect meetings in a headset with one group, formatting APA citations for discussion board posts with another. 45 minutes at a time with my french teacher talking on a headset, recording myself speaking french in little bursts. High pressure 5 minute timed quizzes hunched over a laptop. Laptop perched on the windowsill playing video lectures as I wash dishes.

Highlighters and the wall calendar and my phone's calendar and sitting down at night to record what Jake and Elise have done and make lists for the next day. Squinting as I triple check 10 different links to make sure I'm not missing any deadlines.

I love it and I'm glad it's temporary. Every bit of it, though I'm relishing the Jake and Elise part, and I'm less lonely/restless with my mind more occupied.

Still low key lonely/restless.

pictures!Collapse )
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Sep. 11th, 2015

Man. I've been so calloused to the meme-style, overly political and often war-justifying 9/11 stuff that floods my social media feeds every year that I haven't actually felt anything about it in a long time. I get frustrated with how people act as though the deaths of three thousand americans 14 years ago is somehow more significant than the suffering and deaths of millions around the world ever since (or, you know, right now).

This morning, though, I realized Jake and Elise don't know anything about 9/11 or even realize today is a "thing." Since they're in 3rd and 4th grade now I figured they were ready for a historical overview - for knowing that today is a Day for a lot of people in this country.

Damned if I did not cry excessively explaining it and then seemingly traumatize them forever. I didn't even go for broke (window jumpers, daycare in the building, scary graphic videos, etc), but to see it for the first time through their eyes is so awful. *sigh*

I see some of my friends posting things about, for instance, the Story Corps episode on 9/11 making them ugly-cry.

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Sep. 6th, 2015

I feel so challenged AND so capable, both in the best ways!

My days are very, very full right now, and I'm actually sleeping at night, but much less is mindless activity and much more is deeply engaging, which I love.

A typical day, lately, involves getting everyone up and fed breakfast, rounding up food for the school kids to take, and driving them to school with some talk about what's going on at school that day. Then, I come home with Jake and Elise, and we work on months of the year and multiplication tables (combination of looking at things we have hung up, reciting, and sometimes grabbing manipulatives). We look at things they've been interested in or curious about online (like looking up "what is the most dangerous animal on land" and "can you pee in a spacesuit") and then they do their chores while I grab some coffee and check some stuff online.

Over the next few hours, there are times when I work on a laptop while they do their workbook or other sit-down work; times when they have free play or work on projects while I either take high-pressure tests/quizzes or do french work that requires me to record myself or log on and speak with a teacher; and times when I take them out places like the library, or to the ocean, or on an exploratory walk, or the Frost museum. We'll probably be getting a zoo membership and hitting Pinecrest Gardens, soon. They both have lists of things on hold, at the library, too. I recently posted some videos and pictures from one of these "field trips" on my tumblr, under the "personal" tag.

The three of us always sit down and eat lunch together. Sometimes Elise makes the 3 of us sandwiches, or Jake uses the toaster oven and leftovers to make us all nachos, but usually I cook. One day last week, I guided them through the process of making several loaves of banana bread - the only things I actually did was chop nuts and move the loaf pans to the oven. So, they got to brag to their older siblings (who devoured most of it) that THEY made that.

In the evenings here and there I give them supplemental things, but mostly they log into their Reading Rainbow and Animal Jam accounts online or color. There's a strict "no screens" rule in effect during the actual school day. I'm glad Elise is excited about Girl Scouts and Jake has some friends in the neighborhood, because the only thing I ever really worry about with them is that they're more isolated than any of my other homeschooled kids have ever been. They just don't have an extracurricular passion or motivation for a particular sport or whatever. They enjoy groups that are just for hanging out or arts and crafts, and they like classes when PATH offers them.

They're getting along so well. I really cherish their innocence and unselfconsciousness.

I also eat up the way the big kids are changing. Aaron's jawline could cut glass. Annie makes me laugh constantly. Isaac LOVES his new school.

I love hearing about their days. I try to rotate taking them out solo as much as possible on the evenings and weekends. We have a lot of sleepy cuddle piles in the evenings.

Our calendar is ABSURD, between Grant's business trips, things I have to go to campus for, the kids' various open house and art dept nights and field trips, everyone's various appts for health, dental, and psych - absurd. We have 3 birthdays and Halloween, in October. I have a friend getting married out of town this fall, and we're starting to plan for that whole-family travel. There's also going to be an Ani Difranco concert for a few of us, and G was selected to be a part of a live NPR event he's pretty excited about.

Grant and I keep finding ourselves standing in front of our big wall calendar suggesting different things that don't work over and over.

I've already had a prolonged cold. I do wish I had more regular, built-in time to socialize with people outside this immediate little group I'm cocooned with, IRL. I am heavily utilizing text and fb messenger lately, and my friend Kathy comes with her kids once evening a week and they have dinner with us, but I still start crawling out of my skin for real life grownup interactions.

My classes are so fucking intense! First of all my stats teacher recommended I take Research Methods co-currently, rather than after Stats is over, since he's designed his course for that to work and I just got a 64% in his class during Summer B. After a silly amount of messaging, email, calls, trips to campus, forms, and financial aid snags, I am back in a position of being able to graduate in December - assuming they offer the very last, 2 credit thing I need in the mini-term during December. They usually do, but it's not guaranteed yet. So that is great, complicated though it's been to work out!

For having ONLINE classes, these feel much less strictly online than I'm used to. My BioPsych class has mandatory groups you have to meet with in the community, throughout the semester. French requires logging in for skype-like sessions with the teacher once a week, for 45 minutes, as well as recording myself talking quite a bit. All 5 of my Statistics exams are on campus, proctored.

Aside from that, though, the workloads are just rigorous. My BioPsych discussion board posts - normally the most banal of tasks in any online class - require a thesis statement, a word count, and APA citations. My french discussion board posts (you guessed it) have to be in french. This french class has DOZENS of assignments per unit, and about 10 days per unit! Research Methods has several big papers throughout the semester. And, of course - Stats. Though so far at least, I'm feeling way better about that. At least the first third of the course seems to be something I have down at this point (not a moment to freakin' soon, eh?).

I'm currently working my way through all the modules and quizzes necessary to get a certification that will allow me to do Human Behavioral Research - both through my Research Methods class this semester, in the future in the FIU labs, and also at other institutions. It's very interesting and almost embarrassingly exciting - sharing my account is illegal! The modules are called things like, "Assessing Risk," "Informed Consent," "Federal Regulations," and "Working With Prisoners!"

Get a load of these BioPsych calendar segments:

08/31 Anatomy of the Nervous System 3.0-3.4
09/07 Anatomy of the Brain 3.5 & 3.6
09/14 Neural Conduction & Synaptic Transmission I 4.0-4.4
09/21 Neural Conduction & Synaptic Transmission II 4.5-4.7
09/28 Development of The Nervous System Chapter 9
10/05 Review & Midterm Exam
10/12 Hunger & Eating 12.0-12.4
10/19 Hunger & Eating 12.5-12.7; Hunger Project due
10/26 Hormones & Sex 13.3-13.7
11/02 Sleep I 14.0-14.3; Sex Project due
11/09 Sleep II 14.4-14.8
11/16 Addiction 15.0-15.3; Sleep Project due

To say I am eating it up is putting it lightly.

I'm also juggling an agenda with 6 colors of highlighters, and making massive lists before I go to bed each night, for the following day. Two weeks in, though, I feel really good about everything. I get completely fried periodically, and can find myself REALLY enjoying my time out with Jake and Elise during the school day as a break for me as much as something good for them. And, Grant helps a lot, when he's in the state and not involved with all day training for his own certifications. We were out on a date this morning for a couple of hours. He's currently coloring at the dining table behind me.

And I guess I'm gonna go to sleep now and not make any promises about when I'll get back to this next.
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I'm thinking a LOT this week about classism, charter schools, and the underfunding of public schools in general.

I live in south Florida, in Miami-Dade County, and our public schools are pretty terrible. As a result, there are many homeschooling families and much homeschool support here, of which we are a part. The state is even heavily pushing their own K-12 Virtual School program, which is undertaken at home - out of necessity. They can't handle the population load.

Ever since we started putting some of our kids into the school system a few years ago, I've been really surprised by how different it is than when I was in school.

Upper middle class and rich people are still largely in the private schools. Aside from them, though, what I see is that among (what's left of) the middle class, all the PTA moms, all the dads with businesses that are willing to sponsor a team or club, a lot of the parents who have the resources to chaperone a field trip - all the the kids who've had financially privileged beginnings involving the nurture of a stay at home parent, high quality childcare, and/or extracurricular activities - none of those people are in the regular public schools anymore. They've all headed for the hills, aka "free" public charter schools.

Which I get. Obviously I get it - aside from being homeschooled, my kids have only went to charter schools. The non-charter public schools (regular district schools), at least around here, are...in my opinion... no place for children :/ Which is a sad state of affairs. One that is more easily ignored since middle class people, who have more time and education and likelihood of voting than poor people generally do, have an alternate option.

One district elementary school I looked at years ago had 45 students in a single kindergarten class. Of them, around 15 spoke no english. The teacher only spoke english, and didn't even have an aid. She could have been the best teacher in the world, but what can you really manage in a situation like that?

If you want your child in a class of under or around 20, with an aid in the room, and you don't have private school money, you put them in a charter school. If you want your child to have field trips, and regular art and music, you put them in a charter school. If you want them to have ongoing access to up to date technology - yeah. Charter school. If you'd like to avoid a school that's recently been in the news for violence or scandal, if you would like extracurricular activities or tutoring options available, if you want a school with decent test scores - most of those schools are charter schools. Assuming you can't afford private, obviously. There are only a scant handful of exceptions, most of them involving either a very rich enclave as their district (like Palmetto High), or special magnet funding (like Coral Reef has).

Theoretically, charter schools are public and therefore open to anyone. That's what's behind their stated policies of taking any student, and it's how it's justified that they receive public education funding. In theory they're wonderful collectives started by passionate groups of people who come together for the good of the community, to provide superior options for whoever would like to take advantage. Tons of volunteer hours go into getting them up and running. The principals and administration are often top-notch, and sometimes full-on visionaries.

Except that, unlike regular district schools, they don't offer (often can't offer) free transportation. Students come from all over, which the county is not prepared to accommodate, and so private bus options start at around $100 per month per child. Charter schools are also less likely to offer before and after school care, and it can be *expensive* when they do. Last year, A&A's school had none, and the younger kids' school was charging me $150 per week for the 3 of them to stay after school for ONE HOUR, TWO DAYS PER WEEK. You can rationalize the costs of transportation and childcare as real expenses that money needs to exist for, or compare those amounts to the costs of taxis and nannies and say they're reasonable, but the fact is that those things are free or very cheap at normal district public schools around here. Parents who are barely scraping by with government assistance, and who have to work at those times, just cannot consider these schools for their kids. A couple of big local charters are even out in the middle of nowhere, with VARIABLE DISMISSAL TIMES, with their complete lack of public transit or before/after care. Practical logistics are a huge barrier to entry.

Charter schools are more likely to offer real and nutritious food for meals, that costs more. One of the schools my kids have attended has no free lunch option because the free lunch program doesn't work with the catering company and chef the school uses. I like that it's better food! But it's also $4.75 per student per lunch, which adds up REALLY fast. In a county where charitable programs pop up to provide free meals at libraries every winter and spring break and summer vacation, to feed all the kids who ONLY EVER EAT free breakfast and lunch, during the school year... that is really significant. It seems almost shameful in my mind, although I also completely understand the good intentions of the people who started it. Regular school lunch is gross, it's about the cheapest possible route, not nutrition. Again, because public schools are underfunded.

Also unlike regular district schools, charter schools are able to have all kinds of requirements for attending - like a minimum number of parent volunteer hours that can only be opted out of through monetary donations, required parental attendance at certain open house events, and looooooong supply lists that cost hundreds of dollars to acquire. Both of our charter schools have required all of those things. I've also had to buy more than a dozen novels, 5 or 6 workbooks, and 3 textbooks, so far. If you fail to meet a requirement, you lose your seat for the following year. Which I guess brings up the waiting lists, and the fact that poor parents - and especially poor first generation immigrant parents who suffer language barriers, of which there are MANY around here - often don't even have the connections to understand what a charter school is, or how it works. Let alone to sign up by January to get their kid's name down on a list, for Fall. I talked to a Mexican woman in a back to school aisle last year who was shocked that charter schools don't charge tuition, and started immediately calling her friends to let them know that. To be clear, we were talking about a SPRAWLING local K-12 charter with thousands of kids attending in many buildings, with several surrounding athletic fields. She and her social network had assumed it was a private school since it doesn't appear in their district options and their kids weren't automatically assigned to it.

There is also a culture of pressure to spend, at charters. Though not technically "requirements," you still feel like you HAVE TO DO certain things as a parent, and your kids feel it too. Like $10 tickets to see their holiday show, $30 to buy your own kid's artwork in a frame, $150+ for field trips to other cities that involve fancy busses and meals included, sending in $5 to put in the teacher's birthday card, contributing items to their Thanksgiving feast and Halloween parties, $10 for a "Friday shirt" different from their normal uniform polos, $5 each every week for this afterschool thing they all want to do, and on and on and on. It's neverending and sometimes very short notice. I get stressed out about it at times, but I feel like it would be nervous breakdown territory if I was living in poverty. It is really Private School Lite, or as Ananda would say, Lowkey Private School.

There's just no way most of the families in the town I live in can handle any of it. So their kids just all, collectively, fall through the cracks of the education system, and attend public schools that much worse off because the people with the time and money to spare have opted out of them. In the past, poor kids in district schools with busy and/or neglectful parents (like, you know, ME AS A CHILD) benefited from the voluteerism and proactivity of other kids' parents. Especially in a place like the greater Miami area, where the wage disparity is so enormous. In addition to helping to enrich the environment and pick up slack, they were also the ones to pitch a fit about poor conditions at school board meetings. Now, those same people are relatively content at charters, instead of complaining en masse about horrible conditions. I'm sure the dramatic income inequality here contributed to this whole charter school phenomenon taking off the way it has...

The underfunding is disgusting. Truly disgusting. No public school in Florida is given the amount of money they need to do what they should be doing. Charter schools have totally classed off, and families attending them are constantly subsidizing the amount the school's given by the govt, to get their schools closer to having what they actually need. This, again, gets the attention of many voters off the situation that remains at the district schools. AND, the charter schools are diverting government funding away from the district schools. I don't think it's fair to expect individual charter school parents to sacrifice their own child's quality of education to this cause by putting them back in a floundering district school, in an attempt to shoulder what used to be dozen's of parents burdens all on their own. I don't know what we need at this point. I feel like a hypocrite writing all this out.

I am in the beginning phases of research into what I can do, support, donate to, help with, vote for, etc to get public school funding up and to benefit kids in district schools. I am also kinda grossed out by how, on the surface, everybody just pretends that since ALL the public schools are "free," that means it's just parents who care more, who send their kids to charter schools. That is a common assumption I've personally heard parroted many times. "These are better kids, because it's the kids of parents who care enough to get them on a charter list and drive them out of the way, instead of just sending them to a district school." While that may be a factor that plays in sometimes, it's also a wild oversimplification. Even if it was true - do we really want to leave the kids of neglectful or apathetic parents to struggle at school, too?
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Aug. 23rd, 2015

It is SO GOOD to have Grant home.

Isaac needed to have his bloodwork and urinalysis done at the same time as I had counseling, this morning, but it was no big deal, because we just split up.

In addition to Isaac, a couple of others are lowkey sick, and this time G made the Gatorade, popsicles, etc run - AND THEN made absolutely delicious chicken noodle soup from scratch. I was able to make a big platter of meat, cheese, tomatoes, olives, and basil leaves, and set it out with a whole sliced baguette, as a big snack, and he prepped everything for the soup at the same time. So that we had dinner ready a couple of hours later, like magic.

Things just seem so much easier with a partner. He's taking Monday off so I can go to FIU like I need to, as people are getting out of their first day in school, and Annie has to go to the orthodontist.

Also - he's just so warm and cuddly and good. For most of my life I've thought that true love would be passionate sex when reuniting, but with us it's more like a narcotic sedative when he arrives after a trip. He's in our bedroom again and we're both moving through water while we try to talk, drowsy and slow. I press myself against him and that is IT.

I'm getting excited about homeschooling Jake and Elise. The hours with just them and me, devoted intentionally to them learning things. They're so wonderful and curious and funny. This school year is shaping up really well, Ananda and Aaron are both ready to go back and know they like it, Isaac has shifted from nerves to excitement about starting somewhere new. Elise is adorable, she is actually giddy about "being a third grader" even though almost nothing actually changes. I think it's like an age number going up, in her mind.

I'm weighing a couple of different membership options for us, like the zoo vs botanical gardens, etc. Whatever it is has to fit in the budget and make sense for some unit studies. "The budget" is somewhat stressful at the moment, but I feel enough cozy domestic bliss to ignore it until we sit down to strategize again tomorrow.
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Aug. 21st, 2015

I don't know how I reached a point in my life where I turn on Enya and start a bundle of sage and some jasmine oil burning, but here we are. It feels pretty nice to be all freshly clean in the dark with a glass of cold moscato, after this neverending beast of a day.

I failed (to get the C I needed for it to "count") Stats II again, in Summer B. In Summer A I got a low F, in Summer B I got a D+. So that blows, but I've kinda just refused to invest the energy in being devastated by it again, like I was the first time I failed. It was such a demoralizing ego blow, to realize I'd really have to try hard and not just for an A, but to pass the class. I'm not to the point of being proud of myself for perseverance, which is what Grant is trying to encourage, but I am zen about this as being only one part of my life.


-In Summer A I got test scores like 12% and 19%. In Summer B I got test scores like 48% and 70%. Clearly I'm making progress and will thus actually pass the fucking class eventually. A big part of my Summer A anxiety was an overwhelming fear that I just wasn't capable of learning the material.
-The D+ replaces the F, which helps my overall GPA.
-I did also do very well in Neuropsychology, which I LOVED, and The Individual in Society, which I liked, this summer, and thus earned myself 6 more credits toward my degree.
-My children are all so sweet and sympathetic -"But you worked so hard and study so much!" "Oh man, you were so close this time!" I think Elise actually feels better about herself for the tests she was failing in 2nd grade (for non-reading).
-So far, this hasn't impacted my financial aid, fear of which was another major cause of me panicking in Summer A.

Snail's pace it is. I'll be taking Stats II in the fall starting Monday, along with Intro to Bio Psych, which sounds fascinating, and a french class, as I am inexplicably hell bent on learning french. I don't need to do much other than that even though it's a longer/normal semester, because I'm almost done with the entire degree, minus this research sequence that begins with freakin' Stats II.

I've thought a lot about that previous entry, on "external novelty," and decided it really might be me coming to accept that I DO want a lot of it, and seek it out. I realize that sounds ridiculous and contradictory, but I have a long established pattern of pitching a long, final, protesting fit about something before coming around and admitting I'm all about it. See: cloth diapers, homebirth, extended breastfeeding, the Catholic Church, IUDs, leaving Christianity altogether, polyamory (and monogamy), AND MORE. Listing every problem I have with something and defending my existing position as being against it is kiiiiinda how I work through my feelings of wanting that something. Sometimes, at least.

This is related to why I was willing to engage in tedious and frustrating arguments online for so long - people like to say, "Do you really think you're going to change someone's mind?" as though it's impossible. But I've had my mind changed by things in online arguments more than once. That is a thing that can happen. Even if the person you're arguing with is unswayable, there are always silent lurkers reading. Unfortunately I just don't generally have the energy for it anymore. Debate zaps me like little else.

I spent last Fri-Sun gallivanting all over the state again, visiting old friends. Good talk, good laughs, good food, good hugs. TERRIBLE nonexistent sleep, though. I am just too "Princess and the Pea" to sleep at other people's houses, I think. I mean I can barely sleep at my house! Otherwise, it was a great time and I'm very glad to have done it. I had some great stranger interactions too, including an Amanda Palmer fan spotted in the wild by her tattoo.

I got back and hit the ground running...met Grant and the kids at a restaurant north of our house, for dinner, before we all headed home and I unloaded my stuff. Then we had to get up at 4:30am, to take him to the airport so he could fly out to Maryland for work.

I've gotten a lot accomplished this week, though it's frustrating at times how circuitous and/or boring some of it is.

-Isaac's school orientation
-his haircut
-shopping for his uniforms
-his psych appointment
-and a bloodwork referral, for some minor physical problems that just aren't going away
-Aaron's haircut
-buying crickets for his spider
-getting his ears pierced, like he's wanted to forever
-school supply shopping
-school lunch shopping
-curriculum and field trip planning, with Jake and Elise
-cleaning out their cubbies
-scheduling their evaluations
-an Old Navy trip for khakis and jeans for the school kids

I've also had a ton of cuddle time with Elise, who is SO sweet and fun to come home to, and some with Jake (along with lots of talking with him), and shows with Annie, and dates with Aaron and Isaac out places.

They're all pretty great.

Annie is SO 15. She's so into having a cultivated aesthetic that she's practically in costume most of the time. I'll come home and she's just randomly in a full blown hipster getup with tons of jewelry and sun glasses, in the kitchen, and has the audacity to ask, "What?" if I look at her a second too long. She goes into rants about the most silly precocious nonsense, like communism, and 13 year olds who idealize the 90s even though they didn't even live through them <---she truly cannot even hear herself. It's hilarious in advance to think of the conversations we'll have about the things she's saying now, when she's 25. She's got friends over or is out meeting friends or staying at their houses pretty often. She talks about her plans for when she's 18 a lot.

Aaron is less depressed, and really happy with his haircut and his earrings. He was happy to see Darrien for awhile while I was away, since D's been down for the summer with his dad. He and Grant seem to be getting closer and it's great to watch.

Isaac is REALLY excited about starting a new school, and being a middle schooler. It's a nice change from him just being nervous. He is adorable and loves his new haircut. He's been sick off and on for weeks, and complaining of being too hot to do things or sleep periodically for years now. He keeps getting nauseous and getting headaches, for a couple of years if not forever. It's something we talked to his gastroenterologist about LONG ago, and the people at the hospital when he was in patient for constipation, and his doctor, but to no avail. He had lingering coughs and colds many times over the past year, some of which were severe and interfered with his ability to do things. He saw his pediatrician multiple times, he had a chest x-ray, he had allergy testing - no answers. Some of it could be anxiety related (headaches and stomachaches especially, but he was also using a light cough as a tic and that would sometimes turn into more intense coughing he couldn't control). I don't know what to do with him lately. He's throwing up too often when he lays down at night, he's acting really rundown and tired and congested during the day. Even though he's happy and productive. The PA who takes his vitals and measurements before he sees the psychiatrist suggested a couple of things that could be to blame that I haven't heard before, like hypothyroidism or a Vitamin D deficiency, so we're doing a blood panel. In the meantime I'm making him a lot of cups of tea and going to pick him up a lot of gatorade and reading him a lot of Narnia.

Jake has a really rich inner life. He tells me all the time about questions he has about life, about dreams he had that made him cry, about the elaborate things he's built with legos, and the books he's reading. He also makes me nuts begging for screen time 24/7 and acting incapable of handling 5 minutes without something engaging him. It's a weird mix. He's a weird kid, but in a good way (I think). He's a little whiny and sarcastic about school starting, but also willing, and very capable. He's eager for the field trips and the time alone with Elise and me. He goes out of his way to do nice things for her really often.

Elise is a happy and excited hilarious nut. She wants to be a taxidermist when she grows up. She has a bird skeleton she's keeping on the porch, that I'll only let her touch with her big rubber gloves on. She keeps talking in this guttural horror movie voice. She's also frequently doing awkward and clumsy "ballet" she wants me to watch. Her reading has really taken off - I got her a multi-pack of Fancy Nancy early readers at BJ's tonight and she was able to read me all 6 titles in probably less than 2 minutes. Books like that take a third the time they would have, for her to read me, vs 3 months ago. She LOVED the weeks she spent at Girl Scout camp SO MUCH, and can't wait to start going to troop meetings when they start up. She's just nothing but joy. Quick to help with anything I ask, affectionate as all get out, genuinely entertaining. Sometimes her prattling on and on can get tedious, but that has really started to shift as she has more language bursts and hesitates less in the middle of her sentences.

I've gotta go to bed. Tomorrow is a night that will once again feature Grant, and I am ready. I've decided his armpit is my favorite place in this world. He was lying in a hotel bed while we skyped earlier and it's almost terrible, how great he looked.
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