Saturday, January 31, 2009


Some combination of my brain trying to hold more information that it is designed to independently contain and the trip to Wyoming for the funeral killed my NaBloPoMo success this month.

We're off to Disney utopia for 10 days in about 45 minutes.  So I won't be posting until mid-February.  Have a great time while I'm gone. Here are some of the blogs crying for attention in my google reader that you can check out while you pine for my charm and wit:

The Black Snob.  My favorite source of what's hot and what's not.
Mr. Creativity and Organization Guy. Check out the video from Jan 27.
Seattle Police Department Blotter.  Get some perspective on life in Seattle
What Tami Said.  A really smart woman whose opinion and point of view I value.

See ya real soon!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bitter Sweet

Between being the nutrition freak that I am and being the mother of a child allergic to corn, my opinions about high fructose corn syrup tend towards sinister. 

Recent research just dropped my tolerance of it to negative levels.  Turns out, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) may contain elevated levels of mercury.  Not from the corn itself, but from the chemical processes used to do whatever it is they do to a nice juicy ear to convert it to HFCS.

I'll skip the long rant about how the governments subsidizes the corn industry (I'm pretty sure Mr. Pollen did that already). And my general freak out about how HFCS seems to bypass the signals in our brain that tell us we are full, thus allowing our body to consume inhuman amounts of junk such as soft drinks (check out this fantastic blog post by someone else). Just please, don't consume the stuff and really don't give it to your kids!

Now how do we keep life sweet?
Try a little stevia in your tea.
Add some agave nectar in your coffee.
Bake some dried sugar cane juice into those cookies.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Sudden Travel

One of my grandmothers died last week.  We quickly cobbled together travel plans and have spent the past week in South Dakota and Wyoming attending the funeral and visiting relatives. 

I'm glad we came. She had some undetermined degenerative neurological issues to the degree that she couldn't remember who I was two summers ago. So while I emotionally had said goodbye over a year ago, it was good to come and officially recognize her passing and connect with family.  

Before coming to Spearfish, SD to attend the funeral, we spent a few days in Sheridan, WY to visit my other grandmother.  She is doing well, seems healthy for someone over 80 years young: moving around reasonably well and full of questions, opinions, stories and admiration for her great-grandkids. 

I consider myself blessed.  How many people are so fortunate to live almost 40 years old with the delightful company of 2 grandmothers?  Assuming I share those long-lived genes of theirs, I hope I ripen to the sweetness of wise perspective and loving acceptance they both have showered upon me in recent years.

Monday, January 12, 2009


The rats are back.  They found a new way into the basement crawl space.  The stench has rendered our entire living space uninhabitable.

We noticed a small stink on Thursday afternoon.  Garbages were emptied, couches were vacuumed but nothing offensive was discovered.  Finally by Friday evening the smell was so bad Bill was compelled to explore the crawl space where he found ample evidence of the dang critters.  I went to bed grossed out and mad.

That night, I dreamed that it was an incredibly dry, windy summer. There was some wild-fire sweeping through south Seattle.  Firefighters came and gave us 2 hours to evacuate. Using our handy-dandy FlyLady evacuation list, we got everything that was important and meaningful to us into my car - you know, 5 people, the dog and her food, computers, essential ID/financial files, pictures and our pillows.  Then we drove to a friend's house on the Eastside where we spent a happy camp-like few weeks.

Our house burned to the ground, all the rats in the neighborhood died, and Bill's car I despise was destroyed. Insurance fully paid to rebuild everyone's houses, bought us a new minivan and replaced everything we needed and wanted.  Everyone live safely and happily ever after.

The pest control guy is coming this afternoon to look around and hopefully clean up.  I'm sure we'll throw a bunch more money at this house before we conquer the rat problem. Sure makes a dry windy summer sound nice.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

West Wing Teaser

Just finished another episode of West Wing.  With 15 minutes until the time I promised myself to be tucked into bed, you watch this delightful and thought provoking scene while I brush my teeth.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Sleep Hygiene

As you may recall, I'm sort of a sleep geek.  Not, apparently, because I'm good at it, but because I love to gather information about it.  

One of the ideas tossed around in most all sleep books* is the concept of good sleep hygiene. Essentially, doing the right things to help us fall asleep easily and stay that way until our 8 hours have been fulfilled.

Unlike dental hygiene, sleep hygiene is multifaceted and can be quite complex. Good sleep requires a careful balance of the right amount of the right things at the right times.  This list includes sleep (because sleep begets sleep), food, exercise, emotional release/connection, and light.  For some of us, a carefully managed environment plays a big roll in our level sleep. Again with a long list ranging from the location of the room in the house to wall colors to the number and fill of pillows to be used.

Modern life is not particularly conducive to good sleep hygiene.  And yet, in order to survive and succeed in this modern day and age I believe we need, maybe more than at anytime before, to be well rested.  We drive huge, heavy objects at alarming speed and parent small children in relative isolation.  More than any other age, we modern folk need our wits and good judgement about us. 

Today I sabotaged my own sleep in a variety of small ways.  I skipped my scheduled morning walk -  planned to alert my body and brain to the beginning of a new day.  I drank a not-quite completely decaf coffee at 3pm.  Even at 9ish grams of caffeine, this is way to late for my stimulant-sensitive body.  I took a brisk and invigorating walk with the kids at 7pm, now causing the alerting I needed at 7am.  Finally, I watched an episode of West Wing with my hubby.  Beyond the issues of the over-stimulation of the light receptors in my brain now telling me it must be high noon, the level of emotion and conflict effectively dramatized by Aaron Sorken set my adrenaline sky-high.

It seems it shouldn't be that hard to get a good night's sleep. None of these alone were crazy choices and still combined they spelled out disaster for my rest.  My children no longer nurse every two hours at night and sleep deprivation is not currently my perpetual state, so regaining the few hours lost tonight will be relatively easy. And yet, tomorrow I will strive to be extra aware of how I drive and how I handle stress, especially in combination with my small children. 

How are you doing for sleep?  

* my favorite sleep books are
The Promise of Sleep by William Dement
Sleepless in America by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka 

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Going Out is Hard To Do

The kids and I spent a large portion of the day out.  We ran some errands, visited the library and stopped in to join the local Boys and Girls Club.

For some reason today I really registered how complicated being part of our family is. 

Several of our tasks included meeting new people, which meant introductions.  Over the past few months I've developed a very clear introduction line.  "I'm Sara.  This is my son Theo and my daughter Rosie." The special emphasis is important both because Theo wearies of being called a girl due to his long hair and because it is helpful to avoid the potentially hazardous line of questioning around how Rosie fits into the picture because she doesn't look like Theo and me.

Time at the library and the Boys and Girls Club involved people trying asses what level the kids would be at.  "What grade are they in?" seems like a reasonable question.  Except as homeschoolers, we don't do grade-levels and my kids are somehow averse to the whole concept.  Usually answering sidewards with their age does the trick, but the Club really wanted a grade. Because Theo was 8 the woman declared him a 3rd grader.  Which technically would be wrong since he was 7 in September.  But depending on whether he needs social or academic maturity he might fit better in 2nd or 3rd.  I really wanted to start a long conversation about why she wanted to know and what answer would best serve him, but there were 10 kids waiting for her to check them in, so I didn't. Sigh.

Especially around groups of kids, I notice our family being stared at.  We got long looks and lots of pointing at the club today.  As usual, I had no clue if it was because Rosie looks different than us, that my 8 year old boy has long hair, that I'm that freaky attachment-focused mom trespassing in kid-land or if I had spinach in my teeth.  I try not to take the stares personally, but I wonder what it is like for my two kids to always be on display.  And how hard is that on them when they are at their most unsure and shy in a new environment?

Today I am aware that growing up as one of my children is not an easy thing to do. In the long-run, I hope our children find that the benefits of our very alternative choices out-weigh the costs.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Homeschool Adjustments

On Saturday, Bill and I had our 2nd Homeschooling Offsite. We've been having general-purpose quarterly family offsites for several years now, and this summer we decided to spin off an additional dedicated quarterly offsite for homeschooling.

We farmed the kids off to my brother and walked down to Columbia City.  Over four hours of (decaf) coffee we talked about why we homeschool and how we think we best should do it.

Since our last offsite I've been brewing a crisis of faith. The large resistance Theo has mounted over the fall combined with two books I've read recently have had me deeply questioning my approach to teaching both he and his sister. For input beyond said books, I've picked the brains of many teachers I admire.  In one mind-stretching day I problem solved with both an unschooling mom and a public school teacher.

The list of concerns I dumped on Bill went something like this:
  • John Medina, in his book Brain Rules, says that the best learners are emotionally engaged in their learning.  Also that they get lots of repetition, sleep and exercise.  And stress interferes with their ability to retain and recall information learned.
  • Malcom Gladwell, in his book Outliers, discovers that people need to log 10,000 hours -about 6-8 hours/day for 10 years - to become true experts at any given skill (playing a musical instrument or programming computers). If one of my goals is to support my kids in doing what they love, I want to make sure my notions of "schooling" don't interfere with their 10,000 hours. 
  • Theo is resistant to about half the things I try to do start with him.  Often once we start he enjoys himself and even feels proud of what he has accomplished.
  • My professional teacher friend suggested that, while I have found curriculum that are good for Theo, they are too monotone.  Meaning they always do the same things the same way.  She suggested we need to explore various "modalities." For example: instead of using pencil and paper for spelling every day, use sand in a cookie sheet or write with squeeze cheese or use our Scrabble tiles. He needs variety to engage his interest then the information can hold it.
  • Rosie spends huge amounts of her day singing and dancing.  At this point, we do very little to support those interests.

Talking things like this out with Bill is always a delight.  He does a great job of focusing on what is important and helping us work systematically down to what needs to happen today based on our stated priorities.

Here is the summary from our meeting.  Keeping in mind that these are our notes to ourselves and they make sense to me because I was there, I would love to hear what you think.

Our goals:

Ensure our children 
  • truly believe that what they want and need are important (to us).  
  • love to learn and learn what is important to them.
  • feel good about themselves.
  • have a good relationship with us.

In short, preserve and enhance our children's relationships with themselves, with us, and with learning.

Give our children the skills and information necessary to succeeded in the world.
  • form meaningful relationships with others (read and respond appropriately)
  • core academic skills:

    • reading, writing, math
    • understanding how the world works (history, religion, stereotyping and racism, philosphy, politics)
    • how to learn what they want to know

  • Help our children achieve their dreams and help them grow their talents.

Current assumption is that by the end of high school our children will have both breadth and depth to their education, but that we do not need to provide that all right now.  For the moment we are going to focus on depth of the next needed skills and what is interesting/important to them.

This quarter we will focus on:

Subject Theo Rosie
Reading lots of opportunity lessons
both: read aloud 1 hr/day (w/pRoshi device), occasional literature discussions

Math 1 lesson/day 1 lesson/day
both: 1 hr games/day

Writing both: poetry memorization
no formal handwriting this quarter

Spelling Theo: Spelling Zoo - Sara dictating words until Theo reaches independence
use a variety of modalities
Rosie: none

History H@OH
weekly review of class notes
no geography

Science no formal science this quarter

Guitar both: practice daily, weekly lessons

Programs small parts of Donna's prescribed programs
- reflexes, sound location, smells

(and really, there are no words to express my level of frustration with the formatting in Blogger.  Expect to see a post comparing Blogger to OTHER blogging software soon.)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Uh, it's snowing. Again.

Don't get me wrong.  I like snow.  But this is Seattle, people.  We're supposed to get a little snow once every 5 years.

Declaration of Intent

I just sent the Seattle Public Schools superintendent our intention to homeschool Theo.

Mandatory education starts at the age of 8 in Washington State so up until now we were off the radar. At the age of 8 we are required by state law to declare our intentions annually to our local school district. Of course, we've been teaching both our children since they were born. We spend lots of quality time together, growing our relationships and doing an exceptional job of teaching our children basic academic skills and a huge swath of subjects that interest them. We've been part of a lovely, active and supportive homeschool group for over 3 years now. 

Something strikes me as wrong with us having to declare ourselves to an organization that spends huge amounts of time fighting over building closures, teaching to the WASL, and ambushing other schools.  

It all feels very Big Brother to me.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Pact Camp 2009 - Save the Date!

Just got wind that Rose Rock (mother of Chris Rock) might be presenting at Pact Camp this year. She came out with a parenting book last year, which I read on recommendation from Susan at ReadingWritingLiving.  I'm always looking for guidance on structured, compassionate parenting and I found "Mama Rock's Rules: Ten Lessons for Raising a Household of Successful Children" to be straightforward, insightful and enjoyable to read. I'm looking forward to hearing more!

Attending Pact Camp the past 2 years has been huge for our family.  Our lives are transformed from being around other transracial adoptive families, sharing conversations about our experiences and most importantly hearing from experts about what our children may want, need and go through over the years. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

So, save the date on your calendar and make a place in your budget.  Our family looks forward to learning and growing with yours. It is going to be lots of fun!

Pact Camp 2009: A Gathering for Adoptive Families With Children of Color

Save the Date! July 16-20th, 2009

Date:Thursday, July 16th through Monday, July 20th, 2009
Time:4:00pm Thursday through 1:00pm Monday
Location:Alliance Redwoods Conference Grounds 
Occidental, CA

Friday, January 2, 2009

Electronic Getting Things Done

As promise, last night I stayed up until the wee hours obsessing over which software might best support me actually doing the tasks I need to.  I'm partial to David Allen's system of Getting Things Done.

Here's what I found.  First off, there are something like 100,000,000 pieces of software out the for supporting personal and professional productivity and at least half of those focus on the Getting Things Done system (GTD from now on). Woof. 

In the GTD arena there are a few big contenders: iGTD, Thinking Rock, Things, Inbox and OmniFocus.

After a few glances at the product websites and various review sites, I came down to 2 that actually interest me, Things and OmniFocus.  I'm going to think "outloud" here about the pros and cons of each in hopes of sharing information and reaching a decision about if/what software to try.

Here are some of the sites I gathered information and opinions from, in no particular order:

- Visually, Things goes beyond pleasing to straight up sexy
- UI looks intuitive and system seems easy to learn
- organizing and classifying systems look flexible enough
- love the star system to tag items I need to work on today
- syncs to my iphone
- according to the things website, iphone Things is the most popular paid task manager in the App Store. To me this speaks of an effective program with most of the kinks already identified. 
- product support is highly rated
- costs $50 for the mac application and $10 for the iphone

- Things for the Mac officially releases in a few days.  Unlike my husband, I'm not in love with being an early adapter.  I prefer to let others find the bugs while I come into using a product once it truly works. Weird as this is directly in conflict with the iphone software.
- Scary known bug: occasionally the iphone app loses people's data, which should be fine because everything is backed up on their macs.  Except that when the iphone is plugged into the mac, it automatically syncs, losing all the data on both machines.  Now, they've found a work around, but honestly, I'm feeling a little freaky about dumping my brain into a program that has the know capacity to lose everything.

- Pretty to look at.  Not sexy, but beyond good enough.
- The UI and system look sensible to me with only a smallish learning curve needed
- product information, help and support are readily available and great
- lots of features to support my recording and accessing information about what needs to be done and when I need to do it
- somehow the library/projects/subprojects/actions hierarchy works for my brain
- This paragraph on their web site soothes my soul, especially in light of the known bug for Things.
Data Safe: Trust Your System

You need to trust that the data you put into your task management system will be safe and always accessible. OmniFocus has been engineered with best-of-breed data integrity technology that is both blazingly fast and super reliable.

- expensive at $80 for the mac software plus another $10 for the iphone one
- some complain of the UI being clunky, with inconsistent short cuts on different pages.  This sort of thing can drive me crazy in an application I use all the time.

Having written all this down, here's my take:  I really, really want to buy Things.  It seems efficient, easy to use and elegant.  But the data-loss bug is a huge issue for me.  OmniFocus seems like a fine program, very usable and stable.  And it is hard to stomach buying "fine" at twice the price.

Both programs have a trial period.  I'm tempted to try Things and see how it goes, but I'm still getting hung up by The Bug.  What would you do?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

January 2009!

And suddenly here we are in a new year, starting the calendar over again.

We rung in 2009 with friends yesterday, playing games and eating.  Most of the family stayed up later than any other night of the past year, so today had a very sloth like quality.  Waffles, naps, crochet consumed the day.  Seems to bode well.

Posting on my blog regularly in November was so much fun, I've decided to do it again. Though I'll actually start on the 1st and aim for a true full month of posts. Hope you enjoy the ride.

The 3 hour nap from this afternoon is interfering with my ability to nod off this evening, so I'm off to obsess about ways to actually get things done this year, rather than just writing very large to do lists on my yellow note pad.  Programs that support the Getting Things Done method, mostly OmniFocus and Think Rock. Hopefully something that syncs with my iphone.

Happy New Year!