socialization again

We're getting geared up to start our homeschool school year; concurrently we're defending ourselves against critics of the practice. Well, not defending entirely, but... Yesterday morning I had a lovely conversation with a friend at church who questioned the socialization aspect of our homeschool program (it comes up a lot). She has a relative with kids in a small Christian private school, and she tells me that they haven't even heard of Oprah! Well, that is a cogent objection. I didn't think to tell her that, on the pop culture front, we're amply provided for by the weekly movie showing with Grandpa. The boys know all about movie properties I've never heard of myself. But I did mention that, never fear, they get lots of time to play with kids unlike themselves.

It's true they don't get to interact with other kids in a school setting. Our tiny homeschool group doesn't offer much in the way of social-economic-political diversity. The day camp group of 15 or so kids is limited to families who want their children going on multi-hour wilderness outings, only loosely supervised. But never fear: we have a great neighborhood for diverse social interaction! There are three families on our street with kids in early elementary school, including ours—and another couple around the corner. Playing with them our boys are exposed to a wide range of media consumption and plastic toy ownership!

And even more importantly, they get to mediate that interaction on their own. I suppose we do the occasional "play-date" with friends farther away, but for the most part when they want to play they just head out the door and look for someone to engage with. Sometimes I even kick them out! I think that's foreign to lots of school kids, especially during the school year. Besides not having a neighborhood as awesome as ours, lots of them are so exhausted by the day at school—not to mention occupied with homework and extracurriculars—that they don't have the energy to go out and just play. At best they might hop on a friend's Minecraft server for a while.

I don't mean to criticize—there's nothing wrong with any of that either. I just feel obliged to respond to the doubts of critics. And I have plenty of time to do it: both yesterday and today there were extended periods—hours!—when the boys were off somewhere playing with other kids... you know, socializing. I think they're doing alright.


moments from the week

Zion eating watermelon

summer face

Moments from the past week.

Harvey's leg with blood dripping from his knee

it was worse than it looks

Zion bridging a gap between two big rocks


kids in bike helmets playing with a cat

the feline center of attention

kids wading out into the mud

where did I bring them?!

Harvey and Lijah reading, seen from behind

they share a look

Harvey picking blueberries

blueberry picker


a cycling week

I'm a big fan of cycling, and I probably do it more than average, but it's still rare that I go somewhere on the bike every day for a week. I managed it this week! It's a good feeling.

On Sunday the boys and I took a ride out to Fawn Lake with friends. Harvey fell hard on the stone dust path a tore up his knee, but we were almost there so we finished the ride anyway... and then rode home too, of course (with a stop at the burger place for supper). Monday was a summer camp day, and Bridget and I led 14 kids around to various fun spots in Bedford: Chip-In Farm, the playground, and the town's newest pond.

On Tuesday Harvey couldn't walk; he'd been favoring his leg the day before so he woke up stiff and sore. Eventually I persuaded him the he'd be able to loosen it up on the bike, and after a couple laps around our street he agreed. So then we rode five miles up to Lexington to go to the Farmers Market, and then five more miles back (with a friend each for Harvey and Zion too—our craziness it catching!).

Wednesday and Thursday I commuted to and from work. By Thursday morning I realized that I was headed towards a full cycling week, but Friday so much was going on that I didn't think about it until it was almost dark. When I remembered and headed out for a ride Harvey wanted to go with me, and we took a lovely mile-long spin around the block. Then today we rode up to the library and back.

Nothing much, all told. But it was nice to spend some time with the boys and their friends, and to eliminate some car trips for errands, and to feel well-exercised most days. I probably won't do it again next week, but I'm sure I'll manage it again some time.


writing about my writing

When I was a young person, I briefly fancied myself a conservative. I don't think I had any reason for that besides appreciation for the way conservatives wrote. See, when you're only against things you can write beautifully cutting takedowns of any progressive program without having to think too hard—you find the sarcasm flowing easily and naturally. I say briefly; by college—by junior year in high school, even—I had come to my senses and become a vague radical idealist. I didn't get in any real arguments with anyone while I was experimenting with conservatism, so you might say no harm done—but in fact, I think that my writing has never recovered from the curse that admiring Rush Limbaugh for even a couple months brought down on me.

That's one reason why I don't write more about my socio-political ideas (loosely defined) even though I do think about such things from time to time. Even when I have a thought I really want to write about, and try really hard to express it in thoughtful, measured language, I find hints of my high school sarcasm emerging—and even more than hints. Consider this post about sustainable agriculture (especially the first paragraph).

OK, what's wrong with being sarcastic? Especially when the target of your sarcasm will never read your words? Well, besides being kind of rude regardless it's also, if you ask me, not actually thoughtful. I say above "without having to think too hard", and that's really how it feels to me: writing sarcastically, assigning a simplified (or false) position to your opponent and then dismissing it in equally simplistic terms is super easy. And it's super frustrating as well, for people who actually want to think about the issues at hand. "But, but, but..." they sputter, entirely justifiably. "You're ignoring vast swathes of data and argument in the other direction! What about..." and then you call them an ivory tower elitist. You know, for thinking.

Something else. Writing—especially simplistic sarcasm—tends to be closed and linear. And the way I write is especially so. I don't outline blog posts: I think of a topic and write from beginning to end. (That's what I did for 50-page papers in college too, so as much as want to I don't know that my process will change any time soon.) That means that, as I put ideas down as words, I'm necessarily narrowing the scope of my thoughts and my argument. When I come up with an idea—a topic—it feels broad and spacious and full of potential. As I write it gets more and more specific, until the end result is something like a butterfly pinned to a display. You get to see the colorful patterns on the wings—well, one side of the wings, until they get dusty and fade—but in no way do you get the full sense of the creature. A butterfly is to flutter.

Probably, the solution is to work harder. If I was more thoughtful and wrote notes and outlines, I bet I would have a better time capturing the complexity of my original thoughts. Or maybe I need to give up essays and start writing poetry...


I think I can feel a little satisfied with myself

There's so much to do in the summer. With our sort of camp, I find myself with a house full of kids all day Monday and Tuesday, which is lovely—but it doesn't leave much time to take care of the house and yard. Still, I don't think I did too badly yesterday. Besides showing the kids—ours and the two visitors—a good time, I managed a little weeding, baked bread, made pickles, and made a cake. It helps that all five kids are wonderful human beings and interacted peacefully for the seven or eight hours they were together. They also made some money selling candy and cycled around 10 miles round trip, to and from the Farmers Market in Lexington. So they didn't do too badly either!

two quarts of pickles on the porch railing


The cake came out good too: just the thing to end our long busy day, served on our friends' back porch as it started to get dark (you see why all three boys are still sound asleep well after the sun came up this morning!). I made up the recipe; it's based on this chocolate cake, which I've made a few times and which revealed to me that buttermilk and baking powder are magic for making home-made cakes rise almost like ones from a mix. We have lots of blueberries—four of the five kids here yesterday helped pick them last week—so I decided on a blueberry variant.

blueberry cake in the front yard

the cake, pausing on the way to the car

Here's the recipe.

Blueberry Cake

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a bundt pan with plenty of butter. In a large bowl, combine

2 3/4 c. all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4th tsp. salt
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

In the stand mixer, mix at medium speed

3/4 c. butter, softened
1 c. packed brown sugar
1 c. granulated sugar

Increase speed to high and beat for five minutes, until pale and fluffy. Add one at a time, beating at medium speed after each one

3 large eggs

At medium speed beat in

2 tsp. vanilla extract
zest of one lemon

Mixing at low speed, add the flour mixture in three parts alternating with two parts of

1 1/2 c. buttermilk

Fold in

1 1/2 c. blueberries

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes.

For the glaze, combine in a medium bowl

1/3 c. melted butter
2 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Whisk until smooth and pour slowly over the cake, letting a layer dry before adding more on top (I didn't have time to maage that last part between getting back from the farmer's market and leaving for dinner at our friends' house... my one failure in an otherwise pretty successful day!).