Wednesday, August 27, 2014

How I Threw Things at My Kid Last Year, and How We Both Survived To Do It Again

Last year at this time, we were on Day Four of homeschooling CheapBohemian the Younger. It was a learning process for everyone. Even with 20+ years of high school and college teaching experience between us, John and I found the experience daunting, and often a little hit or miss.

Still, I've never been one to back slowly away from a foolhardy idea. This week I re-upped for Year Two.

I hesitate to say this till that last knife leaves my hand, but it already feels like we're all winning. Last year we were gobsmacked, exactly like all new teachers are, when our carefully structured lesson plans, new-inked handouts, and elaborately carved Homeschool Agreement met with reluctance and fear. (That was just my reaction.)

In fact, many things we thought would empower the kid--the later starting hour, emphasis on self-evaluations, and lack of formal letter grades--instead evoked nail-bitten agony and the occasional retreat into fetal position under the covers. At least we were together. Yes, now it can be told: We spent a good part of 9th grade watching Gilmore Girls reruns and weeping at the season finales.

This year, CB the Younger is coming across with the same special proprietary blend of Enthusiasm and Protest™ that distinguished last year's performance. Doesn't matter that, in ordinary life, my kid treats me with extraordinary deference and respect: I am The Teacher now, armed with Work Sheets, and I am Not To Be Trusted.

So what's working? Well, some of the cues I thought were so silly last year turn out to be crucial. Like,

Morning meeting. It's like Circle Time in preschool, minus the floor sitting, the easel of Do's and Don'ts, and that kid sitting next to you who won't stop picking his nose.

A brightly colored clipboard with a simple schedule and a reading or worksheets for the morning.

Lumosity or Free Rice as a morning warm-up.

Lunch. Lunch has become the only event with sane, predictable parameters at our house. We're screwing everything else up, I promise. But our lunch is a precision miracle: We sit down punctually at 1 p.m. and entertain one another with witty, erudite observations. It helps a lot that we eat practically the same thing every day: sliced turkey, sliced cheese, pickles, a salad or cut vegetables, fresh fruit. Really. All I have to think about is the vanished city of Uruk or the mind-blowing scale of universal time. Sometimes John changes it up with a burrito or a bowl of my Live Forever chicken soup, because he's edgy that way. I mean he changes lunch up; there's not much even John can do about universal time.

We also experience unbounded gratitude, astonishment, and a bit of overwhelm every time we dive into the Internet, tackle a field trip, or go to our local library. The challenge lies less in finding great things to use, and more in using the great things you find.

Above all, it is the reading, the doing, and the just-showing-up that are working for us. Most days I am glad that homeschooling is easier than knife-throwing, because my aims are often too high, too low, or off the mark entirely. It's all in the eyes, the steady practice of concentration, and the mutual trust among buskers. We're in it together, and the show does go on.

Photo:  Colleena Sue Gallagher waits cheerfully for her knife thrower mom to nail her. A series of animated GIFs excerpted by Okkult MotionPictures from a short Universal Newsreel from 1950, via The Public Domain Review. See more at:

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Poetry Thursday: An Excellent View of the Essence of Things

My beloved--and I can't say how very much she is be-loved to me--Stephanie Schamess sent me this poem by Wislawa Szymborska for my birthday today. It's a big birthday--as all birthdays are.

We live in a world where life is still inestimable and, unable to count it, we account is as cheap. We live in a world despoiled, corrupted, persistent, contested, impossible to fathom, vulnerable to misery and seemingly impermeable and indestructible due to its very precarity, its very fluidity, its very unknowing unknowableness. But we live. And some of us really know how to do just that.
Thimble maker Dan Riccio.
What I know about living could fit in a thimble after 50 years on earth. But I have learned, through the love and patience of people like Steffi and people like you, my dear friend, to look very long and very deeply into the thimble.

May you find your depths in the little bit of deep you hold in your hand today. I'm off for another swim.  See you on the next shore.

[image courtesy of Daniel Riccio Thimbles]

Friday, May 10, 2013

What I Did All Summer

(...and Also All Fall, Winter, and Most of the Spring)

Sorry I'm late. But read on--I have a poem for you at the end of all this. Even better: IT'S NOT MY POETRY!

So, I miss you guys, and I miss being the cheeky, moxy-afflicted personality of the Cheap Bohemian.

But out in the world, a lot has been happening. I keep meaning to come back here and look at all of it through my Cheap lens, and maybe even impart some money wisdom. But a lot of what has been happening has been so profound (and frankly some of it, so profoundly not funny) that words have failed me. Repeatedly.

That's a good thing. I really wouldn't want to live the kind of life that could be summed up in mere words.

Since about February 2011, there's been every kind of challenge to a budget-minded non-consumer like me. Note the conspicuous absence of links around some of the most important things:

family illness,
major diet changes that doubled our grocery bills but are still cheaper than medical bills,
leaving teaching (last day was in December!),
starting back to my work as a full-time writer and bearing the huge swings in cash flow that come with it.
beginning to permit more silence in my life (thank you, Eliza King).

Meanwhile, the world goes on. Meanwhile, terrible things have happened everywhere, wonderful things have happened somewhere, and the sky continues to arch over them all. I remain maxed out on debt and slowly coming out of it, just as I was doing in 2010. Also: I am wildly happy a number of days every week.

But that is not why you are here. Today you are here for a poem.

Today, that poem is Naomi Shihab Nye's "Famous." I won't be reproducing it here. I will simply say that as I warm up to write today, this poem asserts itself again and again. I don't know why yet, which is why I am sharing it with you. Maybe you can help me connect to it with my head, for surely my heart already knows that

The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.

[photo taken by the Lisa Schamess in London, 2010.]

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Poem Tuesday

The Clam
Mary Oliver

Each one is a small life, but sometimes long, if its place in the universe is not found out. Like us, they have a heart and a stomach; they know hunger, and probably a little satisfaction, too. Do not mock them for their gentleness, they have a muscle that loves being alive. They pull away from the light. They pull down.They hold themselves together. They refuse to open.

But sometimes they lose their place and are tumbled shoreward in a storm. Then they pant, they fill with sand, they have no choice but must open the smallest crack.Then the fire of the world touches them. Perhaps, on such days, they too begin the terrible effort of thinking, of wondering who, and what, and why. If they can bury themselves again in the sand they will. If not, they are sure to perish, though not quickly. They also have resources beyond the flesh; they also try very hard not to die.