Thursday, December 24, 2009

Good Yule!

The air in the house is full of cardamom, cinnamon, bay and clove...and excitement: tonight is Christmas Eve.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. I thought of you all on solstice a few days ago, while lighting my midwinter's eve candles, and wished you peace and light.


Thanks to Charles Dickens, the very words I am searching for are already written for me:

May it be truly said of us, and all of us....that we know how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possesses the knowledge.

God bless us, every one!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mailmen in Capes.

Today I bring you the Heroes of Christmas.

My lovely Canada Post showed up today with the Christmas box from my sister, brought from 2000 kilometers away, regular ground, in three days. Applause!

Not an hour later, another truck pulled up.
with my December Usborne book order. Nothing makes me happier than getting huge boxes full of glossy new, freezing cold, info-stuffed schoolbooks. Especially when I've used my homeschool funding to buy them, and some of them are things like "365 Things to Draw and Paint" and "Christmas Fairy Things to Make and Do", and I can wrap them up and put them under the tree. Ha! Even though it's totally honest and above-board, it makes me feel like I am getting away with something.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus - and he is wearing a blue jacket with a badge that says

Friday, December 11, 2009

Spitting Distance

Oh, I am almost there!!!!!

The trees at top left, a bit of snow lines, some backstitching on the central figures...and Charlotte's stocking will be done and dusted. A mere six years in the making, this has to be one of the more complex cross-stitch pieces I've done. I like it, but it's definitely time for this to move on, and out into the world. BEGONE.

Lots of other things going on around here, needlewise, but the Christmas gag order is firmly in place. Later!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

And Santa gets 15-20.

A city councillor with a megaphone, at the tree-lighting part of our (small) city's Santa parade:

COUNCILLOR [JOLLY]: We're going to turn these lights on in just a minute, folks: First, here's Shelby! She's the lucky little girl who won the contest to go into the bushes with Santa and hunt for the Magic Button!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Get (Ab)used to it.

I've had a lot of mail and comments about my last post. It's been amazing...thank you so much for that.

I had an email exchange with someone yesterday, prompted by "Carborundum", and it led me to think more deeply about children's experience in traditional school. Normally I wouldn't carry on about any subject two days in a row, but in this case there really is more to say.

Often (like, very often), when people confront me about socialisation, they say things like “kids have to know how to deal with bullies...if they are never exposed to bullying and negative situations like that, they won’t be used to it.”

I always wonder whether they are even hearing themselves. “Getting used to bullies”, translated, is “suffer through it, and learn to avoid them”. What kind of society do we have, when we willingly and daily expose our children to damage, just so that they get used to being exposed to damage?

Because it serves no other end – once school is over, the need to tolerate bullies is obsolete. If it comes up in the workplace, it’s called “harassment” and it’s illegal. On the street from a stranger, it’s called “assault” and it’s illegal. In your home from your partner it’s called “domestic violence”’s illegal.

A 6-year-old girl comes home from Grade One in tears. Mean boy is bothering her. Next morning, she has a stomach ache. Mom says, "You can't just stay home - you've got to learn to deal with it." A month later, girl is throwing up every morning and crying all the way to school. Mom says "I told her to ignore him - he's only doing it for attention. [Laughing] I told her it's the way boys show they like you. Anyway I talked to her teacher: she's going to try to put them into different groups." Two years later, the girl is 8. The boy is still in her class. He hasn't changed, but she doesn't complain about him much anymore. She has started odd behaviours, though: mostly playing her girl friends off against one another, and pushing some of the younger kids around.

A 7-year-old boy with a life-threatening anaphylactic peanut allergy is on the playground at lunch. A group of older boys approach, hands in pockets. They pull their hands out and begin to throw pebbles at him, yelling at him that what they are throwing are peanuts. "You're gonna die!!" The boy's friend, panicked, tries to block the 'peanuts' with his body, crying to his friend "RUN!" The principal, when notified, advises that he avoid those boys in future. Later that year, there is a girl who has never liked the boy. Her parents think "peanut-free" infringes on their child's rights. They send peanut butter to school with her. She walks down the hallway outside his classroom after lunch, with her PB-smeared fingers trailing along the wall.

Five years and many incidents later, the parents decide to homeschool the child for his own safety. Now he's 13 years old. It has been 18 months since he was removed from that school. He still remembers, with an edge of panic, that day with the pebbles.

Mr HalfSoledBoots and I are walking downtown in Victoria. We are on a crosswalk when an SUV nearly hits us. It passes so close that Mr HSB reaches out and slaps his hand, hard, on the back window. The SUV screeches to a halt. Five young men pour out of it. One of them, huge and staring, shoves my husband into a parking meter while roaring a stream of profanity. He rears back, fists clenched, and spits into my husband's face. His friends pull him away and they take off.

A cyclist walks up to us, leading his bike. "I saw the whole thing," he says. "Next time try not to get in their way."

No. He says "I've called the police. I'll be your witness."

The young man is charged with assault. We identify him in a photo lineup. He goes before a judge.

My friend, aged 25. Married to a bully. A year or so after the wedding, he starts to push her around. Nothing major at first. (The punching comes later.) She tells me about it. What is my response?
"Ignore him."
"I guess he must really like you."
"He's just trying to get a reaction."
"Don't give him the satisfaction."
"Stay out of his way."
"Try not to be alone with him."


What makes school the exception? Why don't the rules apply there, too? We tell toddlers to respect others, not to snatch, not to yell, not to hit, not to make mean faces. Adults are expected to know that. But in a school? ignore them. Next year they'll move to middle school. Try to stay near the teacher. They're just trying to get a rise out of you. Don't go out of sight of the playground monitor. Stay together.

As a parent who has chosen alternative education, the burden of proof is on me. People want evidence, constantly, that homeschool is effective. I have to prove that my kids are just as good at math as their mainstream peers. I have to prove that they can speak articulately, print neatly, make eye contact, and are getting at least 20 minutes of exercise per day. I am expected to be proud and relieved (and the worst part is I am proud and relieved) when someone gives me a surprised compliment: "Oh my goodness! Your kids are so well-behaved!" Or once, at a party, after several minutes spent quizzing her (I was not present): "Your little girl already knows all her colours...good job."

I want the burden of proof to be on the mainstream for a change. I want proof that children in their system are well socialised. I'd like schools to have to prove that their environment is loving, supportive, intolerant of violence and hatred. And that the people coming out of it are articulate, polite, egalitarian, responsible, thoughtful, erudite, and well-rounded.

I want the public system to prove, using real, valuable benchmarks, and real, concrete, personal examples, that it is worthy of being given your children for 30 hours a week.

I suspect I'll be waiting a while.

Sunday, December 06, 2009


I was at a party tonight. It was a craft thing. I was sitting next to a woman who, when she heard that I homeschool, had this to say.

Challengingly: "Oh, so you don't send them to real school."

Well, no.

"How old are they?"

Eight and five.

"Oh, five, so she's not in school then."

Yes, she's in Kindergarten, we homeschool.

Dismissively: "Kindergarten! Hmph. Homeschool kindergarten. So you don't send her to real school, like."

Pause...No, we do kindergarten at home.

"I don't know what you'd do for kindergarten at home."

Well, you'd be surprised. The ministry likes it, anyway.

"I don't approve, as you can see. [I'm thinking, of kindergarten? of the ministry?] I'm an old schoolteacher from way back. [Oh. Of homeschool.] And here's why. It's the socialisation, you see. Those children, those home children, when they go to real school they don't know how to behave. Ask any teacher, they'll tell you those children who are kept at home..."they don't know how to play", they'll say, when they go to real school."

Feeling my face turn red as my needle-felting increases in speed and ferocity.

I didn't make a verbal response. There were so many things to choose from. I could have gone with any of these.

1. I'm interested in your definition of socialisation. Do you mean that my children will not be aware of the proper pecking order among a barely-supervised and potentially harmful gang of 30 children, all the same age? Because Thank God.

2. When you say "don't know how to play", I'm wondering whether you mean that a child who is put in a concrete box to do worksheets for six hours a day, and periodically released to run among 75 or 100 other 6-9 year olds on large, plastic, specially-built gym structures...that this child knows how to play? And that my child, whose time is largely her own and is expected to fill it with reading, games, puzzles, outside explorations, conversations with her family and friends of various ages - and yes, TV - doesn't know how to......what? have fun? Get all the way across the monkeybars? Or, do you mean that she doesn't know how to manage the dynamic of love-hate friendship politics, rule following, and peer aggression on the playground? See item 1.

3. Homeschooled or not, my children are obviously far better socialised than you are, since neither of them would dream of saying something so rude to a total stranger at a party.

4. Get back, bitch.

But I said nothing because I realised something she didn't: that I was at a Christmas party, in someone else's house, making a felted angel and polite conversation with people who weren't sure of my first name. So I smiled at someone else, willed the angry flush away, and took the high road.

I had plenty of time to think about this exchange during the couple of hours I was there. I didn't have much to say...I was in a new place with a new group of people, after all. I wasn't there to be a loudmouth, to defend my family choices, or to proselytise for alternative education. It certainly wouldn't be me who made the hostess feel awkward and uncomfortable by holding a hostile and defensive conversation at her Christmas party.

I thought about my own experience at school. I remembered how often I dodged into the K-1 cloakroom or the girls' bathroom, or the dark and deserted equipment room, to avoid someone mean, whose voice I could hear coming down the hall. I remembered days of boredom and repetition. I remembered certain years, certain grades when I didn't think I'd make it out alive, and others marked by happy friendships....well, friendships I remember as being happy.

I went through the system, and I came out of it okay. I'd say, though, that I got educated despite school, rather than because of it.

Not that it didn't teach me a few things. It taught me to fear the disapproval of others. It taught me that if a perceived authority figure questions my choices, I probably made a serious mistake. It taught me all kinds of interesting things about how wrong I look, how unacceptable I am physically, and that my role as a female is largely concerned with escaping the notice of predators. The list of things I learned that I am no good at.....well, let's just say it's long.

A lot of my life afterwards has been about recovery. Many of the choices I make now, as a parent, are about protecting my children from that early harm which I feel left permanent marks on me. My choices for their education are a reflection of my philosophy, and all the things I've learned and taught in the last 30 years.

I sat there tonight, quietly listening to bits of other conversations, and doing my felted angel craft. I started with two pipe cleaners, the same as everyone else, and hunted through the shared bag of coloured wool to make the body and robe of my angel.

The only one with purple butterfly wings.

The only one with black hair.

The only one with brown skin.

The only one that was completely different.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Lily Chin's Knitting Tips and Tricks

Review Month at HalfSoledBoots
Volume 10, Number 4

by Lily Chin

This book has me at a bit of a standstill. I don't want to need it but, gallingly, I think I might.

Let me explain.

Lily Chin seems like an interesting character. She's quite keen to impart her knowledge to those of us so unfortunate as to not be able to take one of her 'popular', 'instant-sellout' tips and techniques classes. I raised an eyebrow at her assertion that many of the tips are not common knowledge, but "have become more popular, I'm sure, as a result of the classes that I have taught almost every month since 1994. Word gets around. Thus, some things may be familiar to you..."

That slightly patronising little gem is on the second page of text. The first page looks like this.

I have such a hate-on for this trend - outsize fonts in mid-page.

But then, just as I had defiantly decided there wouldn't be anything truly necessary in the book (I'm reactive, what can I say), she came out with two really useful bits of information. One was a little page on knitting with ribbon yarn, which has been the stuff of my nightmares for some time now. I've got a Clapotis in the works, using ribbon yarn, and it's frustrating me so much I'm afraid I'll go off in an apoplexy. Lily advises me to sew the yarn ends together with needle and thread...not to weave in the ends...and it's so obvious I can't believe I didn't see it before. She also advises me to set up my yarn ball on a knitting needle axis, so it behaves like toilet paper. Huge reduction in twisting.

The second useful thing was her explanation of combination knitting, and exactly WHY, when I knit stockinette using the continental method, my purl rows are almost always a little looser. It's a matter of yarn path, it turns out, and it's fixable. I'm going to try combination knitting in the new year and see if I can't retrain myself.

I haven't read the whole thing, and I'm sure that I'll find a lot more techniques to improve my knitting skills. I don't ever have to reread the first two pages, after all, so they won't be a long-term issue. I'm actually looking forward to reading the rest of it, and finding out what else I didn't know I didn't know.

Overall I like this book, and it will live on my shelf despite its off-putting, annoying-fonted first pages. I give Chin credit for the knowledge she has amassed, but, as a final note, I do take humorous issue with the following. I can think of so many adjectives to describe this piece of advice, including "incongruous", "laughable", "amateur", and "outrageous".

And to that an extreme "WTF?!"

It's not perfect, but it'll be useful. It's small - a good knitting-bag size. It comes from one of the most respected designers (and Vogue-appointed Master Knitters) in the textile world, and most knitters will need what's in this book, one way or another.

Lily Chin's Knitting Tips & Tricks gets:
Reread: Yep
Given to Others: Probably
Book plate: Why not.


A Note: Lily has also published "Crochet Tips & Tricks". If I were a crocheter, I would actually buy that book just on the strength of this one. Bound to be good stuff in there.