Home Works

We work at being at home; our home works for our family. We are regular; regular seems rare. I try to look at the stars like my mother does each night -- proof we are all under the same sky.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

October's Heroes

October happened while I was not looking. I was felled by lots of minor mechanical difficulties, thinking all the while of my Mississippi neighbors who lost their homes and lives in the hurricanes. Survival guilt seems to have no statute of limitations, but October is proof I can be irritated again, not just aggrieved.

The garage door opener went out. I am 5'1," and my recently diagnosed torn rotator cuff makes standing on my kitchen stool in the garage trying to raise and lower a heavy door by hand Some Big Deal. Not too bad when one of the older boys is home and can be commandeered into being doorman, but otherwise, a bit claustrophobic. You're not going far in Mississippi without a car. Preferably one you can get out of the garage.

The hard drive in my computer went out. Hours spent on the phone with Dell, being disconnected and returned to the queue, transferred to departments that were closed, promised that That Department will resolve my problem only to finally manage the wait and be told that only The Other Department that I just spoke with has the authority to resolve my problem. During one of my hold times I read four chapters of Harry Potter to my son and took a bath. I wrote to Dell's customer service department, pleasantly (I mean that) offering to explain to them why they've dropped so far in customer satisfaction, but no one responded.

The futon broke. The retail store where we bought the futon is out of business; the manufacturer which once before honored the 5-year warranty now denies that such a thing ever existed.

The MRI showed the rotator cuff tear. I felt it Thanksgiving Day 2004, when I went out to toss the proverbial football after the proverbial feast. I kept thinking it would get better, and over the months, now and then it did. But I began to notice in my work-outs that I was overcompensating with my left (non-dominant) arm and my right arm seemed to have created, all by itself, a very special new limited range of motion. Time to really find out what was going on, and my doc, showing off for his medical student - first name "Sledge," no kidding - nearly had me on the floor last week proving to me it was my shoulder and not my triceps. Not sure what he needed the MRI for after that demonstration, which would have been right at home as a feature on WWF.


Genie Garage Door Opener company, one of several heroes in this story, turns out to have wonderful customer service, talked me through diagnostics with little time spent on hold, sent a new circuit board -- under its lifetime warranty for our particular model, and my husband, another of the other heroes in this story, installed it. I can get in. I can get out. I can do it all without hurting my shoulder.

Dell replaced the hard drive under our extended warranty, and the technician who came to fix it is an Eagle Scout and member of BSA's Order of the Arrow, which was a good connection for our scouting family. That part was a good experience, tho' Dell is unconcerned about the fact that we've had multiple hard drive failures (more than three) on the same machine and are just weeks away from being out of warranty.

In the mean time, Middle Son is just about to order the parts for his build-your-own computer, and he's gotten great help from Tim at Olive Branch Computer Repair (another hero), and I'm hoping he'll be able to work on my oft-not-working Dell in exchange for continued provision of pork chops and rides to soccer. And, we won't have to buy from Dell again.

Hero Husband fabricated the new parts needed to repair the futon, which involved the purchase of a new router bit, which seems to be an appreciated consolation prize for spending a lot of time on the honey-do list. He used pecan, which should be very strong, and has the sentimental advantage of having originated as a tree from his father's farm in Virginia. This load of pecan boards has now lived with us in Virginia, North Carolina, back to Virginia, and now in Mississippi. Yes, folks, we are carrying around milled and planed Virginia pecan boards, which gradually get used on the winters-only project of building an entertainment center and bookshelves, but in between, are called upon to fix futons.

Best of all, Hero Husband let it be known he had been "sneaking" and backing up the digital photos on our hard drive because he was worried about how sporadically I did it myself, so he had everything on CD, and we did not lose a single photo during The Crash. He managed to let me know this without ever saying "I told you so" or giving me a lecture, so his hero status has increased another tenfold, and I am feeling optimistic about the next 23 years.

The appointment with the orthopedic doc about the torn rotator cuff is Tuesday, and I've gotta tell ya, I'm hoping for another hero.

Friday, September 30, 2005

The Channel

This week, Isaac said, "Do you know what today is? September 26. I've been here two months."

"Happy Anniversary!" I said.

"It's been fast, very fast," he said.

I agree. When we suddenly agreed to take a Spanish-speaking teenager from Ecuador into our home, the year loomed large with many worries. Today, in the Mexican Restaurant, the manager spoke to me in Spanish, and I responded in Spanish. Confused, he then spoke to me in English because he hadn't expected Spanish. Then, I was confused, because I hadn't expected English after he started in Spanish. False starts with smiles, like when you meet someone in a hall and mirror each other's efforts to get out of the way. While I now know enough Spanish to be confused about what language I'm speaking with someone, I still don't know enough to actually have a meaninfgul conversation in Spanish.

Two months ago was also before the twin hurricanes hit just a little south of here.

Two months ago, the children in our neighborhood had not yet returned to school.

Today, it's over twenty degrees cooler; our lives are ruled by the schedules of two soccer teams and a karate dojo. When Nick's and Patrick's soccer ends, Isaac's will begin. And it will be two months later again.

Right now, I think beyond my to-do list to the want-to-do list. I am working up to another round of phone calls to the community college for scheduling information for spring semester so I can get my oldest dual-enrolled for a class. I am mentally planning a short literary introduction to Faulkner for my boys and any teens in the homeschool group who want to go to Oxford MS and tromp where he tromped. I am thinking about the three ponds in the neighborhood, and how a bio lab on water quality might be an interesting project for our family. (Please send ideas/resources).

I'm thinking of Kevin's Eagle project. He typed out his solicitation for volunteers today. He'll be transforming a trail at the Arkabutla Lake Army Corps of Engineers project into an interpretive trail, with signs about the nature and history of the area, along with other trail improvements. At one point, you can see the channel where the Coldwater River once flowed, complete with big-kneed cyprus trees. But the river was moved, moved to get the channel in the right place to create Arkabutla dam and Arkabutla Lake, providing flood control, ultimately for the Mississippi River.

And I think about Kevin's keyboarding. At some point I said, "Granny's worried that you don't really know how to type. Could you put your fingers in the right places and learn to use the keyboard without looking at the keys so she won't worry about you?" In less than two months, he transformed from non-typist to typist, motivated by Mom worrying about Granny worrying about him -- with online forums on evolution, corporal punishment, compulsory education, civil rights and religion providing the "exercises."

So in two months, some of the want-to-do's will have been lived. Some still will be in the planning stages. Some will have been lost in the immediate shuffle for hair cuts, doctor's appointments, good-books-you-can't-put-down, and walks in the woods, which are best in October and November, with a little boy running ahead to warn any cooler-weather snakes that you're coming.

New want-to-do's will make themselves known within two months, shimmering amidst the scrambled eggs, read-alouds, and driveway basketball games.

RĂ¡pido. Muy rĂ¡pidamente.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Husband Material

I'm over-run by appointments with naturalists for the Eagle-scout-to-be, doctors' appointments for the exchange student, computer geek meetings for the build-a-computer kid. Then there's how Nick and friend re-arranged all the furniture in the living room, with sheets and towels draped over all to make a giant model of the interior of Hogwarts. Too much cool play in there to even feel like complaining about the fact that every sheet in the house is now unfolded and mixed with golden retriever hair.

But here's the thing. Eagle scout son sensed my blurry vision. He asked what he could do to help, proceeded to go out and do my errands for me, thought out what we could use for dinner, bought the groceries, and came home and got the other guys to grill chicken, cook green beans and rice, set the table, do the dishes.

Then he announced he's applied for some kind of writing gig for an online newspaper connected to a forum he's been participating on, and how did I feel about that?

Well right now, it's sounding a lot like that kid can do no wrong.

And did I mention that he TOOK Nick, 7, with him to get the groceries, in the process defusing a major feud over computer time among American/Ecuadoran brothers?

And some people don't believe in miracles.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Unschooling Government

Tonight the boys and I were sitting around eating pizza -- well, Isaac was having his first bowl of Frosted Flakes since coming to America (sometimes This Sort of Food is Not Allowed)(and these were Generic) -- and I decided I'd better check in with them on the Supreme Court Justice nomination process. I admit that the whole thing has been a bit back-burnered with our proximity to Katrina, so it was time to play catch-up with current events.

I casually reviewed how the executive branch has nominated John Roberts for Chief Justice and how the legislative branch is now doing its "advise and consent" thing --and how, if Roberts is confirmed (or who-ever is confirmed), the judicial branch will be affected for decades to come. We talked about checks and balances. We talked about how supreme court decisions have affected American life in the past and how they could affect the future.

Isaac was nodding. He's taking US Government at the high school, and he's also studied American government in Ecuador. He knows Those Branches.

I asked him how his government teacher is addressing the Supreme Court nomination process in the classroom. And of course, he isn't. While it would be easy for me to blame the teacher, I realize that the teacher's duty is more complicated than that. He has to "get through the material," and so, the high school government class is studying the 1700's right now, having made it through the Magna Carta and the Mayflower Compact. The high school government class is not mentioning the first supreme court nomination process in what, a decade or more?

Kevin and Patrick and I went into the intricacies and strategies of the questioning of the Republicans and Democrats, the testimony of the Planned Parenthood official and the business/industry representative and the civil rights leaders. We discussed the qualities needed in a justice, the concept of litmus tests, and Mr. Roberts' qualifications. As always, issues seem to boil down to states' rights versus the power of the federal government when you're sitting at a kitchen table in Mississippi. We talk about how we can often seem to be states' rights people, but there were those matters of slavery and civil rights that it seems to have taken federal power to resolve -- and then the discussion begins to really roar -- secession, anarchy, rule of law, bill of rights. We discuss real and imagined supreme court decisions. Kevin doesn't like the one where you have to give your name if a police officer stops you. Patrick doesn't understand why that should bother you. I offer that if you're riding around in a neighborhood and you don't want your wife to know you're there, then if a cop stops you, you don't want to give your name in case it could get back to your wife. Patrick counters that you shouldn't be sneaking around on your wife in the first place.

And so it goes. Isaac, who is starting to get some of the intricacies of the English language (You can catch a bus, a fish, and a cold), doubtless did not follow the whole conversation. But even more assuredly, he did not know that the boys and I had just "studied" American government. It is so sneaky and without artifice, this living and learning. Hard to tell which parts of it Nick, age 7, picked up, but I'm sure he's building his way into a conversation he can have with me ten years from now, when he's 17.

So after dinner, I set out a few mouse traps because we seem to have acquired an unwelcome critter. And we proceeded to unschooling Spanish, with Isaac's reggaeton CDs on a little louder than I actually prefer, and we ask, "Que significa 'esta noche?'"

"It means, 'tonight.'" Esta noche, a universally important theme en musica. Kevin tells me how listening to the Spanish music all the time really seems to be helping his ear for the language; Isaac tells me he listens to Kevin's CD's with head phones to improve his English.

Patrick and Nick argue with "Tu eres un nino malo" -- "No -- TU eres nino malo!". Another universal theme entre los hermanos, si?

Esta noche, indeed.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Where to Start?

I wobble between survivor's guilt, gratefulness, inability to help, desire to help, and the somewhat-assurance of soccer practice, piano lessons, and karate. As long as the gas supply in Northwest Mississippi holds a bit.

Our family is so incredibly fine. Our home is so undamaged. Our power is back on, and we have some storm clean-up to do in the yard. Minor. Minor. Minor.

I try to make connections for folks, by email, cell phone, telephone calls. Homeschoolers who want to help homeschoolers, people who offer their homes, foundations that I know are reliable so I can tell people to give there. I call local hotels, who say, indeed, there are people out of money. I send the hotel phone numbers to people who have asked how they can help. It's a short-term, emergency solution. No one thinks that providing money for one night for one family for one hotel room is going to solve anything. But it gives one family twenty-four more hours to connect with other family members, to find friends, to assess damage, to make plans. It is not enough. It is something.

Isaac's family in Ecuador was worried. When you hear about the devastation in "Mississippi, USA" from South America, you can only believe that your son is in harm's way. I emailed his brother before the storm, saying we are going to pay attention, but we think we're out of the main path of Hurricane Katrina. The next morning, no power, so I called and left a message -- We're okay. Later, when power came back, I sent some details by email. Still, his brother called, understandably, and I explained that we had been careful, we were ready to move, but that we were truly safe, and we had been safe. Isaac and I come to the Spanish phrase Nosotros somos precavidos. We are cautious. We agree that this makes us a good match for his family. Padres de Isaac son precavidos tambien. Isaac's parents are also cautious.

My sense is that none of mis hijos understands the gravity of what has happened. I tell the stories I've heard, I share the emails, I show the newspaper headlines and articles, I show them photos on the internet, I get them to watch CNN -- in small doses. I explain, all day, I explain. They hear me making phone calls, trying to put people together, trying to tell folks who want to help, don't go down there unless you have enough gas to get back.

Our county has hundreds of evacuees. Evacuees are north and south of us, scattered from the exit arms of the long body of Interstate 55 in churches and homes and hotels and rest stops and restaurants and Walmarts.

I did not lose anything in my freezer. I am fearful about the tenuousness of my country's port system, oil supply, refinery ability, emergency preparedness. I can make microwave popcorn. I sit up in bed -- having become the mother I saw on TV, separated from her hospitalized newborn. I can drive to soccer practice -- where the whole team will show up, every child with one or two parents on the sideline. I make phone calls. The voice on the other end of the line, on the other end of Mississippi, wavers. "Bleach," he says. "We need bleach, in half-gallon bottles, and we need a moped. Mosquito repellent, hand sanitizer, first aid supplies, paper towels, canned food."

He and the others in his church fed 50 people three days ago, 400 people the next day, 1000 people yesterday. How many will come today?

My boys eat cereal and have started their weekend chores. They want to finish early, to have the hard things behind them.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Yellow Card

After my husband blew out the candles on his cake and we forgot to give him his gift because Nick crawled up on his lap and asked to be put to bed, I came upon the realization that I knew most of the words of an important sentence:

Esta noche mis hijos limpian la cocina. Tonight my sons clean the kitchen.

I admit the tense isn't perfect, but all of mis hijos got it. Even the one who speaks Spanish.

So, I read the next installment of Harry Potter to Nick and let the swimmers ear medicine seep into his swollen ear, while the older boys clanked around the kitchen and more or less did the dishes.

At dinner, we talked about our day today and our manana. (Apologies for not including the mark over the "enya". I have promised myself to look up how to include the accents and letters, but I have not gotten there yet). Anyway, today Nick played outside for the first time since his ear infection turned mean. Patrick and Kevin had a lesson with a homeschool dad/computer guy on building a computer. This is Patrick's project, because he's the one with the money saved, but Kevin can't resist listening in. Mom made sure to have la torta y helado for the birthday party (helado is turning out to be one of our most frequently used Spanish words. Look it up) and went to the gym to lift weights and run.

Isaac, unfortunately, ran afoul of the "tuck-your-shirt-in" dress code of our school system. The problem lies, it seems, in what you call your shirt. Our Spanish son had a shirt nicely tucked in, but what he calls his sweater -- which he had on the outside of his pants -- was also seen as a shirt by an unknown American teacher, who says this is his only warning. He wears the sweater because it is so cold in government class, despite the fact that it is 100 degrees in Mississippi.

Anyway, it is hard to explain. Isaac tells me this is injusticia since many other students were walking around in front of this teacher with their shirts not tucked in. We struggle through a conversation about whether this might be conscious bias against a foreigner or example-making because he is a high-profile exchange student. Patrick offers that it could be a subconscious rather than an active prejudice, which I translate from the English-Spanish dictionary as subconsciente, and Isaac seems to accept this as a possible explanation and possibly the correct word. And Kevin points out that it may be random, for which Isaac provides a Spanish word: al azar. Given Mississippi's culture, it's a conversation that we must have, and mi corazon hurts to acknowledge that it's possible that el azar may not be the only explanation.

We get into a bit of conversation about the rightness of the rule, about our children not going to school, about the school's authority, and then about the school's consequences. None of this is that easy in the gap between our two languages.

My husband, speaking the universal language of soccer, manages to explain the concept of "warning" to Isaac: "Yellow card!"

Isaac nods and smiles: "Yellow card!" he agrees.

Later he tells me that if he has another problem like this, there will be a report. I realize that I need to explain to him further, that there will be either a suspension, or his choice to take corporal punishment.

The "yellow card" moment of clarity is definitely the highlight of the conversation.

Tonight, my studious, respectful Ecuadoran exchange student bends low over his American government textbook at our dining room table with my grandmother's lace tablecloth under his notebook. He looks up definitions as I think back to this week's news: 100 Ecuadorans died in the hold of a boat designed to hold 10, having paid $5,000 to be smuggled to the United States and having given their promise to pay another $5,000 upon delivery to the United States. The boat sank in high seas in Colombian territorial waters. A Reuters story said this week, "The incident illustrated the ruthlessness of people traffickers as well as the risks people were willing to run to escape Ecuador, where 60 percent live in poverty and three presidents have been toppled amid popular unrest since 1997."

Last night, his mother called from Ecuador to check on Isaac, since he's had a bad cold. I understood a few of her Spanish words, which somehow incited in me a wild instinct to speak --- French. Realizing my error (and I am no good at French anyway), I then was struck nearly speechless, other than to stumble out un momento, por favor, un momento.

From Reuters: "Maria Cuzco, 15, described the moment when the boat sank in a heavy sea. 'When we were hit by the giant waves, the people who were in the hold screamed and wept, but they couldn't get out because it was locked. . . .' Cuzco held on to a leaky fuel barrel. Her face, arms and back were severely burned by the fuel and the sun." Nine people survived until a passing boat picked them up. Four others who "initially escaped the sinking vessel gave in to exhaustion and drowned."

I ran through the house with the cordless phone so as not to waste precious Ecuadoran phone minutes, hearing her "gracias, gracias, gracias" to me.

Comprendo, Madre de Isaac, comprendo.

Vanishing Ink

See me pulling my hair out? The last TWO posts I have written for this blog disappeared when I hit "publish" (which sort of strikes me as too strong a word for this medium). Of course, I told myself to compose and copy the post in another program after the first loss, but I forgot to do it. There is something about composing on line that frees me to write (I know, that's why there's so much junk on line), so it was just natural that I did it a SECOND time before getting the message: COPY, in case it disappears.

Sigh, and the last post included an awful lot of Spanish that I had to work really hard at. Lo siento. Para mi.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Just for Kicks

Working hard to think about how to fit in all the footwork this weekend. Nick has soccer practice tomorrow night and Saturday afternoon, Patrick has soccer practice Saturday morning (and all of those are in the neighboring town because our town doesn't have rec soccer), and there is no way to tell if Isaac will have pre-season soccer tomorrow. Kevin has his first martial arts tournament Saturday, but he is going with his sensei, and it will be one of the first times he's ever done an event like this without having one or both of his parents there to cheer him on. Not counting stuff at scout camp.

Meanwhile, Rick and I will be trying to figure out how to get ready for hosting a Not Back To School picnic for homeschoolers next weekend. Gonna be a whole lotta mowin' goin' on. We have to at least temporarily tame a few sections of our rambly plot so there's room for the promised activities -- fishing, swimming, horse shoes, volley ball, croquet (hhmm, I wonder if that croquet set is in the attic or the garage? Has it been unpacked since the move?) and picnic. Bring your bug spray. And your soccer ball.