My Son Is Quite Able: Riding BART

When my son was in fifth grade he was asked to leave his private school because of his disabilities. In the middle of a school day. With no warning. With no plan. Some of you will find this deplorable. Some of you will think they had a right to ask him to leave because they were a private school.

After an investigation by the Department of Justice into whether or not the school violated my son's civil rights under Title III of the American's with Disabilities Act, the case was closed without a finding.

What I do know is that today, on his first day at a school he selected, my fifteen-year-old son, is a better person for having been asked to leave that school.

Why?

That day was a turning point for our family. From the day the school sent my son home he started homeschooling.

We didn't know if it would be a temporary situation or not, but we knew it was the right thing to do for him at that time. It turned out to be the best thing we could have done to lessen the stress he was experiencing there—stress we didn't fully appreciate until he was outside the situation.

Toward the end of the lengthy and often ugly legal process with the school, before the ruling came from the DOJ, my husband was diagnosed with cancer. Since we were homeschooling, my son had the gift of spending my husband's final year of life at home with him. We had no way of knowing that was how life was going to play out, but it worked out that way, and it was a blessing. I am thankful every day that somebody perceived my son's disabilities the way they did or he would have missed that time with his father. And I am so glad his father got that time to see his son happy.

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Making the choice to defend our son's rights was a process that brought us closer together as a family. We regularly checked in with each other and with our son to make sure we wanted to continue the legal process. As soon as one person wanted to stop, we agreed we were done. Fortunately, the DOJ took over the case, and it was out of our hands. We never intended to pursue a civil case. Our goal was to make things right for other children for the future. We didn't see a civil case achieving that goal. Our daughter was an amazing witness when the DOJ came to our home to interview us. She was fiercely protective of the truth and her brother, which hasn't always been the case in their relationship—having a sibling with special needs can be stressful sometimes, but she wanted to make sure it was clear to the attorney just what had and had not happened since she was actually present in his classroom.

And today, on his first day of school, my son rode BART by himself. He also packed his own lunch, got himself dressed in the clothes that he washed, and ready for school on time. He attended his brand new school for seven and a half hours. He was calm. He was confident. He had a great day at school, and he can't wait to go back tomorrow.

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If you didn't know he had Tourette's, you'd be hard-pressed to tell. In fact, even the people who live with him have trouble spotting his very rare tics. As for the Asperger's, well, I just think of that as who he is. I don't even know that I'd be able to separate him from the things that would define his position on the spectrum, nor would I want to. After fifteen years of him being him, I am so accustomed to who he is and how he works, that I rather like his wiring. Our world needs him. Somebody else's oversight of his awesomeness on that day in October of his tenth year was so very clearly a lucky day for the rest of us. They missed out on having the opportunity to watch him grow and learn these past five years. We didn't.

Guess what, world: he is able! Very, very able. Don't let that slip past you this time or y'all might miss out on another five years of watching him in action.

 

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I love you, Bug. I wish Daddy were here to see this. He'd be so incredibly proud of you.

Do We Expect Or Allow Too Little?

The Wall Street Journal published a provocative piece this week on the state of middle-class children in the U.S. It was prompted by research done by UCLA's Center on Everyday Lives of Families. I urge you to read the article. Shirley Wang does an excellent job of summarizing the research and bringing up some key concerns about what the research might indicate for our children.

For me personally, with kids who had an academic start in Montessori and then moved to unschooling, I have serious concerns about the dumbing-down of our children. As parents, we are have been conditioned to be so quick to do for our children that I wonder if we are raising them to become incapable of doing for themselves.

Is it unreasonable to teach a preschooler how to make toast? Or fold laundry? Maria Montessori didn't think so. Neither do I.

Is there any reason why a child can't use a proper glass or silverware when eating rather than cartoonish plastic dishes? Our children do, and they manage just fine. In fact, we've found glass drinkware is more stable than the plastic cups. They're also learning to clear their dishes, load the dishwasher, and put away their clean clothes. The older kids learned to do their own laundry around the second grade. They each got a laundry basket and instructions on how to do laundry. Why? It's a life skill. Just like learning to read, do math, and all of those other important subjects we focus on in school, why do we then assume our children are incapable of such basic life skills in the home?

As they've gotten older, I've involved them in other life skills as they've become physically and mentally capable. I want children who can make decisions and understand natural consequences long before they leave my home. If I helicopter overhead, that will never happen.

When my daughter decided to start public school for the first time in her life this year, I supported her decision. I do not ask her to do her homework. Ever. She does it because she choses to. She gets it done. She gets an A average in school. Why? Because she wants to get those grades. She earns them, not me. All of the pride associated with that achievement is hers to own. I can be proud because she is a responsible person who makes good choices, and I feel like I helped foster that within her.

There's not only a sense of pride when children are responsible for taking care of their family and their environment, but also a realization that things don't just magically happen. Clean clothes don't magically appear (so, you might not want to toss every little thing into the hamper). Food tastes better when you participate in cooking it. It takes a family—all of us, working together, to make a household run well. We are each important members who have something special to offer, each with unique strengths, complementary skills, and working together, we can be successful.

On Being Proud: It's Not About The Grades

Peanut brought home her first letter-grade report card today. It's her first traditional report card, period. When she attended Montessori school, we had conferences and received written feedback from the teachers, and as the students got older, they participated in the process, as well. But, there were no traditional report cards. She got a 3.86 GPA. She is very proud. She did it all herself.

First grades. First report card. 8th grade.

As a child who unschooled for most of the last three years, you might think I was concerned about how she would handle the academics of her 8th-grade year of school. I wasn't. I don't think she was either. My children have never lost their love of learning. They had excellent teachers in their early years of education, enjoyed an environment where they were free to learn what they desired when the home schooled, and as she entered middle school, she did so with that same self-directed passion she's always had for gaining knowledge.

Now, that doesn't mean there aren't times where she asks for help with a writing assignment, wanting her mother to proofread what she's written or assist her in outlining a paper, but that's mostly died down to minimal assistance the further she's gotten into the school year. The same thing goes for math. She asks for help when she's stuck, but all of the initiative to get her work done comes from her. Nobody nags her. Nobody asks her if she's turned in her assignments. She owns her success 100%. That's why she's proud, and that's why I'm proud of her.

My Girl and Her Kitty Cat

There's more, though. Peanut doesn't just go to school and get good grades. She has found a great group of friends who "make good choices." She volunteers to help kids in our community, something she spearheaded on her own. She doesn't do it because she gets points at school. She doesn't do it because she has to or because it makes her popular. She just does it because she enjoys it.

Even though she leaves her laundry on her bathroom floor, her dishes in places they shouldn't be, and her dog needs a bath right now, she really is a good kid, and I am seriously proud of her.


Uniquely Them: Cooking On The Fly

Bug ate dinner after the rest of us tonight and wanted to cook it himself. He decided to make pasta and asked me for some advice on making the sauce. He was making spaghetti and wanted a cream sauce, maybe a cheese sauce to go with it. He wasn't sure how to start.

I gave him a few tips to get him going, led him to my great grandmother's cast iron pan, the olive oil and crushed garlic, and then watched him take over. He directed me to grab him some white wine, the parmesan cheese and heavy cream, and then I watched as he sniffed spices and herbs, deciding what he'd add and what he'd leave out.

His sister is just as comfortable in the kitchen, but Peanut prefers to cook the same way she prefers to learn. She likes to follow recipes. She likes to know where she's going when she starts her journey in the kitchen. She lays out all of her ingredients before she starts. She likes structure.

Bug doesn't work that way. He works more like me. He wings it. He likes to know the science and the reason why certain things are done, but then he wants to make his own decisions about how the flavors come together, and I have to say, he's typically spot on.

Tonight, he nailed it. A little garlic, a little onion salt and white pepper, some parmesan cheese and heavy cream with olive oil over a plate of spaghetti. Divine!

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Tools Of The Trade: Painting Without Trashing The Table

Need to keep your child's paper from slipping while they paint or draw?

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An inexpensive roll of blue painter's tape works like a charm and doubles as a way to hang the artwork when it's finished.

There's another handy tip featured in the picture above. Q-tips make excellent disposable paint brushes. In this case, we were working with primary colors and used on cotton swab for each color, but kids like to mix (kind of the point when working with primary colors and learning to mix the colors, anyway). Instead of giving the children access to the entire pot of paint, I pour it onto plates in small amounts. This controls the quantity used and keeps the original containers a little neater for future painting sessions.

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Make friends with sponges. You can run them through the dishwasher to keep them clean or even microwave them for a few seconds to really kill off the germs if that's a concern (be careful when you pull them out, they'll be HOT). A moistened sponge kept next to messy activities allows a child to be more independent in cleaning up. It also gives you a quick way to mop up spills if needed. I like to cut my sponges in half. They're still plenty big enough for the job.

I cannot tell you how much I love this next item, but trust me and get yourself a giant roll of paper. It's a must-have in my opinion. We grew up with a roll of unprinted newsprint that I don't think we ever used up, but were always using. It can be used for wrapping paper, art projects, just let your imagination go. Right now, I have a smaller version on a spool I got from IKEA that's super handy. The spool was $6.99 and the roll was $4.99. Worth every cent. As you can see, we keep it next to a supply of pencils, pens, specialty scissors, and colored pencils. It gets regular use.

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Happy creating! Go get your craft on, kids.

 

Hanging Out With The Internet ChicagoIsh Style

The train arrived in Chicago Friday after only about an hour-long delay due to a freight train breaking down ahead of us. Oops.

No worries. We checked into the hotel, once our rooms were ready, and headed out to eat some deep dish pizza with the INTERNET!!!

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Well, Peanut and I did, anyway. Bug was a little too enamored with having his own hotel room to get out much during the weekend. Give a teenage boy his own room and access to room service, and you don't see much of him. He was in heaven. It was his perfect vacation.

He did manage to get a roaring game of Yu-gi-oh going Saturday night with another one of the kids after they went swimming, but I digress.

After pizza, there was a cupcake extravaganza, brought to us by Flirty Cupcakes. They drove up a truck full of tasty goodness just for us! Oh, the yum.

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Next, we had to get our sing on. Cuz, um, duh. But, you can't do that in Chicago unless you experience the Barbie bathrooms. Ladies and Gents, I give you the bathroom so pink that the camera can't handle it:

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You saw it here. Yes, that's INSIDE the women's restroom. I know. It's wrong. And right. And I peed. Literally.

There was some YMCA thing that happened. Jon got a bit enthused and forgot that he's straight.

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The next morning, we had breakfast at Steve's Deli, because why wouldn't you? It's awesome. Mathilda was totes hungover. Just look at her. What a lush.

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Then, we met in the hotel lobby for a Louboutin playdate. Duh. Shoes.

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After that, it was off to the big CHSH tweetup. The main event!

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Chicago Knows How To Treat A Girl (And Her Kids)

We arrived in the Windy City last Monday, unscathed. We were welcomed by our hosts, Toni and Dan, and their lovely children, who made us this cool sign for our bedroom door:

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They also made us these a plate of cookies, and by the second day, allowed Bug to commandeer their basement as his personal man cave. In fact, by the middle of the week, Bug as asking if he could rent their basement out at some point in the future. I'm pretty sure our next living situation will need to include some kind of basement/man cave accommodations for Bug. What fourteen year-old wouldn't want that?

After a glorious few days in the Chicago burbs,

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eating deep dish, taking a drive out to Lake Geneva, and enjoying a little shopping in the cutest town square ever,

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we boarded the train for Chicago.

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Next stop: Chi Town! and The Internet!

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Travel Time: Chicago Or Bust

It's time to hit the road again. This time, both kids are joining me for my annual trek to Chicago for the CHSH tweetup. They'll get to meet quite a few of the people who appear on their dad's Fuck Cancer poster.

We'll also get to see some sights, eat great food, and hang out with friends. Can't beat that. I'm sure we'll come back with lots of great stories and pictures.

Oh, and the boyfriend remains awesome. In case you were wondering. I know some of you were.

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They Aren't Imaginary: My Friends

I was talking with a good friend about social media, Facebook, online friends, Internet dating, and this world that’s new to him since he’s become single. He wanted to know if I was feeling that same kind of angst about the foray into uncharted waters in an online world.

The thing is, I don’t feel like social media is a new world for me. I was in a documentary for the Discovery Channel in 1996 about social media when I was pregnant with my son. It was about women who met online through a pregnancy forum. I have friends from that time, friends I met online, who are still an important part of my life today. In fact, that’s where I was this weekend.

I spent the weekend visiting friends I met online. That’s weird to some people, but not to me. They are still real people, people who’ve seen me through intense periods of my life, the birth of my children; depression, death, celebration of joyful moments, and we can pick up right where we left off, even after years, like no time has passed. 

And some of my online friends are newer friends, people I’ve met in the past six years who know me through my blogging or twitter. Again, they’re still real people. If you look at my twitter profile, you’ll see pictures of their avatars in the background. Of those people, you’d probably be shocked at how many I’ve met in person. A lot. I like that connection. I like knowing the people behind the online persona. Because, as I’ve said here many times, what we share online is only a slice of what and who we are—just a glimpse.

As we’ve become more geographically dispersed from the people who matter to us, we’ve found ways to stay connected through social media, but we still crave that physical connection. So, I travel. And, beginning next month, my children and I will embark on our homeschooling adventure of travelling together. First stop, Seattle. Stay tuned. We’re about to go meet the Internet.

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Read, Speak, Know: Banned Books Week 2009

This week is Banned Books Week. I'm rather fond of reading. My kids like books. They read around 140 novels last year between the two of them.

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After a quick look at the list of frequently challenged and/or banned books, I was shocked not by how many I’d read, but by how many my children had read. So many of the books on the list are books I would consider children’s books.

You know, I do so love being told what I can and can't do. Wouldn't it be just grand if someone would decide which books were and were not appropriate for me and my children to read?

Yeah, um, NO. That's not going to fly in this house. My people came to this country so we could enjoy some basic freedoms. The books we read, the words on the pages (including this one), and the words that come out of our mouths are a BIG freedom we enjoy and plan on keeping.

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Every year, more books are challenged. More books are banned. More words go unread. More authors undiscovered by new eyes. More voices silenced. Unacceptable.

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Find out what you can do to fight the censorship. Yes, YOU. And you. I know you aren't wearing pants. None of us are. That's the beauty of the Internet. Just keep your webcam off for a minute (or don't, that's your business, really) and take some action on this before Big Brother knocks on your door and takes away your copy of Harry Potter. You think I'm joking? Harry makes the list All. The. Time.

My beloved Judy Blume has a truckload of books on the list. You all remember how damaging her works were for young readers. Don't even get me started on the classics. Oh, wait. Too late. To Kill a Mockingbird? On the list. Brave New World? On the list. As I Lay Dying (home to my favorite chapter of any chapter ever written, and I quote, "My mother is a fish.")? On the list. A Farewell to Arms? On the mother fucking list.

If you’re feeling particularly outraged, visit one of these PRO-censorship (yes, I said PRO) groups and let them know what you think of their efforts. Hey, I wonder if any of their members would be available to be our poster child/adult/pet for the Help Cure the Humorless cause. I bet they have a lot of potential candidates.

    * PABBIS: Parents Against Bad Books in Schools
    * ClassKS: Citizens for Literary Standards in Schools
    * Citizens for Academic Responsibility

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What do polka dots sound like? Not Webvan or iguanas.

This one time at band camp…woops! Wrong story! My bad. Let me try that again.

Friday, the family went on a little field trip to The Tech Museum, which I reviewed in full-color detail here. It was most awesome. I do so love it there.

One of the most fabuloso stoner toys educational interactive music exhibits they have is a wall of musical buttons they call Wikisonic. The purpose of the exhibit is to “demonstrate the fundamentals of harmonics and chord structure by allowing visitors to experiment with note intervals in familiar musical melodies.”

Or, if you’re my daughter, it’s to find out what polka dots sound like. Because who hasn’t pondered that question, hello?

Oh, and her brother threw a couple things together, too.

Keep in mind, we are many things in this family, but musically trained we ain’t, (unless you count the hours we’ve put into Rock Band).

Here’s his first piece:

And here’s his second composition:

Again, same genetic material. I swear. No milk man involved. Although we did get Webvan deliveries. Oh, how I miss Webvan, but not for the sex, only for the deliveries. Not the baby deliveries, the food deliveries. God, you guys are disturbed. Those green and yellow bins, with their perfectly interlocking flaps. I still have some stashed away in the attic. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure they’re filled with outgrown baby clothes. Weird.

Oh, hey. Good news. First submissions have come in for the poster child/adult/pet/rodent/animal for FACE of the HUMORLESS. Soon we’ll be able to find a CURE. I just know it. So, when I say submissions, what I mean is a bunch of submissions from one entrant. Rather than subject you to all that humorlessness (it would shut the internet down, y’all), I’m gonna wait for some more submissions to come in and then post them for a vote. So, get those pics in. My email is available under the Contact header at the top of the page.

Remember, reptiles are eligible, too. I have seen some downright dour iguanas. And you’ll never catch one in a comedy club, unless he’s the janitor.

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Tied Shoes and Ponzi Schemes

Tied ShoelacesImage by sobriquet.net via Flickr

I taught my son how to tie his shoes today. Not that two-loop fake tie, but the tie that actually stays tied. He’s 12. It was time.

When you’ve got a kid with dexterity issues, you put these things off. Aspies are notorious for having trouble with things like dressing themselves. Show me a teenage boy in elastic-waist pants with slip-on shoes and a collarless shirt, and I’ll bet my mother’s underpants he’s surfin’ the Autistic Spectrum.

Bug’s been having me tie his shoes every damn day before welding camp. (They require you to wear real shoes, hence the ties.) After exposing my crack to the crack smokers in the hood outside camp one too many times, I decided to teach Bug the real way to do this shit.

As we cruised along the freeway toward camp, I had Bug put his right foot up on the dashboard. “Okay, make a bunny ear loop thing using the right lace with your right hand and pinch it. Now wrap the left lace around that looped ear and shove a piece of it through…Oh, fuck. Hold on. I have to merge. Okay, make the loop again. No. With the other hand. A bunny ear. Here, let me show you with my iPhone charger. Like this. Yeah, I know it doesn’t look anything like a shoelace. Try putting your left foot up instead so I can see your foot better while I’m driving. Oh, nevermind. Let’s just do it when we get there. I don’t feel like killing a shitload of people trying to teach you to tie your shoes while I’m driving. Yes, you can turn NPR back on. Yes, I see the humor in the fact that his name is Madoff and he made off with everyone’s money. Do you know what a Ponzi scheme is? Uh huh. Yeah. Really? From a podcast? I see. Yes, I’ll help you with tying your shoes when we get there.”

We park. I get out. Ass crack exposed. I tie his right shoe to demonstrate. Bug does a fumble-fingered attempt at the other shoe, making the mistake of a too long second loop that results in the single loop final tie. We’ve all done it. It happens. I make him do it again. This time he succeeds.

As we walk into camp, I tousle his hair and say, “Bug, I’m glad you learned to tie your shoes. Now I know you’ll be able to move out of the house, go to college, and teach your kid to tie his shoes some day. Plus, it’s about fucking time.”

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Wrapping Up

Primary School in "open air", in Buc...

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As our school year comes to a close of sorts, I’ve been looking back through photos and posts in our private blog, among other notes and things that will be used to create our portfolio of the year.

It’s astounding to see how the kids have grown this year, mentally and physically. They no longer peruse the shelves of the children’s section of the library, having moved on to more challenging reads. Their feet are nearly as big as my own. They’re developing interests and identities that continue to reflect who they are and what they believe.

Peanut remains one with nature and her animals, climbing trees, surrounded by dogs, cats, and rarely spotted wearing shoes, indoors or out. When she’s not out exploring with her friends of the two- or four-legged variety, she can be found with her nose in a book (most likely historical fiction) or online, interacting with her Australian mates on Runescape, checking out the latest music videos (I won’t tell you the artists for fear of embarrassing her), or emailing local friends. She still loves planning events, organizing things, and is quick-as-a-whip at math.

Bug loves science as much he did when he was 5, and his knowledge continues to grow with his own exploration, 4-H projects, and field trips to The Tech. He shares his father’s love of gaming, but takes it a step further by designing games. With multiple game design courses under his belt, and kudos from every instructor, he’s certainly shown an aptitude beyond his years. He’s broadened his reading genres this year beyond the fantasy realm to include historical fiction, and even a little historical non-fiction. He completed a few UC-level U.S. History courses earlier in the year that piqued his interested.

The emotional maturity Bug and Peanut have developed in the past few months, dealing first with my surgeries, then with their father’s cancer diagnosis and treatment, has been nothing short of impressive. I could not have asked for more flexible, loving children. We have been open and honest with them. There have been tears. There have been questions. It has been hard, but we will survive. We are blessed with great support from friends, family, and professionals who help us when we need more than we can provide for ourselves.

We are blessed.

Much love to all who have made this journey an easier one for us. You have a special place in our hearts.

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How Are The Kids?

Bug in BugWe may run things a little differently than most around here. It might not work for every family or every child to do it the way we do it, but it works for us.

Our kids like to be kept informed. They like to know what’s going on. So, we do this really weird thing.

We tell them.

We don’t make it overly scary, exceedingly technical, nor do we dumb it down. We meet them where they are and answer their questions.

They know what we know about Hubs’ cancer.

Kaua'i 2008They know what kind of cancer/lymphoma it is, the tests he’s had and will have, the chemo regimen he’ll begin Friday and some of the side effects to be expected.

This evening, while I was making dinner, Bug came out to the kitchen and asked me what the names of the chemicals are that will be used in Hubs’ chemo regimen. I sent him off to ask Hubs, and by the time I called them to dinner, they were immersed in researching each one and it’s effects.

Peanut likes information, too, but she also likes lots of time for snuggling and hugs. I wouldn’t say she’s clingy, but she certainly prefers sticking close to home these days. She’s also added some self-imposed structure to her days, which I think is helping her find her calm in the storm.

And, they both loved the bubble wrap extravaganza. I’m guessing it’s a memory they’ll be explaining in therapy for years to come.

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New Post and Stuff about Bewbs

Adequate ventilation has also been regarded as...

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Pop your butt over to CalifmomHomeschools for a new post about our unschooling life. I wrote it myself. Heck, I even took the pictures myself.

In other news, I’m getting my bewb’s sinister guest, Mr. Lumpy, removed on February 18th. Just days from now. Like six of them. I can count. It helps me with the homeschooling, dontcha know.

I’ve opted to have Mr. Lumpy removed under local rather than general anesthesia. They expect it will take about an hour for the procedure, which will be done in Kaiser’s Surgical Center, as opposed to the main hospital. This makes me happy, as the Surgical Center is much less hospitally. (Hospitally is too a word. Is so. Because I said so.)

I have to bring a snazzy sports bra to wear home. (Try finding one of those with hooks so you don’t have to pull that damn thing over your head after you’ve just had a chunk taken out of your bewb. Also a cheap one, because you don’t actually do any sports or other activities that would require a sports bra.) Then, it’s a few more weeks of No Heavy Lifting. 

At least this time, there won’t be any catheters involved.

The word on the street is that Mr. Lumpy is most likely a benign asshole, but I don’t care to host more than one asshole on this body. So, Mr. Lumpy is outta here.

My biggest fear I have, aside from the Big C, is that Mr. Lumpy’s absence will leave me even more lopsided than I already am. So, I’ve made Hubs promise I can even the girls out if I emerge looking like I’m a scoop short.

Aren’t you feeling blessed you stopped by today?

Smooches!

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CalifmomHomeschools: New Blog

I've had a private homeschooling blog for a while now, but have started to feel like some of what I write there would be worth sharing with the greater homeschooling community. Most of what I write in our private blog is a log of our days.

My public homeschooling blog will be some of that, glimpses into our days (but certainly not comprehensive of all we do and learn), as well as some of our homeschooling finds and thoughts.

The blog includes my kids' reading logs via Goodreads, a listing of our favorite resources, and homeschooling news from Alltop.

Check out CalifmomHomeschools, and see what you think. Your feedback and comments are always welcome.

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