Monday, November 23, 2009

Giving Thanks

Since it's Thanksgiving week, I wanted to share a few of the many things I am thankful for.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Arranged Marriage?

I've been reading quite a bit about marriage lately- the good, the bad, and the too often ugly of it. When the topic of "arranged marriage" came up, I felt like most modern western people might- that it sounds a bit archaic and unimaginable. But, come to think of it, arranged marriages have probably been the basis of the majority of marital unions throughout history. I knew that some arranged marriages are forced, like when a 12 year old is married off to some old man, which is appalling and gross, and should not be allowed anywhere in my opinion. But, I hadn't realized that in other cases, the couple actually has some input and choice in the matter- it's like a family decision. In most cases of arranged marriage, the union is really important to all the families involved, and there are whole host of implications socially, culturally, and economically that go with it.

Chitra Divakaruni's book Arranged Marriage, gives interesting insight to the importance of marriage for an Indian woman. She tells of a few unions that are happy, and of others involving violence and intimidation. I think many victims of domestic violence have difficulty leaving in any culture, but I would guess it might be even harder to stay away in a place where a woman is ostracized socially for not sticking with her husband, no matter what, and where she is not considered to have any worth or value on her own. Divakaruni may not blatantly disapprove of the custom of arranged marriage, itself but she sheds a strong light on the intense social pressure Indian woman are under to get married, and stay married. I think she acknowledges how deeply the social customs are a part of her culture, and the conflict people experience because of it. She seems mostly to disapprove of the part of her culture that gives women so little power, and so few options. As a woman, and the mother of a daughter, this makes me really count my blessings.

Anita Jain gives a very different look at the topic in her New York Magazine article “Is Arranged Marriage Really Any Worse Than Craigslist?” Jain is a well educated, unmarried Indian woman in her 30's living in New York. She tells comical tales of her parents attempts to find her a match using modern online arranged marriage websites, with her father embellishing her description and making exceptions to his religious expectations for men who make over $200,000 a year. As she has gotten older, her disdain for the matchmaking has lessened, and her willingness to go on those blind dates has increased. She says, “Undeniably, there’s a lack of mystery to Indian-style dating, because both parties are fully aware of what the endgame should be. But with that also comes a certain relief...With other forms of dating the options seem limitless...The not-knowing-where-something-is-headed can be wildly exciting. It can also be a tad soul-crushing. Just ask any single woman in New York.”

While I don't think I would want to choose my children's future spouses, I can think of certain cases where I might wish I could disqualify potential mates who have loser qualities, or give bonus points to the ones I like. I guess it's the same way I'd like to hope I can have a positive influence in any of their life choices. But that's just it, it's their life choice, and as much as it pains me, I don't get to make everyone else's choices for them. I do hope I can be a trusted guide, but they are the ones who are going to have to make the choices and live with them. Thankfully, my kids are still young, and that's all a ways off, but I know it will sneak up on me.

I can't even begin to imagine who my parents would have chosen for me to marry had they had a choice in the matter. Would I have the husband I do? I really don't know, but I do think after some of the guys I dated, my parents were happy with the one I ended up with. Somehow I don't think my parents were as impressed with long haired drummers in rock bands as I was back then. I distinctly remember one occasion when the man I later married came to pick me up on his motorcycle, and my step father said "well, at least he's a nice short haired young man."  My poor parents. Thinking back on my dating years is really not making me look forward to that stage of parenting- at all. But, instead of succumbing to the anxiety and wrinkled forehead those thoughts could give me, (and since it is too early in the day for a glass of wine) I am mentally reaffirming that my children will continue to have better logical thinking skills than I did at their age. Parents of teens will probably tell me I'm being delusional, but do you really need to burst my bubble? I am trying to use the power of positive thinking here!
In any case, in the end, any marriage, any relationship for that matter, whether arranged by outside parties or self chosen, is going to take work on all sides if it's going to have any chance at making it. Just ask anyone who's been married more than ten years.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I Love Writing About People Like This...

One of my favorite writing gigs is the "Be The Change" column for NorthState Parent magazine. It's a monthly column celebrating folks who are actively making the community a better place for families, and I get the honor of writing it every few months. In the process, I get to meet and talk with some really neat and inspirational people who definately make a difference. This month, Heidi Hillesheim was featured for some of the great work she has done with a community writing project called Books That Cross Borders, as well as her creative passion for education in all kinds of settings, including helping families with homeschooling, and organizing activities for homeschoolers in her area.While I already knew Heidi through homeschooling circles, it was so nice to sit down and chat with her over cookies and tea. Being around inspirational people with such positive energy really makes you think the world is a pretty nice place, and that is a great way to feel.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Library Woes

Last night I was checking my library account online- something I do on a pretty regular basis since we usually have about 25 items checked out at a time (we're homeschoolers after all) and the late fees can add up in a hurry. I am not usually surprised to see a few 20 cent charges here and there, but I was more than a little shocked to see that I have a new $15 fine for a magazine. That's right- I said $15- for a magazine! Back in September, I am 99.9% sure I returned the magazine in question into the drive up library return drop box. When it first started showing up as late, I emailed the library right away, pleading my innocence. I also stopped by and spoke to a librarian who filled out a claims check on it, and said someone would scour the library to look for the missing magazine. I wondered what would happen if it didn't turn up. I mean, it's a pretty big library, and one little old back issue of National Geographic Kids Magazine could easily get lost or even tossed among all that paper. The librarian wasn't sure the procedure for a lost magazine. It's not like it's a big new hardbound book or something- she said so herself.

Well, I didn't hear about it for over a month, so naturally, I was hoping the problem just went away. Then, out of the blue, I see this whopping fine- $5 for the lost material, and $10 for the “processing fee.” What the heck? I guess that $10 processing fee is for the poor sucker who had to run around unsuccessfully looking for a lost magazine in a multi story building full of paper. But, isn't that what the volunteers are there for? Now, I love my library. We use it all the time; it loans our family a huge portion of our homeschool materials, and I am happy to pay my couple of bucks now and again, but I just find this just a tad bit excessive. They want me to pay $15 for one back issue of a kid's magazine? Give me a break. You can get a 1 year subscription to National Geographic Kids Magazine for $15, which only makes this more frustrating. I like to support having a nice community service like the library, but this just annoys me.

So, I emailed my case again. Apparently, I have to call “the supervisor” on Tuesday. Maybe I should just pay the $15 and get it over with. After all, my family borrows books, videos, and obviously magazines, all year for free. I probably will end up paying it in the end, but in this case, it's the principle. I have to fight injustice and oppression when I see it. I can't just let a government agency get away with bullying and wrongfully over charging. So, Tuesday I'll call “the supervisor” and plead my case. Wednesday, I'll probably be dropping a couple of late books by the library, along with some money to pay for the fines and our $15 lost magazine. I need to get myself off the bad patron list, or they won't let me check anything else out, or even renew what I have now. Oh well, at least it's all for a good cause.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Why Don't Students Like School?

Here's an article from Psychology Today that is sure to ruffle some feathers. Peter Gray tackles the question "Why Don't Students Like School?" Since he is a professor at Boston College, a specialist in developmental and evolutionary psychology, and a textbook author, his opinion probably carries more weight in academic circles than the opinion of a homeschooling parent like myself, but I have a feeling that the educational big whigs aren't going to appreciate the commentary in any case. Gray says the answer is, "well duhhh" that children like freedom, and no matter how fun you try to make it, or how normal it seems to do, or how much it is for their own good, the majority of kids have no choice whatsoever in school.

Now, not all schools are created equal, and I know some kids enjoy their time at their institution, but I guess that is the big difference right there; they want to be there, and would choose to be if they had a choice. I also think that sometimes when people get so used to having their days organized by someone else, that they lose track of what to do with themselves, and fall into the "I'm bored" trap. With all the access that most Americans have to books, games, computers, crafts, and a million other things, it isn't usually a lack of things to do, but a case of lost initiative. In any case, I'd say a whole lotta kids don't have either the desire or the choice about school.

It makes me glad for the big batch of freedom my offspring have in our mostly happy homeschool. They seem to value it too. They like their free time, and the flexibility in what they do with it.

I'll be interested to hear what other people with kids both in and out of traditional school think about it.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Ghost in Your Genes

I've watched a bunch of interesting videos lately for my psychology class. The Ghost in Your Genes was this very fascinating, yet mildly alarming video that looked at the things that we inherit, not only from our parents, but our grandparents, and great grand parents. It's not just the color of your hair and eyes either. Scientists are looking at how factors like nutrition deficiencies, exposure to toxins, and even stress of grandparents can be encoded in DNA, and the grandchildren can have repercussions decades later. It's actually a bit scary. In studies with mice, extremely stressful situations produced anxious offspring even three generations later! It was like they were encoded to be little freaked out stresser mice. This does not make me feel very reassured for what kind of things my children will be prone to.

All this makes me think about things like the pesticide DDT which has been illegal in the US for decades, but is still found in soil, animals and even humans who were not even born when it was being sprayed. I wonder what effects will be seen in future generations from the array of drugs and technical interventions now being used in almost every birth in the US. Synthetic hormones, narcotics and antibiotics are used as routine procedures surrounding hospital birth- and there isn't any way to definitively know how these will effect the babies later on other than waiting and seeing. By then it will of course be too late; the damage will have been done. What about the processed foods and chemicals that make up a large portion of the American diet now- how will those effect our grandchildren? There's also the obesity rate, and the immense amount of prescription medications people regularly take these days.

This all leads me toward gloom and doom feelings over the future of our species, and the mess we are getting ourselves into. But, I am making a conscience effort not to be a freak about such things, and rather look at my own life, and see what I can do. Besides, if I am a constant stress case, what will that do to my future grand babies? At least my kids didn't get all the drugs and trauma at their births, and we do try to live a pretty relaxed life and eat good whole food. In general, I am a bit on the skeptical side with a lot of things- I'm not a big fan of waiting to see if the harmfulness of something is proven. I'm more likely to hold off or skip it, but I do need to work on my verbal negativity about the world, or I'll raise little cynics. I'm sure there will be some weird things my kids will inherit anyway, and while this research does make me uncomfortable about all the damage from the past, it also sure makes me glad for my current sheltering habits.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Quick Few Days in Monterey

We just got back from a great couple of days away. It's just one more thing I love about homeschooling- I can call my mini vacations field trips, and go fun places mid week.

One of my kids has been on an ocean life kick, so I'm trying to facilitate that as much as possible. It works out nicely that I also really like lounging at the beach, so I can incorporate that as well.

We were lucky to get in on one of the Monterey Bay Aquarium's awesome homeschool field trip days. It's an incredibly generous deal- they offer a limited number of free admissions to homeschool families and groups to their facility each year. Of course, you have to sign up months in advance, and we didn't get our first choice of days, but I'm not about to complain about a free deal. We ended up being there for some of the loveliest weather that town has seen all year. It was so sunny, we were actually almost hot, which is a rarity on northern California beaches.

It cooled off quite a bit when the sun went down, which gave us a chance to view some of the monarch butterflies coming in for the night to rest over in their wintering grounds in at the Butterfly Sanctuary in Pacific Grove. The hard core migration of these delicate butterflies is an amazing story in itself.

Bargain hunter that I am, I found a smokin' deal on a room through the TravelZoo Top 20 email newsletter. My ocean life kid was really into helping plan the trip. She figured the mileage and gas cost, mapped out our route, planned a food budget, and packed; all great life skills.

We stayed at the Deer Haven Inn, which is located in a quiet area right across from Asilomar State Beach and within walking distance to some lovely dunes and beaches. There were deer walking down the road, and some of the biggest raccoons I have ever seen came out at night. We got a clean and comfortable room, and the continental breakfast wasn't bad either. The kids thought the push button fireplace was such a cool luxury- especially the kid who just spent a couple of days stacking firewood with is dad.

Monterey Bay Aquarium is just an incredible place. My favorite exhibit is probably the beautiful jellies, but the newest exhibit, the “Secret Lives of Seahorses” is amazing as well.

This amazing creature is not some kind of sea plant- it's a sea dragon- a relative of the sea horse. Pretty cool, huh?
In addition to the beautiful sea life, they had some fun hands on lab stuff, chances to view animal feedings and talk with the scientists, and some interesting presentations. One thing I really appreciate about the homeschool days is the high adult to child ratio. Because they don't schedule school field trips the same days, there aren't ten times as many children as adults. I like children, mind you, but when they've been cooped up too long, and they outnumber the adults by a long shot, their energy and volume can be a bit intense to say the least. It makes it a little hard to concentrate or learn anything, let alone relax and enjoy yourself. It's a whole different experience when almost everyone has their parent there- and a much more pleasant one. We were able to spend the day in peace, marveling at the beauty and diversity in nature.

The trip was quick, but my kids got plenty of time to run around and be crazy on the beach, and my husband got plenty of time to look at boats, and dream of sailing away. It didn't matter that we had to do a whole lotta driving, and wanted to stay another night, but had to rush back, or that the free field trip ended up costing a couple hundred dollars. In the end, we had a great time, learned a bunch, and enjoyed each others' company, and that was the whole point after all.