Monday, January 23, 2012

Music Monday: 2011 in Review

One thing I have really enjoyed over the past year has been 'discovering' new music. The internet is overflowing with fresh sound and talent, and it's exciting to come across something wonderful that you've never heard before. Almost as fun is sharing my discoveries with others. I've usually done this through word-of-mouth, Facebook and (less effectively) Twitter. I've blogged a few of them, but it occurred to me recently that it would be fun to blog my favorite music discoveries (new to me, anyway) of 2011 all in one post. So, here we go. . .

** Poison and Wine by The Civil Wars

The Civil Wars top my list of favorites that I first heard in 2011. I bought the whole album, and have been listening to it all year. Not tired of it yet. Second favorite track is Falling.

** Heart's A Mess by Gotye

This is definitely at the top of my list- Gotye's most recent album "Making Mirrors" is one of only four full albums I purchased in 2011. Again, I've been listening to it incessantly and I'm not tired of it yet! I'm excited to hear the single Somebody That I Used to Know is now getting some airplay on a local radio station.

** White Winter Hymnal by Fleet Foxes. . . I just love this song, and the video. It's another one that has stuck with me reliably. Interestingly, nothing else by Fleet Foxes has grabbed my imagination quite like this one has.

** You Will Love This Song by Amber Rubarth

This is fabulous and charming. Check out her other project, too- the band Paper Raincoat- here's Sympathetic Vibrations

** Black Rock by The Infamous Stringdusters

This is an older video, and the band continues to evolve in new and exciting directions. It remains one of my favorite videos of theirs however, and it was key to me becoming enamored of their music last year. I have seen them play live several times now, and it is RIDICULOUS. Ridiculously, astonishingly good. Full disclosure: Billy is producing their next album. . . but I can honestly tell you my appreciation for this band stands entirely on its own. They definitely belong here in my top list.

** Mango Tree by Angus and Julia Stone

I simply adore this song, and a few others of theirs, as well. Check out Hold On, too- just stunning.

** I Don't Know by Lisa Hannigan

This is delightful, and I also love the live version performed at Dick Mac's Pub. Check out her other videos, too- she makes me happy.

** Bouncing Stones by Spoonbill

Very, very cool. I love the groove and the video, too. Also check out Feather Leather:

** Closer To Love by Mat Kearney

This is another full album that I bought, and have thoroughly enjoyed.

For the 10th, here's just a random selection of some other favs:

* I Am Not a Robot by Marina and the Diamonds
* Pumped Up Kicks by Foster the People
* Gravity by Sara Bareilles
* Loving Strangers by Russian Red
* A Little Bit of Everything by Dawes

What did I forget? What great music did you discover last year?

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Foggy, misty, mysterious when
Shimmering halos adorn every light
The very air, soft, kisses your skin
Gentle caresses of water take flight

Unseen things seem to lurk
Just past my eye's periphery
Dancing magic in the murk,
Or just mine eyes' trickery?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"Press Pause Play": A Brief Review

I just finished watching "Press Pause Play", a documentary on the current revolution in the music and film industries (with a little bit about print publishing and art thrown in). I can't say I think it's a particularly good documentary. It looks and sounds good, but it's terrible at communicating any cohesive *point*. . . other than that the industry is changing and nobody has any clue where the hell it will end up.

Still it's interesting and I already want to watch it again to revisit some of the viewpoints and quotes expressed here and there in the film. I am left with the impression that there are some very valuable things said, if I can just weed them out of the rest of the movie. I want to think further on some of the ideas. I'm glad I watched it, and I recommend it to anyone invested in the music or film industry right now. Maybe you'll be inspired to do this better. :)

PressPausePlay from House of Radon on Vimeo.

Monday, January 16, 2012

New Year's Letter- 2011 Recap

January 2012

Dearest Family and Friends,
2011. . . it was certainly an unusual year for us, full of new discoveries and deepening friendships, disappointments, struggles and many blessings. As you no doubt remember, Billy lost his beloved parents in 2010. This loss still aches, as it will for many, many years to come.

We hope to move our little family to Billy's parents’ previous home in GA. We must pay Billy’s siblings before we may move into the family property. To that end, we are trying to sell (or possibly lease) our house in Suwanee. The real estate market is so difficult right now, that we are doing anything in our power to help make this happen. To keep the house in Suwanee clean and show-ready, we moved out last April. Since then, we have been the grateful guests of very dear friends, and our combined families (four adults, six boys ages 4 to 12, four dogs and two cats) have been humming along surprisingly well!

Our experiment in communal living has been helpful to me on so many levels- it’s been wonderful to have the added support (both practical and emotional) of other adults, and the kids have enjoyed having more playmates every day. I could go on and on about the experience, but suffice it to say it has been unimaginably valuable, and I am in awe of the friendships we have developed. Though I am very eager to move forward into our home, the parting will be bittersweet.

Even with the added excitement of trying to sell a house, managing Billy’s parents’ estate, new communal living arrangements, and the continuing changes in the music business, our year was also full of fun activities and learning. We’ve had some hiking and camping trips, LOTS of field trips and activities with our fabulous homeschool group, and a road trip to Virginia for Festy, a wonderful camping/music festival.

The boys are thriving. Littleman (8 yrs) displays an unending curiosity of the world around him, seeking always to understand. His latest major interest is skateboarding- he received a skateboard for Christmas, and is determined to ride it well! The Pirate (6) has had a particularly good year it seems- he’s made leaps and bounds in his self-esteem and social skills. He self-identifies as an artist, and continues to practice art often. Babyman (4) is growing fast, of course. He’s talkative and frighteningly adventurous. He loves to hike, climb and zoom around on his scooter. He can turn on the cute charm whenever he wants to, and he knows how to use it!

Billy is still busy at work, which considering the current state of the music business is a testament to his skill and dedication. While the shifts in the music industry have been difficult, they are also exciting and I have high hopes that the end results will be positive, both for us and for new music in the future.

Of course I’ve been busy, what with everyday life and the added variables I’ve already mentioned. I’ve let many things slide, such as my blog, the boys’ blog, pleasure reading, photography, and my Etsy shop. At least I’ve found some creative outlet by practicing my knitting! Also, I’ve put a lot of energy into meal planning and cooking. . . it’s been necessary to help feed so many people, and the experience has been invaluable! I like to cook.

So as you can see, 2011 was an interesting year! We are all doing well, and are looking forward to even better things to come in 2012. I hope this finds you healthy and happy. I miss blogging, and hope to get back to it more this year. Please comment, email, or hit me up on Twitter (@kit_mama) anytime! I love to hear from you!

Kiss your loved ones, and go thank those special people who help you get through your days. They are a priceless treasure in our lives. :)
Brightest blessings on you and yours. . . Love Always,

Kit & Billy, Littleman, The Pirate & Babyman

The whole combined family (minus a couple dogs and cats), pictured Spring 2010

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Homeschool Snapshot

In a sort of continuation of my last post, I am still mulling over various aspects of my homeschool techniques, and the criticisms that are directed at me for them. One difficulty of Unschooling is that, particularly with younger learners, there is very little concrete evidence that learning is actually occurring. By "concrete", I am speaking of something that one can hold and read, that can be seen and filed away, that represents tidy, direct evidence that certain (specific) skills have been mastered.

This is a real problem for me, because I am expected to deliver concrete evidence that I am doing my job well. One way that I have addressed this issue is through yearly standardized testing, but that's not enough. I also try to collect art work and examples of writing, to file away in a portfolio of sorts. It can be hard in the chaos of normal life, but I do hope to get better at it. Still however, the incidental byproducts of our adventurous unschooling existence are seldom tidy little examples of a narrow definition of learning, that I can collect and file away for later scrutiny.

One suggestion that has been made to me very earnestly is that I carry a notebook with me, and every time something of an "educational" nature occurs with one of the boys, I am to note it down. This will enable me to show some sort of record of learning, to keep track of the boys' interests and curiosities, and make it possible for me to test them later on things we have covered.

This sounds very reasonable unless you've lived the unschooling lifestyle. Are there any unschoolers reading this? Am I right? I'm not sure. I know, for me, the thought of carrying a notebook everywhere with me and keeping track of every "learning" moment throughout the day sounds like a gargantuan task. I have a hard enough time meeting everyone's constant needs, without trying continually to put things into words and take notes. Not to mention, much of their learning happens independently. And ultimately, I don't think this task has any value for increasing the efficacy of their education. It's value lies solely in reassuring detractors. Is such a huge effort, then, worth the sacrifices it would entail?

When presented with this idea, I thought of a recent incident of "learning" (they're really learning all the time, not just when the topic is "school"-related) that occurred just a few days ago. We were visiting Charlottesville, Va as a family. Billy was combining work with pleasure, and he was busy for several hours recording while I entertained the three boys. I had walked with them to a nearby playground.

In addition to fun climbing equipment and swings, the playground was abundantly equipped with spinning devices. There was a spinning "Nest" which the boys had no end of fun in, twisty poles, and several "spinner bowls", like these:

The bowls are set into the ground at an angle. Littleman sat down into one, and looked a little bemused.
"How do I make it go?", he asked me.
"You have to use gravity and your own weight to make it spin.", I replied. "Lean forward."
He did, and the shift in weight immediately caused the cup to spin him 180 degrees so that the greatest mass was on the downhill side.
"Good", I said, "now lean back."
Which of course resulted in another 180 degree spin back to where he'd started.
He grinned.
"Now just keep doing that, in rhythm, until you get spinning really well.", I told him.
"Why does that work?", he asked me.

This then, was one of those "teachable moments" when I find myself doing my best to distill a fairly complicated answer into something that will satisfy Littleman while still accurately explaining the concepts at hand. Funny how such a deceptively simple question can really be tough to explain. So I launched into a brief description of rotation, momentum and centrifugal force. . to the best of my ability, because my understanding is admittedly hazy and I did not have my laptop handy for quick research.

Littleman experimented with shifting his weight, spinning, trying different rhythms and trying to speed up or slow down. Those bowls get going very fast! It was perfect for experimenting with rotational physics. Even though my explanation was imperfect, it was enough to plant seeds of knowledge in Littleman's head that he will be able to build on very well. That, combined with the very concrete knowledge of what these forces feel like, will make it easier for him to fully understand when the subject is visited again.

While all this is going on however, I am monitoring Babyman's activities all over the playground, and simultaneously eavesdropping on the conversation that the Pirate is having with a man that we don't know. I am in an unfamiliar place, trying to remain aware of our surroundings. I'm tired and my brain is sluggish from an 8 hour drive the previous day and a persistent head cold. Before I can finish, I am interrupted by Babyman who needs me to push him on the swings. Then the Pirate wants to swing. Then Littleman and Babyman start fighting over the Nest. Next Littleman is introducing me to his new friend. . .

I have trouble imagining myself, with all the other things demanding my attention, simultaneously taking notes in my mind as the conversation unfolded, and then stopping everything to locate my notebook and write my notes down. Then, multiply that by the many, many times that such moments occur throughout the day. This assumes that I even recognize these moments when they occur. . . learning is so seamlessly integrated into our lives that I'm usually not pigeonholing our experiences into "school" and "not school". It would require that I view all my interactions with my children through this lens of "education". I think the ramifications for the kids and me would be far-reaching and mostly negative.

Then again, maybe I am the one being negative. I just don't know.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Wow, it has been a long time. There are many reasons for my blog absence, and perhaps I will go into them in a later post. For now though, I want to write a few things about homeschooling. They are, of course, merely my own thoughts and experiences. I don't presume to say this applies to anyone other than our own family.

As I've probably mentioned, I homeschool our three boys- now aged 8, 6 and 4. I do not believe in doing "school at home"- if I wanted to impose timed classes and pre-written curricula on my children, I would seek a good school for their education. It would certainly be easier on me. Instead, our learning is very fluid, completely integrated into our daily life. We do not have separate time for "school", or even designated "school days". I do not have an external curriculum for my children to follow. I do not write lesson plans, administer pop quizzes, or assign projects. Instead, I actively seek to create an environment for my children that is varied, interesting and enriching, full of exciting and challenging experiences. I listen to them, and I seek to answer their questions as accurately and completely as I can, at the level (or just slightly above) they can understand.

I often ask questions and introduce ideas or experiences that might spark curiosity or further questioning from my children, but I do not force them to memorize facts in order that they may spit them out accurately later. If, after answering a question, the child is still interested in a topic, I will continue the conversation and often seek media to help me illustrate and expand on the topic. I have been pleased with the information that they retain, but the real payoff is in making connections between ideas and developing a less quantifiable, but more fundamental understanding of how the world works.

My approach is based on the ideas and theories of the educational researcher John Holt, who wrote extensively about education from the 60s until his death in 1985. He is considered by many to be the founder of the "Unschooling" movement- a term he coined to describe learning that did not take place in a school or a school-like environment. (As I recall, despite the fact that he came up with the term he said he felt it was rather inadequate, as it is based on what the method is NOT instead of describing what the method IS. He said it was the best he could come up with in one word. But don't quote me on that. I don't feel like hunting up his exact words right now.)

Unschooling, while still a young and controversial movement, has continued to grow since John Holt first introduced the idea. It is a difficult movement to pin down, since it is still defined more by what it does not practice, than by what it does. This is because the unschooling approach is extremely individualized, responding to the interests and needs of individual children and families, rather than imposing a standardized external model. It's hard to define something that looks different for every practitioner. In addition, unschooling is, in practice, often nearly inseparable from parenting methods, making it that much more difficult to study the effects of the practice without being influenced by the widely varying personalities and familial experiences of the unschoolers themselves. Are positive or negative results of unschooling due to the philosophy and educational practice, or are they moreso the result of parental practices? Is it even possible to separate the two? I don't have the answers to these questions. My concern is, "Is it right for my children?" I think, at least in the realm of "education", that it is.

I am often questioned, sometimes vehemently, about the advisability of using such an untested and controversial model for educating our children. "How can that possibly work?" "Kids don't know what they should learn!" "How will unschooled kids ever adapt to the real world?" "They will have huge gaps in their education." "They will grow up and feel that you failed them." "They will not be equipped to compete in a changing and extremely competitive, cutthroat world." "Show me evidence that this method works." "You aren't challenging them enough." "I need proof that they are learning." And so on, and so forth.

I have been tasked with finding evidence that Unschooling "works". That Unschooled kids can grow up to be successful, productive adults. That they can adapt to a world which seeks to impose external requirements and frameworks, requires one to be on time, and often requires one to work hard at something one does not like, in order to reach a goal. That Unschooling will not leave kids struggling to compete in a world that does not cater to their individual interests. Unfortunately, there has been little (if any) standardized research done on Unschooling and its results. I am continuing to seek and read what information I can find, and I am compiling a list of links relevant to this research. If you have any ideas or suggestions, I welcome the help. :)

* * *

PS- I should note, that I am not strictly an Unschooler in my actual homeschool practice. I do require my children to complete some "educational" tasks, even at their sometimes objections. The older they are, the more likely I am to impose some "forced" "learning" activities. My 8 yr old is in second grade this year (his birthday is in October), so I require him to complete some coursework in an online curriculum called "Time 4 Learning". My 6 yr old is in first grade, and I "force" him to sit down with me and work on reading from time to time. I question them occasionally on topics (such as money value, geography, or subtraction for instance) to see for myself how easily and completely they seem to remember and understand those things. I also administered the standardized CAT test at the beginning of this school year, which is not very "Unschool" of me. ;) I plan to administer a standardized test yearly, to help me keep track of "expected" learning and to help reassure my relevant detractors.