Friday, September 30, 2005

Urban Gymnast

Or Insane Eighteen Year Old? You decide

Remember the old Par Cours that we all did in the 70s and 80s? Runners would go into the woods jogging and then every tenth of a mile or so, they'd stop to do pull ups or push ups or to trot on top of wooden stumps, etc. Well, there is a new urban version of this sport called ParKour (the best athlete in this field is French). Noah has joined the local chapter... and is now seen around town flinging himself (and pony tail) at cement buildings.

The basic idea is to hurl your body off of rooftops and fire escapes in abandoned parts of the city while doing gymnastics moves like kips, dive rolls (yes, right onto concrete), and flips. The action of this sport looks a lot like Trinity in the opening scene of the Matrix... and surprisingly, just as graceful.

Noah, my rock climber, my "challenge death from age 12 months and forward" child took to this new life threatening time killer like an oil slick to Alaskan waters. ::shudder::

One of the little movies demonstrating the sport was set in Russia. Talk about an urban gymnast's dream! All those abandoned buildings and dangerously decaying stairwells? I saw the world through new eyes... Made me wish for my youth.

Here are a few pics:

Monday, September 26, 2005

Getting the chemistry right

Johannah signed up for torture this year, aka chemistry. Since I escaped high school without chemistry and deftly avoided taking it in college, I know nothing. The closest I get to chemical knowledge is mixing baking soda and vinegar in various containers and calling it lava!

So the other night, she called from the computer to ask me for help. I put on a brave face and marched over as a dutiful parent would.

"Mom, I'm trying to put in absolute numbers. How do I do it?"

"Absolute numbers! Like, those are numbers, not vowels? Johannah, I'm sorry, but I'm worthless with any heiroglyph used in counting."

"No Mom, I know what absolute numbers are. I already did the problems. I just can't figure out where the right key for vertical brackets is on the keyboard."

Aha! I'm a genius! "Right there, honey. It's the upper case of the backward slant key."

And that's how I help with chemistry homework. The computer and I—we've got chemistry.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Fundamentally shocked

Wednesday night my Comparative Religious Ethics class met.

And Rush Limbaugh turns out to be right. The liberal intellectuals do, after all, bash their conservative brethren while boasting of being tolerant and interested in dialog. (Not defending ol' Rush, here, but the thought did cross my mind.)

My buddy in class (who comes from conservative Christianity, too) said, "I feel like a pinata." That's how it felt to listen to Catholics describe Christian fundamentalists. Their "insight" was about as sharp as the thick end of a baseball bat and just about as subtle.

Assertion: One of my favorite attempts at explaining fundamentalists (who all support Bush, of course) was that they must be used to following whatever their church leaders say. They don't think for themselves individually because they only follow leaders... unlike Catholics who are trained to obey their personal consciences in matters of faith and practice.

Uh yeah... their consciences and... the POPE... who I thought was The Church leader...

Rebuttal: What worth-his-salt conservative Protestant puts a church leader ahead of his own ideas of what is true or from God? Haven't met one yet. We leave a church when we don't agree... isn't that the usual accusation?

Assertion: Fundamentalists only read the Bible literally. Catholics read it on many levels (metaphorical, analogical, literal, historical, theological...)... Amazing. I didn't know that Catholics read the Bible. Many in this very program have admitted to me that they had never even cracked the covers of a Bible until grad school.

Rebuttal: I felt constrained to point out that fundamentalists do read the Bible on lots of levels and in fact, do read it, a lot. They just take it so seriously that they don't want to read it in ways that undermine their orthodox beliefs. So they don't. Kind of like Catholics, who read the Bible so that it supports Church teachings.

Someone else asked: "Can fundamentalists be spiritual people?" Whoa! I thought all that daily prayer, Bible study, fasting, devotion to moral living and character growth were spiritual disciplines. But rats, apparently they are not since fundamentalists are convinced of their salvation.

Assurance of salvation was proof that a fundie was not in fact spiritual (which just happens to be the Catholic view of salvation. A fundie would say that the Catholic is not spiritual if she can't point to the date, time and locale of her conversion).

No response necessary.

6 day creationism was seen as absurd and the fact that a fundamentalist wouldn't lie about hiding Jews in WWII seen as "unreasonable" (as not promoting the use of reason). One astute Catholic student pointed out that perhaps for the fundamentalist, he believed in God with much more faith than the Catholic, in trusting that God's will would be done without the believer having to compromise his values that God had commanded him to live.

It was rough.

I take issue with most of the fundamentalist tenets of faith. But what I will never forget is that my life, in conservative evangelical circles, was full of conviction, study, sincerity, commitment to ideals and morals, intellectual stimulation (yes, it was!) and daily spiritual disciplines that caused me to be a better person, yes, a more decent, honest, hard-working, kind and caring/interested person. I figure Catholicism works the same way for Catholics.

Today, since I can't bear what I see as the superstitious side of faith, I have left evangelicalism. But not because fundamentalists were dumb or not spiritual or mere followers of men.

We all need to listen a lot more attentively to each other and stop one-upping our particular brand of faith. It's just not Christian.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

A little family bid-niz

Brave Writer is the business I started almost six years ago. It began as an email list that taught an online writing class for eight weeks and... $25.00 per family. :) I had no website, no book published, no staff. Just me, a computer and my conviction that native speakers are more than qualified to teach their kids to write.

Since then, I've changed the name (we used to be The Writing Compass), added a website, written two writing manuals, have developed multiple products to help with language arts practices, created a slew of online courses in addition to the original one, started a free subscription program that helps to organize a writing lifestyle, run a daily blog, offer writing contests and have a staff of six, besides myself.

When I began the first class, I was writing a manual for a well known homeschooling curricula. I wanted them to hire me so that I could run my online courses through them. I thought I needed greater access to the homeschooling community. That project fell through (for mysterious reasons, though I did at least get that first book written) and initially, I was devastated. That company owner told me that today, no one can start a business and expect the old maxim to hold true: "Build a better mousetrap, and the customers will beat a path to your door." He suggested that if I was serious about starting my own business, I'd also have to become expert in marketing, the world of Internet advertizing, that I'd have to promote myself by attending conferences at my own expense and so on. Behind his words were predictions of failure.

I ignored him. (Good thing)

My company has grown solely due to word of mouth advertizing. I have not taken out a single ad, I haven't even had to pay my way to conferences (having been invited to the ones at which I've spoken). I still don't know much about Internet marketing, though the little I've learned has come from my savvy husband and brother.

What's happened instead is that I created a company that helps mothers. This is an important point. I'm pretty certain that what sets Brave Writer apart from other home school curricula is that I am a homeschooling mother and writer, not a dad, not a business man, not an educator.

Homeschool moms have specific experiences that go unaddressed by the standard curricula.

When a writing manual says: "Write a four sentence paragraph about autumn that includes a topic sentence" - it is only telling the child what to do, not how to do it. Moms will read the instructions and watch the otherwise exuberant little boy sit blankly, not moving. How do you get a kid who stares out the window to write?

So my materials all start from this question: What catalyzes the writer to emerge from behind blue eyes? (A "Who" reference for my rock 'n roll readers )

I answer: A mother who understands the natural stages of growth in a writer, and who fosters an environment where the writer may emerge at his own pace.

So that's what Brave Writer is in a nutshell. I've doubled my business this year (truly astounding!) and am nearly drowning. I may be at my first tipping point. It's exciting and scary.

Incidentally, the curricula that turned me down originally, has now asked to carry my manual in their catalog. Hmmmm.

My answer?

So far, I've decided that I don't need the extra work more money and customers would mean. We're on the "grow as we can support the growth" model, which is counterintuitive if money is the goal, but more reasonable if having a family life is the goal (which it is for us).

Apparently, the maxim still holds true: If you do build a better mousetrap, they do come after all.

Thanks Dave, for asking about my business. My website (linked at the top) is the easiest way to see what I'm up to.

Now off to do all that data entry that I loathe...

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Katrina and other traumas

My time in California with my college friend and roommate surpassed expectations as we roamed through memories and shared our last twenty years with each other in new and insightful ways. UCLA is gorgeous and we enjoyed walking all over the campus remembering favorite study haunts and food spots.

Then Jon arrived and we went to Riverside to see my entire family celebrate my uncle's birthday. He turned 80 in the company of all who love him (he had 115 people at a luncheon including the mayor who honored him with a city award), which moved me and motivated me to be of such a giving nature.

I returned home to the chaos that is Katrina raging from our TV screens. The incompetence of this administration in the face of true tragedy defies response. I'm speechless.

Then I found this article online that practically predicts the hurricane damage a full year ago (read the opening set of paragraphs and shiver). There was no excuse not to be prepared.

And barely two days into being home, I found out that a local girl we know has left home and needs a place to stay... but is still a minor. For safety reasons, I won't share why she left but use your fertile imaginations... No one leaves her family home without money or a place to go without good reason. Worse, she comes from a homeschooled "Christian" (I use that term loosely) environment. We are trying to help her find a place to live.

What's wrong with people?