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Hsthil.jpgI was born to teach. I mean, I was born to a teacher. Wait, better make that, I've borne with teachers all my life. Hmmm, that didn't come out quite right either...

Hjer.jpgAs far back as I know, there have been teachers in every generation of my family, often several per generation. Born into the upper classes (8th grade-level equivalency or higher), teaching is our "family business" - we're pre-school apprenticed, fated by an ancient caste-them-into-the-educational-dungeon system, forever destined to a life of demagoguery... oops, sorry, typo there - should've said pedagoguery, of course. So easy to confuse those two, isn't it? But the latter originally comes from the Latin word paedagogus, which means "slave who escorted children to school and generally supervised them." Yep, that's the one I meant.  

Coming from this long line of teachers (and figuring out how, after getting all the wiggles out, to stand still on it with tippy toes tucked together), I see the world through sophist-colored spectacles. Clearly, it has influenced my perspective, encouraged a yearnin' for learnin' and modeled the value -- dare I say the nobility? -- of academic professions. But, I would probably have to conclude that the most invaluable lesson of my upbringing was learning how to live happily on a teacher's salary.

Generally, people don't claim that aspiring to make a teacher salary is setting the bar too high. In fact, they might even go so far as to question the worthiness of one's ambition, if not intellect, for choosing teaching as a vocation. Others opt to express their dismissive disdain by simply quoting that educator-beloved proverb, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." But, as one accustomed to living on a teacher's wages from the perspective of a child, a grandchild, a teenager and an adult, I am also familiar with the possibilities that exist despite the relatively 'prohibitively low salary' - not only the validation that a scholarly life is one worth living, but one that affords huge payback in terms of time off and travel options. (Yes, there's time travel, too, but that's another entry...)
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There was my great grandfather, a world-renowned physicist, who traded in the rights to his many inventions for university tenure & a nicely painted portrait that hangs for perpetuity in a dank & dusty lab hallway somewhere. That seemed patently fair...
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There was my grandmother who, like a Willa Cather heroine, left Nebraska at 17 to attend college in the east and then crisscrossed the country by train for graduate school in California, presiding over a one room schoolhouse back home and teaching Latin at a prestigious boys' prep school in New England. She seemed to have lived everywhere, but always in very small quarters, tiny houses which appeared to have been plucked from miniature Christmas village scenes. Or, there were the photographs of her smiling from the deck of a 15' boat with its sleeping bag-sized cabin, her stay-afloat-home for a two year, now-you-sea-me, now-you-don't, tour of the Atlantic.


Hm.jpgThere was her sister who also became an educator, first in the US and then abroad in Germany and Japan. She taught 3rd graders on American military bases and saw the world on holiday. When she finally reunited with her sisters in Nebraska, well after they had all retired, each returning from whence they came, her shelves were filled with European trinkets, Japanese folk art, textiles and fantastical carvings. When I was little, each December had delightfully arrived with Christmas advent calendars she sent from Germany. Decades later, to her great grandnieces, she delivered in person the materials used long ago in her classrooms: books filled with legends of that just peachy Little One-Inch, LPs of traditional Japanese folk music & classical compositions like Peter and the Wolf, sets of world geography flashcards that served as the girls' first introduction to Cold War-era political borders, and a collection of black & white & yellowing How and Why Wonder-full science books. And, she was the one who always had the same answer any time I expressed doubts as to what we should do for & with our kids: "TRAVEL!"

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Of course, not all of the influential teachers relative to me were required to be my relatives. There was Mr Martin's syrupy sweet, yet unflappable, Jack support of a teaching-traveling lifestyle, one he insisted came full stacked with fringe benefits which over easily offset the occasional, if pressing, prioritizing dilemma created by limited income: Would you like 2 sausages - or - 2 slices of bacon with that?

There was also another of my high school teachers whose roving nature proved instructive. Initially, she checked her restless spirit by taking library science courses on the side. Understandably burnt out on American literature after marking up one-too-many The GraDes of Wrath essays, she was no doubt desirous of making that lucrative, lateral, librarian career path leap (a sure sign she was a Libris?). Hgrps.jpgBut, eventually, bibliotheca thrills could no longer satisfy, as her untamable soul wandered among rows of travel guides and shelved discontentment. Sure, for a while she'd been appeased by a rebellious resistance to systematic Dewey Decimal classification, but that couldn't last forever -- things were stacked against her from the start. So, she took early retirement, bought a little RV & began solo trips, making larger and larger concentric circles until she'd finally escaped Texas' gravitational pull and experienced wait-less-ness.  

Later, there was a fellow English department faculty member, thirty years my senior, who every summer took her mother and rented the same quaint cottage in England. Thanks to a standing agreement with an elderly lady there, they'd upheld the tradition for nearly twenty years. It was easy to imagine my colleague & her mum sipping tea, nibbling scones and chatting with their landlady-turned-bonne amie about the noontime's light drizzle or teasing shows of sunshine... How very proper for one assigned by fate (and the scheduling committee) as a purveyor of British literature! Hcotg.jpgAn arrangement so thoroughly pleasing in its safety and simplicity, she returned each fall refreshed and at peace. Then, on spring breaks, she pursued her other fancy free pastime -- massive archaeology site digs. In her school marm sensible shoes, ankle-length heavy skirts and hair-pinned bun, she was the best disguised Indiana Jones I ever met. Would have given Harrison Ford a run for that crystal skull, too, I bet, if she wasn't so busy writing college recs.

And, like my grand aunt, there were a few college friends who also went the Japan route, most as English language tutors. One couple married just before embarking & thereby received the ultimate parting gift: a combination first job with international experience + a guaranteed, all-expenses-paid, year-long honeymoon an ocean away from the in-laws. Another guy, a journalism majoring single, kept renewing his annual contract because he'd become an overnight karaoke club sensation, playing sax & apparently looking just enough like Sting (requisite stringy blond hairdo) to get steady gigs. At last, vindication for marching band nerds can be found just one continent over!  [Thanks to opportunities available in the wide world of teaching. Actual results may vary.]

Although I'm no longer a paid teacher (not that I haven't tried to unionize, but it's so laborious and strikes me as futile somehow), I still set our family's budget parameters by teacher salary standards. With that comes a practical and well-known comfort level, passes down my inherited values system to our daughters, and is a relatively easy way to ensure that we can continue to homeschool & travel for as long as we'd like. We're far from financially savvy - it just doesn't take much finesse to work out a budget when you adopt a going light, less-is-more philosophy.       

Hb1.jpg"So, how do ya'll do it?" (This is the question we often hear, though the rhetorical subtlety of 'Well, la-di-da!' sometimes suffices.)  Actually, it started when we were settling down & had no travel plans. We married and bought a very modest house, one we could afford based solely on Chris' single income (which just barely exceeded first year teacher earnings at the time) and my graduate school contribution-leeching-liability status, as assessed by the bank's loan officer. Most significantly, the monthly payments were so low that we could still cover them if - irony forewarning here - Chris ever got fired from his job for refusing to travel for work, an often contentious point with a succession of bosses who always threatened to, but never actually did, let him go. Instead of focusing on moving up (in the corporate hierarchy or to a "better" neighborhood), we put time spent together, and then time spent with our kids, ahead of getting ahead. [Plus, it turned out that we loved our little, unpretentious neighborhood, one that included a friendly mix of people and interests, a preponderance of teachers & an active contingent of watchful retirees. It's the closest one could come to living in small town, Nebraska, in a city containing 5 million people: a forgotten, six-street, "No Outlet" corner of a sprawling, post-WWII tract housing subdivision. On summer evenings, husbands met on sidewalks for rousing games of washers, wives exchanged cuttings from flower gardens, and kids ran about displaying their most impressive collections of crawdads & Texas toads, extricated from blue jeans' pockets mercifully still alive and not croaking.]  

We didn't invest a lot in social standing and, likewise, we've always chosen a fairly low-key lifestyle in other ways: We drive one 10 year old car, never had cable tv, belong to only one country club (the whole country's club - we're proud, card-carrying National Parks' Pass members), don't own a boat or ATVs or jet skis, do not indulge in drinking, smoking or other egregious & costly personal habits (golfing), own few appliances & tech gadgets, don't pay private school tuition fees or purchase pre-packaged curriculum kits & courses, stopped buying furniture when our house was furnished, and don't have season tickets to sporting events, the theater, the ballet or the WWF. When we had kids, and again when the kids convinced us to become vegetarians, we also cut back on eating out and began cooking most meals at home. And, once we went to Europe and realized we could get by with carry-on-bag-sized wardrobes, we reevaluated there, too, simplifying our - and the washing machine's - clothing loads thereafter. Through it all, we discovered that remarkable inverse relationship: the more "stuff" you have, the less you can do. Fewer things = less maintenance, less cleaning, less dusting, less washing, less insurance and way less worry.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating asceticism or living too far below one's means for effect (or 'for affect'), but what we value often does not correlate to $$ spent. We're not Zen, we're just not extravagant. Plus, it frees up a lot of energy and resources that can be put toward what we do desire: globeschooling.
 
We are lucky that Chris' business allows him, to a large extent, to set his own schedule and have flexibility in where he works. We're also lucky we can homeschool. However, both of these were decisions we made with consequences to risk if it didn't go well and pressures that are still there even when it does. HDwM.jpgIt also took us more than a decade to find a successful way to work & be together, including one year when Chris got fed up with the corporate world and joined me as a high school geometry teacher, and another, Mikaela's first, when I worked and he stayed home with our baby and his entrepreneurial dreams (voluntarily reducing us to a one-teacher-income household again). Amazingly enough, he couldn't get his start-up business going between diaper changes, two-hour-long power lunches of mashed bananas and our infant's insistence on pulling all nighters every nighter. So, we switched. Chris returned to the corporate life, waiting to try again another 4 years later. 

The "jump" into globeschooling was equally daunting. Especially when it seemed that anyone doing something similar recommended a $150,000 per year minimum budget and/or had just purchased a 43' yacht - with more rooms & amenities than our house - to sail around the world in precisely 365 days. But, the idea that travel is only for the rich or privileged few is an antiquated notion (ok, maybe it was true in Antiquity, but Saint Augustine - who said "The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page" - and Harley Davidson - who spoke in slightly less mufflered tones - changed all that). Yet, it's still a myth perpetuated by some in the travel industry & most of the rest of us, too: it's elusive, not for regular folks, esoteric, ethereal. Or, it's dicey, scary, dangerous, you'll definitely get lost. Certainly, you'll need a lot of help. And a chaperone. A translator. A valet. And an all-you-can-eat buffet. If you really think about it hard enough, surely you can find at least one valid reason NOT to go....

But, with Do-It-Yourself itinerary planning, you can not only get there more cheaply, you're almost guaranteed an infinitely richer experience because you thought about it, researched it, looked forward to it and invested the time - not necessarily the money or tour package "incidental costs" - to appreciate what you're gazing upon. Eventually, we figured out, there are hundreds of ways to Go West, Young Globeschoolers!  And east, north and south, too. We just had to begin by finding one that didn't make us too uncomfortable or stressed out & start there. After that, it got much easier.

Hcgrnd.jpgSurprisingly, it was at William Randolph Hearst's 'La Cuesta Encantada' that we found the culmination & confirmation of our family's guiding philosophy 'Tis better to be independently minded than independently wealthy. The in-house movie "Building the Dream" detailed the passion & impetus for Hearst's constructing a 'Castle on the Hill.' And why? Because his mom took lil' William sightseeing in Europe when he was ten years old. So taken was he with the experience that, when he inherited his father's magnate status, he told architect Julia Morgan, "Miss Morgan, we are tired of camping out in the open at the ranch in San Simeon and I would like to build a little something..." That meant the Enchanted Hill: 165 rooms & 127 acres of manicured gardens, terraces, pools and walkways. Plus thousands of imported artifacts, tapestries, furnishings, fireplaces and even a complete, reassembled 15th century ceiling harvested from a Spanish  convent to grace the billiards room. All in order to fulfill his fantasy of replicating medieval feudal society right there in 1920s San Simeon, California... or Palatine Bust? Now, our own kids weren't moved to do the same when they got back home from their European vacation (although we did offer them two tubs full of Legos if they wanted to give it a try), but it did make us realize that...

Just like Hearst, we tripped around Europe, if not in the same grand style (in our case, it was great grandma's style), it was nearly the same in substance. No, we did not enjoy the voyage o'er the pond like William -- from first class cabins on a luxury cruise ship that sped to the Old World in three weeks. Instead, we found a discounted flight in coach which got us there in nine & a half hours (mere seconds behind those in business class, btw). No, we didn't leave good ol' dad behind to tend the store (and gold, silver, lead & quartz mines, as well as fret over the hopelessly unprofitable San Francisco Examiner money pit), but went all together to ensure that Chris got as little work done as possible. And, no, we weren't able to devote a year and a half to our journey, but we still saw 90% of what Hearst saw during our time there. Only without staying in a swanky villa the night before, hobnobbing with our entourage, heeding propriety's sake, arriving in a timely manner appropriate to our station & getting mention in the society pages (inexplicable, really, since I diligently sent out press releases) and without a chauffeur (well, 3 of us had a chauffeur. Went by the name of "Mom." And drove the pumpkin-converted-minivan 30,000 km in 3+ months.) Yet, sights are the same no matter who's looking at them. In fact, sometimes because we had a short kid with us, we actually were allowed to move up 'to the front row' for the primo view. And, if you get up early enough, you can feel just like a débutante & enjoy having even the most famous places all to yourselves. (Ok, that's not true - débutantes sleep in.)
  


We don't want to build our own castles in the air. Just visit them on occasion. [Well, in the interest of full disclosure, Mikaela did suffer a temporary bout of mansion-envy, cured only by seeing the gargantuan things up close. They lacked the warmth and charm with which her active imagination had lavishly furnished them, visions instantly dispelled by grand foyers filled with hunting trophies: glass-beady eyes peering down from decapitated heads onto a less than receptive Mikaela. Now her make-me-green wish is not livin' large, but livin' off the grid, the goal being cozy & extremely efficient square footage.] M&K do appreciate the magnificence of what they see, but it is tempered with the reality of what they know, such as: Marie Antoinette, the girl who grew up in Schönbrunn Palace, eventually lost her head in Versailles; Catherine de' Médici & Diane de Poitiers, who fought viciously over the questionable figure Henry II cut in his knobby-kneed tights, were left with only Château de Chenonceau's beautiful gardens to haggle over for their troubles; painter Vincent Van Gogh took as his subjects those lovely irises & olive groves primarily because they were located just outside the doorway of his sanatorium; and, Jack London's dream home mysteriously burned down upon its completion, leaving him to write & pass his two remaining years in the small shack's sleeping porch where he first started out at 'Beauty Ranch' ...

When I was growing up, we didn't travel much and I never watched Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous. If you didn't want to be rich or famous, what was the point? But, maybe there was one, one that fits in with our belief system, after all. What Hearst's example revealed is that you can see & learn as much as "the elite," but perhaps more because their own lives also serve as examples to illustrate greatness' foibles, follies & flaws. In a moment much too clichéd to invent, we were talking with an elderly woman at the gas station in nearby Cambria after our tour. Hindr.jpgHer auburn hair faded to gray, she was wistfully reminiscing about pony rides she & the other servants' children had been allowed to take when she was a little girl. She told us about his exotic zoo animals & all the fine folks who came to visit... However, as we were saying goodbye, she felt compelled to add, "But we all hated Mr. Hearst. No one around here could stand the old man!" Too often, the most transparently obvious lesson is that money and material things are transitory and do not make people content anyway. Ironically, being witness to this simply reinforces an idealism of resisting the allure & false promise inherent in equating materialism with happiness. Overall, it was an excellent way to satisfactorily answer any lingering questions the girls might have had on our Home(school) Economics Final Exam.

Which finally leads me back to an alternative take on that teaching career postulate:   

Those who can, do teach. Those who can't teach, whatever do they do?

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It all started when we were trying to fit in with a new playgroup at their park day. We'd recently decided to homeschool Mikaela, but we hadn't found our niche yet in any of the homeschool groups where most families' kids were older than ours or we'd been rejected because we wouldn't sign the group's statement of faith, publicly declaring our animosity toward Satan and expressing our willingness to enlist the kids in a crusade if given 48 hours advance notice.  

This group, though not homeschoolers, seemed ideal because it had an abundance of toddlers along with several five year olds who'd just missed the school district's birthdate cutoff.  If it worked out, both of my girls would have plenty of potential playmates and our homeschooling wouldn't even be an issue.

It was a gorgeous 75 degree fall morning, full of buzzing bees, flitting butterflies and birds tweeting their sweet, melodic songs (this was long ago, before they communicated exclusively through twitter - 140 notes at a time).

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Then, suddenly, he was upon us. Lawn Mower Tractor Guy. Oblivious to all due to the roar of the engine, his walkman headphones and the thick, dangling earflaps of his woolen winter cap, he was headed straight for the sandbox! Like Odysseus, who had to abandon his insanity act and rescue the infant Telemachus from an oncoming plow, I threw aside my frivolous, inane, getting-to-know-you banter just in time to hurdle the teeter totter and swoop up Katrianna.

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The whirling blades just grazed the ironsides of the ship-shaped sandbox, barely causing a stir among the kids inside it who were too preoccupied with shoring up caches of pebbles (resourcefully stored in their pull-ups) for the inevitable battle that brought each and every playdate to a glorious conclusion. Still panting, I glanced around to see that the few moms who had bothered to look up from their cell phones were snickering in my direction. In an ironic twist in our odyssey to find playgroup inclusion, my conspicuous child-rescue action was regarded as egregiously overprotective and confirmed their suspicions that "the homeschooling mom" was indeed out of her mind.

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I hung my head in shame. I called to Mikaela that it was time to go when an empathetic mom broke ranks and came over to commiserate about the odd fellow who'd nearly mowed down my daughter.  Thinking it a lost cause anyway, I nervously adjusted the buckle on Katrianna's overalls and explained, "I just hadn't realized Ignatius J Reilly had moved to Houston."

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She laughed, then added, "Oh, but he hasn't. That was Holden Caulfield!" Right then I knew we'd found our playgroup and I could postpone carpooling the girls to Lil' Missionary Club meetings for at least another year.

[Helpful hint: Undoubtedly, the Confederacy of Dunces allusion litmus test is a good idea, but that Toole's book only came up this one time. For no fail conversational icebreakers, I recommend going with War & Peace or Moby Dick - both are invaluable sources for discovering common ground among parents while watching soccer games in lawn chairs. Nevertheless, this was a refreshing change and I am forever beHolden to the Catcher in the Wry.]

m&m-easter.jpgOver the winter months, Charlotte and I and our four kids became good friends. We even went along when they invited us to some services at their church (but it was an Episcopal church, so it doesn't really count - as everybody knows, religion and Episcopalians never really mix...  except maybe martinis... in post communion happy hours...  the Reverend Father tends bar). But, one deceptively free & easy spring afternoon, we lingered to let our kids play when all of the other playgroup moms had left. Charlotte leaned across the picnic table and asked me confidentially, "Now truthfully, Cathy, why do you homeschool your kids?"  Lulled by a cool breeze as we sat there in 96 degree shade, I let my defenses down completely and made a terrible mistake: I was honest. I blame it on sunstroke.


I answered that, like most parents, I strongly believed I was obligated to do the best I could for my kids.  A huge part of that had to do with meeting their academic needs. Although I didn't think it would be "bad" for them to attend public or private school, I was in a position that I could stay home with them and we could choose to homeschool instead. They had learned so much already before they were of "school age" and, out of all the options I'd looked into, I felt we could do the best job of providing them a challenging education, letting them progress at their own pace and keeping the learning fun. Plus, I added, it was what Mikaela said she wanted to do & my plan was to go along with it for as long as she wanted...

Charlotte looked incredulous. I guess she sensed I was still holding back. She guilefully goaded me on with "But is being smart really so important?"

That did it, she got me in my Achilles cranium. I went on to explain that I thought God wanted each of us to reach our full potential. We'd all been given gifts and, since my girls so far had not demonstrated any Carl Lewis tendencies or Olympic aspirations (wiped away a tear there), I was focusing on what seemed to be their particular strengths and affinities right now. They were smart, they loved to learn, and they wanted to homeschool. My personal philosophy was that each of us should do our very best with whatever talents God had given us and, through conscientious effort, we would make the world a better place.

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My spiritual revelation had the precise effect I always suspected it might. Charlotte immediately remembered a crucial need to replenish their goldfish's food supply, tossed the kids head first into her bicycle's pup tent kid carrier and shifted through all 3 gears of her bike's derail-hers in the fastest getaway I'd ever "witnessed."

Sincerity stinks. Had I learned nothing from Linus and the Great Pumpkin? In a momentary lapse of judgment, I'd forgotten to keep my blanket securely in place o'er this little (jack-o) lantern o' mine. And, I hadn't even told Charlotte the whole story... that the worst period in our pre-school years was when I realized three year old Mikaela was recognizing words and learning to read on her own. On the advice of several teacher friends, who told me that she wouldn't fit in at kindergarten and would have to skip ahead a couple of grades if she kept this up, I rebuffed all of her repeated requests to teach her to read 'real' books. The "rejection" seemed to hurt her emotionally, no matter how I explained it or tried to distract her with 'fun' activities and playdates. But I persisted, determined that she would attend traditional school.

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I spent my time touring schools and visiting on parents' night open houses, taking Mikaela to our neighborhood school's Dr Seuss play to show her that indeed - in 2 more years - attending school would be wonderful, and even signing her up for pre-K classes where I was told she asked too many questions, overparticipated and refused to properly print lowercase letters using the "clock system" (because she had mastered upper & lowercase lettering already, but apparently that was not the point). After three months of this, my little scholar was literally at her wit's end. Finally, at home one quiet morning, I pulled out a chapter book and asked her to read it aloud to me. She was ecstatic and that decided it for all of us. What were we waiting around for?

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Our families continued to get together after my unconscionable faux pas, but we always kept to safe topics after that: discussing our kids' vegetable preferences, debating the environmental impact of cloth vs. commercial diapers or, always a bonding win-win topic, listing all the things other moms did wrong in raising their kids.  By the next fall, her son was accepted into the city's most competitive academic kindergarten program, reputed to produce only National Merit Finalists and Rhodes Scholars. He did very well but, for first grade, she transferred him to a magnet school for music, explaining that she sought a well-rounded education.  

Sacrilege! Not that I'm judging...  Few parents are comfortable putting all their little eggheads in one basket. Of course, we've been doing this homeschooling for so long now, we just went ahead and invested in a whole basket case...  but that's just us. Most likely, her son will graduate from the music academy as a classically trained musician, receive a scholarship to Juilliard and be first chair in any of five instruments.

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(That's okay, we play music, too... We adhere strictly to the Chu-ze-key guitar method -- if you don't know the fingering on a note, no need to fret, simply choose to play a different note or skip it altogether. Hey, when they're teenagers, who do you think will be picked to play in a garage band? See, we homeschoolers do consider socialization and the big picture.)  As our kids grew, we met on their school holidays and during summer vacations and, eventually, we also found some like-minded families in homeschooling groups.

Certainly, we all got a lot out of that playgroup experience. The kids made many new friends, although -inexplicably- none of them elected to homeschool when it came time to start kindergarten. And, perhaps most significantly, it reaffirmed my promise to myself that I would never again divulge even the slightest hint of religious motivation in our homeschooling decision. Thank God, I've faithfully stuck to that one...

The truth is we're closet religious homeschoolers. But, if asked, I'll deny it. Three times.

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Oh, for Pete's sake...

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The summer before my senior year of college, Mr. Wayne C. Martin, a former high school teacher turned mentor-father figure, invited me to brunch. We met at a funky, retro diner where he treated me to a ridiculously large breakfast, all the while extolling the virtues of its low price, Texas-size portions and value for the buck. Since I usually made do with cereal or some synthetic vending machine donuts before my early classes, I actually thought him quite extravagant and politely requested more syrup as I listened.

It seemed the real crux of our conversation would have to do with my career choice dilemma.(I suspect my mom might have put him up to the whole thing, but this cannot be verified in the usual way as she remained inconspicuous and I never once caught sight of her head popping over a booth to snap our photo as a record of this monumental, life altering exchange.)
 

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Ultimately, there are two options for an English major for whom gainful employment is merely a novel idea: teaching or law school. Ironically, it was the college profs, who themselves had just mastered the fine art of university politics and finally received tenure after 15 years of one to two semester stints shuffling around the country, who had taken me aside to recommend law school with visions of dollar bills dancing in their heads.  But, it was Mr. Martin's shrewd scheme to bring me over to the dark side - educating young minds and feeding my hungry soul with virtue.
 
Actually, the teacher point was moot, already decided. If I became a lawyer, I knew I'd want to specialize in constitutional law instead of criminal defense, so I readily foresaw that I would end up working for some corporate law firm & feel guilty for not doing enough pro bono work - after all, what good can a theoretical, constitutional lawyer ever do for the world? (Unless you count becoming a community organizer, returning to law school to position yourself to help those most in need, lecturing as a Constitutional law professor, rising to US senator, and then becoming America's president & the leader of the free world as doing 'good'? Thankfully, I stuck to my high moral standards & taught in a private school that catered to the overprivileged upper classes instead.)

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So, what approach would a world history teacher take to entice someone to spend her days locked in a classroom with 150 kids? Travel. He wanted to assure me that I could make a teacher's salary and still travel the world. Frankly, this took me by surprise as I thought, based on consistently poor quiz grades from his nitpicky classes years before, that it would have occurred to him that I had learned very little about the world and lacked all essential curiosity. If so, he discreetly kept it to himself that day.  I also failed to mention then, mostly because I was preoccupied with the rapidly cooling hash browns, that all my world travels in the past ("world" referring here to 30 miles or so away from home plus a couple of out of state ventures) had taught me that places didn't matter because people had a unique ability to make themselves absolutely miserable regardless of their surroundings or proximity to desirable amenities.

Still, this was his own, personal rasion d'etre and he was going to make it mine. He explained that if I was frugal about money in other areas, I could save enough to go to Europe or anywhere else on those three month summer vacations that only teachers, not lawyers, enjoyed.  He had done just that for the last thirty years, plus built himself a house with the help of only one contractor, and had an extensive collection of classical music records of which, no matter how many hundreds of times he replayed their selections with amplifying frustration, I never once successfully identified the entry notes of the cello and always mistook them for those of a viola...  Really, I was a lost cause and he probably should have just let me slip through the cracks as hopelessly ineducable.

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Upon exiting the esteemed eatery into Houston's stifling 10 am heat, Mr Martin directed my attention to a two story building across the street which declared itself to be "Blue Bird Circle." He said he had one more thing to show to me and, lured by visions of Mr Martin as fairy godmother and me as Cinderella encircled by singing, highly skilled seamstress bluebirds, I followed in meek but expectant certainty of the eternal happiness that was surely in store. Twenty years before it was cool in Paris Hilton's eyes, this trailblazing, trendsetter teacher had brought me to fully air-conditioned, 35,000+ square feet thrift store nirvana. Here, he revealed, is where he'd found many of the antique treasures I'd no doubt admired in his home. Sounding eerily like Bob Barker, he began pointing excitedly in all directions and asking "Can you guess the price of this item? What about the complete set of mismatched dishes here? An almost unbroken vase there?" 

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At that time, I was making my way through college with scholarships and minimum wage jobs and living with four bohemian-type roommates, with whom I had little in common except a predilection to share $100 rent, in an ancient house that mysteriously kept losing its monthly condemnation notices. What did I need with used furniture? I'd salvaged cinder blocks & plywood planks as bookshelves and they worked just fine. What other furnishings did a person really require anyhow?

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Still, I absorbed all his carefully imparted knowledge, examined scratches and dents with expertise and left with a parting gift: an Egyptian statuette of Bastet, the goddess of war & solar energy for only $2.25!

I appreciated his efforts, truly, but I'm proud to say that I was sensitive enough not to share my ultimate impression: World travel? That's not why I chose teaching. This morning would never, ever have any relevance to my life.

I left a bit befuddled but mostly in a hurry, eager to get over to my boyfriend Chris' house where we could spend our afternoon doing significant, meaningful things like watching soccer matches that ended in a 0-0 tie.


Eighteen years later...

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m&kslide2.jpgYou may have noticed that Mikaela & Katrianna's clothes usually match. Always have. A combination of factors contributed: m&kneb.jpgmy overt nurturing of a 'subliminal' sisterly bond when Katrianna first joined our family, practicality at the playground so I could keep sight of them among fifty other kids, simplified shopping decisions at clothing stores (where my goal is to spend as little time as possible) and being "gifted" with plenty of matching outfits over the years.

Eventually, the girls accompanied us on shopping expeditions and they nearly always followed suit (or dress or t-shirt), m&kpurple2.jpgpicking exactly the same design, deviating only in hue if at all. It was mildly embarrassing when my daughters matched more often than the sets of twins we knew, but I consoled myself with the fact that they actively participated in their identity codependency.

fleeces1.jpgHowever, let me preface this particular story by stating emphatically that the orange fleeces are not my fault. Chris and I had received the blindingly bright beauties from his mother one holiday and, later, two more arrived in children's sizes. (For the record, she denies culpability since she claims no memory of giving the original pair, which is entirely believable since we normally receive no less than six bags of new duds with each and every visit.) Just about to set off for an extended trip to Europe, we suddenly saw the virtues of adaptable, fluorescent fleeces and decided to take them along (as well as save a dreaded trip to the mall, proving procrastination wins again!).
   
In Europe, people just mistakenly assumed we were from the Netherlands, which wasn't all bad...  especially if we wanted to strike up a game of double Dutch or get beat up at a soccer match or break into spontaneous clogging ( I always wondered where you could shine with a hobby like that). But, when Mikaela left youth behind and crossed the double digits age threshold, she began to be uncomfortable with our tangerine accoutrement.
fleeces3.jpgI mistook that for her wanting to be autonomous, express her individuality. Turned out, it was just that she didn't like the color or the constant observations from strangers who felt compelled to share their delightfully clever perceptions, such as "Whoa, all you guys are in orange?!" Or, at Home Depot, "Hey, all ya'll could work here - you're already in uniform!"

So, time passed slowly in the orange fleeces and Mikaela winced. A lot. To her relief, we finally had to retire our pullovers (give ourselves a fleecing) when the zippers had broken, most of the piping was dangling in shriveled loops, and the girls, whose wrists protruded noticeably, would no longer accept my explanation that it was fashionable to wear ¾ length sleeves. 

Faced with this major life transition, Katrianna declared "Let's find golden colored fleeces!" I admit, I didn't get it at first. She explained, "Then we can say we're all on a Quest of the Golden Fleeces!!" Presented with that sort of reasoning, I immediately took up the inspired cause and, like Jason & his Argonauts, we spent a few more weeks trying to fulfill the promise of a holy pun. But, by Jove, fate was against us and our noble efforts were for naught. There were no golden fleeces to be had in them there hills, sporting goods stores or numerous, treacherous shopping mauls.

m&kspring.jpgMikaela was going to get her wish at last and exercise her independence, strike out on her own, distance herself from her parents and younger sibling as all prideful and self-conscious tweens should.  After the humiliating, drawn out experience of matching the rest of us, she had complete freedom and could choose anything she wanted, any color, any style, just for her and her alone. Katrianna, at the tender age of 7, should do the same. It might not be verbatim, but I told them something along the lines of "Go forth, my daughters, and embrace this challenge so you emerge stronger and more self-assured." (Not exactly the Native American rite of passage involving dark woods and stalking prey, but close enough.)

We would find ourselves, along with our selves, at the SuperMall. (If I'd paid attention to Seventeen magazine as an adolescent, I would have known that all along.) We split up.m&kmule.jpg Battling "my little babies are growing up" syndrome side effects, I left the girls to shop with Dad and went off to face the clothes racks alone.

Though still somewhat bereft at the loss of the golden fleeces Platonic ideal, I realized that I could now choose a jacket I actually liked. Orange was my husband's favorite color, not mine. Let the girls pick magenta or aquamarine or stripes or polka dots.  I could pick a lighter color, one that didn't so highlight my ever-expanding network of wrinkles...  In fact, I could totally drop the fleece idea and perhaps get a sweater. I could have a decidedly more mature, sophisticated look, and thereby accept my aging gracefully and stylishly. Wow, all of this profundity while wandering around in department stores! I'd always hated shopping, especially for clothes, but even I could see it was a significant and necessary psychological step for the girls, as well as for me and Chris. I made my selection and returned to meet the family.

When we reunited, their excited exclamations confirmed my resolve that we were doing the right thing. Until M&K slowed down long enough for me to understand that they'd in fact picked out matching tops. I sternly looked at their father, shaking my head that he hadn't let them decide for themselves. But, they protested, they loved them and they wanted to match again!  I explained all the reasons why this was a bad idea, referring to Mikaela's growing complaints and developing sense of self. For both of them, I repeated, it's healthy, perfectly normal and inevitable to want to be different. They countered that they had always chosen matching clothes before and that they had feigned dislike of the attention it incurred. They kept hugging each other, seemed ridiculously sincere and happy and, besides, we were causing a scene which was what I'd thought we were trying to avoid in the first place... 

I relented and they jumped around discussing the merits of their choices.  Then, all at once, the girls reached into their bag and I into mine to show off our new & improved assertions of divergent self-expression:

3sweaters2.jpgI'm still trying to adjust to the radical change and distancing this has created in our mother-daughter relationships

In my defense, I immediately suggested I return my sweater and pick something else, but the kids talked me out of it. Chris, an incurable sap who never saw the problem with orange fleeces in the first place, was elated. He ran to the men's section to find a male version of a matching cream sweater.

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family.jpgM&babyKread.jpgWe did not originally plan to homeschool our kids, but we found ourselves doing just that in lieu of enrolling Mikaela, only daysM&Kread.jpg after her 5th birthday, in a class of second and third graders so she might fit in academically. By the time Katrianna was a 3 year old, reading by herself and also deemed "too far ahead," we were fully immersed and enjoying the benefits of learning at home and all over Texas.

Then, in 2004, Chris started his consulting company which allowed him to work from home, as well. That soon resulted in a "great awakening," ironically presenting us with the ultimate paradox: Now that we schooled at home and my husband worked at home, why in the world were we staying home?

"Globeschooling" became our reality.  Now in our fifth year of homeschooling while traveling, we've visited 18 states, 17 national parks & 11 countries. It's like mini semesters abroad for all four of us to share and experience together, only without the college credit or student loans. In what sometimes feels like a global game of tag, our "home base" is Texas, where we catch our breath, recover, get some work done & plot strategy for the next adventure.   

Often our destinations are determined by Chris' work, but sometimes they are simply driven by our curiosity (and, if more than a couple of miles are required, we're usually also driven by our car...  named Hermes. Wait, who would be so pretentious as to name their car after a Greek god, messenger to Olympus? OK, so that was just a joke. picasso_sm.jpgTo actually believe it, you'd have to think we were capable of christening our dog 'Picasso.' And that would be ridiculous.)

    
Now, you ask (and you're not alone), is this globeschooling really a mid-life crisis in disguise? Well, we prefer to humbly refer to it as "our little intellectual and spiritual epiphany," but because methinks protesting too much is in vain-ity, I admit that perhaps it could be some manifestation of a mid-life crisis. But, it is one that skips the sports car, divorce and/or plastic surgery and instead opts for taking one's spouse and kids along for the ride. alpscar.jpgSo, along with you, they too can discover the truths in themselves, their family and the meaning of life. Sure, all of that is trivial and superficial, but you can supplement with math workbooks & science experiments to prove you're providing them a worthwhile education.  


We did have many concerns and reservations when we started. Yet, though it appears counterintuitive, so far our odyssey has built cohesion, continuity and a deep sense of stability that belies the uncertain, itinerary-shifting surface appearance. We have been welcomed in homeschool groups at home and throughout the country, the girls have made friends around the world, they experience history up close, they see the homes and hike the countryside described in the novels of their favorite writers... They find identification within their town and their state, but also see beyond themselves, as Americans among the many states and regions that have gained resonance after our visits, and as proud, appreciative Americans who are simultaneously "citizens of the world." Above all, I hope that the kids are gleaning from what we're doing that the world is an adventure to be explored and that it instills in them confidence, enthusiasm, and a sense of possibility with unlimited horizons, both physical and philosophical. 

collage.jpgBut, as good as this sounds, it still does not quell or satisfactorily answer the eternal and reverberating question of those back home: "Now, why [insert invocation of God here, either for blessing purposes or in conjunction with a colorful string of twangy expletives] would you ever want to step foot outside of Texas?"  As far as they're concerned, we'll just never learn.

Wonder Obama.jpg

When Barack texted me and let me know that Stevie Wonder is going to be honored today with the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize, I immediately knew what I had to do.  

(Yes, you read that right - why do you think it was such a big deal for President Obama to keep his Blackberry?)

I wrote a 25 page dissertation, detailing each and every way Stevie has given meaning to my life. (And I to his.) In excruciating detail, I outlined just how much his music means to me, personally, decade by decade, from the moment of my birth. When Stevie accepts that honor this evening, it's just like I'm there, humbly receiving my own recognition for a lifetime of service as a wanna-Wonder-be.  

Now I would post my reflections here, but then it occurred to me: do I really need to state the obvious?
 
Though I can guarantee the parallels between my life and Stevie's are staggering and would startle, amaze and fascinate you, I decided against it. After all, can I be liable for your being so engrossed that you refuse to get back to work and/or spend quality time with your kids? (Or, let's be realistic, you really just need to get back to Facebook.)

So, in the spirit of being succinct and pointed in focus (my overall, guiding principle in blogging), I'll now quickly get to it and tie this into globeschooling.

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In 2008, we took our daughters to see Stevie live in concert in Auburn, WA. It was part of a tour for Wonder music fans, but also his effort to rally support for Obama's election with songs like Sign, Sealed, Delivered and Higher Ground (my daughters' favorite because they think it's hilariously funny when he requests that "sleepers stop sleeping").

Making it extra meaningful, his daughter Aisha was there on stage that night, and I sang along to my girls as Stevie serenaded his with Isn't She Lovely. I think the fact that we recorded this song onto our answering machine to announce the birth of each of our daughters makes it our song just as much as it is Aisha's, does it not?

Until they fell over exhausted, the girls danced beside me to all of the songs. I then went on to embarrass them and likely humiliate myself by employing every high stepping move I'd ever seen a band drum major do (quite impressive judging from the looks of those seated around us).

songsinthekeyoflife.gifWhen most of the sets were over and I'd given up on hearing my very favorite, there it was. The old of the old school, I Wish followed by Sir Duke. Not a bit self-conscious about "looking back on when I was a little nappy headed boy" in public, I accompanied him, word-for-word, on those Songs In the Key of MY Life.

By night's end, I'd checked off another learning objective listed among my exhaustive curriculum goals: Define & apply the meaning of vocabulary in context. In this case, the specific word was appropriation, but this method can no doubt be applied in many areas.
 
After this entry, I'm going to hold off on any more R&B posts for a while. I've already established beyond a doubt how intellectual this preoccupation is, but it's throwing Google's search engine completely off. I'm fast becoming (after 2 blog posts) the guru of all that is Motown, when my focus should be homeschooling and travel.

Just a few dozen more traditionally, scholastically themed posts, however, and I promise to return to the subject of my serving as Stevie Wonder's muse. As bonus, I'll also divulge how George Clinton defers to me in all that is P-Funk. (Teaser: I was the brainchild behind the inception of Funkadelic...  that I was 3 months old at the time is irrelevant.)

Perhaps I'm delusional, you wonder? Well, if you see Stevie, go ahead and ask him. He'll tell you all about it, I'm sure. Right after he Fed Exes me half of his award:

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