City Plus: The Good Son

As you may recall, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of moving to the country and living in some kind of farm-like situation. I mean seriously, I’d like to move to this house right now. If there is a house in the world that is more perfect for us I can’t imagine it. But I know a number of things, a few of which are: this isn’t a good time for us to move, we don’t have jobs on the Western Slope, if all the hail this year has taught me anything it’s that I’m not ready to try to live off the land because nature can be cruel especially to young vegetable plants, it would be hard to manage rental properties from so far away and we don’t want to hire and pay someone to do it for us, and we actually do live in a really cool house and we’ve only been here for a year and let’s not be silly.

So instead of spending all my time thinking about how glorious it would be to live in the country and how I’d, like, wear an apron and make my own candles or whatever, I’ve decided that I should think about how awesome Denver is (it is really awesome) and all the cool things we can do here that we couldn’t do in the country.

So my first City Plus is The Good Son. This is a pizza place/taphouse on the corner of Colfax and Elizabeth. They have things other than pizza and beer, but I can’t imagine caring about things other than pizza and beer when there’s pizza and beer. It’s Detroit-style pizza, which I’ve never had. In relevant part, Detroit-style pizza is greasy and has no defined crust around the edges, so the cheese goes all the way to the end and gets crispy and brown and OMG if there’s anything better in life than crispy pizza edge cheese it’s . . . Grapefruit Sculpin, which they have on tap. The beer list is fantastic, as is the patio. We got The Cheese Royale and The Spartan (Why have we not been putting spinach artichoke dip on pizza?!) and both were so good. Not the normal kind of pizza I’m into, but so delicious. It’s super greasy, which I don’t mind, and would be a good base for a night of drinking, if you’re into that sort of thing.

We went there this evening after Soren had golf, which is another thing we wouldn’t have in the country. It was super great.

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Here’s one thing I won’t miss about Soren going to “school.” (It’s really “summer camp” right now; they’re always doing stuff like going to the splash park or to the pool or whatever). When he gets home, he’s starving. He’ll eat one snack. Then he’ll eat another snack. Then one more snack. By the time we have dinner Soren has had 12 dinners. When we’re homeschooling, I’m going to try to provide enough food throughout the day so this doesn’t happen, but who knows if that’s even possible with a growing boy. So after school and then golf, and with a 20+ minute wait for pizza (We should’ve ordered an appetizer.) he was, as you might guess, starving and, like, melting into his chair with sheer hunger. The coloring page they gave him entertained him for a few minutes, but as soon as he finished that it was back to whining about when is our food coming and I’m sooooooo hungry, so Ben suggested that he turn the page over and draw some food. So that helped. And then we had delicious greasy pizza.


Meet Hannah!

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This is Beatrice Hannah. She was originally named Beatrice, but we kept calling her Hannah because she reminds us of our former neighbor, who is super cool and has a similar mohawk.

She’s a brabanter, which is a somewhat rare breed of chicken. We were lucky to find her (we got her at Wardle Feed) because she is the cutest, nicest chicken I’ve ever met. She really likes people and even “talks” to us. (Brabanters get great reviews on backyardchickens.com!)

Sylvia is the blurry chicken in the background. She’s a red star (also referred to as red sex link, the “sex link” part meaning you can tell the boys from the girls as soon as they hatch, which is great if you don’t want the risk of roosters). We already have another red star (Josephine), who’s super nice and a great layer of gigantic brown eggs. I didn’t mean to get a duplicate chicken, but the feed store had her labeled as “gold star” and it didn’t occur to me that red stars and gold stars are apparently the same thing. It’s cool, though, because they’re both great, and if you’re going to have two of anything, red/gold stars are the best ones to have.


Why homeschool?

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Playing with math!

 

Before I start talking about how I’m going to homeschool, let’s start with why I’m going to homeschool.

On some level, this is a logical progression of the lifestyle we’ve been slowly moving into for years. We started gardening, eating organic, becoming more environmentally conscious, focusing on simple living and trying to avoid consumerism,1 and we even got chickens.2 We haven’t moved to a farm in the country to live off the land but might one day. It seems like many of these things go hand in hand with homeschooling, but I’d never thought about it until earlier this year.

There are four main reasons I want to homeschool. I have them in question form because that’s the way I’ve been thinking about them. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to talk myself out of homeschooling, and Ben and I have had about a million conversations about it. I keep coming back to the what ifs, and the what ifs are what make me realize I at least have to try. If I try — really try — and this goes well, it could be phenomenal.

What if we could create our own gifted and talented school at home?

This is what originally inspired me to think about homeschooling. Soren was tested and qualified for admission in advanced kindergarten. Advanced kindergarten is offered at a few schools in Denver, one of which is an entire school dedicated to highly gifted and talented children. When I toured that school, I fell in love with it. Everything is about smart kids and the programs all seemed really well thought out and exciting. For example, the other schools we toured use one math curriculum and this school uses a different one, for what seemed like compelling reasons when one of the teachers explained it. They teach the kids how to code. They have electives on Friday afternoon, and the kids get to pick what electives they do (the parents don’t even get to see the options). The school and everyone in it made me feel all warm and fuzzy. I know the school has issues (lack of diversity and snotty parents being the biggest), but this is where I want Soren to be.

Denver’s school choice process involves filling out a form listing your desired schools in order, and from there it’s a lottery process. You’ll get your first-choice school if you’re lucky and there’s room. We didn’t win the school lottery, and Soren would attend our neighborhood school, which doesn’t have advanced kindergarten. They do have some differentiated instruction for gifted kids, but I’m not sure how I feel about that. It’s one thing to be in a school where everyone is gifted and you’re all doing your thing and being who you are. It’s another to be singled out as different and perhaps “better.” I don’t know. I think back to my own experience as part of a gifted and talented program at a regular school and it didn’t make me feel like I was better than anyone else but I’m not sure what it really added to my education.

There’s also the fact that Soren was in junior kindergarten this past year. What that means is his school (this is where he’s been going since he was two and is not a public school) has a kindergarten class and there were extra spots in it so they invited some kids who were not officially old enough for kindergarten to be in the class. So he’s already done kindergarten. He can do kindergarten stuff. I worry he’d get bored sitting through learning that again. I worry that he’d become a behavior problem, especially because he’s a talker.

I realized that we could make our own talented and gifted school at home. We can use the math curriculum that sounded so good to me. We could use whatever curricula we want! We can do this however we want and if something is too easy, we can skip it. If something is too hard, we can spend more time on it or try learning it a different way. We can go on field trips! We can experience the world and integrate real-life experience with what we learn from books!

What if traditional schools are no longer the best way to prepare a person for a happy and fulfilling life in our society?

This is something I’m not sure about, and it is in no way intended as a bash of traditional schools. I just finished reading a book about educating your gifted child at home and oh man, it was a school bash-fest, complete with pages and pages of the author bragging about how incredibly gifted her sons are. I hope I don’t sound like that and I’m sorry if I do. Aside from the above discussion about gifted and talented stuff, I doubt I’ll ever mention that issue again.

I first thought about this on the macro level — like, big picture, what do I hope for Soren when he’s an adult? I hope for him to be happy, fulfilled, smart and capable of original thought, and financially secure. What I don’t know is how people will go about attaining those objectives in the future. Our world is changing so much. The world I was prepared for by my schooling is not the same world that exists now. When Soren is an adult, what will the world look like? The fact is I don’t know and in some way, that makes me want to make Soren’s educational experience as broad as possible, so he can be prepared to follow his dreams, whatever they look like. Maybe it’ll be having a job. Maybe it’ll be something else, something that requires him to have different skills. Right now, he wants to be “an artist or a cat shelter.” I want him to spend time thinking about what he might want to be, so we can always work on how he might get there.

Traditional schools teach kids many things. Some of these things are awesome; some of these things will be impossible for me to replicate at home; and some of these things might be a waste of time or might teach Soren things I don’t think it’s valuable for him to learn. For example, I was already prepared to opt out of standardized tests, but that doesn’t mean we’d get to opt out of all the time that gets spent preparing kids for standardized tests. So what if we just opt out of the whole system?3

What if you could grow up relatively free from peer pressure and wasting time trying to fit in?

As we all think about our own kids, I think Soren is a pretty cool guy. At his current school, he has his group of close friends, but he also hangs out with different people. He’s very welcoming to new people and he’ll spend most of the day with his two BFFs but then make up a song with someone else or play a game with another person. I think that’s awesome, but I know the day will come where cliques form and kids aren’t so free with hanging out with different people all the time. What if a kid gets to skip the cliques? What if he never faces bullying, either as bully or victim, because weren’t we all one or the other, if not both? Some people think you learn from this experience, but I don’t think you learn anything good. What if you have the freedom to become whoever you are, without outside pressure to be this or conform to that? Can you imagine?

One thing schools do provide is a lot of opportunity for hanging out with other kids. We’ll have to work a lot harder on socialization, but I think that’s okay. I don’t believe that the only way for a kid to be socialized is to spend 30+ hours a week in a classroom with kids of his same age. Socialization can happen in homeschool groups and co-ops and on sports teams. It can happen organically in the community.

What if the world can be our classroom?

We’re going to do a lot of traditional book learning at home. But we’ll also have the opportunity to go out in the world and explore. Our area — Denver, and Colorado — offers so much good stuff. There’s culture and art and so much wonderful nature, all of which we can experience as part of our education.

On a related note, if we’re learning at home and the world is our classroom, the line between “school” and “not school” becomes blurred if not obliterated. I’ve already noticed how many opportunities there are for learning. You can learn to read the words “quadruple chocolate mousse pie” on a menu, especially if you’re motivated to eat quadruple chocolate mousse pie. You can learn about bees and the water cycle and whatever else comes up in your everyday conversation. It’s not that we couldn’t do that if Soren goes to school, but I feel like I’m a lot more focused on finding these little opportunities to squeeze in education than I was before I decided to homeschool. We’ll also have plenty of time for detours. Maybe we’ll be studying something and a question will come up about something else. We’re not limited to a lesson plan and we can take as much time as we want to explore this other thing.

I like to ask Soren if he’s stoked about various things. His usual response is “Mommy, why are you always asking me if I’m stoked? I can’t be stoked about everything.” But when I ask him if he’s stoked about school at home, he’s all “Yes! I’m stoked!” It could just be the excitement of doing something different, but my ultimate goal is to maintain that level of being stoked for learning for, well, his whole life.

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Side note: It looks like I’m going to be doing some contract work for my job for a little while, so I’m not quite done with employment yet.

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Notes
1. I have to admit I’ve done a lot of unnecessary shopping this past year and I’m doing my best to stop that again because if there’s one — wait, two things I can say with absolute certainty: (1) there is no way to attain happiness or peace through the acquisition of material goods; and (2) as long as you attempt to find happiness or peace through the acquisition of material goods you will never be satisfied with “one last purchase” and you’ll keep spending forever. And that is no way to live and why I no longer read fashion blogs.
2. I was reading a discussion of homeschooling and chores and had to laugh at how many of the chores involved chickens.
3. I get a little charged up by the idea of ripping the system. I used to listen to a lot of KMFDM.


The Glamorous Life of a Real Estate Investor

Today I painted a kitchen. This house we’re working on. Man, it’s taking forever. Ben has done all kinds of fancy stuff but I don’t know how to do many things so I’ve just been painting. So far, I’ve painted the upstairs, which is a gigantic angular bedroom and bathroom; the laundry room; the walls of the downstairs bathroom (thankfully Ben did the bricks, which I’ll show you soon); and one coat on the kitchen (everything but the laundry room has needed two coats).

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Wet paint looks bad!

Here are a couple “before” pix, which show that my work today did nothing to improve matters. I’m hoping the second coat helps and that I’ll find the motivation to clean the shit out of the trim and beadboard, which will be painted a nice fresh white. The tenants who lived here before we bought this house never cleaned. I don’t even want to tell you about some of the things I had to scrape out from under the upstairs bedroom trim.

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We’re painting the cabinets and giving them new pulls, installing all new appliances and a little islandy-type thing from Ikea, adding some new lighting, and putting in a new sink and counter. We don’t love the floor (it’s faux wood, and I regret to inform you that a previous owner removed all the original wood floors from the back half of the house) but it’s serviceable and will stay for now.

Our hope is that the finished product will be nice but not fancy, so nice but not fancy people can afford to live here with their animals. It’s somewhat boring work, but I kind of feel that providing a decent place for someone to live at a reasonable price is in some small way contributing to society.

Also! You haven’t met our new chickens yet but one of them is already laying! Look at this cute tiny egg!

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