Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Song

I love this song so much that I am sharing it everywhere I can. It's very very cool--new song, inspired by Edgar Allan Poe's "Masque of the Red Death."

You can listen to it here:

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Did I just read that?

From the dissenting opinion in a legal case regarding burial laws and funeral homes: "Burial services are a once in a lifetime event for every person." Judge Tim Garcia

Yeah? I sure hope so....

Actually, I'm not really sure you can call it "once in a LIFEtime" since the person being buried is already dead, and the people burying him probably will face more funerals before they die. Technically, burial is something that happens after your lifetime.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Boss Looping Competition

Saturday, Oct 20, is the big day for the Boss Looping national competition.

Tim and his friend Matt Murphy are the first duo to ever compete (and might be the only live looping duo in the world--we haven't found anyone else). They are among the six finalists. The competition is, as far as I can tell, for people who use any boss looping pedal (they make a bunch--Tim uses the RC-50). All the finalists sing original music--it's not in the rules that it's required, but all the final videos are original songs, so I guess it gives you an advantage somehow? Not all the finalists do all-vocal live looping--three of the six use instruments in addition to their voices. All sing at least part of the songs.

You can see all the finalists' entry videos and read a little bio of each here: As you can see, there are some very talented people in this competition.

All six finalists flew to LA today, and tomorrow they get to perform ONE song each, up to 5 minutes long, at the competition. You can watch it here: live starting at 6:00 pm (competition itself starts at 6:30 pm, though--California time, I think, so 7:30 here at my house).

I will be watching. I have no idea what the judges are looking for. The preliminary round specified that the music had to use a loop pedal and that they were judging partially on facility with the pedal, but nobody has said anything about what the finals are judged on.

What I will be watching for:

First and foremost, is the act entertaining? I don't care how technically good an artist is if I get bored listening to the music. Looping is especially at risk of being boring because of the nature of the art--it takes a while to lay down all the loops to build a complete background for a song, and if you don't know how to do that skillfully and quickly, it gets really boring really fast. Also, looped songs are built around backgrounds that don't change throughout the songs. If an artist is really good at looping, they can usually handle things like bridges and chord changes okay, but it's not as easy as it is with a band. So the songs are always at risk of being too repetitive and of "not going anywhere." Even a good song, though, can be performed in a way that is just too boring to sit through. So the music itself AND the performance have to be entertaining. That doesn't mean gimmicky necessarily--just entertaining.

Secondly, is the act original? I don't see a lot of artistic value in cover bands. I do see cultural value in them, but I've been around the a cappella world too long to be really impressed with groups that are good mimics and not much else. That's 90% of a cappella, and I've had my fill of that. So I'm interested in seeing if the artists here are doing something that marks them as original--not just original songs, but are they doing something that makes them distinct, or am I going to watch and say, "I've seen this a thousand times before" or "Yup, that's live looping." Interestingly, groups can still do covers and feel original--like the Real Group, from Sweden, who Tim took me to see when they were in Colorado. It has a lot to do with the performance and the artists, I guess, more than the material.

Third, are they good? An act can be original and entertaining and still be musically horrible. Sometimes they're entertaining for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes they're original, but so far out there that they're not accessible or good. It's not too hard to write original crap--it's all over YouTube and filling up many an open mic night.

And finally, does the artist strike me as someone interesting personally? I'm not really into divas. An artist can be entertaining, original, and good, but if they come across as a jerk, as selfish, as egotistical, as rude, or generally as someone I would not want to meet, I  have a hard time rooting for them. No matter how great the music is, if the person behind it comes across as loathsome or self-centered, I lose interest really fast. In the music industry, being a generally nice person ends up being a really big deal.

As with every other gig Tim ever has, I hope two things: that people show up, and that Tim does a good job.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Another for the Why We Homeschool Files

Everyone knows you need enough sleep.

Not everyone knows elementary school aged kids need 10 hours or more of sleep per night.

I've noticed what this study says--missing just a little sleep makes my kids behave and think poorly.

In order to guarantee the kids get enough sleep and can think at their best, I can't conform to the school schedules, which were designed by morning people to allow parents to get to work on time. Especially with the sleep disorder!

So we homeschool.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Did I just read that?

The tagline for Bejeweled Blitz: "1 minute of endless fun!"

60 seconds can feel endless, like when you're holding your breath, or in labor, or waiting for the pot to boil. But, as they say, time flies when you're having fun.

Apparently the game is not fun?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sunset, courtesy Elijah

Elijah, age 22 months, just ran in to where I was sitting and started hopping up and down, looking like he was doing a Maori war dance. He gestured broadly and talked excitedly, but I couldn't understand him.

Finally, he closed my laptop and said, "C'mon, Mom!"

So I followed him. Through the kitchen and out the back door he trotted, looking back to be sure I was following. When we reached the back balcony, he gestured excitedly at the sky and said, "SOOOOO Pitty!"

I looked up--all the clouds were pink and orange in a gorgeous sunset, backed by that particularly brilliant blue that comes just before dusk. "Sooo PITTY!" he said again, looking awed. "See?"

I sat out on the chair on the balcony, holding him and watching the sky as he gaped and awed and jabbered excitedly, pointing at the sky, then down in the yard ("peent!" he said, pointing in the yard--the light was, indeed, rather pink on everything). I finally said, 'Do you like that sunset?' "Uh?" he said. "The pretty orange clouds are called the sunset," I explained. "Sun.Set," he said, "Soooo pitty couds."

Then he pointed down at the neighbor's bush, which was glowing with fall leaves in just the same colors as the sky. "Pitty eaves. Ornge, pint. Sooo pitty."

We sat until it got dark, looking at the fall leaves, looking at the sky, listening to the breeze and watching the leaves rustle above us, watching the clouds change colors.

Sunsets are one of the best things in the world. Sunsets through the eyes of a toddler are even better.

Back to this debate. Again.

Actually, this is what I've been saying all along, more or less: Expanding medicaid, which no doctors take, will not help people get medical care.

And it's a serious mistake to confuse, as Obamacare does, having access to insurance with having access to medical care.

Personally, I don't think Obamacare will work for that very reason. Wish I knew enough to propose a viable alternative, though.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Did I just read that?

"Police are currently searching for the alleged shooter. He has been described as a Hispanic male in his 20s with facial tattoos and balding or bald hair. "

Nice. Bald hair.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

More for the Why We Homeschool Files: It's a better education

Consistently, the stats come in showing that homeschooled kids do significantly better than public-schooled kids on standardized tests, among other measures (including, interestingly, "proper" socialization).  Most homeschooled kids are working at least one grade level above their age-peers.

So if I really, truly want my kids to get a good education, homeschooling is a good option.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Another for the Why We Homeschool files: Gifted learners

I have a houseful of gifted learners. Gifted learners require a completely different kind of education. Not just more homework, but a whole different approach to school. I put details on my Learning Lynx Classroom site here:

Public schools are capable of doing this. Public school teachers, on the whole, seem to relish the gifted learning times. But public schools' mandate is too big, and they cannot possibly do what the law requires in giving an appropriate education to every child. The schools have opted to give their time, resources, and attention to the average and below-average children. They pretty much ignore the gifted kids because the gifted kids kinda do okay, even if they're being completely slighted and ignored. At least they're not getting Fs, right?

Some schools pay lip service to handling gifted kids, mostly in the form of extra homework (which isn't great). Some schools have gifted and talented programs, which do really really well with the moderately and even sometimes exceptionally gifted, but usually fail to help the profoundly gifted. Some schools are really good at adapting to gifted kids. Most of the teachers, administrators, and school psychologists I've interacted with want to help the gifted kids. It's not that the schools don't care. It's that they don't have the ability to help everyone, even if the law says they must.

This mom expresses the whole thing well:  As she says, in many ways, gifted kids are special needs kids, but the schools aren't equipped to deal with their particular special needs, and often reject the very idea such smart kids even CAN be special needs kids--especially the 2e kids (twice exceptional) like Caleb and Benji.

So instead of doing the constant advocating for my gifted kids (advocating for one child times six), instead of fighting with teachers to get the kids appropriate education, instead of always searching for that one teacher in each grade who understands the gifted kids, I opted to do the work of educating them at home. It was easier for me, since I dislike conflict intensely.

I also wanted to avoid teaching the kids that they're valuable because they're smart, and only because they're smart. My kids, surrounded all the time by their equally-smart but differently-talented siblings, parents, and cousins, are not being taught what I learned in school: that being smart makes you better than everyone else. Being smart is just part of life around here, and it doesn't make you any specialler than any other talent makes people special.

Also, I really wanted to avoid teaching my kids what smart kids usually learn from the school system: that being smart is usually enough to get accolades, and work is unnecessary. And further, that if something is hard or you don't succeed the first time, you should absolutely quit and never try that again.

I don't want my kids to get big heads, or think other people are "less," or to be lazy and unwilling to take risks. And that's what gifted kids too often learn in public schools.

So we homeschool.

More for the Why We Homeschool Files: Tourettes

I have two boys with Tourette Syndrome. Tourette's is really not disabling. It's really not devastating. It's really not a big deal. In fact, it can be generally ignored.

Most kids even grow out of it.

The biggest problem kids with Tourettes have is a lifetime of low self-esteem and depression brought on by the way they were treated by other children in school.

It is an easy choice to give my kids a brighter future by not forcing them to live with a future of depression and a bad self-image.

I don't shield them from the world. They do have to learn to interact with the world and the people who stare or won't let them finish their sentences or who wonder what's "wrong" with them. That's one reason I send them to school one day a week. But I sent them with other homeschooled kids, and homeschooled kids are not nearly as cruel as public schooled kids. They are more inclined to ask questions than to mock. It's the best of both worlds this way.

Another reason we homeschool.

More for the Why We Homeschool Files: Socialization

I've posted before on homeschool socialization, so I'm not going to rehash it all. You can read it here: I still think one of the main reasons we homeschool is when I look at groups of public school children and then look at groups of homeschooled children in similar settings (school playgrounds, social groups, club settings, libraries, etc), I far and away want my children to be like the homeschoolers and am consistently horrified and disgusted by how even the "good" public school children behave.

What I've been thinking about is how the socialization is taught in public schools. Yes, public schooled children are better chameleons. They are better at blending in with their peers.


Because they are mercilessly bullied and mocked if they don't.

Sure public schools teach conformity. Separate from the debate about whether that is desirable, you really have to consider whether the WAY conformity is taught in schools is appropriate.

Personally, I don't think it is EVER okay to emotionally abuse another person, even if it is "for their benefit."

I remember being a kid and learning to match my socks to my dress because pink and pink aren't the same and don't always match. How did I learn to wear matching clothes? My friends made fun of my clothing because my socks were a different shade of pink than my dress. Did it help me blend in better? Sure.  Why? Because I was terrified of facing that kind of pain again.

I hear parents tell their kids all the time, "If you pick your nose, your friends will make fun of you."  "If you wear mismatched socks, your friends will make fun of you."  "If you talk so loud, people won't like you."

What are we teaching our kids? Not to keep their hands away from their faces. Not to wear asthetically pleasing and comely clothing. Not to talk quietly. We're teaching them to fear what other people think of them.

And then we spend a lot of time trying to teach them not to give in to peer pressure, to be courageous in the face of rejection when we choose not to do drugs, to choose the right despite what our peers think. But we are sending mixed messages, telling them it is vitally important to care what people think and putting them in a situation where they find out--painfully--that it matters, and then telling them that they should always follow their hearts and ignore the naysayers and critics. Well, which is it?

I, personally, found it more compelling to teach the kids to think independently, to make choices based on something other than social acceptability, to not care so much what other people think. We DO discuss that in order to have any kind of influence or opportunity in the world, we have to behave and dress in a way that leads us to be listened to and taken seriously. It's not that I want to raise Bohemian poets who can't interact with the world at all. It's just that I don't think kids are well served by being tortured into compliance with whatever social fad is reigning supreme at the time. And I think proper socialization--the kind that produces socially skilled, socially effective adults who can interact with the world, keep jobs, communicate, be responsible citizens and good parents--is best taught intentionally, by adults, and without humiliation being the major tool to force social conformity.

Being properly socialized is NOT the same thing as being trained to blend in and fear what other people think. I want courageous, thoughtful, intelligent, polite children who can interact with friends and solve problems and hold jobs and have successful marriages. Not clones.

So thus we homeschool.

The Why We Homeschool File: Boys

There are dozens of reasons we homeschool.

One reason is detailed in this article:

Education is now set up for girls. Teaching in classrooms, social learning, expected achievements based on developmental levels, college entrance, textbooks, and so many other aspects of public education are slanted toward helping girls succeed.

I have a lot of boys and only one girl. I want them all to succeed. I don't see any reason to put  my boys at a disadvantage simply because they have a Y chromosome. I can tailor our education here for each student to succeed, so that the boys get the kind of education that helps boys learn. I can also ensure the expectations are high enough for them--that nobody just expects they'll fail/misbehave/whatever simply because they are boys.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Literary Agents? Again?

Uh...I finished my novel. Again. Same novel.

This time, I needed to be just done. DONE. No more editing it endlessly. I didn't even take it to my writer's group. Or my parents. Or my husband. Or even my kids. I was afraid one of them would make a really excellent comment that I agreed with, and I would be back on page one, fixing this or that.

But I want to move on to the next novel: Melora saves her Dad from evil art forgers who have captured him because he's about to reveal their secrets. It's an adventure story retelling of an obscure 16th-century Portuguese Arthurian legend, set in modern days. The first chapter is done and really exciting! Outline is done. Been researching art and antiquities black markets, forensics, forgery, stuff, actually. Also I've gotten to look into Caravaggio's life and the legend of the Maltese Falcon as well as the memorabilia from the movie of the same name. As you can see, I'm really excited to write this book! And that means I had to be done with "The Poison Spindle Problem."

So I finished it.

And then my kids wanted a bound copy to read. They each wanted one. I have no money to get those printed, so I started thinking of options. And one thing led to another and I'm back to querying agents. I think it's a good book. I've been reading children's lit and I feel like it's as good as what's being published. Anda, my voracious reader who is very honest with me about my work, says it's as good as her favorite novels. So why not try to get it published? The kids said they want to be able to go to the library and see my book on the shelf.

I decided, though, that I really need to be done still. I realized that at this point, I can tweak words here and there for eternity and it probably won't make a difference as to whether an agent likes it or not. I can have this minor character show up again at the end or not and it still won't make a difference as to whether an agent likes it or not. Some changes don't really improve things--they just change things. So I decided to get off that hamster wheel and start querying. And I decided to go whole hog this time: query every agent who I think might be a good fit, rather than 8 at a time and send out a new query for every rejection (which is how I've done it in the past). I decided either someone is going to like it or they aren't, and I'm not going to rewrite that book without someone asking me to (an editor or agent, for example), so it can't hurt to query every agent with this project all at once.

So I spent the last week sending out queries. I now have sent 125 queries on this project, but that's since 2006, and it's a very different book since then! VERY different. Querying has changed in the last 6 years. Most agencies only take email queries instead of grudgingly accepting them. Most agencies no longer respond if they aren't interested--which is frustrating for writers on one level (no feedback!) but great on another (no rejection!).  Most agencies still take 4-6 weeks to respond (or so say their websites). And I've only been doing this for a week.

Interestingly, most agencies ask you to put both the query letter and the partial in the email up front. It used to be you'd send a query, and if they liked it they'd ask for 10-50 pages (a "partial" or partial manuscript) to evaluate your writing, and if they liked that, they'd ask for the whole manuscript. The whole process took a long time because it was all done by snailmail and you had a 4-6 week wait between steps. Now, you send the query followed by the 10-50 page sample right in the body of the email. That way, an agent can read the query and delete it right away if they don't like it or can't sell it, but if you've piqued their interest, they can just skim the beginning of the book right there on the spot to see if you can write at all. And then if they're still interested, they can hit "reply" and ask for the whole manuscript to be emailed to them, and you can send it right away (I sent one today within 5 minutes of getting the reply) so the agent can keep reading while they are still interested, if they want. Better for everyone this way. And it means that if an agent asks to read your book, you already passed the first two tests: query and first few pages were okay.

So, like I said, 125 queries have gone out. Some were old.  About 72 so far are new. I sent them fully expecting to hear nothing back from anyone ever. To my surprise, I've had 6 rejections so far, all form rejections. Most were very nice--something along the lines of "This isn't for me. Good luck finding someone else." One was quite condescending and rude--something along the lines of "I only take books with interesting characters, plot, and setting. Nice of you to spend all this time writing and think of me, but no." The subtext, of course, being that YOUR book (my book!) didn't have interesting characters, plot, or setting (at least in the first 10 pages, which is all she asked to read up front).

And three agencies so far have asked to read it! And I've only had it out there for a week! And, to my great surprise (and delight--I admit it), all three are among the top agencies, most recommended by the watchdogs, successful agencies. So I'm very pleased. It was especially nice today when I got up and found that mean form rejection and felt a little downhearted, and then within half an hour one of these top agencies asked for the full manuscript (which I sent immediately). My kids were excited because this last agency that asked to read it represents some of their favorite authors, including Suzanne Collins (my kids can't get enough of "Gregor the Overlander"--they haven't read "Hunger Games" yet). And that with the same 10 pages that elicited the "only interesting plot, characters, and settings" rejection.

So I still fully expect them all to say, "Never mind. Not my cup of tea." (because that's all I've ever heard from agents--except that one who very helpfully said, "I'm not sure you know what story you're trying to tell. Can't you put more romance in?"--helpful because that's what drove me to realize that no, I can't, because I really want to write for children, not teens and adults. HUGE breakthrough for me.).

Anyway, it's been a fun week, when I went into this truly not caring what happened. Having people say, "Oh, your first 10 pages make me want to read more" has been kind of gratifying, especially since I sweat blood over those first 10 pages. They were the hardest to write in the whole book!

But tomorrow I'm still going to start Melora. Art forensics here I come!