Sunday, December 31, 2006

Compacting and NonBuying

Quite a few mamas over at AmityMama are planning a 2007 NonBuying/Compacting challenge. Inspired by the book Not Buying It by Judith Levine, as well as the original 2006 Compacters, this group of mindful mamas are planning to reuce their consumption to the bare minimum.

Here are the original Compact rules:

In light of the destructive effects of personal greed, we pledge to curb our purchases, cease frivolous buying, and choose to simplify our lives. Excepting only those things needed for work and the health and safety of our families, we pledge not to buy new. Further more, we will actively seek to pass on possessions we no longer want to those who are in need. In doing so, we hope to educate both friends and family about the corrosive effects of being in a constant state of want, nurture in ourselves the uplifting state of giving, thus reducing the load on the environment and creating a more sensible path for our lives. For these reasons, we join the Compact.

- Aaron Highe at the SF site (paraphrased)

Many mamas are taking it a step father, choosing to reduce their purchases of used goods as well. There are varying degrees of participation, and everyone is making their own set of rules. Mine are still a work in progress. Also, my DH is not actively participating, making this a one woman show.

What I want to change:

I will carefully consider each purchase I make, even in the exception areas. I will strive to see if I have something that I can use before assuming I need to buy something. I will consider the food I buy, the amount of (used) clothing that comes into the house, and where any allowed new goods come from and what they are made of (natural materials, organics, fair trade, fair labor, etc.)

This is the year of making do. No new towels, no new sheets, no new furniture, no new small appliances, pans, or kitchen gadgets. No new decorations for holidays or decorative house items. No new hair accessories, or aprons (but I can sew one), or jewelry. Certainly for 12 months we can make do with what we have.

It is also the year of making. If we want fancy soap we'll mill it from the plain soap we have on hand with herbs and essential oils. I will make the new pot holders I need (I have the loom and wool loops). I really want to make the quilt I planned out (just need to scavange more denim and corduroy).

All my and the boys' clothing except underwear, socks, shoes, and boys' pajamas must be bought used, traded for, borrowed, or received for free. We're not frivolous shoe purchasers anyway, but I will only replace necessary shoes (sandals and walking shoes) that are beyond wearing. The boys may each have one pair of sandals, one pair of sneakers, and one pair of hiking boots, and I am ordering T-Guy a new pair of slippers for next fall and will pass his down to J-Baby. This goal is actually a continuation of one started last summer, except that we won't make exceptions for sale new clothing.

I will stop buying the little stuff - a toy here, a snack there. You know, the kind of stuff that will nickel and dime you to death.

Food must be carefully considered and chosen based on need. Natural sodas (the kind made with cane sugar) are out. Prepared snack foods are out (it will probably be a month or more before they run out of the GF pretzels, microwave popcorn, and organic fruit leather we bought for consumption during my recovery). Chocolate will be okay for special occasions (organic and fair trade, of course). DH will still buy wine and tea. I will make whole wheat bread, but will purchase vegan GF bread. Canned beans are allowed as an emergency food.

Our goal is to eat out only twice a month, coinciding with payday, and only at local establishments. We will have to make some allowances for travel. We also have to figure out how this works with family, as both of our families prefer to get together at restaurants rather than cook meals (large holidays excluded). I am more than willing to cook, but people don't always want to come to us, nor do they all like eating vegan food.

No new books. First I see if the library has the book I want to read; if not, I see if I can borrow it from someone I know. If it is a must have book (for information, no fiction allowed) I will find it used. My book addiction is serious especially since half the time I realize I could have done without whatever book I ordered from Amazon. In addition to not buying new books I will not browse used bookstores or the thrift store for books that I am not specifically searching for. Really, I have enough unread books here at home to keep me reading all year.

No magazines purchased in stores. I have subscribed to the magazines I am most likely to pick up, and will read the others at the library, go without, or find a way to borrow them or buy them used. I do have one homeschooling magazine that I need to call and order on the 3rd (no online orders).

No new music. This isn't usually an issue for me until holiday time, but I am putting it out there now.

I am going to inventory our craft supplies and choose projects based on what we have. We have so much to choose from that we just have to say no to some of the great stuff out there. It will be okay to replenish consumables such as glue, chalk, crayons, etc. Even then I don't anticipate needing to do much more than replace the frequently used Stockmar colors. We do need 9 X 12 drawing paper.

We will make all greeting cards or use our stash cards (scavenged by my dad). We will recycle gift bags, make wrap, and use any old wrap we have.

I will not buy new yarn until the stash is gone and even then I will try to find sweaters to frog. Any yarn purchased after the stash is gone must be for a specific project. The exception to this will be if I decide to make hats for any kids as I don't have any superwash wool and I don't anticipate many parents wanting to care for merino or alpaca.

I am going to learn to sew. Any fabric purchased new must be for a specific project. However, before that I will use reclaimed fabric, thrift store fabric, etc. I have about 5 yards of flannel but certainly do not have a stash and am not going to build one.

I have begun studying herbalism. I will allow myself to purchase necessary supplies to make herbal medicines and personal care products. This is an investment year; I may need funnels, storage jars, etc. that I will never need again. Still, I will source used goods whenever possible (please don't suggest pickle jars...I never seem to be able to get rid of the pickle smell and I will not ruin good herbs that way).

We are allowed to purchase what we need to start our garden, including minimal tools, lumber for raised beds, seeds and starts, soil amendment, etc.

Photo paper and inks are permitted.

Artisan goods are allowed. Entertainment is allowed if it falls within our budget. Experiences are allowed.

Items I didn't get around to purchasing in 2006 that are still possibly on the slate for early 2007: a wool mattress pad for the boys' bed, a futon mattress for FIL to sleep on when he is here (if he decides to come weekly), ear phones for my iPod (yes, I have one...it's nearly 3 years old), a clothes rack and/or umbrella style drying rack. I'm going to try to find alternatives (such as finding a used king-sized 100% wool blanket and felting it for the boys' pad). I planned to buy ear phones before now, but haven't been able to get out to try any.

I'm known for putting things out there and not having them work out (hence the fact that I am blogging before 1/2/07, but I'm bed bound right now so my brain and fingers are what is working). I'm not perfect, and I don't expect perfection, but I do expect to try with great effort. We may come to need something that we can't find used, and in that case we will buy it if not buying it is causing us to waste resources.

The goal is to step off the consumer treadmill. It's so easy to change or refine your values and still find yourself marketed to. 18 years ago not many were marketing to me as an organic consumer, but they sure as heck are now, and they are polluting the standards while they are at it.

I'm sure I'll revise this in the weeks to come.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Well, Crap....

Why am I awake and freakin' blogging at 5 a.m.? I am not an early riser by nature or by choice. No, the neurotic Girl Dog has taken to night waking, and it's not to answer the call of nature. She isn't happy unless someone is awake with her. If we ignore her she jumps into and the bed and lays on top of us. If we put her outside she claws at the door incessantly (we have French doors) and at this point she is almost through the frame.

I called the holistic vet yesterday, and they can see her next Wednesday. I talked to the woman who owns the kennel because she knows the Girl Dog better than any other care provider, and she suggested Benadryl to help us get through the week. We tried it, but it only delayed the inevitable waking.

She also offered to board Girl Dog for the next week until we can see the vet, and as much as I hate to spend the holidays without my dog I'm going to have to take her in. It's expensive, as will be the vet consultation. We are near the very end of the rope at this point. At least the kennel is a familiar place, and the runs are heated so she won't be cold. She knows that she has never been abandoned there, that we always come back.

Girl Dog has had neurological issues from the beginning. At some point this is becoming unfair to all of us, especially her. All of her fears and phobias are increasing as she gets older. We don't want to tranquilize her if it means she still feels the fear but can't act on it. We've already tried Elavil and Clomicalm. The holistic vet can rule out any obvious physical problems and then perhaps help guide us through using herbs, acupuncture, etc. But it is so hard. I read Marley and Me; at what point are we being unfair? How much can we afford?

Of course, this morning's episode coincided with a bought of primary insomnia, so I hadn't been asleep quite 4 hours when she went haywire. Papa tried moving to the boys' bed since T-Guy was already in the big bed, but that just made the Girl Dog pace between rooms, first jumping up on my bed and laying on Thomas, and then click-clacking down the hall to claw at the boys' bedroom door.

As always, the answer seems to be to get up with her, to be awake with her until her brain calms down and she can sleep again. Which she is finally doing, so I think I'll risk going back to bed myself....

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Homemade Hot Cocoa/Chocolate Almond Milk

Our treat this afternoon: hot carob almond milk made with homemade almond milk and homemade carob syrup. I made chocolate syrup for mine and for Papa to have later (and for guests on Christmas Eve), but tasting the carob syrup I was transported back to my very early 20s, and I'd forgotten that as long as you aren't expecting it to taste like chocolate, carob is pretty good.

I used to combine frozen ripe bananas in the food processor with just enough homemade almond milk to make a soft serve consistency vegan "ice cream", and then I'd top it with hot homemade carob syrup. Yum!

Just sharing the thoughts...I've promised not to spend hours blogging for the rest of this month.

Monday, December 18, 2006

If I Was Writing...

I'd tell you about making fresh almond milk this afternoon, and how wonderful it is to make it and not need to buy it in a carton, to know that it is fresh and raw, and to realize that I've been making it (off and on) for almost 18 years.

I'd tell you about the fresh ginger-lemon-honey infusion I am drinking right now, out of my sunflowers mug. You'd know happy I am to find a hot beverage that my body can tolerate, since decaffeinated tea and most herbs are too irritating for me right now.

But I'm not expounding on these things. The only reason I am here at all is to write them down so I can set them free.

Friday, December 15, 2006

If You Are Wondering Where I am

Check my other blog.

Peace....

Gratitude

I said I had one more post to write before my break. I can't just leave without taking the time to offer my gratitude to some of the people who have made this year my best year yet (yes, my best year, even with its problems).

Kristerae, thank you for showing me true kindness, the kind that comes unasked for and without any strings attached. Thanks also for showing me strength, and understanding.

Kari, thank you for being my Enki partner-in-crime...without you there might not even be an Enki group. I read your blog or talk/email with you and I sometimes think you are my alter-ego, just living in New Mexico but sharing the same struggles, joys, and path.

Dannielle, thank you for sharing your gift for making beautiful things, and for your kindness.

To all of the IEAWL members, thank you for showing up at the park each week (when you can), so I don't have to sit there alone. Getting together with other mamas every week has pulled me out of the isolation that enveloped my early years as a mother.

Lauren, thank you for your inspiration. I may not own 24 acres in rural Vermont, but I can share the experience with you through your blog.

Val, thank you for being yourself and sharing that with the rest of us.

Beth and Donna, thank you for sharing holistic education with the homeschooling community.

To the Enki group, thank you for sharing the path of holistic learning with me. I learn from every question and every answer.

Deanna, thank you so much for being you, and for helping me see that I can be me without fear. Thank you for your friendship, and for having room for another friend in your life. Really, I can't even put it into words...

Missy, thank you for being my loving, protective, neurotic girl; for making me laugh and for making me crazy.

Papa, T-Guy, and J-Baby, thank you for loving me, for giving me the best reason to wake up everyday, for completing me and taking me from individual to family, and for inspiring me to be the best person I can possibly be. Thank you for chasing trains with me, for morning snuggles in bed, for evening snuggles on the couch, for singing songs, for sharing stories, and for pointing out the beauty that surrounds me everyday. That you for being my "boys".

May whichever holidays you celebrate this winter be peaceful and joyous, and may 2007 be a year filled with laughter, love, and light.

What Do I Want?

(An introspective post, where I wax philosophical before taking a blogging break.)

I have spent the entire year (perhaps my entire life) trying to figure out what I want. At the very core it is basic; a passionate, loving, friendly partnership, a loving and highly attached relationship with my children, friendly relationships with my extended family (with boundaries firmly in place), and a few good friends. Oh yeah, I want to really like myself. I want to be authentic.

Like I said, those are the basics. I actively work to maintain those relationships, to find and develop friendship, and to keep myself someone that I want to be friends with. Funny idea, but I think being your own friend is important. The more I discover exactly who I am and stay true to that, the more I do like myself.

There are other things of course: I want to travel, I want to be compassionate and charitable, I want to be kind and generous. I want to be healthy, in every way, and to keep my body fit and my mind sharp. I want to be a good steward of the earth.

I've enjoyed blogging this year, but I think it's time to take another break. I write because I like to write, but I'd like even more to be having a good conversation with a friend. In this big world the internet gives us the opportunity to make friends with people who share our values, but whom we will probably never meet. The relationships aren't unimportant, and I wouldn't even say that they aren't real.

In the end however, it is the flesh and blood people who keep you going. It is a kind voice, a soft shoulder, time spent together in fun and work. It is your children laughing and playing together. It is meals shared. It is picking up those newspapers for your neighbor, gratefully receiving backyard produce, sharing a plate of cookies, talking to the people who grow your food...it is genuine human interaction.

I guess I'm not really going anywhere with this, except to say that I am going to take a break, a real break this time, a what would I do if I didn't spend two hours a day on the computer break. A where is my life going break, a my life is good but could be even better break, a time is passing quickly and the children are growing up break.

What's in: email to and from friends, reading the blogs of 4 friends, writing poetry, songs, and non-fiction, and the Enki e-share list. What's out: Amity's, Mothering, Simple Living Network, other blogs, other email lists, mindless surfing, and blogging.

I have one more important post I want to write, and then I will be gone until at least 1/2/07!

House Dreams

Lately I have been letting my imagination run wild. I've been pretty much house bound for over a month, and by slowing down I've had time to observe how we use the house, and have come up with some ideas to make it even better.

Pretty much since we moved in I have thought that the master bedroom is too big. It is 12' x 24' and when we first toured the house they had their bed and a baby grand in it. I've often thought that we should move our bed and dresser into the office, and make the master bedroom a family room. The one thing that concerned me was that the front living room would then become an unused room.

I still think it makes sense. The office is 12' x 11' and would hold the bed, nightstands, and dresser. It would be a tight fit, but cozy. The room gets less light than the master, but does have a south facing window. It's also on the quieter side of the house. I would want to rip out the carpet; Papa said the wood floors underneath are in pretty good shape. We could move all of the arts and crafts stuff out of the half bathroom and redo it. It wouldn't be hard or even that expensive; it used to be a small closet! We could put in a nicer toilet and a prettier pedestal sink and medicine cabinet, add a different light fixture, tile the floor, and paint. There is even room for a small cabinet. If we got really ambitious we could put up beadboard like we did in the front bathroom.

Of course, since I am dreaming big we don't even keep the current bedroom furniture! I really want an organic mattress along with a platform bookcase bed. If we got one with underbed drawers we could eliminate the need for a dresser in the room; we share a dresser already and it isn't completely full. The big question would be queen mattress or king mattress; it is cozier sleeping in a queen, however we moved up to a king when T-Guy was co-sleeping most of the night. Without nightstands the room would look fine with a king-sized bed in it.

If we made the office our bedroom it would be easy to convert it to a guest room if anyone wanted to stay over. We'd just have to put on fresh linens and give the bathroom a quick cleaning!

I love the space of the master bedroom. During the day it is perhaps the brightest room in the house. It has French doors that open onto a wooden deck in the backyard. With the curtains open I can watch the boys play outside. Of course, it is awkward to entertain out there when people have to traipse through the bedroom. There is an arched window over the French doors, and 2 double-hung windows. On one side is the original closet, which is small suggsting that the room wasn't originally the master bedroom. The previous owners of the house extended the bedroom in a seamless addition that also added a master bathroom complete with small walk-in closet.

It is the warmest room in the house since it is the best insulated. On the very hottest days it is the coolest room as well, as the windows face north and east, and it has 2 ceiling fans. As a downside, the addition means that it doesn't have hardwood floors and is currently carpeted.

Since I'm dreaming, I'd lay hardwood floors, or at the very least something like wool carpeting over the existing pad, which is actually a very high quality pad. We could move the TV in here, or leave it out front. Of course, moving it opens up the living room to all sorts of new ideas, but I'll save those for later.

The piano is in this room. If we moved it to the south wall we could put the TV on the west wall, and arrange the room into 2 spaces. The desk and book shelves would be on one side, and the piano and TV on the other. I'd stick with the design of our desk (L-shaped and arranged so that the boys can sit on one side and I can sit on the other, but make it longer to divide the room and make more room for crafts and jigsaw puzzles. I'd want a good quality organic futon couch and chair for the flexibility they provide as beds as well as seating, and a sturdy coffee table, glass-topped with storage below.

One concern has always been that the big closet and master bathroom are off the master bedroom. As the boys get older I don't think that it matters that it is the "master" bathroom; it's the room with the shower and they are going to prefer that to the tub at some point (I prefer the tub!). I don't really care what room my clothing hangs in; I don't have that much of it, and getting dressed takes less than a minute each morning. Sometimes you just have to adjust your thinking.

There is the chance that we'd love the family room so much that we'd stop using the living room, which would be a shame. It's a beautiful room, with a tall barrel ceiling and a lovely fireplace. The thing is, it is set up poorly because there was only one wall that the TV could go on. The focus ends up being on the TV and not the fireplace. It is still a cozy room to curl up in and read, or crochet, or perhaps knit....

For a couple of years now I've wanted to put a door where the far window is in the living room, along with steps to the side yard. It's a big side yard area, and would make a fantastic enclosed garden or brick and sand patio. It's shady and has a secret garden quality to it.

The living room needs window coverings, but nothing makes sense with the couch on the wall in front of the windows. I want something that doesn't obscure the window trim.

The thing is, probably a year from now nothing will have changed. We remodeled the house to a place we are content with and I doubt we'll spend any money to change it. As I told a friend today, the other spaces in the house aren't lacking, the master bedroom is just too big. If any changes are made, they'll be the inexpensive, reversible kind. But I can still plan, and dream....

Thursday, December 14, 2006

She's Back....

What do you get when you combine skipping the week's grocery shopping and a mama who is creative in the kitchen and finally back on her feet (here and there anyway)? A thrifty, delicious, healthy dinner.

I made Mujaddara (there are a million variant spellings out there...choose one you like), sauted carrots, and cabbage salad. A dinner from the most simple foods - lentils, rice, onions, olive oil, carrots, and cabbage.

Tuesday was simple as well: freshly cooked pinto beans, corn tortillas, black olives.

Today we either go marketing, or come up with another pantry dinner. We do have the makings for a basic vegetable soup (potatoes, onion, carrots, celery, garlic). Papa's getting nervous though, as we've been without fresh greens for days now. So we'll see what I decide to do. We have leftover mujaddara that I can fry into patties for lunch, which would feed everyone but the J-Baby. Hmmm....I could put on a pot of quinoa for his lunch and serve it with raw carrots. The leftover quinoa could combine with leftover pinto beans into a yummy casserole, although I was planning to work on a gluten-free vegan pizza crust for Friday. They don't know that, so it'll keep a week.

Thinking it through, if I plan and do the work I'm pretty sure we could make it to Monday without marketing.

Thursday breakfast: choice of cornmeal mush or oatmeal
Friday breakfast: choice of fried mush or oatmeal
Saturday breakfast: homemade granola, frozen GF waffles
Sunday breakfast: GF applesauce muffins
Monday breakfast:

Thursday lunch: fried mujaddara patties, cabbage salad (quinoa for J-Baby)
Friday lunch: sandwiches and split pea soup
Saturday lunch: Legoland
Sunday lunch: Mexican restaurant to celebrate FIL's birthday

Thursday dinner: vegetable soup, fresh bread, GF bread
Friday dinner: pinto-quinoa loaf, shredded carrot salad
Saturday dinner: out in San Juan Capistrano
Sunday dinner: reheated split pea soup and GF corn muffins

I still have a couple of pumpkins to process, although J-Baby can't eat it. We have enough fruit in the house: kiwis, pomegranates, tangerines, a grapefruit, limes, apples, a couple bananas. We have popcorn for snacks. We'll do just fine, as long as I can get Papa to breathe....

(In case anyone is worrying, this is an exercise in discipline, not an act of poverty.)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Community Herbalism

I have some very specific goals for 2007. In addition to various parenting, homeschooling, financial, and homekeeping goals I have some goals for personal enrichment.

One goal high on my list is knitting. I have the needles, I have the yarn, I have the books that are supposed to help me teach myself. I also have a mental block. It can't be that hard - I see people knitting all of the time. Also, I'm not untalented or uncoordinated; I crochet, knit on looms, braid, and do other handwork. Anyway, I need to learn this so I can teach my children, and because I want to make more than simple hats. I also think it is important to tackle the things that at times seem overwhelming.

I also want to learn to sew. I can sew a straight seam, but have never worked with a pattern. I need skills like pinning and ironing. My plan is to take a class. I've come up with a plan for a basic quilt and have started looking for used fabric.

My biggest goal, however, is to become a community herbalist. I don't want to go to a natural college and learn using the current educational model. I want to learn as people have learned ever since people figured out that certain plants had benefits that went beyond nutrition. That means I'll have to grow herbs, learn to identify wild herbs, and learn their preparation and uses. Part of that learning can come from books and the many online courses offered by master herbalists. Hopefully I'll find someone local who is willing to be a mentor, but I plan to do my homework first so that I can identify the simple herbs that we would have learned as children had we been raised 100 years ago. Right now I'm pretty much limited to identifying rosemary, lavender, basil, mint, and thyme. I may know a few others, but with less certainty.

(Wait...I can identify sage too! And parsley, and cilantro, and dill!)

Why herbalism? I believe in it. I know that herbs and other foods are powerful medicine, and amazingly they are available to all of us. I don't need to become an M.D to use herbal medicine. I can fix a cup of ginger infusion when my stomach is unsettled, no Pepcid or Mylanta required. I can offer echinacea tincture to a child coming down with a virus, and add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to a hot bath to soothe a stuffy nose. I can infuse calendula in oil and make a salve for my father-in-law's red, sore hands. We can soothe burns with aloe vera.

I can make herbal infusions for my children instead of buying multivitamins (okay, we have multivitamins, but when they are gone we'll stick with good nutrition and herbs). Papa can gargle with salt water when his throat is sore, and then sip on slippery elm tea. We can drift off to sleep inhaling the scent of lavender in our sleep balm. We can make elderberry syrup for immune building. I can use jojoba oil for dry skin and hair.

I believe that people should have the power when it comes to their health. For many years our parents and grandparents ceded their authority to the medical establishment, and lost that power. We see it when we hear about women birthing on their backs with epidurals, episiotomies, vacuum extractions, failure to progress, and cesarean sections (no criticism meant to those who experienced any of these things - I certainly did). We know it when doctor's dole out prescriptions for lowering cholesterol or blood sugar while only making half-hearted attempts to talk about diet and exercise. We know it when we hear about children harmed by vaccines, or when we find out that the mercury in our mouths is poisoning us, or when we read about a depression epidemic. Something isn't right, an the medical establishment isn't the answer. We need to take back our power.

Community herbalism calls to me because it is about more than using herbs and plant medicine for my family. It reaches out to the wider community. There was a time when everyone knew the basic uses for certain herbs, while perhaps the mother of the family knew more, and then in each community there may be one or two people who had extensive knowledge of plant medicine. They were wise-women, medicine men, green witches. I imagine in a time post peak oil the knowledge of herbal medicine will become valuable, as we live in smaller communities with fewer resources.

I am not saying that there is no place for conventional Western medicine. It can and does save lives. To me, the flaw of Western medicine is the fact that it treats acute illness and serious chronic conditions after they develop, instead of trying to prevent them to begin with. Also, every little thing requires pharmaceutical intervention. One example that comes to mind is bronchitis. Millions in the US develop it every year, and most of those people will take antibiotics for it, even though two well-regarded studies now show that most of the time antibiotics aren't effective in the treatment of bronchitis. What most of those people need is a week of bed rest with nutritious foods, herbal infusions for comfort, and lots of sleep. But they can't get it! Somehow, missing work became a sign of weakness, and of course the employer hates it because of lost productivity. They are so short-sighted...keeping the ill person out of the workplace reduces the spread of infection, thus minimizing the loss of productivity. Most people can't afford to take the time off of work, which says a lot about our employment policies. Papa is allowed 6 sick days per year (and as a SAHM he shares those with me by taking off a day if I am too ill to care for the boys), which means he can usually only take off the day he feels the worst.

Anyway, those are some of my plans for the coming year.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Priorities and the Little Things

One of the best things about home learning is the fact that it is home and family-based. Learning can seamlessly blend into living and you eventually find that they aren't two separate entities.

The downside is that you can get so caught up in the little things that days pass without getting to the big things. For instance, T-Guy can offer to read me a book, but as I mentally check my to-do list I conclude that I don't have time and that it will have to wait. It's easy to say that I shouldn't do that, but sometimes I am stirring a pot, wiping up a spill, or knee-deep in the finances.

We're not total unschoolers, just relaxed learners who do some structured learning within the vast hours of unstructured life. I like the structured stuff - reading stories, drawing pictures, doing arts and crafts, singing seasonal songs, playing math games.... It may sound like school in the minds of most radical unschoolers, but in reality it is more like home-based education was a century ago, and my boys thrive on it.

I struggle though, to make the structured parts a priority. It's easy to fall back on the fact that the boys are learning all of the time, and to let the story go untold that day because we really need to go buy bananas. Or to skip the drawing because I felt inspired to blog or answer an email and the boys are playing outside happily.

It's fine to do that some of the time, to be flexible; that's one great thing about opting out of the traditional idea of schooling. For us it is a problem when it happens day after day, sometimes week after week. Suddenly a month has passed and we haven't practiced reading at all, and I'm not talking about the month where the reading skills are supposed to be in the sleep cycle. No, T-Guy needs to practice reading - it's how we learn. Without practice we can't reach mastery, which is why I can't knit even though I did learn how to 10 years ago. I did it for a week, didn't practice, and forgot it. When I pick it up again I will have to go back to the beginning...the skills didn't hone themselves while I didn't use them.

Often, I write about juggling the various aspects of home life. I think that in the past I have misjudged the order of importance. I ranked cooking and laundry right up there with focused time with the boys, because they are things that have to be done. Only recently have I realized that the focused time is more important. Everything else will get done, I know it, whether it is done by me or not. No one else is going to plan and execute lessons. No one else is going to read through 20 fairy tales to find the 5 that best fit my children. No one else is going to try to draw roosters and foxes and dragons. No one else will put down her handwork to explore dinosaurs, trains, place value, or any of the thousands of other topics the boys bring to me, wanting to know more. Papa, he has to work his 45+ hours each week, and spending this holistic learning time with the boys isn't his calling. He is, however, more than willing to pitch in and do laundry and cook.

I don't want to create this misconception that focused time spent with children is time consuming. It's not; that's why it seems so easy to push it aside here and there with the idea that we'll get to it soon. Sometimes it just takes a bit of creative thinking; this morning we read our nature story snuggled up in bed while Papa showered. We would have snuggled anyway, so adding in the story just took advantage of the time the boys are focused on me while waiting for breakfast.

I don't think of what I do as a job. It's life, it's my life...work and living are not separate things. That doesn't mean that the old managerial me can't assess the situation and assign some priorities. So now I raise the focused learning time with my boys (planned by me or introduced by them) the top spot on my list. I still want to be ultimately flexible and not ensnared in a rigid schedule. I have to figure it out; is organic circle really working or do we need more structure? How do the boys respond when a story lesson it at 9 a.m. one day and 2 p.m. the next? What do they need? They aren't infants any longer, but they still benefit from having someone in their every waking hour who is keep their well-being in her mind at all times.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Getting Back Into The Groove

Okay, today we start easing back into a more structured learning environment. My surgery forced me to completely do the observation that is recommended in the Enki guides, and my biggest observation is that the boys don't thrive on pure freedom. When I am in bed all day I am not acting as the container for the day. The get tired of doing things that only they can come up with and orchestrate. They miss having me as their guide.

I posted about a holiday block late last month. Thursday I finalized our plan. I based everything around The Seven-Year-Old Wonder Book by Isabel Wyatt. We started the book months ago and never finished it. I would have just let the book go, but T-Guy in particular has asked to finish it. The book has many Christmas stories in it, so it is a good fit and makes the task of finding Christmas tales less difficult for me.

Based on where we were in the book, we read one story last Friday. We'll read and work with 3 stories a week for 3 weeks, then the week between Christmas and New Year we'll read the final 3 stories without actually working them (I want to keep the momentum and finish the book, but don't want formal lessons during the week Papa is home).

Each morning we'll walk around the block, sing some holiday songs, then do our main lesson work. We're simply reintroducing the three-fold cycle of intake-sleep-output. Each lesson morning we'll recall the previous story, draw a picture from it, and write a short sentence or verse. Today we drew Sylvia's fairy tree and wrote the words SYLVIA'S FAIRY TREE. We were transitioning to using lowercase letters during grade 1, but this month the focus is getting the writing done and not having to contract so tight to write in lowercase.

Quiet time has been going well, so we'll add on cleaning their room for 15 minutes after quiet time, and we'll formalize a small snack at this time, if needed. I've noticed that they usually grab a snack before quiet time, even though they had lunch 30 minutes prior.

For practice we will do handwriting and reading, as well as simple math manipulatives and games. Since we'll be writing during the main lesson our writing practice will be numbers. We have 9 lessons planned for the block, so we'll combine 0 and 1. We will be working on remembering the verses as well as the actual writing.

For crafts we'll make holiday gifts and cards, model with beeswax, bake, and do handwork.

I've settled having structured lessons 3 days a week. We probably could buckle down and do more, but I want us to have more unstructured time for real life living and learning. If it doesn't work out we have Thursdays free to add lessons to. We will read our nature story on Tuesdays, during our normal practice time.

I still have a lot of planning to do. I need to plan the next block. Since Enki doesn't have all of the sage stories ready I will either have to change my choice (MLK Jr.) or go it alone. I haven't decided yet what to do.


Friday, December 1, 2006

Simple Pleasures

Sitting to mend the fleece hoodie that we bought for $1 at the thrift store, I turned it inside-out and confirmed my hunch that it was indeed hand-sewn. There was no serging to be seen, just plenty of seam allowance and double needle stitching. I reached into my sewing box and pulled out a needle that came from my mother's box and some thread and a thimble that came from my grandmother's box (wooden spool and all). I can't fully explain the satisfaction I get using the same needles, thread, and notions that my mom and grandma used. I stitched the seam closed; I am not a seamstress by any means, but I have some basic skills. I'm glad I was able to rescue this pullover, and J-Baby can hardly wait until it is washed and dry and ready to wear.

Thrifting

We haven't joined the Compact yet, and I don't actually know if we will, at least not for a full 12 months. I'm conflicted about it; if I was Compacting I wouldn't have been able to order the new cooperative WildCraft! game, which I am so excited about. A cooperative game, about herbs and wild edibles, from a small family company...yeah! Buying this game is exactly the kind of mindful purchasing I want to do.

However, plenty of things can be obtained second hand. For the most part, clothing falls into that category. I have a basic idea of what we'll be needing for the next year, so I take that mental list with me and note any special need items (for instance, I will need a skirt or dress for our vacation next spring).

There is a huge thrift store in town, in addition to a Goodwill (mostly overpriced but good for books), a Salvation Army (really hit or miss), an Assistance League thrift shop (we've found some great things there, but it is small), a Discovery Cancer Shop (pricier, more like consignment), and other stores scattered here and there that we haven't been to. The big store took over an old home improvement store and it is easily 3X as big as Goodwill. Overall, the selection is pretty good.

However, the boys and I had a problem the first time we went to the store, which caused us to boycott it for months. They had a bag of Rokenbok parts. 99 cents was written on the bag, which we figured might be wrong. Well, the cashier said it was wrong, and then said he couldn't sell me unpriced merchandise. Store policy. When I asked him to see if someone could price it he said no. Finally the other clerk checked, but the pricing guy wasn't there.

I know that the cashiers were powerless, but they were also rude. It turns out that the toys had recently moved to pricing by weight, which is why the bag didn't have a "real" price on it, and if they'd known this I could have bought the Rokenbok. The $5 I offered them would have been right on.

In October, a friend mentioned that she was stopping by the store on her way home, and when I said I didn't like it she said she did, so we decided to give it another shot. I'm glad we did. We've been several times since then, and always come home with bargains.

Back to clothing. On the 1st of each month this store offers 10 pieces of clothing for $10. This was our first month to take advantage of this sale. The parking lot was full and the store was hopping. We didn't arrive when they first opened, but it was obviously that others had, and that plenty of people were buying clothing to resell. We couldn't get a cart, but the boys finally scouted a big empty Rubbermaid bin we could use. T-Guy dragged it around for me.

There was no way to go through all of the clothing in the short amount of time we had. So we went through boys' clothing, sizes 6-8, women's shirts, and men's pants. Then we headed to the brass section, and to toys, before deciding that the store was far too crowded to spend our time looking at the items that weren't on sale.

Clothing we got (20 pieces for $20):

5 pairs boys shorts, all around size 7, 1 heavy denim, 4 sturdy canvas twill, all elastic waist, most with cargo pockets
1 red l/s tee for me, Gap brand
1 red 3/4 sleeve tee for me (a little dressier cut), ellemeno brand
1 black l/s tee for me, J Crew brand
1 black l/s tee for me, Express brand, sleeve hem needs small repair
1 black l/s tee (fine gauge sweater) for me, no tags, it is fully-fashioned
1 fall colors sweater for me, Winner brand
1 pale lime l/s tee for me, Mossimo brand (Target)
1 light blue l/s tee for me, Cherokee brand (Target)
1 plaid fleece hoodie for J-Baby, really cute, no tags (actually appears home sewn), needs small repair.
2 white heavy cotton s/s tees for the boys (we're starting to collect apparrel to tie-dye)
1 white s/s tee with a sea turtle (honu) design and the words Maui, Hawaii silk-screened on it (we don't usually buy graphic tees, however we love anything honu and we went to Maui last February)
1 NWOT size 10 boys' Hawaiian print shirt, 100% cotton, made in the USA
1 mens' medium 100% cotton brown henley shirt, appears washed but not worn
1 pair mens' corduroy pants, purchased to recycle the fabric for a quilt I am planning.

I think we did really well. The shorts are for next year; it make sense to buy them now because people are donating outgrown summer clothing now, and everyone will be looking for shorts come spring. They will fit J-Baby or T-Guy or both of them. I buy elastic waist shorts for a few reasons: 1) I've purchased second hand shorts/pants with zippers that fall down all of the time, 2) elastic waist shorts/pants are more forgiving when it comes to sizing, 3) the boys actually prefer elastic waists for ease and comfort.

I ended up with 4 l/s tees to add to my everyday wardrobe, 3 black and 1 red. You may recall that my other l/s tee, purchased at the same thrift store, is also red. Why no variety? I try to stick with basic, dark colors because they don't show stains easily. I don't mind having 3 black shirts that are nearly identical, and black tees also make great undershirts when I need to layer my clothing. The other red shirt is a tad bit tight but will be nice next spring. It's cute enough to wear with a skirt for a casual/dressy look.

The 2 light colored tees I bought will probably be pajama tops. The blue one is a little big (so now I know that about Cherokee brand). There is the possiblity that I will bleach and tie-dye them.

The honu shirt is for T-Guy; he has outgrown most of his tees. The Hawaiian shirt will be his dressy shirt for next summer or the one after. J-Baby always needs hoodies, and I also think it does him good to pick something out at the thrift store - he doesn't like all of his clothing to be handed down from T-Guy, but is perfectly fine with second hand new-to-him items.

We also came away with a 200 piece dinosaur puzzle for 25 cents; I counted the pieces when we got home and they are all there. We picked up a few more brass candlesticks. I wanted to look for a metal funnel and a box grater for soap, but it was just too crowded. We'll go back next week.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Simple Vegetables

There hasn't been a Diamond Organics box in my house for a month now.

When Papa first took over the cooking duties, he found our produce bin stocked with lots of carrots, some celery, and some zucchini, along with onions, shallots, and garlic in the onion basket. One night he sauted zucchini, carrots, and shallots. Another night it was carrots and onions. He tossed chopped carrots and celery into every salad he made. It was all good.

He's been out for groceries once a week since then, and he's sticking to the basics. He buys carrots, celery, onions, and whatever else looks good...which has been zucchini, yellow squash, and broccoli. Last week he bought mushrooms too. Several nights a week he sautes veggies in olive oil, and they are delicious. There is a simplicity to having a just a few different veggies in the house.

I do miss the box of fresh organic vegetables delivered to my porch each week. The variety was stunning and the produce amazingly fresh. Most of the time the produce is grown in central California, so it is relatively local. Still, it is expensive.

Now that Papa and the boys do the shopping (on their bikes) I don't need the convenience of the box. What I do need is the quality, and perhaps a bit of the variety. Although Papa likes cooked greens, he hasn't actually bought any. Our Diamond box usually had so many greens that we had to cook them everyday. Kale is one green that the local HFS usually has several varieties of, so I think I'll add that to this weekend's list.

I don't get to go grocery shopping. That has become a bicycle errand and I'm not allowed to ride yet. I have, however, been given permission to drive to the farmer's market (we usually walk) and go to a few stalls. I'm hoping my favorite organic grower is there tonight, and that she and her husband have pomegranates and avocados. Anything else will be a bonus.

The box? I don't imagine I will stop ordering, at least once in awhile.

Monday, November 27, 2006

In Case You Were Wondering...

I work on what I write for days before I post it. No, I didn't write all of today's posts today.

Too Much Time On My Hands

A long convalescence usually means you have plenty of time to think. Sure, I can read, and knit/crochet, and make lists, and blog, but I still have plenty of time. I have been completely freed of any household tasks. Papa is doing the laundry, cooking the meals, getting the groceries, doing the dishes, etc.

So I do some things, and I think. I think about what I'd like to be doing. I think about the changes I'd like to make in my life. I think about what we're doing right and what we could be doing better. I think about our family. I think about peak oil and sustainability.

I spend a lot of time reading what other people are doing. There are people who have joined The Compact, something I read about months ago after reading Not Buying It, and still really want to do. There is a mama who is trying to feed her family within the USDA's thrifty meal budget guidlelines. There are families who are homesteading, and families who live without cars, and people who get rid of 7 items every week. It is all exciting and interesting.

I've been thinking about our health. I'm reading John Robbins' new book, Healthy at 100, which encompasses so much more than diet. I had been slowly and steadily reclaiming my health before this little setback, so I was on the right path, but having a hysterectomy was a wake-up call. My body is already diseased. The good news is that already I have spent years reversing some of the damage done when I was a child (and later when I continued to eat dairy and eggs as well as foods I was allergic to), and I have many years ahead of me in which I can restore myself to vibrant health.

It's sort of like having nearly two months to research and choose you goals for the new year. After all, I won't be released to full activity until Christmas. So here are some of my plans and goals:

1) Join the Compact. I can't ask my whole family to do it with me because I believe you must be called to it. I'm still hammering out my ideas...look for an update post soon.

2) Aggressively adopt a car-lite lifestyle. Once I can return to activity I will build myself up again and we will walk and bike everywhere we can. Already the boys and Papa road their bikes to the HFS, which is 10 miles round trip. It is amazing how much freedom we gained with the purchase of a bicycle trailer.

3) Lower our food budget. I too would like to stay within the USDA Thrifty guidelines, and still eat organic. That means eliminating all convenience foods, but I think that would be part of the Compact, anyway.

4) Declutter and Simplify. Okay, this is always one of my goals. I'm thinking though, that with less stuff coming in that we can make progress this year, instead of just holding even.

5) Begin preparations for peak oil living. This means putting in a garden this year, no matter how I feel about bugs. Learning herbal medicine, reducing our vehicle usage, learning to make things or do without, simplifying, getting rid of things, establishing connections...it all fits in. We also need to research where we might choose to live when suburbia falls apart. Even if our town reverts to small town status, it might not be sustainable because of the lack of water.

6) Reclaim our health. Eat even more whole foods, and make sure it's organic. Eat less. Exercise more (hopefully making exercise a lifestyle and not an activity to pursue). Create strong relationships. Cultivate community.

7) Live more. I enjoy the computer, really I do. It can be a source of information and inspiration. It connects me to people, truly kind people. With the computer I find artisans, chefs, friends. However, it is not living. I had moved away from the computer before I got stuck in bed, and I will move away again.

It's all big picture stuff right now...I have plenty of time to break the goals down into doable plans of action.

Thinking About the Division of Labor

A friend posted on a message board about a dilemma she has. She is going to school so that she can share in paid work with her husband. The schooling causes a time crunch which means she has less time and energy for her daughters. She is also uncertain about the career path chosen.

But really, I'm not thinking about those things. As long as I have known her, this mama has shared parenting duties with her DH, and when her first daughter was born he arranged his schedule to be home as much as possible. They sold their house and bought somewhere much less expensive so that her DH could take a sabbatical and be with the family.

I have always admired this. In my mind, I created the goal that DH might someday be able to reduce his hours at work. We are already partners in so much, and this would be one of the final puzzle pieces.

However, on the post, someone criticized my friend's DH for not wanting to shoulder the full financial responsibility for his family. I wanted to respond, to defend both his feelings and her choice, but it wasn't mine to defend.

I don't know many mamas who don't think that a little help would be nice. We recognize that being a mama and a homemaker is a huge task. Depending on how the home labor is divided a mama may find herself doing the cooking, the provisioning, the cleaning, the laundry, the finances, the day-to-day child rearing, the kin and holiday work, the educating, and much, much more. In general, the attitude I get from mamas is that they have a hard job, and that their partners should pitch in and do some of it. To be expected to do it all is putting us into a 1950s housewife role.

At the same time, however, many mamas expect their partners to support them financially. There are many reasons for this, one being the idea that children thrive best when they are raised by a parent that stays out of the paid workforce and devotes a significant amount of time to the children each day. In the beginning, when babies are newborn, it works out best biologically for the breastfeeding mother to be the one that stays home with the baby. Also, we may have come a long way baby, but most women with the same education as a man still make less than 75% of what a man does for the same job. These two things together usually result in the breastfeeding mama staying out of the paid workforce in the children's early years.

We don't to be subjugated, we don't want to have to do it all, but we want our partners to stick with the 1950s breadwinner role. Society still looks down on the man who doesn't choose to work full time. Men who are financially supported by their partners are regarded as lazy.

It's crazy, really. We're wrapped up in some way for thinking that hasn't even applied to most of the human race for more than 100 years, and even now it doesn't apply to most of the human race. Men and women (or men and men or women and women) have always worked together, dividing the labor in ways that made sense. Once the use of money replaced bartering most women still needed to find ways to produce income. It might have been a cottage industry, or factory work, or service (taking in washing, etc.), or selling off surplus eggs and butter.

Families have to work together. Recently my sister was teasing her mother's helper (now foster daughter) about how she really liked the baby only because she got paid to care for her. The girl told her, "No, I really like the baby. I had to give the money to my mother." That's life, that is reality. Everyone pulls together.

We've been reading/re-reading the Little House books. The family works together. The days are long, and sometimes Pa is so tired he can't tell stories or play his fiddle. But mostly there is time for stories and music. Pa is home nearly everday for breakfast, dinner, and supper. They all work together, at first it is mostly Ma and Pa, but the girls have things they do that help. Later, as Laura gets older, she works hard and her money is put away so her sister can go to college. Can you imagine a 12 year old now doing that? Well, she wouldn't be allowed to labor in the same way, but certainly many middle class tweens expect any money they earn to be theirs.

Women work. Men work. There is no law out there that says a man is required to financially provide for his partner. I applaud a man who wants to spend more time with his children, and I admire a woman who is willing to step aside and let him truly share that role in the children's lives, and who will even seek paid work so that it can happen.

Why Would You Make It?

This is a phrase I encounter often, spoken or unspoken. Many, many people don't understand why you would make something you can buy, be it food, clothing, a quilt, candles...whatever. The other half of the phrase is when you could buy it?

I remember the first time Papa made homemade soup for my mother, and the best compliment she could give it was that it tasted very much like Campbell's. Not that Papa's soup wasn't delicious, because it was. My mother is just of an age when soup in a can meant freedom for her mother.

There was a time when a woman wouldn't have time to sit and write in a journal every night. A time when her every waking hour was spent working to keep herself and her family alive and well. Of course, that doesn't apply to my grandmother. However, as more and more time-saving devices and products became available to the middle economic class (and eventually the lowest economic class), I think perhaps two things happened. One, our standards went up, and two, our standards went down. For example, we expect our clothes, our homes, and our bodies to be far cleaner than was expected 100 years ago. We don't expect our food to be as good tasting and nutritious, and we don't expect our clothing to last. Heck, we don't expect a lot of things to last.

I know plenty of people who don't understand cooking and baking from scratch. Of course, that has a different definition now; most of us aren't growing our own wheat, milking our own cows, and making our own sugar. Still, I have friends (and relatives) who think that homemade cookies come from a roll of Pillsbury dough. Soup and beans come in a cans. Homemade chili involves dumping cans of tomatoes and cans of beans into a pot with some chili powder and ground beef. Even the great hallowed feast of Thanksgiving, if the full carts seen at the grocery store have any meaning, involved boxed stuffing, canned yams, jarred gravy, canned cranberries, frozen green beans, prebaked rolls, and Mrs. Smith pies.

Sure, preparing food can be hard work. We hosted a vegetarian Thanksgiving at our home once, and we did make everything from scratch. Cranberries with orange zest and Grand Marnier. Pearled onions in a sauce of real cream. Sweet potato soup made from real yams. Real mashed potatoes. Homemade rolls. Stuffed butternut squash, a lentil-nut loaf, homemade mushroom gravy. I even made the pies, starting with the crust. It was a superb feast. I know it was, because it happened 12 years ago and I still remember every food detail.

The thing is, the food is worth it. It is worth it not to take in too much sodium. It is worth it to not ingest artifical colors and flavors, and other food additives. It is worth it to not consume hydrogenated fats and high fructose corn syrup. It is worth it to not poison ourselves with pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers. Plus, the food tastes so much better!

There are many other things that people make because they want to. Why do I want to make the bulk of our holiday gifts? I want to show people, especially my children, that not everything comes from factories and stores. I want to give gifts that aren't emblazoned with logos. I want us to give of our time, our energy, and our talents. I don't want holiday giving to be about shopping and spending money. Perhaps long ago a premade present from the store meant something because it was probably made in the USA and crafted by an artisan. Artisan gifts are still special.

But really, what does it say if I give a microfleece hooded sweatshirt with the letters G A P embroidered across the chest? Maybe it says that I want you to stay warm. Maybe it says that I am hip to whatever the culture deems cool. Maybe it says that I know that kind of thing is important to you. Maybe it says I could afford to spend $50 on a sweatshirt. Maybe I don't mean it, but it says that I don't care about the company's labor policies. It also says that I don't care about synthetics and the fact that they are unsustainable, and it says I don't care if you have that against your skin.

Maybe all it really says is that I was out of time, I needed to buy a gift, and there was a display of these hoodies in front of the store.

Why make things? Because I can. I can buy or grow herbs and make my own blends for infusions and decoctions. The herbs are fresher and the packaging is minimized. It saves money too. I can use the same herbs for herbal medicine and personal care items. Why make herbal medicines and toiletries? The quality is better and it costs less. I think the skills are worth having, too.

I can knit a hat, and it is exactly the color and fiber I want it to be. Same for scarves, blankets, and other knit/crocheted items. I know the items weren't made in a sweatshop. I personalize the object made for each person, and I find that I think about them as I knit or crochet. Oh, I'm not perfect...I make stock-up gifts as well...but most of the time I do use my crafting time to meditate upon the recipient.

Why, oh why make candles? For one, it's an easy craft to do with my boys. Rolling beeswax requires manual dexterity, but not huge amounts of skill. The oys are proud when they make a candle, proud in a way that they wouldn't be if we bought one at Target. They can give the candle as a gift and know that they are giving a little piece of themselves a well. Again, we get a quality product. We'll be branching out to dipped and poured candles for next year.

The theme repeats over and over. Homemade cleaners are cheaper and safer for your family and your planet. Really, how hard is it to mix some liquid castile soap and some baking soda with tea tree and lavender essential oils? It takes me less than 5 minutes; I couldn't bike to the HFS in that time. Heck, that same "soft scrub" I make is safe and gentle enough to use on my body.

Why do I make things? Because I can...

Monday, November 20, 2006

Kindness

It's a big, busy world. Most of us barely know our neighbors. We have many acquaintances, but not many true friends. We think good thoughts, and we mean well, and then we tell ourselves that there simply isn't enough time.

I didn't grow up with the kind of mother who baked pies for new neighbors or visited the elderly. We didn't donate to food drives, buy holiday gifts for underprivileged children, or deliver Meals on Wheels. I want to excuse this, to say that money was tight (it was) and that time was short (not so short that we didn't watch soap operas), but I know that what we were lacking was an abundance of kindness.

I believe kindness is learned. I can't fault my mother for not having it, because I know that often in her life it wasn't given to her. Later, after I left home, I saw more kindness develop in her life.

Kindness and obligation are not the same thing. If you help someone out, and complain about it later, then you acted out of some sort of obligation, but you were not kind. Kindness and generosity are not the same thing either, although they can appear in tandem. You can be generous and not kind; for instance, you might be generous with your money or your time, helping someone out but complaining about it. You might be kind, offering your sympathy at another's financial difficulty without having any money to be generous with.

I am reminded of something I read, about how presents are something you want the other person to have, and gifts are something you give them that they want, and how not all presents are gifts, and not all gifts are presents.

An act of kindness touched my heart today, kindness from a woman I have never met in person. For years we have hung out at the same little piece of cyber real estate. She knew I was hurting, and she offered kindness. I have no doubt that she is kind to people all over, those she knows personally and those she doesn't. She is kind.

Kindness has been creeping into my life over the past couple of years, mostly kindness given, but sometimes kindness received. Outside of my immediate family, kindness received is rare enough that it can still bring tears to my eyes.

Still, I am cultivating kindness. It was easier at first with online friends. Way back when I first got online I made a friend and started sending her handmade cards and care packages to cheer her up when she was low. I've sent many little packages since then. I had to learn kindness, to accept and to offer it; doing so with online friends was a low pressure way to move though the discomfort of learning to be kind.

I had to move on to my own community. One thing I decided to do is to offer kindness to someone that I had never been genuinely kind to, even though we are family!. I also extended kindness and understanding to another family member, erasing the unkind thoughts I had thought for years. I forgave my mother's best friend of a hurt my mother had forgiven her for years before, and offered kindness there as well. These were little kindnesses, experienced mostly in my heart, but the energy between us did change for the better.

There are little kindnesses and bigger kindnesses. When one friend couldn't find her iron and was planning a photo shoot that evening I dropped what I was doing and took my iron over to her, and kept her company while she pressed their shirts. When a friend experienced a miscarriage, instead of wondering what to do, I did something.

I said hello to a neighbor who is so shy that she avoided making eye contact for the first 5 years we lived side-by-side. It is a slow thaw, but she talks to my boys now, and a few weeks ago I heard her talking to the Girl Dog. I pause to catch the eye of the young man across the street, to wave and say hello to this man who is mentally disabled. I do it to let him know that not everyone in this world is afraid of him.

I am aware now that I must teach my children kindness. It is not enough to offer kindness to them, though they certainly deserve it. It is not enough to gently correct them when they are unkind (not to punish, but to guide). They must see kindness emanating from me. When they ask why kindness has been give I must give them explanations. Sometimes I am sad that my children have to ask why we are kind, because it means that they don't see it all around them.

It really is so easy. Little kindnesses can be offered everyday. I can say hello to people as I pass them on the sidewalk. I can smile at the postal clerk. When a cashier apologizes for a wait I can say that I understand, that I was fine with waiting, that I know it wasn't her fault. When people make mistakes I can remind myself that everyone makes mistakes, including me, and I can react out of kindness instead of anger or impatience.

When I make a soup I can make extra and freeze it to offer to someone who is ill. I can bake extra cookies and give them to my neighbor. One thing we do when we are walking in the morning is take newspapers up to the door/porch so that our neighbors don't have to walk to the curb to get them. If we know someone is out of town for the weekend we stack their papers neatly by the door (out of sight if possible).

We aren't at the new year yet, and certainly I don't mean to wait until then to start, but I have decided that 2007 will be a year of conscientious kindness for me.

Peace.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Now Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Programming...

No more writing about surgery or recovery. I could pretend to put a natural/sustainable slant on it by writing about herbal medicine or rice-filled heating socks, but the fact is that reading about someone else's health problems is boring. So rather than bemown the fact that my body is currently broken, I think I'll just celebrate the fact that my brain isn't.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Grade 2 Blocks - Block 2

One thing that I find very exciting about grade 2 is the more formal move into multicultural studies. The grade 1 fairy tales do come from all over the world, however, you don't spend 2 months immersing yourself in another culture like you do in grade 2.

Our second block will be our first full multicultural cycle. Because we are starting in January and ending in February I have chosen for us to study Martin Luther King Jr. as our sage, and to immerse ourselves in African/American culture. Harriet Tubman is also offered as a sage in the Enki materials. I chose MLK Jr. because T-Guy was born on his birthdate, and J-Baby was born on the anniversary of his death. It is a unique coincidence.

For those accustomed to Waldorf block cycles, each cycle (which I am calling a block for my own simplification) consists of a language arts main lesson block and a math main lesson block, within the container of a specific culture.

Week 1 we will use an African trickster tale as the basis for our language arts work. Weeks 2 and 3 we will use the MLK Jr. sage story (I do hope it is ready by then!). The skill we will be introducing during this block is syllabication ( as well as the sage process). During weeks 1-3 our practice time will consist of reading practice (sight words and word families), handwriting numbers, and math games.

Week 4 we start the math portion of our cycle, and will review the four processes Weeks 5-6 we will introduce Fact Families. We're a little behind the standard for Enki math because we switched to Enki midway through grade 1, and I decided to take it slow and redo some of what we had done with Christopherus. Because of this we are doing more math blocks than are indicated on the Sample Grade Two Core Content Work sample in the grade 2 teaching guide, and I expect us to fully get through place value by the end of our formal academic year. It's not so much that I feel the need to catch up as it is the fact that J-Baby is grasping complex mental math very early (he is 6.5 and is already catching on to place value) and I want to give him a solid grounding through developmental-immersion-mastery. So where the sample has only 3 full math blocks, we're going to do 5 blocks of 3-4 weeks each, spreading place value over 3 blocks to accommodate our 3 day week.

Our practice time for weeks 4-6 will consist of handwriting letters, reading practice, word families (using the town board and stories), and a few other word games we have.

Throughout this cycle we will be immersing ourselves in African/American culture. Our music, crafts, and even some of our foods will reflect the culture. It isn't a teaching of a culture, it is an immersion in a culture. We'll be doing what we do anyway; singing songs, playing circle games, cooking and baking together, doing crafts. In addition, as J-Baby is still young for grade 2 I intend to use some of the grade 1 fairy tales from each culture we immerse ourselves in as stories (not worked with), either at bedtime or during our other reading times.

Grade 2 Blocks - Block 1

Kyra wants to hear about the blocks I am planning, and rather than lose them on the comments page I thought I'd do a proper post (actually, this has now morphed in 6 posts as I will detail each block in its own post). Remember, this is still very preliminary planning. I don't even have most of the Enki grade 2 resources or the instruction guides.

Block 1: Winter Holidays and the Christmas Tradition

This is an easing-in block, just 3-4 weeks to start moving us back toward the rhythm of structured learning. Compared to our other learning blocks it will be short, and will not focus on any new academics nor immersion in a different culture.

The plan is to choose 3-4 stories (1 for each week),and to take each story through the intake-digestion-output cycle. I think we might read The Big Snow by Berta and Elmer Hader, The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens, and perhaps the story of the three shepherds as told in Donna Simmon's Practical Waldorf at Home: First Grade Syllabus. However, we're just getting back into Isabel Wyatt's The Seven-Year-Old Wonder Book and make take all 3-4 weeks from those stories.

We will stay within our own culture for this mini-block. The underlying goal is to firm up the daily and weekly rhythms with crafts, songs, and stories. I want the boys to get familiar once again with hearing a story, recalling the story, drawing the story, and writing a sentence or verse.

Honestly, I see no reason to step outside our own culture during a season that is full of tradition. I also do not believe is taking on other people's religious traditions as my own, so we won't just jump in and light a menorah. If we are invited to spend an evening of Hannukah with our Jewish friends that is within the context of community and is integrative, but doing so without connection makes no sense. We do celebrate the solstice in a non-religious manner, as I believe the turning of the seasons is something that all people in all times have found meaning in.

We'll reinstate practice time, alternating between reading skills and math manipulatives, along with daily handwriting practice. I'm ordering this lovely Christmas pop-up book to use with J-Baby and his alphabet sounds.

Crafts and art come easily at holiday time. There are gifts the boys can help to make, a tree to trim, cookies and treats to bake. We're planning to roll beeswax candles, to make bath salts and soaps, and to make olive oil lamps (we bought the basics from Lehman's and will use jars we save from food). We're searching for some good gluten-free,vegan recipes to make treats (I'll probably have to concoct my own). We can definitely make vegan GF rice crispy treats and vegan GF Fudge.

Holiday and seasonal songs abound. We'll listen to old favorites and pull some from the Enki materials as well. One thing we love is making music, and Papa has gotten very good at playing many holiday songs on his guitar.

I won't be released to full activity until right before Christmas, so we'll probably focus on fingerplays for our movement, along with slow, easy stretching movements. I'm hoping to talk the doctor into letting me take an easy walk around the block each morning starting the week after Thanksgiving.

My goal is to use this time of holiday, when we do so many integrative activities, to act as a springboard for the rest of our grade 2 year. I'll be slowly moving the boys back into rhythm, but gently, much like warming beeswax and then softly pressing here and there to create shape.

Okay, so this probably isn't the block Kyra was most interested in. However, my point was to illustrate that the holiday season is a great time to ease into Enki, whether it is for the first time or just transitioning to a new grade after a break.

I'll add a post for block 2 later this afternoon.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Reality, Crashing All Around Me

So, I didn't die in surgery, nor in the post-operative hell I experienced for the first 24 hours. The post-anesthesia nurse denied my request for an overdose of narcotic (she wouldn't cut my bladder out of my body with her bare hands, either). I survived an allergic reaction to the above-mentioned narcotic, as well as made it through a couple of bad hospital meals. Did you know that hospitals, even good, vegetarian hospitals, will serve you doughnuts for breakfast? As I've yet to see a glazed, raised doughnut made without trans-fats I'd say it was part of a master plan to get me back in there in a few years for some repeat business, perhaps a triple-bypass.

Today is day 7 post-op. It has been one week since they took my uterus. I have moaned in pain, I have cried for no reason, I have complained of boredom, I have begged for sleep. My husband is an angel, feeding me smoothies, fresh salads, and homemade soups. He begs me to stay in bed; oh, how I wish that was a romantic, passionate request, and not the pleading of a man who is afraid his wife will break in half and start bleeding uncontrollably.

Life however, has marched right along, not caring if I am incapacitated or not. J-Baby came down with a cold as soon as I came home, and T-Guy picked it up a couple of days later. Papa got the cold, as well as a blocked tear duct that left him with bags under one eye resembling Sleepy of Seven Dwarves fame.

Now J-Baby is complaining of stomach pain and has taken to his bed, refusing to eat and claiming to be unable to walk. He doesn't have a fever and he isn't actually sleeping, so we're doing a "watch and wait". J-Baby often starts his serious illnesses this way, be it an ear infection or influenza. The refusal to eat makes everything worse because he gets weaker and weaker.

(It seems it wasn't serious. He vomited bile, drank some chamomile-ginger-honey tea, listened to a story CD, ate his lunch, and was outside playing by 2:30 p.m.)

We won't talk about the house. Papa is trying, really, but one man can't keep up with two boys while nursing a bedridden wife and holding down a full time job. We have until Monday to get the mess contained; I acquiesed to the idea of a weekly housekeeper through the holidays and a team will be arriving Monday for a thorough initial cleaning.

To top it all off, the beloved Girl Dog brought in a possum last night. It was dead, but freshly so, as rigor mortis had not set in and Papa was privileged enough to see its guts spilling out as he removed it from the house and scrubbed its blood from our floor. I told Girl Dog that she was darn lucky that she hadn't dropped it on the Persian rug. For the life of me I can't figure out why she chooses to mutilate possums when otherwise she is the gentlest dog on the face of the planet. Perhaps someone should clue the possums in on the fact that playing dead doesn't work with the Girl Dog, and in fact will result in being dead.

So, it wasn't the last walk, or snuggle, or kiss. I'm grateful. My life is beautiful. Messy, but beautiful.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I Lied...

Papa seems intent on enforcing 2 weeks of bed rest, and already I am going insane. So today I did a little more grade 2 planning. I filled in the dates, finalized cultures, and added our health curriculum (a California thing, and we've always considered it an unschooled subject, but I want to focus more on nutrition and on emotional health).

Some cultural blocks end perfectly; ie. our African/American block ends during black history month, so we should find events in Los Angeles to wrap up the block. We've planned a trip to Yosemite and other natural areas of California to follow the Scottish/John Muir block. Our Mexican/Aztec Indian block will end just in time for Mexican Independence Day, which will surely be celebrated throughout Los Angeles. We might even take the train straight to Olvera Street.

Others may be more problematic. There is a Jewish holiday that coincides with the end of our Israeli block, but it isn't exacly a festive holiday and I try to be very careful when it comes to co-opting other religions. Tisha B'Av has been described as the saddest day of the Jewish calender. Perhaps there will be a commemoration at the Museum of Tolerance.

Our Native American block ends less than 2 weeks before the summer solstice, so although we will have just moved on to our Israeli/Jewish block we will hopefully find a solstice celebration to participate in.

This is the nuts and bolts kind of planning that my brain can handle right now.

Monday, November 6, 2006

A Near Death Experience, Beforehand

Okay, I'm not going to die in surgery. But I can't keep my mind from wandering to that place. What if this is the last walk I take with my family? What if this is the last morning we spend snuggled in bed together? What if I never read them another chapter book? Is this the last hug, the last kiss, the last I love you?

I decided to write about it, because it appears that I have come to appreciate life in a way that many people find only after they have come near to death. Things like cancer, a car crash, or cardiac arrest...these are things that make people reassess their lives. The important things stick out, and the unimportant fall by the wayside.

It isn't just the fact that I am having surgerythat has brought me to this place. My experience with the philosphy of Enki Education has helped me to find my center, to balance my life, and to determine my priorities. A year ago I wouldn't have been savoring each moment leading up to my surgery and convalesence. Perfectionism was my affliction, along with an unhealthy dose of procrastination, and a bad case of poor self-esteem; I would have been scrambling around trying to make everything perfect and would have missed these sweet moments.

Sweet they are, and sweet they will still be if I live to be 100. While I still look to the future, I have learned to live in the here and now. Our times are uncertain; I can't focus all of my energy on the lives my children will live when they are adults...I need to help them live lives that are meaningful now. What is more important - a chapter read now, cuddled together on the couch, or drilling math facts and history dates in an attempt to get them into a good university? What will they hold in their memories as they grow older?

Likewise, would it be right to use my remaining time before surgery to organize the pantry and scrub the toilet? Part of me wants to do that, because someone might come over while I am in the hospital, and what would they think of me if my home wasn't immaculate? Luckily, I've come to a place where I care a lot less what people think. Hopefully they will offer me compassion; they will know that I spent months in pain before scheduling this surgery. They might know that I was ill for over a year. If they don't know these things, they don't know me well and I shouldn't care what they think. If they do know these things and judge me anyway, well, they must not love me, and again, I shouldn't care what they think.

No, I will take care of the basics. I'll pack a bag. I'll do what I can, within reason, to make things a little easier for Papa and those that come to care for the boys. I can do laundry, and tidy the house. I'm writing out basic recipe and laundry instructions for Papa.

But most of all I am going to spend my time with my family. We'll walk this evening, hoping to see a beautiful sunset as well as a few trains. We'll take Girl Dog as well, and I will relish her delight in being with us. We'll listen to our story. Tomorrow we will vote. We'll have something for breakfast that involves maple syrup. Maybe we'll have lunch out. I will hug and kiss all of them, repeatedly, all day long. I will snuggle with Papa on the couch once the boys have gone to bed. I will pet the Girl Dog, and speak kind words to her. I will live each day as if it might be my last, not because I think it is, but because everyday there is the chance that it could be the last, for any of us.

A Long Break From the Blog...

Don't expect to see anything here for a few weeks. In fact, if I write anything here before 11/27 you have permission to email me and tell me to get off the computer.

Surgery is 11/8. I'm hopeful, and terrified. I've decided that I should stay off the computer for the full 2 weeks that I am not allowed to drive (with the exception of occasionally checking email from my laptop, in bed). After that we have Thanksgiving and I do not want to spend family time writing in the blog. So Monday 11/27 I give myself permission to think about blogging and homeschooling again.

I should be able to report what it is like to go through recovery when you spend 24/7 with your children. I think it will be fine. T-Guy is really sad about losing co-sleeping privileges for a couple of weeks, however, he is equally excited about using his recently acquired kitchen skills. He can now pour his own cereal, make toast and frozen waffles, and use the microwave to make popcorn (microwave popcorn was purchased in anticipation of my recovery). Although I have written down my basic recipes for Papa, it is T-Guy who plans to show him how to make beans, rice, etc.

J-Baby is having a tougher time of it, because he doesn't release his emotions as easily as he exhales (T-Guy swims in his emotions). He's been asking a lot of questions. He snuggles me more and keeps getting in as many double hugs as he can (a hug in which we pick him up and he hugs us with his arms and legs). It seems that his stuffed dolphin is also scheduled for surgery, which is one way that J-Baby processes a lot of things.

So farewell for now. Papa will be sending out a surgery update via email to a few people, so there will probably be updates at Amity's, as well as on HF and IEAWL. I gladly welcome all good thoughts that you might want to send my way....

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do, or Do Without

I first encountered this phrase when I was 19. Someone bought me a rubber stamp emblazoned with the phrase because I was a new hippie, a health nut, a tree hugger and yes, a rubber stamper.

It stuck with me. It is wisdom that you would get from a grandparent. It is also the antithesis of how most American consumers live today. It doesn't say buy, buy, buy. Is the lipstick half empty, but you'd like a new color? Don't use it up, buy a new one. Are your jeans bootcut when skinny is in? Don't wear them out, buy a new pair. Is the coffee table a little dinged and scratched? Don't make it do, buy a new one. Would you like a 60" plasma screen TV, but you can't afford it? Don't do without, buy it - on credit!

People were talking recently about how choosing to be frugal is seen as mental illness in our culture. An unwillingness to splurge indicates self-loathing or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Yeah right. Let's talk about that again when the economy collapses or when most of the senior citizens in this country can't afford to retire. How how of whack is our society when living within your means is so uncommonplace that it is seen as the alternative, not the norm?

Tell your friends that you don't use credit cards (or you pay your bill in full each month, without fail). They may outwardly feign admiration, but they'll talk about you behind your back. The next time they plan a trip and you choose not to go because you can't afford to pay cash or you simply don't want to spend your money that way, they'll think your a little off. You're denying yourself, you're a tightwad, you don't know how to have fun.

I hear it all the time. We can't afford it, but it's Christmas, so we can't afford not to. Or, I needed a little retail therapy. Perhaps it is as honest as I'm going to die in debt anyway, so why not enjoy life now?

We've come to a place where buying certain things on credit is accepted as the way to do it. Not just mortgages and car loans, but furniture, appliances, electronics, groceries....yes, do you really think that every person who uses a credit card to buy their groceries pays it off in full each month? Do you think that the cart would have the same food items in it if that person had to pay cash? Certainly, there may be tough times and families who use the credit card to get them through. However, those families probably aren't purchasing Napa wines, organic brie, and artisan breads with their Mastercards and Visas.

It's insidious. Marketers convince the unsuspecting consumer that they need this boxed cereal, that granola bar, this instant drink...or they won't provide a healthy breakfast to their children. A shot of bacon and eggs is shown along with fat information to contrast the "healthy" cereal. Where is the shot of a whole grain hot cereal? People talk about how expensive food is. Well, actually, food in the US is cheap relative to income. Organics cost more; howver, I know of parents that feed their families a nearly organic diet for $300 a month. They aren't buying Hamburger Helper, Pop Tarts, Coca-Cola, Nutter Butters...nor are they buying their even more expensive health food counterparts: Newman's Os, Annie's Mac 'n Cheese, Santa Cruz organic sodas, Bear Naked granola.

We need a new way of thinking. We need to revive the spirit of those who didn't waste things. We need to wrestle away the power of the marketing machine. How to start? Turn off your TV, or at least find a way to watch without viewing commercials. Don't have your children watch commercials either. Talk about the fact that Madison Avenue wants you to spend your money on things you don't need.

Take the time to thrift with your children. ALso take the time to show them how expensive things are in retail stores. They aren't stupid; they'll catch on that getting the same thing for less money is a good thing (sorry Martha). Teach them about reducing, reusing, recycling. Get creative; make things out of what you have when you can. Teach them the skills to be savvy purchasers instead of mindless consumers.

Life in Balance

Sustainable living is tough. It is also a worthy pursuit, taken in tiny incremental steps until you realize that thinking sustainably has become part of who you are. There is no one right to approach sustainability, there is no perfection. Everyone who is trying falls somewhere on the continuum. We do what we can.

For instance, someone questioned our buying a new bicycle trailer. Why didn't we buy a used trailer? We looked, but all we could find were old child trailers. They could be converted somehow, but we weren't sure we had the know-how to do it. Why didn't we build one ourselves? We don't have the skills to build a trailer from scratch. In this case we traded what we have, cash, for a trailer. Someone else might have more skills and less cash. Burley is a good company. It is cooperatively owned by its employees, and the trailer was manufactured in Eugene, Oregon.

My thinking on sustainability evolves on a daily basis (my friends think I change my mind a lot!). When I think about peak oil and living in smaller, self-sustained communities I know that we need to be prepared. I'm not sure that stockpiling cash is going to do us any good. No, I'm not going to blow the nest egg, but slowly I want to acquire durable goods that will serve us in the years to come. I'm thinking of things such as a treadle sewing machine, a well-made carpet sweeper, bicycles, etc. Everything that I purchase now I evaluate for its long-term durability. If I need a measuring cup, I go with stainless steel. If I need a pot, I buy cast iron.

This isn't only about how long things will last. I want thing that aren't made of plastic, because it is wasteful to produce and doesn't decompose at the end of its lifecycle. There are little choices you can make; wooden pencils, solid wood furniture, a metal trash can. You can choose organic cloth diapers and wool covers. Wooden clothes pins and cotton line. A glass pitcher instead of Tupperware. It is helpful to think of the lifecycle of anything you buy. Where did it come from? What is it made of? How long will it last? Can it be made into something else once it can no longer serve its original purpose? Finally, can it be recycled (metals and glass) or composted (cotton and wool)?

It's easy to get consumed by guilt. I want organic produce. Eventually I plan to acquire the necessary skills to grow a lot of produce right here at home. For now, I buy what I can find organically grown locally, and I order the rest. Do I feel bad that my box comes via FedEx? Sure, but not enough to support local, conventionally grown produce. I am in the inbetween place, sourcing out what I can locally, slowly finding more. Next summer we will garden! I will not be put off by the amount of money it takes to get a few beds going.

Balance and being aware can take you far.

Halloween in the Red Dirt

Can I just start out by stating that I am conflicted about Halloween?

We actually had a peaceful Halloween. We carved and painted jack-o-lanterns Monday night. Our porch is decorated with one string of Halloween "tacky lights" that we had originally purchased to hang on our trailer (it's hard to explain tacky lights if you've never camped at an RV park). Also hanging is a pumpkin windsock that I bought on clearance for $1 in 1994. We have a lot of pumpkins, because I love pumpkins and fall, and having pumpkins on our stoop all October has made me very happy. In addition to the jack-o-lanterns I lit several candles on the porch table.

We had a simple supper of beans, then the boys dressed in costume (same as last year, Darth Vader and a Storm Trooper) and Papa took them out. Girl Dog got to go too. I settled into the rocker on the front porch, working on a knit hat. After half an hour my hands were getting cold and I had yet to have any trick-or-treaters (we had about 10 right at 5 p.m.) so I went inside. I lit about 30 candles and did more knitting. The quiet and candles were both beautiful and peaceful, which was welcome after a full day of Halloween anticipation by the boys. I had 3 families come by in the hour and 15 minutes Papa and the boys were gone. We had about 5 more after they came home and that was it. The boys put on their pajamas, we watched It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, and then I read them Sheep Trick or Treat and The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything before brushing their teeth and tucking them into bed.

Growing up, Halloween was simple. Most often it occured on a school day. We'd wear our costumes to school: hand-me-downs, Kmart specials, cobbled together "homemade" costumes. There would be a parade and a costume contest, which was always won by a child whose mother had spent 6 months designing and sewing his/her costume. I wasn't jealous; that's just not the kind of costumes we had. I didn't feel like my mom had to compete with anyone.

We would come home from school and carve our pumpkin (only one), which had been purchased at the grocery store, probably the day before. Pumpkin carving was easy in those days; we kids were trusted to use the knives, we did the design and carving, and no one ever lost a finger. We didn't have pumpkin carving tools and stenciled designs; Martha Stewart had yet to turn pumpkin carving into an art form.

My mother would roast the pumpkin seeds in plenty of margarine (we were a margarine house, the cheap stuff) and salt them well. This was the one time each year that we had pumpkin seeds. The pumpkin seeds sold in convenience stores (David brand) held no allure, and pepitas were yet to become a gourmet food item.

We had an early dinner, probably macaroni and cheese, and then my dad would take us out to trick-or-treat. Mom stayed home to pass out candy; she loved seeing the children come to the door in their costumes. She still does.

Our "treat bags" were pillowcases. The local newspaper didn't send a slick plastic bag with Sunday's newspaper, with a full-color advertisment of the lastest children's movie to hit DVD. We didn't carry Longaberger baskets or light-up pumpkin buckets. Some children did have pumpkin buckets, but they were basic models picked up at Kmart for less than a buck.

(Growing up we had Kmart. Target didn't arrive until I was a teen, and Walmart hit the scene after I was married.)

We trick-or-treated in our neighborhood. We didn't cruise the streets in a minivan, looking for the most happening streets. Going up and down the street the neighbors knew who we were, because we played in our front yards, tossed baseballs in the street, and roller-skated up and down the sidewalks.

We'd come home, pillowcases heavy, and we'd sort the candy according to our favorites. Miniature Snickers bars and bags of M 'n Ms topped my list. We'd eat as much as we wanted, right then, before bed. If we were lucky CBS might be showing It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. We didn't own it on VHS or DVD, ready to play at a moment's notice.

Halloween is different now. We actually don't get a lot of trick-or-treaters, because we live about 2 blocks from the best place in the red dirt to go for trick-or-treating. It is so chaotic out there that they have to block off the streets. People drive from all over to take their kids to this neighborhood. Some of my own neighbors told me that they were going to skip passing out candy on our block and just head over to the other neighborhood. Indeed, many of the hosues on our street were dark.

Something about this just seems wrong. Instead of visiting their neighbors people take their children where they will get the most (and most expensive) candy. It makes me sad. Our first Halloween in this house came the month after we moved in, and taking T-Guy out was a great way to meet the neighbors (Papa stayed home with the J-baby). We talked to the elderly woman who walked her dogs past our house everyday, and the man across the street whose family had bought the house when it was first built; he was born in that house. I'll never forget the older man who had just lost his wife; he invited us in to see his house, to get a glimpse of her, although she was gone. The rug she chose, her antiques, the kitchen. Some of those neighbors are gone now, however I still enjoy taking a few minutes to catch up with everyone as we walk up and down the street. Time passes, we get older and the children grow bigger. People die, and babies are born. Families move out, new families move in.

Why the conflict? Halloween is fun. My boys look forward to it for months. But it is so commercial now. Halloween decorations go on sale the day after the Fouth of July. The amount of plastic junk sold each year is staggering, most of it is made in China, and destined for the landfill after just one season. People can buy pre-carved "pumpkins" made of foam. Not only is that not fun, it is toxic. Really, if you can't carve a pumpkin yourself due to arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome, why not invite a neighborhood child to carve it for you?

People need to make connections. Don't drive 20 minutes to go to another neighborhood to trick-or-treat...go out and meet your own neighbors. Think about the earth; wear a costume more than once, buy second hand costumes, offer and accept hand-me-downs. Make costumes out of your dress-up clothing; when J-Baby was 3 he wore his brother's firefighter rain slicker, a pair of rain boots, and a fire helmet he had received as a party favor. If you want to decorate think about pumpkins and natural materials, which degrade into compost. Make a banner out of wool felt and use it year after year. Make your own garlands out of paper. Whatever you do, don't buy fake plastic "candles" for your pumpkins; the plastic and batteries are both environmentally unfriendly. You can use real candles and be safe; make sure the candles are in glass holders and don't leave them unattended. Place the jack-o-lanterns away from where little ones in costumes are walking.

Perhaps I am less conflicted that I thought. I realize now that I made the holiday exactly what we wanted it to be. The boys had a great time. The big difference? After today all of their candy gets sent to work with Papa, to share with his co-workers. I had better see if I can find a miniature Snickers bar before then....