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.