Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Secret Wish

I know women who gaze at their engagement rings and wish the diamonds were bigger. I know women who want bigger houses and/or bigger cars. I know women who want new furniture or to remodel perfectly functional living rooms. I know women who want roses and chocolate and fancy dinners for Valentine's Day. At any point of time in the past I might have wanted one or more of those things.

Not anymore. Now? I want chickens.

I know I'm in town and probably can't legally have chickens on my small lot (a difficult thing to research, it seems). I know I have a dog with a strong prey drive who would probably kill a chicken the first chance she got.

And yet....

I have a small area that would be nice to keep a few chickens in. I could fence it, preferably with solid fencing so Girl Dog doesn't spend all of her time barking at the chickens, and build a small portable coop. The area is where our backyard intersects with 2 other neighbors, so the chickens would be far from everyone's houses. I know the side neighbor wouldn't care at all, I don't know about the back neighbor. The space is about 400 square feet, and would have a small SFG box in it as well, and perhaps the berry patch if we revive it.

I don't need a lot of eggs. Okay, I can get by without eggs at all, but GF baking is a lot easier with eggs. My standards are so high that there is only one small egg producer in town that I will buy from, and getting to her stand at Market Night isn't always feasible. That's one reason we pretty much don't eat eggs. The other reason being that modern egg production, even at so-called humane operations, even when they are supposedly organic or cage free or free range, well, it is still so inhumane that I cannot ethically buy and consume those eggs.

I keep thinking, in a time of converging catastrophes, that total veganism may not work out, and having chickens and the skills to keep them might be a very good thing.

Of course, Papa has started investigating a real downsizing plan, so chickens may not be in my future for many years....

An Update on the Girl Dog

I was looking over my blog and it occured to me that perhaps some of you out there (is there really anybody out there?) might be wondering what happened with the Girl Dog and her neurotic night waking.

I didn't take her to the kennel. We started reinforcing her training right away and that helped some. We changed how we feed her (moistening her food to make it easier for her to digest, and splitting her meals). The holistic vet prescribed Chinese herbal medicine for her, and she's been taking that for 5 weeks.

Between the training and the herbs she is doing far better. She has stopped night waking for the most part, and can be settled down with about 1 minute of training reinforcement.

Her hips are still bothering her, especially the left hip which isn't the one that had significant dysplasia 2 years ago. I have to decide if I can afford acupuncture or chiropractic for her. She does use the egg crate foam bed I cobbled together for her, and the doubled bed she uses in our bedroom. I think she's just having a tough time with the cold.

She barks too much - that's a different problem. The neighbors are outside a lot and after 3 years she's yet to desensitize to them. Their dogs bark too. I try to manage it by keeping her inside when I am home. When it gets a little warmer and drier I am going to try spending more time with her outside so I can correct her as soon as she barks, and hopefully get her to start ignoring the neighbors.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Good Day

We were all sick today...and yet I am pleased with how the day played out.

It was a no-spend day.

It was a no-drive day.

I made a healthy lunch to help nourish us all. Papa usually takes on a lot of the lunch prep...I just wanted to make it easier for him since he was feeling so unwell.

I pulled together dinner from produce that needed to be used, even though I would have prefered to make split pea soup because it's easier, and the dinner was delicious.

I let go of the idea that I should be doing something, and opened myself to figuring out what will really work for us.

I wrote emails to my friends.

My boys swung together in the sunshine.

We read out loud, the boys explored with pastels, and we practiced reading, and none of it was planned.

I still have 4 hours before I sleep, and it will all be peaceful and happy and good.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Compacting Update....

I really like it when I check other Compacting blogs and people post their successes and failures, so I thought I would do an update of my own.

We're 3 weeks into this, which means we have a long way to go. One thing that I've noticed is that buying is such a common activity. Food provisioning takes a lot of time because we usually shop 3 stores every week, plus the farmer's market, and sometimes and extra stop for fresh produce or fresh fish.

Things that were purchased new (other than food and health items):

A CD for the boys (homeschooling)
A Spanish book/CD "curriculum" at the museum (homeschooling)
3 black Prismacolor pencils (homeschooling)
2 books for homeschooling (a book of African American songs, games, etc. as well as a multicultural art project book)

Papa bought a calendar for his office (on sale), tax software, and virus software.

Activities that we pursued:

We went to see Charlotte's Web. We used discount tickets and brought our own water and allergy-safe treats. We walked to the theater.

We went to a train day at the local museum, and decided to purchase a membership as we want to go back next month for a traveling planetarium show. The membership included a $5 coupon in the gift store (plus the customary 10% off), hence the book/CD purchase I made. I will say that I could have picked up a rock with no money out of pocket, but felt that spending a little to get something that is actually useful to us right now made more sense.

We did a frugal weekend getaway for T-Guy's birthday.

Thrift store purchases:

A pair of pants for J-Baby (finally something decent, but they were $3)
A Hawaiian shirt for J-Baby ($2, made in Hawaii)
Book - The Corrections, 45 cents. This could have been checked out from the library. Truly I could have saved the 45 cents. I'll read it and pass it on.
Book - Summerhill (the 1960 version), 45 cents. Something I've been wanting to read, and consider helpful in our homeschooling.
Nice wood/mesh screen for sifting rocks out of soil, $4. I'm happy about this because I decided to amend our soil rather than just buying new soil. Gardening tools, etc. are allowed, however I was pleased to find this at the thrift shop. It actually looks new.
Backpack for J-Baby $2 (and I had almost given up and ordered from Land's End)
String bag for groceries $2 (NWT, a really big bag and a pretty blue)
Custard cups 3 @ 45 cents each (on my list...I'm looking for a few more)
Measuring cups 2 @ 45 each (also on my list, but now I only need a 1 cup which seems harder to find)
Egg crate foam for dog bed $2
Stuff to use as soap molds $2.50
Lakers shirt for T-Guy (will probably fit next year) $1
2 white t-shirts for our tie-dye project $2

I was extremely pleased to be able to take care of making a soft bed for the dog by buying the egg crate foam. Someone else probably used the rest of it for something similar. We just wrap an old blanket around it and she's happy as a clam.

Even with all of the grocery shopping we feel like we are shopping/in stores far less than before. The boys and I try to hit the thrift store once a week; we have an hour to spend out of the house before we go to the park on Tuesdays. Buying used it is easier to have an ongoing list and to look regularly rather than expecting to find the exact thing we want each time we go.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Big, Detailed Planning Session

Having a broad idea of what I wanted to do during the current block, I sat down Friday (when I should have been packing for our weekend trip) and did the Big Planning Session For Block One, Enki Grade 2: African American Focus. It deserve a big title because it was a lot of work.

Of course, I didn't plan it all Friday. I fine-tuned it, and I wrote it down. I had already done our calendar for the 2007 and have spent years working on our daily rhythm. I had read through the stories for the African American block. My main goal was to put it all into a format that has a chance of keeping me organized.

I started by making a list of everything we want to accomplish each week (weekends not included):

Main lessons in language arts and mathematics, held in a container of humanities content and cultural immeserion
A weekly Spanish lesson (using Sonrisas)
Crafts, cultural, seasonal, and skills-building (not all in the same week)
Modeling (as in with our hands, not John Roberts Powers as Papa thought I was suggesting)
Health lessons (16 lessons spread out over the year)
Watercolor painting
Recorder lessons and practice
Nature stories and nature journals
Daily movement and SI exercises
A small circle 3 times a week (plus the full Spanish circle once weekly)
Quiet time
Skills practice time
Our weekly support group park day
A weekly playdate or adventure
Time spent playing everyday, both indoors and outdoors
BMX racing
Visiting the weekly farmer's market
Walking most evenings

Plus of course the basics like homekeeping, personal hygiene, meal prep, reading, snuggling, and well, sleeping.

It looks like a long list. An incredibly long we'll never have a moment for unstructured learning type of list. A when does Mommy even breathe list.

So I plugged it in. The morning routine would happen even if we didn't attempt any guided learning. Wake, snuggle, eat, clear dishes, dress, brush teeth, make beds, check email (boys first play period of the day).

The morning walk is good for us, good for learning, good for the dog.

Short circle 3 days a week; T-Guy and I like this, so we'll do it, and add in 5 minutes of SI activity.

Main lesson 3 days a week. I decided not to budge on this and add a 4th day, because the boys are showing an interest in Spanish so we'll use our 4th morning lesson for that. Focused time takes 45-90 minutes depending on what we're doing. Generally it is our story curriculum work, a weekly nature story, a weekly nature journal entry, and a weekly recorder lesson.

Boys play, I make lunch, we eat, we clean up. It's all part of a normal day.

Quiet time - set in stone around here. We use story CDs, which helps fulfill their need to hear more stories than we have time to read. Once they are both reading fluently this will change to silent reading.

Tidy the room and have a snack...has to happen.

Practice time 3 days a week; I do see the importance of this. It should take 20-30 minutes with both boys practicing their reading. I listed each days' practice activities on the calendar so I'm not scrambling to pull it together. My thinking on practice is that we'd be spending far more time on this if the boys were in public school. I'm super flexible with it; if the writing practice has been met through natural activities we skip it.

Some sort of project: a craft, modeling, painting, handwork...we have something planned most afternoons. The goal is to get at least half of it to be self-guided.

Boys play outside (always need in the late afternoon); I have some time to pursue reading, blogging, etc. before starting dinner.

Dinner and the rest of the evening routine...just normal life. Papa reads to them every night (I of course read the story curriculum stories as well as nature and craft stories).

Tuesday mornings are open for our park day, Thursday afternoons are free for play dates or adventures. We can't toss the entire rhythm and still do as much focused work as I'd like, but I have learned to be pretty flexible.

Previoulsy I had taken a calendar and made an X through any day that couldn't have a morning lesson. I marked vacations, breaks, weekend trips, days before and after vacations, birthdays, park days, etc. This made planning the block easier, and showed me when I should drop the usual activity (for example, modeling on Tuesdays) for something else (making valentines on the 13th). I had already let go of the idea that things have to happen everyday or every week, based on what's happening in our real lives, so instead of modeling every Tuesday for the 8 weeks of the block, we model 5 times as fits in with the rhythm (easing into the block, coming off a weekend trip, and making valentines are all good reasons not to model). We don't paint quite every Wednesday, and at least half the time I've decided that they can free paint to take some of the control out of the curriculum.

So what work did I do? I chose specific stories. I wrote out which story (or chapter) we're reading, what we're working with, what we're practicing, which project, which nature story we're reading or journalling, etc. I haven't fully planned the seasonal circle yet. Cultural foods will fit in more organically.

Even though I didn't plan the entire year, and I still don't plan to because I want to stay flexible to the needs of my individual children (vs. planning for a class), I have a firm understanding of how it could be done, and how it would work really well for the classroom situation. I think planning the next block will go even more smoothly (especially since I can pull what I did this time to make templates so that I won't have to type as much into the computer).

I know this is probably more structured than my last few posts would indicate that I would like. Papa and I had a long talk and J-Baby really needs a strong daily rhythm, much more than he gets when we slide into nearly complete unschooling. Otherwise, when I try to bring in focused/guided work he balks because it isn't part of his "software". It's the same way with baths, errands, breakfast, etc. He needs to know what to expect, and when. All of the guided times are based on my long observation of the boys without structure. When do they fall apart (squabbling and/or crying)? What type of activity have they been doing when this happens? What type of activity integrates them at this point? When have they had enough of the guided work?

Many families would go straight from breakfast and chores into the walk, however my boys tend to get started on something during those 15 minutes I need to brush my hair, make my bed, and start the laundry, and I've learned that giving them another 30 minutes or so makes the transition to the walk much easier than trying to stop them mid-play. So I grab some computer time then, even though it isn't usually part of a strong morning.

Now, however, it is 4:30, they are outside playing basketball, and I need to start dinner. We're making some dietary changes ( as always), but that is a post for the other blog....

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Projects and UFOs

It might be said that 2007 is going to be the year of the project, at least for me. Going through the various art and craft supplies I found several unfinished objects (UFOs). I received a few holiday gifts that I haven't started yet, I set a few goals for myself, and then I found a couple of afghans in a yarn catalog that I just have to copy.

UFOs: Jake's hat (currently on the child-sized round loom), the pillow cover I started 10 years ago (cover is crocheted, pillow form is purchased - I just need to whip stitch the thing closed), several cotton dish cloths that need the ends woven in, wool potholder that needs to be finished off the loom, and the hat on the adult-sized round loom.

Projects waiting in the wings: Thomas' hat, the Sierra design for the Harrisville size B lap loom, the Wooly Sheep design for the lap loom, a second wool potholder to match the one on the potholder loom. I ordered a 28" knitting board and a 10" knitting board in December, and when they arrive I will want to do projects on them. I'll do an organic cotton chenille scarf on the smaller board, and a prayer shawl on the larger board, hopefully in time for these to be Mother's Day gifts. (All yarn from my stash). I want to make a little blue wool cap for my friends' best friend's baby-to-be (there's complicated for you!). I found enough leftover varigated cotton yarn in a cheery yellow/orange/white colorway that I will use to make one dishcloth. If I have time I will loom a warm hat for myself; I'm one of those crafters who gives away most everything I make, and I've never made myself a hat.

I need to roll 16 candles for the brass candle holders on the mantel.

I saw 2 afghans that I really want to make. One is just rows of single crochet, and it will be perfect to use up all the odds and ends of cotton yarn I have. I'm really tired of making dish cloths, and have lots of leftover yarn (each skein can make about 1.5 dish cloths, and I have some leftover and some that were sent to me FFS). The other afghan is really simple too; squares within squares, concentric style. I'm going to use my wool yarn stash and make it just for me! I envision it draped over the rocking chair.

On the sewing front I need to make window coverings for the boys' room. I am a novice seamstress, so I will practice with family bathroom wipes and pillowcases, both which we need. My goal is to learn to sew from a pattern and to make my mother a flannel nightgown for Christmas.

I want to make my quilt, but I have to think long and hard about what is happening with the floor in that room. Right now the walls, window coverings, and carpet are all sage green. It's boring. I thought I would make a denim and corduroy quilt that would be blue (denim), brown, and green (various browns and greens from recycled corduroy). Bringing blue and brown into the mix makes a lot of sense if we keep the carpet. Really though, it's ugly and dirty and I want to put in a hardwood, mostly for health but also so it will look nicer. That would bring brown into the floor, which means I could add more color to the quilt, like maybe a russet and/or goldenrod. So I have to talk to Mike about the floor. One thing I learned when we did the kitchen is that natural material floor coverings are not that much more expensive than vinyl or carpet. Most of the house has red oak floors, so that would make the most sense and return a bit of period style to the master bedroom. If we do that and pull up the office carpeting (there is an oak floor under the carpet that looks really good) the entire house will be oak floors except for the bathrooms, which are tiled.

Oh yeah, I was writing about projects.

We have a tie-dye kit and are currently collecting white items to tie-dye. Someone gave us a mosaic stepping stone kit nearly 3 years ago that we are going to get done this summer, no matter what! We have doll making supplies, and everything we need to wet and dry felt wool.

None of this takes into account card making or scrapbooking. Cards are generally made for holidays and birthdays, and scrapbooking will be an ongoing project all year. I found my old doily stash so we are going to have fun making valentines this year! It also doesn't take into account any herbal crafting I do, making medicines and personal care items. I'll also help with the train layout at some point, especially when it comes time to paint backdrops.

So what do we give up to spend so much time crafting? Nothing essential, I hope. We have housecleaners this year, which frees up hours of time for both Papa and I each week. I stopped visiting 2 message boards and curtailed my other message board to one forum only. We're sticking closer to home, doing less running around because we are purchasing far less and we're being mindful of our oil usage. I'm decluttering the house and bringing less in, which simplifies keeping things tidy. Our meals are mostly simple with just a couple each week that require more time to prepare.

I really believe that there is time to do everything that is important to us. The key is to figure out what those really important things are, and to fit them in before we add in the little things. Little things can eat all of your time if you aren't careful. And sometimes things we think are big are really little. How do you weigh completing a lesson versus visiting a friend? In the past I tried to adhere closely to our weekly rhythm and lessons and visiting friends got pushed off the schedule. Now I'd rather visit friends (and I can take my handwork!). I have to say, we are perhaps the most unschooling Enki family there ever was!

I suppose I should make a master list of my projects and prioritize them. That's important in order for me to move from dreaming to doing.

Tonight I will box some things I need to box (after taking pictures), and I will finish a scrapbook page for a friend, and I will see if I can't get at least one herbal tincture started! Maybe I'll start with the echinacea tincture from my Learning Herbs kit....

A Dream

(The kind you have when you sleep.)

I don't often remember my dreams. I usually only have a good awareness of them if I have awakened a little early, then gone back to sleep and overslept a bit.

This morning I was dreaming that I had made up with an old friend. We were at her house, with our husbands. I was reluctant; in the dream this was something she wanted. It had been arranged by our husbands. No words were really spoken; she came up to me and I sort of gave her a hug and she clung rather tightly for a few minutes. Her husband at one point took my hand and squeezed it in some sort of gratefulness.

I kept catching glimpses of myself in various mirrors. I was repeatedly startled to see that my hair was much lighter, a golden blonde color. It always seemed backlit, and glowing around my face. Yet I was clearly me, and not anyone else.

I tried to clean the cat box for her, but emptied the food waste bin by accident. The food was all produce and looked more like newly chopped vegetables than anything rotting or leftover. I definitely saw red potatoes cut in half, and remember thinking that they looked perfect. My friend was a bit perturbed that I had made such a mistake. I returned the food waste to the proper bin, but didn't return to taking care of the cat box.

I tried to take a shower, but there was no shampoo in the shower. I wanted to get out and get some, and someone came into the bathroom so I couldn't.

Her backyard was big, and at first glance bigger than it had been. It was all grass except for a garden area. I wondered where the orange trees had gone. She told me they had annexed some land from a neighbor, and said they had obtained 10 acres for $10,000, which of course was an absolute steal. Altogether that would make nearly 15 acres, but what I was looking at was really just a big back yard, perhaps half an acre.

I know that I had thought about this friend yesterday. I was remembering how we would talk on the phone almost everyday, sometimes for hours. We would talk about all sorts of things (and some things not at all). I was thinking that I missed that, but wouldn't want it back with that particular friend. I was thinking about how I am making new friendships, and reminded myself that it takes time, and compatability, and patience, and effort, and stumbling, and mistakes.

I think in the dream the yearning was meant to be mine. I think my reluctance was my self reminding me that I don't want to compromise my values in order to have that friendship back. I think her husband's gratitude was my realization that it puts a lot on a man to take on the role of husband and close girl friend, and that I have relied a lot on Papa lately and am worried that it is too painful for him. I have to say it was completely out of character for her husband, who has never liked me.

I think my hair represented changes in me that perhaps I have not noticed. I think it shows that I am a different person than I was 3 years ago when we were friends. That it was lighter, and golden, tells me that the changes have been very positive.

The cat box? I used to clean their cat box when they went on vacation. It's weird that it was in my dream. However, it could represent the fact that I tried to change my friend, and in reality I failed just as I failed at cleaning the cat box in the dream. The fact that I had tossed out food scraps instead probably has do with my wanting to start a compost bin, and my friend's reaction to it might mean that she doesn't want to change something that she feels is useful.

I think the shower incident was meant to reminding me that I can't find what I need in that friendship, and also that it made me feel very unclean because I had to compromise my values to maintain it. The person coming in represented to me an obstacle that is not me.

I'm not sure about the land part of the dream. I remember thinking that the useful part of her land was gone (the orange grove), and that the grass was hard to maintain and was wasteful. That might have just been another reminder that the friendship is over and not worth pursuing (I wasn't aware that I had even considered renewing it). The garden seemed to be something we had in common, as I am trying to start a garden now. It was small and newly planted (I had just been emailing with another friend about planting now). The fact that she got more land so cheaply left me wondering about her ethics in the dream, but might just represent her frugality. Also, I think it might relate to the fact that I had been telling Papa that living the way I do is really, really hard sometimes, especially compared to living a less-aware, mainstream life. I know I was thinking that I could never get land that cheaply. What is really interesting was that there wasn't as much land there as there was supposed to be. Sometimes I think that is a fitting description of our friendship. It was never as deep as it could have been, it was more quantity than quality, and I never felt free to totally be myself. For a long time I knew I was making compromises, and up until the final break it seemed like it was worth it.

So there you go, my amateur attempt at dream interpretation. Something completely new and unique for this blog. I do think it is fascinating the way the brain works!

Friday, January 5, 2007

It's So Hard to Let Go

Decluttering and organizing puts you face to face with your flaws and mistakes. It is amazing what goes through your mind as you contemplate whether each item should stay or go. Rationalizations abound. You find yourself thinking:

It might come in handy someday.
I paid a lot of money for that, and it still might be useful.
I shouldn't give it away; I should sell it.
So-and-so could use that.

...and so on.

They are all ways to avoid looking at the past - and what might have been mistakes - square on. We packrat because we fear another Great Depression; why else would anyone hoard plastic bags and twist ties? We keep gifts that weren't quite right because not keeping them seems disrespectful to the giver. We keep silly things, like the half empty bag of corn pasta that no one liked, because there are starving children in this world. Keeping or tossing the pasta doesn't change that fact, however we feel more virtuous if we at least appear to not be wasting food.

Most of all, we keep things because we spent money on them. They represent time needed to earn the money. They represent ideas and dreams that we had. Giving them up feels like acknowledging failure, either in the buying or the non-use.

We live in a world of eBay and Craiglist. All of our possessions must have some value to someone. Selling the items makes us feel better about having bought them in the first place. At least we got something back. To me it means we are too attached to money. What if our house burned down and we had to start over? What would we miss the most? What couldn't be replaced? I'd be happy first of all to have my family safe, and my dog, and to be lucky enough to have saved pictures. Everything else - the Le Creuset pots, the guitars, the craft items, our clothing, CDs, our furniture - everything else could be replaced.

Honestly, I don't have much patience with eBay. Papa likes to list and sell things, but sometimes we don't even break even after fees, package costs, and shipping. At the same time, I have a hard time giving valuable items to thrift stores. I want to find someone I know to pass my junk to. I imagine that if someone I know can use it then the money wasn't ill spent.

The harsh reality is that I have spent too much money all my adult life. Luckily it is no longer tied to credit card debt, but we still have too much stuff. It isn't simple, and I need to get rid of it. Still, there is this nagging fear. What if I give away all of the Creative Memories stuff I don't use, and then decide that I could have used it after all. Why am I not a good tightwad, finding a use for all of the things I don't like? What if I give away the BOB books and the boys decide they like them (even if I don't)?

I try to imagine living with my family in a small cabin, with just a few possessions. I am sure I would be happy, because possessions aren't what I need. I need the man I love, and the two children I gave birth to and am raising with him.

The emotional baggage is what ties me down. The character flaw of overspending, of spending and not saving. The albums I thought I would create. The hundreds of dollars that I would be forfeiting if I give it all away. Dreams gone...yet dreams I don't dream anymore.

I am a different person. I still like to rubber stamp, but the designs are simplified and I will probably never use embossing powder again. I want to scrapbook, but I really doubt I'll ever make fancy corners or cut pictures into stars and hearts. I will never use an idea from a Creative Memories idea book. In truth, I never did, and I bought 3 of the damn books!

I will not throw a birthday party worthy of Meredith Brokaw of Penny Whistle fame. I don't need to look at the Breyer horses I collected when I was a young teenager. My life will not be incomplete if I never make another paper casting.

Somehow, I need to find peace, and to let it go. To acknowledge that I have changed; my interests are not the same, and I have learned not to spend quite so foolishly. To know that it was a journey, finding out who I am, and one that I am still on.

I need to let go of the idea that any of it is worth anything. Maybe it is. Maybe Papa will actually sell a few things, but most of it needs to be donated. Keeping something because it cost a lot of money never actually makes sense.

My MIL and I talked about this last night. She was saying that she burned the candles the boys made her rather than hanging onto them as relics. It seemed smart to me; Papa's grandmother always said not to give her a candle she wasn't supposed to burn. Likewise, we've started using the sterling silver at least once a week. I love it, and it is stupid to not use it because it is special, or even because it has to be washed by hand. How ridiculous to not use it; then to have someone inherit it and not use it because it was Mom's silver, or Grandma's silver, or Great Aunt Kimberly's silver. No one knowing, of course, that I bought it at an antique store for $300, which was less than it's melt value. It wasn't inherited, it wasn't a wedding gift. I wanted silver, and I exchanged money to get it. Perhaps someday someone will be happy to get it, but I want that to be because I used and loved it and not just because I owned it!

You see, that's the flip side of packratting and hoarding; having things we love and not using them because of fear. What if we use the china and a plate gets broken and then we only have 7? Heck, I know people who won't wear their jewelry for fear of being mugged; and what is the point of having it then?

Really, we should only have what we love and find useful and/or beautiful, and likewise we should use it. We should get rid of everything else. If only it were that easy....

The New and Improved Grade 2 Plan

Here's the revised plan for the year. It's obviously not set in stone; if you've been reading my blog from the beginning you know that I use the blog to figure things out and that I am always changing, tweaking, refining, etc.

Session 1: African/American

1/8 – 1/19 African/American Trickster Tales
1/22 – 2/9 Martin Luther King Jr.
2/12 – 3/2 Reawaken Four Processes, Introduce Fact Families
3/5 – 3/9 Break

Session 2: Scottish

3/12 – 3/16 Scottish Trickster Tales
3/19 – 4/5 John Muir
4/7 – 4/22 Big Sur, San Francisco, Sacramento, Oroville, Gold Country, Yosemite
4/25 – 5/11 Reawaken Fact Families
5/14 – 5/18 Break

Session 3: TBD (I'm hoping I'll have the Sages and Tricksters books to pull from)

5/21 – 6/1 Trickster Tales
6/4 – 6/22 Sage Story
6/25 – 7/12 Introduce Place Value

7/14 – 7/21 Camping at Doheny State Beach

Session 4: Mexican/Aztec

7/23 – 7/27 Aztec Trickster Tales
7/30 – 8/17 Benito Juarez
8/20 – 9/14 Reawaken Place Value
9/16 – 9/23 Newport Beach Vacation at Marriott Resort

Session 5: Native American

9/26 – 10/5 Native American Trickster Tales
10/8 – 10/26 Stalking Wolf
10/29 – 11/15 Expand Place Value
11/19 – 11/23 Thanksgiving Break

Session 6: Winter Holidays

11/26 – 12/21 Holiday Stories, Crafts, Songs, Projects, etc.

(Sorry about the wonky formatting; I couldn't quite get it right after copying from Word.)

From the Ashes...

We have lived the last 3 months in near chaos. By the end of December I opened the door and flat out invited Chaos in; I said, " Let chaos reign, let the transformation begin, let's embrace the chaos and find out who we are!" Of course, we had been finding out for months; I was just giving myself permission to make a big mess.

I'd love to report that my health problems are behind me, but there not and integrating my health will be a big part of this year. I don't know what it all means...herbs, meditation, surgery...all I know is that there has to be some way to eliminate the chronic pain. If not, I must learn to live with it, manage it, and not let it rule. I am reluctant to go under the knife again, even though I know it might be the answer. Except that we thought it was the answer in 2006, and it was only half an answer at best.

The changes for this year are little, and they are big. I am moving away from the idea that there is any one perfect curriculum for us. Someone on Mothering said that we all create our own curricula, and she's right. I can't be a perfect Waldorf homeschooler following Donna's methods and interpretation of Steiner philosophy, nor can I be a perfect Enki homeschooler, following Beth's methods and philosophy. I can borrow heavily from Waldorf and Enki, and also from John Holt, and from the natural family living and attachment parenting communities, but it all filters through me and become Kimberly's philosophy.

Those of you who read because this is an "Enki" blog, have no fear. Enki is still our main influence educationally, and we'll be following the grade 2 format rather closely. I can never put into words the way that Enki has changed me as a human being (no religious overtones implied). Enki arrived at a time when I was making many positive changes and rediscovering my passions and creativity.

Still, you're going to find that we're leaving out a lot of scheduled practice time. My boys like it (okay, T-Guy likes it), so we'll fit it in 2-3 times a week. Over the course of the entire year we're only studying 5 cultures. I'm not planning the 3 month break this year, and I don't have all of grade 2 planned out and ready to go. So yeah, I'm still sort of planning on the fly. The master plan has been set, but I won't be choosing each culture's stories, songs, games, crafts, foods, etc. until we are closer to each block. This gives me more opportunity to fine tune the activities to my children.

I am so confused by Enki at times. The materials say spend 2 weeks on a sage. In another place it says 2.5-3 weeks. I look at the sample schedule and its based on a 5 day week, just like a school, and there are 14 separate lessons listed for MLK Jr. Dammit, I don't want to be a school. I want to do main lessons 3 days a week, maybe 4. So where is the balance? You aren't supposed to spend too much time on each sage, so that it doesn't get too heavy. I am so frustrated!

Anyway, I'm allotting 3 weeks for each sage, with 4 mornings of main lessons. Hopefully we'll fit in many 3 day weeks during math blocks.

I'm not afraid now...not afraid to change things, to do things a little differently, to discard anything in Enki that doesn't resonate with me. For instance, we aren't starting this year with any plan for formal circle. T-Guy loves it, J-Baby doesn't, and it is easy enough to fit in songs and games at other times without naming and claiming it. I don't want our learning to look like school grafted on to home living - I want it to be seamless, living and learning woven together.

You'll find this year influenced by other materials. I have purchased Christopherus' Living Language curriculum, along with the Saints and Heroes unit. I ordered the Spanish Curriculum from Sonrisas. The Enki Grade 2 materials are incomplete so I am pulling resources from all over. I recently purchased Step It Down: Games, Plays, Songs & Stories from the Afro-American Heritage as well as Art From Many Hands: Multicultural Art Projects (Revised Expanded Edition). The art book looks really good and will be a resource for years to come. It was important to me that we find crafts that don't involve turning paper plates into masks (I'm sure the Enki home learners understand). We're planning to borrow a book of African American children's songs from the library. The library has been a great resource, but we are going to branch out and see what the county system has for us, and also get borrowing privileges at my alma mater, California State University San Bernardino.

I've decided that I won't work behind the curve any longer. Expecting and waiting for Enki materials is frustrating, and I realized that I depend on the resource materials as a crutch. The reality is that life intervenes and here we are starting Grade 2 with less than half of the necessary materials. I won't purchase half of anything anymore: I have the Enki guides and they will be my map, but I will do more to write my own stories, etc. for Grade 3. I know I shouldn't be worrying about Grade 3 when we are just starting Grade 2; my point is that I am going to have to do a lot of Grade 2 on my own as well, and it is okay. It's fine, it's liberating. Beth taught me to paint and provided the palette of colors to get started, however I now have to find the colors myself. I'm not alone in this...many are making the Enki journey into higher grades without Enki-provided resources. The ultimate resource is still there, and it's nice to know that we can schedule consults with Beth if needed.

These are the things that we are going through...making something designed for a school work at home. I am now convinced that no matter how fantastic the curriculum, the method, the philosophy it will have problems. Even if it is written by a homeschooler, it will have problems. Home learning is so personal.

In other areas, I tore apart the office (it's an office...any attempts to call it anything else work out about as well as deciding to call the dog a cat) and am at the tail end of decluttering and organizing everything so that the boys and I have better access to it all. There is still stuff in the bathroom (a closet turned into a bathroom that I use as a closet) but it is organized and waiting for a better home. I told Papa that I need a dedicated work space for my projects and we are going to set up the old folding table (6 ft.) in the bedroom so I can leave up my sewing, scrapbooking, rubber stamping, etc. I realized that I lost my crafting space when the boys and I moved our learning into the office, and I really miss it.

I took all of the boys' stuff out of the little closet (the coat closet that was annexed to the bedroom when the original closet was made into a bathroom. It has built-in shelves on one side and we have a dresser on the other side, without about 2.5 feet between them. Right now there is nothing in there that the boys need access to. I have all of my herbs in there, along with bottles, jars, tins, other ingredients, finished products, etc. I also have some scrapbooking supplies in there and the picture and memorbilia boxes; my yarns, looms, and needles; wool felt, roving, and other handwork supplies; and my rubber stamps.

I haven't exactly shown chaos the door yet. There are boxes in various places throughout the back of the house that need new homes. I need to give the office another 1-2 hours to make it functional for lessons on Monday. Of course, January is the perfect time to declutter the entire house, and I have started here and there, which means the donation and give away piles are growing.

I have 2.5 more days and then we are going to jump in, ready or not.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Feeding Guests

This has been an issue for us for some time now. We are (mostly) vegans in a non-vegan world. Most of the people we know and love eat animal products, and we don't love them any less for it; however, we're not going to prepare meat in our home.

(We did serve fish off and on for 6 years. Let's just say that most people, especially children, aren't terribly fond of fish.)

Over the years we've transitioned to more whole foods, to organics, and to eating simple foods. This can make it even harder to feed omnivores, as we no longer use a lot of dairy to help disguise the fact that we aren't eating meat. We no longer take the time to prepare the kind of gourmet vegetarian meals that you might find at Greens in San Francisco or Cafe Flora in Seattle. Brown rice, quinoa, and beans take getting used to.

Tonight we're having last-minute guests; my MIL and her boyfriend. My first thought was, "We can't serve them a vegan vegetable and tofu curry served over quinoa", which was the meal planned for this evening. In general I don't serve such obvious tofu to my guests, and I don't serve quinoa unless I know they are adventurous and interested in healthy eating. Quinoa isn't even my first choice when serving curry, but right now I have a picky eater who won't eat brown rice, so we are eating quinoa with a lot of meals that might go better with rice.

I asked Papa what he wanted to serve. He suggested serving what we would have had Sunday, but this week that's tostadas and we had those last time Abuela came to visit. They are a special meal to us (because of the fried tortillas), but nothing special to her, and anyway, I didn't have leftover beans sitting in the fridge.

Sometimes Sunday supper is a bit fancier; last week we had baked potatoes, roasted mushrooms, steamed broccoli, and for the fish eaters we had halibut. It was definitely decadent. We could have tried to replicate that meal, but were uncertain as to whether either of our guests like fish or mushrooms. We know they like beef, pork, and chicken.

I suggested to Papa that we just go simple: split pea soup, a big green salad, and fresh homemade whole wheat bread. He liked the idea, as did the boys, so that's what I am making. Papa did ask me to splurge on a bottle of white wine, but that meant spending $7 instead of $2 (Papa is pretty fond of the Two Buck Chuck at Trader Joes).

I feel like we are making progress; we at least now can serve simple foods to family. The next hurdle is getting over the idea that we have to serve something complicated to non-family guests. I had a friend once who really had mastered serving simple, inexpensive food to a crowd, and no one ever complained or thought it wasn't fancy enough. It makes me wonder why we seem to think that we need to serve a meal comparable to what one would get at a nice restaurant? I know we aren't the only ones with this mindset; ours is just more complicated because of food choices and food allergies.

Have Fun With Your Kids

I sense an underlying current among home learners. It seems there is this idea that every moment must be educational. Baking turns into math lessons and gardening is science. Once you pick up the mode you realize it happens everywhere. For instance, last night at the grocery store I had T-Guy weigh a tomato and estimate its cost. He had fun, but I had that jolt of awareness that I was doing something that I could write on the unschool log.

Yes, we are our children's first and best teachers. But I think something happens and it is too easy to move away from natural learning and to take on the awareness that the child should be learning something. My mom taught me to weigh produce too, but I was a public-schooled kid and the teaching wasn't fraught with fear that I wouldn't learn or that she might forget something. The knowledge was passed on much the same way we learn to chop vegetables, dust, or eat an apple. Mostly we watch, there may be some verbal instruction, and then we take off with it. No one quizzes us later: "How wide did you open your mouth when you bit into that apple?"

I did have fun with my boys yesterday. For Christmas we bought a couple of Ed Emberley drawing books and I ordered colored pencils from Paper Scissors Stone. We sat down and drew animals the Ed Emberley way. They weren't Waldorf, they weren't Enki...but they looked cute! I drew for about 45 minutes and the boys kept going for another half hour. It was fun! We broke out of the box and did something completely different, and there was no attempt to turn it into any kind of lesson.

Best part? I can draw a really cute porcupine now.