Wednesday, June 20, 2007

How to Homeschool Over the Summer, Without Losing the Summer Feeling

Many holistic learners will take an official break over the summer, suspending academic learning and focusing on the joys of water and warm weather. Perhaps in a perfect world we'd be able to join them, but we've strayed far from our goals and so we need to stick with a small amount of academic content. Plus, the way we planned our year, we're only midway through grade 2.

Most of all, however, is the fact that my boys are currently interested in the academic work they are doing. They instigated it, and having not spent 13 years in public schools they don't view summer as the time to lay around, listen to music, sip iced tea, and read novels they ordinarily wouldn't give the time of day to. No, that is all me.

Still, there has to be a balance. Summer feels different. We stay up later and sleep in. We're outdoors more in the mornings and evenings. It's warm in the house and we have less physical energy.

So here are some ideas for those who choose to pursue focused learning throughout the summer.

Movement: If you usually start the day with circle time, why not take up an early morning walk instead? It's still cool out (or at least cooler than it's going to be). You can chant rhymes while you walk, or just stop and watch snails trail across the sidewalk. Walking is rhythmic and relaxing.

Arts and crafts: We always step up our arts and crafts in the summer time. Painting is easier when we can do it outdoors and clean up at the hose. Hot summer afternoons are meant for exploring with colored pencils under the cool of a fan. Beeswax is softer and easier to use.

Nature: Summer is a great season for unschooling science. Let the power of observation supply the questions. Journal what you see. Use a great reference book or two to look up your findings; we love the big DK/Smithsonian visual guides with titles such as Animal, Human, Earth, and Universe.

Music: Find out if you have a summer concert series in your area. We find music both at our summer music festival and at the weekly farmer's market. We listen to more recorded music as well; what is summer without a soundtrack? Make music too; summer is all about singing around campfires and strumming guitars in the park.

As for immersing yourself in a culture? How about American culture! Celebrate summer with picnics, lemonade stands, swimming, BBQs, and porch swings. Listen to John Philip Sousa, march around, bang drums and crash cymbals. Go camping, go to the beach...heck, hang out in the cool of a movie theater. Make summer different!

Academics: If you choose to do academics over the summer, why not veer from the traditional Enki/Waldorf model? Choose a great children' novel, read from it daily, and go from there. Draw pictures, make up verses, study grammar. How about focusing on poetry all summer? We're brushing up on phonics in really short lessons, playing a lot of word games, and reading out loud daily. We're finishing up Little House on the Prairie and have chosen King Beetle Tamer for our next book, while Papa has been reading to us from Eldest.

We've pretty much unschooled math all year, but now the boys are asking for more concrete work. Horror of all horrors, we're going to buy a few workbooks. Holistic parents may hate workbooks, but a lot of kids really like them, and my guys love the Kumon workbooks best of all. We'll work with manipulatives and games too, and perhaps fit in a story cycle.

Don't spend a lot of time on academics. If you can, get it all done mid-morning and leave your afternoons fancy free. Leave a couple of days a week open from friends and adventures. Be willing to deviate from the schedule.

Think like an unschooler. If you can, put aside all of your goals and ideas and explore whatever your children come up with. You might think that they won't want to practice reading or brush up on place value, but in reality even these topics come up. Take their spark of interest and run with it.

Finally, if you can, try to let it all go for at least a month. Stick to a basic rhythm, especially if your children are young, but just go with the flow.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Antidote to Perfectionism... living in the present.


If I look around me at all I need/want to do, and I put it off (procrastination), I simply move the problem into the future. What needs to be done still needs to be done. What I want to do may change, but it also remains undone.

If my goals and values are clear then I should be able to accomplish them now; or in the case of long term goals be making steady progress through current action). If I am not accomplishing the things that I say I want to do, then perhaps I need to decide if they are things I really want to do. If the answer is no then I should let them go, no matter what baggage is attached. If the answer is yes then I need to figure out why I am doing other things in the present, and whether the things I am doing in the present are things I really want to be doing.

For example, I say that I want to scrapbook. I have enjoyed scrapbooking in the past, and I like the scrapbooks that I made. I've invested some cash in scrapbooking tools and supplies (okay, it is not an investment; I spent past dollars on future projects). I'm still not scrapbooking in the present. I scrapbooked in the past, and I have what I need to scrapbook in the future. But I am waiting. What do I say I am waiting for? For time, and space, and printed out pictures.

For being a hobby that I am not currently involved in, scrapbooking takes up too much storage space in my home, and honestly is the source of too much guilt. When I look at it clearly, I'm not sure I want to scrapbook. I do like some of the things I have, but I've had them for a decade and haven't used them, so perhaps I like the things more than the actual scrapbooking. It is well known that for most people, scrapbooking is at least 50% shopping hobby.

Why haven't I gotten rid of my scrapbooking supplies? Because of guilt. I spent money on things that I am not using; to get rid of them proves that I wasted money. Now, the funny thing is that I know I spent the money when I shouldn't have; I just don't want to face it so honestly

Other mothers scrapbook their children's lives; I feel guilty for not having even finished my boys' baby books. What will they think when they leave home and I haven't done a full scrapbook for every year of their lives, plus vacations, sports, and holidays?

So I put it off until the future. I put it off because I believe that I can be perfect in the future; I can do all of the things that I am supposed to. I can use supplies and therefore not have wasted money. I can redeem my image as perfect mother in the eyes of my children.

Wait a minute.

I can't. I will never be perfect. I will still squander money, I will still make parenting mistakes. Worse yet, I will have been dishonest with myself, and that dishonestly will carry through to my children. They will believe that they can be perfect, and they will believe that I expect perfection from them.

No, the best thing I can do is live in the moment. I don't want to scrapbook. I do want to document my children's lives somehow, but not with patterned paper, stickers, and eyelets. I spent too much money on scrapbooking supplies in the past; I need to own up to it, forgive myself, and let it go. I started this process about 5 years ago, when I stopped buying any scrapbooking supplies.

Living in the present also works against perfectionism, because you can only be doing what you are doing now. You still have goals and values, but you are forced to act on them immediately rather than waiting for the perfect time, enough money, or whatever excuse you use to not do things.

Thus, if I am working to reduce my emissions, living in the present means that I live with those goals and values within me right now. I don't wait until I can afford a rain water capture system, or solar panels, or a house in the country with clean air and room for a big garden. Living in the present means I work with what I have now. Sure, hanging laundry takes time and only reduces my natural gas consumption by a very small amount; but it is something I can do now.

Now here is where it gets tricky. When I add up everything I could be doing right now, and expect myself to do it perfectly, I stop living in the present. I have to focus on the small picture; as soon as I think I have to be perfect I am living in the future again, overwhelmed by what might happen, afraid that my children will have very hard lives. There has to be room for error, or I stop enjoying now in my effort to create tomorrow.

I think this is one reason people decide that they can't reduce their own carbon emissions. The future looks so bleak that it is overwhelming. We can't imagine that the little changes make a difference; we're hanging on for big changes, whether personal (installing solar panels or wind turbines) of technological (there has to be something in the future that will take away the problem and our personal responsibility for it). We're not living in the present, we're waiting for something that may not happen. We're procrastinating, with the hopes that we will then find the perfect solution.

It is far easier to stop and say, Right now I am using more than my fair share of the earth's resources. What can I do right now to reduce my emissions?

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Why Bother?

(Okay, I've been working on this post for days now, and I can't seem to find away to express myself eloquently, so you'll just have to take it as it comes.)

Colin Beavan, aka No Impact Man, asked this question recently. He was referring to readers who basically question the difference that one person can make in regards to the environment and global warming.

The difference that one person can make in another's life, or in the world, is as I mentioned yesterday, a subject that is dear to me heart. All of my life I have believed that I should do what is right, even if it seems that no one else is doing it. For years I eschewed animal products, steadfastly refused to buy any product that had been tested on animals, carried canvas bags to the grocery store, and much, much more.

The question, why bother, is really a question as to whether or not one should care. Don't tell me that plenty of people care, but don't bother, because if you care you do bother. If you don't bother you're just giving lip service to caring. It isn't just the thought that counts; a thought without action has no chance of making a difference. That phrase, it's the thought that counts, specifically applies to actions that turn out wrong, even if the intent was a good one. For instance, we say it when someone knits a sweater that turns out too small or too big. The action that resulted from the thought didn't turn out perfectly, but the thought behind the action was a good one.

This is a little peeve of mine. When someone says they thought of calling me on my birthday, but they got busy, and well, it's the thought that counts, I want to say, "No, it doesn't count." Either I am important enough to call or I am not. Thinking about it isn't good enough. For instance, we are thinking about selling our trailer so we can downsize our one and only vehicle. I don't know what the outcome is going to be, but I do know that just thinking about selling the trailer and truck doesn't get me better gas mileage and lower my carbon impact.

Why bother? We bother because we care. We care because we are human. The scope and range of our caring depends on how much we open ourselves to what is happening around us, the resources we have to apply to the situation, and our own sense of right and wrong.

My own sense of caring, and of compassion and justice, have grown as I've gotten older. I've always felt badly when someone experienced a loss, but when I was younger I didn't have the resources to apply to the situation. I hadn't learned to say "I'm sorry" and "What can I do?". I hadn't learned that even in a situation that I could do nothing about I could simply say, "I don't know what to say. I'm sorry you are hurting, and I know I can't do anything to make it better."

Now, this might not seem like it is connected to global warming and the environment, but please, give me a chance to work this out. I believe that caring about global warming requires that we are able to connect with other people. I also believe that the connection begins at a local, community level. We need to take meals to new families, and to the sick and the elderly. We need to get out of our cars and help someone push a stalled car out of traffic. We need to let go of the fear of lawsuits and help a child that has gotten hurt if we are the closest one on the playground. Don't know what I mean? Go to a playground and observe what happens when a child falls down. Adults will stand around, unsure of what to do, while they wait for a parent to come to the crying child. Very few will bend down and try to comfort the child, even fewer will put an arm around the child to comfort her.

What I am really trying to say is that you have to care about very local things~your neighbors, the people within your community, your watershed, your polluted streams, your drought, the air you personally breathe~you have to connect with and care about these things before you can move outward with any real meaning. Sending $30 a month to Save the Children may assuage our guilt, but it doesn't end our responsibility. We have to ask the hard questions: why are children suffering in Bangladesh? How does global warming impact the flooding they experience? How does shrimp farming affect their water supply and their local economies?

Being grounded within your own place, your own community, helps you see the bigger picture. It helps you know that you can't just throw money at the problem and still eat farmed shrimp and emit carbon at an unfair and alarming rate.

I suppose I've wandered away from Colin's original question. I guess my answer is that we bother because we are human beings, and when we are connected to that very true fact we then connect to our wisdom, vitality, and compassion. We bother because we care for our children, and our community's children, and the children of the world. We bother because we want the human race to go on. This common bond of humanity transcends religious beliefs, social status, ethnicity, and political affiliations.

We bother because we absolutely can make a difference.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Just a Note...

Coming up next: my 100th post on this particular blog. I didn't take note of the 100th post on my homeschooling blog. Rather than writing something with the theme of "100" (wait, I think I did that a few posts back when I wrote about 100 foods within 100 miles) I'm going to address a subject near and dear to my heart. You'll have to wait for it.

(This is post 99; I thought the last post was 99, however I have a draft I am working on that I will publish after my 100th post).

90% Food Evaluation

So the goal is to eat as much locally produced food as possible, with a target of 70%. Bulk goods come in at 25%, and you have 5% for other foods.

I can't do a really great analysis of how we've eaten over the past year. We have been eating more local. I thought this week I'd try to list what I bought and figure out percentages.

Local and organic:
grapes (we're in so cal so Mexican grapes are local)
lettuce (hg)
Swiss chard (hg)
organic California olive oil
green onions

organic, pastured cheese
rolled oats
white hard wheat
tapioca pearls
dried cherries

frozen organic corn
grassfed beef from Australia
pear sauce

This has been an odd week for us, as we received a co-order, which is most of our bulk purchasing for the month. It seems to me that we'll do best tracking for a month at a time.

Now, it occurs to me that there are many ways to figure out the percentages. Some people are going by number of items. You could go by weight. I think the easiest thing for us to do as a family is to figure that we'll be able to get at least 70 different local items, and to choose 25 bulk items we will buy, and to choose our 5 conventional/convenience foods. So here is a stab at what we might buy in bulk, and what 5 conventional items we might choose.

Bulk staples:

salt (Redmond Real Salt)
Rapadura sugar (but actually in small amounts)
pinto beans
brown rice
rolled oats
split peas
chick peas
white wheat berries
dried fruit (if not local and organic)
organic corn tortillas
salsa (local but not organic)
frozen organic corn
maple syrup
peanut butter
tapioca pearls
vital wheat gluten
corn meal

Looking at that list I see some thing that could change. We may never want tapioca again after I go through the 2 pound bag I bought, and we may decide that it can't stay on the list due to it's non-nutritive status, especially since it adds neither sweetness nor flavor. If I could get one child to give up peanuts in the shell I could simply buy shelled peanuts and make our own peanut butter. It's very possible we could make our own apple cider vinegar. If push came to shove we could give up Rapadura and maple syrup and just make due with local honey.

The final 5 (convenient and/or conventional; these would possibly rotate from month to month or season to season, in order to accommodate various family members):

canned wild salmon
Virgil's soda
burger buns

Now there are a few things that we buy right now that I know I can make myself, so I won't bother listing them. As far as things like pear sauce and ventresca tuna go, I've given them up, and I didn't stock up first. I'll make pear sauce when local pears are in season, and I simply won't eat the tuna.

This is a year long challenge, and one goal is to prevent perfection from being the enemy of striving. I might buy mayonnaise this month and give a try at making it next month. I may convert the guys to eating patty melts on grilled bread instead of traditional hamburgers. It's just nice to take stock now and think about a plan.

Downsizing Small Appliances (with a few more thoughts added)

I think I've written before about how hard it can be to let go of things, even if you don't use them, because they often represent money spent and/or opportunities not taken.

The Riot For Austerity group posted a question about small appliances, which caused me to evaluate what I have, what I really need, what I can let go of, and what I can't.

Keep because we use: Vitamix, toasters (one for GF), rice maker, slow cooker, pressure cooker, bread maker, ice cream maker.

It would be hard to let go of the Vitamix; I'd probably take it with me everywhere I moved until there was no electricity. I use it often, and could probably use it more. The rice maker is a workhorse around here; it creates convenience food for me. I often program it to make porridge for breakfast, thus providing a nourishing meal as soon as we wake. A slow cooker can do this, but uses electricity all night long. I suppose that I don't really have to have a slow cooker; historically I haven't used it much. It is our lifesaver when we know we'll be out all day and want to come home to a pot of beans, thus saving us the expense of eating out. The pressure cooker is a must have, although I could switch to my stove-top model if push came to shove. The bread maker has been wonderful as I can make wheat bread without having to knead the dough (I get hives from wheat and yeast). Still, if forced to downsize I would probably choose the Kitchen Aid and an oven over the bread maker, even though I actually use the bread maker far more often. Ice cream isn't a necessity, but I'll hang onto the electric maker I have until I find a good used ice model with a hand crank. Then again, in a post (or very expensive) electric world where am I going to get ice?

Keep for occasional use: stand mixer, coffee maker, spice grinder, hot water pot, electric skillet, small food processor (these are all items that I probably would choose not to take with us if we moved, unless I consolidated appliances and kept the most versatile).

Honestly, I use the stand mixer for cookies, and I only do it 3-4 times a year. I know they are more versatile than that, but not so very much in my gluten free world. The coffee maker is a cheap one and is kept on hand to satisfy the coffee fiends when they visit. I'm not sure about the spice grinder anymore; I suppose I could find a dedicated mortar and pestle. The hot water pot is pure luxury, and we only use it when we have a crowd over. The electric skillet was a wedding gift (a hand-me-down gift!) and proves its usefulness every now and then. We definitely don't need it. I actually have used the small food processor often over the past 18 years; it's perfect for a small batch of hummus or flavored butter, or for grinding nuts. It is the best for making frozen banana shakes. I found an extra bowl and blade for it at the thrift shop, so I now also use it for making personal care items.

Sell or give away: juicer, soymilk maker, coffee grinder, second slow cooker, popcorn maker (learn to make it on the stove).

It's a love-hate thing with the juicer. I won't use it for months, an then I will everyday for a week or so if I am ill. The soymilk maker was a mistake; I bought it, tried it twice, then forgot about it as we struggled with J-Baby's health issues. It was only after the 30 day trial was up that we realized that three of us are soy intolerant. We don't need the coffee grinder; we don't drink coffee and if we're going to buy some for company we just buy it ground or grind it in the store. I was keeping the second slow cooker for the trailer, but we might not keep the trailer, and it draws too many watts to run off battery anyway. Finally, we don't really like air-popped popcorn because it gets so dried out. It's a convenience thing and I just have to take the time to learn to stove-pop it.

Undecided: Cuisinart.

Getting rid of the juicer and Cuisinart will be tough; these are appliances I saved for and bought with my personal allowance. I worry that I'll get rid of them and wish I hadn't. Sometimes I juice when I am feeling nutritionally low. Every now and then I'll drag the Cuisinart out to shred cheese for a crowd. I don't really think I'd miss them, though.

I need to experiment a bit more. I use the bread maker because touching the flour and yeast gives me hives. perhaps I could find a way to make dough in the Kitchen Aid (I've tried, they didn't like it as well). If I had a flat cover for the Cuisinart I'd probably use it a lot more often. Then again, I'm trying to reduce my electricity usage, so I probably should just let it go.

The scary thing? I decluttered the appliances sometime in the last year, and got rid of 2 indoor grills, a waffle maker, and a few other small appliances.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Everyone Has an Opinion...

...on what to eat, that is.

In fact, there are not one, but two books, with that title available on, both addressing the same subject. There are books on fast food, and slow food. There are books about traditional diet and vegans diets and at least 1001 diet books, many written by celebrities, or by people who would go on to become celebrities.

I'll admit to having been obsessed with the issue, more than half my life. I think my first brush with nutrition "wisdom" was the old 3-2-4-4 propaganda put out by the dairy industry which so thoughtfully provided posters to be plastered on the walls of the home economics classroom. I think we received pamphlets as well, exhorting us to consume 3 servings of dairy, 2 servings of meat, 4 servings of grains, and 4 servings of fruits/vegetables daily.

I've read about food combining, both in terms of natural hygiene and complementary proteins. I spent 12 years as a vegetarian, and 6 more after that eating a mostly vegetarian diet with a small amount of fish. I've seen the food pyramid, and the vegan pyramid, and the Mediterrranean version too (alas I've yet to see a Egyptian or South American pyramid). I've read Dean Ornish and Joel Fuhrman. I've read Sally Fallon and Patience Gray. I've read Peter Singer, Michael Pollan, and Barbara Kingsolver. I chose, after 18 years of not eating any flesh except for fish, to consume pasture-grazed beef.

I've read about the local food movement, about organics, about whole foods, and about seasonal eating. In fact, I'm still reading about these things, but these days I've pretty much come up with a philosophy of eating that works for me and my family. Here it is:

1) Eat food that has been raised naturally and humanely. For us that means foods raised without synthetic fertilizers or toxic herbicides and pesticides. It means beef from cows that are pastured year round, and eggs from a local flock that roams the farmers gardens and eats organic grain. It no longer includes eating fish on a regular basis, due to depletion, pollution, and the ethics of treating fish and people humanely (by-catch being an issue with fish, and pollution and devastation being an issue for humans, as it witnessed in the shrimp farming industry of Bangladesh).

2) Eat food as close to its natural state as possible. We choose raw dairy, and whole grains, and plenty of uncooked vegetables. We eat fruit, preferably fresh although naturally dried is okay too. We eat nuts, preferably raw. We prefer that our grains not be processed beyond removing inedible outer husks and grinding. We want the bran and the germ.

3) Eat sweeteners that have been processed as little as possible. Honey and maple syrup are our favorites (although honey wins the local contest). We buy Rapadura in small quantities, knowing that it is unrefined, is organic, and is fairly produced and traded. We use very little sugar; evaporated cane juice is saved for special occasions.

4) Eat locally grown and produced foods as much as possible. We've been working towards this one, and now either grow our own or happily buy most of our produce at the local farmers' market. This is our first month without bananas (although I gave them up 3 months ago).

5) Eat in season. This applies to most everything, although we allow for year round consumption of storage foods, such as apples, garlic, grains, and beans.

It can really be put into one sentence: eat organic, local, toxin-free, ethically-produced, whole foods, in season. I would add: put your heart into every meal and enjoy every bite.

With such a simple philosophy we can focus on what we will eat, and not what we won't. McDonald's isn't on the table. We don't eat high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, artificial flavors and colors, or preservatives, and because of our food philosophy we don't even have to bother checking labels for these ingredients, because we aren't buying the kind of food that contains these things.

For instance, we'll eat fresh sweet corn, or organic whole grain cornmeal. We have a small amount of organic corn starch on hand for thickening. We don't have to worry about HFCS, dextrose, corn oil, or any other fractionated parts of corn.

We're searching for one producer of grassfed beef in our state, we'll buy part of a steer, and that will be the beef we eat. We know we don't eat meat at restaurants or at family gatherings. We don't want a gray area; it has to be 100% grassfed from California.

We eat local fruit. I've yet to go to the farmers' market and find that no one has fruit, even in the dead of winter. This is a citrus town.

Really, I'm tired of the obsession. I don't want to read anymore books debating vegan vs. low meat vs. high protein. I don't want to see the "studies" published that elevate a food or beverage one year and tear it down the next (and perhaps elevate it once again). I don't want to think about antioxidants when I eat a pomegranate; I just want to see the gorgeous translucent fruit, feel the juice on my chin, and taste the sweetness.

Really, I just want to eat, and I've stopped caring what anyone thinks. I think I've figured it out well enough to eat this way for the rest of my life, secure in the knowledge that I eat real food, and that no one can tell me anything that goes against that.