Saturday, November 29, 2008

Coming Home

I've been away so long; I didn't even realize how long it had been.  The boys and I were moving between focused work and long breaks, and I had decided to take a long summer break from writing.  Then I got sick again.  Really sick this time, debilitated to the point of being mostly bed-bound for a couple of months.  I didn't do much more than the absolute minimum.  It was hard; I had to pull out of commitments made, I had to give up things that I wanted to do, and I had to learn how to balance being a person with medical needs as well as a mom who chooses to live each day with her children.  Okay, I'm still working on that one.

We're a little lost when it comes to homeschooling, almost completely without a good daily rhythm.  I sense it in my boys; J-Baby cries more frequently and T-Boy exhibits more discontent.  They are less resilient.  They can count on things throughout the week, but their days have only the structure of meals and bedtime.

This period of complete unschooling has been a grand adventure and experiment for us.  It works well when I am healthy, when I am ready for anything and don't have to guard my energy.  The thing is, I can never predict how long a remission will last or when I will go into a flare again.

When we first fully embraced unschooling we came at it from a place of connection.  We were connected to each other, to our community, to nature.  Living and learning were happening naturally.  Over time, however, we've reached a place of where we experience disconnection more often than I would like.  I'm certain that part of this stems from the boys getting older, and in particular from T-Guy going through the nine year change.  But I also think that the loss of rhythm is a large contributor as well.

Unschooling as an educational model has actually been working well.  We've explored ancient history and are currently learning all about Rome.  We formed a nature co-op and have been getting together with other home learners to hike, go on nature field trips, and do nature activities together.  There has been plenty of reading going on; T-Guy reads for hours everyday. We play lots of games, both as a family and just the boys.

What's missing is a sense of connection, of daily rhythm than we join in together.  For instance, I'll knit, but the boys will be doing something else.  Later they will want to do some sort of hand work just as I am starting something that I can't delay.  It's as if we are all doing many of the same things we did before ~ reading, drawing, hand work, outdoor play, etc. ~ but never at the same time.

So, for many reasons, I am looking to swing our pendulum back toward the structured learning that worked so well for us throughout our extended grade one year.  Grade one is the year that both boys named as their favorite time homeschooling, and I have to agree with the them that grade one was magical for us.

At first I wasn't sure where to start.  Should we just start with workbooks to review basic concepts and get a feel for where the boys are, skills-wise?  Do I attempt to pull together a loose, eclectic lesson plan? Do I order curriculum from Oak Meadow, Live Ed, or Christopherus (nix on that last one ~ they don't have a grade 4 curriculum available yet)?  Do we bring in small amounts of focused work and mostly stick with unschooling?  Should we start with the basics such as handwriting, spelling, and math and leave arts and crafts, cooking, gardening, modeling, etc. for later?

I realized that what I really need to do is go back to the beginning.  I'm rereading the Enki Foundation Guides.  We need to tend our environment, to find our rhythm, and to come together for connection.  I already know what to do in terms of philosophy and methodology. Sure, there is that sticky little part where Enki hasn't yet released any grade 4 materials, but I actually find that somewhat freeing.  We love the library and the last time we were working with Enki I found a lot of great resources to use with grade 3.

Home.  Returning to Enki is a homecoming of sorts.  Making the decision I felt my body let out a huge sigh ~ yes, this feels right, we can do this

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Sense and Sensibility ePatterns

I love aprons, I love saving money, I love things that save fuel, and yes, I love Jane Austen.

Sense and Sensibility Patterns now offers ePatterns!   You can browse the Regency-inspired patterns, make your choice, and be tracing, cutting, and sewing the same day.  Me, I have my eye on the Edwardian Apron ePattern.  We recently watched the new version of Sense and Sensibility and I loved the apron that Elinor wore.  The aprons are functional and feminine without going over the top with ruffles and lace.

If aprons aren't your fancy there are also patterns for gowns, dresses, and underthings.  The patterns are available for ladies and for girls.  If I had a daughter I would be all over the Girl's Pinafor and Pantaloons ePattern.

The ePatterns are priced well, and the fact that you can download them and print them at home means that no fuel is used to get the patterns to you.  You store them on your computer, reducing clutter and the possibility of losing a pattern piece.  What's not to love?!

Monday, October 27, 2008

My Family is Awesome

Okay, so maybe most moms think they have awesome families.  Here are the things that I am grateful for right now, proof that my family is indeed worthy of awe.

We've been eating at home all month.  It started the first week because of necessity, then I decided it would be a great goal to eat all of our meals at home, all month.  Well, the boys think it is so great that they want to eat at home for the rest of the year.  They aren't planning to eat out until mid-January, and they plan to go to Red Robin where we will have a birthday coupon.

Papa wears threadbare socks and never says a word.  In fact, I noticed that a couple of his socks could use a good darning.  I've darned socks before, but I think the instructions here are the best I've seen yet.  I'm going to darn a sock or two this afternoon, because Papa deserves it.

We've been hitting the thrift stores more often again, mostly looking for bargains in children's clothing.  I have kids that think the thrift store is just as good as any other store.  They tell people that their clothing is from the thrift store without a hint of embarrassment.

Papa works for us day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, and he never complains about it.  There are times he doesn't love his job, times that it is stressful, and yet he is steadfast.  Papa provides for us, and then he comes home and gives 110%.

Imagination.  I am awed by my boys imagination.  The spend hours everyday immersed in imaginative play.  I love to hear them.  They've built up an entire imaginary world involving a stuffed bear, and for years now have kept it going.

Papa reads to the boys every night.  Mostly he reads fiction they are interested in, but he also took them through a great book on Darwin.  He takes the time to ask them what has happened in the story so far.  Papa doesn't see homeschooling as something that I do with the boys during "school" hours; it is a way of life and he jumps in and learns with us.

(I know I've been away a long time.  I think about blogging, and compose parts of posts in my head, but I just haven't jumped back in.  I think that my sudden desire to actually get things posted is in part spurred by the fact that NaNoWriMo starts next month, and I need to hone my diversionary tactics.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bye-Bye For Summer

I'm going offline for the summer (well as much as possible anyway ~ I still have to download bank transactions and such).

I want to take a step backward and just hang out with my family, to give us all the gift of time, especially my time.  If I turn on the computer for anything more than a basic task I want it to be either to communicate with people I actually know, or to write.

Last night there were songs swirling around in my head.  Real songs, my songs, not just rearrangements of others' songs.  That hasn't happened in a long time.  The night before that snippets of poetry were popping up ~ my poetry.

I think I know why it is happening, and I'm excited.  But I have to capture the creativity, and not let it drift away while I read another message board post or make another blog entry.

I need this gift of time, but I think my children do to.  We need to be creative together.  Just the other morning J-Baby and I ate our breakfast on the front porch, and I realized it was something that he had never done before.  Out back, yes, but never out front.  Some of my best summer memories involve breakfast, sitting out front, cantaloupe, and chocolate ice cream.

I love summer.  It's hot yes, but the days are long.  We go to bed later and sleep in.  Playing games until midnight is delicious.  So is reading a book under a shady tree, making fruit ices and lemonade, painting on the carport, sitting under the stars listening to a concert, walking our evening farmer's market in bright daylight, singing songs while crickets chirp, and so much more.

And so I embark to give us all the present moment, and my presence in it.  Togetherness, laughter, love.

Because I like neat tidy goals, I've decided to pursue this (mostly) unplugged lifestyle from the summer solstice to the autumnal equinox.  This is the longest break I've ever taken, and it is both exciting and daunting.  But really, if you are going to dream, dream big.  Make grand gestures and set high goals.  I know I am.

Pondering a Move

I have to say that it is really hard to know what a person should do if they live in Southern California and want to reduce their ecological footprint.

We're doing pretty well already, especially since Papa doesn't have a commute.  We are, however, stuck between a rock and a hard place.  Even with the falling housing market we can't afford to buy a large piece of property close to where Papa works.  Where we are we aren't zoned for livestock.  We have about 1/6 of an acre total, with 1700 square feet of house on that, plus a garage (and bonus room), and a large concrete driveway.

Another issue with where we are is that while we have every suburban store and restaurant you can imagine (within reason ~ we don't have Whole Foods), we have to drive quite a distance to get out in nature.

For some time now I have considered another option.  Not suburban living, not rural living, but mobile home park living.  I know, I must be crazy.  But you know, mobile home parks get a bad rap.  The one my ILs live in is clean, family friendly, rent-controlled, and only 3 miles via bike path to the beach.  They have a strong neighborhood community.  The adults know the children, and the children roam around by foot, on bikes, and by scooter.

They are also less than a mile from an Amtrak/Metrolink station.  When I think of coastal Southern California I think of wide highways and crippling traffic.  before my ILs moved I had never considered that people were going car-lite in densely populated such as Orange County, San Diego, or Los Angeles.

My ILs have a smaller garden that we do, but they do have a garden.  They don't have a large yard (and the tiny patch of grass they have now they are considering replacing with edibles), but there are common lawn areas.  Their water usage is low.  They aren't in the heat of the IE, so their cooling bills are also low.

I wonder about what it would mean to move down there.  There is a thriving organic farm and CSA.  There is a farmer's market, a homeschooling group, and an outdoor nature school.  They have summer concert series.  The beach is literally 3 mile walk or bike ride away.  We would be right there, with family.  My boys would be able to spend significant time with their grandparents.  We'd have trusted child care.

Papa would have to change jobs.  I looked into that, and Orange County has a lot of job opportunities for computer programmers.  Not only that, many of these jobs are a quick train ride away.

These are uncertain economic times.  It is a little frightening to imagine leaving a solid job and starting over.  The housing market is down; we might have to take a low offer on our home or rent it out.

At the same time, this is our life now.  How long do we wait for things to improve?  What do we want right now?  Where would we be happy?

I've stopped thinking that we have to find a forever location, home, and job.  Situations change. We could make changes now, and do it again in 5 years.

What do we want?  Train access and bikes trails, certainly.  Local, organic food.  The beauty of nature and the ability to be in it easily.  Less air pollution.  Community.  Family.  Arts and culture.

Last year I was able to really see how the ocean was a calming force for T-Guy.  Both boys love the beach and water, but T-Guy thrives in it.

I can't tell you how I long to hear my children say "I'm going over to see Grandpa."  I would love for the to have that kind of accessibility.

We may not make a change at all, but right now I am staying open to all possibilities.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Moving Toward Sustainability With Little Capital and a Tiny Lot

I saw that an online friend was posting about homesteading, and I almost joined in the conversation.  I stopped short, however, because we aren't homesteading.  We live in the used-to-be-small-citrus-town suburbs, a city now bustling with 65,000 residents.  Our lot is not quite 1/6 of an acre.  We aren't zoned for animals and can't have a well.  We will most likely never be able to support ourselves on this postage stamp piece of land.  I wouldn't even say that we are trying.

Sustainability means different things to different people.  Many people want to produce their own food but have no intention of giving up electricity or municipal water.  Some strive for energy self-sufficiency but happily participate in co-ops and CSA.  Some want it all ~ being totally off grid, growing 100% of their food, and making a living from the land.  No one, I think, can truly be self-sufficient outside of a community that has enough resources and skilled people to produce everything needed, and for those that choose newer technologies such as solar electricity there is the need to reach out into the greater manufacturing world to get necessary components.

I'm not exactly sure what sustainability means for us.  Certainly we have put in motion the procurement of local foods.  We've reduced our gasoline consumption, our electricity and natural gas usage, how much water we use, and how much stuff we buy.  In terms of the Riot 4 Austerity we're now at around 30% of the average American when all categories are weighted equally.

I think, perhaps more than self-sufficiency, we need a model of interdependence.  Together sustainability is an achievable goal.  Relocalization is happening in small pockets across the country, and even across the globe.

Anyway, we're trying to figure this out without a trust fund (no judgment ~ if you have one, great), and without raiding the HELOC.  We have modest accessible savings that can help us with the small stuff, but that won't cover going off the grid or completely redoing the house in terms of windows or insulation.

The cash flow situation means smaller steps taken over a longer period of time.  We've been increasing our food storage.  I ordered a water purifier.  We're committed to growing some food year round, rather than letting the fact that we've not yet set up large gardens be a road block.  Once every couple of months we can tackle a medium-sized project, or we can wait 6 - 12 months and do a bigger project.

I finally did post on the homesteading thread.  I decided that the world needs urban homesteaders every bit as much as it needs rural homesteaders.

Happiness is Berries and Empty Beds

We picked about a pound of blackberries off the vines Thursday.  We can't expect much more; the gardener cut the plants back again last year, despite being asked not to.  The bed is a mess, so we may pull everything, amend the bed, plant pumpkins, and then put in new berry vines with trellis support next spring.

The boys loved picking berries.  It took only 15 minutes, but it was fun, and after I washed them (the boys and the berries) the boys devoured the whole bowl.  Oh wait, we estimated how many there were and counted them first (124).

Wednesday Papa pulled the mother of all tomato plants, our Early Girl from 2007.  It was actually putting our fruit like crazy, but since we had never trimmed it we had bug problems and accessibility issues.

I got out there and pulled all of the tomatillo volunteers, then spent an hour and a half pulling grass from half of an 8 X 2 bed.  Carefully, slowly, trying not to break the runners.  I'm sure I'll be weeding that bed regularly now.  So much for 5 year weed cloth.

Once the beds were empty I added compost to bring them back to 6".  We're set now for our next planting.  Oh, and did I say the beds were empty?  Empty of plants, perhaps, but teaming with pill bugs and worms.  It is so cool to realize how alive the soil is.

The plan is to put in a low key herb garden with additional plants/flowers to attract butterflies and bees.  We're late to start any summer crops as the seedlings wouldn't survive the heat.  I'm going to see what we can put in the lettuce bed once it fully harvested (next week).  We'll bide our time until we can plant chard and other cool weather crops.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Go Buy This Book!

Deschooling Gently

Okay, don't buy it just because I said so.  Take a look around Tammy's blog, Just Enough, and Nothing More.  Read her posts on Fearless Homeschooling and The Real Cons of Homeschooling.

Tammy and I met last year at the California Homeschool Network Family EXPO. It was a serendipitous meeting: Papa and I had gone to school with Tammy's husband, and he and Papa had been in the same program and had considered themselves friends.  The spotted each other, introductions were made, coincidences marveled at.  We played and chatted in the Keva plank room all weekend, and had the opportunity to have lunch together.

I found out that Tammy was a presenter at the EXPO.  I'll be honest ~ I might not have gone to one of Tammy's presentations (actually, I went to two) if we hadn't met in the Keva plank room. I had a narrow definition of what deschooling was, and didn't think it applied to my family as my children had never been to school.  I went to that first session partly (Deschooling Gently) out of curiosity and partly to be polite.

I sat there and realized that the it was Papa and I who needed deschooling, not my boys. Tammy also shared other insights; in particular I loved that she talked about how much she loved to plan things out, and how life didn't really seem to work that way, so she would make her plan and put it in her back pocket.  She felt safe winging it knowing that the plan was there, just in case.  I totally related to that.  Another gem Tammy shared was that spending a lot of money on a curriculum has the potential to create an emotional/financial attachment to the curriculum, whether or not it is working for your family.  That was the seed that eventually saw me move away from the Enki Education Homeschool Curriculum (a beautiful curriculum that worked for us for awhile, and whose philosophy informs our living to this day).

I went to Tammy's second presentation, Fearless Homeschooling, because Deschooling Gently had been so amazing.  Not because Tammy and I think or homeschool exactly alike ~ we don't. No, what I love about Tammy (whether she is writing or speaking) is that she shares her truth but she doesn't expect it to be your truth.  She is unfailingly open and respectful, and she is fearless (or at least she tries to be ~ she'd probably be the first to tell you that it is a practice).

So here I am, telling you to buy Tammy's book ~ and I haven't even read it yet!  I only learned today that it had been released.  I am itching to get my hands on a copy.  I am, however, confident that it is fantastic.  Check out her blog and decide for yourself.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Dream Big

Once upon a time  (2005 - 2006) I had a blog I called Sustainability in the Suburbs.  This was before I had a garden, an indoor clothesline, or a plan to get the heck out of Dodge.  I deleted it in a fit of simplification one day (but reregistered the name with Blogger many months ago, just in case I decide that one of my current blogs needs a catchier name).

So now I do have a garden and an indoor clothesline.  My plans to leave town have dissipated, in part because of the real estate market, but mostly because I've come to realize how connected I am to this part of Southern California.  It is my place, my community, my habitat.

We all like to dream.  When I thought we would really leave (back before my mother died and I did a serious life inventory) I imagined coastal Oregon, a small house, berries and big pines. When job possibilities opened up the possibility of a move to Maine I found a tiny house on a huge lot (40 acres or so), and pictured myself curled up in quilts next to a big wood-burning stove.

But we aren't leaving, at least not that we know of and not anytime soon.  That doesn't mean I can't dream.  I know that being completely off the grid is probably not possible for us, and self-sufficiency will elude us like rain and blue skies.  Perhaps the blog should be titled Semi Sustainable in the Suburbs.

These are long term plans, the kind that you come up with long before you have the money to make them happen.
  • Metal roof
  • Better insulation, including rigid insulation when we do the roof
  • New windows throughout (major expense as I'm not willing to compromise with vinyl or aluminum frames)
  • Water catchment system
  • Replace front lawn with native plants and edibles
  • Solar-powered attic fan
  • Solar hot water or an on-demand system
  • Solar electricity
  • More food garden space, better designed
  • Chickens (despite what the city says)
Plus, lots, lots more.  A laundry room remodel or possible overhaul of entire kitchen/laundry/pantry area.  Tearing down the deck and creating a more organic outdoor space.  A workbench and tool storage in the garage.  Wood refinished replaced in the two rooms that still have carpeting.  A secret garden.  Something different done with the formal dining room.

Green choices throughout.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Car Lite Successes

Our gasoline consumption is now down to 20% of the American average (or a little less).

We've been really successful lately, using our bikes to get around town and turning down some of the opportunities that have come our way that require a lot of driving.

It is now completely possible for us to bike any errand in Our Town.  I can't quite get to the botanical park by bicycle; well, I can, but that is exercise enough and once there I would have no desire to walk the trails.  We simply haven't been going that often.

I've bike to home play dates and our weekly park day, and I am committed to continuing as long as we can.  When home play dates are too far for biking we are carpooling.  I drive on those days, so haven't yet determined how to figure the mileage.  I don't think that it is worth giving up play dates that aren't within biking distance, because other group members still have to drive, and we are a community and I think that sharing the miles is the right thing to do.

We've said no to family gatherings, even when they sounded fun.  We have to choose the most important ones and let the others slide.  We aren't visiting the grandparents quite as often. Luckily, my father-in-law was able to take the train to come visit us.  On his end he was able to bike to and from the station; we however had to drive 24 miles round trip to pick him up and return him to the station.  He felt badly about that and intends to investigate taking the bus from the station to Our Town.

We're combining errands that we use the car for, attempting to eek every bit we can from the miles we do drive.  Procrastination is a big key as well; we can't have the attitude that we can pop over for whatever we want or need whenever we want or need it.  We save errands for the weekend.  Whether driving or biking, we try to think of everything we can do in that area.

Even last minute trips can have usefulness squeezed out of them.  A friend asked us to pop over last weekend to help move a piano.  The need was immediate, so biking wasn't an option.  We drove, but we made sure to stop at the Mexican market for tortillas on our way home.

And yes, we've listed the trailer for sale!

We've talked about going car-free.  I know it takes small steps, so we'll start with a car free week pretty soon.  Having this as a possible goal helps whenever we are making the decision to use the car.

A Hodgepodge of Blogs

Bear with me while we undergo construction.

A lot of my more recent natural living posts are over at Sunshine Alternative Mama.  I'm hoping to start moving things this week, so that they are easier to find.  This blog has more posts overall, so I think I'll move most of those posts here.

I have two home learning blogs as well (and some home learning posts are here at Red Dirt Life). Since Holistic Learning is so large, I will probably leave it as an archive, and all new home learning posts will be on Learning Without Borders, unless they end up here.

June Gardening

We've yet to get back on track with our garden.

We're getting most of our produce from the CSA and the farmers markets, but we are growing some.  We've had lettuce in our garden for a few months, but I think it will bolt in the next few weeks.  The Limestone (bibb) and Red Sails are doing the best, however, the Simpson and Sierra will be done by the end of this week.  We're past harvesting individual leaves, and have been eating 3-6 heads a week, plus what we get from the CSA.  J-Baby is looking forward to the end of lettuce season.

We have tomatoes from last year's vines.  We have oranges and boysenberries.  I lost some of my herbs in the heat wave (my fault for still having them container planted), and the basil starts in the freak hailstorm that hit right before Memorial Day.  The neighbor has plenty of lemons to share, which is nice.

I checked last year's garden journal, and we planted this same upcoming weekend last year.  We put in corn, acorn squash, fennel, zucchini, yellow crookneck, cucumber, lettuce, chard, and watermelons.  The corn, acorn squash, and zucchini did the best.  The fennel didn't germinate, and it was too hot for the lettuce and chard.

So I think we'll plant again this weekend.  Not corn, which was too water intensive for what we got, but definitely zucchini and winter squash, and some larger tomato starts if we can find them.  I'm going to try chard again, in a cooler, shadier spot (we grew it successfully in our late winter 2007 planting).  We have to try cucumber again, this time with a trellis.

I have to admit that the CSA has dampened our incentive to grow more of our own food.  At first we were working hard to cope with what we got each week.  Now that we have a good system going we find that we're not getting enough, so we hit the farmers markets regularly. So we'll try again, and hopefully have a good harvest.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Monday Is Our Reset Day

One of the things that has carried with me from our days using Enki Education is the idea that keen observation of natural rhythms can be helpful when creating plans.  Not just lesson plans, but life plans as well.

Weekends can be busy, so I like to slow down on Mondays and breathe deeply.  I realized a long time ago that Monday isn't the best day for us to have out-of-the-house plans. I like a day free of obligation; I sleep in and have a really gentle morning.  I usually do the laundry and tidy the house.  I write, answer email, and read.  I generally make a more involved dinner (slow food, not fancy food).

The boys, too, seek something different on Mondays.  Weekends are exciting for them, even if we haven't done much.  Just having Papa home is wonderful, and they naturally try to cram in as much as they can in terms of basketball, bike rides, and belly laughs.  Sundays are our family nature day, and we usually get out and walk, bike, or hike, preferably in a more natural setting that our little house in the suburbs provides.

Mondays the boys tend to seek out projects, such as building huge Lego train layouts or constructing forts in the backyard.  Having had Papa as a playmate all weekend, they reconnect with each other as best friends.  Their imaginations run wild and they often have a narrative running through the day, a story that builds sometimes phrase by phrase with them taking turns picking up the plot and moving it forward.  Later in the week they will seek more from me, but Monday is their freedom day.

Late Monday afternoon feels wonderful.  I'm rested and rejuvenated.  The scent of delicious food is usually wafting down the hall, and Papa gets a whiff out front before he ever sets foot inside (tonight it is chicken-vegetable soup, with a gluten free Irish soda bread).  Papa has been gone long enough (4 - 5 hours after lunch) that we are starting to miss him.  I patiently await the feel of his embrace and that first kiss of the evening.  For 30 seconds he will be mine, and then he'll be pulled away to see the layout, the fort, or to shoot hoops.

Some times I am heading out on Monday right after dinner, for a moms' night out, a book club, or a natural parenting group.  So we sit together and form our family circle once more as we eat dinner and share our days with one another.  Monday evening is as joyful as Friday; a week in front of us, full of potential and promise.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Now Where Did I Put That Internal Compass . . .

. . . because I feel deliciously lost.

Wednesday night, when I still thought I was going to be able to fall asleep at a reasonable (for me) hour, I sat with my notebook and pencil and scratched out my plan for June.

  • No rules
  • No shoulds
  • No guilt
  • No fear
  • No stress
I am easily inspired.  Inspired, not influenced.  Nothing is going to convince me that the 80s look of leggings and baggy tops deserves another go around, or that Fritos have suddenly become health food simply because they consist of only corn, corn oil, and salt (I like them though, and eat them about twice a year).  No, good ideas have to resonate with my own life philosophies before I take them on.

Or should I say, pile them on.  I attach myself to good causes like a velcro kid to his mommy's leg.  Independence Days? Check!  Riot 4 Austerity? Check!  Compacting?  Check!  Veganism? Check!  Traditional Foods?  Check!  Read an environmental book in May?  Check!  Buy Nothing in April?  Check!  Grow Your Own?  Check!  You get the idea.

There is nothing wrong with all of the challenges that float around in cyberspace, or come to us via books, newspapers, magazines, and public radio.  They are meant to be inspiring, and to bring about change.  They are, however, dangerous in the hands of a neurotic, guilt-ridden, anxious, empathetic, perfectionist (that would be me . . . I should note that I am especially kind to myself as well).

I have struggled with the desire to be perfect since I was a little, little girl.  I was the kind of child who was told not to touch, and never did again.  I was the straight-A honors student who played in the band, mentored Brownie Scouts, and babysat premature babies.  I never crossed out mistakes on my paper ~ I always started over.  By high school I was mildly anorexic.  (How can you be mildly anorexic?  You can shun food and at the same time know that it is stupid, thus never eating in front of other people but eating enough to avoid hospitalization ~ barely.) I boycotted McDonald's because the fish in their Filet-O-Fish sandwich had a by-catch that included seals.  In college I was a mess, unable to reconcile the effect of my existence on the planet and its inhabitants.  I became a feminist, a vegetarian, an environmentalist, an animal rights activist, a pacifist.

(Perfectionism isn't in itself a bad trait, or a good trait.  It simply is what it is, and is what you make of it.)

Tell me that animals have to live horrible lives and die terrible deaths to feed me, and I stop eating them.  Tell me that we're using more than our fair share of the planet,and I try to change my ways.  Tell me that conventional farming destroys the soil, and I go organic.  I have been one giant self-improvement project my entire life.

Caring is good.  Making changes is good.  Becoming despondent is not.  I can think about the recent deaths in Myanmar and China, and fall into the pits of despair.  I feel the pain of children starving in Haiti.  A friend's pain, physical or emotional, is mine (and J-Baby is the same way).

The issue, I think, is not that I feel things deeply (because I really think that is a positive thing), but that I have a deeply ingrained sense of guilt.  I want to make it all better, and when I can't, I feel terrible.  I count every misdeed, and hate myself for each one.  The problem is, there is no way to be perfect.  Perfection truly does not exist.

Guilt and challenges are external motivators.  Seen in simpler guise, such as fast food chains offering children rewards for behavior, grades, or reading, I reject them soundly.  But I keep jumping on the challenge bandwagon.  Oh, it seems fun at first.  Inspiring even, because I am going to make a difference and I have a built in support group to cheer me on and brag/confess to.  Except the first misstep sends me reeling: perhaps I am not worthy. Other people are getting by without refrigerators, why can't I?  Other people have huge gardens/homesteads and grow a significant part of their annual diet, why don't I?  Other people never buy jeans at Kmart, or buy new books, or succumb to the guilty pleasure of an In 'N Out Burger (protein-style ~ I still have to eat gluten free).  What the heck is wrong with me?

Several times in my life I have come to a place where nearly every decision is fraught with complications, and I freeze, the proverbial deer in the headlights.  I get stuck.  I stop enjoying life because it is too stressful and too hard.  We can need a quart of milk, and if I have to get into the car to drive the 4 miles to the store to buy what is acceptable to me in terms of ethics and health I will feel as guilty as hell because we didn't ride our bikes, and thus contributed to global warming.

I know this isn't a good way to live, and indeed that it is barely living at all.  So I shove it all out of my mind and that works for a little while.  I have cultivated the ability to be in the moment partially as a defense mechanism against the larger reality.  Lately I've been focusing on recognizing when I'm starting to fall into the quagmire, and I trying to stop the guilty thinking before it starts.

I have to accept that I am enough.   I can't do it all, I can't save the world, I can't stop the suffering that surrounds me, big and small.  But I do try to make a difference, and every little thing that I do is enough.

My internal compass is there, guiding me.  I ignore it often, and do get lost, going around in mental circles.  I need to pause, to find that space where I can let go of everything external and figure out what works for me in my very individual situation.  When I do that I come back to center, get my bearings, and set my feet to the spiral path once more.

I Might Just Give Up!

Trying to not label ourselves as unschoolers leaves us hemming and hawing and somehow people think we aren't owning up to what we do.  No matter how you phrase it ~ child-led, delight-driven, relaxed ~ people who homeschool are going to identify you as a unschooler. People who don't homeschool aren't going to get it at all, so why bother with the fancy words?

I really, really hate labels.  I hate being pigeon-holed or stereotyped.  I reserve the right to change my mind.  If we do unschool, we still limit TV and video games (note that this has moved to limiting, not elimination).  We still loosely uphold bed times, and there isn't a Dorito or Twinkie in sight.  (Before you hit me over the head, I know that unschooling doesn't mean that people are uninvolved with their children, or that their children watch TV 24/7 and eat nothing but junk food ~ It's the stereotype I rebel against!)  Still, I'm starting to see that while the unschooling label may conjure up negative connotations for some, it also creates solidarity with others.  Its like a secret ~ life with our kids is great ~ club.

And damn, I'm pretty radical.  I've always been radical, but now I am really listening to myself and how often I say no to the boys, and I'm asking myself why.  In fact, I'm now having this internal dialogue before I say no, and I'm saying yes.  I'm saying yes so often and so quickly that my boys are often surprised.  That means I must have been saying no too often before.  I think the no stifles learning.

They really are growing up and showing maturity, and I want them to make decisions.  In fact, I think I've been a bit of a control freak, and well, I want that to stop.  I want them to have the freedom I had as a child.  I see it as part of their growth, and part of mine.  And honestly, now that they are 8 and 9, I don't care what they have for a snack.  If it is in the house and isn't raw meat set aside for dinner, have at it.

Saying yes has positive effects right away.  A couple of months ago I started saying yes every time they asked to play in the front yard (we live on a somewhat busy street, so I needed to know that they were mature enough to look for cars before chasing a ball into the street). Within a week they stopped asking for permission, and just regarded it as part of their territory.  Since then we've had the opportunity to talk about strangers walking on our street, and the difference between being polite and being too friendly, and how they can develop and trust their intuition.

Is it possible that I am a radical unschooler?  Could it be that I have reconciled what it means to be radical about living and learning and to reject the idea that floats around out there that radical unschoolers are actually unparenting (I've always maintained that they are separate things, and that neither homeschooled nor away - from - home schooled children are immune to having parents who end up not doing much parenting, for whatever reasons.  But I think I've been afraid of the word, radical.

Maybe it is time to take back the words and wear them proudly.  It is certainly something to think about.

The Middle of the Night

My AmityMama friend, Meeshi, often uses a simple format to frame her blog posts, and I thought I'd give it a try.
  • I am feeling ~ calmer now that I got out of bed.  Underneath that I'm slightly stressed that tonight is an I can't sleep night.  Even worse, it is an I'm not tired, I can't sleep night.  My stomach is upset.  It's a bad night for it, as FIL is here and I need to be present in the morning (and I stayed in bed far too long tossing and turning because the family room isn't available to me).  But there's nothing I can do about it.  I'm so tempted to just stay awake and see if I can do a total sleep system reset, but I do have to drive FIL to the station tomorrow.  I guess I'll try to sleep again in a little while.
  • I am hearing ~ the constant hum of the highway, despite the late hour.  My computer fan. The tap of my fingers on the keyboard. Little else.
  • I am seeing ~ my computer screen, the glow of the little lamp, wood floors, wood chairs, wood table.  The neighbor's porch light, and the glow of light from inside their house. Perhaps someone is awake over there as well.
  • I am smelling ~ nothing.  The food smells have dissipated from the house or I have gotten used to them
  • I am thankful for ~ my newfound ability to find peace and calm in a situation that used to provoke severe anxiety.
  • I am planning ~ to be really gentle with myself tomorrow (uh, today).  I'm thinking about how I can be present for the boys when the exhaustion inevitably sets in.  I have to accept that my nerves will be a little raw, so there will need to be time for connection and time for rejuvenation.
  • I am hoping . . . that I will find an answer to the insomnia.  I am not worried that I need to figure it out today, after all, I have battled insomnia fairly regularly for more than a decade now, and even as a child I had an awareness of being unable to sleep at times.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Grandpa Comes to Visit

How exciting!

FIL arrived via train this morning.  Now, he doesn't live that far away, at least by the standards of our time period and culture.  The train is just more convenient, less stressful, and less expensive.  We, however, are train geeks, so an arrival by train is exceedingly fun.  We drove to the station, hit a road block, and had to drive all the way around to get to the platform.  This meant going over a bridge; T-Guy spotted the transfer equipment for the containers (trains to trucks/intermodal), and he was practically out of his seat with excitement.

Grandparents can be treasures in children's lives.  It sounds like a cliche, but the reality is that there is potential for a fantastic mentoring relationship with grandparents.  They love their grandchildren far more unconditionally than they loved us as children, or than we love our own children (oh, we try for unconditional, but it doesn't happen).  It helps if the parents have good relationships with the grandparents (be they their own parents or their ILs).

It also helps to step out of the way and let the kids direct the action.  Off and on today I have drifted in and out, sometimes participating and sometimes leaving FIL and the boys to their own activities.  They played the Game of Life; I sat with them but stayed out of the game until my help was requested at the end.  The listened to an audio book; J-Baby had insisted on going to the library last night to borrow Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing because "Grandpa likes it".  Then they had a snack (I cut up fruit) and asked to use the vintage Spirograph I bought at the thrift store.  I got them started, then FIL and I sat and chatted while the boys experimented.

Papa arrived home from work and now they are all off on a bike ride.  We'll have supper when they come home (beans and cornbread), and then it is family movie night.  I would have liked for us to walk after super, but movie night is inviolable around here.

I'm looking forward to the time after the boys go to bed, when the talk turns more adult, and when Papa and FIL are bound to bring out their guitars and sing together.  I kind of wish that tonight wasn't movie night so we could all make music, but I doubt the boys will go for it, and despite my growing relaxed parenting as the boy get older, Papa still likes bed times.  But we all sing together often, so I'll sink into it and take the evening as it comes.

Opening Up

I'm starting to feel more comfortable when people ask what the boys have been learning in that what have you been teaching them way.  I'm slowly letting family members know what I think about education, and why, and how it has changed and could change again.  I'm no longer rattling off a list of what the boys are reading of what curriculum we're using.

It's a little scary.  A year ago I would have felt more comfortable than I do now, but the situation is such in California that I worry about people sticking their noses in where they don't belong.  Not family, but other well-meaning people who are appalled that my children don't print well and can't recite their multiplication tables.

I did find a great course of study document for unschoolers in California, so I adapted that and put it in our private school file.  I know I'm not doing anything wrong; I just wish other people understood so that we wouldn't face the possibility of fighting for what we believe to be our fundamental right as parents.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Books and Movies

We went to see Prince Caspian last night.  I had Papa on one side of me, J-Baby on the other, and I was glad for moveable armrests that let us snuggle together as we took in the world of Narnia on the big screen.

Oh, we saw The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe when it came out.  We go to very few movies, and we choose them carefully.  Then we follow a very simple rule.  If the movie is adapted from a book, we read the book first.

All the way home the boys talked about the differences between the book and the movie, and decided that the book was better.

I understand.  I waited so eagerly for The Mists of Avalon to be made, and then I was beyond disappointed when it finally arrived.  I suppose there was no way for a 2 part miniseries to live up to the world I had created in my mind reading the book 10 - 15 times over 20 years.

I'm not anti-movie.  I even understand why changes need to be made, sometimes for length and very often to create a film that the movie-going public will want to see (rather than the book reading public).  I just find that I am more likely to enjoy a movie if I haven't read the book and don't plan to (common with recent fiction), or if the movie isn't based on a book.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Lesson Learned

(Or more precisely, being learned.  I still need practice.)

I am an overcommitter.  Okay, maybe that isn't a real word, but it fits.  I often, spontaneously, find myself taking on a task without thinking through what it means in terms of my time.  Usually I'm signing up to do something fun, like host a dinner or participate in a card swap.  I'm actually pretty good at saying no to things that I know I don't want to do.

So, I signed up for a card swap.  When I saw that the group was doing one I actually posted that I might like to do the next one, as the current one was already in full swing.  I got a message from the coordinator letting me know that there was still time to join the swap.  Uh oh.  I said yes because it felt good to be wanted, despite the fact that I don't actually know any of the crafters in real life, they don't know me, and my presence in the swap was pretty meaningless in the big scheme of things.

I didn't think about what I would have to do to participate in the swap, like come up with several original ideas for cards, make the cards, and go to the post office.  I didn't figure in for crafter's block, or agonizing over whether anyone would like what I made.  I procrastinated.  The deadline was extended (I didn't ask for that to happen), and I procrastinated longer.  I was waiting for last minute inspiration: it didn't come.

I realized that I didn't want to make the cards and that I wasn't that vested in receiving cards in trade.  I had stuck with the swap because I didn't want to look bad.  I didn't want to be a quitter.  Finally today, it struck me: I was trying to uphold a false image of myself to people that I don't know.  If I didn't want to make the cards, I didn't have to.

Now, some swaps are more particular than this, and someone dropping out might have consequences on everyone else.  I'm really glad I hadn't committed to something like that.  But I did learn another lesson, that who I am and what I want to do with my time is more important than pleasing people, and that I should think carefully before making commitments.  This time I could bow out, but sometimes I can't, and I end up doing something that I don't want to do.

Time is precious.  More important to me than not spending the time making cards is letting go of the agonizing and worrying, and clearing the mental clutter of having an unwanted, uncompleted task.

Over the years my lessons have changed.  12 years ago my lesson was to learn flexibility, to learn to bend and not break.  I spent more than a full year encountering the lesson over and over again, and certainly have had to practice it ever since.  Lately it seems that the lesson coming at me is to slow down, and to recognize that I have the power to remove stress from my life and to not create some of it myself.

Tag, You're It!

We all remember playing tag as children, right?  Some of us still play it, although I must admit that the children are a lot faster than I am.  It's fun though ~ it's hard to play tag and not laugh.

So I stopped by my friend Tammy Takahashi's blog, Just Enough, and Nothing More, this afternoon, and oops, I got tagged!  The task is to send a message to the world in 15o characters or less.  Characters, not words.  I'm guessing that includes spaces and punctuation.

What would I have to say?

Be real, be honest.  Never stop learning.  Love others fully and love yourself.  Find or create community.  Live in harmony with nature.  Never stop learning.  Enjoy life.

If you are reading this, tag, you're it!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Washing Dishes

Last night Papa and T-Guy bicycled off to the farmers market without J-Baby and me.  J-Baby was still working on finishing his meal (he was eating slowly, but not complaining about his dinner or attempting to get out of eating it), and the kitchen work needed to be done.  In other words, we were running late.

There were a lot of dishes that needed to be done by hand.  This is usually true in our house, where almost all food preparation involves bowls, pots, pans, and assorted items that don't fit (or shouldn't go) in the dishwasher.

I asked J-Baby if he wanted to help me in the kitchen, thinking I'd have him wipe the table.  Well yes, he did want to help ~ with the dishes.  Now, dishes aren't usually my domain (I cook, Papa usually cleans up), and I hadn't intended to have an impromptu lesson.  But my boy wanted to do this.  Think quick, how will this work?  The big stainless steel bowl came down from the cupboard and was put to use as as rinse basin.  We found a small step stool.  The boy rinsed every dish I washed and then put it in the dish rack.  He was pleased with himself.  We chatted while we worked.  It felt good.  When we finished we took his rinse water out and watered the small rose bush.

We may have just changed how we do dishes around here. 

Friday, May 9, 2008

Why We Aren't Unschoolers

We aren't "un" anything.  What does it mean, anyway?  Back in the '70s my family played a game called The Ungame.  It wasn't supposed to be like a game, except, well, it was a game.  It looked like a game, we kept it with the other games, and we sat around the table to play it.  The content was unique, but it was still a game.

Is unschooling supposed to mean that it is unlike schooling?  Is it not schooling?  I've met parents who say they are unschoolers who teach math from a math book, and unschooling parents who would say that using a math curriculum isn't unschooling.  No one can really agree.

Many homeschoolers who don't unschool think of unschooling as a lazy parent's way to homeschool (for the record, I don't think there's anything lazy about it ~ letting go of scripts and lesson plans requires engaged parents).  They envision children staying up until 3 am playing video games nonstop from waking to sleep, with nary a stop to eat (unless pizza is wafted under the gamer's nose).  I, however, have encountered many self-labelled unschooling families who don't own televisions or game consoles.

No, the label is too fraught with connotation.  It conjures up stereotypes, some derogatory and some fantastic.  Lazy parents, plugged-in kids, kids who can't get into college.  Or freedom, life experience, trust.

But we aren't willing to take on the unschooling label?  Why?  Because I jettisoned the schooling part of our education philosophy a long time ago.  We aren't schooling, we are learning.  Not just the boys ~ all of us, all of the time. I've tried a lot of methods and philosophies, and they all have pluses and minuses, but in the end, any attempt at homeschooling as an educational philosophy flopped.  To me, unschooling, in its attempt to be unlike schooling, still suggests that schooling is the major focus, even if the attempt is to turn it upside down and inside out.  Many unschoolers still feel the need to justify themselves by showing how unschooling measures up to schooling ~ at home or away from home.  I call it the why-my-method-is-better-than-yours-is mentality.

We live.  We're human, and learning is the human condition.  Our word is full of wonders, and we have more information than we've ever had before.  Fact gathering is easy, if one wants to gather facts.  Living and learning brings facts into experience and understanding.  No, we aren't unschooling, which in the end sounds more like a political statement to me than an educational philosophy.  We are pro-learning, really learning, through living and being human.

(I suppose I'll still have to keep the term homeschooling in my purse, ready to pull out whenever someone asks the boys why they aren't in school.)

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Who Are We?

Let's just get the labels out of the way, shall we?

We are (I hear the Jetson's theme running through my brain):

I/Me, the voice of the blog.  Partner, lover, friend, mama, daughter, writer, poet, artist, musician, crafter, environmentalist, feminist, cook, housekeeper, nature lover, seamstress, train geek, bookworm . . . human being.  (By the way, I don't claim to be especially proficient at all of the things I do.

Papa, my partner, lover, and friend.  Papa, son, programmer, friend, musician, nature lover, bookworm, cyclist, historian, Lakers fan, train geek (okay, we all are), foosball player, and probably 50 more things that I don't even know.

T-Guy, my oldest son.  Bookworm, musician, nature lover, basketball fiend, cyclist, crafter, brother, friend, grandchild, music lover, morning lark, Lego lunatic, Star Wars worshipper . . . my huggly, snuggly boy.

J-Baby, my youngest son.  Math whiz, artist, drummer, nature lover, cyclist, basketball fiend, skeptic, Lego lover, brother, friend, grandchild, night owl, keen observer, my sweet kisses and I love you boy.

Girl Dog, my baby before I had babies.  Beautiful, neurotic, and slightly geriatric canine with a medium-sized build and really big bark.

You've met us before, maybe at Sunshine Alternative Mama, Red Dirt Life, Holistic Learning, Sustainability in the Suburbs, or one of those blogs I mentioned that just didn't make it.

A New Journey

Every blog has to start somewhere.

After more than 500 blog posts on 10 different blogs, some that thrived, some that sputtered, and a couple that barely made it out of the gate, I'm starting over.

We're starting over.

Everything felt fragmented, and bits of the old would haunt me as I embraced the new.  I couldn't always remember where my posts were or decide where a post belonged.  I struggled for my voice and for focus.  I debated whether or not writing about our lives for a viewing public made any sense.  I was delighted when I received comments.  I was worried when I didn't.

For a person who espouses the simple life, blogging wasn't simple anymore.

I felt stifled by various causes I had joined, or by philosophies I held.  I had so many labels pasted on me that I felt more like the back of a '74 Pinto than a human being.

So here we are.  I'll probably do the writing, but I'll be writing about us.  What we're doing and learning.  How that happens, and why we choose to do it the way we do.  The lessons we learn as we live, love, laugh, and learn.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Independence Days ~ Week 2

I sewed today.

This is significant.  I used the machine I bought, with stash fabric, and made a giftable item.  By myself, combining a couple of online tutorials.  It's a lunch sack with a nice wide gusset, made from a clearance dish towel I paid 60 cents for.  I even made the handle versus needing to buy webbing.

I've never made a tote bag before; it turned out really well.  I'm already eyeing my stash and thinking of more bags to make.  I have some gorgeous vintage printed linen dish towels that would make wonderful lined grocery totes (or maybe they are too pretty for that).  The IKEA fabric I bought last month can be turned into large beach totes.  My niece is so getting a Hello Kitty tote for her birthday.

The lunch tote is for my mother-in-law; a Mother's Day gift.  I'd love for the gift to be entirely homemade, but I don't happen to have Thermos making skills.  So I plan to purchase a stainless steel food jart to place in the bag, and hopefully a glass or stainless steel food container for items that don't need to be kept hot or cold.  I'll hem a couple of napkins from a matching dish towel, and see if we can't scout out some small vintage salt and pepper shakers.  Basically, I'm attempting to create a safe alternative to the vinyl lunchbox cooler and plastic containers she currently uses.

More important than the fact that I made a bag, or that I used what I have, is that I taught myself how to do something.  I barely sew; every time I make an attempt my skills improve, and I gain confidence.  The way I cut my dish towel I couldn't make the long handles the tutorial instructed me to make, so I made short handles.  That's when I realized it should be a lunch tote.  Thinking lunch tote meant the bag would need a gusset, something the original tutorial didn't call for.  I found a second tutorial, and figured out the gusset.  Putting the bag together, I started to see how a lined bag would work (even though I didn't line this bag).

This post isn't entirely worthless without a photo, but I will try to get one taken and posted once the sun comes back.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The 100 Mile Vacation

We have always loved to travel.  We're lucky to live in a state with so many wonders to see ~ we have deserts, beaches, mountains, and more, all within 100 miles.

In fact, we're thinking of our travel time now in terms of the 100 mile vacation.  Our options within a 100 mile radius are staggering.  Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead, miles of beaches, Joshua Tree National Park, San Diego . . . we live in the middle of it all.

This weekend we're heading up to Big Bear for our first deliberately chosen 100 mile vacation (or weekend getaway). Oh, we've vacationed within the given radius too many times to count, but this year we're specifically thinking of lower-impact travel.  We're only thinking of one trip outside of our radius (and it's within 150 miles), and our plan is to take the train and go car free when we are there.

We're staying at a timeshare condo; we happen to be owners with the opportunity to choose a resort in Big Bear, but a lot of timeshares do rent out to non-owners.  Why a timeshare?  Well, the biggest reason is that we can cook all of our own meals, and because we're traveling locally we can take our CSA produce and grassfed beef with us.  Also, with a timeshare, the unit isn't cleaned daily, saving cleaning products and electricity (no need to vacuum daily; we have a carpet sweeper in our unit).  They don't change out the towels or bedding until after we leave.

What are we going to do?  Well, hike for one thing.  We are firm believers in getting out in nature, both to preserve our sanity (and our humanity) and to keep our children connected to the earth.  We also plan to visit the little Moonridge Animal Park.  I'm not a huge zoo fan, but I appreciate that there are places that care for injured animals and those who may have been illegally taken when young (and thus be imprinted on humans).  It's another chance to connect, this time with the animals we share the mountains with.

We'll connect with each other as well; making music, playing games, and doing crafts.  My goal is a TV free weekend (not all that hard for us, but we usually do watch DVDs on vacation).  I suggested that we leave the laptop at home as well, and Papa was all for it.  We have some planning and dreaming to do, but I'm guessing that we can manage it with a pencil and notebook.

We've never considered Big Bear more than a day trip, but we're not thinking the way we used to.  In the past we've been known to drive up and stay as few as four hours.  Now we realize that we should make the most of it if we're going to use the gasoline to get up there.

A Biking Day

Thursdays we rarely need the car; instead, we do our errands by foot or bicycle.

At lunch Papa grabbed the DVD we had rented yesterday, and dropped it off at the video store on his way back to work.  He rides his bike to and from work unless it's raining.  He usually walks when it rains because he doesn't get as wet.

This evening we biked to the farmer's market.  We locked up the bikes and trailer and walked the market in search of local, organically grown produce.  Tonight's purchases were bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and eggs.  We stopped in the second hand store and found a pair of shoes for T-Guy; J-Baby bought himself a vintage toy.

Then we went to Trader Joes.  We don't need to go weekly, but we're going out of town this weekend and wanted to stock up on safe lunch and snack foods.  The fact that we were using the cargo trailer helped us remember to leave the impulse items at the store.

This month we are working really hard to walk or bike all errands that can be done without a car.  When we do need to drive we will try to do as much as possible on that route.

Independent Days #3 ~ What the Heck Do We Have?

I suppose that this is a huge question, and that I could spend weeks inventorying the household and not finish.

But this is about small steps and doing something everyday, so today I inventoried the freezer.  Not the big freezer ~ I'll get to that next week ~ but the freezer that is part of my refrigerator.  This is what I found:

2 packages grassfed ground beef (around 1# each)
2 trays Rosie Organic Chicken split breasts
2 packages lamb shanks (around 2# each)
enough chicken bones and pieces to make 2 batches of stock
dog bones (purchased from the local grocer)
6 qt. chicken stock (in 1 qt glass jars)
Numi organic tea (very little)
1 loaf brown rice bread
1 pkg brown rice tortillas
1# organic butter
1 bag cheese rinds (rinds peeled off wheels of cheese and used to flavor soups)
1 bag gluten free flour blend (blended by me, from a book)
1 bag raw sunflower seeds (purchased for sprouting)
1 bag organic strawberries (purchased for my niece at my sister's request, but not eaten)
xanthan gum

The freezer also houses the ice cream maker bowl and an assortment of blue ice used in the insulated bag.

It's a good exercise.  I would have forgotten about the strawberries as we don't buy them this way.  Nothing else was a surprise, but I'm still glad to have it written down and visually available.

Little Updates

The indoor drying rack works well as long as the temperature in the house isn't lower than 68 degrees.  It works really well when it is 78 degrees in the house.  It isn't as easy to hang wash on it as an outdoor line is, but I'm managing (wash and hang one load a day).  In fact, it works well enough that we may not invest much in an outdoor line this year.  I may just go tree to tree when I have something large to dry.

Eating seasonally have gotten easier.  We're not 100%, and we're not going to be, but right now I think our only non-local produce is bananas, with the occasional brown onion thrown in.  Not only do we have the CSA now, but there is a new organic fruit stand in town.  We're also loving the local gouda we can buy, even though it isn't organic.

I've eliminated two medications from my daily line up. I don't generally suggest that people ditch all of their medications, but I do think we have to be prepared for not being able to get medications.  I'm currently tapering off a third medication.

Car "lite" is going well.  We cut our driving 33% in March.  Transportation is now at 20 - 25% of average.

We finally got our water usage down to about 40% of the national average, and we're working on a plan to transition from ornamental landscaping to edible/medicinal landscaping, as well as plants that attract beneficial insects and pollinators, and low water plants.

I cut using the electric warming pad every night, and use a hot water bottle instead.  I pour my used water onto plants the next day.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Independent Days #2 ~ Getting Interdependent

It can be hard to find people that want to be weird with you.

I'm lucky; I have several friends who get me and who are interested in developing community.

So today I offered to take a friend and her son to our play group gathering.  And when I mentioned that we'd be out of town this weekend she offered to pick up our CSA box.  I thought about it later, and thought Yes, this is it!  Not only doing what we can individually to lower our carbon footprints, but working together.  Thinking of ourselves as a community.  This same friend offered us basil starts for our garden, and offers to pick up chicken for us when she goes to Whole Foods.  Collectively, we are trying to reduce fuel usage and carbon output.

Another friend sweetly offered me an item she was given when she made a purchase this week.  It was something she wasn't interested in, but knew my family might be.  A couple of weeks ago at the thrift store I picked up a few things for her daughter.

We're taking steps.  We're getting together with people to share food and sing.  We talk about storing food and we share new recipes.  We split large co-op orders.

Planning a Car Day

We're driving today.  I'd like to say that this is a rare occurrence, but it actually isn't ~ yet.  We still find it easy to hop in the car and drive to the health food store, the thrift store, the park, etc.  We've yet to make car-lite a hardcore lifestyle; it's more hobby than discipline.  Don't get me wrong; we drive far less than the average American (coming in around 20 - 25% of average), but we also know that we are capable of driving less.

So today is a drive day.  We'll start by picking up friends and driving to our play group.  This is always a touchy issue.  We want to be in community, and we can't expect that other are always going to come to us.  In fact, by setting things up so that we can always walk or bike we are complicit in the amount of driving our friends do to get together with us.  Right now a good compromise is carpooling with friends, at least until one of us has another child (and it isn't going to be me, LOL).  At that point we move past the capacity of my car.  But for now, we at least use one less car to reach our destination.

(I thought I'd edit.  After dropping home our friends we went to the new organic produce stand for strawberries.)

As we make our way home we'll pass the drugstore, and stop to pick up a prescription and some OTC medication.  The drugstore is within walking distance of our house, but since we'll be driving right past it we'll stop.  We're busy today, and the convenience of the car is a draw when we're going to be driving anyway.

If we are really with it and manage to eat our lunch a little early we can start our car trip with a visit to the thrift store.

Now, when analyzed, the only driving we are doing to day that requires the car is the trip to the play group.  Our friends live 2.5 miles away, so visiting them is doable by bicycle, as is the Mexican market, and the thrift store (gosh, we have at least 6 thrift store within biking distance).  The drugstore is an errand we could bike, but that I usually choose to walk as it is pretty close.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Independence Days #1

Today I harvested lettuce, and we ate it for lunch (as salads with CSA veggies and hard-boiled local pastured eggs).  We have a little leftover, and lots still growing.

We have some citrus that is going soft, so I'm going to juice it this evening and find a good sorbet recipe (but I'll make the sorbet tomorrow).

I have an empty spot in the garden box to fill tomorrow!

I let some volunteers come up that didn't look like weeds, and I'm fairly certain they're tomatillos.

Lots of planning going on around here.  Mostly where to grow more food and how to do it cheaply.

Oh, it has been a no drive day, and I have a plan that might help our car-lite endeavor.

Fired Up!

Sharon has a great post today.  Go read it here.

I am inspired, and rejuvenated.  I can do this; I want to do this.  I've been working toward independence (and interdependence) for some time now.  But I've been overwhelmed, and it has seemed too big for me.  Where do I put my focus?  Well, Sharon makes it easy.  Her challenge is a no brainer (not that she doesn't have a brain ~ she's rather brilliant).  Do something everyday. How simple is that.

I think I'll post what I do, perhaps not everyday, but when I can.

Not So Compact After All

See that cool little banner to the right?

I failed.

I guess I wasn't disciplined enough this month, or I let the feelings of guilt and deprivation get to me.  I had a birthday, too.  All in all, I just didn't feel like not buying anything.

So, as best as I can recall, here is my confession.  We bought:

Several books.  All homeschooling related, but probably not necessary.  Story of the World I and II, some poetry books, and some art books.

Papa bought a pair of shoes.  I bought organic underwear and yoga clothing.  To be fair, underwear and shoe are allowed, and I failed miserably at finding thrift store yoga clothing. While it is possible to do yoga in my pajamas, it is rather distracting when my shirt falls over my face, and I doubt I can wear my pajamas to a yoga class.

Two Etsy orders: a necklace and trio of handmade books, and some custom carved rubber stamps.  Technically I have allowed myself handmade items, but I was going to try not to buy anything this month.

An IKEA binge: fabric, stainless steel cooking utensils, glass storage jars, garden trellising, a cardboard theater, and stuffed hedgehogs.  Don't ask.  They were cute, J-Baby loved them, and I was weak.  Because they were hedgehogs, of course.

Yet more fabric, and thread (50% off sale stock up).  Plus fabric painting markers, and bubbles, and sidewalk chalk.

Guitar strings, and a tuner.

A guitar for my birthday (I didn't have one), and today (yikes!), yet another guitar, this one for Papa.

I actually don't feel badly about the guitars at all.  They fit into my plan of long term purchases. I thought long and hard about what I wanted for my birthday, and the only thing I came up with was a guitar, and several family members helped me buy it.  As for Papa, he is a gifted guitarist, and an amazing used guitar became available that wasn't likely to show up again for a long time (if ever ~ how often do you find a used left-handed Larrivee OMV-09K?).  So his is an early birthday present.

No, I feel the worst about the fabric.  I haven't been sewing, so it was clearly stash building, which I had decided I wouldn't do.  I feel ambivalent about the Etsy purchases, knowing that they were unnecessary items even if handmade.  The bubbles, chalk, and fabric paints were child pleasers (although I do intend to make our own bubbles again using the purchased bubble container).

I had to post about this, to make a list and see what I had purchased, so that I could think about why.  Because the why is the most important thing.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Blooming Child

J-Baby turned 8 this month.  Leading up to it, I saw that the inward focus of 7 was giving way (and he was one of those 7 year-olds who really lived life in a minor key), and J-Baby was swinging toward equilibrium once again.  I sighed in relief, and was once again thankful for the little Geselle institute books that talk about child development in broad strokes and are just old enough to have avoided the current fear-based, helicopter-style of parenting.

J-Baby is also thriving on our new, sort-of schedule.  I say sort-of, because we are still who we are, and even deciding to take on more focused lessons has to be done our way.  We started with a basic outline, chose books, and we've tweaked it since then.  So far, this is what is going on:

We're reading The Story of the World Volume II.  I'm not truly impressed, but the boys really like it and Papa pointed out that it does introduce the names of people and places, along with some basic plot and myth.  We're going to get volume I in audio format.

We started with Howard Pyle's version of Robin Hood, which came highly recommended by both Waldorf and CM educators.  Uh, no.  The language is flowery and awkward (not flowery and beautiful, like Shakespeare), and I see no reason for using Robin quoth instead of Robin said in the year 2008.  There is a place for updated language!  Anyway, the boys pointed out that they already know the Robin Hood stories well (thank you Jim Weiss and Barefoot Books), so we went back to Laura Ingalls Wilder's On The Banks of Plum Creek, with a plan to start Farmer Boy as soon as we're done.  The boys are loving it!

J-Baby adores the Holling C. Holling natural history books, and we're currently reading Paddle to the Sea.

We've done a bit of poetry, some art history (biography of Da Vinci, another story they know well so we may drop it), and a little Shakespeare.  The poetry and Shakespeare aren't grabbing the boys; for now I think we'll hold off on Shakespeare, and move to more interesting poetry.  I had chosen Christina Rossetti (based on an Ambleside Online recommendation), but her stuff has really flopped with the boys.  I actually came across a great series called Poetry For Young People and purchased several poets, including Poe, Dickinson, Frost, Sandburg, and Robert Louis Stevenson, so we're going to see what strikes our fancy.

We've yet to get going with math or writing (in a formal way), and that's okay.  What we are doing now is feeding the need that J-Baby expressed.  He is also practicing his reading often, and may soon transition from beginner to advanced beginner, which will open up many more written things to him and help him feed his own curiosity.

Of course, the bulk of our living and learning isn't happening during this focused time.  We're gardening, and reading other books.  We started embroidering burlap, and the boys draw everyday.  We walk, we ride bikes, we go to the farm markets, we hike, we chase trains, we get together with friends, we cook and bake, we make music and sing . . . we live.

It has been wonderful to watch J-Baby open up to the world and live in it full of joy.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


I said I would write here, and only here, and I didn't.

I have a few draft posts, but nothing that I finished.  I posted at Sunshine Alternative Mama and at Holistic Learning when I said I wasn't going to. Overall, I didn't blog much.  I'm out of practice, I suppose.

Hmmm . . . perhaps there is a way I can combine all of my Blogger blogs into one mega-blog.

Anyway, I'm laughing, because now that I have my new laptop and a subscription to .mac, I'm planing to create a blog that isn't hosted by Blogger.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

New Rhythms *and* Homeschooling in California

We are still trying to find our groove in the area of focused learning.  What can an Enki (non-radical) unschooling mama do when her boys say they want real lessons?  I can't make them understand the philosophy, nor can I make them see that unschooling is working in their lives, and always has.  No, my responsibility is to meet their needs, and it is very clear that they want more.

You my recall that we had tried to return to Enki-style lessons not that long ago.  While the boys loved the structure, we were once again falling flat with the content, which means we all lost interest pretty quickly.  It's easy to burn out when we aren't loving it.

Perhaps part of the issue is that we have always been tidal schoolers more than unschoolers.  We move into focused learning, and then we expand and let what we've worked on sleep while we pursue other interests and learn that way.  This pushing and pulling exists mostly because I am more of an unschooler, and my boys like schedules and workbooks and whatever else it is that says learning to them.  It also has come into play as we've dealt with illness and loss.

Finally, after J-Baby told the cashier at a local store that I don't have time to teach him (obviously he can't wrap his head around the concept of unschooling), I racked my brain and tried to come up with something that I thought might work: combining Enki philosophy with Charlotte Mason methodology.  The way I figure it, the boys' needs are met by the short, focused lessons, I choose what to bring to them using my Enki background, and we have lots of time left over for unschooling.

Right now I am pulling it all together on the fly.  It's more CM than Enki; I'm using a booklist derived from the Ambleside Online curriculum, edited by a group of secular CM homeschoolers.  Some of our resources are from the classical homeschooling movement, some are from Enki, some are rather mainstream.

One of my goals is to maintain the rich multiculturalism of Enki, as well as the focus of us as human beings rather than people of times and places being other.  Most of the AO booklist has a decidedly British/European focus, with American history thrown in for good measure.  I find this especially true when it comes to studying composers, artists, and poets.  So really, I am looking more at the structure and methodology of CM rather than the content.

We are doing some remediation.  The boys can't print very well, and it bothers Papa, and it is starting to bother T-Guy.  So we're going to use Handwriting Without Tears along with copywork.  This seems to be a skill area that we've gone backward in; the boys were printing rather well for their age when we were doing grade 1 with Christopherus and later Enki.  Given the penmanship of many adults I know who do all of their writing via typing rather than print, it seems to be a use-it-or-lose-it skill.

We're also going to focus on bringing written math to the boys.  They are both great with math, and J-Baby in particular seems to be gifted with intuitive math ability.  Now that he is 8 we're going to place more focus on what we consider to be the language of mathematics.  We'll be using Miquon Math and lots of manipulatives.  I chose the math lab materials because I want the bulk of our math learning to be experiential, and to focus on developmental-mastery.

I'd love to take a break over the summer, but we've had a lot of "break" time with the events of the past year, and I think that we should establish a good, healthy rhythm to carry us into the fall.  So for now, our mornings (at least the "academic" portion) looks something like this:

History or Literature reading (alternates for now)
Math work
Daily focus: Art history (M), poetry (T), music history (W), and Shakespeare (TH)
Natural History/Science reading
Phonics lesson

Unlike CM, we aren't doing narration right after the readings.  We are allowing a night of sleep before we reawaken what we've read.  It feels more intuitively correct, or more organic, in that as adults we often tell someone else about what we've read, but not the moment we finish reading it.  Typically, if we are reading it right then we stop and read it to them.  I suppose within CM this is a discipline issue, but my boys just don't get telling me exactly what I've just read to them (uh duh, I should know the story because I just read it!).  It make far more sense for them to tell Papa about it at a later time, or for us to revisit what we read before we start the next chapter.

For this spring/summer term we're mostly focusing on the rhythm, and on getting in as much medieval history as we can.  My plan is to approach history with a more classical approach than we have been via Enki and unschooling.  The boys have hit an age where history is fascinating to them, and I want to run with that.

My thought is to divide the "school year" into 3 -4 terms and still do cultural immersion as we have done with Enki, within the history spine.  We'll tie in art, music, crafts, poetry, etc.  The literature readings for the year can also fit in with cultural block.

It looks like so much when I write it all out. In reality, we're talking about approximately 2 hours of academic focus, 4 days a week.  Afternoons are free for community and nature adventures (which fall under academic content in a more experiential manner), as well as handwork, gardening, crafts, art, and music.  Papa will still be reading to the boys each night (more literature), as well as continue with their science exploration.

Because I am in California there are a seven subjects that we are required to teach at the primary level: English, Math, Social Science, Science, Fine Arts, Physical Education, and health.  The first five subjects are taken care of within the morning hours.  Physical education happens regularly around here with walks, bike riding, basketball, etc.  The boys participate in physical activity and learn the rules of various sports.  Health is also a continually visited subject; we cover hygiene, physical health, nutrition, emotional health, alternative/complementary healing, and more.

Actually, given the current homeschooling uncertainty here in California, I am feeling a bit more confident bringing focus to our academic learning.  I'm not sure what it is going to mean to homeschool in CA once the courts and legislators get done with it.  I'm almost 100% certain that the idea that homeschooling requires a parent with a teaching credential will get tossed out.  I have a feeling that ISPs, both private and public (including charter ISPs) will have to provide more oversight (which may prove problematic for private umbrella schools that have previously limited their involvement to record-keeping).  Those of us who choose the private school option, if it remains an option, may have to tweak how we've done things.   The affidavit is for "persons, firms, associations, partnerships, or corporations offering or conducting full-time day school at the elementary or high school level for students between the ages of 6 and 18 years".

Although the current court case involved parents using a private school ISP, all manners of homeschooling are now being examined.  For those who choose the private school option, the question seems to be, what constitutes a full-time day school?  Those who follow the philosophy of John Holt believe that our children are learning all of the time.  Will the state disagree?

My hope (and thus what I will be working toward) is that we can continue homeschooling CA as we always have, with the same choices and opportunities.  I believe that I have a parental right to educate my children as I see fit, and that within the current code I have the right to establish a private school in order to do just that.  If I have to change how I do things, I will.  If I have to log hours, or show progress, I'll find a way to do that.

One thing I do know is that this freedom I have, to change things, to refine our rhythm, to switch books and curricula mid-stream ~ it can only be seen as a plus.  I am creating education for my children based on their needs, and our needs as a family.  I don't teach them based on the needs of the government, businesses, or even what the state has determined to be the needs of the average student.  It's like making breastmilk; the education Papa and I provide our children is just for them.  There have to be alternatives, but nothing beats an education tailored to the specific needs of the individual child.  Even those parents who choose public school (or perhaps have no choice) would have a hard time arguing with that.