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.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Compact Month

See that cool little banner to the right?

Yes, I need an April butt-kicking, after the insanity of purchasing not one, but two new computers in March.  We actually purchased 5 computers in our attempt to get the right fit.  We ended up with two ~ a desktop and a laptop, as well as an external hard drive and a duplexing laser printer that runs on the network.

It's easy to justify our purchases.  The ancient desktop is on its last legs; every time we turn it on Papa tells me that the hard drive is about to fail (something I had told him a year ago, but I digress).  I was getting jumpy about our digital pictures.  I started pining for a laptop last November when I participated in the NaNoWriMo2007 challenge.  Just as Papa acknowledged that yes, the horrible sounds coming from the old desk top (upgraded many times over the past 9 years) were indeed the hard drive and not, as I had been previously reassured, the fan, he also told me that he wanted to start programming on a new platform to keep himself fresh in terms of the current job market.

So, absolutely, the new desk top makes sense.  I am all for a working computer and Papa gaining new job skills given the current economic situation.  In the past we held tight to the idea that he could jump ship and join the ranks of Microsot, but I'm thinking now that every other non-Microsoft programmer may be thinking the same thing.

The laptop?  That's mostly me.  We functioned well as a one computer family when I was the only one using it.  As soon as the new desk top came home not only did Papa need to spend quality time getting to know it, but the boys took their first steps into a wired world, playing a video game on it a few evenings a week.  Suddenly it was as if I didn't have a computer at all.

I had planned to wait and buy the laptop in October; I decided last year that I am semi-serious about my writing and that I would get a laptop before NaNoWriMo '08.  We bumped that up, however, when realized that not only was I going to have to wait in line to write, but also that the fact that I have children who can read (over my shoulder) meant that my sense of privacy was gone.  I like to write alone.

All of this being a fancy way to say that March was a big spending month for us, and we feel a natural desire to decrease our spending in April.  This new challenge is a great one for me; it's long enough to make an impact, and short enough to (hopefully) prevent the deprived feelings and guilt that sometimes come with Compacting territory.