Thursday, December 31, 2009

Another Christmas project revealed

the lego mat when closed

inside the lego mat

For Carbon, I made a lego quilt. It is based on an idea a friend described to me, that it would be great to have a blanket to play on that also doubled as a sack to carry them in, so when you were done playing you could just cinch it up and go.

I ordered the fabric from Superbuzzy, because there was nothing in my fabric stash that said "lego quilt" to me at all. These two fabric were perfect for this project, but like most designer fabric they were pricey, so this is a "1 yard project", as I didn't want to buy more than that.

I quilted them together, put a binding around the edge, and then tried to pound grommets in. Lesson learned (which I should have known from listening to my mother cuss when I was a kid) - I HATE grommets. Really, I should have just made button holes. But once I had holes (even though many are just unfinished holes because the grommets fell off - did I mention I HATE grommets?) I pulled this cord through and Voila! it was done.

Super simple, super practical.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Buy Nothing Month

I only have one more day to Shop, because the family has agreed to have a Buy Nothing Month in January. This is going to mean that we don't buy anything except food, medicine (if we need any), and what we are calling "necessary sanitation and hygiene items". That last category means we can buy TP, toothpaste, laundry detergent, or even the disposable pull-ups Hypatia is still using at night.

Purchases that fell into a grey area for us included: alcohol of all types, espresso, fast food and takeout, and digital purchases that don't produce a real thing (such as ipod songs, or Kindle books). We are going to include those on the Not Buying It list, but we're not 100% convinced and they might sneak back in.

That about covers what we are doing. So why are we doing this?

There are two main reasons: we want to decrease our impact on the environment and we want to reduce our personal debt load. By simply not shopping at all, we will save all the money we would have spent on that stuff, and we will not contribute to the Cycle of Stuff.

Everyone is on board with this plan, even the kids. They are excited to save their allowances up for an even bigger purchase in the future, but even that materialistic motivation seems like something good for them to learn, so I am happy with their reasons. My husband is pretty low-key about it - after all he is not the shopper in the family so he thinks it won't affect him very much.

I'm hoping that this month will be a time that I can do some Making, when I'm not allowed to Buy. I hope to make some clothing for the kids, maybe finish Carbon's quilt I've been working on, and use and enjoy some of the Stuff we already own (especially that stash of sewing supplies). It would be great to repair and mend some of our broken Stuff, as well.

So we'll see how this goes. If I run out of white thread, I'm not allowed to replace it for the whole month. Probably little stuff like that will be the most annoying. But maybe there will be big annoyances as well. We'll just have to see how it goes - one month can't be too bad.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A christmas project revealed

pencil holder

sketch book pouch

Here is what I made for my husband. It's a fabric pouch for nature journaling, with a field guide and blank journal inside the inner pocket and a row of pencil holders on the outside. He may never find the time, but he enjoys native plants and he has talked about participating in our family nature walks and journaling, so I thought this would be useful for him.

The design (which I made up as I went) has a major flaw, because the pencils fall out when you flip open the pouch. In the future, I would put the pencil holders on the front of the inside pocket. But other than that, I like how it came out, and I plan to make more for all of us.

This is fabric that I bought a long time ago, with no idea what I would use it for, and now the perfect project has presented itself. I love how it reminds me of Beatrix Potter, and her nature pictures.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Wild Days

out for a walk

looking for the beavers

Some days are wild days with ringing phones, buzzing doorbells, beeping microwaves, pagers, and clocks. There are mounds of laundry, and dishes, and junk mail and bills to process. There are places to be, appointments to keep, a list of things to do that lengthens twice for every item crossed off ...
but how and when do we recharge our symbolic batteries and fill the empty recesses of our own hearts? We need time away from our hectic lives to live, to connect with ourselves, our world, our creator and one another ...

--Karen Skidmore Rackliffe in Wild Days

trying to find the right balance in our homeschool

There is so much we could do, and there is a minimum that we have to do, and somewhere there is a "perfect" balance between those two positions. I'm excited to start a few new lessons (I'm also excited to start calling them "lessons" instead of "schoolwork" - such a nicer word): nature journals, creative writing, FIAR, botany, geography, and preschool ABC's for Hypatia.

All of those will be wonderful new additions, and many are things we really should do. But I worry about getting it all done, because there are also the lessons I don't want to stop doing: Math U See, Sonrisa Spanish, reading lessons, Story of the World, and music lessons. They also must do some kind of PE class or activity, Sunday School, household chores (Home Ec.), and "be socialized" with lots of field trips and playdates/groups.

It felt overwhelming, until I realized that I didn't have to do everything every single day of the week. Really, in any given day with my kids I have the morning/breakfast lesson time, then we have a day where there could be lessons either with me or with their nanny, and then we have the late afternoon/evening when we could do another lesson. Starting next week after holiday break, the week should look like this:

  1. Spanish Lesson and History with Creative Writing Lesson
  2. Nature journals or Botany or Geography and Chores or Handwork crafts
  3. FIAR and music


  1. Preschool ABC's and Music/Art Lessons
  2. playdates or fun fieldtrips
  3. FIAR


  1. Spanish Lesson
  2. Math and Reading (at the nanny's house)
  3. Gymnastics classes for both kids


  1. History Lesson
  2. Math and Reading (at the nanny's house)
  3. FIAR


  1. Preschool 123's and Music Lesson
  2. math and reading (at the nanny's house)
  3. FIAR

I love having a schedule and a plan, as it just fits my personality and my need for order and organization. So this is incredibly helpful to me.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunday - the "take home" project

cinnamon hearts
picture: a previous "take home project" of cinnamon heart ornaments

It's not every Sunday, but many Sundays I like to have the kids make something really cool that they can take home with them. After all, when the parents come pick the kids up from class and ask "what did you do?", they may get an answer like "nothing really". Kids rarely burst into an explanation of the story they heard or the cooperative game they played or the guided meditation they did. But if they made something, they have it in their hands, and they give it to their parents. If it's cool, they give it with excitement.

Today we made 2010 calendars. I have a binding machine, and it was easy to print out the calendar pages from Microsoft Publisher and bind them. I read Calendar to the kids, and then they drew pictures on each calendar page to represent that month of the year. It was a cool project, something they were happy to take home, and we had fun making it. Success!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas aftermath

I woke up this morning depressed. Christmas is over, all the buildup, all the "specialness", all over. And then what we are left with is the mess.

christmas mess

christmas aftermath

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Handmade Christmas

handmade Christmas

It's Christmas Eve, and all I have left to do is soak candied fruit in brandy for tomorrow's Christmas Cake, and bake cookies for Santa Claus. And stuff the stockings after the kids go to bed, of course.

My husband, on the other hand, left a great deal for today, and he may not get all his gifts finished by tomorrow. But what he did make is going to be really wonderful for Hypatia:

fairy house

These fairy tree houses sell for a lot of money, and our version here cost us nothing. The natural wood are branches my husband cut from one of our trees and then dried in our oven, and the platforms are all cut from an extra cedar plank from our fence. He even made a little table and chair.

My husband is giving Carbon a 20 foot length of rope and photocopies of a plan for a treehouse, so that is more of a promise of gift than something he can enjoy tomorrow. But he is going to love building the treehouse with his dad, so it will be good.

I love the idea of a natural Christmas, better for the environment and more personal, but at this point in the holiday I start to worry that the kids will be disappointed. They are not going to receive some mound of fancy stuff, they are not going to have a toy catalog materialize under the tree for them, and I worry they will be bummed about this.

All we have for them is this:

Carbon - the promise of building a treehouse with his dad, a quilted-lego-mat-with-drawstring-closure, and in his stocking a cardgame, two Harry Potter lego mini-figs, Harry Potter 1 on audio CD, art supplies, and candy.

Hypatia - the fairy house, a handsewn doll outfit, and in her stocking two fairy dolls, Winnie-the-Pooh and Peter Rabbit on audio CD, art supplies, and candy.

The excess of the standard American Christmas isn't what we want, but I still second-guess myself. Will the kids be happy tomorrow?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Special events

all dressed up

Last night Hypatia went to her first live theater performance, when we went up to Seattle to see the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular. She loved it!

I learned from Carbon's bad experience with Wicked, and this event went much better. It was a better choice for a child, and the audience was more accepting of some squirming. We went with my dad and stepmother and my sister and two step-sisters, so there were plenty of folks to take turns taking care of one child.

Before we left, Hypatia and I got dressed up together, and did our hair and put on "lipstick", and I spent most of the two-hour drive singing Christmas songs with her. We found the theater without trouble, I shelled out for the crazy-expensive parking lot that was well-lit and across the street, and we met her Dad as he walked over from his office.

When the lights came up on the stage and the dancers appeared and then Santa's sleigh was pulled onto the stage, her face just lit up. It was wonderful to watch her excitement. She didn't make it all the way through the whole show, and she and I finished it off out in the lobby with her doing her own dance show for me, but even that was sweet and fine with me.

Now I need to give Carbon a good experience with theater. He didn't go to this show, but I just ordered tickets for a children's theater performance of Peter Pan for just him and me. We'll have a special mother-son outing, and hopefully he will love it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Yay! Spanish Time!

It has always been one of our family educational goals for the kids to learn Spanish, but we have floundered on how to do it. We have family that speak Spanish, but they haven't been available to teach the kids. I took one year of it in college, and I am very far from fluent.

I tried to put together curriculum for us to use, with the DVD's, coloring books, picture dictionaries, and CD's that I found at our local school supply store. Some of these products are nice, but overall we haven't been successful this way.

So I finally took the plunge and ordered Sonrisa. It is expensive, but it has been so worth the price so far. With just one teacher's guide and one CD of songs, Spanish "class" has now become the kids' favorite lesson of the day. This morning when I called them to lessons, Hypatia exclaimed "yay! Spanish!".

The curriculum is designed for early education, and in many ways it resembles any good preschool curriculum (but my 1st grader is still very happy to do it too). Organized by themes, there is a circle time with songs to sing together and a simple game-type activity, picture books suggestions, and then art time with creative projects related to the theme and the vocabulary words.

With my very limited spanish, I'm still finding myself able to teach this. The recommendation is to try and not use too much English during the "class", and we're sticking with that. Sonrisa gives me questions to ask, and I repeat the questions until the kids understand and give a response. Sometimes they echo the question back, and sometimes we have to do a bit of pointing and "si", "no" guessing, but then they figure out what I'm asking. As the curriculum points out, this is the natural way that people actually learn language.

The right tools make homeschooling so easy.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday - fun times at church

preparing for winter solstice

Today there was the fun I had planned on, that I came in and set up and led myself, which was a Fire Dance for the Winter Solstice using red ribbons for the "fire". Kids simply love to play with ribbons, and folks who aren't comfortable dancing can still have fun waving a ribbon around. Even my 4th and 5th grade boys (who can be way too cool for dancing), were doing this today.

games kit

And then there was fun I wasn't expecting today. I put this "games kit" together about a year ago, with a binder to keep game ideas and directions in and the basic materials you need for most games: a sheet, some different balls, bean bags, orange cones, a long jumprope, and blindfolds. My idea was to have it on hand for times when we didn't have a good lesson plan or we needed to fill time, but since I put it together it has only been used as a "going to a picnic" type thing where I take the box to church events and just let the kids play with the balls.

Today one of my middle school OWL facilitators came up to me before class and said that she thought the session would run short, and did I have any games they could play? And then she browsed the book and found some games for them - which they did and loved! I was so thrilled that the box finally got used!

I love hearing laughter and seeing the kids leave with big smiles on their faces.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The holiday of my childhood

my yule log

I recently wrote about feeling connected to my grandparents as I have focused on the Christmas story, and a good friend pointed out that creating a heritage and passing it on is one of the things religious traditions do. Well, they are called traditions, aren't they?

But that Christian holiday was a tradition and a heritage that I only received through my grandparents, for I am a second-generation heretic. My parents came of age in the hippie-era, and they both had rejected their Presbyterian upbringing before they met each other.

Looking back, I can see the journey they took as they moved away from their family traditions. My early Christmases were spent with extended family, being told that I had to "be polite". At home we never prayed or said grace, but we were expected to do those things at grandma's house. The family was still trying to "save" us, so we would always be given a child's Bible and be taken to church. My mother wouldn't let us take communion, and then grandma would glare.

So those early holidays were times of family stress, doubt, and a bit of shame. Over the years, my mother searched for new holiday traditions, and new ways to honor this time of year. And what we found was paganism, and the celebration of Yule, or the Winter Solstice. We put our own, personal twist on it, with a 12 day celebration, lighting a candle on our yule log each night and opening a small gift.

How many years does it take before you have a tradition? How many generations? My children, once again, have new traditions. My husband's family sends us wonderful advent packages, so the kids have a tradition of opening advent gifts. And I don't give them 12 days of gifts, but we still light our candles for 12 days after Yule, making specific wishes for the new year. We blend Yule and Christmas together, celebrating a "pagan Christmas". We talk about Santa Claus as "the spirit of winter", and Jesus as "a wise teacher". We open our advent gifts, sing our Christmas carols, light our Yule Log, get visited by Santa Claus, and go to candlelit services at our UU church.

It might be a mishmash, but it's the same mishmash that we are as a family. A bit of this from grandparent X, a bit of this from mom, a bit of this from dad, etc. And now this is our holiday, our tradition.

Somewhat related: "What Are We Celebrating?" at A Journey of Ministry

Friday, December 18, 2009

3 quotes from today's reading practice

Our craving for identity is a burden. We feel that we can only be happy if we are "worthy" and "valuable". We compile mental lists of of our good points and bad points and constantly monitor our performance. We demand that we be different from how we see ourselves. Not many people would want to admit that their aim in life is to create a positive self-image, it's like saying "I invest most of my energy in trying to feel really proud of myself".

--Sarah Napthali, in buddhism for mothers

With a transcendent ego, we become more aware of our broader dimensions, better prepared to decide realistically when, where, and why to express the essence of who we are. In becoming more conscious of the full range of our thoughts and feelings, we inevitably become less threatened by the knowledge of our flaws and can more readily integrate and appreciate the whole of we are - the good and the bad.

M. Scott Peck, MD, in The Road Less Traveled and Beyond

The key is to fail gracefully, in a quest that truly matters, and in such a way that others feel better about their own failures. The secret is to return from this quest blessed with new eyes to glimpse the divine amid the ordinary and new ears to hear the still, small voice. Then sight becomes miracle, and hearing too. No further proof is necessary.

Forrest Church, in Lifecraft

Every day that I can, I read and journal, copying down quotes and my own thoughts. This is my second spiritual practice, as yoga engages my body and focus, while this engages my mind. And frequently, I find just what I needed to find in my readings, like I did today.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

when they have plenty of free time ...

I've been feeling under the weather for two days, so we haven't done a lot of lessons. When I've emerged from my fog, these are the things I've seen the kids doing:

beloved toy

digging a pool under the gutter

young explorer

Is there educational value to the activities they filled their free time with? It's hard to quantify that. But I'm positive that there was some sort of value to these activities, that in fact it was very good for the kids to have this free time to fill. They had to think of their own activities, follow-through on their own ideas, and entertain themselves. In our over-scheduled and outwardly controlled lives, too many children don't know how to entertain themselves, and perhaps the antidote to that is more free time.

Picture Books About Darwin

Darwin books

In our rather random science ramblings, we have just rambled through the work of Charles Darwin by reading these three books. My little naturalist was delighted with the life story of Darwin and wants to start his own beetle collection now.

Animals Charles Darwin Saw follows the Beagle's path around the world and what animals Darwin saw, and what thoughts those animals invoked in him. I really liked the illustrations in this book, as they were the most realistic.

One Beetle Too Many is a biography in picture book form, starting with humorous anecdotes of Darwin's childhood (including the story of putting a beetle in his mouth because he wanted to pick up three at once) and then moving on to the voyage of the Beagle and his later work forming the theory of evolution. The illustrations in this book are a bit cartoonish, but the prose is very informative (and long for a single reading session).

Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution begins with the story of how life has evolved on this planet, and then discusses Darwin and genetics. There is less about Darwin here, and more explanation of the mechanisms of evolution.

For now, we've just about exhausted our attention span for Darwin, but I'm sure we'll be visiting him again. Three books in a row is a good rhythm for us.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Library Reading Challenge

I'm signing up for this reading challenge, which will be easy for me - I get almost all my books from the library.

Here's the details of the challenge, from J. Kaye's blog:

1. Anyone can join. You don't need a blog to participate.

--Non-Bloggers: Post your list of books in the comment section of the wrap-up post.

2. There are four levels:

--The Mini – Check out and read 25 library books.

--Just My Size – Check out and read 50 library books.

--Stepping It Up – Check out and read 75 library books.

--Super Size Me – Check out and read 100 library books.

(Aim high. As long as you read 25 by the end of 2010, you are a winner.)

3. Audio, Re-reads, eBooks, YA, Young Reader – any book as long as it is checked out from the library count. Checked out like with a library card, not purchased at a library sale.

4. No need to list your books in advance. You may select books as you go. Even if you list them now, you can change the list if needed.

5. Crossovers from other reading challenges count.

6. Challenge begins January 1st thru December, 2010.

7. When you sign up under Mr. Linky, put the direct link to your post where your library books will be listed. Include the URL to this post so that other viewers can find this fun challenge. If you’d prefer to put your list in the sidebar of your blog, please leave your viewers the link to the sign up page. Again, so viewers can join the challenge too.

I am going for the Super Size Me challenge, of 100 or more books read from the library in 2010.

Making memories

gingerbread house

finishing off the gingerbread house

More is More

Last night I put on Christmas music and helped the kids get started on this gingerbread kit. When their dad got home from work, he sat down for a few minutes to use up the last of the frosting and put all the candy on there.

This is not a product that will be pictured on next year's Christmas card, but I think it's this kind of memory that will shape their feelings about the holidays. It was a sweet time.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Gift giving and my holiday To Do list

What kind of gift-giver are you? Or do you have several styles, depending?

My gift-giving seems to fall into a few categories:

  1. Something homemade, because I could make it, and not necessarily because it's the perfect thing for the person.
  2. I happened to see something that just screamed a person's name, it was so perfect for them, and I bought it.
  3. I got something practical that I knew the person needed but probably wouldn't buy for themselves.

This means that my husband just got socks and long-underwear from me for his birthday today. That sounds like a crappy gift, but I know he needs them and I know that he doesn't like to shop for clothes. If I just get stuff for him, he doesn't have to worry about having stuff to wear.

He gave me a laptop cooling pad for Christmas, and he gave it to me early because my laptop kept overheating. I wouldn't have thought of buying that for myself, so it was nice of him to do the shopping for me.

And here is my holiday To Do List, in italics if it's done

  • Christmas cards
  • mail packages
  • mail portraits to grandparents
  • decorate the house
  • Help Carbon make gifts for his sister and dad
  • Help Hypatia make gifts for her brother and dad
  • Make gifts for Carbon, Hypatia, and their dad
  • Make my Christmas stocking
  • Shop for my dad, my siblings, my MIL, my FIL, my SIL
  • Get stocking stuffers for all the stockings
  • Make an advent calendar
  • Get candles for our Yule Log
  • Cookie exchange with my Mom
  • Make a gingerbread house with the kids
  • Gifts and tips for our nanny, my favorite barristas, our mailman, and my coworkers

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Advent Sunday - the pageant

the little sheep

pageant time

Little sheep and shepherds, loving being in a play. For many of them, this was their first play. They stood and sang "The First Noel", and then went and sat with their families to watch the rest of the story.

It was sweet. Really, as I have explored and worked with the Christmas story this year, there is nothing not to like. The music is glorious. The story is sweet (if you leave out bits like the slaughter of the innocents - OK, we left out those parts).

We ended our play with this hymn from the UU hymnal:

Within the shining of a star
we catch a glimpse of who we are,
in every infant born we see
the hope of our nativity.

The miracle of each new birth
can shake and save the stony earth;
triumphantly the newborn's cry
strikes echoes from the waiting sky.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

O, Christmas Tree ...


Carbons tries to carry it all by himself

Today we cut down our Christmas tree. I firmly believe in real trees, for many of the reasons listed here (although this website cannot be called neutral, at all).

We have been going out to the same farm for several years now. It is very close by, practically in our neighborhood, and it is a family farm operated by a large extended family. They groom their trees fairly nicely, although there are always a few odd ones left in the field that can be fun to find. A few that were never bought have grown quite large, and stick up strangely.

After tromping about and playing Marco Polo in the lines of trees, we ended up picking a skinny tree I thought would fit in our house. Carbon and his dad cut it down, and then Carbon and his Papi (grandpa) carried it to the truck.

I love these holiday field trips, and how we return to the same farm each year for our pumkin, the same farm each year for our tree, etc. It just feels good, and is a lot more fun than buying one at the grocery store or on a lot.

Even after I had an exhausting day at work, this tree cutting trip was wonderful. O, Christmas tree, O, Christmas tree ...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

They are each their own person

a little ham

My son is shy with new people and anyone he doens't know well. He hates it when people talk about him, so we can't tell stories about him to others. He is fairly camera shy at this point in his life. He loves to build things, to analyze things, and to collect things. He is very emotional and sensitive.

And then there is my daughter. She will walk right up to strangers and start telling them a story. She loves to dress up and have her picture taken. She loves to perform and be the center of attention. She is incredibly stubborn and has a nasty temper. She is charming and frequently gets what she wants.

They are each their own person, and who they are today is not the same as who they have always been, and it will not be the same as who they will become. These precious individual personalities that currently drive me crazy, make me laugh, and that I adore so completely will not last. They will grow, they will change, and I will lose my little children.

As much as some of the things they do now frustrate me and I will say "I can't wait until this is over", I am going to miss these little people when they are grown.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Spiritual Science Books

spiritual science books

Living Sunlight: How Plants Bring the Earth to Life is a tale that has energy = life, and thus the sun is the source of life through photosynthesis. The process of photosynthesis is shown in lovely illustrations.

This type of book, along with the trilogy starting with Born with a Bang are scientifically accurate, but give the connections and processes a spiritual spin - such as "we are all made of stardust", or "you are made of living sunlight". They are like a poem I copied out of the book What Does God Look Like In An Expanding Universe:

Where Do We Come From?

Deliver us a line
about supernovas and galaxies,
empty space and time.
Do we come from the garden,
Do we come from the One,
Do we come from the fireball,
or the generosity of the sun?
Weave a tale for us,
spin a metaphor or two,
About the grandeur of our origins,
When the seamless web was new.

--Catherine Browning

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Embracing our UU Identity

My FamilyMinistry Team is using the book Full Circle: Fifteen Ways to Grow Lifelong UU's by Kate Tweedie Erslev as a study book. We are going to discuss one chapter a month, during our regular monthly committee meeting, and last night was our first go at it.

The first of the 15 ways in the book is "Embrace Our UU Identity", which was a wonderful place for our discussion to start. People brought up how hard it was to get a straight answer when they first started attending a UU church, when they would ask "so what do you folks believe?" and just be answered with the question "what do you believe?". Others talked about having trouble answering the kids's questions without taking an hour to go through a list of "and now some people believe this, and other people say this, and still others say ...".

One father on our committee had a very useful example of a conversation he had with his daughter, where she started by asking him what the UU church believed, and he got wrapped up in one of those long explanations. His daughter stopped him and reframed the question: "Well, how did the church get started?" And by reframing the question, he was able to give a grounded explanation.

That perspective is what helps me also. My UU Identity is not your UU Identity - the idea of a single UU Identity seems as far-fetched to me as the idea that there is only one way to be a woman with a female-identity. But we all share a heritage, and in that sense our UU Identity is like being in a family. We share roots, we share characteristics, and we share a certain "family culture" that we may not even notice but that affects us a great deal.

It is helpful to be able to tell your children explicitly what you stand for, and where you have come from, what heritage you are handing to them. This is different from telling them how they have to be.

Yes, children need the freedom to find their own path, their own truth. But just because the road ahead has many possibilities doesn't negate the value of looking at the road behind us, and knowing where we have come from. Embracing our UU Identity should include heritage, history, and an appreciation of what has led us up to this point.

Monday, December 7, 2009

In Santa's workshop

Carbon sewing

Carbon asked to have "the talk" with us.

"Mom, Dad - tell me the truth."

We braced ourselves.

"Do you put the stuff in my stocking for Christmas?"

We looked at each other, but we had decided before that when they ask for the truth, we give it to them.

"Yes, honey we do."

I was expecting him to be mad - mad that we had lied to him before, mad that the magic wasn't true. I remember being mad.

But he wasn't mad. Carbon was proud of himself, proud that he had figured it out. He seems to feel like he's joined the adult part of the holiday now, and he keeps asking how I'm doing on the shopping and making, and if he can help stuff his sister's stocking.

Reasonable gift exchanges

cookie exchange!

Yesterday I had family over to my house for a holiday cookie exchange. This will be the only gift exchange we will do this year, and besides the cookies I gave each household a box of GF baking mix and some sort of fun baking thing (like cookie cutters or a pancake mold) and one of the handmade hot pads the kids and I made together.

It felt nice, and no one went into the hole to buy presents. For other family gatherings this year I have other plans for reasonable presents, such as family gifts, gift certificates for local events, or handmade items.

Without all the stuff we still have a beautiful holiday, and it's greener in both the economic and environmental senses.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Advent Sunday - feeling my Christian heritage

This year, because of the focus of our church Yule Play and because we are moving into a pillar on Abrahamic religions for our winter session in Religious Education, I feel much more in touch with the Christian winter holiday than I usually do. And the strange thing has been that I really like that.

I do not consider myself a Christian, not in the sense that the word has come to mean one who believes in Jesus Christ as their savior. But I, like many people, come from a family that has been, up until the last two generations, Christian for as far back as they can remember. So when I listen to Christian music or read the Bible or otherwise engage with Christianity, I feel a connection - a connection to my family roots and the faith of my grandparents.

This strange feeling of connection is what I imagine others from more conservative faiths must feel. On a recent tour of the Jewish Temple in town, I was so envious of their talk of "founding families" and "heritage". Because my parents broke with their family traditions, I didn't grow up with a feeling of "heritage". "Freedom", yes - "heritage", "tradition", and "connection", No.

Can you have a heritage that also gives you the freedom to think for yourself and be open-minded and grow based on your personal experiences? Well, yes, I think you can, and of course I think that possibility is in Unitarian Universalism, my chosen faith. I sincerely hope that my children grow up feeling that this is both heritage and possibility for them, and the whole cliche of both "roots and wings" might be true for them.

And for myself, I want to keep exploring this feeling of connection with the Christian tradition, and see where that leaves me. How do I balance that connection with my personal theology? It will be interesting to see where that leads me.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Gender-neutral toys, please

I had to go shopping in three toy stores today, and it really got to me, those aisles of pink and then aisles of red or blue. The "boy" zones and the "girl" zones in the store were so clearly segregated.

So I've been thinking of toys that my son and my daughter would both like, and how wonderful it would be if games and toys served to balance the male and the female perspective and bring the genders together. It would also be much more friendly to the many, many kids who in some way cross the gender boundaries and have characteristics not normally associated with their anatomical sex.

How about these:

  1. Pirates and mermaids, packaged together as a set. They could be friends, they could be enemies, they could explore the seven seas as a team or they could all be threatened by sea monsters. Fun for both genders!
  2. Barbie and the alien invaders. OK - so Barbie is packaged with lots of little men - little green men! And they might be brain-swappers and control Barbie, or they might be coming with a peaceful message and she alone realizes how to communicate with them. Companion products could be a fighter pilot Barbie, the "mother ship" of the aliens, and an "alien autopsy" lab. All sorts of play possibilities there for boys and girls.
  3. Pro-wrestler dress up dolls. They wear silly costumes anyway, so why not dress them up?
  4. A "keeping house" set of children's tools. Vacuum-cleaner, lawn-mower, broom and mop, and hammer and screwdriver. No unfair clues as to which gender "should" use which tools.
  5. Fire-house (OK, this product is real, but more stores should carry it). It's a dollhouse, but it's for firefighters. So, you can move all the furniture and people around, or you can have them slide down the pole and jump in their firetruck!
  6. Archaeologist action figures, with lots of treasure props. Not Indiana Jones or any of the female knock-offs, but an actual, responsible scientist digging for treasure and studying the stories of the past. For added excitement there could be "ghosts of the past" action figures as well.

I'm not taking all the excitement or violence out of the toys, I'm just thinking of a merging of toys that would bring boys and girls together.

What do you think? How would you redesign toys if you could?

Breakfast is Art Time

self portraits

The best time for me to have me kids do art is first thing in the morning. I have realized this after many years of resisting "making the mess" and seeing a day go by without it ever being convenient to stop and do an art project.

If I plan on Breakfast being Art Time, I can set up all the supplies and the space the night before, while my kids are asleep. If it will be messy, I can put down plastic dropcloths and tablecloths. It's all set up and ready in the morning when the kids get up, and it lures them right up to the table before they even get dressed.

I can make them breakfast while they get started, and they can munch on their food while they continue working on the art. And then we can all clean up and they can go get dressed, and no matter how busy the rest of the day gets, Art happened.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Handmade Holidays

handmade gifts

So far our Handmade Holiday plan is still on track, but with a bit of shopping allowed for beyond our immediate, nuclear family. The kids and I have made these potholders, and this coming Sunday we are having a Cookie Exchange party with my mother and siblings. They might be getting some baking goodies in addition to their cookies. ;)

I am sewing a bunch of doll clothes for Hypatia, and a Lego play mat/bag for Carbon. And I've got Carbon doing some fun projects that started with fabric markers and drawing on fabric. As long as we keep plugging along steadily, and it doesn't become a frenzy to get things done right before Christmas, this is a fun and special way to celebrate the gift-giving season.

handmaking gifts

Quote of the Day

Claudia said, "But, Mrs. Frankweiler, you should want to learn one new thing every day. We did even at the museum."
"No," I answered, "I don't agree with that. I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you shoud also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you just accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them. It's hollow."

The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
by e.l. konigsburg

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Our "Half" Homeschooling Days

I am unusual among the homeschool parents I know because I work full-time. Many people ask me how this is going to work, how I will have time to do both things, and I do have to admit that it is hard.

We have a few types of days in our lives, and I recently posted about our "Full" homeschool days. There are two full-homeschool days a week here, and then there are three half-homeschool days. Today was a fairly typical half-day for us:

7am: I wake up and do my yoga practice, then check email and do some other online business

8am: I get the kids up, and they ate cereal for breakfast. Then the kids dug into their school baskets (baskets I set out the night before with the morning's school supplies in them) with Hypatia sorting colored beads and Carbon doing vision therapy and practicing his piano. I read a counting book to Hypatia, did a set of review questions from SOTW with Carbon, and then I was reading a non-fiction science book to Carbon.

9:00 - Carbon and I bumped and coffee got spilled on our library book. So we had to dry off the book and leave it open to finish drying. The kids quickly got dressed and packed the toys they would take to the nanny's house. I packed my lunch and their "homework".

9:20 - We left the house, and listened to a CD about Bach as we drove to their nanny's house.

9:45 - I left them with their nanny and headed to work.

10:00 - I started my office hours at work.

While the kids were at the nanny's house, they went shopping with her and went on a nature hike in the woods. They also did the homework that I send along, which today were three workbook pages (math-u-see, primary phonics, and 1st grade sight words) and a Bob book to read.

4:00 - I left work and picked up the kids. They weren't ready to leave, so it took awhile and I visited and chatted with my nanny. We finished our CD about Bach as we drove.

5:00 - We got to a Whittle Wood Shop place in town where Carbon has been making a wooden box. Carbon finished the woodwork part for his box, including drawing a shape for a handle and cutting it out. Hypatia and I hung out in the shop while Carbon was busy at work.

6:15 - Crazy run around time! We grabbed our bakery share, went home for a change of clothes for Carbon and a water bottle. Then we turned around and got back in the car and went through a fastfood drive thru.

6:45pm - We got to the gym for Carbon's gymnastics class (and Hypatia dumped a whole large soda onto my carseat). Carbon had his gymnastics class, and I had to clean my car seat with Carbon's blankie - the only thing I could find in the car that would absorb the liquid.

7:30pm - Carbon is done. I spread my raincoat over the carseat, but even then it was a wet-bottomed drive home.

8:00pm - I put Hypatia to bed, read her a story, and called her dad on the phone so he could say goodnight to the kids.

8:30pm - I read a chapter of Carbon's read-aloud book to him and then he went to bed.

9:00 - I spent some time working on Carbon's Christmas gift and blogging, then I go to bed.

It can be crazy, but "school" type stuff does happen even on days I have to work. It works for us - although I am one tired Mom a lot of the time!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Work of Christmas

my lights

When the song of angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the brothers,
to make music in the heart.

--Howard Thurman

Monday, November 30, 2009

a bit of our homeschooling - music

piano practice

I have Carbon working on piano, using the Bastien piano books. My mother taught me rudimentary piano using Bastien books, and I enjoy repeating this process with my own children. We will need a more competent music teacher eventually (in fact I'm eyeballing a music class for homeschoolers 4-7 years old that is a combo of recorder, piano, and choir), but for now we are doing fine.

I'm convinced that music and other disciplined, pattern-based movements (dance, etc) are wonderful for brain development. There is some research to back this idea up, but my conviction is based on my personal experiences. All the time I have spent focused on patterns and rhythm, in the "zone" of concentration, has always felt good to me. So now I work with my son, and then I do my own piano practice. Just a tiny bit of what we do here.

The Best Picture Books we've read recently

music appreciation books

Bach's Goldberg Variations comes with an audio CD, so you can listen to the music and read this story of a poor orphan boy who also happens to be a child prodigy musician, all at the same time.

The Circle of Seasons by Gerda Muller is a classic book with lovely illustrations of each of the four seasons and how the years go round and round.

Rome Antics was one of our SOTW selections, but it stands alone as a fun book about a pigeon taking the "scenic" route through Rome's famous sights before finally winging home.

I decided to brave another Elsa Beskow book, and Christopher's Harvest Time was much more to my liking. The story is simple, as a lonely boy meets "September" and sees all the spirits of the plants in his garden, but the illustrations and dialogue are rich. Hypatia loved the "songs' which I had to make up tunes for as I read, and she has requested that I make her a doll just like one of the illustrations:

a doll request

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advent Sunday

Advent Sunday

We don't normally pay this much attention to Advent, but this year we are giving the Christian holiday more emphasis because it is our Yule Play.

I grew up the child of lapsed Presbyterians, and we never went to church or anything. But I do remember my childhood Nativity scene, which was a small porcelain set with a golden halo around baby Jesus's head. I wasn't supposed to touch it, but I would sneak over and "play" with it, rearranging the figures and pretending Mary was singing to the baby. Bringing the Playmobil nativity set into our church classes has rekindled those memories for me, as I watch the children play with it.

Of course, mine was a precious item that I wasn't supposed to be touching, so I treated it with great reverence and care. This set is much more accessible to the kids, and they are treating it with, shall we say, less reverence.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A bit of our homeschooling - Story of the World

For our history studies, we are primarily using Story of the World, which has a well-written book that skims over the surface of world history, and a companion Activity Book. At this point we are almost done with Volume 1, and hitting our stride on how to use this curriculum.

When we first began using it, I tried to do all the suggested activities and crafts in the Activity Book. We built a lean-to shelter when we read about the first Nomads, we made clay tablets and scratched cuneiform into them, etc. But then we had all this stuff, that had cost some money to get the supplies to make, that we had put effort into making, and it just cluttered us up. It also took a lot of time to make those crafts and gather the supplies. So we have abandoned the activities, unless one looks really special or fun.

The other parts of the Activity Book are: review questions, narration prompts, suggested further reading, mapwork, and coloring pages. We do all of these, in our own way.

Our rhythm:

1. Sit down and do the review questions for the section we did last time.
2. Read a new section.
3. Get out the globe and the mapwork and review where we are in the world.
4. Do the coloring page if it appeals to the kids.
5. Free play time with legos or playmobil to do a re-enactment of history. The picture above was a roman fort, in case you can't tell.
6. Over the next few days we read the suggested picture books and any others that we found at our library.
7. That will bring us back to review questions and oral narrations.

Depending on how many picture books we were able to find, we will either do several chapters a week or take a couple weeks to do a chapter. I don't enforce historical accuracy during the re-enactment play time, because I think they need to process their reactions to the history as much as memorize it. Some of the history is distressing - war or the collapse of a civilization or something - and the kids do have emotional reactions to that that they need to process. Children process things through creative play and art, so I give them time to do that.

By simplifying I always have the materials on hand, except for the picture books, and that is very important for this busy homeschooling mom. This system is working very well for us, and I already have bought the next volume of SOTW - medieval times are going to be fun for the playmobil re-enactments!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Gluten free Thanksgiving

a community supported bakery

We served a Thanksgiving dinner for 14 last night, and it was all gluten free. It also had to have components that were egg and dairy free.

Gluten-free life has been pretty easy for me since I joined a community supported bakery. The concept is similar to a CSA farm share, in that I paid upfront for the "season", and each week I pick up my "share" (see a typical week's share above). I was very excited to find out that the bakery would do either a gluten-free or a vegan share for the same price as a "normal" share.

For Thanksgiving, I made a few special orders: pumkin pie, apple pie, an olive loaf. So I was well supplied with beautiful gluten-free desserts. And my father brought his speciality, which is a dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free cheese cake. It is delicious (I think it's all tofutti and xanthan gum, but he keeps the exact formula a secret).

My mother is raising heritage turkeys this year, and the day before Thanksgiving my siblings killed and cleaned a turkey for us. The turkey meat was much richer in taste and muscle than we are used to with store-bought turkeys.

We had a very full house, and a lovely dinner. Much to be Thankful for.

Our Thanksgiving Table

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Been Reading - Charles and Emma

I should have posted my review of Charles and Emma: The Darwins's Leap of Faith yesterday, as it was the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of the Species, but I didn't think about it yesterday.

The book has been much praised, and for the most part it deserves that praise. It is a well-researched biography of Charles Darwin and his wife Emma, based largely on their letters to each other and journals. The Darwins were a very loving couple, but they differed from each other greatly on religous matters, and that is the area that the book mainly focuses upon.

I think the author did a good job of not taking sides on the issue, and leaving us to see both Charles and Emma as having a sincere and legitimate point of view. The personal details also shine a lot of light on why Darwin took so long to publish his theory of evolution, as he struggled with his unwillingness to cause controversy and pain to his religious wife and friends, and as he struggled with poor personal health and the death of several children.

For really young readers, this book might prove too long and dry, but middle and high schoolers would get a great deal from it. Reading the book inspired me to imagine a religious education curriculum for my church, looking at Darwin (who grew up a Unitarian), different creation myths, evolutionary process, and the modern controversy of evolution vs. creationism. Wouldn't that be a rich study for my 4th-5th grade class! I hope to put something like this together in the next few years.

In the meantime, I have a few picture books about Darwin and evolution from the library that I will read to Carbon.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Field trips

It's salmon run season around here, and we took the kids out to watch them struggle up the creek and spawn. It's a study and teaching creek, and the salmon stewards had an underwater camera set up so we could all see the real action. When we were there a pair of salmon had parked themselves right in front of that camera and were doing their business!

the fall salmon run

salmon viewing