Sunday, February 28, 2010


new hallway

new play yard

Walking these halls, looking at this soggy yard that will someday be full of playing children, I am filled with anticipation. This space is going to be so lovely, and I can't wait until we are done with the work shown above, and can focus more on the type of work shown below:

butterfly girl

Friday, February 26, 2010

Being a Super Hero

My children, like many children their age, love the idea of Super Heroes. They play superhero, and in the course of that play they battle evil, fight for the right, and save the world. Of course, the evil is never subtle, there is never any question of who is “right”, and the world is in obvious danger from something that can be stopped by brute force.
Our 1st-3rd grade class is currently using a curriculum that puts a different spin on the concept of heroes: Superheroes of the Bible. Here they learn the stories of Moses (and his mother and sister), Elijah, and more, and then they talk about how those people were “heroes”. Not perfect, not super-strong, but heroes all the same. As the curriculum says in its introduction, “people who do heroic deeds have generally humble beginnings, have shortcomings, and make mistakes. Great things can be accomplished by nonperfect people”.
A recent session of the class had the kids talking about what “superpower” they would like to have. Flying, invisibility, mind-reading, and super-strength were all proposed. What would you want as your superpower? Personally, infinite patience would be a very useful superpower for me! The theme song of the curriculum says that a super hero is someone who is “powerful with brains and even stronger in their heart”. What superpowers could live in your heart?
What superpower did Moses’s mother need in order to send her precious baby out onto the river Nile? What superpower did Moses need to take leadership when he was afraid and hated to speak in public? What superpower do you need in order to tackle the challenges in your life? What powers do we all need to tackle the challenges facing our world?
We can all be a hero. When we live our life fully and use our positive superpowers to interact with the world around us, when we grow spiritually and ethically, then we are a hero. When we help others, when we do what we think is right, when we experience loving compassion, we are heroes.
There are many ways that kids, like my kids, can be real Super Heroes. I make a meal once a month for Camp Quixote, and my kids go with me to deliver it. There, they are real heroes. When they dump out their penny bank to donate the money to Haitian earthquake relief, they are real heroes. When they interact with each other with loving compassion (no mean feat for siblings at times), they are heroes. And I know that everyone here at OUUC has those moments when they are a hero, young and old alike.
Let us all cultivate our own superpowers! (heroic fist pump goes here)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Two conversations from today

Me: "Hypatia, why are you sucking on your toe?"

Hypatia: with a loud pop as her toe comes out of her mouth "It tastes good. Like salt."

Me: "Ewwwww. You are so weird."

Hypatia: "Yep. But I'm still your kid."

And then later on ...

Me: "Here, Carbon, have an apple if you're still hungry."

Carbon: "It's a pretty apple." he starts to take a bite "Wait - is this poisoned?"

Me, thinking of Snow White: "No, why would I poison you?"

Carbon: "You know, with the stuff that kills bugs?"

Me: "Oh, you mean pesticides. No, it's organic."

So, I have one child who is sucking the "salt" off her own toe, and another who is worried about eating pesticides. Oh goodness.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"I have plenty of time"

Carbon I

Yesterday Carbon was inspired by our Five In A Row book, The Glorious Flight, to head out into the yard and try and build his own airplane. He knows this one won't fly, but he said "I have plenty of time to keep trying and I'll invent one that does. That guy in the book was older than me when he started".

After it was too dark to "work" outside anymore, he came inside and started writing music. He took his piano workbook, and he copied how they do the notation (which is adapted for beginning youngsters, so they don't have the notes on the staff yet but instead have the letter written above each note). After he had written a few "songs" he asked me to play them on the piano for him. He was a bit disappointed by the way they sounded, but then he said, again, "I have plenty of time. If I keep writing I'll get a good song."


When he says "I have plenty of time" he means that he is young, but there is also the fact that he does have plenty of time everyday to pursue interests and ideas of his own. So many great inventions, discoveries, and creations would not have happened if people hadn't been blessed with free time: Priestley's discovery of the properties of oxygen, Berliot's airplane, Beatrix Potter's books, and the list goes on.

It requires time.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Homeschooling, afterschooling, and trying to find the right road

There are so many things that I love about homeschooling my kids.

I love sharing history with them, talking about ideas, sharing the same stories and experiences as a whole family, being there to see their Ah-Ha! moments, sharing a love of stories and good books, learning new things together, and making plans.

Currently, I really enjoy the curricula we are using for math, spanish, botany, and history. And, although we all like it less, reading is going pretty well also.



But I work full-time, and I feel pretty overworked by my job, the full responsibility for household chores, and homeschooling. Just keeping up with the kids' social calendars, after-school classes, and then their home lessons as well is a lot of work by itself.

But I still want to do some of that learning with the kids - I still want to read to them and do science experiments, and all the rest of it!

It's very hard to decide what I can keep doing, and if I can really do it all. And so we are seriously considering a small private school for the kids, that follows the Sudbury model and is very much like unschooling in a small group environment. I would still do some "after schooling", but I would be decreasing the amount I work on their school lessons. It would also decrease the effort I have to put into providing them a social calendar, as they would be with other kids during the day.

I hope this is the right road for us. Each family has to find what works for them, and although many aspects of what we are currently doing work very well, they run on the assumption that I can and should be a superwoman. As I'm just as human and tired as the next person, it feels like something has to change.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Memory Quilts

Carbon's Memory Quilt

Carbon was very excited to sleep under his new quilt last night, especially as it has been a project years in the making.

This is my first ever quilt, and it was done without a plan or any real research into how a quilt is supposed to be done, so I know it is (charmingly?) off-kilter. But what this quilt is really about is all the little parts that went into it: fabric from our wedding clothes, old worn out pants, beloved old Tshirts, and the extra fabric left after so many momma-sewn clothes or toys or curtains. Lots of love and great memories sewn into this quilt.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


I attended a really fabulous workshop on storytelling today, led by a minister with an amazing love for children's literature. He told us stories, he asked us to think about our own storytelling, and he challenged us to not shy away from the emotionally challenging stories. That in fact, we need to learn how to grieve, we need to see the emotional impact of war, and we need to know how to handle tough emotions. How are we supposed to learn that if those things are never discussed, never demonstrated, never modeled? Story can be a very important teaching tool in these areas.

This point reminded me of a book I am reading right now, The Uses of Enchantment. The author has this to say: "There is widespread refusal to let children know that the source of much that goes wrong in life is due to our very own natures - the propensity of all men for acting aggressively, asocially, selfishly, out of anger and anxiety. Instead, we want our children to believe that, inherently, all men are good. But children know that they are not always good, and often, even when they are they would prefer not to be. This contradicts what they are told by their parents, and therefor makes the child a monster in his own eyes."

Bettelheim is a Freudian, and this book was published before I was born, so I feel like some of the concepts are a bit out-of-date or at least off-tone, but overall I love his analysis of why Fairy Tales resonant and are needed by children. We need stories, even, or perhaps especially, the ones that challenge us.

So today I was challenged to think about these questions:

1. What is the theme that you keep coming back to in your stories, columns, sermons?
2. How are your stories autobiographical? How is this your story? What is the human connection?
3. What makes a good story? What makes good storytelling?
4. What are you good at and what are you not good at with storytelling?

It was a lovely discussion and reflection, and I realized that I do have a theme in most of my storytelling, and it seems to be Letting Go, Accepting Limitations, and Letting Go of Attachements. Those are things, along with being overly-sensitive and self-critical, that I am actually working on. But then other people mentioned themes like Grace, Beauty, Love, and Community. Geez - I should be focused on those things too! I think we were all feeling like that.

Anyway, it was a very lovely and productive workshop. Here are the books he read from today:

The Van Gogh Cafe

Click, Clack, Moo, Cows that Type

That's Good, That's Bad

Peter Rabbit

Seven Blind Mice


Faithful Elephants

What stories do you love? And what stories have challenged you? Gosh, I really love stories. :)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Yet Another booklist

The Curious Garden

We seem to have slowed down a bit on our reading, as evenings have been busy again and so I'm not always able to read several bedtime books to the kids. But we have found a few recent reads that we've really enjoyed:

How To Bake An Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman is one of our Five In a Row books, so we read it several times. In this whimsical tale, a girl travels the world to collect the finest ingredients for her apple pie, then makes it really from scratch. There is a recipe for apple pie in the back, so you could bake one after reading this!

The Mitten by Jim Aylesworth is yet another retelling of the lost mitten tale, but this one is particulary funny. I love Aylesworth's style.

Dark Night by Dorothee de Monfried shows that there is more than one way to deal with the scary monsters in the night, and is delightfully illustrated and slightly off-kilter.

Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say tells the story of a family that moves back and forth between Japan and California within a few generations, and had a really deep message about home and immigration.

Fox Outfoxed by James Marshall is just plain fun and funny.

Curious Garden by Peter Brown is about a boy who becomes a gardener, and a garden that is curious to see new ground, and a city that becomes green again. Sweet and inspirational, and perfect for the little gardeners in our lives.

And we listened to Alice in Wonderland on audiobook - that book is so strange! It is really like a long crazy dream. I don't think I'll take both kids to the movie, but maybe Carbon might enjoy it.

Monday, February 15, 2010

My latest sewing project

Butterick #5173

This has not been a smooth project. The pattern is Butterick 5173, which other bloggers have not liked that much. Maybe before I buy a pattern in the future I'll just Google it and see what folks are saying.

Anyway, I cut this dress out of the very last of my stash of organic black knit, which has been a beloved staple of my sewing for several years now. I was going to do the neckline out of some organic pink that I had in the stash, but as soon as I started to do that it was obviously too light and insipid. I loved this knit print when I saw it at Joanne's.

But, back to the pattern. It was mostly clear-cut, except for getting the right arrangement of the gathers on the front. The first two times I did it, when I pulled it on for a fitting I had skewed the neckline around and had a serious case of uneven chest! After ripping it out and redoing it twice, I am accepting the results above as being the best I can get.

Another issue I have with the pattern is that it just wants to fall off my shoulders. As it is also too low cut and chest emphasizing for me to normally wear, I will probably wear it over another shirt.

And the picture makes it look like I made one sleeve longer than the other, but that is an optical illusion!

All in all, I can't recommend this pattern, and I won't use it again. But I will wear this dress, darn it!

My unsocialized homeschoolers

at lego club

Humans are social beings, which is why I reject the idea that kids needs to go to full-time school in order to "be socialized". Our current socializations occur in many ways:

Lego Club. Carbon LOVES Lego Club - it's held once a month is a library meeting room. The homeschool mom who organizes this club has been doing this for years, and in fact her own sons have outgrown it and now just come in to help or to play chess on the side of the room. But she still has the 12 tubs of legos they accumulated over their childhoods, and after a Show and Tell Circle where the kids get to show off their own creations from home, those tubs are all spread out and it's a couple hours of group lego building. She always finishes with another Show and Tell circle so all the kids can share what they built.

Park Day. Our homeschool listserve has a pretty loose and disorganized structure, but they do have park day, when families just show up at the park at anytime during that day and play with whoever is there. It's been a great place to meet new families and have unstructured play time.

Classes. We take all sorts of classes, but swimming and gymnastics are consistent. There are also YMCA sports, and the Children's Museum in town runs occasional Art and Science classes for homeschoolers.

Church. My kids are "staff kids" and they are at church all the time, where they have tons of friends.

Neighborhood. We have children living in the houses on both sides of us, and the doorbell will be ringing non-stop when school is out for "can Carbon and Hypatia come out and play?".

Playdates. I'm trying not to overload myself, so we are aiming for one playdate a week with various friends. Playdates can be at my house, at the other person's house, at the park, or at the Children's Museum.

Drop-in places. There are all sorts of places for the kids to drop-in and just socialize with whoever else is there. The YMCA has "playcare" to watch kids while their parents work out, and the food co-op has a little toy area for kids to play (unsupervised) while their parents shop, and there is the library children's room, and the Children's Museum, and the playgrounds.

Actually, their social-life is a lot of work for me - but it's all wondeful!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Relationship Advice concludes

handmade valentines

To recap my Valentine's Relationship Advice Week:

1. Don't expect grand romantic gestures and treat yourself with loving care

2. Be attentive and mindful of your relationship, but don't make it more "work"

3. Try to see your differences as sources of strength for your team

4. Be willing to do some things your partner likes, while also being willing to do things separately

5. And, the last thing is Communicate your love in as many ways as you can!

Love, Laugh, Learn (from each other)

Happy Valentine's Day

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Relationship Advice #4

Carbon and Noel 4 wheelin

Advice #4: Be willing to do things that your partner enjoys, and also be willing to do things you enjoy without your partner.

I don't know of any two people who like ALL the same things. Whether it's movies, sports, music, or the outdoors, there is probably some area that you and your partner do not share an enthusiasm for. It's important to compromise, of course, but I think it's wrong to compromise by giving up something you love, or by doing something you truly hate.

If you love to swim, but your partner hates it, should you stop swimming? Should your partner do it even though they hate it? No to both. If you enjoy the ballet, but your partner thinks it's boring, well then they should compromise by coming sometimes anyway - boredom isn't going to kill you. If they won't though, go anyway! Do what you love to do, and then sometimes do what you don't love to do but do it with the person you love.

My husband loves his soccer team and has season tickets. I don't care for it, but I'm happy to go and enjoy being with him while he enjoys it. But he also likes to swim in the open water and ride a motorcycle fast. Both of those activities actually terrify me, so he has to do that without me.

I enjoy live theater, while my husband could easily never see a show. But he goes with me. On the other hand, I like to hike and lift weights, and he has chronic injuries that hurt him before too long. So I have to do that by myself or with someone else.

That's compromise. Just watch out for the "compromise" that makes you give up altogether the interest or hobby your partner doesn't also enjoy. Don't let parts of yourself die away. Don't be afraid to do things alone or with another person.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Differences as Strengths


Here's my 3rd piece of Relationship Wisdom:

Try to see your differences as sources of strength.

Are you a morning person and your partner is a night owl? Sure, this might be a problem sometimes. But it also might be really great when you have little kids or another task that could be divided into "shifts".

I am emotional and introspective and my husband is repressed and hyper-rational. Sometimes this makes us disagree, but it also means that we balance each other when it comes to decision making, and his rational dispassion keeps me from being too knee-jerk while my compassion keeps him from being callous.

Other examples could be a social person partnered with a shy person - rather than focusing on how much you wish the other person was more like you, be glad that they can supply the balance and perspective and take on the tasks you aren't as naturally good at.

This sounds simple, but it will take mindfullness to reframe your thoughts like this. It's easy to say "why can't you see it MY way?", and it's harder to hear the other's perspective and take wisdom from that diversity. But it is well worth the effort.

Love your differences!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Relationships and Exhaustion


I think one of the biggest killers of good relationships is Exhaustion. When we all have so much we Have To Do, how do we have any energy left for something extra? At the end of a long day of work or childcare, what is left for our life partner?

My husband and I both work full-time, with the addition of a 1-2 hour commute each direction for him, and two small children at home that I am homeschooling. We are tired. I have been guilty of turning to him and saying that I just think it would be easier to not be in relationship anymore - of all the things in my life that are not optional, our relationship is one of the only things I could "give up" to free up more time and energy.

It's also really hard for me to have him home on the weekend, and watch him go off to take a nap instead of either helping me around the house or spending time with me. But he's tired - he works too much. I'm tired too.

We are still far from solving this problem in our lives, but here is a kernel of wisdom that is helping me right now.

My minister gave a sermon on marriage this week, and he said he doesn't like it when people say you have to "work at your relationship". That in fact, in our work-obsessed and driven culture, that last thing we need is more work. Rather, it would be better to think of "paying attention" and "being mindful" of our relationships.

This idea is a great comfort to me. If we don't have the energy to "work" on our relationship every day, we should still have the energy to "pay attention" to each other. Even if all we do is wave wearily to each other as we pass like ships in the night, we are alright.

So pay attention and be mindful, but don't make more "work" for yourself.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Talking about Relationships

Noel's flower

This week, in honor of Valentine's Day, I present you with a week of my completely unsolicitated, anecdotal, and opinionated advice about maintaining a happy relationship. And I have the gall to do this even though I don't have a perfect relationship!

The first piece of advice is to try and Be romantic and loving while not Expecting romance.

I grew up on a diet of romance novels, which all left me with the impression that true love came with Grand Gestures.

What I have found in life is that my husband does not Do Grand Gestures. Don't ask us for the story of when he proposed - nope, no proposal. This has caused me much disappointment and distress, but it doesn't have to.

Will he make me feel like a Princess? No. Should he have to? No. You know who can make you feel like a Princess? YOU. Buy yourself flowers, take time for massages or pedicures, make the effort to dress yourself so you feel good about your body, and generally practice true self-care. And then, after you've done that for yourself, try and do it for your partner.

If you feel good about yourself, other people are more likely to feel good about you too. And if you feel good about yourself, you are going to be less resentful and irritable and find it easier to be loving toward others. It's an all-around win!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

How They Grow

Four Years Old

My baby is four years old. She's really not a baby anymore (despite a few lingering baby things she is loath to give up, such as sippy cups), and this is my last baby. No more babies for this Momma.

With the first baby, each new thing is an exciting milestone. He pushes ahead, moving us into being a new kind of family and new modes of living. With the last baby, each milestone is a bittersweet goodbye. No more nursing momma. No more baby slings. No more strollers. No more of that kind of parenting.

So goodbye to 3 year olds, and onward we go.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Russian Tales

Russian fairy tales

We've had a bit of an accidental theme going with Hypatia's pictures books recently:

The Magic Nesting Doll is a fairy tale of a land locked in winter and night, and how one young girl must be both brave and loving to rescue the land and its prince. The illustrations, by Laurel Long, are lush and beautiful.

The Black Geese: A Baba Yaga Story from Russia is about a girl who is lax and lets her little brother be carried off so Baba Yaga can eat him! Through cleverness and bravery, she saves him and returns before her parents can discover her mistake.

The Littlest Matryoshka is a more American story, of a set of dolls waiting on the shelf to be bought by some child. It has an improbable ending, and I wasn't too impressed by it.

Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave starts off much like Cinderella, but then Vasilisa is sent to Baba Yaga and must work seemingly impossible tasks or be eaten. She is saved by the love of her dead mother, and her evil step-mother is instead punished by Baba Yaga.

The Snow Queen is another story of a boy carried off by a witch, this time the Snow Queen, and and his brave friend - a girl - who went after him and saved him through her love and bravery.

I've been struck by the fact that these stories are dominated by female characters - the heroes and the villains are all women. The stories are also very dark and violent, but they are fairy tales, after all.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Imbolc, and new family traditions

Imbolc night

It was wonderfully simple, but that made it even better. Last night the kids and I celebrated our first Imbolc together as a family. I made a soup, using as much of our own homegrown food as possible - potatoes and carrots in cold storage in our garage, parsley from the kitchen window, eggs from our chickens. Eggs especially, as they symbolize rebirth and spring. We also had a bread from our bakery share.

We set the table and lit candles, and brought out the Brigid's Cross we had made from pipecleaners. Any time you eat by candlelight is a special time.

I read Brigid's Cloak to the kids, which is about the Christianized Saint Brigid, but is still lovely. And then the kids made a "bride's bed" - which I was going to do in a little basket but which they wanted to do with their own pillows and and a sleeping bag - and decided on their own to leave some bread out for the goddess. We then watched Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarves together.

Easy, peasy, and lovely.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

My 12 in 12 and One Small Change update

trying hard to avoid plastic - but it's a challenge!

So I selected three areas of my life to make more important by giving myself monthly assignments in 2010: Environmental impact (One Small Change), outdoor play, and a personal social life. It's my 12 in 12 challenge.

January saw these efforts:

  • No Buying. I did not buy anything all month, other than food, and in the process I saw my relationship with shopping in a different light.

  • Playing outside - we packed a picnic and drove out to a pretty beach at a State Park.

  • Social Life - I went to a friend's babyshower and my husband and I had a date night to go see Avatar.

Yesterday was the first day I could shop, and I did buy a few things that had come up: tights for Hypatia, gym shorts for Carbon, and the kids spent their accumulated allowances on toys. But our store behavior was very different from what it would have been before the No Buy month - we went into the stores with a list, and talked about what we were looking for (and what we were not looking to buy). The kids didn't beg and whine, and shopping took hardly any time at all.

Now we are trying to reduce/reuse plastic. I think this one is going to be harder than the simple ban on shopping was. I already messed up - yesterday I wasn't thinking and I bought a bag of Reeses Pieces (plastic bag).

Today's shopping trip to the co-op was also a big compromise on the plastic:

I wanted to buy certified humanely treated meat, but that came in plastic packaging.

I did reuse a shampoo bottle and refill it from the bulk section, and I did reuse plastic bags for snack food from the bulk section, such as that licorice in a sandwich bag. We had string bags for our produce, and we had our canvas shopping bags. We resisted all sorts of packaged snack and convenience foods.

But we bought mochi in plastic, and chapstick in plastic, and frozen juice has those plastic seal strips, and our homeopathic remedies came in plastic, and we were all thirsty and got drinks and one was in a plastic bottle, and even the soup box has a little plastic pour top!

This is going to be tough.