Thursday, September 30, 2010

Reading with the Kids


We're out of our slump, and back in the flow of good children's literature. Here's what we've enjoyed recently:

Klimt and His Cat tells the story of the painter from the point of view of his cat. The illustrations are lush, just like his paintings.

Degas and the Little Dancer imagines the possible backstory of Degas' famous sculpture, of a young girl who wants to be a famous dancer but lacks the money for lessons. And then, through the sculpture modeled after her, she does become famous in a way.

Both of these books were good for art study, and we discussed the artists and their art.

Science Verse was popular enough that we had to read it two nights in a row. The book says "this is why scientists don't write poetry", but the verses are really quite clever. The kids enjoyed recognizing certain poems and songs such as "I've been working on the railroad" turned into "I'm in the foodchain".

What's a Wise Bird Like You Doing in a Silly Tale Like This? was a bit too silly for me, but the kids loved it and giggled like crazy. It makes no sense, so I cannot really describe it.

The Humblebee Hunter is another tale about Darwin, this time focusing on his family life and how he involved his children in his experiments. It inspired an evening of playing scientist.

The Capture is the first book in the Ga'Hoole series (now a major motion picture!). Not too much action, really, but the author really shows a love of owls and Carbon loved it. When we finished it, we had to buy the next one on the Kindle so we could just keep on going. :)

101 African American Read-Aloud Stories - we didn't read all 101, though. I picked it out because we have had some recent conversations about how Africans first came to America, and I wanted to follow that up with some reading about slavery and African American culture. Carbon has heard many African folktales both at home and at church, and then I got him the audio CD of The Tales of Uncle Remus, and he picked out the similarities. That sparked a conversation about the flow of story and culture from Africa to African Americans.

Here If You Need Me

Here if You Need Me: A True Story by Kate Braestrup

I had this book in a pile of about 6 other books that I was reading at the same time, but this book was too good and I found I just had to read it through to the end. Braestrup has written a memoir that reads like a novel, and has managed to touch incredible emotional and theological depths with a straight-forward "real people" tone.

In her own words, hers is the story of "the plucky widow" who, following the death of her state trooper husband, pursues his dream of becoming a Unitarian Universalist minister. She intends to be a chaplain to the state troopers, but instead ends up chaplain to the Maine Warden Service. This job means that she is the chaplain for search and rescue missions and for the game wardens who carry those out, so she talks about the times they find the lost child and bring them home, and the times when what is recovered is a dead body, and the times when no closure is ever found.

Reading this right after I read Eat, Pray, Love I was struck by the similarities. Both are memoirs written by middle aged women (with excellent writing skills) who lose (divorce, death) their marriages and find god. (Both authors use the "big G God", but I prefer small g, so I'm doing what I want here.) But while Gilbert chooses to divorce her husband and sets off with only her own emotional baggage on a trip around the world, Braestrup's husband dies suddenly in a car accident and she is left the widowed mother of four children. Braestrup's discussions of god are the kind of discussions that come from regular life - why do bad things happen to good people?, why do people do bad things?, how do we come to terms with the fact that we will all die? And the answer that she explains over and over again is that we will find our sanctuary and our meaning in the love that remains - in the people who will be there to support us and love us in hard times, and in the love that we give out to the world.

I liked Eat, Pray, Love but that book is destined to be passed along. I love Here if You Need Me and I want to keep the book near me, to return to this wise voice when I need to.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Little Dancers

first day of ballet


Both children are now taking dance classes down at the studio in town that prides itself on being serious and doing classical ballet well. They both like their classes - in fact, after I had to drag Carbon in for his first class this afternoon, he emerged from the studio saying "that was fun", "I want to do it again", and "I want to go see the Nutcracker when they perform it". OK then.

This new extracurricular is in some ways more familiar and easier for me than our forays into team sports. With the team sports, I had no skills to offer, and no past history to draw upon. I never did team sports, at any age. I cannot throw or catch a ball - my efforts make them all laugh at just how bad I am.

But dance, especially ballet, was my life when I was young. I was so dedicated, such a dreamer full of hopes of being a prima ballerina, and it was such a heart break for me. As a disappointed dancer, I don't want to live out my dreams through my children. On the other hand, I don't want to be so bitter that I don't let them have the experience and the joy for themselves.

So I need to remember - as I do so often as a parent, teacher, or any other time I'm with children and youth - this is not about me. I will try to see what they need, want, and are experiencing, without letting my own experiences jump to the forefront. Yes, I draw on them - they make me who I am today. But when I am working with someone else, it's time for me to just shut up and listen.

If they want to dance, we will help them dance.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Blog Action Day topic just announced

If you blog, and you would like to use the power of your blog for collective action toward a better world, consider joining in Blog Action Day on Oct. 15th.

The topic has just been announced: Water

For more, go to

An Interview with a Preschooler


How do you like going to preschool?
Good. (and then she tries to push buttons on my keyboard - "I'll push for you")

What kinds of things do you do at preschool?
Play, go to circle, go into the museum, have snack.

What have you learned at preschool?
A lot. We painted. We went to the museum. We had circle. We had snack. We goed (sic) to the museum. And we had paint time.

Do you sign your own name? Did you learn that there?
Yeah, on my first day. Are you typing out First Day? First day is a very long thing. Can I type now?

What's your favorite thing at preschool?
I like playing with the kitten cat. It's not alive, it's stuffed. At least Samantha is back from her vacation.

Who is Samantha?
A person from my class. Maddie has a best friend. And they sort of never play with me. But sometimes they play with me.

What is the worst thing about preschool? Why?
Circle. Because I can't do anything. Wibbly, wobbly, Woo - an elephant sat on you - squish! That part is fun. The wormy dance is fun. Mr. Scotty reads us books.

Circle doesn't really sound so bad.
Well, some of it is. Because I never can pick a card, unless it's my job, and that part I don't like.

OK, you can type.
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Monday, September 27, 2010

On miracles

A miracle is not defined by an event. A miracle is defined by gratitude.

A string of coincidences stretching far back in human history converge to place a young woman in a parking lot at the very moment when a murderer happens by. A similar string of circumstances place a premature infant named Michael in a high-tech teaching hospital where a gifted doctor works to save him. Why? Why not?

Anything could happen, but only one thing will. If it is what we desire, what we long for so badly we feel it burning in our bones, if by chance this is given, we will fall on our grateful knees, praise God, and call it a miracle. And we will not be wrong.

Kate Braestrup, in the book Here If You Need Me

This, and many other passages, have really stuck in my mind. More about this wonderful book that I love, love, love, in a later post.

a bit of our weekend




The sun came back out for a visit, we went to a nature festival that had cool activities (like impromptu parades in costumes) for kids, and we met up with friends.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lovely outdoor spaces for children

I am in love with this "movement area" at a local nature preserve, and I would so love to build something like this for the children at church. We just discovered this place yesterday and I am so impressed.

They have these different areas set aside, such as "The Gathering Area", "The Digging in the Dirt Area", etc, and the paths between areas make a big circle so you could just walk around and around.





Saturday, September 25, 2010

trying to stay organized


I love these Grab N Go containers I bought for work but, despite my best efforts to find it, there is no organizer out there that will provide the solution to all my organizational needs. I am really trying to be organized, with menu plans, daily To Do lists, calendars that send me email reminders for appointments, etc. But life also requires that I be flexible enough to react to changing circumstances, and take advantage of opportunities as they arise. My life also has blurry lines between work and home life, making it harder to focus on one thing at a time.

For example, my day yesterday: (for context, Friday is supposed to be my day off work, and Hypatia doesn't have preschool on Fridays)

2:30 am, my daughter wakes me up crying because she has wet the bed. It takes a half hour to bathe her, change the bed linens, and get her back to bed.

7am, I wake up. I've overslept, and this will make it hard for me to do my morning yoga. My husband is already up and working on his computer, in his boxer shorts. I head into the bathroom, and my cell phone rings while I'm in there. Checking the voicemail, our new washing machine is scheduled to be delivered between 8am and noon. I tell my husband to go get in the shower now, so he could accept delivery if it came while I get the boy to school.

Already, my normal morning routine is messed up, and I will now not do any yoga or meditation.

7:30 am, I am about to get dressed. Carbon yells from the living room that the washer delivery is here NOW. Chaos, and I have to open the door and deal with it in my pj's and without brushing my hair.

So now my routine is really messed up.

8:00 am finds me packing a lunch box and signing for the washing machine, then throwing a load of laundry from Hypatia's night time accident into the brand new machine. I took the boy to school, but left Hypatia at home since my husband works from home on Fridays.

8:30 am, and I'm chatting with the staff at school, reminding them I'll pick Carbon up early. I also get asked to help with a bake sale fundraiser next Friday, and I agree to bake and to help set up the booth.

9:00 am, I'm back home. I start to futz around with all the backed up laundry, but then I notice that it looks like the sky might stay clear all day.

Opportunity is knocking, so I climb up on the roof and redo the flashing I've added to the uphill of my chimney. I did my first attempt about a week ago, and it didn't come out very well. My second go at it was much better, but took me a long time as I don't really know what I'm doing.

10 am, I'm off the roof, and out in the backyard still taking advantage of the lack of rain. The yard hadn't been cleaned in a long time, so there was a lot of dog and chicken poop for me to scoop up, and we are also trying to naturally dispose of the "green" kitty litter and contents from our house cats - so I needed to dig a new big hole in the area of the yard designated for this purpose. Digging and scooping would have been followed by weed whipping, except that my weed whip battery was dead.

11 ish, I realize I have not eaten anything and that all this manual labor with no food has messed up my blood sugar. I heat up some left-over bread strata and pour myself a glass of fruit juice.

11:30 I'm back to the laundry again.

12:00 My husband asks me if I want to go out to lunch with him, and I realize how late it has gotten in the day. Hypatia and I have to run for the Farmer's Market. At the market I run into three people from church and have to stop and talk to them about various things. We also pick up our CSA, buy some apples, and some bacon.

12:40 We race off to pick Carbon up from school

1:00 We drop Carbon off at a science workshop at the Children's Museum.

1:15 Hypatia and I meet my husband for lunch.

2:00 Hypatia and I go to the library, where I get some books for work and some for home. Is it a work errand or a home errand? We also run into a person from church and have to chat with them about a project that is coming up.

2:30 Hypatia and I get back to the museum, and play for half an hour. I'm half playing and half reading a book from my professional development stack.

3:00 Carbon is supposed to be done, but he's still working on making a sheet of paper. We stay and help him finish and clean up.

3:15 I buy them both ice creams as we leave the museum. We drive around for a bit looking for a parking spot near the downtown toy store.

3:30 We head into the toy store to buy a gift for a friend of Hypatia's . The children take forever picking it out, and I end up finding three things I want to buy for work, two of which I pay for myself because they're renewable energy science kits that Carbon can keep and reuse after I use them at church. Carbon also talks me into buying him and Ugly Doll - I'm getting tired and my will power is low!

4:00 We get back home. I thought I'd be home right after 3:00, so I am now short on time for the next task of the day. I race to get a roast and veggies into the oven for the family's dinner, and make a potato salad from scratch to take to work that night. I also wash all the dishes and leave the kitchen pretty clean.

5:30 I'm racing out the door with my BBQ grill loaded in the car, and I stop at the grocery store on the way to work to buy cereal and milk and coals, all for the youth group to consume.

6:00 I get to work, and start setting up for the youth group BBQ.

7:00 Youth and parents and advisors arrive, and we have a meal together and talk about the new program year for the high school group. They are all spending the night with two adult chaperones, so I give them the lecture about church rules and curfew and all that stuff I'm supposed to say each time.

9:30 I get home, and Hypatia is already asleep. I'm told dinner was good when it came out of the oven. My husband is reading Carbon's bedtime story, but we get into a bit of kerfluffle of hurt feelings and each one of us feeling guilty and so we both end up in the kitchen washing dinner dishes before he goes back to finishing the chapter for Carbon.

At this point I get two calls on my cell phone from folks who are teaching an Adult Education class at the church at 10 am the next morning. They need audio/visual equipment and support, so I promise to be at church by 9:15 the next morning to help them.

I open a bottle of wine, and we each have a glass as Carbon goes to bed.

10:00 I've brought my work laptop home with me, and I finish making up a postcard I need to have copied and ready to hand out on Sunday. I also watch an episode of The Daily Show off the internet while I work on it.

10:40 We head to bed, and I set my alarm clock for 7 am the next day.

It was a crazy, tiring day, but all my days seem to end up like this. I have to have the To Do Lists and the Shopping Lists and the Menu Plans and the Schedule and the Packing Lists, or I would just go crazy. Even with all that effort at staying organized, I still oversleep, fall behind, am surprised when deliveries come early, and have to change plans for things like weather, batteries, or a husband who wants to have lunch with me.

Such is life!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

An Interview about his Sudbury School


What do you like best about going to a Sudbury school?
There is lots of playtime, and you have a lot more freedom.

Do you just play all day long?
No. Sometimes I have to go to School Meeting or to Judicial Committee, and sometimes I play the piano when I bring my piano book, and stuff like that.

What do you do in Judicial Committee?
Well, sometimes I'm serving (on the committee) and we vote on sentences for people for breaking rules. And sometimes I have to sit there because I was written up (for breaking a rule) so I give my side of the story and they give their side of the story and then I plead guilty or not guilty and then if I plead Not Guilty then we have a trial.

What do you think you learn?
I learn respect and things like that.

What is the coolest thing you've ever done at school?
Well, I've gone on field trips, and they have science kits at school too.

What's the worst thing about going to a Sudbury school?
Pretty much the worst thing is, like, you have to go into school meeting and be there for awhile and you can't choose No or Yes about going to the meeting.

Do you think you're learning useful things for when you grow up? What things?
Yes - respect and things like that. Sharing, for another thing. Those are the main things, and I can't think of what else! (Getting frustrated with this interview).

Do you think it's fun? Explain.
Yes, because there are computers provided, and my friends are there, and they won't stop coming there until they're too old, probably.

Would you rather be homeschooled, or go to a regular school, or to a Sudbury school? Why?
Sudbury school, because Sudbury schools are really nice I think. Because they're fun.

My book has arrived!

Here is what I wrote and published at so that I have a great tool for teaching the kids at church about our partner church program. I'm so happy with how it turned out!



Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What Can We Do for 10/10/10?

I'm trying to figure out what I can do for 10/10/10: the Global Work Party. I'm going to do a Children's Chapel about Seeds of Change of reforestation on 10/3, and then I'm also setting up a children's table with hands on learning about alternative energy for an energy fair at church on 10/3. But what can I do on 10/10? Unfortunately, I'm already scheduled to do something completely unrelated to global warming ...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Probably our last day outdoors for awhile

We had a break from the rain during the church retreat at a local state park, and the kids got a chance to enjoy the outdoors. I'm afraid that may be our last hurrah for awhile now, as the fall schedule and weather aren't leaving much time for enjoying ourselves outside. At least this was a nice day. I was more prepared for rain than I was for fun in the lake, so Hypatia ended up in her underwear, soaking wet. Luckily we had a change of clothes in the car.





This wonderful lady was so nice and took all the kids out for a kayak ride. There was a line of wet and dirty children on the shore waiting for their turn.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Seeds of Change

I haven't posted about a children's picture book in a long time, primarily because we just haven't been reading any really good ones. Hypatia has been mainly interested in fairy tales for awhile now, and although I like many of the (vast quantity) of retellings out there, most aren't worth blogging about.

Tonight I read her a book that she hadn't picked: Seeds of Change: Wangari's Gift to the World. It is another telling of the life story of Wangari Maathai: Nobel Peace Prize winner, environmentalist, and groundbreaking woman scientist. Her story is one worth retelling to children over and over, so I appreciate this new book very much. The prose was not amazing, but the illustrations are rich and lovely, and the story itself is well presented. Carbon's verdict was that it was a very nice book. Hypatia was still mad that it wasn't a fairy tale, but she'll remember the message.

And if you are working on a Global Warming message (which I always am), or more specifically if you are thinking about doing some education related to the 10/10/10 Global Work Party Day, this book would go very well with it. Planting trees for 10/10 would be a great project.

Chicken Situations

We have been keeping chickens for many years now, for the eggs. One of the dilemmas is what to do with an old chicken that no longer lays eggs, but our solution to that has been to just keep them and give them a nice comfortable old age if we can. It's only come up once, as local raccoon predation has killed off all of our other chickens before they reached old age.

But we've recently had a new problem when one of our chickens started eating eggs, her own and everyone else's as well. We weren't getting any eggs at all. I went through a problem-solving process to see what we getting the eggs, and once I realized it was one of the chickens, I just started pulling them out of the coop one by one and seeing what happened. We identified the culprit, and were very happy to have our fresh eggs again, but then we had a chicken just running loose in our backyard (we don't have a second coop anymore since I recycled it's lumber into a raised garden bed). It might have been OK with us to have a loose chicken, except that she liked to hang out on our back porch and in the kids' tree house, pooping copiously, and generally making the whole place foul (pun intended). It also occurred to us that she was unlikely to survive the winter by herself with no shelter or protection from predators, yet we didn't want to invest more resources or precious backyard space for her.

If we are going to have an urban homestead, we'll have to be a bit tougher, like our great grandparents were. My grandmother would have wrung that chicken's neck in a heartbeat, no debate about it. We had to debate it. We talked as a family, and we didn't do anything until we were all agreed, even both of the kids. Carbon cried, and wanted us to "sell her to someone else who will kill her", but that just gave us a wonderful opportunity for talking about personal responsibility and shared responsibility, such as how we are still morally responsible for the death of animals when we buy meat.

Yesterday my dear husband took care of the chicken for us while the rest of the family was at church. He had helped with chicken slaughters before with my mom, so he felt up to it. He even cleaned and plucked it, so it's all wrapped up and ready to cook in the fridge. We respectfully buried the head in the little corner of our yard that has become a "chicken cemetery" with the other chickens we have lost. We wished her a good return to the cycle of life and matter, and tonight I'll cook the meat and we'll acknowledge it all over again.

Keeping chickens is not without "its dark side" as my minister commented. We are brought into relationship with life and death and the food cycle in a whole different way.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love

Despite my crazy life right now, I did manage to finish a book this week!

I have not seen the movie, and in fact I was pretty embarrassed to buy the book after the movie was already out. I'm enough of a snob that I prefer to have read the book ages ago, before all this movie fuss, and to be able to say, "oh, they just ruined that book that I liked so much". In fact, I spent a ridiculous amount of time searching for a copy of this book with the "old" cover, instead of having Julia Roberts on it. Such is the price I pay for being behind the popular curve on this one.

I'm actually a bit surprised that it's such a bestseller, as it is an odd category of book - Spiritual Travel Memoir, really. For those (few) of you who haven't already read this or seen the movie, it is about a 30 something writer who is going through a nasty divorce and dysfunctional rebound relationship and becomes incredibly depressed. She seeks to become closer to God and find solutions to her unhappiness, and her publisher gives her an advance to go live for four months in Italy, then India, then Indonesia. The title comes from the fact that in Italy she Eats, in India she Prays, and in Indonesia she Loves.

She talks about God a lot in the book, but her exact religion is pretty fuzzy. She explains:

Traditionally, I have responded to the transcendent mystics of all religions. I have always responded with breathless excitement to anyone who has ever said that God does not live in a dogmatic scripture or in a distant throne in the sky, but instead abides very close to us indeed - much closer than we can imagine, breathing right through our own hearts. I respond with gratitude to anyone who has ever voyaged to the center of that heart, and who has then returned to the world with a report for the rest of us that God is an experience of supreme love.

The geography that she explores is mostly her own, examining her inner life and emotional landscape in great detail. However, her descriptions of the actual places she visits are painted vividly and with a sincere appreciation of the people and the places. And the (SPOILER ALERT) love story at the end is presented in a way that is careful not to negate her own personal growth. She is not rescued by a change of scene, or by a new man in her life - she works through her own rescue in excruciatingly small steps and a great deal of detailed inner dialogue.

If all of this sounds horrid to you, you still might find yourself liking the book because her prose and style is really quite engaging.

Anyway, I won't see the movie in the theater (although I will get it on Netflix when it's available). And I expect I'll say "oh, they really ruined that book".

Friday, September 17, 2010

Local Food

Today I noticed a sign at the little meat stand I buy from at the Farmer's Market, and it said: "Local is a denomination that cannot be corrupted. It is a handshake deal done at a community gathering place."

I like that.

Local is a simple concept. It brings communities together, and it leads to people supporting their neighbors. Because I go to the Farmer's Market every friday and pick up my CSA share, I also do my other marketing on Fridays. We buy fruit from the same guy each week, a guy who is a bit of an importer - he distributes on this gloomy side of the mountains for a few farmers on the sunnier, eastern side of our state. So that is the least local. But this guy loves his fruit, and it is quality stuff. We get cheese products from a wacky lady who has a photo album of all her goats on her farm. We buy meat from a guy who is crazy passionate about ethical and sustainable meat production - don't get him talking if you don't have time for a full education in the subject. As the seasons change we may pick up a flat of berries, or of plant starts for the garden. I order enough to take it home and preserve it - a box of pears, pounds of cucumbers, whatever. And while we are there we can buy lunch, listen to live music, see and chat with folks we know, get animal balloons or face paint, or sign petitions or otherwise be informed about community issues.

It's good to be local.



Thursday, September 16, 2010

The First Week of Preschool


She seems to be liking preschool. Her teacher is a very nice man, and I do so love that she has a male teacher for preschool. He reads to them, sings with them, does art with them, takes them outside. It always looks like she's having a great time when I peek into the classroom. Some of her comments have been funny, though. Like this self-portrait that she drew. She was excited enough to insist on taking it down off the classroom wall and taking it home. But then when I asked her about it she said "it's just something Mr. S. MADE me do". And then she told me he had read them Amelia Bedelia, and I asked if she liked it. "No, that's the most boring part of class". I was surprised - she always loves it when I read to her either at home or in a class at church. But she says I "do it a lot better than Mr. S".

She told her brother today that Mr. S has a "magic ball" that if you hold it when you are mad it will make you not be mad anymore. Carbon said it sounded like Mr. S is a "dark wizard". They started talking about the signs that he might be a dark wizard, one of which is apparently that he "leaves the room for awhile and tells you all to wait for him".

The schedule of getting her to and from preschool pretty much negates any value I get from the three hours of childcare, so that can't be the reason I'm doing this with her. I don't really care about the academics right now, either. We are just trying to bridge the difference between being home or with a nanny and going to Carbon's Sudbury school - which she was not ready for emotionally or socially. I think this class is going to provide that bridge.

notes from the urban homestead of a busy working mother


I don't have time for this! And, yet, this is the lifestyle I want to live, so I just keep trying anyway.

  • My five chickens weren't giving me any eggs for several weeks, but I saw broken egg shells in the coop. My first thought was that I had a break in the fence line somewhere and rats were getting in there to steal the eggs. But then I saw one of the chickens with the shell in her mouth - they were eating them themselves! Long story short: more oyster shells in their diet, still no eggs. So I started pulling them out one at a time and seeing if there were eggs - trying to find the "bad" chicken. Eventually I did find that bad chicken so now I'm getting eggs again. But what do I do with an old chicken who has decided to eat eggs? Really, she should be dinner. But we're not sure we can handle doing that in our backyard. But she wanders about pooping on everything back there, including my back porch. I'll have to build a small coop for just her. What a waste.
  • I forgot to harvest my garlic until too late for braiding it. Now I have all these loose cloves of fresh garlic, and no really good way to preserve them for the winter. I might just have to pickle them all.
  • I have these huge broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage plants with no heads on any of them. Very frustrating.
  • On my day off work, I took the kids to go U-pick organic blueberries in our neighborhood. A couple hours later, I had a sunburn in the part in my hair and enough blueberries to stuff one freezer bag full into my freezer. For $6. I wish I had had better workers and not such good eaters - luckily you don't have to pay for the quantity in your children's stomachs.
  • I tried to can plums in light syrup, using italian plums from the Farmer's market. The family verdict on the result was sour pucker faces - oh well.
  • I've managed to make five jars of pickles, after I ordered five pounds of pickling cukes from my CSA farm.
  • I did manage to start celery from seed, but then I got busy and forgot to thin them. Tiny little celery!
  • I have way too much squash and zucchini, both from my garden and from the CSA share.
  • I have not seen a single tomato from my garden. It's planted right below the kids' treehouse and they are snacking on it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Our week in Afterschooling

reading time

What is Afterschooling? I define it as the state of mind in which a parent realizes that ultimately, the parent is still part of the educational life of their child, no matter what kind of school they attend. For us personally, it means that we do our "Core" subjects at home because Carbon attends a very sweet Sudbury school and Sudbury = unschooling in a group setting.

As a friend commented on the phone this week: "wait, you're sending him to school but you still have to do all the school at home stuff?" Yes, that's about it in a nutshell. He is getting an incredible learning environment for social learning at school, in fact he is held to a standard of accountability and responsibility that I can't match because I tend to just do things for him. In no way do I consider the time he spends at school "wasted". It's just that I'm not comfortable completely letting go of core academic work, either.

So after he gets home from school and has had a chance to unwind, we do our afterschooling. Each day I try to do two things with him, and at least three times a week one of those things is reading practice. At least twice a week that thing is a page of math. At least once a week it's Spanish. The rest of it is his preference - science and history (both of which are his favorite subjects). We also always read a chapter of his current read-aloud before bedtime, and I keep him stocked with a rich assortment of audiobooks to listen to. Sometimes life gets pretty busy, but it averages out.

In the last week it's looked like this:

Wednesday (the first day of school): a page of math and read a book to Mom
Thursday: a game of Spanish Bingo, and read a book to Mom
Friday: a boardgame with Dad
Sunday: read a book to Dad
Monday: science experiment - at the local children's museum
Tuesday: a page of math, some history read aloud
Wednesday: math and reading on the nintendo ds (a real lifesaver if my work schedule gets wonky).

Doesn't seem like much, does it? It's totally do-able, and he's making real progress without being overwhelmed.

I love this commercial

It makes me sad again that I couldn't hold out long enough to buy a Leaf.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Making peace with my body

Yesterday, in the midst of a terribly crazy day, I squeezed in an hour long massage. Yes, I had to give up my work out at the gym, and I did end up rushing about some in the evening (maybe reversing some of the effects of the massage), but overall it was a good piece of self-care, and a treat for momma on the first day of preschool.

The fact is, we all experience life through this one body that we have been born into. Whatever your beliefs about the soul, or the mind, you never-the-less have a physical self and live a physical life.

It has taken me until I was entering my 4th decade of life in this body to start to feel at peace with it. In fact, my teens and twenties can be viewed as 20 years of various sorts of battles with my body.

I have tried to force my body to conform to ballet standards ("turn out", bloody, squashed toes, etc.)

I have starved my body.

I have forced my body to throw up the food it has eaten.

I have worn plastic pants because they were supposed to "suck out" the "water weight" from my thighs.

I have considered, but never managed to act on, self-inflicted injury to my body.

I have pushed my body past the point of pain, and ignored times when my body cried out for rest.

I have torn muscles and twisted ankles and knees and smashed noses in the pursuit of "being tough".

I have lain awake at night in so much pain I could not sleep.

I have been literally brought to my hands and knees by pain, left rocking helplessly.

I have felt estranged from my body, or even hated it.

The turning point was really a moment. It was the moment, in the early summer of my 29th year, that I gave up. I admitted how much pain I was in, and that I could not do this any longer. I threw myself on the mercy of the emergency medical system. To seek medical help, I had to forget about my worries that I was not "tough", my worries that my sensations were not valid, that my flaw was mostly one of lack of discipline. And, as it turned out, I had not been wrong about what was happening in my body. I had gallstones - and had probably had them for the whole 2+ years of pain and misery. A simple thing to fix, really, compared to the trouble of living with it.

That was my moment, and it has allowed me to enter my 30's with a greater level of peace with my body. Yes, I still have moments. I still struggle with that little insecure girl who led me to anorexia. I still struggle with the rejected and angry teen who wanted to harden herself into a tough warrior of a woman. But I'm dealing with the feelings now, and not with the body. When treated with love, my body is actually a pretty nice place to live. It likes its yoga, it likes to eat good food, it likes massages and bubble baths and hot tubs. And, radically for me, I will say that I like my body.

The First Day of Preschool

First Day of Preschool

Sunday, September 12, 2010

They just can't sit still ...

Today we had a bunch of little ones sitting through the whole hour long worship service. It was our annual water communion service, a time when all are invited to bring waters (real or symbolic, or today someone brought "virtual" water) from their summer journeys - physical or internal. It's a more active service, not just listening to one or two people mostly just talk.

But it's still an hour of sitting still and being quiet, which is just Hard. So I prepare little Fidget Bags to hand out to the kids. They are simple canvas bags, and the kit itself is pretty simple too, but it's been very well received and successful so far. All I put in the bags is:

A small clipboard
A handful of crayons or colored pencils
A little bag of Model Magic (clay that does not leave residue everywhere, so we keep the sanctuary clean)
A few pipecleaners

That's it. Someday I might experiment with some yarn, and I once tossed around the idea of beads but then pictured them being dropped and rolling around under the chairs. There are other toys out there that are specifically meant to be "fidgeted" with, but the clay is so perfect I haven't felt the need yet to try them.

What do you do when you have to fidget? Knit? Doodle? Twirl a pencil? Chew on your hair? That's what they need, too.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

It may be 9/11, but


There may be many things to talk about today, and much interfaith dialogue has happened this week - but it's also my birthday. So that has been my focus today. :)

Friday, September 10, 2010

No more solar panels on the White House

This week Bill McKibben and a group of students from Unity College in Maine drove some of the solar panels that used to grace the White House (thank you, Jimmy Carter!), back down from Maine where they have been since the Reagan Administration (why take them off the roof? Boo to Reagan). Bill and the students were hoping to draw attention to solar power again and get the Obama Administration to put the panels back up on the White House. They called it the Solar Power Road Trip.

Today they got a No Go from the White House.

Oh well. I can't say I'm surprised at this point. While I'm not upset with the Obama Administration overall, I have to say that actual politics kind of blows compared to grass roots enthusiastic activism. Alternative power is part of our future - but it's a future we will have to work for.

I'm putting together a table of kids' activities for a Energy Fair at my church on the 3rd. Any cool ideas out there for hands on learning about alternative energy and energy conservation? I need your ideas, people!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A good response to hateful speech

Carbon has been asking me recently why we don't just stop people from saying hateful things. Our loose and free-flowing explorations of literature, history, and language together have led to some tricky explanations of exactly why something would be hateful or hurtful to different groups of people. Racism, sexism, and homophobia are concepts he is slowly beginning to encounter and understand.
So why don't we just make it against the law to say hateful things, Mom?
Well, there is that tricky little thing called Freedom of Speech, which I happen to believe in quite passionately. Voltaire said "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it". (OK, there is some dispute about whether he is really the guy who said this. Whatever, I like to attribute it to Voltaire - he said a lot of great things anyway).
Unfortunately, with actions like the planned "Burn a Koran Day", some of our troops may end up dying to defend our right to say hateful things. The whole idea of the planned 9/11 event turns my stomach, but I truly love this response, from the organization Military Religious Freedom. You can read about it here in Mother Jones Magazine.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

First Day of School

First Day of 2nd Grade

Goodbye Summer


We really did enjoy you this year, when you could find time to vist us. If you would like to come back for a few days this month, that would be OK too. I'm sure our resident Rain would be willing to take a few days off.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

And another thought about Labor

It looks like women have caught up to men in the workforce - if we only look at women who have never had children and never taken a leave from work. Of course, between women and men , women are still far more likely to take that time off work for a child. And there is no catching back up for most women. A recent article in the NYTimes spelled this out.

What to do about it isn't clear cut. Yes - more quality and affordable childcare options are a must. Of course, to do that we also need to place a reasonable value on the work of childcare. The numbers I can find say that in 2002 childcare workers in daycares earned a median income of $7.18 an hour, with "minimal benefits". I can attest from experience that running a home daycare meant that I had to work 50 hours a week and I only reached minimum wage ($8 an hour here) once I was watching 4 children in addition to my own two. Yes - it did have the benefit that I didn't have to pay out daycare for my own kids to someone else, so all of that minimum wage was actually mine to keep. Woopdie do.

You don't get a lot of quality from folks under those circumstances. So maybe the solution is to just stay home with your kids.

Well, it's pretty hard to live on one income, and you'll end up in that mommy (or daddy) trap when you want to re-enter the workforce.

A few parents manage to make it work. Wow - that is an achievement. I won't debate how good a job they did as parents - that is the road of the so-called Mommy Wars and the needless internecine fighting that just tears us apart.

The whole thing is just making me mad today.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Some thoughts about our Labors


Happy Labor Day to you all. How are you spending the day?

This holiday, which has never made much sense to me, was always a weekend for a big home improvement project when I was a kid. My father would say "it's a time for Labor after all." He was also fond of saying that the main reason to have kids was so you had little workers. So.

Actually, all weekends featured more work than play for my family-of-origin. Our "play" was also a lot of work - my parents ran a community Gilbert and Sullivan theater group, staging 3-4 of the operettas a year. Saturday? Costume or set construction. Sunday? Rehearsals. Once the show was going? A month of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday performances. We were in the shows. We were the stage manager. We were the house manager. We baked all the cookies and brownies that were sold at the concession.

It wasn't until I could drive myself that I found another way to spend a weekend, and tellingly, my escape into a weekend of my own choosing was to volunteer for hiking trail work parties - yes, I went hiking, but I was hauling along tools and a hardhat. My fun was still a lot of work.

I still don't really know how to treat a weekend, and it's made harder by the fact that my husband would love to just sit and chill all weekend long. That's after he sleeps in both days, of course.

Just chillin - or anything that is mostly sitting around - makes me very uncomfortable. I start to get twitchy. I start to feel bad about myself, like I can physically feel myself spreading and turning into a blob of pudding. Inside, my inner child is glancing around nervously, afraid that one of my parents will catch me "doing nothing" and yell at me before they give me an even worse job to do.

It's obviously a balance that I need. All work and no play does make Sara a dull girl, and a worn out, tired, and sick one too. All play and no work would most likely result in chaos, as there are many dimensions of my life that require my focus and my work. Not only that, but I just couldn't do it - I really really couldn't.

I'm trying to frame some of my downtime as "puttering". I am encouraging myself to take the time without a To Do list, without a plan, and then to just do stuff as I am moved to in the moment. So far, "puttering time" has been filled with painting house trim, cleaning out closets, washing windows, weeding gardens, and pulling kids outside toys out of the margins of the yard and cleaning them up before storage/donation. My husband's comment was that puttering for me apparently means working just as hard as usual, but not asking for any help. It needs a bit more tweaking.

So, once again, happy Labor Day to you all. May your labors be light, and your play be sweet. And may we all find a balance point between the two.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Saturday mornings

the saturday morning snuggle

crushing daddy

They love to come pile into bed with us on Saturday mornings, the only morning of the week that no one has to get up and get off to work early. But here, even if Daddy slept in an old army cot out at his folks' cabin, they seem to think it's a tradition they need to keep up.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Let's talk about money

childrens money jars

We have an allowance system in place for our family - my husband even takes out a personal allowance that goes into a different bank account for him. I'm the only one that doesn't really take out the allowance and use it on myself (something I need to work on).

Personal allowances, and the fact that the kids get their allowance on "Allowance Day" is a big help when they are shopping with me. If they see something they want, I can just suggest they save up their allowance. It has cut back on begging and whining in stores like a charm.

But I've been sliding and getting lax on our original intent, which was to require the kids to also save part of their allowance and donate part to a charity of their choice. I've been taking them to the store without giving them cash first, and letting them each pick out something roughly in the ballpark of their allowance amount. If the sales tax pushed it over, or it was a couple bucks more than they had, I just covered it for them and they really never handled the money themselves - it was all on my debit card.

Not the point of an allowance, I think. It's exactly the mindset that doesn't pay too much attention to how much something costs that has led me to carry credit card debt that slowly creeps up month by month.

On the flipside of spending money is earning money. I really hate it when kids aren't willing to do anything around the house unless they are paid for it, and I think chores are mandatory parts of life. But - there are limited ways that kids can earn money, and my kids are very interested in earning more money. I'm trying to think of "extras" that make sense to pay them for. And I'll pay them in cash, but they have to keep the cash out in the open (it has been lost in their bedrooms before, so this is just safer - money is not a toy).

So far, I've paid them for "being their own babysitter" at work one night when I couldn't find a sitter. I'll also pay for them to fold my laundry (not theirs - they really should fold their own), and I'll pay a bounty on all dandelions pulled up out of the yard. Carbon really wants to set up a lemonade stand, but the season for that is already past. We'll keep thinking about entrepreneurial opportunities for him.

And they are back to donating part of their money - they both chose the World Wildlife Fund as their charity.

How do you handle money? What do you think leads to better money habits?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The food plan for school

packed lunch plan

School starts next week, and I'll need to pack a lunch for every member of the family, plus snacks for preschool, plus snacks to tide us over on the nights the kids are going to dance classes, plus I want to avoid the dreaded dinner hour melt down.

So I'm working out a plan. A list of standard lunches sounds good to me - no floundering about as to what I want to put in the lunch box in the morning. This picture was my rough draft on the frige white-board, but I've swapped a couple of things and put the meat sandwich on Tuesday so we can observe Meatless Mondays and be vegetarians on Mondays.

I've also assigned snacks for Hypatia that will go well with her leftovers from lunch. Her preschool requires a snack, and if the child shows up without one they will feed them one - at $3 a pop. Since she arrives at preschool at 1pm, it will be her leftover lunch and the little side pocket snack I'll pack. And then we have a dance class after school two afternoons a week, so on those days I'll need to have juice and a snack for the kids, because Carbon is always hungry and cranky after school.

My next planning step has been to draw up a chart of all 7 days of the week, am and pm, and write in the tasks that need to be done ahead of time, such as hardboil eggs, make hummus, chop veggies the night before, etc. And I've added a few standard dinners, such as always having a beanpot in the slowcooker on Wednesdays, which requires remembering to soak beans overnight on Tuesday nights.

I get my bakery CSA on Wednesdays, and I pick up my farm CSA on Fridays at the Farmer's Market, which is a good time to buy meat for the week from the local pasture guy who sells there. Then I can look over what veggies I got and make menu plans for the week to utilize those vegetables, and I can go to the regular grocery store to fill in the holes on Friday afternoon or Saturday morning. The CSA ends in October, so I'll adjust the plan then.

And I think we'll stick to either having Sunday dinner at my mother-in-law's or going out on Sunday evening - no Sunday cooking for this girl. :)

It's a plan. Fingers crossed that this keeps us on a more even keel.