Sunday, October 30, 2011

Our Halloween traditions: how to make them easier on Mama?


I was inspired to try and take the "Easy Way Out" this Halloween. It's one of my family's favorite holidays (not my favorite, but the kids and my husband love it) and we have traditionally celebrated the heck out of it. But, let's face it - it's a LOT of work for the Mama. Being the holiday wizard in charge of making sure the family gets their special times and memories is yet another chore that falls on my shoulders.

I didn't have it in me this year (I really am barely keeping my head above water with all the work and different hats I'm wearing), so I couldn't imagine sitting down and sewing costumes. I proposed that we just go to the Halloween store and buy costumes this year, and the kids LOVED that idea. Although it meant shilling out hard-earned money for cheap crap, the trade-off was that I didn't need to sit up all night long trying to find the time to sew costumes. I don't know that it's the right choice for every year, but for this year it felt right.

But then I proposed that we just buy our pumpkins at the grocery store, instead of picking them out at the pumpkin patch farm. They already got to go to the patch earlier this month, for a homeschool group field trip, and pick out small pumpkins to bring home. So why not just buys our big carving pumpkins at the grocery store?

TOTAL MUTINY. It's not Halloween if we don't get our pumpkins at the farm! So we squeezed a trip in, and they were happy with that. And now I know which traditions matter to them and which don't.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Egg Drop



It was my second year as a DRE, and I had been inspired to write my own curriculum for our 1st-3rd grade class called "The Seven Principles and Dr. Seuss". I was still pretty fresh from graduate school, with more theory than practice under my belt. I wanted this to be a multiple intelligences curriculum, with each lesson working a different form of intelligence: musical, artistic, interpersonal, etc. Being even more rigid, I laid down the order of rotation (so it would be consistent and predictable) for how the lessons would cycle through those intelligences.

So the 2nd Principle was Horton Hatches an Egg, but it also "had" to be musical. I struggled with that, then thought of those egg shakers you can buy for rhythm band instruments. We could have made them from easter eggs, but I didn't happen to have a supply of plastic easter eggs on hand, so I morphed it into just any sort of shakers. It wasn't ideal, but whatever - the kids should enjoy it and then they could shake them to "From You I Receive, to You I Give" and it would all make sense with the 2nd Principle.

It was the day of that lesson, and we had a big class (in retrospect, it was a small class, but it was big for what we were used to back then), crammed into a tiny 1/2 of a classroom with cubicle dividers between them and the preschoolers. The teacher did a good job reading the story, but then we sat down to make the shakers. It was a tight space, and beans were falling everywhere. The teacher was frazzled. But the kids were laughing and having fun.

My son was in that class. He was six years old, and was my little shadow, always going to work with me. I asked him how the class had been.

"Well, Mom, I had fun - but I didn't see any connection between the story and the activity."

I was both proud of him for seeing the problem and naming it, and frustrated with myself for failing to make a better lesson plan.

This year we pulled that curriculum off the shelf to do it again. And this gave me a chance to re-do this lesson plan, a second chance to get this right. I now know that when I am planning I need to picture the kids themselves, and imagine what will make sense to them and be fun - not what will follow some strict theory or plan. What makes sense and will be fun with "Horton"? An egg-drop, baby. :)

And they loved it.


(If you don't know what an egg drop is, it's a some-what classic activity where you give kids an egg and challenge them to design a way for it to fall without cracking. In our case, I hardboiled the eggs (less messy) and gave the kids packing materials.)

Monday, October 24, 2011

chicken keeping



Carbon is the primary chicken keeper around here. It's his chore to go out first thing in the morning and collect the eggs and feed the chickens, and to go out after dark to lock them in for the night, safe from predators. He needs a bit of monitoring, but mostly he does a good job at this chore.

While I was away the kids got to stay with my mother on her little hobby farm, and she has a much bigger flock of birds. It happened that she and my brothers were going to be slaughtering some of the flock and putting them up in the freezer for the winter. After getting my permission (and really - I think kids should know where their food comes from if they're going to eat meat), they all included Carbon in the process. He watched the killing, and he plucked birds, and he was proud of himself for being helpful. Now he says he's ready to be a "real farmer".

Meat-eating is not a given, and I absolutely respect those who choose not to eat it. I agree with the argument that meat takes more resources (so vegetarianism is a bit lighter on the environment) and that most animal-farming is horribly unethical in how it treats these poor living creatures. But when I was a vegetarian I got pretty sick, and I've come to the conclusion that I'm not up to the task of managing my genetic anemia (it's a rare type) without eating meat. So ... I'm really happy to find ways to be a responsible meat-consumer and be connected to the animals.

And I'm proud of my little boy who wants to be a "real farmer".

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Musings on the Sabbath

(This week at the Liberal Religious Educators Association Fall Conference, keynote speaker Kim Stafford gave us through some writing exercises and reflections. After he read a selection to us from Rabbi Herschel's Sabbath, I wrote this reflection in my journal.)

Sabbath, not as worship but as rest. Spring does not come without winter. The field must be allowed to lie fallow. What if I did not meditate on a cushion, with legs folded under me and new age music (or silence - even harder to get in real life) in a world apart from my life? What if I meditated in my adirondack chair, with a cup of coffee on one arm? Gazing out over the field, bundled up against the cold, just sitting there? What if I allowed myself to just enjoy all that I have, not worrying if I am worthy of it or not, not worrying if I have done enough to earn this rest time, not worrying if others see it all as good or not. How amazing and free would that be? What if I just sat, not in a hermit's cave or on a mountain top, but here, now, amidst my life and all it's crazy messiness?

links to the words of others: No Shame in Stillness

Friday, October 21, 2011

What I'm Doing in Portland

This week I had to find a volunteer substitute to fill my role at church on Sunday morning. I had to go into church on my day off to set out materials in all the classrooms, with little notes "set up for Sunday classes - PLEASE DO NOT MOVE", and just hope for the best. Then the next day I had to drive 2 hours each way to go drop off my children and dogs with my wonderful sweet mother who is watching them all for me this week. There were other loose ends to tie up; other people I needed to ask favors of so I could leave town for a few days. Why, oh why, I think, do I ever try to get away? It's so darn much work.

Then I got a taxi to the train station, and a train down to Portland. I'm attending the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) Fall Conference. A gathering of 200 wonderful folks (not all women), who do this same work I do. I also signed up for an additional two days of training in Youth Ministry, and that training had a 120 page reader that was emailed to me last Thursday and I had to have it all read before I arrived.

It's work, but it's good work; the kind of work that educates, renews, refreshes, and re-inspires. I have so many ideas jotted down, and more energy to get home and get back to it.

And ... a plug for the train. That was my first time riding it, and it is the Most Relaxing travel I have ever done. No crazy-making security and sardine can claustrophobia. No road-rage or blindness. Just me and a comfy seat, a cup of coffee I bought in the dining car, passing lovely scenery - and that reader I needed to finish before I arrived.

I hope to find time to take the train somewhere again! I think the kids would love it.

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Rocks and Minerals

Geology Study


The University has a lovely little natural history museum, and they have a lovely educational department that loans out "museum in a box" kits to teachers. The kits come full of specimens and books and so forth, and a 3-ring binder of lesson plans. With the budget cuts that are hitting almost everyone, they've raised the rental fees on these boxes, but it still seems worth it to me.

We've had a box of Rocks and Minerals for two weeks, and we've been working through the lesson plans. It has been a fun unit study, all packed and ready to go for me!

I don't know how many people even know about this resource. If you have a museum or a University near you, you should check what sort of teacher resources they have. These resources are available for homeschoolers too!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

UU stereotypes: coffee

Have you heard the joke about the church arsonist? I know - a weird place to start a joke. But anyway, there is this arsonist burning down churches. And at each of the churches in town the priest/minister/pastor pushes past the fire department and rushes in to save the most important thing in the church. The Catholic priest carries out the communion accoutrements, the Protestant minister carries out the Bible, and then the UU minister rushes in to his church and comes back out carrying the .... coffee pot.


Well, today one of our RE classes made little clay representations of their favorite place in the church, and here you have it ... the coffee service window. :) There's a little plate of cookies there, too.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

art classes and acceptance


Art is one of the subjects I don't feel comfortable teaching, so I'm always glad to find classes I can sign the kids up for and get them a qualified art teacher. This month, the Community Center has a series called "Drawing and Painting for Children", for four Saturday mornings. Carbon came home from class talking about perspective and about how impressed he was with the work of some of the older kids, but still totally happy with his own work.

That's a balance that I'm thrilled he has right now - he sees something he can aspire to, but he's not frustrated or ashamed of what he can do right now. When I was a child I found it incredibly frustrating that I couldn't make art that was "good enough", and I gave up. Hopefully my kids won't hit that wall, and can continue to enjoy their own creative process. And I'll keep signing them up for more, and stocking the art supplies at home as well.

Friday, October 14, 2011

progress on the kids' rooms



I've made some serious progress on setting up Hypatia's bedroom. She picked the paint color, and the wall decal is from Etsy. All the boxes are "unpacked" - although you will see the pile of toys in the middle of the floor that were dumped out of a box and not put away yet.


Now (sigh) I still have to do something about Carbon's room. He moved by shoveling stuff into trash bags, and dumping them on the floor of his new room. It was a brilliant technique for transporting a huge mess from one place to another. What to do about messy children?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

thinking about the juggling act

(Hypatia working on a research project, in the evening because the day was too busy)

I've been thinking of myself as a juggler a lot recently. It's the way we talk about these things: don't drop the ball, keep it all in the air, etc. I may have too many balls in the air right now, and I am worried about dropping one. As the pace has picked up this fall, I planned to take a week to get the hang of the juggling act, then add in just one more ball at a time. That was probably a good idea, but it still seems like there are too many balls:

Work, homeschool, home, the RE credentialing program, exercise, marriage, and food

I'm dangerously close to dropping the balls, to burning out, to giving up. I don't want to give up either of the balls that folks tell me are the biggies: Full time work and full time homeschooling. Yep, most folks don't try to do both of those at the same time, but I feel that both are my heart and soul work, and giving up either feels like giving up a piece of my heart.

And if I won't put the balls down, I guess I need to just learn to be a better juggler.

Monday, October 10, 2011

tucking it in where you can



I'm working on the Credentialing program for Religious Educators, which is a lot like taking on part time grad work as self-study, and I have a mentor that I work with once a month on the phone. We've just started this process, and she asked me how I plan to fit the study into my life.

Well. About like this, what I've pictured above. I need to take the books with me everywhere I go, snatch any time I can, and tuck study in to my life. So when I take the kids to the Children's Museum so that Carbon can take an art class, Hypatia plays while I study. Even if that means she plays on my legs while I hold the book just above the "playful puppy".

Saturday morning I took my laptop with me to the gym for Hypatia's gymnastics class. As I was sitting in the bleachers, working away on a powerpoint presentation for church, another mom started talking to me about how hard this is, to balance study and kids. She's in a nursing program, and has two young children, and shares many of the same struggles I do.

It's not easy being a mom, a student, a worker, all at the same time.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

hanging in there


Oh, what a day I've had! Up early, dragging the kids out of bed, then:

  • 7:30 our ritual Sunday morning stop at the grocery store for gluten-free muffins, smoothies, and espresso (a once a week special treat)
  • 8:00 arriving at church, to set up classrooms and get things all prepped for church
  • 9:15 teaching a small "first service"
  • 11:00 then leading a very large "second service" with Children's Chapel and special mixed age rotation method (an experiment, today was the first time we tried it and so that was an extra stress)
  • 12:15 Right after we got done with that I just had time to clean up, and wave at my husband as he came to pick up the kids from me
  • 12:30 With our minister, I lead a two hour session of a curriculum called "Articulating Your Faith" with our high school group
  • 2:40 I had to dash from that to run downtown for a rock climbing party I had organized for all the kids from church. Twenty-seven kids and their parents came out for it - it was really fun and great. My husband brought our kids to it, so I saw them all there
  • 5:10 From the party I had to go back to church to cook some soup and salad and host a Young Adult dinner and game night
  • 5:30 I made soup and chatted with some families who had been there cooking dinner for the homeless camp we are hosting
  • 6:00 The young adults arrived and I spent two hours with them eating and talking and playing games
  • 8:15 I washed the dishes up and locked up the church and headed home
  • 9:30 I put the kids to bed
A marathon of a Sunday!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

putting it together

building furniture


Ah, IKEA. I love you for your affordable and practical home furnishings. I also like to shop in your store, and appreciate the cafeteria placed in the middle so I can take a break and have some meatballs and gluten-free torte.

But once I get it home, assembling it all can be quite the chore!

Friday, October 7, 2011

A somewhat unconventional field trip day

Yesterday my husband needed to drive up the road to Seattle to get his motorcycle serviced, and so we chose to take a day as well and drive up to keep him company and have a "Field Trip Day" for our homeschool.

As we are doing a Unit Study on Asia, I wanted to take the kids to the cool asian grocery store in the International District, and that's just what we did: browsing the aisles, trying to figure out what the vegetables and fruits were when we couldn't read the labels, buying strange candies and so forth. Carbon was impressed by the variety of origami paper for sale, I admired the bamboo salad bowls but couldn't actually bear to pay $70 for one, Hypatia loved the dolls they were selling, and my husband bought a package of rice crackers with dried fish in it. We still haven't tried the dried fish - I'm a bit nervous about that.

It was a lovely field trip, actually, and as close to a trip to Asia as we were going to get this week. :)




It's not all high-brow museums and such. There are much more unconventional educational opportunities out there, and they are pretty fun too!

Monday, October 3, 2011


A couple of interactions this past week made me think about patience, and whether I have more or less than the average:

Last week at a Math Salon event for homeschooled kids, I was playing a game of Blokus with Hypatia and another kid, another homeschool mom. Hypatia was the youngest kid trying to play the game, and I was trying to coach her through some strategy, which led the other mother to tell me that I had more patience than she did.

And then we had a birthday party for a friend from Hypatia's preschool, and of course almost all the conversation was about how Kindergarten is going. As I talked about homeschooling, many parents commented that they wouldn't have the patience for that.

So ... does homeschooling require more patience? Am I more patient with my kids than the average? (Not if you ask them!).

I don't feel like an especially patient mother or teacher, but YES, it does require patience at times to work with kids:

Using my "broken record voice" to say "get in the car, get in the car, get in the car", "buckle your belt, buckle your belt, buckle your belt".

Slowing my steps to the pace of a toddler.

Waiting while my son looks for his shoes and socks, lost for the millionth time.

And many, many more times.

What is patience? For me, it feels like putting myself into a mind-set that it's not about me. Just remembering that it's not all about me, about my needs, my pace, my preferences, helps me chill and wait for others. It's also the same when I am listening to someone talk about themselves - it's not about me. Instead of constantly thinking about how that relates to me, I remember that it's not about me, it's their story, their point of view, their time to talk.

What does patience feel like to you?