Friday, December 28, 2012

Post Christmas


In past years, I've felt a big sense of let-down after Christmas.  Once the present-making and giving is done, and the fun of Christmas day is reduced to just one big mess of paper and more "stuff" that I have to find a home for in my home ... I've felt sad and depressed each time.

This year felt a bit different.  There was less frenzy leading up to the big day.  We didn't do everything on my list - we didn't even put out all our decorations.  In some ways I was sad to never get around to having the kids make wreaths - but in other ways it was a relief to just do what we had time for and not to whip myself along at a frenzied pace.

And our Christmas day wasn't perfect either.  I got a terrible sore throat and had to send my husband out for zinc throat lozenges.  Carbon didn't get a single toy - just clothes and practical-type stuff - and he got cranky and was rude when he opened a hoodie sweatshirt from his grandma.  I had to pause gift-opening and take him to the side and give him a talking to, and lecturing your child about gratitude in the hallway while he cries about not getting what he really wanted puts a downer on Christmas.

But, strangely, I'm not feeling a let-down after the fact. Things weren't perfect.  I didn't create a "magical" holiday for my family and kids.  There were disappointments, even tears, about how the holiday worked out.  And yet I'm OK.  I did the best I could, and we're just moving on from here.

This week post-Christmas has been lovely.  We've just been hanging out, resting, taking it easy.  Carbon and I had a good talk and I promised to buy him a toy if he ended up not getting one at all (we still have one more gift exchange at my dad's house left to go).  His grandma took him to return the hoodie and bought him a toy robot instead.  My sore-throat turned into a head cold, and I spent nights sleeping in a chair with a humidifier while my husband brought home spicy carry-out food for me.  We didn't really get anything major done at all.

And the seed catalogs have started to arrive.  And there are plans to be made for 2013.  And it's all going to be OK - maybe not perfect, but OK.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The New Jim Crow


This is the 2012-2013 UU Common Read: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.

Wow.  The subject matter is so compelling, and the more I read the more angry I felt that our society could be this unfair to people.  Alexander lays out a detailed and persuasive argument that the criminal system, especially the War on Drugs, is stacked against people of color, and that this unfair design to the system is every bit as much of a system of racial control as Jim Crow laws ever were.

Everyone should read this book.  That said, I did find that the book begins to repeat itself by the mid-point.  But even so, I still respected the sheer size of the argument Alexander has put together here.

An interesting article about the book here.

A discussion guide is available from the UUA.

In our congregation, our minister has given a sermon on the book, and we're doing a class in our Adult Education program.

Read it!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012: A Year in Learning

Here's what we did in 2012 in our little Home School.

Classes Taken:
Physical Education
Theater Arts
Chess Club
Religious Education at Church
Violin and Piano Lessons

Workshops Taken:
Science and Inquiry
Paper Architecture
Zoology: Bees
Lego Engineering

Nature Center Camp
Church Camp
Interfaith Camp
"Play in Spanish" Camp
Video Special Effects Camp

Curriculum Used:
Math U See
Five in a Row
Story of the World
Story Book Art
Beginning Geography
Handwriting Without Tears
Language Lessons for the Very Young
Explode the Code
Sonrisas Spanish School
Exploration Education Physics
Rosetta Stone Spanish
Real Science Odyssey: Earth and Space
Art Lab for Kids
Writing Strands
History Pockets: Ancient Civilizations
Hooked on Spanish

Some of the Books We Used:
Young People's History of US
Before Columbus: 1491

Highlights of the Literature We Read:
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Origami Yoda
Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos
Penny from Heaven
The Mad Scientists Club
Anne of Green Gables
Stuart Little
We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Cheshire Cheese Cat: a Dicken's of a Tale
Wind in the Willows

Kits and Programs Used:
Big Bag of Science
Reader Rabbit

Unit Studies Initiated by Me
Women's History
Maurice Sendak
Charles Dickens

Child-Led Interests Followed:
Chinchilla Care
Writing a short story about zombies
World War I

Performances Attended
The Phantom Tollbooth (local Family Theater)
The Mystical Arts of Tibet
Nathalie MacMaster, Celtic Fiddle
Go, Dog, Go (local Family Theater)
The Imperial Acrobats of China
Le Ballet Jazz de Montreal
The Wind in the Willows (local Family Theater)

performing in Lorax -themed Earth Day Worship Service at Church
Built a chicken-coop
performing in Holiday Variety Show at church
demonstrating in support of marriage equality
doing a food drive and delivering it to the Food Bank
making Halloween costumes

Free-Form Learning
Nature Study
Written Correspondence (notes to Grandparents and so forth)
Goat and Chicken Care
Spanish through bilingual books and DVD's
Cooking and Baking
Sewing and Knitting

Homeschooler Days at the Great Wolf Lodge
The Zoo
Many Nature Hikes
Camping at the Ocean
Mt. St. Helens
King Tut Exhibit
State Homeschool Convention
Washington History Museum
Chihuly Glass Museum
Art Museum
BeachCombing for Rocks
Mushroom Farm Tour
Salmon creek tour
Pumpkin Patch
"Creative Quest" at Michael's store
Children's Museum
Mazatlan, Mexico
Christmas tree farm

Homeschool Play Group
Game Nights at Church
lots of playdates with friends
Summer playgroup

Monday, December 24, 2012

Reflecting on Christmas


Reading #621 from Singing the Living Tradition

Why Not a Star?

They told me that when Jesus was born a star appeared in the heavens above the place where the young child lay.

When I was very young I had no trouble believing wondrous things; I believed in the star.

It was a wonderful miracle, part of a long ago story, foretelling an uncommon life.

They told me a supernova appeared in the heavens in its dying burst of fire.

When I was older and believed in science and reason I believed the story of the star explained.

But I found I was unwilling to give up the star, fitting symbol for the birth of one whose uncommon life has been long remembered.

The star explained became the star understood, for Jesus, for Buddha, for Zarathustra.

Why not a star?  Some bright star shines somewhere in the heavens each time a child is born.

Who knows what it may foretell?

Who knows what uncommon life may yet again unfold, if we but give it a chance?

--Margaret Gooding

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Fun in the mail


Who doesn't love to get a package?

Fun things that came in the mail: our new trampoline (not assembled - Carbon claimed to be terribly disappointed it wasn't lowered down into our backyard by a helicopter) and a whole box of new study books for the RE Credentialing program.

Two very different kinds of fun, but I love them both.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Meet "Rocky"


This is the kids' new "adopted" penguin, "Rocky".  He's decked out to go ziplining, on a set-up they ran across the room on a string.

He arrived in the mail last night, and is a hit!  They had decided to adopt a penguin when they got the WWF gift catalog in the mail, pooling all the money in their two piggy banks (tooth fairy money and money earned doing chores).  Adding it all together, they only had $25 between the two of them - enough to adopt a penguin and get a certificate but not enough to receive a stuffed animal.  That was OK with them - they just really wanted to adopt a penguin.

Well, without telling them I went ahead and provided a Mom's-matching-grant (a time honored program you've probably heard of before, I'm sure), and upped them to the $50 level that would bring the stuffed animal.

Today has been all about this penguin.  They had to work out a custody-sharing agreement in which he will sleep with each of them alternating nights, and they've been making clothing and ziplines and cutting out paper fish for him to eat.  We read up on Rockhopper Penguins online, and looked on the world map to see where he probably came from.

In my experience, children love to donate to animal causes.  If you have an animal-loving child, consider a symbolic adoption as a gift - I bet it will be a hit!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Snow Days for Homeschoolers


Yesterday was a sick and snow day here.  Sick for me.  Snow for the kids.

One thing about growing up homeschooled was that I never got sick or snow days as a child.  There was always something I could be doing, and no day needed to be totally wasted.  I remember lying in bed and doing math, or if I was really really sick my mom would resort to educational movies.  My experience of Shakespeare's plays was heavily tinged with fever from one particularly sick week when she had me watch all the recorded performances of all the plays I had already read.

My own kids complain now that they don't get sick days, or snow days.  It's not that I work them into the ground - I think it's just that the idea of a Snow Day as a day of freedom is so appealing.  My kids have days of freedom all the time, so there's really no need for it to be weather dependent.

But yesterday I let them have it.  I was sick, sick enough to just want to lie on the sofa and read to myself, and there was snow to play with outdoors.  The forecast wasn't good for it sticking around, so why not seize the fun while they could?

Today is shaping up to be a repeat, as I'm still feeling awful.  But today I think they'll do their schoolwork.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Turkey for dinner for weeks ...

I find this little parody very cute.

I missed the turkey Thanksgiving this year (shrimp feast in Mexico instead), so I was glad when my mom offered me a turkey for our early Yule/Christmas gathering a couple weeks ago.  She raises her own turkeys, and this fellow was about 30 lbs.

Those 30 lbs of bird have become:

  1. Roast turkey served at a holiday dinner for nine.
  2. Eight turkey sandwiches.
  3. 10 quarts of turkey broth.
  4. A giant pot of turkey soup that has been enough for six meals.
  5. Turkey pot pie, enough for two meals.
  6. Turkey tomato rice (I cooked the rice in turkey broth, added chopped up turkey, a jar of home canned stewed tomatoes, some frozen swiss chard I froze this summer, and a few marinated artichoke hearts, with plenty of dried oregano, salt, and pepper).
We're almost out of turkey, but I think two + weeks of meals from one bird is pretty awesome.  We eat one or two turkeys a year, and I'm always thrilled at how far they go.  

Monday, December 17, 2012

Our little Dickens unit study


Today I finished reading Charles Dickens: Scenes from an Extraordinary Life to the kids.  It's a nice biography of Dickens using his own letters and notes, and including quick synopses of all his books.

To go with the biography, we've listened to the audiobook of A Christmas Carol and watched several movie versions (lowpoint on the movies has to be A Barbie Christmas Carol).

We also had a fun conversation, initiated by the kids, about what Dickens would be surprised by if he were to time travel to our time.  Sadly, we all agreed that the way we treat the very poor and children is still not good enough, and we think Dickens would be disappointed by that.

Now the kids are interested in some of the other stories.  I think we may look into Oliver Twist and Ye Old Curiosity Shop next.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Holiday Weekends

The holidays are busy times for me at church, although it usually settles down by the second half of December and I get a little reflective time in the second half of the month.

This weekend was the biggie.  A holiday variety/talent show on Saturday, then church Sunday morning and taking the youth group to the zoo for their light display Sunday evening.

Everything involved my family as well, so they are just about as tired out as I am.  I'm looking forward to my day off tomorrow!



Friday, December 14, 2012

A sad day


My heart is breaking over the tragic events today.  These mass-shootings are always horrible (interesting stats here), but this one feels even more horrible because the children were so young.

Yes, there are cultural issues we should talk about.  Yes, we should examine our gun controls and our mental health systems. But at some deep, deep level, this just points to our vulnerability.  Our terribly, terribly vulnerable incarnated selves and the terribly, terribly fragile receptacles of our love - all can be dust at any time.  And it's so hard to hug your babies close and to know that the world is not a safe place.

And yet the world is also a wonderful place.  How to balance this, to cherish and love life and yet to know that it will end?

My heart is breaking.  I will pray, and I will work for better gun control and mental health services. But this is also a reminder to look again at mortality, at love, and at what matters most.

(This reminds me of how I felt a few months ago when I wrote this post.)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

In the Bleak MidWinter


OK, honestly things are pretty rough right now.  Work is hard, people are hurting, and the future is unclear.  At home life is messy, my children are super cranky, I fight with my husband too much, money is tight.

It's shaping up to be a bleak winter.

So I need to focus on self-care.

 I cannot change the outcome of things at work.  All I can do is be present to what will be.  It's truly out of my hands, although my presence is not irrelevant.  I cannot make it all better, but if I wasn't there it might be worse.

I also cannot make everything perfect at home.  My children are cranky.  Yep, this too shall pass.  I just need to give them my best no matter what.  I fight with my husband.  Newsflash - marriage isn't perfect and I'm sure we will fight more than a few times in our lives together.  When I love myself the best, it seems like he loves me the best too.  Money is tight - and the way to get through that is to be tight with my money.  And here also, I am best at managing money/resources when I'm at peace with myself.

So it all comes back to me, which is good because it's really the only thing I have any control over.  I took time to meet with colleagues yesterday, and to do some holiday preparations.  Today I went to the gym and ran my anger and frustration out.  A new spiritual practice book arrived in the mail today.  I'm starting a mother-daughter Bible study with my mom.

All I can give is my best.  Cultivating my best, caring for myself - it's not selfish.  It's the best path through these dark times.  I also have faith that the sun will come out again, but it's time to turn inward now - it's winter for me.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Our Gift Guide 2012

(I am not getting anything for writing these reviews.  These are just the things my kids are enjoying right now, that I think are pretty cool.)


Here are some of the things my kids will be getting for Christmas:

Fluxx is a fun series of card games, with each variety having its own flavor and special twist.  For my kids who can get a bit too competitive, these games are nice because the point is really not to win - that tends to just happen by accident in the course of playing the game.  We love to play games, so they'll be getting some new games for Christmas this year.

Dover Coloring Books are complex, and come with educational themes such as history or art.  Hypatia loves to sit and color, and the more complex the pictures the better.

Personal Lanterns are useful, and I don't know about everyone else's kids but mine love to have control over a light source.  They also break and lose all their lights, so new ones are always needed.

Art Supplies are always needed and enjoyed.  The same goes for Bare Books.

Books, of course.

Walkmans are old technology, but for my audiobook loving kids it's great to check books on CD out from the library.  I also appreciate that they are carrying around something I can afford for them to lose or break, instead of an iPod.  Our last pair of portable CD players were thrift store finds, but they are breaking and it's time for new ones.

Travel Mugs for their hot chocolates and steamers that they love to get as special treats when I'm getting my espresso.

And I'm sure Santa will also stuff some legos in their stockings, and some edible treats.  (Hypatia put Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate on her Santa list, because she doesn't like the Fair Trade stuff I buy.  I'll have to bend my rules about chocolate and get that for her.)

They'll also each get a homemade gift (a knit hat, a quilt), and the family has been saving our allowances for 6 months to buy a family Christmas gift of a trampoline!

It's going to be a good, but not crazy, Christmas.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sparking creative play


I pulled off a great parenting feat today: my kids voluntarily played happily together "unplugged" from their electronic devices for over an hour without any fighting.  It was creative, original, messy play.

How did I do it?  I gave them a box of trash to play with.

In fact, I keep a largish stash of bits that could have gone into the recycling but that seemed to have potential for creative constructive play, and these items can get pulled out when the kids want to make stuff.  Today I added a box of newly cut scraps of foam board ... and Voila!

I love how the box can be more fun that what came in it, and this is the same idea. :)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Grown-up Christmas List

I've been listening to the local "Warm" station that goes into 24/7 Christmas mode this month, and this song has been getting to me.

My grown up Christmas list:

no more lives torn apart, 
and wars would never start,
and time would heal all hearts.
Every one would have a friend,
and right would always win,
and love would never end.
This is my grown up Christmas list, 
this is my only life-long wish,
this is my grown-up Christmas list.

What would I put on that list?

What would you put on that list?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The rewards of patience


So many things are like this mushroom kit that the kids put together a month or so ago.

You put in the effort, and you can't see the result right away.  All you can do is hope for the best.

You peek on it, checking and worrying.  Maybe you didn't do it right?

And then you forget about it.  It takes too long, so you stop checking on it everyday.  You let it sit, you move on to other projects ....

And then, you notice it all of a sudden!  And it can be like magic - like wow! how did that happen all of a sudden?  Where were you when this awesome thing just popped out?

Growth happens when no one is looking.  It happens after you've given up on it.  It happens in between the check-ups, the moves, and the fussing.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Oh, Christmas Tree




A family ritual: going to the same tree farm we've visited for years in a row (a lovely family-run farm), the adults put on the lights and the angel, and the kids hang the decorations.  We had a bit of debate about whose turn it was to hide the pickle, but the kids were gracious about it and worked it out between themselves.  (So the pickle tradition seems to have actually been invented in America.  But my German-descent American grandma said the reason to hide a pickle had nothing to do with good luck or getting an extra present ... it was because Christmas is too sweet and to make sure you don't attract bad luck you have to put a little sour into all that sweetness.)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Reading Life

It's been a long time since I wrote a post about what I've been reading.  It's been a great reading month, much of it done while on vacation (I love vacation reading).

I took a nice nerdy pile of books on vacation with me:

Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times by Peter Steinke.

This book lays out the fact that anxiety is normal, and the need for steady leadership through anxious times.  It is practical, but deeply grounded in clear principles of theology and psychology.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

The UU Common Read for next year, this book was eye-opening, shocking, even enraging.  It made me mad at the system, sad about all the injustice, and convinced we need to move away from the paradigm of punitive justice and toward a more compassionate society.

Christianity: A Very Short Introduction

A publication of Oxford University Press, this is part of the "A Very Short Introduction" series - a series I had not been aware of before but now I would love to collect.  This one was clear, concise, and fun to read.  The other titles in the series cover seemingly every sort of topic - I could really get into this.

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

The only novel I've read recently, this book started off slowly, ended a bit anti-climactically - and moved me profoundly none-the-less.  It did what I think stories do best, asking a big question, making you think, and not answering all those questions.  But, from the other reviews online, people either love or dislike this book, and I can see why.  I loved it, but could still see the deep flaws in the plot and writing.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012



I love drawing out the process of Christmas fun ... spreading out the excitement and little gifts instead of having one huge blow-out.  Advent calendars are perfect for my preference of slow gratification and daily ritual.

The kids didn't get home until the 3rd, so I had to get it all set up and ready for them to start as soon as they got home.  This year we've got the buffet in the dining room set up as Advent land.


First, we have fun packages that came in the mail from grandparents.  Egg-carton advent calendars have been a tradition for several years, then we didn't get one last year because my father-in-law was very ill.  So nice that they felt good enough to put them together again.  They fill them with all sorts of random coolness, wrapped in bits of tissue paper, recycled office paper, and newspaper.  We've opened some odd bits in the past - a dried dead lizard was a memorable one.  So far, some cool rocks, a shell necklace, and a quarter have been revealed.

Then we have a Playmobil advent calendar.  These are fun and come with a cardboard background that can be slowly filled with the figurines.


And then I wanted to sort of copy an idea I saw on the blog Salt and Chocolate, to have a winter scene with little parts individually wrapped, and each day the kids can open one and add to the scene.  They can also play with the scene and move it about anytime they want.  This was my favorite part of my childhood nativity scene, and one of my favorite childhood Christmas memories.  Salt and Chocolate's version is very Waldorfy, (that's a word, right?) while mine is made of the cheesy pseudo Dickens Christmas Village stuff that I just can't help loving.

The kids are loving it all.  OK - I love it too. :)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Learning All the Time - and While on Vacation


The kids get back from vacation tonight, and tomorrow we start "school" back up again.  But what did they learn while on that vacation?



We took a boat tour back into the mangroves, and saw all sorts of lovely birds (and crabs and iguana) up close.  Nature Study, for sure.


We also visited the Aquarium in Mazatlan, which features a display on maritime science and history and the local fishing practices.  Clearly educational.


The kids did a lot of boogie boarding, with their dad, aunt, and Papi.  Physical Education!


And then there is Geography (field trip to another country, discussion of timezones, looking at maps, etc.) and Foreign Language (even if they were really shy about trying to speak Spanish).  They probably learned more from their "vacation" than they could have possibly learned in the same number of days sitting in school.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sabbath Keeping

From Gates of Prayer:

There are days when we seek things for ourselves
and measure failure by
what we do not gain.

On the Sabbath
We seek not to acquire but to share.

There are days
when we exploit nature as though it were a horn
of plenty that
can never be exhausted.

On the Sabbath
we stand in wonder before the mystery
of creation.

There are days
when we act as if we cared nothing
for the rights of others.

On the Sabbath
we are reminded that Justice is our duty
and a better world
is our goal.

I wish all a Happy Sabbath, whatever day of the week you observe it.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Choices, Choices

Today, I had just stepped out of my bath when I got a message from our renters that there's another leak  in the roof.  I already had some errands planned, so when my husband got in from the morning chores I proposed that we pool our errands and go by the rental house while we were out.

Errand pooling = a reduction in gas used

But ... 

If we were going to go look at the roof leak, he wanted to take the ladder, which meant driving our pick-up truck instead of our hybrid.

Truck use = more diesel used

As we got on the road, he saw that we actually needed to stop and get more diesel in the truck.  We got to the station, and looked at the prices ....

$5.89 a gallon for 90% biodiesel.  Or $4.69 a gallon for 20% bio.

Or, we could just go with mineral diesel, and even that's not cheap.

How much do I want to pay (and can we actually afford it right now, because we may have to get a roof repair done on the rental house right before Christmas!) to know that I'm not contributing to the tar sands/gulf oil spill/middle eastern wars over oil?  And, s**t, biodiesel is still bad for air quality and climate change!

OK, back on the road again, knowing that we were 20% not culpable in all that bad stuff and 80% still culpable, but we are still errand pooling right now ...

To the downtown public library, where I had my canvas book bag and returned a few items that should have gone back before we went on vacation but didn't make it in (oh well, paying library fines supports a fine public institution, right?) and got some books I needed for work and home ... no moral compromises to speak of presented themselves there.

Then on to the mega fabric/craft store.  We got there and found a parking spot large enough for our stupid giant pick-up truck.  And then I realized that all my reusable shopping bags live in the back of my hybrid, because who would ever take the pick-up truck shopping?  That would be a silly thing to do.  And the little compact bags I keep in my purse are still in the purse I took on vacation with me.  

So this little forgetfulness = 5 unnecessary plastic bags being used

I'm sure my husband loved going through the fabric store with me.

I was hungry by the time we got to the check-out line, so I grabbed a bag of candy.

Junk food = all kinds of bad choices from so many points of view

We got stopped at a flashing red light intersection, and my husband being himself, he laid down his horn on the person two cars ahead of us who wasn't "getting some balls and just going for it".  That led the person one car ahead of us to honk back, and then flip us off through their back window.  And then, because we might not have seen that flip off, she rolled down her side window (in the rain) and stuck her arm up as high as it would go and flipped us off again.

And my dear husband honked at her again.


This is why I always want to drive.  But I don't like to drive that damn truck.

We just should have driven two cars.  The truck would have only been used for a short drive, and the hybrid would have done the across town errands.  And I wouldn't have come home with 5 plastic bags or been flipped off today.