Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Solstice, folks!

I don't post here as often as I'd like to, because I keep waiting until I have the time or energy or motivation to write something profound or philosophical, and less like a laundry list of what we've been up to, this week.

But, frankly, I don't think I'm looking for this journal to be particularly philosophical. I like being able to look back and see what we were up to, last week, last month, last year...

So, this past month:

We hosted Country Day, the geography group Sarah belongs to. The host chooses the month's theme, and she chose Slovenia (the country my grandfather's parents came from). It was an awesome day. She did her presentation on Slovenian folklore and mythology, and we both learned so much. I made ricet (barley soup) and made a failed attempt at apple potica (a rolled cakey dessert), people brought so many delicious foods and the kids gave so many interesting presentations. That night I went out and got myself some peach schnapps, which I had with the delightfully Slavic leftovers, and relished the sense of connection with so many of my foremothers.

The lego league team finished up their research on thermometers (the focus they chose, within the biomedical engineering theme chosen by the organization), put together their presentation, and presented to the judges at the local Lego League science fair.

We had another Country Day, with the theme of Japan, and I brought cold summer noodles (rice noodles with a really tasty, simple dipping sauce and some quick cucumber pickles) and Sarah gave a presentation on hinamatsuri, the Japanese doll festival. Aside from the usual computer presentation she puts together, she also did a little diorama example of what the traditional doll displays look like at the festival.

On our own, Sarah's working on typing, spelling, math, and drawing, and we're exploring ear training exercises, to pursue her musical goals. And we're continuing to read about NYC, the Hudson River, and Shakespeare (she was very taken by the adaptation of Midsummer Night's Dream we went to see last Spring, and we've been reading children's book versions of a few of his plays), and slowly filling in the Inventions timeline on our wall.

Joe wrote an awesome adventure for us, and is leading Sarah and me through it. She's a math mage, and I get to be a kickass monster hunter. She and Joe are also working their way through many books together -- the Bunnicula series, The Mouse and The Motorcycle, and the three of us are starting _The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler_.

Last night, during our Solstice celebration, we had the chance to explore how wax candles work, how flames work, how solstices work, and how lunar eclipses work, while staying up all night, singing, reading aloud from Pratchett's Hogfather, watching movies, watching the eclipse, crafting, making pizza together, eating brownies, and weathering the long night together.

I'm looking forward to a relatively quite couple weeks, just getting ready for Christmas in a laidback fashion, visiting with friends, and finishing up reading the books we currently have out of the library.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

We had a really good visit with my parents, the other week. We drove to look at the wind turbines being put up nearby, Sarah got to enjoy her new treehouse, there was singing and baking together, and a funny little Family Olympics my dad put together -- a course around their front yard, combining acrobatics, basketball, archery, soccer, the little trampoline, and followed up by a badminton game and a soccer match. My mom and I went to see a local open mic night, but we wound up being the only ones there. I'm almost disappointed I didn't bring my banjo with me (I'd brought it to the North Country with me, but not to the coffee shop) -- it might have been nice to just experience playing on a little stage, in front of a microphone. But a little too weird to play in front of just my mom and the coffee shop owner (and her two kids). But I'll be prepared for next time we're there over a Monday night, now that I've seen the place.

My mom lent us pictures from her recent trip to Slovenia, as well as a flag, some Slovenian art, and the recipes my great aunt used to make Struklji and Potica. (it was Sarah's turn to choose the theme for the geography group she belongs to, this month, and she chose Slovenia)

Sarah and I are starting to shift into our Winter homeschooling -- homeschool soccer finished up already, lego league's finishing up in a few weeks, and we've opted out of a few social possibilities and are starting to focus more on quiet afternoons at home or at small gatherings with friends or family. A little more of an academic focus, after a fairly unschooly Fall (we'd meant to be a little more focused all along, but it just doesn't work that well when we're out of the house every day doing one homeschool activity or another). I'm looking for a philosophy or Great Books discussion to work our way through together or maybe with a few friends -- either a book or a curriculum, or even just an article with suggestions. I have a few to check out, when I have my next Homeschooling Prep afternoon.

I'm continuing to work with the Simple Living Guide and the Getting Things Done book -- paring life down to the essentials and dealing with the necessary nonsense as efficiently as possible -- and they're working really well for me. I've opted out of a few tempting but unnecessarily complicated activities/social commitments, recently, and every time I pare my life down a little more I can feel the wave of relief that passes through me. We're challenging ourselves to see how much we can declutter in the next 4 weeks.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Yesterday was gorgeous and lovely and crisp -- outdoors at the park with many-many homeschool friends, sitting under a tree with my Simple Living book, watching Sarah play with old friends and make new ones.

The first chapter of the book is on Time. How am I using my time? Does it match up with my underlying values and priorities? How do I want to have spent my time, when I look back over my life? Who do I want to spend more time with?

I sat particularly long with this advice: when you find yourself tempted to buy something, or do something, or commit to something, look deeply into your motivation. Why do you want to have this or do this? And then look deeply into the consequences and opportunity costs of buying or doing this thing. How many hours would you have to work to pay for this thing? How many evenings with your family would you have to give up for this commitment? How much more rushed would your weekends become if you take this class? Maybe it's worth it anyway. But maybe not. Really look at it, from every angle. And consider this: you don't have to read everything that flies in your door. You don't have to do every neat thing that comes to your notice. You don't have to do everything. Learn to be discriminating.

She also has a lovely couple paragraphs on intimacy. Arguing that our time crunch is actually an intimacy crunch. It's so much easier to keep rushing along, adding more things and more commitments, than to sit quietly, getting to know ourselves, and then opening ourselves to others. She points out our tendency to have fewer, larger get-togethers, instead of smaller, more intimate dinners. I've noticed this, myself -- I often leave large gatherings feeling less connected, not more. But smaller gatherings are harder, more embarrassing -- it feels more vulnerable to say "hey, do you want to come over for dinner on Friday?" Like I'm putting more of myself on the line. Something to consider.

She also talks about the practice of the Sabbath, even for those of us who are not religious, and about the idea of siestas (not necessarily a nap, but a period of enforced downtime in the midst of the day -- turn off the phone, step away from the computer and TV, and just dawdle, on your own or with your family).

Could I X out my Sundays, starting with my open Sundays in November, and keep them sacrosanct for time with my family? Not just time with family, but unhurried, Sunday-drive type time with my family (like grandma and grandpa did when their kids were little. Sundays they would pack a huge picnic lunch and take their 3 kids for drives out the Island or upstate, stopping at park where grandpa would take the kids swimming or skating or playing baseball and grandma would read under a tree)? We already try to make Sunday a family field trip day, when we can manage it. Could we make it a commitment, barring extremely rare exceptions (weddings, and the like)?

I think, maybe, once we fix the laundry situation, we could do that. Saturdays could be our days for errands and seeing people and Friday and Saturday nights could be free time for going out on our own or together, and Sundays could be held for lowkey picnics or field trips.

"... take control of your life and time. Create your own inner law and then follow it."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Our weeks are going to be even a little more full than I'd thought, as Sarah's decided to join both Lego League and another class/club/activity being organized by a new friend to explore different world cultures together. I'm delighted by all the activities she's interested in, and happy to make room in our week for them. But...

I've gotten so used to having all the time in the world to sit at home together, doing crafts, reading books, making music... And having the option of multiple field trips or spontaneous playdates in a week. We're suddenly looking at, at best, one free afternoon a week. It's a little intimidating.

This week Sarah had a great time at our local Not Back To School day at the zoo, seeing a few old friends and making a new one. We also got in a few days of playing school, finishing up the last bits of our most recent themes -- history of math, building/engineering/architecture, history of books and libraries -- and getting ready to jump into all our new ones. The timeline on our livingroom wall is getting awfully full...

On Friday, at Fairy Scouts, we did Alien of the Week club, read a few more chapters of _The Girl Who Could Fly_, and watched Pippi Longstocking together. This was our last Fairy Scouts meeting, at least for awhile, as our two fellow scouts are starting school on Monday. Sarah and I love them both, and I think we're feeling both sad for ourselves and excited for them at this new adventure of theirs. They're both such fierce, independent, thoughtful young ladies, and their new school sounds wonderful -- I'm looking forward to hearing all about it. I'm... envious of their new teachers a little, I think -- I butted heads with both of them so very often at TMcAFS, oh my God, but the school, and my own experience, was so much richer for their presence.

L suggested the same thing Sarah and I had discussed when I first told her about their plans -- that after they settle into their new schedule, perhaps we can start meeting once a week after school, as scout troops often do. I certainly hope we can do something along those lines. We're filling up the spaces in our schedule, but new friends certainly can't replace such dear old ones.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

We're shifting more fully into our fall routines, this week and next. This week Sarah and I had a long talk about all the freedom she has, the fact that she has the opportunity to pursue any interest or passion she chooses. I want us to start having a larger picture in mind, and if we're doing a mostly child-led approach, I need her to start thinking about what her bigger picture is. How does she want to be spending her time? What interests does she want to start putting more energy into?

We talked about different things she's curious about -- archaeology; different periods in history; a little more about the history of math and writing; a little more on fairy tales, folk tales and mythology -- and we're going to be planning some themes and field trips around those. Mostly, though, she wants to pursue her interest in rock and roll, so we're looking into drum lessons, and have started doing ear-training and singing exercises on our own. We're also continuing the History of Rock workshops that Joe's been doing for us.

We're also shifting from two or three themes each month to 6 or 7 themes per season -- with room for shorter term themes or interests as they come up. Our fall themes are: History of the US, NYC, Communications (written communication, oral communication, philosophy, making books, etc.), Nature study, the Hudson River, her continued badgework (reading, adventures, bravery, potions) and lifeskills (sports, cooking, shopping, etc.), and Math (split between waldorfy math stories focusing on fractions and regrouping and division, and the Living Math history/philosophy of math approach). We're integrating some Oak Meadow Waldorfy stuff into the communications and science work we're doing.

Our weeks are starting to look pretty nicely packed. Monday we'll alternate between seeing our local homeschool group and visiting relatives. Tuesday I'm hoping Sarah will decide to join a Lego League being organized by a friend (she's intrigued but unsure). Wednesday we'll be volunteering at GSE and doing some science classes at a local environmental center. Thursdays we'll alternate between homeschool soccer and a local homeschool park day. Fridays will be field trips and playdates, with an emphasis on NYC and the Hudson Valley for the field trips. And Sundays we're expanding our family field trip plans to start including more friends.

I'm really looking forward to this Fall.

Friday, August 20, 2010

We got back to our homeschooling routines, this week, and today's Fairy Scouts is at K's house. So I've got the day to myself, for planning and organizing and such. I'm taking a portion of the day as a retreat, because this was a fairly rough week, emotionally, and I'm feeling the need for a little detoxing.

I don't usually post about this stuff here, thinking of this as mostly our homeschool space. But more and more, even as we're moving into a more schooly homeschooling style in some ways, I'm also expanding my perspective to consider our whole lives to be part of our homeschool style/experience. So I find myself posting about my retreat plans.

Thinking about my retreat time, considering how I want to spend it, I thought of some of the reading I was doing the other night. Following up on some annoying symptoms I've been having, I came across this question -- "what are you afraid of losing?" Which, of course, is the underlying issue I've been dealing with for the last couple months, the fear of loss. The associated affirmation is "I willingly release with joy". Which, okay, yeah, I can work with that idea. But I don't really know what it means. How can you release with joy? Accept that it's time to let go of something, maybe. But joy? I don't understand that. Not that I don't think it's possible, I just can't get a grip on the concept. So for today I'm sitting with it, just contemplating the question. How can I release with joy? What does that mean? What might it look or feel like?

I think this is how my day is going to go:

* morning mantras
* breakfast
* sweeps (that is, basic tidying up)
* exercise
* homeschool organizing -- researching field trips and classes, collecting the books and supplies we're likely to use next week

* retreat time:
- self-hypnosis
- journaling and/or art therapy
- mindfulness meditation during food prep
- lunch
- chi kung meditation (if I can find the CD)
- further declutter the house and clear out email as part of the "releasing with joy" work
- watch a movie (yeah, this is part of the retreat work -- one of my self-prescriptions is to curl up on the futon with a blanket and watch movies that comfort me, especially movies I associate with my childhood)
* pick Sarah up, head out for the evening

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Sarah and I have been pondering how we want to organize our Fall semester -- pick a curriculum, write our own curriculum, continue picking a couple themes each month, go back to picking books at random from our collection each morning.

Today we spent about 8 hours wandering around the city -- taking the ferry in, traveling up to Pommes Frites for belgian fries and over to the Doughnut Factory to see the place from Throwdown with Bobby Flay, then meandering through Central Park, attempting to go to the Zoo (got there too late -- can you believe they close at 5pm?!) and then sitting in the lowering dusk, listening to Shostakovich at the Naumberg Bandshell before starting the long trek home. Telling Sarah and K our stories of wandering the city as high school and college students, and the stories of our grandparents and great grandparents settling in the Lower East Side for years before making the journey out to the ancestral homeland -- Queens!

And now I want to lobby for making our entire Fall curriculum *NYC* -- exploring the city itself, as well as the depth and breadth of our family connection to the city. At the moment she declares she's never walking again (today was a *lot* of walking, in fairly humid city air), so I might give it a few days before I start my campaign...

Friday, July 23, 2010

Our days are filled with cleaning and decluttering, right now. We're doing that final push, the one we've been meaning to do since moving into our little house 4 years ago, organizing and purging and deep-down cleaning. It feels so good to finally be doing this, and doing it right, but it's also beyond exhausting.

This weekend we spent visiting with my sister who's home for a bit between her trip to Italy with our mom and aunt, and going back to Iowa to start prepping for her fall semester. It was good to see her, and Sarah had a great time hearing all about M's visit to various Italian cities. It inspired us to get out her Children Like Me book, to take a look at the pages on Italy.

It's been a busy week. Monday we wandered around New Paltz with my sister and mom, having lunch and doing a little shopping. I got a gorgeous scarlet full-length summer dress and a casual but lovely green skirt, and Sarah picked up an adorable tie-dye tshirt-dress with a hood. It was a really nice day, despite the unbearable humidity. I wish we could manage more days like that. I hate how far apart everybody is.

Tuesday we traveled down to Trenton for the marriage equality rally, and talked about the concepts of civil rights, of civil vs. religious marriage, and of the separation of church and state. Wednesday I cleaned and cleaned and cleaned somemore, and today we did our usual volunteer stint before heading over to the library to take out a truly gorgeous pile of books.

We're really enjoying the first book in the A History of US series, reading about Pangaea, and how the first Americans arrived and survived here. We're also working our way through a book on Builders throughout history. We have a few more books to read on early US history before we're ready to move onto our next themes -- books and libraries (we got started on that last month but we've been so immersed in our early US history stuff that we let the other theme fall to the side for a bit) and our newest one: festivals! I'm really looking forward to all the cooking and craftiness that's gonna come with that one.

Sarah's been having fun with badge-making on one of the game sites she likes to visit, so she's expanded her summer badge project. Now she's working on Reading, Bravery, Art, Gardening, Wizardry, and Adventures. I'm particularly looking forward to working on the Adventures badge together!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

We finally, *finally* finished our math theme (not that you can ever be *finished* with math, thank goodness, there's always more cool stuff to learn, or neat games to play or problems to solve). Sort of finished, anyway. We've finished the first books we picked out on the history and anthropology of math, and we're moving on to new topics for now. I think we'll probably be picking math back up next month or the month after, because there are so many other intriguing books on our to-be-read list, and we didn't get around to most of the projects we were hoping to try.

For now, though, we're continuing with early US history, reading about the declaration of independence, the causes of the Revolutionary War, and bios of Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Then we're going backwards a bit to read the first _A History of US_ book, which starts with prehistorical North America and gets as far as 1600. I'm keeping an eye out for the next book in the series, and I think we'll be using these books to make our way through US history over the course of the next 2 years, if she continues to like them as much as she likes the first one.

Our new themes are Building, Books and Libraries, and our local ecosystem -- all inspired by books I picked up at the Rutherford College Women's Club book sale, a couple months ago, and by a book my parents gave Sarah when we saw them last month. We're mostly going to be doing trips to our local environmental/nature centers for the ecosystem theme, and I'm hoping to make it up to Beczak at some point, they've got some awesome-looking Hudson River courses.

We've borrowed the third grade Oak Meadow curriculum from A, to see if it's something we're interested in using next year. We used the first grade curriculum a couple years ago, and it was a nice source of material. My only concern with using a curriculum is that we might get in the habit of thinking we're supposed to keep following it, instead of just using it as a helpful tool (the way we're using the Living Math curriculum as a suggested reading list). Will it discourage us from continuing to choose our own themes? On the other hand, if it's still full of great, creative approaches to math and earth science and history the way first grade was, maybe we can pause at the beginning of each month to examine the next chapter and see if it's something we want to do?

Sarah's practice work right now involves copying a couple lines out of Robert Frost's Stopping By The Woods On A Snowy Evening, and writing out her times tables (my practice work involves reading one of my current books (Guerrilla Learning, Joy of Mathematics, American Gods, The Canon) and writing a few lines on what I've read. I dream of the two of us, a couple years down the road, spending our mornings side by side at the dining room table, doing our "homework" together.). She and Joe are planning to start doing math together at night, too, in addition to their usual card games. She's also been writing songs and poems, inspired by the poetry game from Joe's dad and C.

Life skills she's working on right now: making change, cooking, sewing, roller skating, riding her scooter, bike-riding, soccer, badminton, and conversational/social skills. We're continuing to try to do meditation practice daily, and working on visualization as a relaxation technique.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Sarah and I tweak our homeschooling approach fairly often. We reconsider and shift around our daily routines, our monthly themes, how we shape the "playschool" part of our day... We make changes based on how our old routines were working, whether we've been feeling overscheduled or underscheduled; based on ideas from our friends, ideas from books, ideas from our own imaginations. I get ideas from her, she gets ideas from me.

All these changes add up over time, and sometimes we find ourselves somewhere completely unexpected, having wandered so very far away from where we started. Our recent meanderings, as it happens, have brought us around to an approach that is a whole lot more school-y than I'd expected. I'm basically okay with that -- I'm more of a whatever-works sort of a person than I am committed to any particular philosophy, and I love our approach to School -- it's all the things I loved about school as a kid, all the sorts of things my sister and I made sure to include in our totally self-directed Daily Plans every day of our summer vacations, and Sarah seems to love all those aspects as much as we ever did. And combining a more structured morning with a much more spontaneous, free-form afternoon seems to work really most wonderfully well for us both.

I'm a little sheepish about it, though, when I talk with our more unschooly friends. I feel... shifty-eyed about it, as if I'm risking my membership in some beloved club, or as if I'm thinking I must somehow be subconsciously or secretly tricking Sarah into liking to play school together (despite the fact that, even if we were much more schooly than we are, we'd still have way more in common with our unschooly friends than we'd have differences, I've had several friends explicitly reassure me on this point, and Sarah's often the one reminding *me* when we forget to play school or have our practice time in the afternoon). I'm getting over that, though.

But I also have to be careful not to let myself pick up bad school-minded habits while we're integrating the fun schooly stuff into our days. When we're reading together or doing projects together, we're on the same side, we're having fun learning and exploring together. Sometimes, though, when we get into certain areas (I notice it most often in math, but not exclusively), I'll fall into the habits I picked up from years in school. I start out with the best of intentions but... Looking to make it more interactive, I fall into an unintentional pattern of quizzing her -- asking her to locate two dates on a timeline or to figure out place values in her head -- instead of just drawing out the timeline myself if it seems as if it'll make the chapter we're reading clearer, or inviting her to do it together, just as we go through most of the side projects in the book together. I don't even notice I'm doing it, usually, until she's gotten frustrated and I've gotten tense (because 'what do you mean you don't know, didn't they just tell us how to do it?!' -- I don't say that, but I'm sure as hell thinking it, some days).

I think maybe the secret lies in reminding myself, every single day if need be, that we're *playing* school. That the idea here is to be doing something we enjoy together, and to be taking only those parts of school that we both want -- fun worksheets, lots of stickers, marble notebooks, dioramas -- and to leave by the wayside the performance anxiety and judgement.

When I forget my intentions and fall into the trained-seal approach to learning, though, she gets performance anxiety and freezes up, I get aggravated and tense because oh my God we read about this stuff together months ago and what does it mean that she doesn't have it all memorized by now and maybe this whole unschooling thing doesn't actually work in the real world and what if she never finds a job!!! She can feel my tension even when I try not to express it, which makes her even more uncertain and tense, which makes me feel guilty and frustrated. Three short steps and we're no longer companions on the same path but, instead, we're feeling cranky and sullen and adversarial.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Who are you and Why do you seek me?

Sarah turned 9 (!!!) on Friday. On Saturday we had a wizard birthday party, turning the livingroom into a wizard's study, decorating spell bags and wizard's hats, setting up a potions lab, and leading the kids through a wizard adventure/scavenger hunt. The kids seemed to have a great time, and I had a *wonderful* time setting up the wizard study (and covering the walls in wizardy quotes like the one above). Sarah got wonderful piles of books, some great board games and art supplies, and lots of outdoor toys and equipment.

Last week we finished up this round of our focus on folk tales and mythology (we made it all the way through the _Lady of 10,000 Names_ book of goddess stories and _The Story of Religion_, but only about halfway through the _Gods, Goddesses, and Monsters_ book -- I suspect we'll be taking it out of the library again sometime soon -- they were all awesome). This week we're back to focusing on math for our theme -- doing the projects we never got around to during our last pass through with the _Math Alive_ books, reading _How Much?_ (a gorgeous picture book on different types of marketplaces around the world -- I loved the way the artwork draws you right into the scene, feeling as if you're surrounded by the scents and sounds of the market), bits of _Science in Ancient Egypt_, _Science in Ancient Mesopotamia_, and _The Secret Life of Math_ (my favorite so far -- it leads the reader through an examination of the question of why math has existed in such similar ways in civilizations so far apart in space and time -- we've done tally sticks, kept tallies on "animal skin" scrolls (actually brown paper bags), and I think next we're making Incan quipus (knotted strings used for keeping count)).

We're outside a lot right now -- learning badminton, playing soccer, taking walks in the neighborhood, doing a little gardening -- and generally leaving more time than usual open to the whims of the moment. It doesn't work well for us to leave our whole days like that -- we just drift too much, and we're both disappointed when the end of the day comes and we haven't gotten around to any of the things we'd meant to do -- but it feels nice and summery to leave our afternoons open for spontaneity.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Life skills we've focused on so far, this week:
* making fruit salad
* choosing ripe fruit at the store
* phone skills
* letter writing skills
* map reading skills
* using the toaster oven
* making change and estimating the final bill when you're shopping
* meditation (we've tried out mindfulness meditation, breathwork, chanting, and guided visualization)

We've also read Greek myths, Chinese myths, African myths, Indian myths, and read an awesome book _The Story of Religion_ which gives a really nice perspective on the history of religion and decent if simple descriptions of many of the religions practiced today.

And now we go into gonzo birthday-prep! Tomorrow Sarah turns 9 and we've got a whole day out planned together, and on Saturday she and a few of her friends are going to be transformed into wizards, thanks to various crafts inspired by a couple wizard books we've got, and the adventure Joe's been writing for them. Sunday, we sleep. Or maybe the ice weasels come.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Happy June! We're completing the shift over to our summer way of being, today. In my head, I just refer to it as our summer semester, because that's just the way I see the world. Growing up, my sister and I would make ourselves Daily Plan lists most summer days -- making sure we got in everything we wanted to -- and I think of this as a version of that. There are all these cool things to do and learn and see, each summer. If we don't maintain some sort of basic structure, we wind up missing out on so much, because the days just drift on by! (I suspect this is similar to the reason I like having all my stuff *out* instead of packed neatly away in shelves and drawers -- if it's not out where I can see it, I forget it's even there)

We've shifted our solo time (when I've got unfettered computer time and she's got free run of the TV) until after we play school -- it used to be first thing in the morning, but it was too easy to just drift until half the day was gone, that way. We've also restructured our playschool part of the day, a little, and made our practice work a more consistent part of the day. Sarah has a very low tolerance for frustration, and while it bothers her that she isn't better at writing or spelling or certain types of drawing, she's refused any offers or suggestions I've made to work on those skills. I've gone back and forth over it, but I think learning to push past frustration is too important a skill, I don't think it's serving her well for me to let this go. So I've asked her to pick one of those skills every day, and spend 15 minutes on them. At the same time, I'll be spending 15 minutes working on a skill that frustrates me (probably songwriting or learning how to create harmonies -- it's so very frustrating that those don't come more easily to me).

Our focus, this summer, is life skills (for Sarah: cooking, gardening, making change, bike riding, etc. For me: basic woodworking, gardening, home repair, time management, music skills, budgeting skills), although we're still picking a theme every month. We've also each designed a badge for ourselves to work on -- mine is a music badge, hers is a bravery badge (she gave me permission to talk to my mom-friends about this, but asked me not to discuss it with any of her friends). And, honestly, we'll still have the usual basic curriculum going on in the background.

I realized that, while I don't separate these things out from "real life" all that often, and I don't make a big deal about it to Sarah, I actually do have a curriculum for her. It was reading Guerrilla Learning, recently, that brought it to my conscious attention. The author writes about learning in context, arguing that that's one of the greatest strengths of homeschooling. I started thinking about the context of our home life, our local environment, the activities and ideas that run constantly in the background because of my interests or Joe's interests, and started noticing patterns. Out of curiosity I made a list, just to see what our unwritten curriculum would look like, written down:

* earth science and life science (gardening, nature journals, hudson river ecosystem, environmental activism, health, nutrition)
* history/geography/polisci (current events, early US history, our family history, NY history, biographies, history of science, political activism)
* world culture (folktales, mythology, comparative religion, nutritional anthropology, world folk music)
* communication (philosophy, great books discussions, family magazine, short stories, writing comic books, family meetings)
* math (constant board games and logic puzzles running in the background, aside from Sarah's personal interest in math)

I think I like our curriculum. I think I'm okay with making it an intentional choice, making a conscious effort to bring in more activities that tie into the subjects we're already "studying".

Friday, May 28, 2010

This week was a remarkably social one -- seeing friends on Monday, hosting Fairy Scouts on Tuesday, volunteering at GSE on Wednesday, hanging out with a couple homeschool friends on Thursday while their mom recovers from surgery.

At Fairy Scouts we finally finished reading A Wrinkle In Time together, and spent some time decorating tshirts and bags.

We're still working our way through the book on Goddesses -- today was the story of Oshun, a Goddess of the Yoruba, so we read about Africa in our other book on myths (Gods, Goddesses, and Monsters, I think it's called), and pulled out our two student atlases, learning a little about the geography, climate, and political history of Africa (and about the idea of Pangaea and the possibility that the Great Rift Valley will become a new sea in a couple million years). We couldn't find our copy of Children Like Me but I'm hoping we'll come across it as we tidy up, this weekend, to take a look and see if they've got an entry for Nigeria -- or, failing that, another West African country. The narration is going pretty well, when we remember to do it -- she's alternating between oral narration (usually telling Joe about our day as soon as he walks in the door) and an art approach -- sketching out a few drawing that she'd use to illustrate it if we wrote a book about what we learned that day. So far she's pretty uninterested in the idea of written narration.

We've been working our way through the Daria DVDs and, when we'd finished watching the last movie, Sarah was pretty frustrated that there wasn't any more. She suggested we tell them they should make more episodes and I agreed, but I also told her that some people, when they wish their favorite shows would make more, or different kinds of, episodes, make up their own episodes -- either in their own heads, or written down in story form. I asked her what kind of episode she'd like to see and we plotted it out together.

The story won't actually work out feeling like an episode, I don't think. It'll be more like a follow-up movie, set over the course of the first semester of Daria's freshman year. And we've gotta make some changes, I think, to keep it from feeling too Gilmore Girls-ish. But the outline is really solid. It's a story I would really enjoy reading, I think. It's a story I *will* really enjoy reading, once we're done writing it. I really like my life. :)

Last weekend we went to a family party, where a couple folks asked me what my plans were for next year, and whether we're considering putting Sarah in a conventional school. I said no, that we're going to continue doing more or less what we've been doing, and added that Sarah and I are having a lot of fun the way things are. One of my cousins commented how rare it is to hear parents say that, that they're having fun with their kids. I'm feeling really lucky, that I'm able to say that.

Monday, May 24, 2010

I can't believe it's been a month since I was last here. It's especially hard to believe because I look back at my last entry and have no idea what we've done since then. Reading about gods and goddesses, about planets, doing math... Hosting a gathering for IDEA and having some great conversations about the nature of learning, talking about whether there's anything everyone should learn, and what "should" means in this context (required, encouraged, or some other option). We're also talking a whole lot about human biology, and reproduction, and puberty. Oh -- she's been writing some lyrics, and last night we wrote the outline of a story, together.

We've shifted into a new way of playing school together -- adding some solo-reading time for Sarah to our old routine of story time and project/lesson time, and making a concerted effort to do some narration every day we play school. Right now it varies from day to day, whether she chooses to narrate by talking with me or Joe about what she read, or to draw a picture or write a few sentences based on what she and I did together. (and then, at dinner, Joe and I often narrate something we read or learned, that day, and maybe model drawing connections between different things we're learning, or talk about what questions it brought up for us)

We're also each picking one or two goals for the month. Hers are making new friends and improving her drawing. My goal is improving my music-making skills.

Our newest themes are fantasy, early US history, and math. So even though I'd consider myths to fall more under comparative religion or world culture than under fantasy, we're taking the opportunity to finish up the great collection of books of myths we took out of the library last month, and using the National Geographic Student Atlas and UNICEF's Children Just Like Me to follow up -- so today we read about Greek myths, then read a little about Greece (and Europe in general) in the Atlas, and Sarah's solo reading was about the life of a boy who lives on the island of Crete.

The other main thing we're doing right now is working on some lifestyle changes -- meditation, movement, practicing some cognitive behavioral techniques for managing stress -- that should help her manage the trip through pre-adolescence a little more easily, I hope.

I'm struggling a little, right now, with how best to support her. She gets so frustrated about writing and spelling. It obviously bothers her that it doesn't come more easily, but when I've suggested practicing 10 minutes a day, she vetos that idea. Right now my plan is to leave the offer out there, and to talk with her about my own frustration when things don't come easily to me, but I'm not sure whether that's the right approach. I'll give it a couple weeks, and then reconsider the situation.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

We should really have picked new themes last week, but we seem to have decided to let the old ones roll over, and just added some extra math to the plan.

The Math Alive books from the library have been a huge hit -- there's one on how math is used in building, another on math in a variety of scientific fields, and so on. The only downside to the books is that Sarah wants to do each of the hands-on projects *immediately*, and I don't always have all the supplies available. I've convinced her to wait and do them all at once, next week, once I've gathered the stuff we need. She also wants to see me do all the Calculation Station math problems even if the math itself is a little above her head, so I wind up doing a whole lot of calculations in my head. Not always easy to shake awake all those old math skills when we're cuddled up cozy under the blankets, reading together!

We've also been doing business math. She decided to sell lemonade at the craft fair, and so we talked about how to price things -- starting by looking at the cost of supplies, then considering how much profit she wanted to make vs. how much people are likely to be willing to pay for a cup of lemonade. We've been doing other practical math, too -- measuring things, making maps, collecting data and then making graphs or pie charts or venn diagrams.

Since she wants to be doing more math problems that *feel* like math to her, as well, we've settled on Singapore math 2B after playing with their assessment tests together for a bit. I've heard really good things about Miquon as a supplement to Singapore, but can't seem to figure out which books to order. Maybe I'll take another look at it this week.

Besides math stuff, this week we talked about letter writing, about what goes into a formal letter or an informal letter, and how to form a paragraph. Sarah started working on a letter to my sister and will probably finish it up this week when we sit down for more writing time.

This week was also incredibly social. Monday morning we went to the homeschool gathering at the library (I was surprised to see so many friends there, as the previous times we'd gone we knew almost no one), then Fiber Arts, and then joined friends at their library for a storytime and an opportunity to play with a vintage typewriter! Tuesday I dropped Sarah off at K's house for fairy scouts. Thursday I dropped Sarah off at Joe's office for Take Your Daughter To Work day. And Friday was the craft fair, a long and wonderful day in the park with friends. It inspired me to try again to persuade Sarah to try out going down to homeschool soccer on Wednesday. Even if she decides not to play, I think it sounds like a wonderful day for hanging out with friends.

Oh, and then yesterday was G's birthday party, so we had another long day with different friends.

Sarah's birthday is coming up so soon. I can't believe she's going to be nine! She's just gone through two huge growth spurts, and I can feel her gearing up for another one. I feel as if I'm going to turn around and find a young lady in my house.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wow, it's a long time since I've posted here. We've been quietly busy.

We followed up our under-the-sea month with some more time at an aquarium (Camden, this time -- it's the first time we'd made it there, and I can see why it's so popular, despite the distance and circuitous route we had to take to get there).

We picked up two nice bags full of books at a used bookstore in Montclair, and we've been doing a lot of reading, going through our new books as well as returning to old favorites.

I've been reading Wrinkle In Time aloud at Fairy Scouts, and we had a lot of fun reading bits of The Universe together -- particularly the What-If bits that talk about what sorts of aliens might thrive on different planets (appropriate, given our regular alien-of-the-week club!).

This week we've been tracking our nutrition using the worksheet provided by the USDA. Mostly -- and no surprise here! -- confirming that we need to work on Sarah's veggie intake. It's also confirmed our recent decision to be a little more careful about sugar intake.

I picked up a few books on puberty and Sarah's been working her way through them, mostly on her own. She particularly liked the American Girl book on the care and keeping of your emotions.

We've been getting into Montclair a lot in the afternoons. Sarah comes with me when I volunteer at GSE, and she enjoys examining all the organizational charts, pretending to be the CEO of her own company (drawing and then X-ing out the employees as she fires them!). Afterwards we walk over to the used bookstore, or up to the fair trade tea shop or library.

I'd like to be getting into the city more, as the weather gets even more beautiful, maybe coordinating field trips with small groups of friends. We still haven't made it to the Met for our gods-and-goddesses visit. Maybe next week.

Today we're doing a math assessment test together, to help us choose our next math book -- Sarah's been asking for more math, and while she and Joe continue to do their math adventures together regularly, I'm thinking I'd also like to pick up some books for us to work through together, during our playschool time in the morning.

It makes me sad that so few people read this. That's not a request for comments -- it's more that so many relatives love to hear about what Sarah's doing or ask questions about homeschooling in general or our approach in particular, but even when I send them the link, I know most of them never come over to read the journal. It's a shame -- it would give them a much better sense of her weeks, and it would be a great place to start a conversation with her about what she's been up to. She and I have been talking a lot, recently, about how to start conversations (she often comments that she wants to talk to people more, but can't think of anything to say). My advice: any time you're going to see someone, spend a few minutes beforehand thinking of a funny/interesting story you can tell, one interesting thing you've learned/read recently, a specific question you can ask about something you know they've done recently, and at least one upcoming plan of your own you can talk about. I used to do that, myself -- maybe I should start doing it again...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Saturday we spent wandering around Woodstock with my parents for my dad's birthday. It was a pretty good day. We had a really wonderful lunch at a little cafe, I got an *awesome* shelf for my pirate ship room at a church flea market just outside the downtown area (where Sarah picked out a book on Exotic Gardening, and so we've been discussing exotics vs. natives, and trying to see if we can find plants we can agree on -- maybe it's time for her to have her own section of the garden), and we windowshopped in some fabulous little stores (as well as picking up a skull and crossbones tshirt for Sarah and a book for me from their great little independent bookstore. The store's for sale. Anybody want to go run an independent bookstore in Woodstock?), and rambled through the streets, passing several wandering musicians, a group "Families for Peace" holding their giant tie-dyed Peace sign/bedsheet, and many, many old hippies.

Sarah also found herself a great hat but decided not to try to persuade us to buy it for her (she and I talked about how to decide whether to buy something in a touristy area -- could you find something like it somewhere else, is it likely to cost less somewhere else, could you make something similar yourself, and does it feel important to buy it *here* as a souvenir of the day -- and how to go about persuading someone to spend *their* money on something *you* want -- not, for example, saying to your father "Mommy said I have to sell you on getting the hat"). I'm really enjoying watching her edge into this pre-teen phase. The trying on of different personas/aspects, the increasingly sophisticated conversations, the maturity of her thought process... The accessories. :)

Sunday was Sacred Song in the early afternoon (a very small group, this time -- I was sad to miss so many of our regular crowd, but it was a special, cozy energy, just me and P and her son, and we both commented that it felt as if the rest of our usual group were there with us, even moreso when we consciously extended the energy of our breaking of bread to them), and when Joe and Sarah got home we spent a couple hours playing the Faery's Tale RPG and then watched some Harry Potter before passing out. It was a really good day.

This week we saw friends Monday and Tuesday, and tomorrow we've got plans to get to the movies with Joe to prepare us for our trip to the Met next week. This month Sarah picked the planets and gods&goddesses as her two themes, so we're going to go see the Lightning Thief (I didn't think she would be interested -- I'd made a passing comment about being annoyed that yet another adventure story was all about a boy -- I get tired of how hard it is to find adventures where the girl is at the center of the story -- and Sarah took the comment *very much* to heart) and then follow it up with the Met's special Percy Jackson and the Olympians themed museum guide (you can print it out at their website if you're interested in doing something similar).

I'd originally planned to get to Queens today, and then hit the museum on Friday, but my body and spirit have rebelled at the thought of packing that much into the week. Yesterday afternoon we spent a cozy couple hours reading in the Montclair Library, skipping the rest of our planned afternoon errands. So I'm hoping to get to them today, and maybe fitting in another little library visit...

In other news, our cosmos, moon flowers, echinacea, and violas have all finally sprouted little tendrils up into the air. I'm looking forward to settling further into our land, this year.

ETA: Oh, we also came home with a tin of Chocolate Mint Tea and one of Moroccan Mint Tea from their teeny tiny little tea shop. It makes me want to start having tea parties, with tiny little sandwiches and itsy bitsy cupcakes...

Friday, February 19, 2010

Home from a long, excellent day at Liberty Science Center with Joe and Sarah. We managed to catch 3 separate presentations -- the surgery one (creating a sterile space and doing surgery on a banana), Subzero: states of matter (fun with liquid nitrogen), and It's Electrifying (fun with Vandegraaff generators) -- as well as play with the language karaoke exhibit, catch some films on the Hudson estuary, and get a nice amount of time with the latest traveling exhibit: A T. Rex Named Sue. The takeout from the TickTock diner sucked mightily, though, so now I've got that itch for "fun" food. Wish I had some avocadoes (been craving them since A mentioned them the other day, and one of the failed dishes from the Tick Tock was sucktastic guacamole)...

Hmm... Garlic bread and refried beans might do the trick. And then it's dinner-and-a-movie. I think we're going to try introducing Sarah to Chamber of Secrets, see how that goes.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I'll fight them as a woman, not a lady!

When we play school in the morning, we sing a couple songs together. Usually taking turns picking them -- Sarah usually picks ones we've sung together before, and I generally pick songs I know Sarah already knows pretty well (although occasionally ones I've recently been reminded of -- ones my mom used to sing to me but which I haven't yet introduced to Sarah, say). This week, though, out of the blue she asked to sing a song she'd overheard me watching on youtube a couple times:

We found the lyrics in my copy of Rise Up Singing, and after our third day in a row we're pretty close to knowing the words without needing to check the book. Too bad there's no more TMcAFS, or I know what we'd be singing at the next talent show! :)

Between this and the recent comments I've heard her making about TV shows or books without interesting female characters, she seems to be developing into quite the young feminist. It does a mother's heart good!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Yesterday K visited to take photos of our homeschooling day. It was a really interesting experience -- trying to clean the house ahead of time enough so that I was willing to let someone with a *camera* in, but not disturbing any of our usual piles of books or magazines or crafts-in-progress, and then trying to live a "normal" homeschooling day while interacting with an observer. She takes such lovely, interesting photos -- I'm looking forward to seeing the finished product.

Friday we visited the NY Aquarium with my parents. It was a really good visit -- there was a surprising amount to do, even with most of the outdoors exhibits cut back or cancelled for the winter. Sarah's favorite things were the Alien Stingers (jellyfish, anemone, coral) and watching the sea otter try to protect his food from the aggressive seagull who kept swooping in to try to bully his way into the feeding! We also both really enjoyed seeing the seahorses, the pipefish, the electric eel (and reading all about how they use the different amounts of voltage they can put out)... My dad also brought a nice pile of books for Sarah, which she's been enjoying looking through -- some math, some reading, and a few on being a forest ranger or on using the national parks for educational field trips. The trip to the Aquarium was much easier than I'd expected. I think we'll be going again soon.

Saturday we took the train into the city (direct from Rutherford to Penn Station, switching at Secaucus. I wouldn't do that again -- next time I'll happily go back to switching to the PATH at Hoboken, it's a lot less trouble) to go to Barefoot Boogie. It's at a meditation/yoga space, and the first hour is an introduction to a new type of movement. This week it was something called JourneyDance which reminded me a lot of the various ecstatic dance events I've experienced. Then a visiting group shared a Havdalah ritual they'd adapted to work with the meditative dance (Havdalah is the ritual that marks the end of Shabbat, returning to Ordinary Time (although I'm pretty sure that particular phrase is my Catholic background showing)). It was beautiful, and I'm glad we happened to choose to be there this week. Unfortunately, at that point we had to leave, to catch our train home. Next time we'll arrange for a pickup in Hoboken and stay much later!

Sunday we hung out and tidied up, and made some more valentine's decorations and cards. Yesterday we had a lowkey homeschool day, and had a fabulous adventure with our Faery's Tale RPG. Joe narrated (GMed) a pied-piper-like adventure involving dark pixies and rescuing young kids who'd been lured into dark woods. We're all settling into our roles nicely. (That was my one disappointment of the day -- I would have loved to have one of the things Sarah does with Joe caught on film, but both the RPG and their Teddy Bear card game wound up falling too late in the day. I know I could take pictures of these things myself, but I never think to. Maybe this'll be the impetus I need. I finally got around to putting photos online -- now maybe I should starting *taking* more in the first place!)

Sarah and I recently decided to borrow a homeschooling technique from a Waldorfy online friend, and start picking a theme for each month (new moon to new moon). This month she chose two themes -- underwater and fairies. Fairies are pretty much everywhere in our house -- in crafts, games, poems, storybooks... For underwater I picked up a couple books at the Aquarium, and dug out what we already had in our collection, so we can pick something from those every day or two. I chose two themes for myself, too -- physics and the history of science. I'm currently really enjoying Isaac Asimov's _Understanding Physics_ and using my old Halliday and Resnick for the equations.

Monday, February 15, 2010

"We don't need little changes. We need gigantic revolutionary changes."

I've been looking into the Charlotte Mason method and the Well Trained Mind approach -- for my own self-education, mind you, not for Sarah, although I may present bits to her to see if she'd like to try them for herself. On one Charlotte Mason-y site they suggest that, before you start putting together a CM-inspired homeschool curriculum for your child, you ask yourself what your ultimate goals are -- why are you homeschooling, with what sort of skills and knowledge and experiences do you want your child to come away from their homeschool experience?

I've been mulling that over for a few days, now. I know why we're homeschooling (sort of -- I come up with additional reasons every few months, as we discover a new benefit -- and I'm not sure I've ever typed my reasons up here. Maybe I'll do that some time this week.), but what are my ultimate goals, here? What do I want Sarah to get out of it, and what do I want to get out of it myself? Those are excellent questions.

I want her to come out of this homeschooling experience loving knowledge, loving reading, loving the process of learning new things. I want her to love words and word games; to love music and math and the act of creation, whatever it is she chooses to create. I want her to have the basic skills necessary to be able to do anything she takes it into her head to attempt -- that is, to be able to figure out how to go about learning any new skill she wants or needs; to be able to examine new information for its accuracy, logic, internal consistency; to be able to imagine forging her own path if that's what it takes to make the life she wants. I want her to be able to hold her own in any conversation, even about a topic she's never encountered before. I want her to be confident and compassionate and content in her own skin. To have a sense of possibility and purpose and her own power, and a sense of how one goes about building a life filled with delight and community. I want her to know that a full life is about more than how you make a living.

I want her to be comfortable enough with the rules (of culture, of grammar, of society itself) to know exactly what she's doing when she chooses to break them. And, yes, I want her to know the difference between infer and imply, to recognize a logical fallacy (or a rhetorical device) when she sees it, to recognize a reference to Yeats or Shakespeare or the Bible (or the West Wing!) when she sees *it*.

What do I want for me to get out of our homeschooling experience? To have the incredible good fortune of settling into a front row seat as she decides for herself what *she* wants out of our homeschool experience.
I really like this quote that IDEA posted on facebook, today: "The ultimate aim of education is to enable individuals to become the architects of their own education and through that process to continually reinvent themselves." - Elliot W. Eisner, emeritus professor of Art and Education at Stanford University

Saturday, February 13, 2010

For peace comes dropping slow

I called this place Mistress of Speed and Time because that was the title I'd taken on (at first in jest) when I was looking for a title other than "Director" at school. It hasn't felt appropriate for this little corner of mine in a long time. Yeats is one of my favorite poets, and The Lake Isle of Innisfree is one of my favorite of his works. This most evocative of his phrases from that poem seems to fit this newest phase of my life better than the driven, driving, outward-focused notes of "Mistress of Speed and Time".

Thursday, February 11, 2010

scheduling, rhythms, choices

Joe was home for a snow-day, yesterday. In the morning he shoveled and I made banana pancakes for everybody. In the afternoon he shoveled and I decluttered and made various appointments for our Spring home repair project. And throughout the day, Sarah and I made Valentine's Day decorations (I really liked the paper heart garland, but the stuffed paper hearts were a lot more work than they look worth) and talked and danced together.

At night we played school together -- reading from Civil War on Sunday, and Sarah's Noah's Ark book of stories, and the "Tyranny is Tyranny" chapter from A Young People's History of the United States. And singing a bunch, of course. We all played Apples to Apples, practiced our calligraphy, and Sarah and Joe played their teddy bear math card game. We were planning to finish up Civil War on Sunday at bed time, but instead watched West Wing together.

I'm feeling a little overwhelmed, right now. Trying to figure out how to fit everything in. But the main thing I want to fit in is a well-rounded, well-balanced home life for Sarah -- so does that mean cutting down on other things, to help make the whole thing feel more relaxed? But the other stuff is so much fun, for all of us. Maybe can I just learn to hold on to the sense of calm, even when there's so much going on? There was so very much going on this weekend (I was at a weekend retreat and feast, in honor of Brigid, and had an indescribably wonderful time), and I still managed to feel calm -- is it that being responsible for another person is enough to push me over into rushed-and-flustered, sometimes? Because if that's it, it's absolutely time to shift that -- Sarah's old enough to be responsible for so much of her own stuff, it's time for me to set down that particular rock (I picture the tension of different responsibilities as rocks lodged in different places in my body, sometimes) and breathe more easily.

Also a little overwhelmed by the plethora of choices, homeschooling-wise. Every time I hear how another family does it, I find myself thinking "oh, we should be doing more of that!" -- not in a guilty are-we-falling-behind way, but in a wow-that-sounds-like-fun!! way. As I was saying to another mom at LSC (we were there on homeschooling day, so ran into lots of acquaintances), we tend to have trends -- when we're home most days doing lots of focused crafty or academic work I miss our playdate and field trip trends, and when we're out of the house most days I miss our quiet, focused trends. There are so many options for how to spend our time together, so many of them wonderful.

Tuesday we hit Liberty Science Center with Fairy Scouts (we each chose one Most Important thing to see -- dinosaurs (how do scientist know what they know about dinosaurs? I didn't know dinosaur bones had rings like trees!), communication (calligraphy, kente cloth, totem poles, coins, graffiti) , infection (diagnosing disease, banana surgery!)). We rescheduled the visit with my parents (it's gotten cancelled onaccounta weather or traveling issues twice, now) so we'll be meeting them at the NY Aquarium this week. Saturday Joe's got plans to see friends in one of the Boroughs, so Sarah and I are going dancing on our own in NY (I was hoping to make the Chinese New Year celebration in Montclair, but I'm not sure whether we're up for so much in one day). Next week we're taking Joe back to LSC with us, and doing a field trip into the city one day. I'm looking forward to all that, very much.

But when we stay home, right now, we're making books, copying over poetry into our Common Book, making cards, reading Story of the World and A Young People's History of the US, and the kids' version of The Omnivore's Dilemma, and singing together constantly and playing math games... And those are my very favorite days.

I dreamt, last night, that I was on a boat with a friend or two (depending on when it was in the dream) and some other folks (maybe the friend's mom or aunt?). We traveled out into the ocean, to some spot where you could choose to drink from one bit of magical water or the other, depending on how you were feeling about yourself (there were only two choices -- high esteem or low esteem, nothing inbetween). I couldn't decide whether to drink from the water that was for people who felt powerful and accomplished, or not -- because declaring that I was powerful and accomplished would take so much more energy -- first just to let myself feel that way, and then to live up to it, to step up and do what I'd declared (admitted) I was capable of. Drinking from the lesser-self water would have been so much easier, and would have let me relax a little longer. Finally, though, I drank from the Awesome Self water, scooping it up with this quaint little liqueur glass. Once you'd chosen, you could drink from another, larger, body of water, but I don't remember what that water would impart. It was either additional power or talents, or it was a glimpse of the future, I don't know. There was a lot more detail to the dream, including a long journey there and back, but I can't make sense of the bits and pieces I remember at the moment. I completely understand my dream-self's ambivalence, but I'm glad she made the more challenging choice. I look forward to seeing what comes next.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

It's only Wednesday and as of yesterday it was already one of those weeks. Putting my foot in my mouth left and right, making a fool of myself or saying something that came out hurtful or obnoxious entirely without meaning it to. Just saying exactly the wrong thing, in one situation after.

And then, yesterday, Sarah had an awful day. Just ridiculously so. And, somehow, I managed to say exactly the *right* thing. Made everything better, just wiped away all the bad stuff. And, really, if I have to choose, I'll pick saying the right thing to Sarah and the wrong thing to the entire rest of the world, every. single. time.

(Of course, there are plenty of days when I haven't known how to make things better, when I've said exactly the wrong thing, or when I myself have been the problem in the first place! But I'm immensely grateful for every good Mommy day I get!)

Friday, January 29, 2010

It's been a long, hard week. Sarah feels things so deeply and I struggle, sometimes, to help her deal with that. We've had a very out-in-the-world couple months, and I'm considering whether we need to draw inward for awhile, retreating into our little home a little more. This is not the week to make any decisions about that, but it's a good week for listening to my intuition, and to what I'm picking up from her.

We had a very social week, which was a lot of fun in many ways, but was a little more social than really seems to work for us. In our time at home we read more creation stories, some during fairy scouts and some on our own, and both Sarah and her friend A noted how few of the creation stories involved a Feminine Creator. Particularly noticeable and bizarre since creation would seem to be such an obvious topic for a childbirth metaphor. We read "The Woman Who Fell From the Sky", "Mawu-Lisa the Creators", "The Sun God and the Dragon" and bits of "Sedi and Melo the Creators". The girls drew some pictures inspired by the stories. They also designed outfits and made their own business cards on unlined index cards.

We finished our first Faerie's Tale RPG adventure, encountering a little boy named Jack who found himself a prisoner at the top of a giant beanstalk. :) That was a lot of fun, trying out our characters and figuring out how best to use our fairy powers to save the boy and outwit the giant. Sarah's also been playing with her Secret Agent book/kit, and as always Joe and Sarah are playing loads of their math card game. I'm particularly enjoying working on our common book - I copy in poems we like, and Sarah ilustrates them. With Brigid's day coming up next week, it seems like a good time to be playing with poetry.

We picked up a copy of The Young People's History of the United States, in honor of Mr. Zinn's passing, and have been reading bits of that aloud, along with a kids' version of The Omnivore's Dilemma.

Monday, January 25, 2010

We've had a good couple weeks, in terms of actually living by the routines by which we generally *intend* to live. Our daily rhythms seem so simple, but it's amazing how much we fit into our days and lives when we just stick to those basic routines.

Last week we read about Anansi the spider, read poetry, read bits of The Hobbit, read bits in Story of the World about Egyptian and Sumerian writing, and about the benefits of stone vs. clay vs. papyrus. We played story-writing games, wrote our own madlibs, played Life, played Sarahh's new Clue Spy game. We practiced our drawing, had a hot cocoa bar, and sang so many songs, both new and long-beloved.

We've finally really started getting into the fairie tale role playing game we got Sarah back in June (we'd dabbled in it before, but never really gotten a solid adventure going), and so we're eating, breathing, and sleeping fairies right now. Making dioramas of our fairy characters, drawing comic strip versions of their intros, planning out fairie dolls...

This week we're also reading Creation stories (the two Genesis Creation stories, so far, and talking a lot about what myths are, where they come from, what they mean), making books, singing and dancing to our new Putumayo CD and learning some Pete Seeger songs, making lemon-lime soda pop, and doing lots of Sudoku. This morning we read _and Tango makes three_ and talked more about marriage equality (and also looked at all the wonderful photos K took of Angela and her kids' experience of one of the GSE rallies.

Sarah's practice work (we each assign ourselves homework every afternoon) focuses, as ever, on math and drawing, and she's improving steadily at both.

I'm improving slowly at the bass, struggling to remember the chords I used to know on the banjo (inspired by a friend who just got a brand-new banjo for her birthday), and watching the Anthropology videos on youtube.

Tomorrow we have our friends L and A coming over for fairy scouts. Time to get a little sleep...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I'm having the best day. Singing with friends, home made bread, a companionable meal, and now Sudoku and Tintin with Sarah on a gorgeously rainy afternoon.

I forget, inbetweentimes, how music recalibrates me, makes everything right again. We had friends over to share different traditions' sacred music together, then break bread and share a potluck lunch. I feel really, deeply good about how the afternoon went. I was nervous, some social anxiety hitting unexpectedly (it can be hard to walk the line between facilitating an event and being pushy, and sometimes I'll get suddenly self-conscious about being the one talking), and there are things I would do differently next time, but overwhelmingly I just feel good, nourished, sated.

I definitely want to think about to make the transition from singing to breaking bread go more smoothly, and the bread-breaking itself to have more of a sense of community ritual. But that feels okay, that there's room for improvement. I'm already looking forward to next time.

Monday, January 11, 2010

This week: Joe and Sarah are still spending lots of time play testing the math card game. Sarah and I have been playing sudoku, discussing the female reproductive system, drawing, visiting friends, spending the day at a political rally in Trenton (and visiting the little museum in the basement of the state house, discussing the political process in NJ).

I'm continuing to work on my first habit of the year -- getting back to our daily rhythms. I'm struggling a little with that, but making noticeable progress. It's a relief to know that I purposely gave myself 2 weeks to get this habit on track, so I've got a whole 'nother week to get it right before I start working on a new habit.

My contemplative moods aren't very cerebral or even verbal, these days. Instead I'm centered in my body -- my joy, my sense of satisfaction and purpose, my spiritual practice... All very physical. Doesn't lend itself to journaling. Singing, dancing, crafting, homemaking, baking... A good start to the year.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Now *this* feels like the New Year!
Good morning! I'm so excited to be getting started with all our plans for the New Year! I feel like such a dork, like the kid whose favorite time of year is the first week of school (and,yeah, I absolutely was that dork for many of my school years) A brand new notebook, starting on a bright, blank page with so much possibility...

I thought we might make the lobby day in Trenton, today, but it just didn't make sense. I'm making my phone calls, and may do another volunteer session on Wednesday, but I'm trying to listen to my body, these days, and my body gave me a very clear "You've gotta be kidding me!" when I considered getting up that early and getting the both of us all the way down to Trenton.

Speaking of listening to my body, I've been doing this visualization at night that is about clearing out stagnant energy, releasing energy blocks or emotional blocks, depending on how you look at it. So I do the visualization, fall asleep, have all these wacko dreams (some of which involve me being very, very angry), and wake up in the morning -- still very, very angry. I don't know what to do with the anger. How do people clear anger out without dumping it on other people? I've gotten two excellent bits of advice on that: 1) feel the anger going into raw eggs and then hurl the eggs against a tree and 2) screaming alone in the car. I haven't made any real use of either bit of advice, yet. Maybe this week... I wonder if my ecstatic dance DVD has any sections that feel appropriate for clearing anger?

We started late, today, but we're starting right anyway -- with our full morning routines. We'd made general lists of our interests and then yesterday went through some of our books and refined our plans. This "semester" we've decided to focus on science, drawing, sewing, cooking, world cultures/history. Oh, and spies. Always spies!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Sarah's growing so quickly, right now -- physically, yes, but also emotionally, intellectually... She is so kind and thoughtful, speaks so clearly about her thoughts and feelings... I feel as if I'm scrambling to catch up, to be ready to be the mom she needs for this next phase of her life...

She and Joe are doing lots of math adventures, and playtesting a new card game Joe's been designing for them. She and I are doing lots of reading and collaging, and the three of us are playing loads of board games, enjoying all her Christmas gifts together.

For this month, she's asked to do spy class with the co-op, to do more math and science together, and to do drawing, sewing, and clothes designing. I want to fix up our map wall -- take down the pinniped map which we don't use at all, and replace it with more useful local and world maps -- and make it to the library more often. We're also getting a new homeschooling journal/scrapbook to start keeping better records at home. All Sarah's recent growth makes me want to do a better job of reassuring myself that I'm offering her as much as I can -- I want to make sure she has the opportunity to enjoy all the stuff Joe and I loved about school without any of the stress or nonsense or coercion.

Friday, January 1, 2010

More on my New Year thoughts

My core competence curriculum is something I drew up for myself a few months ago -- what are my priorities, what does it feel important to me to be successful at?

I came up with a basic list:

* a warm, welcoming home
* 4 levels of health (physical, spiritual, mental, emotional)
* community -- reaching out to and connecting with the folks around me
* music
* homeschooling
* general competence (having basic life skills, getting through my ToDo list, keeping our lives running smoothly)
and I broke self-education down into 2 sub-sections:
* homeschooling college for myself
* research, increasing my level of general informedness

These are at the center of any vision I have of a good life. I'm not even halfway there, yet, but I'm content to move along in babysteps.

I also worked up a list of my core values:
* voluntary simplicity
* social justice (in a day-to-day way this covers mostly fair trade issues and voting with my dollars, but also more politically-active issues)
* environmental sustainability
* slow food
* hunger issues

And those are at the center of any socially responsible life, for me. I'm less than halfway there, on this list. I am trying not to make myself nuts with it, though -- doing something is better than nothing, and if I let myself get overwhelmed I'll just hibernate entirely.

Happy New Year!

(I typed this up last night, but didn't get around to posting it here)

It's been an amazing year. A really hard year. It's weird to remember that at the start of this year I was still hip-deep in the school, and expecting to remain so for years to come. To remember the weeks and months of hibernation and recovery. My awesome, exciting road trip. Settling back into homeschooling, reconnecting with and making even more local friends. Getting more politically active again. And, more recently, there have been a couple different changes in my life that I'm not ready to talk much about, yet, but that are definitely shaping my personal narrative.

Most of my New Year's thoughts are the usual:
* improve at sticking to my daily routines (portions of them are listed here(
* make progress/refocus on my 101/1001 list (listed here)
* make progress/refocus on my core competence list/program (I'll probably write more about this later today)
* refocus on my core values (which I'm doing by listing about 40 good habits I'd like to start or restart and focus on one habit or action a week) (and, again, I'll probably post more about this later today)
* balance and breathe -- I don't have to be productive every minute of every day, it's okay to just *be*.

I get a little better at all these things every year. I like making progress, seeing the progress I've made in the past, knowing it's not all-or-nothing. I like re-examining my life, my choices, a couple times a year.

This afternoon I'm making challah bread, stuffed mushrooms, sloppy lentils, potato salad, all our favorite comfort foods. We're watching the Burn Notice marathon, doing some pleasant housework, and settling in for the duration. Have a happy New Year, everybody!