Saturday, December 10, 2011

In Which Melanie Goes Just a Little Bit Linus

I've been really busy, but that hasn't helped the feeling of disconnect I've been having lately. I think perhaps it is because I have been so busy that this is happening. Things had been working so well for a couple months, everything was falling into place, and now, the last couple weeks, whamo. The Chief's been really whacky, inflexible, and not able to communicate with others. Not all the time, but just enough where I am getting really frustrated.

I think part of the problem (maybe all?) is that our rhythm is just GONE. Another thing is that Christmas is coming, and of course, the Chief is totally obsessed over that. Along with Christmas is the Christmas clutter. Decorations in every corner. I think we really need to simplify this. And we need to push our decluttering to the next level. BAM, kick it up a notch, and all that. So I think the focus for the next month is going to be simplifying our environment, and getting a good schedule into place. When I read this post on the Simplicity Parenting blog, it really rang true for me. A couple months ago, my husband and I decided to have a very simple Christmas, and for the most part, that is what we are doing. Almost all our gifts are going to be homemade (the Chief had a couple ideas for me that he simple HAD to buy, I guess, though), my husband and I are not planning on exchanging gifts other than our time together, and even the decorations we are TRYING to keep to a minimum, but it is strange how they just seem to sneak up everywhere. We really want to focus on what matters in this season, and not what commercialism tries to TELL us matters.

I have some things, decorations, etc, that are from family members who have passed on, and I feel that dread of giving them away. But really, what's more important? Keeping the Cabbage Patch Kids statue, or keeping the spirit of the person who gave it to me alive by having a healthy, happy family and home? Why should Christmas be about rushing and noise, and lights? I hear people every day talking about how they dread the Christmas season. "Oh, no, there are only two weeks until Christmas!" Isn't Christmas supposed to be a happy time, when, even for the non-religious of us, we celebrate the birth of the Christ child and celebrate giving and family? Peace on Earth, good will toward men? It's not supposed to be about overspending and overscheduling and overreaching. So why do we all feel that we need to do those things, that Christmas won't be Christmas without feeling harried? Well, in part, it is because we are told we should by the mass media. By the stores who, because they want more sales, start Christmas before Halloween.

Let's start a new tradition. Let's start thinking for ourselves. If something doesn't feel good--DON'T DO IT! It you feel stressed, SLOW DOWN. Christmas is supposed to be happy and enjoyable. Don't let other people/corporations tell you what you should be doing. You know your family best. You know them better than anyone else, and you know what they need. Make it so! And if you feel pressure about giving presents, like a handmade gift might not be good enough for certain people, ask yourself what exactly those people are celebrating or exchanging gifts for. Because it certainly is not Christmas. Maybe they should just call this season what it has become: National Going Beyond Our Means Quarter.

It doesn't have to be that way. Join me on a quest to make Christmas about what it should be. A mother and a father, and a baby in a stable with animals. No blinking lights. Joseph wasn't freaking because he didn't buy Mary a fancy bassinet. Mary wasn't mad because she couldn't give birth in the Marriott. They did what they could with what they had.

If we were all content with what we had, wouldn't the world be a better place?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

O, Christmas Tree...

With the holidays upon us, I have been... strangely busy. I'm not usually this busy. I did a crafter's open house last weekend, selling sock monkeys. It was a lot of fun, but a lot of work at the same time. Now it is time to start making Christmas gifts. So far I am off to a great start. Unfortunately I can't share very much about them because of obvious reasons.

I have collected 29 books so far for the book drive (see my Monkeys on a Mission blog). I'll be collecting through December 31st, so anyone who is interested in donating new kid or teen books, please email me or leave a comment!

We bought our Christmas tree from Hillcrest Farm this year (in Auburn, MA. I'm not sure if they have a website, but their storefront is The Farmer's Daughter. We get all our plants in the spring and summer form them as well). It cost a little extra, but not nearly as much as a real tree would have gone for about ten years ago. I didn't mind the extra $10 (versus Lowe's) because it was from a local farm and they have such friendly and helpful staff. There was a baby calf named Spooky there helping to sell trees (and I love nothing more than to cuddle with a calf!), as well as a gray Rex rabbit. There were lots of trees, as well as wreaths and arrangements and gifts.

This year we wanted a homemade Christmas. My husband and I have grown so tired of plastic and mass production. So we set the tree up, and got to work making ornaments. We let my son pick out a few of our old ornaments that he really liked, that were special to him, but the rest is all going to be origami, felt, kids' crafts and beadwork. Our neighbor is an artist, and she has painted a few ornaments for us over the years as well, which we treasure. My son put all the ornaments on the tree himself--it seemed to be something he was proud of so we designated him the official tree decorator. There are no lights, but that's fine--it saves electricity and the tree won't dry out as quickly. We do need a skirt for the tree, but I think I will just grab some pretty fabric and arrange it around the bottom.

I've been posting sock monkeys on my Etsy page. Remember, a portion of the proceeds of all my handmade goods ALWAYS goes to charity. This month it is for the Youth and Family Services book drive, next month, it will be something different.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Books! Anyone have any books?

We are collecting new children's books (picture books for the most part)! Find out WHY!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Here today, gone tomorrow...

The other day we had the opportunity to watch Tibetan Buddhist monks from the Gaden Jangtse monastery in south central India as they created a sand mandala. It was very interesting to watch, and the monks were very friendly and approachable. We didn't get to see the ceremony during which they swept away the beautiful picture and returned it to nature, but still, it got me thinking about impermanence and the way I have been handling life the past few months.

Things have been kind of weird for me, for maybe even a couple years. I've been thinking so much about the life I should have had. The way I had planned things since I was little. "I was supposed to have this, I wanted that." So many things are different, and i had been stressing over it quite a bit. I felt this pressure, this rush. "I need to have this done! I need to accomplish this!" I was worrying so much about things I didn't have that I was not seeing what I DID have clearly. I was rushing toward the future with no thought for the present. I was worrying myself so much over things ("Oh, I really hope the Chief behaves...") that I didn't enjoy that time as much as I could have. Instead of enjoying the hobbies and things I was doing, I was worrying about what I was NOT doing. Really, I was not enjoying life at all. And I was not a good example of living mindfully at ALL (remember, inspire, not require).

So, I am resolving to live more mindfully. To be more present in the present. When I do something, I will DO it, with all of me: hands, heart, and mind. Sort of like what this book says:

"Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sshhhh, it's a secret!

I've been working on a secret mission (maybe a couple of you know about it) for the past week. I'm not ready to disclose info quite yet, but I did want to let you all know that I am still here!! I'm very excited about this, it is something that I wanted to do for quite some time, but just haven't found quite the right platform for it or just hadn't been able to get things off the ground. Well, I am finally ready. This weekend, I will share details :).

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Yay! We have power!

Our electricity has just returned after several days--we had a big snow storm, got a foot of snow, and lost power. NOT my favorite combination. I promise I will catch up with the blog at some point, but thought I would let you all know where I have been!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ugh, I did it again!

It's been ten days since my last post... Things have been kind of nuts. We've still been struggling with finding a routine that works, and also, the Chief is going through a thing. I don't know what it is, but I do know that I can't wait until it passes! He's been making a lot of progress over the past couple months, but as it is with any growth, there is a sort of crisis point that one reaches where he has to decide between good and evil, and I think the Chief is there right now. He's been playing with kids who are about 6, and that has been working well for him (he is 9, but has some developmental issues). However, now he is starting to get it, that you shouldn't grab things from people, that you need to compromise, etc. Of course every now and then he slips, but on the whole, he's been doing great at using his words and communicating and letting things go. Except... many of the younger kids still grab. A couple of his playmates think nothing of just snatching whatever they want from whoever they want whenever they want. And this causes meltdown city. I mean, sure it's not right for the kids, ANY kids, to be grabbing, and so the Chief has a right to be a little upset, but he just does not handle it well at all. Yesterday I was extremely proud of him, though--when someone grabbed a magic wand from him and said, "I want that!" he just found another thing he could use as a wand. We've really been working hard at the fact that not everyone does the right thing, and it stinks, but that does not mean that you should do the wrong thing, too. I feel like on one hand, being with some kids his own age might benefit him because it might be less competitive in that way (heh, though I don't know...), but at the same time I think he still has some things to work through before he's ready. He plays great with his older cousin, because they "get" one another, and the nine year old down the street has been playing with him for a few years, so they understand each other as well. But in a group with 9-10 year olds, I think he might seem very young. At the same time, though, seeing the other older kids as role models might be beneficial, depending on who the kids are. A conundrum...

Yesterday was the first book club day for the Chief. They read Stone Soup by Marcia Brown, and he LOVED it. They acted out parts of it, and after they got to make stone soup (sans stones, because you never know what might be in the stones... Of course, the Chief, ever the pedant, had to get his stone that we boiled the night before when we weren't sure about them, and stick it in his bowl. Hopefully all he got were a few extra minerals!), which turned out to be very delicious. Each kid brought an ingredient or two and helped chop. It was nice to be able to talk to a few other moms, even for just a few minutes. Being trapped in the house all day with no company but a nine year old can be...isolating.

We've had a couple critter additions over the past couple weeks. The Chief is the proud parent of a worm farm and a salamander we found under a brick in the garden. We have a little amphibian house, so we will see how that works out. Next week we will be reading the book Salamander Room in celebration (I've been incorporating Five in a Row back into our day. The Chief likes it, and it is so versatile that I can add whatever I feel needs to be gone into more deeply. We've tried to move on to bigger and better things, but I don't think he is quite ready yet. He really likes delving into one book over the course of a week, and exploring everything to do with it).

I have an addition to my Etsy shop, the first in my line of all natural fiber baby clothes. Check it out!

It's a very cold, wet day here, but the sparrows are out like mad, tweeting. It sounds like Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds out there. Here is one little fellow finding some shelter in our un-finished back porch.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Crochet to the beat!

I love crocheting to the sound of my husband playing the drums downstairs. It makes everything feel so connected. It's nice when we can all be doing what we love to do. Even my son is enjoying himself down there with Dad.

I had an epiphany about the story that was rejected last week. There was very little of my voice in that story, the thing about my stories which makes them mine. It lacked the dreamy quality which I like in my stories, which also makes them less likely to succeed in the huge selling market, but I'm caring less about that these days. People enjoy reading those stories, but the magazines which buy them don't have a huge amount of $$ to pay. That's OK, though. I'd rather have people read my stories and reach people who appreciate them and get something from them than change my writing style to suit the markets of big sellers. So I have something to work on now. I'm considering making this part of an anthology of my more "spiritual"/mythical stories (most of which were already published) and publishing them myself on Amazon as an ebook.

These are hanks of wool yarn I bought yesterday at the Apple Country Fair in Brookfield, MA. I've wanted to buy some local wool for some time now, but hadn't had the opportunity to find some in nice colors that weren't half cat fur at well... I'm very exciting to work with these. I'm thinking that some toddler sized sweaters might be just the thing...

Today we are off to pick pumpkins!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Something's happening...

So I've been talking about NaNo, and talking to other people who are doing it, and THINKING about it...

and I'm starting to get kind of excited.

I don't want to say that too loudly. This hasn't happened in a while. I had a false start a few months ago when I started exploring Steampunk, but I just wasn't able to make it work. The story was not working right and I didn't feel I had the time to really investigate why it wasn't working (I had a deadline for it). I ended up being kind of depressed about the whole thing. But now, I feel like I am starting fresh. A new beginning. It's not going to be easy. Now that the Chief is older, there aren't many opportunities during the day for me to get a lot done. I can easily get 1500 words done after he goes to bed, though. I just won't get to interact with my husband very much. The housework will obviously suffer (heh, what else is new?). But really... I am feeling good about this decision. I think it will be good for me to just pick a story, and write it through with no thoughts as to how "good" it is.

I think the most important thing leading to my success in November is going to be establishing a good routine and rhythm this month. If I can manage to do that, then I should be able to carve out some writing time in the afternoon when the Chief is doing some quiet play by himself for a little while. The weekends, also, will be vital, where the Husband can take care of the Chief and have some nice one on one time with him. If there is a rhythm that my son is familiar with, he won't mind giving me a little time in the afternoon, because he'll know that right after, we'll be doing something fun. I find that generally it's when kids don't know what to expect that they become pests, asking every two seconds for something, or asking you to play with them, etc. A daily rhythm is vital for so many other reasons that it's a good idea to have one anyway. Because this fall looks different from others we've had, I've been putting this off a bit, but now is the perfect time to do this. I'll probably do a future post on our rhythm and how we develop it. I will also be posting any tips I have from my years of doing NaNo with a child at home--I've never had a babysitter for while I write, other than my husband on weekends, so I've discovered a few basic tricks. They are things that are very simple, but that just make life easier. I know first hand how hard it can be sometimes, when you are feeling frustrated, to look at the situation objectively and be able to see the little things that can help.

My username on the NaNoWriMo site is "phantomsquirrel". From 2003-2004 I was happycrab, but in 2005 I changed pen names for some reason I can no longer recall. I'm not sure how active I will be over there, but feel free to drop me a line, and if I notice it, I will respond. (Hey, according to that website, I am still 30 years old!)

Hey, maybe I can also use some of that writerly knowledge I gleaned from my visit with George R.R. Martin over the summer....

Here is to writing success!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

November is...

Oh, ugh! I promised myself I would never do this again... Every YEAR I promise, never again... But yep, it's that time of year. Time to think about NaNoWriMo!

For those of you unfamiliar with this form of torture, NaNoWriMo is short for "National Novel Writing Month." I've been partaking in it since 2003. Yes, if you count, that is 8 novels. Two years don't count, because I did not finish. So that is 6 novels. How many novels do I have in print now? Yeah, I know.

The problem with NaNo is that you write lots of crap. So then, when it is done, you have to wade through that crap and find the good stuff. You have to edit--A LOT. You need to use the left side of the brain, which I don't think I have, to tell you the truth...

In my quest to simplify life, there is one area I have been avoiding, and that is my writing. I kind of chose to ignore it, rather than deal with it. My writing life has always been so complicated and driven. It's a source of both enjoyment and stress. I love writing, but somehow it's been implanted in my head that the goal is NOT enjoyment, but publication. It must be a job, not a passion (and this advice is everywhere, so I'm sure other people struggle with this as well). You must write in this certain genre, and for God's sake, NOT in that genre or people will think you are a hack.

I used to write with reckless abandon, and not worry so much about publication at all. Sure, I wanted to get published, but it wasn't an all consuming thing. Now, it's like, "I love that story idea! Oh, but no one will want to publish that type of story..."

So November is going to be my time to just jump start myself, and get myself writing without thinking again. I might also write a series of short stories rather than a novel, and get my 50,000 words from there, but I haven't decided yet.

The weekend of simplifying my son's room went well. We have purged and sorted and containerized his whole room. I just need to conquer his books and pare them down to just the special ones. Oh, yes, and there is the top of the dresser which needs to be addressed. But so far, there hasn't been much mention of missing toys (you know, the things that "disappeared"), and he seems to be content playing with things he hadn't had a chance to in a while. It's nice that the visual clutter is all but gone in there, and hopefully we will see the benefits. I think we'll work on the downstairs next, which is hard with the herd of rabbits. But I am determined!

Eventually, we'll even get back to "school"... So far this year we've been doing some math and reading in the AM. Not that the Chief needs my to guide him through much more than that. He loves to read on his own about science and history, and we do a lot of other stuff so all the bases are covered. I do want to get back into our rhythm again and have a decent schedule.

My crocheting is going well. I'm trying to get my etsy inventory up so my shop gets noticed a bit more. Here is an outfit I just finished for a special order:

Today's goal: Do some school planning, and get going on the dining room. I don't have so very much to do in there. Maybe I'll even open the file of a story that just got rejected and see if there is anything I can do to fix it...

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Bad blogger

I used to be a good blogger. I used to have good content, and people used to find my blog and like it and actually COMMENT. This was a couple blogs ago. Now, I can barely find the time to post at all, and when I do, it seems to be here and there with no real cohesive content. It hasn't been ABOUT anything. But I feel like I am getting to a good place, where hopefully I can get back to the good stuff.

We've been decluttering and organizing around here, trying to simplify things so we can find some peace again. I am freecycling a dining room table that was serving as my work table in my bedroom. That certainly freed a lot of space. Unfortunately, two people who said they wanted it just never showed up. So I still have the disassembled table. Hopefully I will hear something tomorrow. Anyone in the Worcester area want a table? :)

I'm crocheting my fingers off. The current project is something special, but I will post pics on here when I have finished. If people like it, I can custom make something like it for them. That goes for anything else I make as well. If you see something at my etsy shop that you like, but is not in the size you need, just let me know!

Now, I'm going upstairs to cull a bunch of my son's toys.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tangled in loose ends...

It's that time of year where I am starting to go into hibernation mode. Especially on foggy, cloudy days like this. I want to curl up and just sleep. But... I have sweater sets to finish, stories to write. Oh, yes, and some homeschooling to do.

I've been reading some Steiner lately, starting with his book, Kingdom of Childhood. I find his thoughts fascinating, and I'm very happy to see that what I read so far can be easily reconcilable with some of the important parts of leadership education. I may do posts from time to time summarizing what I read and sharing my thoughts about Steiner's lectures.

Husband made apple butter over the weekend from the cortlands we picked at the orchard. We'll have a plethora of good things to put on our bread this winter. He also made a pie and some bread. What a handy husband!

For school thus far we've been reading, practicing some form drawing, and working on times tables. I have ordered the things I need for the beginning part of the school year, and so hopefully we can get organized over the weekend and really get into things next week for our morning learning time. We've been out of it for way too long.

I'm in the middle of two crochet projects. One is a custom project for someone who has already ordered it (thank you!). The other is a "sleep sack," a one-piece sack with sleeves that zips up over baby's pajamas. I'll post pictures of both when I am finished. I do take custom orders, so if anyone sees anything they like, but they want a different color or size, please feel free to shoot me an email or ask away on my Facebook page (link is to the right on this page).

Monday, September 26, 2011

The circle of life... a writer, that is, goes like this: write, edit, submit, repeat. Or write, edit, submit, submit, submit, submit...

I guess that's not really a circle. More like an endless spiral. I just got a story rejected. This story has never received any accolades or anything, and it is one I wrote a few years ago. I believe I am going to try it out a few more times to professional markets, and then if no one accepts it, I will self-publish it. Another option could be a major rewrite. The story might be too short. Readers might not be spending enough time with the characters to really sympathize with them. Who knows.

I'm exhausted today. I need to do a bit more school planning and figure out a plan for the year (looking at the timing of festivals and other things in the big picture), but I really don't think I will be able to accomplish much unless I lie down for a couple minutes and have a quick rest...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Let's see, where were we?

Husband and I have been going over our Master Plan slowly. We are trying to capture just what we hope to accomplish with our lives and our family. A mission statement, if you will. And since I am in the midst of reading The Letters of John and Abigail Adams, who happen to be personal heroes of mine, I'm sure you'll be seeing more quotes on here from them, such as this one:
Let us, therefore, my dear partner, from that affection which we feel for our lovely babes, apply ourselves, by every way we can, to the cultivation of our farm. Let frugality and industry be our virtues, if they are not of any others. And above all cares of this life, let our ardent anxiety be to mould the minds and manners of our children. Let us teach them not only to do virtuously, but to excel. To excel, they must be taught to be steady, active, and industrious.
--John Adams, 29 June 1774
I found that this quote captured much of what I wanted to say myself, so I stole it to put into our Master Plan.

We picked apples yesterday, and are going to be making apple sauce and apple butter, along with the requisite pies and bear claws and all those fun things. We'll be canning the sauce and butter, to go along with our raspberry and blackberry jams we've already made. Oh, and the canned peaches :). They are such a lovely color, we picked the white variety rather than the yellow. Husband made a peach blush pie, which is a peach pie with raspberry syrup inside.

The next couple of weeks will be filled with getting garden beds made, spreading compost, hopefully having a few trees taken down; basically getting ready for next spring. Since we did not plant this year, we've been going to farmers' markets around town. My favorite so far is the one on South Main in Worcester. We bought squashes and potatoes, scallions, little tomatoes, honey, beans, plums, pears...I know there was more. Oh, yes, HUGE cucumbers. I love knowing where my food comes from. I like shaking the hand of the guy who actually picked the potato I'm going to eat for dinner.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A look at simplicity

This morning I was running around the house, looking at all the things I had to do and thinking, "My gosh, what do I do first?" Then at breakfast time, "What should I have?" "How should I cook it?" "What dish should I use?" "What should I clean the counter with?" Decisions, decisions...

That was when it hit me. Back in the day, I think we'll all agree, things were simpler. Why was that? Well, I will put forth the hypothesis that it was simpler because there were not as many choices to make in the course of the day! People ate what was in season, they washed with the soap they made, they had the dishes they got when they were married. They had a routine of things to do that changed very little day to day, because they had nothing else to do. They didn't have to make the decision, "Should I check Facebook first or should I have my coffee?" They didn't have to worry about the internet sucking them in when they should have been doing their housework. They didn't have the guilt of food going bad in the fridge, because that was the only food they had--they ATE it.

So I would like to propose a method of simplicity (I have no idea if this has been addressed in a book somewhere. If it has, lead me to it!): make less choices. Create a home in which there are, simply, fewer choices to be made. Only have the food that you need, and eat that. Have a routine where everything has a time and place. Keep the clothes you need, and donate the rest. And the clothing you keep should be simple enough where you don't have to agonize over which top you want to wear with those pants. I'm not an expert on how to make fewer choices, but I'm sure with some practice I could come up with more ideas. The gross-ery store has completely spoiled us. Eight brands of chicken broth. Honestly. Make your own and save that choice. Ten brands of pasta, four brands of flour. Really? Even APPLES have brands now, not just varieties. Too many choices. What does the nearest orchard have? Simple, choice made. And if people would stop throwing out half of what they buy, they could actually afford to pay the price to have local food. The amount of waste this country makes is astounding. And every bit of that waste costs money. Money to buy, and money to dispose of.

Cleaning products--there are like a million things to choose from. Why not just use the simplest things--vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice--and forgo that choice as well?

Can't decide what to do with your time (and therefore end up staring at the computer for hours?)? Why not set a schedule, as loose or tight as you want. Then you are not rushing at the last minute trying to get things done, and at other times, moseying around in a haze. You'll know what to do when. And you won't have to go around making decisions all day.

I believe during the years of our Ford, a lot of research was done in order for people to work more efficiently. I can't remember the guy's name, but this man came up with things like "touch each thing once." When you put your hand on something, make one decision about it, and do that thing. Don't just put it off so you have to make yet ANOTHER decision about it later.

Any other ideas?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Who's the (wo)man with the master plan?

This past week I had a freak out over "kidschool" or what we call "learning time." Put simply, it is the time in the morning when we do a little structured learning. It is the part of our day that looks the most like school. My problem was... well, the usual. What if I screw my kid up forever? What if I don't teach him what he needs to know? What's the best program, what are the best books? I do this about once a year. I don't know why. This time, however, I did not act rashly (like buying tons of curriculum or overhauling everything...). Instead, I pulled out A Thomas Jefferson Education Home Companion in the hopes that I could find some guidance there. An right there, in chapter 8, I found my answer.

Chapter 8 is entitled, "Seeing the Whole Picture." On page 78, Diann Jeppson starts talking about a "master plan," and how to create one for your family. I realized that was my problem--I was feeling out of sorts and chaotic, like a chicken without a head, because I had no path to follow. A while back, before Last Year (which threw everything into craziness), we had developed a family master plan, but things changed so much that it got lost, we just completely lost our vision. Now, we are starting to get that vision back, but we need to get more specific.

Mrs. Jeppson lists nine key elements that an effective master plan must have. They are 1) Classics (your list, not someone elses. These are the books YOUR family thinks are classics); 2) Cultural Literacy, breadth and depth (you can look at E.D. Hirsch's Core Knowledge series to get a good feel for topics you can cover with your kids, and make a list from there); 3) Academic Programs (specific materials, books, curricula that will help your family); 4) Adult Skills (think--life skills, things like cooking or auto mechanics or folding laundry, that will help your child when he is an adult); 5) Organizational Programs (Scouts, 4-H, camps, etc.--these don't have to be what the kids are doing TODAY. In Core phase you want to limit these things a bit. But think about what will be important to the family in the future); 6) Experience (these are things you want your child to be able to do before adulthood, like public speaking, or speaking a foreign language, or anything that you feel is important); 7) God (Whatever your spiritual background or practices are, whatever your religion, even if you feel you have no religion, think about how you care for your spirit in you home, and ways you can help your kids to do so); 8) Family Relationships (what are your family traditions? what's important to you, to keep your family connections strong?); 9) Places to Go (What do you want your kids to experience in their lives outside the home? Trips, adventures, etc). I encourage you to read this chapter of the book, because it really is helpful and insightful.

When we look in depth at our family values in this way, it can help us see what we need to expose our kids to. For example, I know that to us, self-sufficiency and homesteading are important. So we will look at ways we can teach these things to our son. I know I love the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I expect I will be drawing from them a lot along the way (I just finished re-reading the series, and was surprised to see how much I had not picked up on before, the difference in what they are to me now versus when I first read them in the 2nd grade). Almost every academic subject can be touched upon just with the idea of taking care of yourself, supporting yourself, and loving the land on which you live.

Having a master plan makes it easier to say yes or no to things. If I feel pressured about something, and I worry about it, I can just ask myself, "Is this important to us? Is this a part of our family's mission, our plan?" If not, I can set it aside. If it is, I can make room for it.

Everyone's family is different. Some families think everyone should be well-versed in taxonomy, others think children should be service oriented, still others want their family to be athletic. Every family is different, which is why you should write the master plan of YOUR family, not anyone else's. If you rely too much on someone else's plan, I think you run the risk of constantly feeling like you are missing something, or that something else must be better, or constantly second guessing yourself.

So, at today's FEC, we'll be working hard on writing our master plan. Wish us luck :).

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Change is in the air...

I've been trying to figure out what to do with my blog/s. I have more than one, and I am thinking of merging all of them (or at least, merging their purposes, not all of their content). I want one blog that covers everything that matters to me, rather than one per topic. What this means for readers is that the address might change, but I will keep everyone updated and I will post the new address, if indeed there is one for this particular blog.

We've been very busy around here these past few months, trying to make our vision of life a reality. Mostly, we are trying to work on self-sufficiency, and trying as much as possible to control our money and destinies, rather than having the supermarket or other outside bodies control them. It is very disheartening to compare how much a basket of groceries costs today to even just a couple years ago. We own a very small amount of land, but there is no reason we can't make that land work for us, no matter how small it is. I think people have lost that sense of value people used to have for their land. Now, people have these huge yards, and just cover them with grass. Is that really having respect for that land? Think about how much that land could give you, if you gave a little back.

We've also been hiking a bit, and I've been making things which I want to start selling. My writing has been going slow, but I think that is just part of this season.

More later!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Six Month Purge

For some reason this wonderful ingredient of the DeMilles (this is ingredient #6 in Leadership Education) is giving me a bit of trouble this time around, but probably because I'm really starting to get into it. I did a purge at the beginning of the summer, but right now, I feel like it was not nearly enough. I've started a second one (the third of the year).

The purge is, as you might suspect, when you go through your house and donate/throw out what you don't need. Now, mind you, I didn't think I had THAT much stuff that was not necessary in our lives. My house didn't look like one of those houses you would see on the show Hoarders. But I always feel like there is too much. I spend way too much time deciding where to put things, what to do with things, and how to clean them. This takes away from the time I could be spending studying or being with my family.

So... I just gave away five boxes of books. I'm hoping to maybe get another box going, too. We already purged our movies, so the ones we have left are classics (at least, to our family). Still, I didn't like them all on the shelf, so we are taking them out of the cases and putting them in sleeves to be put away in a cabinet. Books will now go on the movie shelf.

I managed to talk the Chief into parting with some of his toys. I was really hoping for more, but one step at a time. He did really well picking out some larger things that he thought he no longer needed, or that someone else might appreciate more.

Now, the goal is to have things in their proper places by the end of the month. We are moving things around a bit, putting them where they will actually be used, and hopefully making a better learning and living environment for everyone. I'm hoping that by doing a big purge now, we won't have to do such a big job of it in the future.

Friday, July 29, 2011

You, Not Them

"Chief, you can't spend all day glued to that computer." (How many times have I checked Facebook/email/ Twitter/homeschool groups today?)

"OK, time to do some math. Yes, I know, you hate it. Too bad. You don't want to fall behind, do you? Math is very important." (How many times do I skip off to read the next thrilling installment of John Saxon/Singapore/Math-U-See?)

"Mommy, I don't want to eat an apple. I want a cookie!" (Like the one I just sat on the couch with?)

"Chief, you need to go clean your room, it's a sty." (As I guiltily close the door of my own room before a guest beholds the tornado wreckage within [sans tornado])

You get the point.

Then again, how many of us heard, while we were growing up, "Because I said so!" or "I'm the parent and you are the child. When you are grown up and have a house of your own...."

Yeah. How did that work out? Did you smile and nod, and say, "OK Mommy, I'll clean my room as neat as a pin!" Or did you grumble and stomp off, feeling some measure of resentment?

How can you expect your child to work hard at something, or to follow certain rules, when he does not see you do it? Or worse yet, when he sees that you don't feel the need to? When a parent tells a child that he must have a clean room, that he must do math, that he must not smoke, because it's the right thing to do, and then you do the opposite, how do you think that child feels? What do you think that does to his moral compass, his sense of right and wrong?

How messed up is that?

And how about this example: Dad comes home from work, grumbling again about his day. Don't think kids can't pick up on this attitude. Junior hasn't done his math yet. "Well, Dad, you don't have to do math." "Son, I didn't do math because I was at work all day. That's my job. School is your job." OK, Junior thinks to himself, So it's OK for me to hate school because it's my job and most folks hate their jobs...

It is far easier to wear the iron glove of tyranny and rule over your household than it is to inspire your children to do good things by doing those good things yourself. It's easier to yell and intimidate them into submission than it is to inspire them to want to do what is right.

Pay the price. Pay the price for your child's future. Set the good example. Practice what you preach. Learn alongside your children, be excited about life with them. Do the right thing and study hard, live the morals you are trying to instill in your children. Do it consistently when they are young, and when they are older and have more negative influences in their lives, they will have a solid sense of how good, real people live, instead of some ideal they have never seen practiced. They will be equipped to make better decisions, they will not fear hard work, and they will not feel the acute burden of sacrifice when it comes to doing the right thing. And when the time comes for them to raise children of their own, how much easier will it be for them when they have all these things, this strong core, in place already?

The DeMilles, in their book A Thomas Jefferson Education, call this principle "You, Not Them." It is one of their Seven Keys to Great Teaching. Lead the child through your own example, and they will follow. A child's parents are their number one influence in their younger years (Recently I heard a study quoted which said that television was the number one influence. But who pays the cable bill?). Don't waste this time. Put in the work. Show your children what scholarship looks like, show them what it is like to love learning, to truly enjoy taking care of your family and your home. Show them how rewarding it is to serve others.

As that old, silly saying goes, "monkey see, monkey do."

PS--By the way, nothing will get you looking for a more engaging and interesting math program than if you have to do that math yourself! If your kid hates math, don't harp on them. You go out and study math, and let them see you studying math. This has the added benefit of showing you perhaps why your kid hates math so much, and you can take steps to remedy it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Hello, all!

I haven't posted here in a very, very long time, and I apologize for that. Things have been hectic, and this blog, unfortunately, was not really on the priority list. I'm hoping that things have settled down a bit (for now...) and maybe I can fit in a bit more time for homeschool blogging.

We are still following the Leadership model of education, and I will hopefully have more posts in the future about that. My son is on the fence, between Core phase and Love of Learning. Core generally is between 0-8 years of age, but sometimes for boys it is longer, and especially since the Chief is a little behind developmentally, we aren't rushing things.

Right now, we are organizing the Closet and the Bookshelf. It's a little weird having one kid, because the theory is that you are supposed to have books for the youngest set on the bottom shelves, the middle shelves are for the Love of Learners, and the top are for Scholars. Well, we only have one, but I'm finding that the same principles apply. The Chief will still go to the youngest shelf and pick up Horton Hears a Who!, then the next day, he'll pick up something from the middle shelf about science or history. He goes back and forth, and I think that is an important part of his growing process. Him having that freedom I think gives him more confidence. But we are trying the utilize the closet and the shelves in the best way possible. Rather than having a Family Room per se, we have our living room and, to a lesser extent, our dining room as our learning spaces. They are connected so it isn't a hard transition between them, and one is visible from the other. Hopefully I will explain more about that in a future post as well. I'm thinking about doing a series of some sort where I discuss how we implement the "ingredients" of a Leadership Education (see the DeMille's book Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning) in our home. Everyone's house and family are different, and no one should feel pressured because their setup is not exactly like what the DeMille's describe.