Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"Whether the weather be fine, or whether the weather be not..."

 Yesterday, on a foggy morning, we broke out of our hibernation.  Into town we went.  We stocked up on food, and went to a survival class at the nature center. Camille and Sylvia worked with friends to build a shelter and start a fire, and just to make it extra challenging, Mother Nature threw a thunderstorm at them, in Wisconsin in January!
  We followed that excitement with friends and legos at the library.

 After a day of rainfall, we had a day of snowfall.  I'm not a huge winter enthusiast, but I do prefer snow in January.

 seed snack 
sprouted alfalfa seeds, juicy pomegranate seeds, roasted pumpkin seeds

 Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? jigsaw puzzle

  After we assembled all 300 pieces (well, 299, we were missing one, it was from a thrift store), we used clues to find answers on the map.  The answers had a letter or two in bold print which we used to fill in the answers to the crime cases.  I was surprised how much Sylvia knew about geography from watching nature documentaries.  Since she isn't reading fluently yet, she would look for animals that lived in certain areas to identify that country, pandas for China, koalas for Australia, etc.

On a totally different note, sometimes, I wonder why I blog.  We have many, many good moments in our days, and sometimes not so good moments.  If I show only the good, and paint a picture of our ideal, unschooling life, what is the purpose of that?  I do love celebrating and focusing  on the positive, but I'm not trying to pose and posture here.

Quite simply, I blog, because I enjoy it, but I have nothing to sell here, no agenda to promote.  The activities of our days would look no different if I didn't snap photos and spill out words here (except, maybe, my amount of time spent at the computer).  So, what is this publicly accessible smattering-of-moments of our days?

I'm feeling extra self-reflective about blogging, because I was kind of a jerk to my family this afternoon.  I was short on patience and tolerance. I yelled. I swore. I nagged. It happens. I apologized, but I didn't want to come here and make it look like I was a blissed out, saintly mum all day.  I wasn't.

If I can accept my own imperfections (and occasional jerkiness) with humility, I can more easily accept those things in my children (and others), without lending judgement to an already imperfect situation.  So, a bad moment passes, like a thunderstorm, sometimes leaving the landscape refreshed.  I'm not excusing all jerky behavior.  I wouldn't want it to thunderstorm all the time, but neither do I want to paint a falsely sweet, always-sunny picture of our lives.

One can accept the weather or rail against it.  I like to prepare for it, revel in it, and sometimes take cozy shelter from it.

“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.” 
― Pema Chödrön

Monday, January 28, 2013


We haven't left the house and yard for almost two weeks (except for one grocery trip).  The flu.  It took us down one after another, timed so that just as it seemed we were almost healthy, someone else came down with it.  

I was in the first round, so my job, after my eyeballs stopped hurting, was to help everyone else through it.  I kept them supplied with snacks and fluids and healthy food, blankets and cozy peaceful spots for the down-est ones, quiet activities for the recuperating ones, energy outlets for the well-ish ones.

 The chalkboard was a popular activity...
And the livingroom swing and the mini trampoline.
 I enjoyed knitting by the woodstove.
 We listened to records,
 played on the computer together,
 made lime green jello play dough, and chapatis from ground spelt berries (using the simple recipe over at Mindfully Green).  Everyone took a turn at the rolling pin.
 I got so restless that I organized everyone's clothes, made a large pile of things to donate, and scrubbed the bathroom tile grout with baking soda and a toothbrush.  If you've been reading here for awhile or know me in real life, you know that is completely out of character.  I tend to be a bit, um, laid-back about house work.

Apparently, doing chores with a joyful attitude has more positive aspects than just my own peace of mind.  I was so excited about the grout scrubbing effect that multiple children wanted to try their hands at spritzing the floor with water, sprinkling baking soda, smoothing it into a paste on the grout, letting it dry, and scrubbing it clean with a toothbrush.  I may have been able to get it a tad whiter, but I'm not about to turn down enthusiastic helpers.

There is something very soothing and grounding about being in hibernation mode (even if it's not entirely voluntary).  My biggest outing, most days, was a trip to the chicken coop and the woodpile, but I used that time to stop and gaze at the moon, or the sparkle of sunlight on snowy fields, or marvel at the shape of my frosty breath in the air.  I tried to focus on bringing in healing energy.

But reasonably content or not, other human company starts to sound good after awhile.  At the point where a princess and dragon are having a fancy ball in the living room, I think we may soon be ready to leave our cozy nest.  

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"only light can do that"

  "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."  ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

 painting by Ayla

 painting by Sylvia

 painting by Nikole (me!), inspired by left-over paints and the awesome children's book, Hawk, I'm Your Brother

 cross stitch in progress by Camille

 hauling in wood at day's end
 Bright colors and moonlight are good winter inspiration.

"screen time" ~ in praise of

As a teenager and young adult, I never owned a television set.  I had roommates with one, or I did without.  It was never a priority.  No problem.

I still have never bought a television.  We have a couple of old hand-me-down ones that don't actually get television channels, but are perfectly adequate for our usage.  On one, we play Wii and stream shows and movies on Netflix.  The other is used to watch DVDs and videos from the library.  

We have two computers.   The main computer is used by Papa to work from home during the weekdays.  In the evenings, it also gets used for playing computer games on sites like PBS Kids, or the newest favorite, Animal Jam (a mulitplayer online game by National Geographic Kids). It can stream Netflix as well, or be used for typing up stories or poems, playing logic puzzle games, staying in touch with friends, researching any subject, editing pictures, creating digital art, watching YouTube videos, blogging, looking up recipes, etc.

The computer in Camille's room primarily gets used for listening to audio books and for playing Wizard101.  We also have a tablet computer with a few fun apps and internet access.  

painting Papa's purple office walls

When we finish Papa's office, we will have yet another computer available during the days.  

Why am I telling you all of this?

Among many conscientious parenting circles, there is a huge emphasis on limiting children's "screen time", as if anything one did with a screen may be just like any other. I find many of the things that one can do with a screen to be very valuable for unschooling. Many radical unschoolers have written about "screen time", including the Economics of Restricting TV Watching of Children.  

Screens can act as a portal to another world.  Camille has learned guitar chords by watching YouTube videos.  Sylvia has been enthralled by geological features and animals all over the world via nature documentaries.  Ayla has sung along and danced with entertaining children's television shows. In the evenings, I have sometimes found all three girls piled on Papa's lap, laughing at an episode of Phineas and Ferb.  We've had discussions about social and ethical issues because of the show 30 Days.  We've seen what life might have been like over 100 years ago in a small English hamlet in Larkrise to Candleford.  

Screens (or rather the things happening on those screens) can be exciting or relaxing.  They can be interactive.  They can be educational.  They can also be pleasant background to more social or energetic activity.

When heavily limited and controlled, they can be a source of stress and contention in the relationships between parents and children, instead of a shared resource.

As far as I know, all devices with screens have off buttons.  When children have a myriad of other interesting things to do both in and out of the home, they will utilize those off buttons.  I think the parental fear that motivates restrictive limits is that children will not make that choice.  Why wouldn't they?

 We have been through a week of illness being passed from one family member to another, and bitingly cold temperatures outside, and yet, I have been thankful for the relative peace within our cozy house.  A fair amount of that time has been spent snuggled under blankets, watching shows together and playing Zach and Wiki on the Wii.

Today, the television stayed off during almost all of the daylight hours.  We listened to albums, built with wooden blocks, worked on an embroidery project, read aloud Archers, Alchemists and 98 Other Medieval Jobs You Might Have Loved or Loathed, worked puzzles, painted, made split pea soup, played games, and generally enjoyed each others' company.

 embroidering a deer

 dozing, pink-cheeked, under her magazine

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Game

Without arbitrary limits, "screen time" doesn't have an inflated, mystical quality, it's just another option among many enticing options.

When I spend time with my children, engaged and attentive, I can see the learning happening, whether we are hiking in nature, contemplating fractals, or laughing at complex social interactions in a cartoon.  I also see the joy and the togetherness :).

Saturday, January 19, 2013


Any photographer or representational artist knows the importance of visual perspective on a composition.  A small shift can emphasize (or de-emphasize) appealing aspects of the subject matter and background.

I am not a Photographer or Artist.  I am a Mama who likes to take lots of random snapshots of my kids and our lives.  My concern with perspective is the emotional, psychological, world-view perspective that we have on our lives.  A perspective that affects attitude and well-being.

There are times when it is hard to find the beauty and the gratitude and the joy and the yes! in our days.  There are times when head colds and coughing keep us awake too much and drag us out.  There are times when the state of the dishes seems overwhelming, much less the state of our unfinished house or our wide-spread community, or the state of the world.

Here's where perspective comes in.  Is happiness a choice?  Can we choose to have a more joyful outlook?  Could it be that simple?  I'd say, yes AND no.

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” 
― Dalai Lama XIV

Every moment we can make choices that bring us closer to or further from a positive perspective.  I'm not talking about wishful thinking, but acceptance and choice.  Sometimes when I go out in the snow, or the mud, or the wind, to feed the chickens and carry in some firewood, it feels like a hardship.  Sometimes it feels useful, like a breath of fresh air and movement.  Sometimes, when I'm wearing a hand-knit hooded scarf and I have just-laid eggs in my pockets, and I'm pulling a sled full of firewood up to the door, I feel like a character from a fairytale.  The only difference is in my point of view.

Sometimes my husband and I argue, or disagree in a feisty tone, or throw out unkind words out of frustration. The thing is, after being together for 18 years, we are quick to laugh at ourselves, quick to move on, quick to say, "I love you,"  quick to say, "You'd damn well better," with a giant grin.  From the perspective of a love so big, disagreements are of little consequence.

When I look at my children, and what they are learning, I see so much that can't be measured by a test.  I see value in numbers and music and television and make-believe and relaxation and stacking wood and books and friendships and computer games and quinoa salad and cupcakes and disagreements and healing and yes, even sickness.  From an unschooling perspective, there is educational value in a very broad range of objects and activities.

So, while we recover from coughing and congestion, we are relaxing and discovering new shows on Netflix, Walking with Dinosaurs (me and Sylvia), Once Upon a Time (me and Camille), The Little Prince (Camille and Sylvia), Horseland (all three girls), Spaced (me).  We're listening to whatever albums the girls 'discover' from my record collection, Woody Guthrie, John Hartford, Grateful Dead, Bob Marley, etc. We're playing with prime numbers.  We're eating healthy (mostly).  We're getting a little fresh air, and feeling grateful for bodies that can return to a state of health.

 The girls went out to play after three days of being in and I found them loading up the wheel barrow and stacking wood by the back door.  "This is fun!"

OK, then.  Carry on.
 Ayla proudly gathered these two eggs from under a hen named Rainbow.

If (in my better moments) I can choose a perspective of gratitude and respect for my children, my husband, my friendships, my community, and my world, everything looks brighter, my choices of action are kinder, and the learning, the beauty, and the yes! are easily apparent.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Side-tracked (eagle spotting)

For about a week life has gone by in its usual way, a bit of this, a bit of that...lots of library books, The Life of Mammals series, art play and science play and math play and outdoor play, giggly conversations and heartfelt ones, elaborate fruit salads and egg drop soup made by the girls, Sylvia's first lost baby tooth and a tooth pillow sewn together by sisters.... 

 Some of our inspiration has come from the book, Math Trek:  Adventures in the Math Zone.  What happens if you cut a mobius strip in half lengthwise (along the center line)?  What happens if you do it again?  Try it!
Tie a knot by unfolding your arms?

If you cross your arms across your chest properly and then grasp each end of a piece of yarn or string, then slide your arms apart without losing hold of the string...tada! a tri-fold knot.

Anyway, that was the speed of our days, then we prepared for our usual type of Tuesday-in-town (run errands, have lunch, homeschool class at the nature center, hang out with friends, long drive home).  However, on the drive in to town we got side-tracked.  As we were about to drive by the Wisconsin River, I suddenly pulled over.  This particular length of the river is a popular gathering spot for bald eagles at this time of year.  I thought we might park for a few minutes to see if we could spot any.  Would you like to walk down to the river for a few minutes? OK.

 We did spot one bald eagle perched on a tree top across the river, but the real fascination was the thin ice just inches above the river bottom.

 up close


 ice crystals

 gap tooth 
 happiness by the river

Shall we drive a little further down the river?  YES!
 'eaglets' flying across the walking bridge

 walking stick

 four perched eagles

 in flight

 We explored the river bank....
 When we all were ready to gaze, still and quiet in a secluded spot, the eagles put on a show for us, swooping quite near at times, and showing us how they scoop fish right out of the river.  We were in awe.
(These pictures are all unedited from my little point-and-shoot camera.)

 my happy 'eaglets'

Three hours from the time I had 'pulled over for a few minutes' we realized that we had better skedaddle if we were going to meet up with friends at the nature center class.  We were chilled and invigorated and ready to thank the eagles and say goodbye.  We ate snacks on the way, and were only a few minutes late :).
After a stop at the natural foods co-op for veggie sushi and huge salads from the salad bar (and a nap), we were ready to play with friends for a couple of hours before heading home.

Don't you love inspired diversions?  Do you get side-tracked for hours at a time, only to find out it was better than anything you could have planned?

I am grateful for a magical, thrilling day, and for the freedom to follow our noses, our toes, and our wings, as the inspiration finds us.