Sunday, December 16, 2007

Experiencing winter

Winter has finally arrived! We woke yesterday to a world blanketed in glorious wet, white snow, and the kids and I were eager to run outside and greet it.

Every winter I'm reminded how a landscape of new-fallen snow is like a huge blank chalkboard. Virginal, unmarred, fresh from experience, a lot like our children. They head out the door decked in their woolies and dance the dance of tactile experience, each footprint and snow angel marking the landscape in their wake, as if their bodies were chalk dancing upon the chalkboard-- ever moving, ever marking, ever experiencing. Onward.

How so representational of their experience of life! Starting out fresh and new like a clean slate, and as they move forward in experience and age the landscape gets marred, the experiences become less fresh, and they simply begin to know things. They learn how squishy the snow feels under their boots, and they learn the best way to roll a ball to make a snowman. And as they go along each footprint and trail and snow angel begins to lose the fresh, experiential appeal. Like you and I, they slowly begin to take it for granted. Been there, done that. And like us they forget how that experiential knowledge was first formed-- by experience. They even being to say, "Oh, everyone knows that."

We adults are notorious for this kind of thinking. We assume so many things, especially, that others can read our minds. That others know why we react the way we do. We easily fall into making assumptions that others must share this same knowledge, but how can they if knowledge is acquired by experience? And each experience, however similar, has its own nuances and particulars. Even siblings, raised in the same household by the same parents, grow up with a different experience, dependent upon how that experience melded and was interpretted by their own temperament. Our experiences shape us, make us who we are, and because we are each our own person, the knowledge we own will never be truly shared by another.

When it comes to children, adults oftentimes fall into the trap of assuming that children have all kinds of knowledge that they simply don't yet have. We've all said things like, "You should have known better." It's easy to assume they should have known better, that had they been thinking clearly (i.e. like us and with our background of worldly experience), that they wouldn't have done x,y, or z. But children aren't us. They are not small adults. They are newly forming, and don't have our experience. That's why human children are born to parents and not hatched and left to their own devices. It's our jobs to show them the way, to help them make decisions. It's why we biologically can't reproduce until we've lived long enough to have some life experience, and with this experience we can guide our children in so many ways-- from how to build a snowman to how to interact with others in the world.

Yesterday Sunburst played in the snow for the very first time with other kids. She lost her gloves last week, so she borrowed her dad's big floppy ones, and went out to play. The kids happily made snowmen, angels, snow tracks, and tossed a few snowballs. All was well and good until Sunburst, with Moonshine in tow, came back to the house in a puddle of tears. It seems that one of her snowballs hit the neighbors' daughter in the face, and the father of the child burst from the house and gave Sunburst what for. Sunburst tried to explain that she wasn't aiming for her friend's face, but tells me the father told her in a very angry voice that because he witnessed her throwing it, he believed that her intentions were completely malicious in nature. In other words, he thinks my eight-year-old daughter is a bad kid.

He didn't bother to stop and tell her why it was dangerous to hit someone in the face with a snowball. He didn't bother to ask if she had ever played at throwing snowballs at someone who wasn't over five feet tall before. He didn't bother to notice that maybe her "two-fisted hand of snow" was because she was wearing her dad's big, floppy gloves. He didn't even bother to consider any previous knowledge of my child playing with his, and all the kindness that has passed between the two of them. He tossed all that aside and just assumed that she had his experience of growing up in Minnesota and knowing kids who had damaged eyes as a result of taking a snowball in the face.

It's been a long and hard week over here with Kitty Bill's dangerously exploratory antics and his successively getting terribly ill, several nights of no sleep, a death in the family, and the stress of preparing for the holidays and preparing to move overseas all at once, and then my usually joyful daughter appearing at the door crumpled. This father was the last straw in my otherwise awfully experiential week. I marched my crying daughter over there, and in not so many kind words, asked him to explain his reactionary behavior to Sunburst. Luckily he slowed down long enough to accept Sunburst's apology and share his experiential knowledge of the dangers of snowballs with her. We had to go home and discuss what a "torn cornea" was, because that vocabulary wasn't yet a part of her experience, but otherwise, I think it went well. Though to be honest, my irritation still lingers.

Whenever any of my kids have an issue, whether it's with another child or with another adult, I encourage them to work it out. It often does a world of good to simply tell someone, "It hurt my feelings when you did that." And as Moonshine found out last week at her ice skating class, sometimes the only thing it does is put the ball in someone else's court. Even if they are unreceptive to your feelings, at least you shared them. This is how we gain experience-- from speaking our peace and letting others speak theirs. If we hadn't stood there and looked the neighbor dad in the eye and let him know that we had a problem with the way he handled the situation, we wouldn't have heard his stories about Minnesota, and Sunburst wouldn't have gained any other experiential knowledge than: that angry dad thinks I'm a mean, bad kid.

Kids cannot be "bad." Surely, they can act dangerously. Carelessly. Especially kids who tend toward choleric temperaments-- they are all body and action, and sometimes they get carried away. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, they take things too far. But that's what kids are designed to do-- to cross lines. To push boundaries. To explore their limits (and ours!) That's how children learn, and by guiding them and sharing our adult experiential knowledge with them, hopefully they can learn more easily.

There has been a lot of talk lately within our local homeschooling group about "bad kids." Certainly, there is a lot of undesirable behavior. Wreckless behavior, even. But innate badness? In eight-year-olds? This is a common misconception, but I don't believe it. I think this is just a lack of experience and a lack of understanding about how knowledge is gained. Perhaps a lack of guidance, even. But not because a child is truly bad.

Somewhere, hidden deeply within the bylaws of our local homeschooling group, is the idea that if you see a child misbehaving at an event, you should step in-- regardless of whether the child is yours or not. And once in a while people do, some with success and others with certain disaster if they forget that children are still learning. You can't reprimand or redirect a child without reason, or your efforts are meaningless. If you blast them without guidance, you are no more than the harsh winter wind drifting the children like snow and pushing them farther away from any chance at meaningful experience.

To truly understand children, you have to walk out into that fresh unmarred landscape and pretend you haven't been there before. Make some footprints. Grab a stick and make a trail. Let it all be new. Everyday. Every second. Take nothing for granted. Lay down and let the cold, squishiness of the snow envelope you. And then step back and behold what you have made.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Lanterns and suitcases

This year we had five little lanterns on Martinmas... well, okay, technically we were a few days late celebrating, but for good reason. Still, that Martinmas spirit prevailed-- the joy, the beauty, the tending of the light inside of ourselves.... and Kitty Bill was so excited to carry a lantern for the first time that he was practically skipping along ahead of us. He stumbled and fell a few times and had to have his flame rekindled, but that's par for the course. That's what Martinmas is for.

I've been feeling the need to have my flame rekindled for awhile now. A few months ago our family dynamic shifted and things are much harder than they used to be. Kitty Bill is growing up and testing his boundaries. Moonshine is waking up to the world, trying to write and calculate and read, all on her own. And Sunburst is starting to turn inward with the nine-year change. Overnight, I tell you. My kids have shifted, and parenting is somehow harder than it used to be. Maybe it's me... or maybe it's just that Kitty Bill is the smartest little kid I know. He belongs in a comic book-- Mastermind Baby, able to crack any lock/cabinet/or sister in a single bound.

You get the picture. Clever, unstoppable, alpha male child. And he's only two.

So this year, as you can imagine, I heartily welcomed Martinmas and the opportunity it provided to refuel for a night. Einstein and I held hands in the darkness while we walked along behind the kids, letting them choose the paths and lead the way. They marched ahead into the dark unknown, completely undaunted-- wandering off the path sometimes, stumbling other times, but always righting themselves again and bravely forging on ahead with their voices raised in song, all the while.

The day after we trudged down those dark paths, blindly, faithfully moving onward with our lights, Einstein got a call from Switzerland offering him the job. I know! Believe me, it has been a crazy couple of weeks. It was not an easy, flip decision. There is so much to gain, and so much to lose-- we have a really amazing community of friends here. But alas, no job stability, so...

This coming May we're moving to Switzerland, as if it were another path in the forest.

Sunburst and Moonshine are like little beacons of light, bursting with excitement and anticipation, lighting the way. I expect we'll stumble and fall a few times, as the reality of our decision sets in, but we'll right ourselves and forge on ahead. After all, there are "real castles" to see and mountains to climb and oceans to cross.

I can just imagine Kitty Bill skipping along in the airport with his very own suitcase... and yodeling.

Friday, November 09, 2007

T is for Time

This has been a busy, busy Autumn for us-- days full of bustling activity, happy faces and lovely weather juxtaposed with days of sick children and tantrums and well, just plain old life! There just hasn't been time enough (okay, and energy enough) to sit still long enough to nurture the blog muse.

We have been thoroughly enjoying Grade Three work-- focusing on the gardening aspects, telling stories, working on some lovely forms, and enjoying the offerings of the season. Here's just a little glimpse of some things we've been up to.

Apple and Pumpkin Picking.

Bringing in the last harvest from the garden-- basil, tomatoes, and such cute, tiny carrots! Not bad for our container garden.

Preserving- drying the herbs and freezing basil cubes.

Cutting-- oh how Kitty Bill insists on wielding a knife! Everyday he asks to cut mushrooms... it's a good thing we like mushrooms!

Scheming and Baking-- Vegan caramel apples and apple pie!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Back from Switzerland

We had a heck of a week while Einstein was off gallivanting around Switzerland. He had a great, albeit sleepless, time-- traveling, meeting with his potential colleagues and checking the place over. Luckily he remembered to bring back plenty of pictures (over 600 of them!) and the requisite gifts for those of us left behind. It's true what they say-- the chocolate is definitely edible. And it's a beautiful country, though I think the pictures speak for themselves.

The interview went really well, and we should know more in a couple of weeks. In the meantime I've been hard at work sleuthing out the homeschooling situation. We've got a few ideas how to make it work there-- though it would certainly be a bonus if the laws were more straightforward. From everything I have read, it seems that the laws regarding homeschooling in Switzerland are tricky. They differ from canton to canton, and then again from city to city within each canton, and then again depending on who you talk to or what day it is, etc. It's absolutely mind-boggling!

Having vented my frustrations to many people now, I had to laugh when one of them sent me the following Swiss joke:

If you ask a young German boy where babies come from, he will tell you that they come from the stork. If you ask a young French boy the same question, he will tell you that it has something to do with sex. Finally, if you ask a young Swiss boy where babies come from, he will look at you very knowingly and say “It’s different from canton to canton.”

That pretty much sums it up.

Homeschooling aside, it's a huge decision to make. Einstein was sweet enough to take pictures of everything he could think of that the kids and I would find relevant-- from the produce section in the grocery store and the wares at the health food coop to the leaseable garden plots and the farmer's markets. He even managed to find the local library and seek out the international children's book section so he could show us how many books were in English.

It never occurred to me to think "library" in terms of shelves rather than floors.

Like I said, big decision. And I don't do things lightly. I'm not one of those folks that can just jump right into the water to find out how cold it is. I'm much too melancholic for that. I gather the information, plot the charts, and then maybe stick my toe in to test it out. If I decide it's the right plan, then I bravely wade right in... and rarely regret it.

I've spent the last couple of weeks in careful contemplation. Surely I had a few moments where I completely freaked out over the idea of moving, but mostly that was over the whole canton to canton issue. I've come to realize that this isn't one of those things that I can plot and chart and test out. Picking up and moving to another country is a lot like having that first baby. No matter how much we read about it, we can't truly anticipate what it will be like until we do it. We'd have to jump.

They say that if you take a job overseas that if you don't stick it out for two years or more that it's a failed venture. The costs are too high otherwise. I read somewhere that something like sixty percent of overseas positions end up as failed ventures, with the highest reason for failure being family relations-- either unhappiness of the children in school or unhappiness of the spouse who had to give up his/her career. By continuing to homeschool we pretty much take care of both of those issues, and then it just boils down to how strong we are as a family unit. How resilient and adaptive we are. How committed.

We've shown ourselves to be all of those things in the past. So now we're just at the point where we wait and see if Einstein gets the job. By mid-November we should know whether or not they will give us the chance to jump.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

One more reason to homeschool

As if we didn't have enough reasons already... how about the blind-eye turned to sexual predators within our public school system?

When I was in high school we had a convicted rapist as one of our classmates. That was disconcerting enough, let me tell you, but teachers? Counselors? Principals? Apparently some of them took that "Pal in Principal" a little too far:
An Associated Press investigation found more than 2,500 cases over five years in which educators were punished for actions from bizarre to sadistic.

And right on the tail of that story comes another:

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Some kind of a pickle

I seem to be experiencing a bit of homeschool/life anxiety of late.

You know how sometimes as homeschoolers we go through these phases of wondering if we're doing the right thing? Wondering if indeed our kids are learning anything, if they are fulfilled, if they are keeping pace with their peers, if we're doing enough to ensure they won't grow up to be complete failures and sociopaths? Wondering if we're actually qualified enough to educate our own children?

Well, it's not that.

But what if someone came up to me tomorrow and asked me to prove that I'm qualified? Asked for my credentials, my certification, my curriculum vitae? Luckily, this is America and I'm not required to have any of that-- land of the free, home of the homeschooled, and all of that. But what if my family relocated somewhere else... let's just take a stab and say some small country in Europe. Then what? Well, that would be some kind of a pickle, because other than faith, fortitude and a creative spirit, I've got nothin'.

Homeschooling laws are exceedingly more strict on the other side of the Atlantic. In some places homeschooling is so outlawed that the authorities will fine you heavily, take your children away, and send you to prison. To prison! In Germany, they don't care about your ethical reasons, your religious faith, or your fancy teacher's certificate. Their primary concern is to prevent a parallel society, not to nurture the parental freedoms of their own individual German citizens. So if they imprison their own citizens for homeschooling, what about American citizens in Germany? They might as well begin and end their children's spelling lists with the word "deportation."

Germany aside, what exactly are the rights of American citizens homeschooling abroad? Honestly, it's not something I have ever thought about, nor a quandry I would have placed in my personal path. And yet. Here I am, pouring over websites, joining e-groups, and groping for a loophole in a foreign system that perhaps will have an issue with my lack of certification. And my curriculum? Oh yeah, that may be a problem, too.

Einstein has been invited out to interview for a very appealing job in Switzerland-- a position that would transport this very alternative American family overseas for 2 to 6 years. The last week or so I've been in a perpetual state of anxiety about it. Home education is up there at the top of our list as far as priorities go. It's a commitment we made long before any of our children became school-aged, and obviously not one I'm willing to forgo for a trip down the Rhine or a gander at the Eiffel Tower.

Don't get me wrong, the idea of spending a few years living and exploring in Europe fills me with giddy excitement. But the idea of going to prison? Not so much.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

More recalls: toys and more

This is getting to be ridiculous. There are not only wooden toys on this list, but drinking cups, journals, and bookmarks as well.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Wanting Michaelmas

I've been sitting here for a while now trying to decide what to say about Michaelmas, when I remembered this passage from a tiny book I recently picked up at a book sale.

"It is certainly not easy to say much about (Michaelmas), as this festival has generally never been celebrated, as thus there is no tradition to pass along. We must try to create it, and above all to want it, and then in time it can become that which it should truly be."
--Friedel Lenz, Celebrating the Festivals with Children, 1973 (English translation 1986)

So with that in mind, I'll say that we've tried a few different things over the years to capture the essence of Michaelmas. This year Michaelmas looked something like this:

MMmmm... dragon bread. A standing tradition for several years now. I tell the Michaelmas bread-making story from All Year Round while we prepare the dough. This year we used a recipe from May All Be Fed called "Ocean's Bombs of Love Bread." It was the best dragon bread we've devoured yet.

These are dyepots of goldenrod and marigold. This year I decided I would tell the lovely tale "The Michaelmas Story of the Star Children" by Corinne Batzell, from the outstanding book An Overview of the Waldorf Kindergarten, and at the end, present the children with golden capes.

For my dying recipe I used a combination of some instructions given to me by the lovely and crafty A., and the beautiful book by Rita Buchanan, A Dyer's Garden. We dyed three silks in the goldenrod bath and one in the marigold. The marigold, which I had very little of-- maybe two dozen flower heads, turned out to be a fairly strong dye. The goldenrod? Not so much. We harvested plenty according to the instructions. I even tried overdying two of the silks in the leftover marigold bath, but they didn't absorb much more color. The girls were plenty pleased with our results, though. And they are anxious to try dying with other plants.

1. goldenrod dipped in marigold leftovers, 2. marigold, and 3. goldenrod.

To round out our day of goldenness, I surprised everyone with an extremely golden bed of rice under our thai curry seitan dish.

The bloopers reel for the day would have included Kitty Bill dumping an entire cup of flour into his face, Kitty Bill running off during the goldenrod harvesting, and me accidentally pinching Moonshine's helping fingers with the scissors during the goldenrod harvesting.

Our Michaelmas attempts are always far from perfect. They don't yet have that same reverence as Martinmas or Advent... but we do our best. We want Michaelmas, and for now, that will have to be enough.

Weekly particulars

Our little weekly schedule looks a lot like Aleisha's master plan, just what you'd expect from heavily-borrowed goods. Ours is still a work in progress.

I love the music practice in the mornings, directly after tidy time. It gets the job done when Sunburst is still an interested and willing party. She's working very hard on learning to read music, and doing an outstanding job at it, I must say. But it's heady work, and the mornings work best for that.

The other cool thing about our week is that we have so few "scheduled" activities away from the home. I've carved out huge chunks of time that can be "lesson time," which I haven't bothered to define very well on the map. With a nap-defying, self-asserting toddler in the house it's hard to say when the lessons will actually occur. Obviously I try to get started early, but sometimes it just simply doesn't work that way. So we have the freedom to just roll along and fit things in as we can without any time crunch to be anywhere.

We do have to be at our local homeschool park day, however. It happens once a week and we wouldn't miss it-- all the dirt digging, jump roping, and bug watching. And directly from there Sunburst has her horse lessons. We come home exhausted, but often, she still wants to do "school." I know, I know. She's an odd kid. So instead of planning a lesson, we have delegated that time "Old Time School."

I've been instructed that if I'm not going to wear a dress, I at least have to put my hair into a bun. Sunburst, however, puts on her Prairie clothes and bonnet and comes at me with her McGuffey's Third Reader and Speller. Or sometimes she'll surprise me and ask to do a maths worksheet. It's odd how much kids like to do worksheets, so we keep them around just in case.

Our only other exciting planned activity is for Moonshine. She badly wanted to take a gymnastics class, but I couldn't find one for her age group that wasn't in the middle of dinnertime. And so... one afternoon a week, for 30 minutes, we have homeschool gymnastics.

"Welcome. My name is Miss Fiddlesticks, and today we're going to learn how to do a cartwheel."

Now, I can't do a cartwheel to save my life. Especially with my messed up foot, but with a class size of one, I can fake it. Plus, I'm the lucky sort of teacher who has a chief assistant demonstrator, Miss Sunburst herself, graduate of the gymnastics bar of fame. Or something like that. She took gymnastics for a couple of years anyway, and was quite adept at all manner of body contortions. She's fairly choleric though, rising to meet each and every challenge until she masters it. And as long as Sunburst was a helper and not a classmate, she was allowed by Moonshine to be part of the scenario.

We started out with a circle, sort of. I sang a greeting song I remembered from a parent tot dance class back in 2001. Then we did another song/movement game from that same dance class, that goes something like:

"Here we go skipping, skipping, skipping (or running, hopping, jumping, etc.)
Here we go skipping all around.
Here we go skipping, skipping, skipping
Here we go skipping and then we stop.
Give a little clap.
Now we all fall down."

We went on and on until we got tired, and then out came the gymnastics mat. We bought one for the girls to use years ago when I caught Sunburst trying to do front handsprings into the living room windows. There is a reason that there is a "burst" in her name.

So out came the mat and Moonshine rolled down it and did somersaults and asked to learn backwards rolls... and it was amusing. We worked on cartwheels, sort of. It went well. But Moonshine is less about the actual activity than the feeling of the experience. She wanted dialog.

"Miss Fiddlesticks, how did you hurt your foot?" she said, eyeing my still-bandaged foot. "Were you in a car accident?"

"Ah, no, " I said, trying to think up something fast. "It was a dog accident, actually."

She considered that for a moment. "My mom has a hurt foot, too," she said, and her eyes flickered and grew big and bright. I think in her imagination I actually became Miss Fiddlesticks instead of her mom. It was fascinating and weird all at once. And she went on to discuss with me in great detail the car accident and everyone's injuries and how the best part was having a sleepover at a friend's house. If I recall, there wasn't much sleeping involved... but it's nice to know she has processed it and found a bright side.

We ended our class with a goodbye song, and as I waved her off she circled back through the house and yelled, "Mom, I'm home from my gymnastics class!"

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Planning ahead

Despite the illnesses, we had a really outstanding couple of weeks here doing the back to school thing. We're easing into it, and magically, after hitting a road bump or two, things are falling right into place.

One of the best things I did was to borrow Aleisha's fantastic weekly schedule visual. Have you seen hers? I love the idea that the kid(s) help create it, thereby owning it to an extent. And displaying it helps keep everyone on track. --I borrowed from it liberally, because she has things laid out so well.

I also borrowed some organizational finesse from Spinneretta, of The Jacobite Rose. She's got the best planner idea I've seen yet! And using downloads from Spinneretta herself and Donna Young, I've now got a working planner. Emphasis on working. Yes, I'm actually able to plan stuff, keep it in one place, and follow through. I've added a handwritten sheet for Goals (both emotional and educational) for my girls, and I'm good to go. I'm trying to write in pencil on those weekly sheets, so that I can erase anything we don't get done, and then move the item to the next day. What I'm left with is a record of what has actually happened, rather than what I intended to happen. I'm really loving it, and I think the nice thing about the planner is that it's something tangible that I can look at the night before and see what I need to prepare/do/think about in order to be fully present the next day.

I usually get so caught up in my own needs after my three kids go to bed that I forget to think about tomorrow. I get so bent on trying to get that dose of time for myself, no matter how minuscule it may be some nights, that I find myself often walking into the next day ill-prepared.

I've been reading such provoking books lately, perhaps the most so is Eugene Schwartz's lectures Rhythms and Turning Points in the Life of the Child. In the first lecture he says such incredibly smart things that, had I been underlining, the book would have looked ridiculous when I was through. One of those incredible things he says is parallel to something we learned with our exploration of Rosh Hashana-- that the new day starts at sundown. He says if you prepare for the lesson the night before, if you think about/meditate on the children in your care, you then take all of that with you into your sleep where you meet in spirit form with the children, have a "cosmic main lesson," and receive guidance, not only from higher spirits but from the children as well.

I've heard this sort of stuff many times over the years, and while I believe in this spirit world he refers to, it has been awhile since I really made an ongoing, conscious effort to sit with the lessons and my thoughts at night. It's so easy to slide into the place of meeting my own immediate needs, rather than looking ahead to tomorrow. But Schwartz reminds me that the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. That this nightly preparation has such measurable effects, that it works and can be proven.

He says:
"Think of a main lesson that went especially well, one that you can look back on... you could look back on it and not only say, "Well, that was good. They really learned something" but you feel your inner being is somewhat transformed. You feel as though you and the children were speaking together, your hearts were beating as one, you were breathing as one. Something happened. Then look back on it and I'm certain that you will find two things occurred. One is that some point you practically threw your main lesson plan out the window and started to teach something rather different. It was still in that subject but quite changed and metamorphosed from what you imagined. And most likely the reason you did it that way was because a child asked a question... it was as though they were feeding you what you needed to say. It was coming out of their being and as they heard you speak what was on their soul, they smiled and said, "Ah" or grew more and more enthusiastic."

My inner being transformed? Our hearts beating as one? Breathing as one?

All this for planning ahead? Count me in!

Gratitude and more

I'm coming up for air after several days of small children with stomach flu. I could go on to regale you with horror stories involving toddlers and diarrhea, but I fear I've already said too much.

During those dark days, I was also regaled with the kindest words from so many of you-- in the comments, on your blogs, in emails... and I just wanted to tell you all from the bottom of my heart that I am deeply and truly touched. Thank you. :-)

A few people have asked me now if I would share more of our homeschooling stories, or even to write up some kind of homeschooling book. I am so flattered and humbled by that request. I will definitely try to share more of our lessons, both past and present. The idea of being able to share and exchange ideas with other like-minded homeschoolers was the sole inspiration for this blog. I felt like I was finding so much inspiration out there--on lists and on the now defunct Wonder Homeschool site-- that I wanted to give something back.

To me, homeschooling my children starts with the heart. Not only does my heart have to be in the right place, my stories and lessons and entire approach have to meet my children on a level that will engage their hearts first and foremost. To do that, the lessons have to come from my heart. And that, folks, isn't something that presently feels right to put a price on. At least to me, though I don't expect everyone to share my Dobbleresque values.
I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that.
--Lloyd Dobbler (John Cusack) from Say Anything

Homeschooling is big business. People are marketing all kinds of curriculum and materials and their own blogs, even, as if every word held monetary value. It worries me that something originating from one's heart has the potential to spiral into something completely different when you attach a price tag to it. It doesn't always happen this way, but I've been around long enough to witness the Ahrimanic forces take root even with Waldorf homeschooling.

But I'm flattered by the asking, really, and I'll do my best to keep sharing what we come up with over here-- whether it's original stuff or regurgitated and/or morphed standard Waldorf fare. And I hope you all will do the same, so we can grow together on this journey. It's a tough path we've chosen-- to educate our children in such an expressive, artistic, reverential way. To give of ourselves so much! By sharing freely, we can lighten the load for one another.

And for those of you who doubt your own abilities, Barbara Dewey (the original Waldorf homeschooling guru) said something very powerful at her conference this summer that has stuck with me. Surely she said and modeled a lot of lovely things, but this one bit was particularly key to the whole experience of homeschooling.

She said, and I'm paraphrasing, that there are no Waldorf experts. Even trained and certified Waldorf teachers are not experts; they will never know everything. To do this job you must be an "enthusiastic, creative amateur. We're all always becoming."

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Beautiful handmade toys

Spinneretta, of the lovely The Jacobite Rose, has done a wonderful job hosting the Beauty of Toymaking Fair for September.

Go see, and revel in the beauty of handmade toys!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Something wicked this way comes...

I'm not sure what direction the internet is taking, but this weekend I saw some pretty worrisome things. And I'm not sure that I like it.

First up, Google books. Have you been there? Originally I saw a list of Autumnal book links, and went to check them out. Old, lovely books. In their entirety, and available for free download. Well, that's exciting, I thought, since they are obviously way out of print. Well then I went to update my sidebar book list, and went Googling around for a link to the wonderful book by Reg Down that we're reading, The Festival of Stones, and there it was. On Google books!

This book was published in 2005. And it's there. A huge, whopping portion of it. And why? Well, apparently the publisher has given Google the go-ahead to list it online. You can't download it, but there's a heck of a lot of it there. Really! Doesn't that just seem more than a teensy bit wrong to you? I wonder what Reg Down thinks about this. Or if he even knows?! And what's more, I wonder how many other books that are still in print are listed. And I wonder how this affects the authors of said books, because don't they get paid a portion of book sales? Surely it's a very small portion, but a portion nonetheless.

And are people thinking... Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?


Second up, Big Brother I was clicking through a host of blogs and on more than one occasion I clicked on someone's page and WAH! There was MY name in some little Amazon advertisement box. It said, "Hi Sara..." One of these blogs I had never even been to before. Ever. And it really freaked me out.

So I investigated it a little bit further, and it turns out that those little boxes are part of a program called the Amazon Honor System. People put them on their sites to solicit monetary donations, which are paid directly through your Amazon account. And who doesn't have an Amazon account? It knew my name because I have an account, and the little box recognized me just like Amazon recognizes me when I go to their site. I don't even have to log in... somehow it knows. Which is bad enough, right? But then I realized that Amazon can track me... and my movements on the web, or at least on any page that has an Amazon donations box. It's all a little too big brothery for me.

Amazon said it's not tracking people, at least not for now... there probably aren't enough little donation boxes out there yet to make it worthwhile. But give it a month or a year, and who knows? They may change their minds... Wired magazine had a very convincing article about this.

I don't want to be tracked. I don't want to see my name on websites across the globe. I don't want to see recent books splayed out online. That's what a library is for, am I right? I want to have to get out of my chair, walk a few blocks to the library, search through the shelves, and plop my little card down on the counter. And only then do I want to hear someone say my name... because they know me. As they should, since I come in every week.

I'm constantly amazed by the wonder and horror of the internet. My world is ever growing smaller, and in one sense that's great because I have found such community and friendship online. Inspiration and hope and empathy. It's the price of this double-edged connectedness that I wonder about. How much privacy and personal freedom can I wager? And do I really have a choice?

Friday, September 21, 2007

L'shanah tovah

Last week the kids and I celebrated Rosh Hashana*, the Jewish New Year. We're not Jewish, but it correlated with the school story I'm telling, so I went with it. Originally I was thinking it would be a nice way to include/introduce spiritual customs and rituals that we're not familiar with. You know the drill-- increase cultural literacy: eat the food, speak the language, tell a story. But it turned out to be a much deeper experience than that.

In our school story, our main character Clara had just arrived at her grandmother's house. Upon rising her first morning there, she spied some children from her window. They were hurrying along (to synagogue,) but upon seeing her they called out, "L'shanah tovah"-- wishing her a good year. Of course she wanted to go play with them, but her grandmother told her the kids would be in synagogue most of the day... which left it wide open for a discussion of Rosh Hashana itself, including the 100 notes sounded from the ram's horn, or shofar, during synagogue.

Now, you're a homeschooler and you could potentially use this as a maths lesson-- 100 notes sounded off from a horn, or flute, or what have you. Would that be some sort of blasphemy? I wondered about that. Could one potentially blast those notes and still preserve some sort of religious/cultural respect? We tried, but frankly there's something mildy amusing that happens when you get beyond thirty or forty and then begin to lose count. The point of the notes, it is believed, is that they issue a call to repentance. And depending on how you look at it, laughter itself is a very cleansing activity. On the other, I suppose it gives us something to repent about.

Terrible, I know. But I love the idea of a holiday of repentance. Everyone gets a chance at a clean slate. If you suck, you make amends. And you get ten days to do it. There's a very clear parameter there which is very appealing. I mean, who among us doesn't need to make amends for something?

So we ate of the food, we said the greeting, we pretended the shofar, and then we took a walk at a nearby creek. I handed them each some bread crumbs and told them how in our school story Clara went for a walk with her grandmother on Rosh Hashana. And her grandmother, though not Jewish either, said that sometimes there is a great wisdom in other people's customs. And then she began the practice of casting off her sins, or misdeeds, into the flowing water of the creek. This practice is known as Tashlikh, and the quality of this experience just sent a great hush over us as we walked along and did our own casting off.

I don't know what my kids were thinking about when they were emptying their pockets, surely they don't have many misdeeds at their ages... but me at my age? Goodness. It's good to think about these things-- a mandatory introspection. I really did stop and assess my behavior and attitudes and how it compares to the person I want to be. The parent I want to be. Am I doing my best? Am I living up to my full potential? Why am I falling short of that? What can I do differently?

Yeah, I know. All that in a piece of bread.

There's something about the sound and energy of rushing water that I've always found to be very cleansing. As soon as I read about the practice of Tashlikh, I thought, "those Jewish people are smart!" I mean it! Remember the last time you walked on the beach-- the sound of the water rushing in and receding. It does something to a person. There's some energetic shift, a lightening, that you can't help but feel. I remember as a little girl going up in the Chiricahua mountains and standing near a rushing stream and feeling like I was witnessing some kind of magic happening. I felt so light and free and connected.

It happened again when my dad died three years ago and I was experiencing such a state of complete loss and anguish. His loss was deeply crushing, and the excruciating emotional months that followed his death-- the funeral, the family gatherings, the wading through the material pieces of his life-- completely overwhelmed me. I remember wondering how I would ever overcome these feelings. And then another family member died, and the emotional charge was just unfathomable.

We packed the kids in the car and we drove to the beach, and it was the best thing we could have done. I walked along the water's edge and felt the ache in my heart begin to ease. So we spent a lot of time near flowing water for the next few months... hiking along creeks, canoeing in the river-- they all had that same effect. I don't know if it's a tonal healing, the sound of the water, or if it's something far more encompassing than that. All I know is that I've felt it work.

The practice of "letting go" is known and practiced by many different religions. You've heard people say, "Let go, and let God." Even with Zen and Buddhism, there is this idea that you shouldn't be attached to things, you should let them go. So you meditate to clear your mind, to achieve "nothingness"-- emptying out all that internal chatter, the desires and regrets and what have you, which is the way to enlightment. Enlighten. To make lighter. To ease. To rise.

As the kids and I walked alongside the creek on Rosh Hashana, there was a definite lightening of our pockets as we tossed our bread crumbs into the water. Though it was a truly meaningful experience for me, I wasn't sure if the kids really got the point of it. It's such an inner experience, this holiday of repentance, despite the tangibility of the activity of Taklish-- releasing the the bread into the water. As it turned out, my children surprised me. They were fairly quiet and focused, even after they ran out of bread. They, too, were reluctant to return home again.

Moonshine, my five-year-old, turned to me and with great earnest asked if we could do this again. "Do what, toss bread into the water?" I asked her.

"No," she said. "Celebrate Rosh Hashana. Every year."

Sometimes there is a great wisdom in other people's customs.

*Everything I learned about Rosh Hashana and the Days of Awe I got from Judaism 101-- here and here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


About a month ago I had a birthday. I'm now fully ensconced in my mid-thirties, if you must know. And it's okay, this birthday stuff. After all, there is cake... and who can turn down a good cake? Plus I get presents! We're not really all that different from our kids, are we? I like presents just as much as they do. And it's even better when the present is actually something you like. And will use.

I'm not usually one to brag, but this year I got the best present ever. And no, I don't mean the shiny earrings, though they were quite nice, too. I'm talking about this lovely thing here:

It looks like a banana, you say? Well, yes. But when you peel it open, it's a whole different kind of thing. It's a game called Bananagrams. This banana holds 144 letter tiles so that you can build your own Scrabbley kind of word set-up. It's genius, actually. Rather than playing off another person's words, you play off your own. The object is to use all your letters first... and in order to do that you can change them and move them around as needed, rather than just adding onto them or leaving them stagnant as you do in Scrabble. It doesn't have to be a winners/losers scenario either... you can play nice. And you can play solo. And you can play several rounds a night for days on end.

I think I just let out my inner-Scrabble-geek.

But ah, well. My family knows me well enough to understand how much fun I would have with this game. And the best part is that they are enjoying it, too. Sunburst can also play along at her own spelling level, and although admittedly they have each taken to giving me a large handicap, it's fun for everyone. And whether she realizes it or not, it's homeschooling, too.

And the cake? It was carrot. And pretty good, too, even if it did nearly singe my hair while I was trying to blow all those flaming candles out. Next year? Fewer candles!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A bit of nature

I've had the worst luck with nature tables over the years. If I have them down low they manage to get destroyed by the babies, toddlers, and cats in my life. If I have them up high, well, they get sorely neglected.

With the onset of Autumn, and tying in with our "new beginnings" theme, I'm trying it out again. Old table, new location. So far it has survived 10 days. I think that's a record in this house.

I still can't believe the leaves are starting to change already!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Beginning anew - fall lessons

It seems to have become Fall weather overnight. The leaves are changing and dropping in our yard, and the mornings are chill. It's amazing. And lovely. And alas, undeniably time for school.

We started up Tuesday morning with a lengthy, fun circle out in the yard around a pile of leaves. Of course this involved jumping into the pile of leaves during our rowdier 'falling down' songs, but truly, it was great fun! During our closing song our three voices blended and rose up so beautifully that I almost cried. Afterwards I hugged them tightly, showered them with kisses, and welcomed them into a new year of school-- into 3rd grade and Kindergarten.*

Sunburst was feeling a bit unsure of what 3rd grade held for her. "Are we still going to do stories?" She asked, longingly.

So it was then I knew we had to jump right in. I started simply, as I drew her (and Moonshine) along into the overarching story for the year. Again, we're back to our school story, The Adventures of Clara, the wise man's daughter. She's off to stay with her Cherokee grandmother and make friends with the neighboring Jewish family. While she's gone, a good friend and her family will take up residence in Clara's home...

I told this part of the story over a picnic lunch at the park, and when we arrived back at our own home, we entered the house with 'new' eyes. If a family was coming to stay in our house, what would they see? What should we clean up?

Barbara Dewey suggested at her conference last month that we get our houses in order before we begin our homeschool year. It's a great idea, but I haven't been able to make much headway with all the things going on. So that's what we did, we cleaned up. Together. And it was fun because it was part of the story.

When we felt satisfied, we went to the table and drafted a letter to the friend who was coming to stay in Clara's house. Sunburst offered up her ideas (play with my toys, feed my cat) and I wrote them up into a proper letter on the chalkboard for her to copy down into her new main lesson book. Moonshine wanted to do something too, so she drew a picture for Clara to leave with her letter.

Then Clara traveled along to her grandmother's house, arriving after sunset on Rosh Hashana. Her first day of the new adventure -- the start of the Jewish New Year.

Seeing that time correlation in the story made me take a deep breath in. I was so worried that I wouldn't be able to make this year work-- to mesh together all the themes and make it exciting and wondrous. Really, it was stressing me out! So I went to sleep and asked for some guidance. I woke up with no answers, but then this story just fell out of my mouth and seemed to click. New beginnings, a perfect theme for the Waldorf 3rd grade year. Creation stories, Old Testament stories (like Noah), farming (planting the seeds), shelters... it's all about beginning anew.

And thus we began. Welcome to our year!

*The grades placement actually means a lot to them. I never figured it would as homeschoolers, but now that they have a street full of public school children to play with, they are paying much more attention to what grade they are in as sort of a rite of passage. It helps them know they are striving along, climbing that ladder to maturity.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Summer's last hurrah!

All the kids on our street have been back in school for three weeks or so, but not us. No sir! We haven't even begun to head in that direction yet. We've been much too busy.

This was our last hurrah of the summer. Camping, canoing, grandparents, miniature golf, knitting, and goose poop? Hmm, I guess you had to be there.

Sunburst spent most of her time manning the canoe solo-- totally her choice. This was a first for her, and she's a fine boatman, er boatperson.

Moonshine, by contrast, was all about the fishing. She spent many, many hours happily catching all manner of seaweed. And bringing them to me, each and every time. It was great... until she caught her sister.

Kitty Bill came down with a cantankerous cold but still managed to go out on the canoe, chase geese, and play a dangerous 18 holes of mini-golf.

And Einstein? Me? We sat around enjoying the view and doing some really important stuff. Like nothing. It was a nice way to end a long, hot, and busy summer.

Nature always wins

Just when you think the bugs can't get any crazier, nature steps it up a notch.

This Hickory Horned Devil had all our kids entranced at our last homeschool park day meet-up. First of all, let me say HUGE caterpillar. Enormous! It's the size of a large hot dog. It comes with all the bells and whistles-- large suctiony feet, horns a'plenty, and that alienesque aqua-blue body hue just can't be beat. Later on it will metamorphose into a Royal or Regal Moth. Big caterpillar. Big moth.

Nature. Whew!

**Big thanks to my friend E. for actually having a camera along and letting me share this picture with you.**

Friday, September 07, 2007

Happily Ever After

It's a big day at our house. Einstein and I are celebrating our TENTH wedding anniversary. Complete with sick kids and their many spewing orifices.

But it's the thought that counts, right?

Go ahead and Simpsonize yourself. You know you want to!

Monday, August 27, 2007

I did it!

I finally finished my first lace knitting.

Finishing this sucker was a big homeschooling moment at my house. A major moment!

I know, I know, some of you are a bit confused as how something the homeschooling mom creates in her own free time has anything to do with homeschooling, especially in a major way. But it's true. It does. And I'll try to sum it up quickly before the next child comes out of bed complaining of thirst, or growing pains, or noises outside. Are you ready?

  • I taught myself how to do something completely new. And the children watched.
  • I struggled. For months and months, really, while they watched. They saw me start, fail, rip out all my stitches, and start again. They saw me work, really work at something until I mastered it. To completion. Without giving up. WIthout whining, sulking, or throwing things. Honest.

It was a complete exercise in developing my own will forces. Perseverance. And who knows how much of that rubs off on them. How much of that do they breathe in, just from being here and watching?

If you listen to David Albert of unschooling infamy, one of the best things you can do for your children is to, "Learn something new yourself." Especially if you have a child with perfectionistic tendencies like my Moonshine.

In Homeschooling and the Voyage of Self-Discovery, Albert says that by learning something new yourself:
"Your empathy with, and humility around, your children will increase exponentially. You'll teach them through example that mistakes are part of the learning process... Just as importantly, your kids will see that learning something new always begins with some level of discomfort, and that's really okay. They will watch you progress and come to understand that mastery of any subject matter-- be it mathematics, crocheting, baseball, or singing-- and self-mastery only come by developing sound learning habits and putting in the requisite time, energy, and effort. And then by doing so, self-confidence grows. And what is self-confidence, really, but the feeling that one is prepared to tackle a future replete with exciting new adventures!"

So here she is, my exciting adventure-- the Adamas Lace shawl, in all her glorious detail. Sunburst, in typical fashion, has been begging to start her own lace shawl. The thought leaves me breathless... I mean, it's a load of knitting! It's all about precision and attention to detail and slippery needles. Is an 8 1/2 year-old really ready for that?

I've been hemming and hawing about it, kind of wavering on the fence. But at the Waldorf homeschooling conference this weekend I got the go ahead from Barbara Dewey to let Sunburst go for it. It's not like she hasn't already knit socks on 4-needles (albeit baby socks) and a two-color hat. Sunburst plainly admitted to me that it might take her a year, or even two, to knit a lace shawl to completion. And she was completely comfortable with that. Undaunted.

To read more of my thoughts (and some great quotes) on perfectionism and homeschooling, GO HERE.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Everyday Entomology

Did you know there is a mama spider that hangs out and mothers her spiderlings?

We've been spending an awful lot of time this summer out in the yard and garden hanging out with the bugs. It's not something we've been doing on purpose, mind you. It's just that they catch our attention and we get sucked in.

In June we sighted this spider family in the vegetable garden. They moved right into the pepper plant and set up housekeeping, or more precisely, baby spider keeping. Just when I thought I understood the habits of spiders, this was more proof that nature will always keep me guessing.

The kids enjoyed watching this Nursery web spider and blowing on the babies in the nursery. Sunburst figured out that if you blow on them they scatter a bit. But they always returned to center, forming an amazing kind of spidery ball.

In other bug news, Einstein came back from a conference a few weeks ago and discovered that in his absence a chrysalis had attached to his bicycle tire. We stuck it in a jar and brought it inside.

And then we watched. And waited. And watched. And waited. And then completely forgot about it.


Suddenly there was a Monarch butterfly. Right there. In the middle of the breakfast table. We missed the emergence entirely, but spent a while with it-- cooing and oohing and ahhing, and watching it pump blood into its wings.

And then it was off...

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Made at home

I was going to title this post "Not made in China" but then I read this. And I felt bad. Nonetheless, we're all paying a bit more attention these days. And we should, shouldn't we?

Last month Sunburst helped me sew up this little lovely book as airplane fodder for Kitty Bill. He seemed to enjoy it almost as much as we enjoyed making it. The making is always the best part.

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