Sunday, January 24, 2010

Where Is All The Creativity In The World?

I love living with creative people. They come up with the most interesting things. Granted, some of these things are odd, and semi-useless, and add to the cluttered effect of my home, but they are interesting none the less. Things like this...

Freestyle artistry is big in our homeschooling adventure, so my kids come up with a lot of imaginative things on their own at home. But, these little beauties were made at an Alternative Gift Fair that the kids and I volunteered at over the holiday season. We were assigned to work in a craft booth helping people make "Snow Birds" out of pine cones. My kids got busy and whipped up some samples in no time. There was also an "example bird" that did look slightly more professional, but my kids just went for it with their own ideas including painted toenails and extra eyeballs. It's all about the details, and I liked their birds the best.

What was interesting was observing the creative methods of the patrons of our booth. We had all the materials laid out, along with a nice display of all of the example birds to get people thinking of what they wanted to do. The trouble was, a large number of people simply had no idea what they wanted to do.

With children, there was a mixture of some kids wanting step by step directions, and to make an exact copy of one that someone else made. Other kids, who did do their own thing, often seemed like they were hiding the results from me. I tried to make it clear that at my booth, they could make their crafty Snow Bird however they wanted. In fact, they could make a Snow Poodle, and that would be fine with me. I applauded the creativity. I wasn't there to grade anyone or judge their art, just to straighten the paper and put the glue caps back on. But many of the school age kids who didn't copy an example seemed like they thought they were going to get in trouble or something. I did my best to encourage them, and wondered if overly structured education and micromanagement of every creative process is what does this.

The ones who were younger than preschool age mostly just enjoyed smearing glue, glitter and paper together unapologetically. They apparently hadn't had their creativity stunted with formal lessons yet. I think the desire to experiment, play and create come naturally to all young humans, but unfortunately it is squelched early on for many.

With the adults, there were also interesting reactions. We tried keeping track of how many times we were asked by very serious people "OK, so where do I glue the eyes?"

Ummm.... wherever you want- we have a painted pinecone and some feathers here that's supposed to be a bird- we're using our imaginations. If you're feeling a little cyclops-like, you could just do one big google eye in the middle. The next most common question was "Well, how do I glue them on?"

Well.... by using the glue was my thought, and that was what I recommended, but many people don't seem to have used glue lately, and were almost baffled by the process. I think I did a very good job of not being patronizing or sarcastic either, because the people were seriously trying to be crafty, and that is a good thing. By the end of the project, most people started loosening up, and letting their artistic tendencies flow a bit. It was like finding a coal in a long smothered fire.

We all decided we like being a part of encouraging imagination and freeform artistic interpretation- even if it is just with something as ridiculous as painted pinecone chickens. I think we're going to volunteer in more craft booths in the future, and continue to rebelliously encourage people to make whatever they want when they stop by our table. It's good to know that there is still plenty of creativity in the world- even in people who don't remember it's there anymore- they just need to stop by a renegade craft booth to find it.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Fourteen years. It's hard to believe that I could have a fourteen year old right now. I could, but I don't. Today is the birthday of my firstborn. On January 22, 1996, after a healthy and happy pregnancy, I gave birth to a beautiful, full term, seven pound two ounce perfect baby boy with dark hair and rosy lips. We named him Hans. He never cried, or laughed, or even breathed. He was born still. He was otherwise healthy and whole, but the umbilical cord was tangled, and when the oxygen stopped, so did his heart.

Fourteen years is a long time. Two kids later, and I wonder what if... so many what ifs...
I look at other fourteen year olds, some full of adolescent angst and budding hormones, and I can't even picture him there. He is permanently etched in my memory as a tiny baby. Through the years I have pictured him as a mischievous toddler, a playful preschooler, but my imagination has trouble with the image of him as a moody teen. Would he have been active and crazy, like his little brother, or serious and thoughtful, like his little sister, or something completely different? How would the other two be different if they had a big brother? How would I be different?

In the early days of grief, it was hard not to hate people who didn't value their children. I was eating whole grains, had given up pain relievers, wine, and even chocolate for my baby, and yet he died. But the premature baby of a cigarette smoking drug addict could live. But, I've long since come to realize that life isn't always fair, and it doesn't always make sense. Some people neglect, some abuse, some just don't care. Most of the time, these days, I don't hate those people as much as I pity them, and I pity their kids even more.

I wish every parent could realize what an amazing thing they have been entrusted with, and enjoy it. Of course it's not always easy- kids can test our patience, suck our energy and sometimes drive us crazy, but they are a lot more fun than trouble if you lighten up and give them the chance. I wish that every child could be loved, feel worthy, and know that they have promise. I can't rescue all the kids I wish I could right now, but I am so very, very thankful for my own kids- the ones who are living, who make me laugh daily, and are some of the funnest young people I know, and the one who lives in my heart, but made me a mom, and changed me in so many ways. I know they are all gifts, and they have so much to teach me.

So, today, I remember Hans Clayton Walker Jorrick, and want to encourage everyone to give their own kids a hug, and treasure the gifts that they are.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Good Sports?

It's funny that I have spent the last 9 years telling my son not to be so aggressive, and now that he is in his first season of basketball (and playing against teams of giant Amazon children who would be creaming his poor team if they kept score, but thank goodness they don't.) I find myself actually encouraging him towards actually being aggressive- in the game at least. It's not like I want him to mow them over or anything, but when playing large, assertive people who don't seem to realize that basketball isn't really a contact sport, it may not be a bad idea to be assertive back.
I am clueless to the rules of most sports, so I'm not exactly sure what exactly constitutes a foul in basketball, but any activity that looks remarkably like a dog rubbing on someone's leg seems inappropriate to me, and I'm not sure what the underdog kid is supposed to do at that point.
I'm a little surprised that my kids even play sports since we are not a sporty people- at all. We don't watch sports on TV, and don't know anything about major teams or players. I have no idea who won the last Super Bowl or who will be playing in this one. I just plain do not care in the least about professional sports.
I don't really play sports myself either. I was never very good at athletics as a child, and grew up in an era when it seemed acceptable to jeer, taunt and loudly and cruelly mock other players. I opted out of even trying to play whenever possible to avoid any possibility of the humiliation. But, I couldn't always avoid playing- some of those PE teachers made sure everyone played- and I still carry emotional scars from being forced to play dodge ball. It is a particularly harsh game, the thought of which makes me wince to this day.
My kids don't go to school, so they are never forced to play a game they hate in PE. But, they are active little people who participate in a variety of things of their own choosing. And, if my kids want to follow an interest, I usually try to find a way for them to try it, even if it's a sport I'm really not into. (Within reason that is, but I do reserve the power of veto in all events)
So, my kids have started playing a few sports, and learning life lessons, gaining a few skills and having fun in the process.
I find it interesting that I should actually enjoy watching my own kids play sports so much. They are adorable- not just my kids though- most of the kids out there- are just so darn cute running around chasing balls having a great time (at least on my kids' teams- the professional Amazon children are not as cute however in my opinion, but I may be slightly biased.)
There are the talented kids- the ones who you can tell come from jock filled gene pools and have played before. There are also the goofy ones who are just really not very good at all, but boy are they trying. And then, there's everything in between. Some of the kids are all serious about it, and some are just staring off into space until they get bonked in the head by a ball. One kid throws himself across the room jumping for a ball every time only to land on his face, and he doesn't seem to realize that most of the time, he could've just reached out and grabbed it, and skipped the whole jump / crash scenario. Bless him for his enthusiasm anyway.
My own kid lives in the mountains with a gravel driveway that is not exactly conducive to practicing dribbling, and had never even seen the sport on TV, but he is out there having a blast. He really does give it his all, even if he completely ignores any advice or direction from the coach, and just charges ahead with his own plan, oblivious to the fact that it might not be working. He definitely is having a good time with it.
I find all the kids hilariously entertaining, and I love watching them and cheering them on, but I'm beginning to wonder if I'm overly enthusiastic though. They have all these rules about good sportsmanship and parental conduct these days, which are a necessary thing I suppose, to prevent the truly competitive and mean parents from scarring another generation of children. But, I often get confused. When shouting things like "Shoot the ball!" am I coaching from the sidelines or just cheering? Does it make me a bad sport as well as a bad example when I inadvertently groan out loud after the other team steals the ball and scores again? I'm not exactly soft spoken or quiet in everyday conversation, so it's possible I cross the line to loud when I'm excited.
My kids have mentioned in the past that it drives them insane in karate or baseball when they totally blow it, and they are well aware of the fact, but the enthusiastic parents on the sidelines are shouting "Almost!Good try! You'll get it next time!" I explained to them the other option of mean parents yelling "What are you doing loser?" and while they agreed the positive option was better, they would still prefer if the adults would just put a cork in the comments and let them do their thing. They didn't name me specifically, but I am pretty sure I'm guilty of annoying positive encouragement.
I wonder if I actually could sit through a whole game without shouting out anything? I'm not sure I could, but I think I may give it a try next week. Maybe my kids will even thank me for it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Not Kidding...

Why do mama goats always seem to have their babies in the worst possible weather? I'm not kidding- out of the many baby goats born here on our rocky hillside farm, the only ones not born in pouring down, very cold rain were ones who were born on a baking hot 117 degree day, which may have been worse.

A friend suggested the rainy labor days are Mother Nature's way of washing away the mess, but it seems more like a way of having me have to wallow through mud and other muck to dry off soaked, shivering babies, and get their mama's into shelter.
We decided to take a break from baby goats of our own after our last batch gave us three sets of twins and a set of triplets- who promptly overgrazed our pastures. A couple years of not enough rain, and too many goats left us with dusty hillsides, so we scaled our herd down to our four favorites (well, the 3 favorites of most of the family, and my husbands ornery goat.) We vowed to keep the ladies away from any intact males, so we would not have to deal with babies for a while. (Not always easy when we take our herd hiking in the open forest near us. Occasionally, they make a beeline for "Romeo"- the buck down the road, and we have to chase them, and drag them home, "maaahing" mushy talk to their would-be-lover all the way.)
Babies are fun, and cute of course, not to mention all the real life learning involved. My daughter has gained quite a bit of hands on midwifery and medical skills from all the babies we've had here. But, it really can be quite a bit of work. Like humans, some mama goats take to motherhood naturally, and others are not so maternal.

Our goat SweetPea, had triplets for her first motherhood experience. We were a little worried about three babies for an animal with only two udders, but she nursed and cared for them all equally and wonderfully. If they were all that easy, it would be no problem.

But, they weren't all that easy. Most of the time nature takes it's course, and things work out fine, but we have had a few stillbirths, which are heartbreaking, retained placentas, which required very hands on help, and rejection of babies, which requires long term work.

My husband's goat Abigail (AKA Evil Abby) has had two sets of twins, and both times I had to force her into caring for them for at least the first week. She was just not the least bit interested, and so I had to go out in the muck every few hours and force her to nurse them. This sometimes involved calming, sweet talk while I tied her up, and other times involved holding her in a headlock while she tried to horn me and my daughter attached the babies. Some people suggested I just bottle feed them, but I was opposed on a number of levels. It smells bad, is expensive, and isn't as healthy. Plus, then I'd have more dishes to wash. No thanks. If I was going to have to feed them every couple of hours, I was going to make that mama goat earn her keep. Most feedings, she would fight like crazy until the milk would let down, and then you could visibly see the hormonal reaction- she would relax and finish the feeding. If only there were an ethical way to get people to just slow down and just nurse their babies.With the goat, after a few weeks, she caught on and would just nurse and care for them on her own.
I often wonder at the fact that I went from fashion designer to goat catcher in a few short years.

Anyway, we decided to be done with babies of our own for a while, but, we do live in goat country, and it's that time of year. Our recent excitement started with an early morning phone call. I debated not answering because we were cozily reading aloud in front of the woodstove, and in the middle of an exciting chapter. I decided to see who it was, and it was a neighbor, who was driving by, when she saw that a goat across the street had just given birth and was standing in the cold rain with two very wet and shivering babies beside her. The goats owner couldn't be reached by phone, so the other neighbor and I met in the rain with our human kids, a leash, some towels and some hay. The owner arrived in time to help us lure the mama into a makeshift shed with some fresh hay, dry off the babies, and clean the cords. This time, nature seems to be doing it's job, and the babies both were nursing in a short time. I love when things work the way they are supposed to.

I'm sure the rest of her herd will be birthing in the next few days, in the worst weather, if history repeats itself. It will be fun to see the new little ones romping on the hillsides- almost fun enough to make me nostalgic, and to want babies of our own again- but not quite.

I know the baby boys will need to be neutered, and I know from experience, that's not a fun task. They'll all need shots and food, and they'll eventually need to find homes or they'll end up in the freezer. There's definately a lot more to having kids (goat or human) than the cute baby stage.

For now, I think I'll just live vicariously through my neighbors, be glad the responsibility isn't mine, and enjoy those adorable babies at a distance.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Less School-y Than Usual?

Our happy little homeschool has been under a bit of a transition lately with the holidays, my increased working outside the home, and now, my crazy anti-clutter kick. We never have been workbook type homeschoolers, but rather the hands-on / project-oriented kind. Even so, it's been feeling less “school-y” than usual around here.

Things have seemed so busy lately, I've been missing the abundance of time to read with, play with, explore with, and overall just hang out living and learning with my kids. We have never followed a curriculum, but we do a lot of things, and they are always creating something. I was actually getting a little concerned with the idea that my children wouldn't have so much cool stuff going on with how busy I've been. So concerned in fact, that I considered signing back up with a homeschooling charter school.

We went through a charter school for several years in the earliest grades and it worked well. Our facilitator was, and still is, a good friend who always has positive encouragement for my kids. Our school went through transitions of it's own a few years ago, and we decided to try being independent. It's been really, really nice. I am a big fan of freedom, and we've been pretty happy doing our own thing.

But, life is always changing and I thought maybe I should consider seeing if the charter could work for us again. The money they offer for music lessons is awfully tempting, and they offer some classes. We were hoping for a bunch of fun things offered one day, all in a row, like chorus, theater, Spanish, and ceramics that would give me a chunk of time to work while the kids did fun stuff. The charter does offer a few fun classes, but it's mainly core enrichment classes. These come complete with timed quizzes and weekly homework. Not surprisingly, there were no excited looks about that idea around here- these aren't the classes my kids or I really want or need.

Both of my kids are doing a lot of writing on their own already- fiction, non-fiction and poetry, and they are frequently excited about entering contests. The same with reading- they already do plenty of it and it's mostly self driven. Neither one was too excited about someone directing them with it. They might gain some academic skill or another a little earlier, but right now they have passion, and that's more important to me. I don't really want to limit the amount of time and energy they have to pursue their own interests with a bunch of busy work. I want to let my kids keep their learning sparks alive and kindle them, and don't want to risk dulling their interests.

My dear friend the facilitator knew that going back probably wasn't the right choice for our family, but she kindly printed out a bunch of information  so I could come to my own decision. It's a blessing to have such positive people in our lives.

For now, I know those classes fill a need, and I'm glad they are there for the folks who utilize them, but unfortunately, it's not what we need. Luckily, there is a lot out there to choose from, including some things that my kids are actually excited about. They aren't all neatly lined up in a row, and conveniently located in one place, so I'll still be driving all over and juggling like crazy, but that's OK. It'll be worth it.

The holidays, of course, had a number of projects of their own that provided plenty of learning opportunities with baking, crafting, family, gifts, cards, budgets etc. It never ceases to amaze me how one thing leads into another. An old Christmas movie can spark an interest in a food, fashion, car or tradition that we aren't familiar with, and before the day is done, we are researching and learning about something new. That's the homeschooling we love. That's the stuff we want to do more of, not timed quizzes.

When I think about it, we really are doing plenty of “school-y” stuff. I just haven't slowed down enough to realize it. The holidays change everyone's routines- that's why kids in school got a couple of weeks off for a break. As I look at my daughter busily designing with her new Fashion Magazine Kit and my son intently building with his new Connectagons, it's obvious, they are engaged, and happy and even if it doesn't look "school-y," they're still learning all the time.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy New Year 2010

Happy New Year! I can't believe it's 2010! My family and I rang in the New Year with friends, and the next morning (ok, late the next afternoon) I was back on my anti clutter kick. I am not big on New Years Resolutions, but maybe having a goal to NOT collect so much random weird stuff this year might not be such a bad idea. I think at least one of my kids was hoping my Boxing Day (or Boxing Month as it has turned into) would somehow involve pummeling something with gloves, but we're just tearing the house up and boxing up a bunch of stuff to get rid of. Some areas look a bit like they have seem a hurricane at the moment, but it feels really great to see all the excess stuff that will be leaving my life soon. I still can't believe I have this much stuff. It's ridiculous. This accumulation of stuff has gotten way out of line, and come to think of it, so has my accumulation of winter weight gain. My lack of exercise lately is rather sad. With working extra hours, bad weather and very little daylight, my body is not moving nearly enough, and I can feel it- my body is definitely trying to tell me something- probably something like "put down the cookie, and get moving woman!" My butt is starting to feel like it is reshaping itself to my office chair, and I doubt it's a good look for me. So, since I'm at it, maybe an exercise goal would be a good idea for the New Year too.

Speaking of resolutions, or "vague goals" in my case, one of the final assignments in my college classes this past semester was to write about areas of our own lives that we would like to "revitalize." Words like "revitalize" feel a little dramatic for my reality, so instead, I came up with a few areas for "improvement." Even that sounds a bit cliche with New Years and all, but I did it anyway, and in the spirit of the season, I'm sharing.

It seems like there was this theme of "finding your purpose" in the assignment, but overall, I think I already have plenty of purpose in my life. I have a lot of good things going on right now, and don't feel in the least bit lost, or without meaning. What I do feel, is really stinking busy with all this good stuff I have going on. I could certainly use some improvement in my juggling skills during stressful and busy times. I could also use some household help.

Realistically, I'm probably not going to get a maid anytime soon, nor a personal assistant. I don't see myself suddenly having mountains of free time either. So, it would probably make sense for me to learn more about dealing with time management so I can play the hand I've been dealt. I actually saw a time management class offered online recently, but ironically, I haven't figured out how I could squeeze it into my life. Somehow though, I would really like to find a balance between being a procrastinating slacker, and being a micromanaging control freak. I think I'm swaying dramatically between the two these days.

My guess is that in a time management class, they teach you to use lists, prioritize, communicate and delegate things. I'm trying all of the above. The trouble is that lists get lost sometimes (ok, a lot of times), and when I delegate, other people don't always do things the way I think they should, which is really annoying.

I know a major problem is that distractions are so darn abundant. Kids play loudly and interrupt. For example, one child is playing a harmonica about 10 feet away from me right now. Husbands (who are normally silent) start up a conversation as though they don't notice you are trying to type. Telephones ring at the most inconvenient times. I have one infamous friend, who I won't name, but if my children see her name on the caller ID they cry out "NO! Don't answer the phone- you'll talk to her all day!!!" Another big distraction issue for me is when attempting to write or work on my classes on the computer, it's just so awfully easy to get sidetracked with Facebook and email right there. When I go to just check something "really quickly," I can easily lose a big honkin chunk of time. I'll be trying to work and be good, and a message from a friend pops up in one of those chat windows. I know I really need to focus on what is important to get things done.

Maybe in the New Year I'll get better a little better at managing time, and taking care of myself and my home. I hope I'm at least making progress towards improvement and growth in these areas that are recurring themes in my life. I'm not sure if I'll end up with baby steps or giant leaps in 2010, but it feels good to be moving in the right direction. Today, I took another load of toys, clothes and books to donate. I even walked away from buying another book I saw on sale, figuring I should at least finish my cleaning before I add any more to the mess. It wasn't easy either, as it was a beautiful illustrated history book for $4! Still, I resisted-but hopefully it'll still be there when I'm done. The trash and recycling are both full again this week with stuff that will no longer be cluttering up our lives. Just before dark, I took advantage of the break in the rain and walked the dogs too, which made us all very happy. I love simple pleasures like that.

I think 2009 was a hard year for a lot of people, and it's good to be looking ahead to better days. I hope the New Year brings blessings to everyone! Happy New Year!