Saturday, February 27, 2010

All Kinds of Family

Like most people, I have many kinds of family in my life, and they all come with their own unique ties and connections. And as a homeschooling mom, family relationships are important to me- the good, the bad and the ugly of them.
My oldest group of family is, of course, the one that I was born into. Blood relatives are the lot of people in life you have no choice in being related to. I'm probably lucky that most of mine are people I don't mind choosing to spend time with. They are the ones who share my history, and helped make me who I am today. They have different versions of my childhood stories, and share with my children about where it is we came from. 

Some of my genetic family I didn't even meet until I was almost an adult myself. Interestingly, in some cases, we have more in common than people I have known my entire life. But, some of us are actually so radically different that I marvel at how the gene pool works. We may not all agree on politics, religion, education and other touchy subjects, but I've learned to appreciate the differences. There are certainly plenty of things to talk about and do that we can agree on when we're together rather than fighting about the things we'll never agree on.

I love that my children can know their huge extended family, and they too can wonder how on earth we can be related to all these people. We live close to a few grandparents and great grandparents, so they get that first hand dose of family history on a regular basis. Emails and letters keep them in touch with the other grandparents and aunts, uncles and cousins, and it's a great inspiration for the kids to write. It makes me laugh that when my daughter sends my father an email, she gets a reply in 20 minutes. When I send him one, it is more likely to be a month. Grandparents are like that, I guess.

I also have the group of family I married into. I don't know if people really think about the fact that they are not just marrying one person, but an entire family. Again, I'm pretty blessed. My mother in law is the opposite of the stereotype. She's about as hands on as a grandma can get, taking the kids on 8 mile bike rides, playing board games, and generally being happy to just hang out and play with them. Knowing that we are not morning people, if I have to be at an early morning meeting at work, she will drive out to our house to watch the kids so they don't have to get up early. Not only that, she also seems to leave a little spot of beauty behind in her wake whenever she has been out to out home. It might be kitchen counters or the dining room table or anyplace, but there is almost always some little space that has been cleaned and made beautiful and peaceful to look at. It's quite lovely to come home to. And if she judges my slacker style of housekeeping, she is pleasantly quiet about it, as she is about my parenting choices. I know when we decided not to send our kids to school, she was most likely a little worried, but I could tell she worked hard not to give us any grief about our choices. Now, she has seen what a great choice it has been, and seems behind it 100%.

My most precious family, of course, is the group I created when I had children. I am continually amazed at how much I love to hang out with these little people. Of course, they are the inspiration behind this life learning adventure we are on. The #1 reason I am committed to homeschooling is my family.

We are also blessed with our wonderful group of friends. They may not be related by blood, but some are like the family we got to choose for ourselves. Right before my oldest daughter was born, I was fortunate to connect with a group of other women who were also pregnant. We ran into each other after the babies were born at La Leche League meetings, and soon branched out to forming our own mom's group that met weekly for years. Although we have all made different choices educationally and otherwise for our kids, I have always valued having this group of other women around my children. I think the kids all got different things from each of the different mothers, and also gained a lot just growing up together. A few of us moved to different towns, but 12 years later, both the kids and the moms still keep in touch and get together on a regular basis. 
In the 7 years since we've lived in our current home, we've met another wonderful group of people who we treasure like family. It is one more fabulous thing about homeschooling- we get to hang out as entire families. My kids know my friends, and are in most cases friends with the kids of those friends, and vice versa. I trust my kids with their friends' parents because they are most likely friends of mine. I know they'll try to respect our parenting and lifestyle even in areas that don't match theirs, and I will do the same for them. In a time when so many families are separated for most of the day, and disconnected from each others lives, I am glad that we have this luxury of families that hang out together.

I think my kids benefit and learn from all the kinds of family in their lives. The connections and ties to these other people, by blood, by marriage, and by choice all give us different experiences, lessons, and sets of eyes to see the world through, and we gain new and different things from each of them.
Far from the isolated and anti social existence some people assume that all homeschoolers live with, our lifestyle gives us time to experience and enjoy the full range of rich relationships family has to offer.

(From an essay originally published in California Homeschooler Magazine in January 2010)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Spillin' the Beans

A while back, we saw a science experiment from the Happy Scientist involving bean power and the process of osmosis. My son thinks the idea of bean power is hilarious, so we had to finally try it. We definitely got some unexpected results.

The experiment was simple. We filled a glass mason jar with dry beans to the top, and then added water. As the beans absorbed the water, they would swell and pop out of the open top onto a pie tin below demonstrating the way the cells in the beans absorb the water (the process of osmosis) and swell to almost twice their original size. It was going fine, beans were swelling, popping out and making occasional "ping" sounds. We thought that was kind of neat, and then we went on about our day while the beans continued to absorb the water. Then, we heard a small "crrrrrrick" sound.

I can't believe the power of swelling beans actually cracked the jar! (That wasn't in the plan- after the experiment, we were supposed to have the beans for dinner.) But it did break it, and not just a little bit- the whole glass was broken into large shards. It wasn't a brand new jar, but it was thick glass without any chips, and the same kind used for pressure canning. I just think that's amazing that a few cups of beans could do that.

While it looked like the glass was just in a few large pieces, I decided not to chance accidentally feeding my family bits of broken glass, so we tossed the whole thing. I was even too paranoid to feed it to the chickens. It was a bummer about the wasted beans, but a pretty impressive look at the strength of my menu items.I think we ended up having cereal to eat.

Sometimes science experiments don't go as planned or we have no idea what happened (OK, often at our house) but we enjoy the process of exploring, experimenting, and observing. And the unexpected results give us plenty to think about.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Little things

We've been blessed with a little early taste of spring, and have been trying to get outside as much as possible to enjoy it. After weeks of rain, we really needed the break, and the sunshine feels medicinal. This is the time of year that makes me really appreciate the beauty of the land I live on. While big things in nature, like clouds and sunsets, always catch our attention with their wow factor, we've been spending a lot of time appreciating some of the little things.


These handy little magnifiers give us a whole new view of things. They cost less than $5, and work great, magnifying 10 times on one side and 20 times on the other. 
Some of the tiniest things are pretty marvelous in their own these cool striped fungi.


Of course, for some kids, trees (or manzanita bushes in this case) need to be climbed to be properly explored.

This shrub has the most interesting bark that peels off over the winter, leaving this lovely smooth red hard wood (and more kinds of fungi on the dead branch.)
 These amazing little forests of moss live through very hot, very dry summers and go for months without rain, surviving on the water they stored up over the winter. We decided they would make wonderful lawns for fairy picnics and parties. Unfortunately, the camera couldn't capture the detail of the leaves the way the magnifier could. They looked like tiny little trees.


Time to study nature in whatever way we want, the big things and the small, is just another thing I love about our homeschooling journey.
This is the good life.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


It's Valentines Day, and for weeks the sellers of candy, flowers and jewelery have been reminding us to show our loved ones how much we care by buying them stuff. Even though I hardly watch any television, I think I've probably seen a hundred sappy jewelry store ads this month, all of which my kids and I have mocked terribly. It's hard not to make fun of the syrupy sweet version of love depicted this time of year. Even though we rotate between laughing at and gagging over mushy romance, I really don't mean to sound cynical, or to pass my cynicism on to my kids. I believe in love, and enjoy a little romance myself. But what is love really about?

We Americans are brought up on a lot of myths of love, and I think it makes relationships more confusing and difficult. The happily ever after stories of childhood turn into the overly dramatic and constantly changing relationships on TV, and Neither of these extremes are healthy or realistic. Rarely does a charming prince come save the day so the couple can live happily ever after. Equally rarely do reality television shows, sit coms or popular dramas portray healthy long term relationships.

The sad thing is that I don't think many people have actually had healthy role models of loving, lasting relationships to learn from in real life. Those who have are lucky. I'd guess a lot of people are just winging it, and basing attempts at relationships and happiness on media stereotypes. That probably leaves a lot of disappointed and / or divorced people.

The reality is that no relationship is happy all the time, and the grass isn't always greener somewhere else either. Rather than being dependent on someone else to feel complete, knowing how to be happy alone or together probably helps too. Buying jewelery is great, but it can't replace being nice, and showing respect on a regular basis.

A few disappointing Valentines Days in my life may have added to my natural cynicism, and increased my mockery of this holiday of romance. One favorite memory is of a year when I was a teenager recovering from a recent breakup, I wrote a letter to a friend about the woes of VD. Her mom found the letter, and was very upset, mistakenly thinking VD was referring to venereal disease rather than Valentines Day. That still makes me smile, and in perspective, made my single, heartbroken teenage Valentines Day not look so bad- at least there were no diseases involved.

I have also had plenty of Valentines Days that were wonderful, and made me think, and probably act, like a silly, romantic pre-teen girl. On good years, my dear husband has treated me to romantic cabins in the snowy mountains, rooms overlooking the ocean, candlelit dinners, flowers, and even jewelery. Of course, since I accidentally sucked up one of the diamond earrings he bought me with a vacuum, I have not been given jewelery again. Maybe that's why I mock the jewelry commercials- because I know my jewelery days are over due to my terrible housekeeping. At least I still get chocolate.

This year for Valentines Day, we sent the kids to their great Grandmothers, and had a long walk in the woods, a delicious steak and shrimp dinner, a few too many daiquiris, some good adult conversation, and watched a few movies the kids would not be allowed to see. Grown up time is a good thing. I really think we need to do this more often. It's no jewelery commercial, but it is enough to help keep the flames from being smothered anyway.
I hope everyone has a wonderful Valentines Day. Whether it's full of flowers, candy, and jewels or not, hopefully, it will be full of love. I'd love to hear how others celebrated with their loved ones this year.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Artsy Mamas

Some of my city friends and relatives have made light of my living in the country, and the surrounding hillbilly influence. I willingly live far from town, and the nearest town is a small one. I'll admit that I have wondered on occasion if this county really does have more tattoos than teeth, but nevertheless, there are a lot of things I enjoy about the area. I actually really like having chickens and goats, and so do a number of my friends. Many of us have gardens, homeschool our kids, and spend a lot of time playing in creeks. But, none of us drive big trucks with duck hunting stickers, so I don't think I'm turning into a redneck (although I know a few self proclaimed ones who are actually pretty nice people- we just don't talk politics much.)

Anyway, I still like art and culture, and that is the one part of the city I miss. Thank goodness the hills are also alive with very artistic people, and I am lucky to know a bunch of them.

My friend and co-worker made me this beautiful feathered ornament for the holidays.

It was gorgeous on the tree. I immediately knew that after Christmas, I wanted to transform it into a fabulous embellishment for my hair. I also knew my fashionista friend at Dark Pony Designs would love it. She is one of the only people I know who can pull off things like these Shazzam Lightning Earrings..

If she weren't already my friend, I would probably hate her just on the basis that her legs are twelve miles long and have zero percent fat, but she is actually a wonderful person whose company I enjoy.

Another friend who is amazing with her contagious creativity, is my friend at DishyPosh. She is making fabulous hats such as this one...

I almost want to renew my wedding vows just so I would have an occasion to wear this beauty.

The nice thing about knowing ladies like this is that they help inspire me quit whining about being busy and soul sucking requirements of life and instead to get busy with my own creative efforts. So, I made this simple fleece hat...

I'm working on a fancier turban style a la Elizabeth Taylor. I just need a big sparkly brooch or something to bejewel the front. I'll be on the hunt for something at the thrift store this week, and hope to have it done soon, but here's the preliminary results...

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Break In The Rain

Thank goodness we're finally getting a much needed break in the rain. We've all been suffering from severe cabin fever around here. I desperately need to get outside and walk. My backside is forming in the shape of a chair. I'm not sleeping well because I'm not getting enough exercise, and I'm not feeling or looking all that great either. At least cold weather clothing can hide some of these winter stores I'm packing around my thighs.
Why does the weather have to come in such extremes anyway? I know we need the rain and all- the lake needs it, the farmers need it, the dry fields need it, but it feels like it's been raining for weeks with barely a break. The earth couldn't even soak up the constant flow, and there's a pond of mud in my front yard. My chicken coop has a leak, and while the hens are dry on their perches, the muck on the floor is really gross- grosser than your normal chicken coop, which is disgusting. My goats have been standing at the door of their houses looking out and maaaaing pitifully as if they will melt in the rain, and looking like they are about to sprout mold. I'm not complaining because by the time summer is here, and we've been baking in the sun for months, and my well is struggling to give us enough water, I will be craving a little moisture in the air, but this has been a whole lotta moisture- and it just kept coming.

So, a little patch of blue sky was a very welcome sight. I stepped outside, and could literally feel the vitamin D improving my mood. The kids, dogs, goats and I were out all enjoying the property when we found ourselves all the way down the hill by the creek, and suddenly in the mood to explore things on the other side of the gate. I didn't want to waste any of my precious outside time by going back in to get leashes or some grain to lure the goats back in, and decided to trust that it would be fine. Hiking all the way back to the house to get my animal control systems in place would put a damper on the moment. The animals usually listen to me...well, sometimes they do. They love me and they'll follow me- who needs all that paraphernalia? In hindsight I wonder, why do I do these things to myself?
At first, the walk was lovely. Everyone was thrilled to be out- goats greedily gobbling grass and brush, dogs running full speed ahead through puddles- kids climbing logs and blabbering about who knows what. Then, I noticed the big dog was missing. We called, and after a few minutes, he came barreling across the creek from an area where we found the remains of what appeared to be a cat a few weeks ago, just as happy as he could be. We had buried the cat parts, but judging by the look and smell of the dog, he had dug them up, and had a nice roll. And I had just gone through the ordeal of washing his 130 pounds of stinky fur a week ago.

While this was happening, none of us were watching the goats, who decided to take the opportunity to wander out to the road. We called, but without grain to lure them, they pretty much just ignored us. I tried pretending I had something for them to eat in my pocket, but they just looked at me like I was lame. That's pretty insulting coming from a goat.

Enter my yapping terrier to help out by running around the goats biting their ankles causing them to buck their horns and run even further away. After nearly an hour of attempts, which included a tad bit of cursing on my part, we were finally able to round up the goats back on to our property.

I really should make sure to never do that again.

The forecast is calling for another day of sunshine before the rain comes back, so we'll be outside enjoying it for sure- this time with dog leashes and goat grain on hand.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Following Their Own Path

I recently had the pleasure of writing an article for North State Parent Magazine on long term homeschooling families. My own kids have never been to school, and I certainly don't feel like a newbie at the homeschooling scene, but the folks I interviewed are pros- the homeschooling veterans. They've been on this path a lot longer than me, and have seen the process work as their children grew into successful and happy young adults who headed off to college and into the world. I found it interesting to learn how these other families went about Following Their Own Path.

These ladies had so much great stuff to say, I could have written a series of articles much longer than this one if there had been the space in the publication. I love when I get to interview people that I would be glad to chat with over a cup of tea anyway. I also found a lot of inspiration in their words of wisdom and experience.
My own family is very happy with our homeschooling lifestyle, and it's refreshing to hear from other families who have dealt with all the questions and things that come up over the long haul, and to see first hand the results. (Yes, the kids can grow up normal. Yes, they can get into college, etc. etc.) When you go against the grain of what most of your culture is doing, it's nice to see that you're not the only one, and that what you're doing has, in fact, worked before. Plus, it's good info for skeptical relatives.
I hope you'll check it out, and that you enjoy reading about these families as much a I enjoyed writing about them. 

Monday, February 1, 2010


This past semester, my online psychology class through the local college had us take a personality test- or rather "indicator", not a test. They are clear that there are no right or wrong answers- it's a bunch of questions that are supposed to help you identify your personality traits, and hopefully this information can be helpful in choosing a vocation, lifestyle etc. that is suited to your temperament. The internet is full of such tests, and plenty are free.

It certainly made me think a lot about myself, the way I homeschool, and my relationships with my family members.

First, after reading about the personality types, our instructor had us guess what traits we would be strongest in. Then, we took the test, or should I say "indicator", and compared the results to our guess. I was pretty close on my estimate of my strengths and weaknesses. I am apparently an artistic, social and enterprising person. According to this little exercise, I'd be happiest, and best at things like writing, designing and teaching, which is perfect- I'm currently a writer / artist / homeschool mama/ and childbirth educator who is striving towards Fun-schooling as the educational method for my family..

I did not score well in the realistic or conventional areas, and apparently would not be good at things that require precise formulas or strict following of formulas. As a person who completely eyeballs measurements and blindly substitutes ingredients in recipes, I tend to agree with this.  Logic smhmogic. I can follow directions if I have to, but I would much rather wing it. And I'm horrible at paperwork. It makes me want to cry. While some people are great at crunching numbers in cubicles, that is not my gift- at all. This probably explains why we pick and choose from curriculum, following what interests us rather than force finishing boring things.

So, as far as what this makes me good at in life, I would probably not be the best choice to design a bridge, or test safety equipment, but I can pull together and whip up some pretty cool costumes, crafts, accessories etc. And, on the home front, despite my refusal to follow a recipe, I'm successful more often than not in the kitchen too- unfortunately I can't usually remember what I did and am unable to reproduce the results again if I wanted to, but that's another story.

The next part of the assignment was to have some people close to us answer the questions about us (without knowing our answers.) I chose my husband and kids. Now this was certainly interesting. Some of my answers were pretty similar to the answers they had about me, although there were definitely a few differences. I tend to think I am pretty relaxed and open minded, and my children agreed on most questions about that. As homeschoolers, the kids and I have spent an enormous amount of time together, and I think we are pretty clued into each other. So, apparently, my kids know me at least. My husband however, had much more rigid answers about me. Apparently, he thinks I'm a tad bit more uptight than I think I am. I guess that's his perception, and I'm not sure how to take that. Needless to say, I disagree, and the kids voted my way so HA- I must be right.

In any case, it was also amusing how often my family had the same strong reaction for me as I had myself to certain questions, especially those about not liking to be supervised, micromanaged, having to follow a set order etc. They know me well, and I do like doing my own thing. That is probably why I am happier not working with a school that wants us to follow their set curriculum and turn in a big trail of paperwork.

A number of the potential careers were areas that I have worked in and enjoyed, or am interested in. Overall, I like creating things and working with people. I've already worked in a number of jobs that go along with that- a theatre costume shop, the clothing design and merchandising industries, and others. I'm sure I'll probably still try out a number of more potential career choices along those lines in my life too.

The assignment was, in my opinion, a pretty accurate look at who I am. I guess it was a nice confirmation that I am mostly doing things I am suited for, and as confirmation that other things may pay well, but they just wouldn't make me happy. There were a lot of people just starting out their adult lives taking this same college class. For them, they probably have a lot less experience making their own choices, and tests (or "indicators") like this are a good way to think about whether they have the right personality for the goals they are setting. Goodness knows that we are not all suited for every job that sounds cool, pays well, that our parents did or that they want us to do.

Just think, if everybody did work that they were suited for, enjoyed, and were good at, the world would probably run a lot smoother, and be full of much happier people. Unfortunately, far too many people can't stand their work, and suffer through it (often making other people suffer along the way) until they are ready to retire. By then, they have no love of life left, and are bitter in spirit. Who cares if you have a nice 401K if you have wasted your youth being miserable? It's very sad indeed.

So, I'm encouraging my kids to find work that they enjoy and find meaningful, and making sure they realize that several careers in a lifetime is just fine. This starts while they are still children, which is why as a homeschooling family we try to make sure their education is something they enjoy and find meaningful. I want them to get used to making choices for themselves while they are young, much more than I want them to get used to accepting that they must conform despite the boredom. It's not always easy, but there's no reason we can't do things we are interested in and have fun in the process. Hopefully, this will help them with the confidence to keep following their own path throughout their lives.