Friday, December 30, 2011

On Not Becoming a Grinch

Well, Christmas came and went, and it was mostly merry and bright for my family, but keeping it that way was certainly not effortless. The days leading up to major family holidays are seldom made up of greeting card moments in my house, unless the greeting card involves harried frenzies and occasional freak outs.

I'd guess most families have their share of holiday stress during what's supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. There's so much to do, such expectations. In the insanity of extra celebrations and assorted commitments other people want from you, what's actually important to you can get lost. In an already busy life, the whole season can lose its meaning.

What's with the pressure anyway? Why do parents force their screaming and terrified child to sit on Santa's lap and then pay $12.95 for a picture of it? Why do people rush around spending money they don't have just to buy some plastic junk that no one will care about or remember in 6 months? Does it really add to our joy?

I tend to sway radically from being relaxed to losing it, but this year, I made a conscious effort to avoid turning into a Grinch. Despite the fact that our local extended family requires numerous separate celebrations, at least one of which I'd end up hosting with my home in the midst of a remodel, I was determined to just focus on a happy season for my kids.

Did I mention that my Girl Child and I quit eating meat, so I had to think of a festive vegetarian dinner to satisfy 10 carnivores? And preferably one that the preparation and cleanup of which wouldn't push me over the edge? No matter, I would be cheerful for my kids.

They had saved up money to buy the biggest bag of dog food available, and wanted to collect bags of old tennis balls from the field next to the local tennis courts, all to be delivered to the dogs spending Christmas county animal shelter. It's a sad and dismal place, even for a shelter, and could use all the help it can get.

The clock began ticking. I had the food in my car for days, never managing to make it there. Part of me began to get grumpy about this extra errand which was completely out of the way when I was already running around like a chicken without a head. Then, I thought about my sweet kids, and the message I would be sending with my bad attitude.

Then, I thought about the dogs at the shelter, many of whom wouldn't make it out of there. For goodness sake, they deserved a tennis ball to chew, even if I was busy. So, I did some deep breathing and committed myself to quit the wanking about it and get down there, even if some other errand got dropped. We skipped a cookie party and made it at the very last minute, just as they were closing their gates for the holiday weekend.

Later, Boy Child and I were talking about the homeless people outside so many stores. We often have snacks in the car, and it's not unusual for my kids to give their granola bars or bananas to someone who is begging. But, while going without snacks is a giving gesture, the spirit of the season calls for more.

We began thinking about homeless children and Christmas. Being homeless at any age is sad of course, but the kid factor puts an even more tragic spin on it.

We decided to pick out some things to take to kids at the rescue mission. He was thoughtful, avoiding cheap plastic things that will only break and wind up in the trash, realizing puzzle pieces could easily be lost in transit, and that processed junk food was probably something they already had enough of. He thought noise making things might drive their already frustrated parents over the edge, so that was out too. He chose portable drawing supplies, gloves and cool beanies, lotions and soaps, bouncy balls, nuts and a little good chocolate too.

Getting things to the mission was another potential stresser. It's not on the end of town that I usually frequent, and as I mentioned, I was maxed on driving and errands. When what's meant to be a kindness turns into a nuisance, it kind of loses the point. Again, it just took some prioritizing. No one would miss one more activity I planned for our family celebration, and it left us time to drop the packages by Christmas eve.

All the baking and crafting felt mostly fun and loving. With conscious effort, so did most of the shopping. We missed gifts for a few people we didn't know we would see, but we just enjoyed the their company rather than feeling bad about it. We ended up skipping a couple of parties, and letting go of a few ideas, but were all fine with giving up some stuff to focus on the rest.

The numerous celebrations happened without the drama that extended family can sometimes bring. Certain people and situations tested my efforts, and I'll admit I slipped on more than one occasion, but I figure my best effort is all I can achieve as I'm far from perfect. I can't tell you how much deep breathing helped, but it did. When all the cooking, shopping, eating, wrapping, unwrapping and cleaning was done, I had mostly avoided becoming a Grinch.

Actually, the eating part goes on, and probably will for a bit. Thank God for stretchy yoga pants! The gifts of excess sugar do take their toll on my household, and normally sweet and rational people have been a bit more intense. Maybe I'll freeze some for later, or better yet, host a tea and pawn it off on my friends and their kids. Of course, that would require more cleaning, so I'll have to think on that.  For now,  I'm just so glad to have my peaceful home back, and hoping I can keep my inner Grinch at bay long enough to put away all these decorations.

Hoping everyone had wonderful, Grinch free holidays too!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Teacher Vs. Facilitator

I've been thinking lately about what exactly makes a good teacher, and it's not a degree or certificate, that’s for sure. People who've earned those pieces of paper may have gained all sorts of knowledge, but it certainly doesn't guarantee that they'll be any good at teaching. 

I would guess that most of us have had teachers who were awesome, who loved their jobs and the material they were teaching, who wanted to share that love with their students. But, most likely, we’ve also all had teachers who simply should have been doing something else besides torturing students and killing any interest or joy in learning- the ones who don't even seem to like students, but seem determined to spread misery. 

When a family makes the choice to homeschool, the parents are often questioned as to their capability to teach, as if having that piece of paper is the only way they could handle teaching their kid. The fact that they studied fashion or business in college, or...heaven forbid...they didn't go to college, makes them incapable of sharing any other knowledge. 

The pressure comes from within too. Years ago, a good friend told me she "didn't feel qualified" to homeschool her child. The friend had an engineering degree and her child was three years old. was preschool, as in colors and counting, not rocket science for goodness sakes. Like most kids, this one was sent off to professionals, and fortunately most of them have been decent so far.

Other kids I know have been subjected to teachers who've humiliated and labeled them, and pretty much convinced them that they're stupid. The kids aren't stupid, just bored or wiggley or interested in something besides what the teacher is trying to make them learn. I’ve been pretty judgmental about bad teachers in the past, but I also think that a large part of the problem is in the very system itself.

Having sat on both sides of the teachers desk, I know without a doubt that the students I enjoy most are those who actually have an interest and want to be there. 

Excitement is certainly contagious - if the teacher is excited, the sentiment is likely to spread. The key to it all is interest though. If the students genuinely don't want to be there, but they feel forced into it, then they aren’t going to learn in any real, meaningful or long term way. So, in that scenario, what exactly is the point? It's a waste of everyone's time.

It's great when a teacher wins over reluctant sudents, although it's a lot easier when the students actually wanted to be involved in the first place.

When "students" start out uninterested, and remain so, well... everyone involved (teacher, other students, and the one who doesn’t give a hoot) would all be better off if that reluctant person chose to spend their time someplace else. The trouble in many instances is that the student does not have any choice- they have to be there. The thing is... you can sometimes force a person into a learning environment, but you cannot force them to learn. Even if you succeed in coercing them into memorizing facts or passing a test, you can’t “make them” remember long term, nor can you make them care.

It's not just with kids either. Besides homeschooling my own kids and teaching a few homeschool classes, I also teach Childbirth Ed and Breastfeeding classes to adults. Most of my students are willing- at least the moms, some of the dad's were drug there, and you can tell. I try to make it fun for them, and generally win them over, but once in a while, they just aren't into it. Personally, not to be rude, but if they don't want to stay, I prefer if they skip it then. If someone is coerced into coming and spends the class texting, rolling their eyes and sighing the whole time, it's not exactly joyful for me, or the person sitting next to them.

I've realized that I prefer to be in a role of facilitator rather than teacher. The difference isn’t just the wording. It’s also the attitude. I don’t feel the need for any of my "students" to take an exact piece of knowledge from the material. I don’t need to test them to see if they learned what I wanted them too. Instead, I’m interested in what was important to them--- what they did learn. 

I want to know what my students, whether children or adults, are interested in and to help them find the answers. We all take away different bits and pieces based on what’s important and matters to us. I want them to get concepts and understand processes- to question and think. I don’t want them to just fill in bubbles and parrot what I tell them.

In my recent experiences of teaching kids other than my own, I enjoyed it so much that I briefly considered getting a teaching credential someday. Then, I thought about the hoops and constraints and frustrations of trying to force feed prescribed material to non willing kids. No thanks. I don't think it's a system I'd fit into very well. 

I think I'll stick with being a freestyle facilitator. I can bring interesting material and have fun sharing ideas and projects of my choosing. I have the flexibility to adapt and change things based on the individuals and the group I'm working with. The students enjoy the time, and so do I. 

For parents who are afraid you aren't qualified to teach, you might try facilitating instead. 

Yes, yes, I know that at some point there are things they "have" to learn. But if you can be flexible on when and how, and trust the students, you might have a lot more fun, and be amazed at what everyone picks up in the process.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Search for Sasquatch

You just never know what is going to inspire a group of kids, but if you let them run with it, the results are often very entertaining.

About a month ago, we were visiting a friend who showed us some clips from some rather, well... "interesting" TV shows. They seemed to be sort of back woods reality TV, featuring real life characters who search for bigfoot, wrestle giant snakes in the bayou, and things like that. I was amazed that this would be TV worthy, but I guess with a billion channels, you have to stretch things like the meaning of worthy.

Well, the kids all found the whole thing hilarious. Now, we all live in "the country" and are familiar with mountain folks, but we couldn't tell if the people on these shows really acted that way in everyday life, or if they were just hamming it up to be on TV. Either way, the kids found it completely entertaining and were inspired to create a spoof series of films along the lines of what they saw.

We had a sleepover, and after staying up until the wee hours eating about 12,000 pounds of leftover Halloween candy, they came up with a loose script. In the morning, they set out with camera in hand. I didn't see them for hours, but did hear some occasional "Bigfoot howls."

The result was the following three minutes of humor that I hope you'll take the short time to watch (and comment):

Of course I found this all rather amusing, but I think it's also worth noting that the kids learned quite a bit from the process. Scriptwriting, acting, character development, plot (well, sort of) and all the filming, editing etc that went into it. There was a lot of teamwork happening, and they managed it all without any adult intervention. Some might say they were playing all day (which they were) but I contend that they were educating themselves as well, and that it was a worthwhile way to spend a morning with friends.

None of the kids involved had used the movie making computer program before either, but they figured it all out on their own, and had a great time doing it. They also learned that wind sounds louder on video than in real life, and it makes your dialogue hard to understand, but alas, you can't control nature. Now they're on the hunt for a way to drown that background noise out.

Since the first episode, the kids have made two more. They are hysterical with their twisting and turning, nonsensical plot, and the wind is still giving them grief. Nevertheless, I love watching their inspirations come to life, and can't wait to see what they come up with next.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Guest Post Book Review: Midnight Blue

Today's post is from my fabulous Girl Child. She recently read a  bizarro book that I had on my shelf from a Children's Lit class I took a few years ago, and I wanted to share her review here. I hope you'll enjoy it. So, without further ado:

A Response to Literature by Lily C:  

      Midnight Blue by Pauline Fiske is an imaginative science fiction novel, which is both captivating and creepy to read. The book follows the story of a troubled girl named Bonnie who runs away from home in a hot air balloon. Then, she finds herself swept into a weird parallel world where she encounters much the same difficulties as she did in her original one.
       The majority of the story takes place on a remote mountain farm, called High Holly Hill, where Bonnie isn’t sure how she got there or how to escape. The farm is owned by strange (yet kind) people and is supposedly looked after by two mysterious gods. The creepy sense of the setting only contributes to the supernatural feel of the book.

In the two worlds the book takes place in, things are both opposite and similar, like a parallel universe. In the original world, Bonnie lives in a crowded city apartment, but in the second one it’s a country  farm. Still, the characters in both worlds are strangely similar, and the very person Bonnie ran away from in one life has an alternate identity in the second.

Overall, I both liked and disliked this book. It seemed to have a confusing plot- unlike a lot of fantasies, there was not a clear quest for the main character to follow, or conflict to solve. Even by the end, I didn’t understand how Bonnie had been transported to the other world, or what the villain’s motives were. But, I was still caught up enough by the intrueging characters, and quick-moving pace, that I wanted to finish it. It reminded me of “A Wrinkle in Time,” mostly because it’s so weird.

This novel was, overall,  an interesting piece of literature, and I can definitely say it is unique from any other book I’ve read.

By Lily C.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Awesome Art History

You might not think that very many junior high age boys would enjoy, be interested in, or willingly attend an Art History workshop. I wouldn't have guessed it either, but I currently have more boys than I know what to do with in my classes.

When I decided to offer Art History following my Hands on Science for homeschoolers, most of the parents of boys said they would just be bringing the kids for science only. Now, I often see more eclectic interests in homeschooled kids than in ones who go to school, but still, not many of the boys had a budding desire to sit and chat about old artwork.

The funny thing was, when it was time for Art History, no one wanted to leave. Every single kid stayed. I'm pretty sure they initially stayed just to continue hanging out and having fun with their friends, but by the end of the first workshop, I think I had most of them actually interested. Even the art....Renaissance paintings no less.

I'm using some Famous Artists Portfolios that were put together by our local Art and Science Museum. Each portfolio has 8 to 12 poster sized  hard backed prints all along a theme. Sometimes it's a period in art or a style of art or an artistic concept. Some are all works from one artists or about a particular subject. There's an accompanying book with info on the artwork and some sample project ideas.

I start the workshop with all of the prints displayed on easels. The kids are in groups and each group chooses a painting to study for a bit. The backs of the prints have information about them and I give the kids a sheet with some ideas to discuss.

After the groups talk amongst themselves, it's time to present their paintings to the rest of us. I try to do this "museum docent style."  We all gather around the presenting group and their painting, and tell us about it. It's really interesting to me to see the different things that the kids come up with and notice about the artwork- texture, style, lighting. and all sorts of details I might have otherwise missed. It's awesome to see these kids getting so into art, especially the energetic young boys.

After we've talked about all the paintings, we do a quick project. This group has a really wide variety of abilities in that respect, and I have yet to delve as far into the projects as I'd like to, but I'm optimistic we'll get more into the project side in the future.

Initially, I thought I'd go through art history in some sort of a linear order. But, when I managed to catch their interest of the unlikely students with the first class, which was full of beautiful old Renaissance paintings, I decided I didn't want to push my luck and risk losing them.

So I used the Sports portfolio full of boxers and horse races the next time. The action paintings were a hit. We've also done a portfolio on space and another on Mt. Shasta. The museum has a pretty wide variety of portfolios, so I figure I'll keep mixing it up each time we meet to keep it interesting.

If I could get them on board, I'd love to submit a collection of their art work to display next spring in a student show. I'm not there yet, but I am enjoying working with these kids in the mean time. Their observations are great, and some of what we're seeing and doing is new to me too. I'm having a great time learning right alongside them, and look forward to seeing what they pick up next.

I guess you never know what a kid will be interested in until you toss out something new to them.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Hands On Chaos

In coming up with activities for our happy little homeschool this fall, I found some great resources at our local science museum. They have a number of very cool, hands on science kits called GEMS. It stands for Great Explorations in Math and Science, and the kits are in use in museums and classrooms all over the place. For a small annual fee, our local museum lets educators, including homeschool families check out the kits. 

They also have a Famous Artist Portfolio program where you can check out themed portfolios of 8 to 12 prints of famous works to study with kids, along with a book of information about the art and accompanying activity ideas to go with them.

Being full of ideas, I thought, "Wouldn't it be fun to do these with a group of kids instead of just mine?" My kids agreed, so I tossed the idea out that I was offering Hands On Science and Art History workshops for junior high age kids to our local homeschool email list. I was bombarded with interest.

I expected 10 kids for the first session, but had 20. We only had one small explosion during "Chemical Reactions" and everyone still has their eyesight and limbs, so I feel like it was a success. Ironically, the explosion happened at table full of sweet and quiet girls, at the exact moment that I was lecturing my Boy Child's table not to shake up the mixtures. So much for profiling.

Having no formal training in this, and very little time to review the kits ahead of time, I'm pretty much flying by the seat of my pants with these, but fortunately, I fly pretty well most of the time. The kids are sure having fun, and mostly, I am too. 

It's wonderful for me in that I don't have to test them or try to force them to learn certain things. I pretty much just bring cool materials and ideas and facilitate. They have fun exploring and learning. Since the kids actually want to be there and are interested, they learn all sorts of things, and as long as everyone is being respectful, it works well. 

A few weeks ago though, we had a gathering that was a lot louder and more chaotic of an experience than I was shooting for. I had several new 5th grade boys, and made the mistake of having them all sit in one table. They were energetic and noisy and for once, not one single other parent had stayed. I was completely outnumbered, and being relaxed about their enthusiasm backfired on me. They spiraled into crazy land.

Loudness begets loudness and it morphed into a whole lotta noise. I mean an incredible amount. For the kids who wanted to focus it was frustrating. For me too- I felt like I needed medication. I didn’t exactly wish we were still in the days when teachers were able to rap students knuckles, but I sure did wish I had some strategies to rein them in. With my own kids, I can just use the old stink eye, and mention taking away their birthdays. With these other kids, I had nothing. I could understand how frustrated school teachers must feel.

In hindsight, prevention probably would have been the best idea.

I could see that I could definitely use some crowd control and classroom management skills. I've taught Childbirth and Breastfeeding Classes for years, but those are adults, who for the most part don't bounce up and down and shout out random and related nonsense. Junior high boys are another ball of wax altogether.

That’s probably what they teach you when getting a credential to be an actual school teacher- crowd control. Since I have no desire to get a degree in teaching, I just googled "classroom management," and came up with all sorts of ideas that are more productive than rapping knuckles with a ruler. I love the internet!

Now, I make sure to layout expectations ahead of time, and try to have things set up so we avoid madness in the first place.  I also make sure to have a parent helper, or two or three, too.

Our next meeting was a lot more fun, and successful. As long as the chaos is the fun kind, I'd love to keep offering these classes, and am even thinking of more to do in the future. It's awesome to watch these kids learning and be a part of the process- even if it is a bit loud, crazy and messy sometimes.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


One of my favorite things about homeschooling is planning trips to go along with things we're learning about. No, I wasn't able to jet off to Europe when we studied the Renaissance, but I do like to coordinate traveling and learning whenever I can, and I usually find plenty of opportunities relatively close to home.

So, when  I recently picked up a volcano themed science kit, I decided it would be fun to take a field trip up to Lassen Volcanic National Park to go along with it. We'd been to the northern end of the park quite a few times, but had never done the drive through the whole park, or seen the southern end at all. The road is closed several months of the year due to snow and ice, but we lucked out with a warm spell. When I heard the road was open for a few days, we jumped on the chance to go before winter really hit.

A few nights before, we watched a documentary on Ishi, who was the last surviving Yahi native and lived in hiding with his family for nearly 40 years in the forests near Lassen. It's a sad story to be sure, as are many that deal with the fate of native peoples, but one worth learning about. The positive note in it seems to be the anthropologists who befriended him, gave him a place to live and helped his stories be translated. Ishi's people believed that Lassen was the center of the world, and it was a sacred place. It certainly is an impressive mountain, that's for sure.

Driving into the parks southern entrance, you are met by amazing views of the mountains. They were all snow capped and shrouded in mist off and on, which only added to the beauty. The lakes and ponds were partially frozen over already, and it was colder than I'd anticipated.

We stopped at the visitors center where we learned all sorts of things about volcanoes, including that within the parks boundaries, they have all four different kinds of volcanoes found in the entire world- shield, plugged dome, cinder cone and composite.

Lassen had a series of major eruptions between 1914 and 1917, but has been resting ever since. The mountain may be quiet now, but the evidence of its' power, in the form of boulders bigger than my car, which are still laying where they landed, can be found more than 3 miles from the mountain.

Even though the volcanoes are sleeping, the area is literally bubbling with geothermal activity. The boiling sulfur mud pits are a good incentive to stay on the trails. They smell awful of course, but still, you can't help but be impressed by the power of nature.

 Of course, we had to add in some snow play and a hike. Boy Child attempted some snow boarding, which I could call PE and Girl Child worked on photography, which falls under art. It was a lovely and complete homeschooling day, with plenty of learning despite the lack of a lesson plan and the fact that not one book was cracked open.

This is the kind of learning that I love best, and I think it's the kind my kids will remember most. I'm so glad the world offers so many ways to experience science and history. The only cost was the gas, since we packed food and have a National Parks pass. I'd say a few gallons of gas was definitely worth it. Later this week, we have a series of volcano experiments planned for our science group to round out the theme. This homeschooling life really is a good one, isn't it?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Part 1 of Art (Almost) Every Day

For a supposedly "Artsy Mama," it should seem that making Art Every Day would be no problem. Of course, like so many things I attempt, this 30 day challenge has been just that- a challenge.

The pesky responsibilities in  life tend to push creative endeavors to the back burner, but that's exactly why I wanted to do this. My artistic side has been neglected lately, and I think creativity works in a similar way to muscles- use it and it will grow stronger / neglect it, and it will waste away.

Since the start of November, on most days, I have managed to complete, or at least work on, some sort of artwork. Sometimes it's felt more rushed than I would like, as in telling myself to hurry up and finish. The next few days, I hope to work on the "busyness" of it, and focus more on enjoying the process. In the mean time, even if it's not some beautiful and organic artsy experience, at least I'm squeezing it in, right?

So far, the menu has included oil pastels, pencils, colored markers, photography, and a kids crafty kit (Capsters from Klutz.) It's so fun getting out all of these things that have been collecting dust while waiting for me to pick them up again. I feel like I'm seeing old friends. As I dig around in my supplies, it's almost like Christmas. I'm getting all sorts of inspiration for new projects and reviving neglected ones too. It feels wonderful to use things that have just been laying around, especially when I actually finish something.

There was at least 1 day that I missed. It was just one of those hectic days that starts early and doesn't stop until late, and by the time I realized I had forgotten all about making any art work, I was already in bed. Rather than beating myself up for blowing that day or starting on a downward spiral about failure, I just made some extra art the next day.

I've had to prioritize- the other day, I sat in my car and sketched during my kids class instead of running an errand. For my kids, I think seeing their mom so productive with making things has been inspiring though. They're pretty creative anyway, but even kids get busy. When they see me working on art, they often grab a sketchbook, or a hunk of clay, or whatever is on hand and join in.

So, I'm 1/3 of the way there, and feeling good about my progress. I'm going to earn that "Artsy Mama" title after all.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


An old acquaintance of mine posted on Facebook the other day about an interesting challenge she, along with her yoga class buddies, are taking part in.  The goal is to stop complaining for 21 days. Of course, I immediately responded with how much I love this idea, but I also acknowledged that it seemed fairly unlikely that I could pull it off. I almost went on to complain about how hard it would be to not complain, but I deleted that part before I hit enter.

She definitely planted a seed in my mind though. I’ve been thinking a lot about complaining, and how much I dislike listening to and being around people who do it excessively. They’re depressing and negative and just suck the joy right out of a room. Then, I started thinking about how much I complain.

Since self analysis isn’t really all that fun, and it looked like it could be rather unflattering in this case, I decided to do what I always do.  Start googling.  I read that most people complain 15 to 30 times a day. When I think about it, I could probably complete that quota before noon, especially if I’m gabbing with my friends. If I get on a roll about things that annoy me, I can probably shoot off 15 complaints in an hour, easy. 

I like to think that I focus a lot of my complaining into sarcastic humor, which is better than just plain old negative complaining, since it often results in laughter, but is it really any better? It’s still negative and unpleasant, and it puts my focus on what’s wrong, not what’s right.

I know complaining effects me and my loved ones in unpleasant ways, which is why I love the idea of stopping so much. It rarely makes anyone feel better, well except maybe for a few minutes while you initially vent, but in the long run, the more I complain, the more I end up focusing on the down sides of my life, and that really just makes me less happy.

As I was sitting here debating ways to cut back on my own complaining, one of my dogs came over wagging and wanting to go out. In getting up to open the door, I spilled the entire contents of my fresh, hot, milky, sugary coffee all over the bed, soaking through every layer of blankets, and losing my delicious cup of morning yum. If that’s not easy fodder for complaining, I don’t know what is. It is taking all of my morning reserves to just let it go, and throw the blankets in a pile to be washed. Ranting isn’t going to get the laundry done, right?

That’s another thing about complaining. A lot of the time, we’re moaning about things we have no power to change. What’s the point in that? Misery? When it comes to things we do have the power to change, we’d probably be more successful in changing them if we actually did something besides sitting around whining. I could be complaining about my coffee and the blankets, or I could be getting a new cup and starting the washer.It depends on what I want more- to prolong my misery or get caffeinated. I'm going with choice #2.


Although I’m pretty darn good at complaining myself, I know I’m not the only one. As a culture, we’re fairly addicted to it. We like to compete about who has the busier schedule or the worse day. Once one person starts, everyone around starts groaning about their own woes. When you think about it, all that clinging to misery and pride in the greatest hardships probably qualifies as a mental health disorder. Of course, I’m not a mental health professional or in any way trained to make a diagnosis, but it seems pretty crazy to hang on to unhappiness. Maybe it’s just easier than dealing with taking responsibility.

 There’s even a website devoted to trying to make a complaint free world. They offer widgets to help you track your progress and bracelets you can wear as a reminder, switching wrists every time you complain, with the goal of going 21 days without switching. Again, that sounds mammoth to me, especially when you realize that every time you mess up, you start your 21 days over. Seriously!?

Like most things, the theory of not complaining is much easier than the reality of it. The woman who started me thinking about this with her challenge said that she feels it’s mostly about awareness. I agree that’s a great start. Just being aware of our thoughts, words, and intentions makes a huge difference because all of those things add up to subconsciously program who we are.

As a mom of ever growing kids, this really matters. They’ve always paid attention and reflected what was going on around them, but the older they get, the more they really watch and analyze the things the adults around them say and do. My attitude, positive or negative really sets the tone for the whole family. I know the more I complain or the grumpier I am, the worse off everyone around me is. It’s true that if mama isn’t happy, nobody is going to be.

As usual, for parents, it’s about so much more than just us. The fate of our households rest on our attitudes (no pressure or anything.) I'd love to hear how other people deal with complaining in their families- from both the adults and the kids.

I don’t think I’m quite ready to do a 21 day complaint free challenge- the thought actually gives me heart palpitations and immediately furrowed my brow. If my forehead crease gets any deeper, I’ll have even more to whine about, so I’m trying to avoid the stress of the “big challenge.” I am however up for being aware, and trying to avoid complaining thoughts and words as much as I can. I’m considering trying to tally all of my complaints for a day, just to see where I’m at at. 

I’m sharing the idea with my kids, but I think that even if they don’t consciously attempt it, there will still be a ripple effect from any positive strides I’m able to pull off. That's my positive thinking side in action. On the other hand, I'm still skeptical that I could be totally complaint free, ever.... (my less positive side is still alive too) 

Not everybody is cut out to be a spiritual master, but I'm hoping I can at least be less crabby as we head into the holidays. Imagine if we all cut our whining by 10%. I think we'd be more than 10% happier, though there's really no way to measure.

For now, I'm off to make more coffee and start my massive pile of laundry (and I'm conciously not complaing about it.)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Art Every Day Challenge

My latest hare brained scheme  is signing up the Art Every Day in November Challenge. Have you heard of it? I hadn't until just the other day, and after thinking about for a bit, I decided to go for it.

On one hand, the last thing that I probably need is another challenge. Like most people, I'm already spread thin and going in all kinds of different directions.

Between homeschooling my 2 kids, teaching classes to both junior high kids and pregnant couples (totally separate classes and students, thank God!)  attempting to keep up with my online writing class, starting an Etsy shop and trying to kick start a writing career, I could probably benefit more from focus than another challenge. (Did I mention that I'm also in the process of a DIY house remodel?)

I'm feeling both stretched and submerged by life already already. So, why would I sign up for something more? Well, a couple of reasons...

1) I believe challenge is good (especially when it is self motivated.)

2) So many responsibilities suck our creative energy, but this one actually encourages and nurtures it.

I know I'm not the only one who has things I'd really like to do, but seldom get around to because I'm either trying to be responsible, taking care of the wants and needs of someone else, or just wasting time on Facebook. I also know that I am happier when I create things on a regular basis, and hopefully this challenge will help me be more disciplined about it. How can I call myself an artsy mama if I am neglecting my own art?

I'll most likely bring my kids along part of the ride with me since we're a homeschooling family and that's just the way we roll. But, I'm also reserving part of the challenge as just for me. In other words, I'm not just going to seek out creative projects that I can do with them. In fact, that isn't even going to be my focus. Whenever I have something we can do together, that will be great, but in this case, my first priority will just be making sure that I do some art for myself every day.

It feels mildly selfish to say that, but I think that's just ingrained mother guilt. In my heart I'm pretty sure that modeling a creative mama is better than modeling a martyr mama. And, if past history is any indicator, they will likely be on board creating things too right alongside me. Whenever they see the adults in their lives doing things joyfully, they naturally want to join in.

So if anyone has any creative ideas you'd like to share, I could use the inspiration. I'd love mini projects for doing with or without children, but especially ones that don't take 5 years to finish, use a mess of toxic chemicals or $1000 in supplies. I'd also love to hear if anyone would like to join me on the challenge. It'll be fun!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

More Than One Way

I was recently found myself charge of hauling a rented minivan full of 6th - 8th grade kids five hours each way for a weekend camping and caving adventure. I tend to get myself into situations like this, which I think sound like fun, but most people seem to think they sound more like torture. We're probably both right.

I returned home with what appear to be new permanent laugh lines in my face, as well as some possible hearing damage. These kids cracked me up with their youthful goofiness, but somehow the volume of their voices got stuck around a million, which made the minivan beyond loud.At least they were funny

Of the eleven kids on the trip, mine were the only ones who don't happen to go to school. Some go to regular public schools, some go to an arts charter, and a couple go to a university preparatory school. It was enlightening on all sides to say the least, and we had the most amusing conversations about education and what exactly it means to homeschool.

Like many people, the kids seemed to have trouble wrapping their minds around the idea of not going to school. It's funny because even though the 11 kids came from 7 different schools, and yet they  hang out play music and games together with my kids a couple of days every week, it took them a few minutes to connect to the fact that we all have all sorts of connections that have nothing to do with school. Hopefully they see that you can have both friends and social lives without school- you just have to seek them.

Once they realized that we don't stay home and study alone all day, but we go to parks, museums, classes, beaches, trails and events in the community- basically all the things they would do on summer vacation- some of them became intrigued. When I told them that we learn about things that we want to and are interested in, and that we do it in real life ways like going on trips, one of them said (half jokingly, at least I hope) "But school is NOT supposed to be fun!"

I told them that I thought school, like life, should be fun as often as possible. Of course it can't always be, but it should be most of the time. I also mentioned that whether or not school was fun, learning can and should be.

It's a hard balance because on the one hand, I don't want to make it sound like it's all a big party full of games, although I do try to make it so as fun as I can. I also don't want to give the impression that our deal is so much better than theirs, even though I do think we have a pretty nice option. But, not everybody has the desire, motivation or means for a free thinking and learning lifestyle. It's definitely work on the parental end, and we make sacrifices, but it's also a really great way to live.

But these days, my kids are at the age where they're definitely more tuned in to being "different." In this scenario, we were definitely a different family from the others. I hope in the short term they can see that all the families are different really, and that there are pros and cons to every choice. In the log run, I hope they will retain their autonomy, and make choices based on what's best overall, not what everyone else does. When they are grown, I hope they'll realize that just because so many other adults spend most of their lives in mind numbing work they don't like, doesn't mean they have to do that also.

There's definitely more than one way to go through life, but as far as we know, we only get this one chance at it. We might as well enjoy the ride as much as we can.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Different CSI

It seems like when it rains, it pours, and this fall, it has been pouring down awesome opportunities for my kids. After winning scholarships to an amazing Science camp this past summer, they both became interested in the CSI program. Not CSI as in Crime Scene Investigations, which might actually appeal to my Boy Child, but I'm fairly sure Girl Child would raise her eyebrows and decline such an opportunity. I'm talking about CSI as in Community Science Interns.

This CSI is a program for junior high and high school aged kids where they get to be involved in all sorts of hands on science, conducting experiments, communicating with real scientists, leading groups of younger kids on filed trips, and all sorts of cool stuff.

One big appeal is the enthusiasm of the group leader. I had the chance to write about him for North State Parent Magazine, and to learn more about his work with kids. (This assignment is one of my favorite writing gigs, as I get paid to chat with inspiring people who are doing great things for kids.) His excitement about science is certainly contagious. He's just as energetic as the kids, if not more so, but he also has a wealth of knowledge on all kinds of science.

There's also all his techie gear. At the camp last summer, the kids got to play, I mean work, with iPad 2s. I hadn't even played with one yet, and they were making movies that are being turned into community service announcements. They also get to run shows on the planetariums dome and experiment with all sorts of stuff. Living in the country, we lean more towards natural science at home, so the immersion in technology is awesome.

Sometimes they meet at our local planetarium, sometimes in museums or out in the field, and sometimes at the community college science lab (which they think is super cool.) 

This past week, my kids did presentations on their favorite science topics -marine life and how science improves sports. Incorporating the kids' interests was definitely a smart move- they see the value in their contributions and the ways science connects to everyday things.

The down side is that the program starts really early. It's geared towards homeschoolers since it happens in the middle of a school day (and technically before we would generally start our day.) I know we aren't the only homeschoolers who shun early morning activities- I probably just complain more than most. I mean, it's not the primary reason we homeschool, but avoiding morning rushing is definitely high on the list of benefits.

Still, it's only a couple of times a month, and if gets the kids on a conference call with someone from NASA or to the chance to build some giant robotic Lego sculpture with a grown up who is just as excited about it as they are, we can handle it. A little rushing around is worth it for the kids to hang out and learn with adults who are doing work that they love, and are willing to share it with young people.

I'm sure the internships will someday look great on college applications, but I really think that spending time with people who have jobs they are passionate about, and realizing that work can be exciting rather than dreaded is probably one of the most important things the kids can learn from the experience.
For  look at the CSI program, and its fearless leader, check out my article here.
And I'd love to hear about cool happenings with kids in your area!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Death of a Laptop

This isn't the first time this has happened to me, but it is still painful every time. My dear, beloved laptop appears to be on her deathbed.

A few years ago, her predecessor came to an unpleasant end when a tree outside our home was hit by lightning. The electrical charge traveled down the tree, and to the wire electric fence that surrounds our pastures (an effort to keep goats in, and coyotes out.) Apparently, it was quite a spark. When it reached the wooden post at our gate, it caused it to ignite. We weren't home at the time, but by some crazy stroke of luck, a neighbor happened to drive by and her son noticed our fence post smoking. She put it out with the water bottles she found in her families car. I love my neighbors.

The tree and the fence post were goners, and tragically, so were a number of electrical things that were plugged in at our house. This included our telephones, answering machine, and two computers, one of which was my former dear laptop.

Thankfully, a friend was able to retrieve the pictures and data on the computer, and I started over with my new baby. Like a lot of computers, my current laptop has always had a few quirks, but overall, I love the thing. I can't believe how addicted I am to spending time with her. The fact that she allows me to work in bed has added hours to my productivity. She affords me privacy, mobility and flexibility with my insomniac, night owl tendencies. Now, she appears to be dying, and I am crushed.

The signs have been there for a while. The fan humming at a pace that seems like it could start its own fire, and the heat coming from her- I should have known. But, the other day when I went to start her, she wouldn't cooperate. I got a blank screen with a tiny flashing cursor, which eventually (like after 5 minutes) said "operating system not found." I'm no techie, but that sounds bad.

So, I decided to restart a bazillion times. I googled possible solutions on my other computer, and attempted pushing assorted F keys while rebooting. My husband thought I was mumbling about F-ing keys, but I was referring to the actual F keys, like F2, F10 etc. Anyway, I managed to start her a few times and saved my pictures and documents, and was hopeful that all wold be OK, but I am back to the blank screen and my attempts at F keys caused her to beep loudly at me, alarm clock style. That really doesn't seem good.

It looks like I'll be taking her to a computer guy, and hoping for a favorable diagnosis. What will I do if she's dead? Yes, we have a "family computer" in a central location that I can use, but the fact that there are people all around is not all that conducive to writing for me. I like to write by myself and at odd hours. My bed is my favorite office with the front porch being a close second. My creative flow is stunted when people are milling about looking over my shoulder, and I can't be clicking away in the middle of the night out here keeping everyone awake. This is very scary indeed.

I just started my online writing class, and I just finished sewing 8 new hats that I wanted to list on Etsy, so I'll have to figure out something. If my writing here is scarce for a bit though, you'll know why.

Wish me luck.....

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Relaxing Family Yoga.... Well....Not Really

For those who are up for considering something new and relaxing with your kids...something like say, yoga...well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I feel I should warn you- yoga with children may not turn out to be relaxing in the least. Amusing probably, but relaxing....well not so much.

I've done yoga myself on and off for years, and I always feel great afterward, especially when I practice regularly. My body feels all stretchy and relaxed and my mind feels clear and peaceful- these are great things to share with kids right? That's what I thought when I had my harebrained idea of the week- to implement a regular yoga time with my kids.

One of my offspring in particular is a bundle of energy and could occasionally use some help in the focus department, so I especially looked forward to introducing him to yoga. The other is pretty mellow on her own, but when exposed to Crazy Child, it rubs off slightly.

Anyway, I found the most wonderful yoga instructor on You Tube- a woman named Esther. I first came across her "Happy Morning Yoga" and loved it. I am still not sure if it's the actual yoga, or just her calming voice, but I was smiling in no time.

Esther has yoga for just about any occasion too- Feeling sluggish? Have a headache or cramps? Insomnia? Are you a runner? Want to lose weight? Whatever your issue you want to deal with, she has a handy little search tab, and I've been able to find videos for just about any occasion (although sometimes you have to phrase it more than one way to find what you want and make sure you're searching her Yogatic channel to get her videos, not all of You Tube, or you might end up with some random bikini clad bouncy person)
Anyway, I'm attempting to implement Relaxing Family Yoga, although so far, it hasn't been all that relaxing...ok, not at all. Perhaps eventually, Mr. Wiggle Kid will actually listen to what Esther is saying and not just flail himself into some crazy pretzel position. Perhaps someday they won't both randomly burst into giggles when we are supposed to be focusing on our breath. Yeah....maybe. In the meantime, I am getting two kinds of yoga- relaxing on my own, and entertaining with my kids. And, I'm convincing myself that they are somehow organically absorbing something valuable and learning by osmosis.

Another bonus- not that we're ever short of things that count as PE in our happy little homeschool, but this does add some variety to the mix. So, if you're looking for something lovely to try for yourself, or something fun to do with your family, I would highly recommend Esther. Her free videos are awesome! But if your kids are anything like mine, it might not be very peaceful.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Time 4 Learning Review

We recently had the opportunity to preview Time 4 Learning - an online multi-subject educational tool that is great for homeschoolers or for folks who are looking for a supplement. 

We are not the schooliest of homeschoolers, meaning we like to keep things interest based and fun, and this program had several things that appealed to me in that respect.

First, the material was presented on the computer in a game like manner. There were quizzes and tests, but they all had that game like feel, which my kids like a lot better than workbooks. 

Now one thing that I am often leery of in children's "educational" games is annoying animated characters and loud obnoxious voices. There are two very common types of "educational" voices I notice- the ones that speak very slowly and clearly and use very simple words so as not to confuse little minds. We call it the preschool teacher voice, and thankfully we DID NOT find that voice in this program at all. The other common "educational" voice is too loud and too fast and sounds the character had a bit too much caffeine. There were some fairly excited characters in this program, but none were too bad. So, it passed that test.

Another thing we all liked was that the kids could choose not only the subject, but also from an assortment of activities within each subject. Choice is good an keeps things interesting. 

My Boy Child mostly used the program for 6th grade math, and had this to say: "Whenever you try something new, it walks you through the first few problems to make sure you know how to do them, then it lets you some by your self. One other thing I liked about Time4Learning is that it will give you real life examples on how you would use the problem in real life."

My Girl Child, who worked in the 8th grade level said, "The math section was the most helpful for me, because of the way they walk you through lots of examples- something a workbook couldn’t do. The language arts would be my second favorite; I thought it was pretty interesting and interactive. The science section had some pretty cool experiments, but you have to understand that it's not something you can do entirely on the computer. The social science was my least favorite. It wasn't very interactive; mostly just reading texts. And, I thought the social science quizzes were especially hard, because they were testing me on random facts I had only read once. Overall, it was a good program, but I would recommend taking the trial before you sign up to see if it's right for you."

And, I think that's good advice. It's always good to try before you buy if possible. This seems to be a well put together program with a lot to offer, but when I am paying for an ongoing service, I feel the need to use it often to make it worth while. Right now, we have so many activities going on both in and out of the home, that I think we would all feel pressured if we added another thing to our plates that we "had to" do. I count us as blessed to have so many options, but don't want to overwhelm my family with too much. For families looking for a good base program, or to add a regular practice into their homeschooling, I think kids could have a lot of fun learning with this program.