Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bitter Sweet

In the midst of a crazy surge of fall decluttering, I'm taking down pictures off the walls and moving stacks of old drawings and notebooks, and it hits me- how much my kids have grown. It hits me when I look at the photos of tiny people who were perpetually attached to me, in arms, in a sling, in my lap, for years, and it hits me again when I see the crayon drawing of a curvy stick woman with a fancy feathered hat and labeled "mama."

It's a bittersweet moment of motherhood. My kids are not so little anymore. Sure, they still look small and young when I look at them next to the big teens, but as they sprout up what seems like inches every week, and I watch their interests and comprehension of the world blossom on newer and more mature levels, I realize that the days of fairy wings and super hero capes and doll houses are gone. And part of me wants to cry.

Of course these days have their beauty, and I love being able to spend them with my kids. The conversations are deeper, the things they are able to help with and do are wonderful. I am honored to be a part of this process- to watch, guide and just be along for the ride with these cool people. I love who my children are and who they are becoming, but I will miss the sweet and innocent days- the gnomes and magic and glitter, the tiny little hands in mine, the silly jokes, and cuddles and snuggles.

But time passes and people grow and things change, probably faster than many of us would like. Part of me wants to add more little kids to our family to prolong the wonder of those little kid days, but that is easier said than done, and who knows, I may just be being nostalgic and unrealistic. The whole thing was probably a lot harder and more work than I am remembering as I look at all of the drawings and pictures of days gone by.

What I do know for sure is that time isn't going to stop here, and while I could sit here all day sniffing over yesterday being gone, today is ticking away. So, I'm off the computer and on to enjoy these awesome people for who they are today. One of them even made me coffee :-)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

I Guess It's Fall

Even though the calendar and the weather both indicate it's still summer, the rest of the world is acting like it's fall. Since my kids don't go to school, and they tend to read, explore and learn year round, "back to school time" really doesn't change much.

OK, a few things change. No matter how much I resist it, the pace of life picks up right before the weather starts cooling down, and it signals the end of our wonderfully lazy summer.

The fliers and registrations and sign ups start coming in filling my email and actual mail boxes. All of the fun classes that I love to expose my kids to and they love to be involved in will start up again in a few weeks. We don't exactly live in an urban mecca, but somehow we are blessed with lots of options to choose from- drama, art, band, science classes, internships, dance, volunteer work, sports, horseback riding, geography club, book club,- the list of activities for this un-socialized homeschooling family goes on and on.

That's kind of a problem though- the list just keeps going. There are so many wonderful opportunities. They all require driving and time, and as fun as they all sound, every one of us in my house gets cranky and irritable when we are constantly on the run.

So, we have to choose. Since it's their life, I try to give my kids a lot of say in what we do. Sometimes I wonder if I give them too many choices though. Like me, when given way too many choices, they sometimes get that deer in headlights look- frozen in indecision and bordering on panic.I know how they feel because I feel the same way.

This year, we tried a rating system- looking at our options and rating them #1 being most important and so on. Then we looked at the calendar and tried to see what things would neatly line up for us. Since most activities are a good 30 minutes away from our home, it makes the most sense for us to try to a few things on the same day to make the drive more worth while.

But, we don't want too many things in one day or to have them too spread out or we would be pulling off 14 hour days on a regular basis. I know lots of kids do that, but it sounds really tiring and sucky to me so I'm trying to avoid it if at all possible for my family.

It's always tricky finding the balance. We're very social people, but we also like our down time. We do our best creative work and connect better as a family when we have down time. It's also when we just get together and play with friends, enjoy our home and explore the world. So, as beneficial as all of the activities are, at some point, I feel like they'd be damaging if we didn't keep some free time.

After a lot of thought and what feels like a few new wrinkles in my forehead, I think we have a plan of activities that we can all live with. We aren't going to do everything, but that's OK. We'll be doing plenty, and most importantly, we'll have a few free days every week to do whatever we please, which includes acting like it's still summer- no matter what the rest of the world says.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

It's Not About The Paper

UCLA has this Writing Program that I've been eyeballing for months. It offers all kinds of writing classes in all kinds of genres and many are available online which is especially important since my goats and chickens are probably not meant to live in the city. What hooked me was that many of the classes are hands on- as in, you don't just learn about the theory of writing and study writing, you actually write, re-write, and here's the kicker..... you have real pieces that you submit to real markets.

The problem... it's a bit pricey for a gal who practically quit her job and only gets paid for the few nights a month she works now. Then, I saw a scholarship opportunity and figured it was a major long shot, but what the heck....why not try?

Well, I got it, and have been literally doing a happy dance for days! Fortunately, you don't have to witness my dancing, as it is not one of my more impressive skills, and my family members who have witnessed it firsthand have suggested it may be a tad frightening.

Anyway, I've naturally been sharing the news with anyone who cares to listen, and even a few people who don't care. Everyone is super happy for me and congratulatory and all, but I also keep hearing the same question.

"So, is this for your Masters Degree?"

Ummm, no. Actually, I don't even have my Bachelors Degree, although I have more than enough units. Unfortunately, no one seems to offer a Bachelors in Lots of Artsy Electives with very little general ed.

The thing is, and this seems to be a wacky concept based on the blank stares I get...... I am learning for the sake of learning. You know, just because I find it interesting.  

It's not about the piece of paper.

With this endeavor through UCLA, I'm definitely hoping to gain some useful skills as well. In the end I'd like to publish in larger (and higher paying) markets.

Nothing against getting a Masters Degree. I just don't want to spend several hard years and thousands of dollars on the theory of writing right now. I just want to write.

When I say things like "It's not about the piece of paper" I sometimes get lectures about the value of higher education and a corresponding college degree. It's not like I'm coming from a place of "We don't need no fancy book learnin." I'm just saying that what I value the most is the education, not the degree.

Writing is one of many creative endeavors that brings me joy, and it's also one I've actually managed to make a tiny bit of money on. So, when I started trying to clear space in life to focus on what I love, writing was high on the list of things I wanted to work on.

Like Chris Guillebeau of The Art of Non-Conformity, I don't want to write a dissertation paper that will be read by four people. I want to write things that will actually be read by a bundle of people, and to be honest, I'd like to get paid too.

I really have no idea what percentage of  best selling authors or people who write for big time magazines have a masters degree in writing, but I would bet that more important than their educational credentials is that they write and actually send their work out into the world.

Maybe someday an opportunity will come my way to get that Masters Degree (preferably without having to take any more painful math classes or accruing any debt) but in the mean time, I'm just in it to learn.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Time 4 Learning

 Good grief....it's only the first week in August and the back to school enthusiasts are at it. What happened to summer? Since our family leans more towards a learning all the time style than a formal school year, the calendar doesn't have a huge impact on what do, but it would be pretty hard not to have the seasons effect us in some way or another. There are actually a few things I really do like about this time of year.

1) I can get my fill of ridiculously cheap school supplies. As much as I try to reduce clutter and stop buying things I don't need, I simply cannot resist $1 packs of Sharpies, or 50 cent notebooks and glue sticks.

2) The local lakes and parks will soon be much less crowded. I do feel kind of bad for all the kids who will be stuck in classrooms while we are out exploring, but since I really can't do anything about that, I might as well go out and enjoy.

We've started thinking about our next "school year." Those who know us know that we are not the "schooliest" of homeschoolers, but I do love the freshness that a new school year brings with it. Planning, dreaming and scheming is all very exciting.

We're always on the lookout for fun ways of learning, and on that note:

*** I've been invited to try Time4Learning for one month in exchange for a candid review. Time4Learning can be used for homeschool, afterschool and summer skill sharpening. Be sure to come back and read about my experience. ***

Sunday, August 7, 2011


Sometimes you just think something seems like a bad idea. You just get a little feeling that whatever is happening is probably not going to work out for the best, and maybe you ought to stop and go with your instincts.

But then, you might think you're just being overprotective and worrying too much, and that everything will be fine, and besides if you just let it alone, you might get a moment of peace and quiet- a chance to relax while the young ones do their thing.

Actually, I might recommend plan A, because sometimes plan B backfires and your child ends up with a big bloody wound full of sand on their face, and that does not result in any peace and quiet, none at all.

Such was the case on a recent trip to the coast with my children's youth group. I am generally happy to be the spare adult / chaperone / driver etc on these deals because:
1) You get to go to fun places, and I love going to fun places, and
2) I enjoy kids and find them quite entertaining.

So, I am along on this adventure as the extra driver, happy as can be in my rental PT Cruiser full of dancing giggling kids (within the confines of their seat belts, of course) and trying to keep up with our convoy in Bay Area traffic. We camped and hiked in the redwoods and played on the beach everyday. I'm pretty sure that the redwoods and the ocean are two of the best things in the world for a person, and I was in the company of good people as well, so all in all it was a splendid trip.

Then, things went slightly amiss. We were on a beach in Capitola, gathering driftwood for our beach fire when we came across a lovely, and very hard wooden burl in the shape of a baseball. The males amongst us had the idea to fashion a bat by whacking another piece of driftwood into shape so they play a game. Being a non-male, this did not seem like the best idea to me at the time.

In fact, I distinctly remember thinking, "Oh, this ought to work out well...." in the usual sarcastic voice in my head. I could sort of picture the bat in process flying back in someone's face and giving them a painful lump, but I can tend to have a slightly dramatic imagination on occasion, and they seemed to have it under control. The bat was fashioned without incident or injury, so I didn't pay too much more attention to that feeling.

My Boy Child was running with the big kids, and the fire, a blanket and my book were just sitting there calling me towards a moment of solitude. I settled in cozily with the sounds of laughter, waves and gulls in the background. It was lovely.

My moment lasted about a minute and a half. Then, I heard the crack of the bat and the wooden ball colliding, a whoosh, a thud, a collective gasp and a muffled scream. My head whipped around to see my Boy Child face down in the sand with his hands over his mouth and large quantities of blood streaming from between his fingers. As I rushed towards him from behind, his sister came towards from the front. She saw his face before I did and looked up in horror gasping something about his teeth being missing.

It's funny how the mind works. I had a brief second of panic where my eyes literally felt like saucers, before something kicked in and my mind calmly decided that no matter what I would buy my boy new teeth if I needed too, no matter the cost. I would drive my old Volvo for another 5 years if I had to, because even in the little mountain town we call home, having your teeth is important after the age of 10 or so.

A few more steps and a deep breath, and I reached him. Thanks be to God, his teeth were still attached, albeit 3 permanent ones were loose. He had a small, but gaping wound on his upper lip which was filthy with beach grit and bleeding like crazy. Once we got the bleeding to stop, it looked like he might need stitches. It was also obvious that there was no way I was the best person to clean out that sandy gross wound. There are people who are good at doing that kind of thing without contorting their own faces into looks of shock and disgust, gagging and muttering prayers. I am not one of those people. Those people go to medical school and make lots of money sewing up people like us, and we needed to find one of those people.

Teenagers and their smart phones are handy to have when you need to find a doctor in a strange town after 6 pm. Twelve members of our party crowded the waiting room while I watched my boy's face be flushed out and stitched up. What a good group of kids to wait for their friend, hungry, sandy and wet without complaint.

The poor kid that had wielded the bat looked like he felt awful. I tried to convince him that we didn't blame him, but he still looked miserable. I think my jokes about him having a future in lip piercing or orthodontia baffled him more than comforted him, but the thing is, sometimes you have to either find a way to laugh about something or you'll start crying about it, and as a supposed adult in charge, I figured bad jokes were better than the hysterics. 

The stitches are out now, and the scar is pretty small. The loose teeth, thankfully firmed up, and are actually straighter than they were before, straighter than the ones on other side of his mouth too. If it had been more centered, perhaps we could have saved a ton on braces in a few years, although I don't really recommend filthy pieces of wood as a means of straightening teeth.

Of course it would have been nice if this little incident never happened, but since it did, I actually feel really lucky that it hit where it did. The whole thing could have been so very much worse. Lost teeth, broken nose, eye socket, concussion. Yikes. In gives me a horrible feeling in my stomach to think about it.

So, that's why I'm thinking that listening to that little voice is a good idea. When you feel a little skeptical, like something probably is not the best idea, you might just be right.