Thursday, September 27, 2012

$, and lowering the stakes

I think in most matters with kids, it's good to keep the stakes low. I'm not talking about life-or-death situations, or other ways that people can be endangered. Those are clearly high-stakes situations, and the adrenaline rush that accompanies them is a handy little bit of evolution that has served millennia of humans well.

But some high-stakes situations are fabrications. They are low-stakes situations that are ramped up, blown out of proportion, and cause for alarm when they need not be. When adults are stressed and anxious, then tend to be short, surly, skittish, distracted, snappy, and sometimes mean. Speaking from experience, nothing short-circuits my attempts to be a good parent like imagining that I am in a high-stakes situation and being stressed and anxious.

Here's a couple of examples of keeping the stakes low:

Not making hard-and-fast plans that are time-dependent, if you can avoid it. At least not with young kids. We make plans with friends loosely when possible, letting them know we'll call the morning of to confirm in case the boys threaten to go feral when I suggest we leave the house. On our best days, we remember to plan lots of lead time for appointments, shows, etc.

Sharing precious objects--photo albums, favorite books from our own childhoods, the fossil collection from Daddy Honey's work in the Badlands, etc.--only with close supervision, and changing activities if things get a little too rowdy. Some things--the great-grandmother's china, the kachina doll--don't ever see the light of day, though some day they will.

Shopping at thrift stores for toys and games. I thought about this one this morning. I looked down and noticed that the game Trouble that the boys were playing with had lost most of its pieces. I felt a little annoyed, and a had a thought about the boys not taking very good care of their toys, and how that makes the games not fun to play anymore.

Only I realized, they *were* having fun with it. They were playing pretend with it. The remaining pieces were knights on errands around the circle of the board. And then I noticed the price tag on the top--$1.99. I felt silly. Certainly they had already had $2 worth of fun with the game just exactly as it was. And it's not like they lost the pieces on purpose, to demonstrate their ingratitude or to annoy me. What nonsense. Games lose pieces when they get played with a lot, especially when the people playing are so in the playing (learning) zone that they don't really think about keeping track.

These are all things I could easily have lost my cool over a couple of years ago--being late for a gathering, something fragile or beloved getting broken or damaged, things getting lost. And on a sleep-deprived, upsetting, frazzled day, I still might get a little grumpy about them, though I hope to keep catching myself at the thought-place before things get to the words- and action-place. Because the fact of the matter is, we all make mistakes. We forget things. We get distracted. We have learning to do.

Just yesterday, I forgot that Fox had been playing with Woody's bike helmet on the other side of the car, the passenger side, which is facing the road and away from my path to the driver's door. I backed out of our driveway, and CRUNCH! $20. Whoops.

But nobody berated me or sighed heavily and muttered about the lost money. Nobody stomped around annoyed at me. Nobody lectured me on taking care of our things or remembering to do the around-the-car walk before getting in. (Remember that trick question on the drivers' ed exam? It was supposed to be the first step in driving the car, when everybody wanting to answer with far more intuitive things such as open the door or put the key in the ignition or check the mirrors.)

That's important. All of us need to know that our closest loving relationships are worth more than money and inconvenience. Some loved one some time is probably going to feel disappointed or frustrated or sad as a result of our actions, but we have to know that they love and value us more than that. Then, we can response with compassion and apology, not with resentment and panic.

Our kids need to know we love and value them more than anything else. Anything. Almost all the other stakes are low in comparison to this truth, and we can work to keep it that way.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Out of the house and in the house

Yesterday, Woody finally wanted to leave the house again. Since we'd been back, he's wanted to be reacquainting himself with the tangibles of his life here, but yesterday he asked to go to the bakery. We drank banana-peach smoothies here, then went there for cinnamon buns.

There's a secret garden down the alley behind the bakery that the boys like to play at for a few minutes before we leave. We never see anyone back there, but there's evidence of gentle, regular use--sometimes the chairs are different, sometimes people make pictures from the fallen leaves or like yesterday, place objects in and around the trees. It's such an unexpected little space, weedy and wild, but somehow begging for happy, unscripted interactions.

We played most of the afternoon on our porch with the Playmobils. Earlier in the day we'd watched the Playmobil YouTube channel, which has videos all in German. The boys and I practiced our ein's and doktor's and kint's.

And tonight, Daddy Honey and Woody are watching an episode of Nova about sharks. They showed footage of the Museum of Florida History in Gainesville where we've been four or five times, and they interviewed one of the scientists there right in front of the Megalodon jaws that scared Fox! I walked up in the middle of the show, and Woody explained to me about Sharklet, the surface material made to simulate shark's skin where no bacteria will grow. The second Nova episode was about non-Newtonian fluids, and how they're being used to stabilize buildings for earthquakes, bridges for high winds, and shocks for military vehicles. They showed the host running over the surface of a vat of the same cornstarch-water mixture that we made a few weeks ago. Woody regretted that we hadn't thought to do that as part of our experiment.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Best Day of the Week

Today was the first day of fall, and we went with our neighbor friends on a long hike through the Buffalo River National Park. It was warm and sunny, clear and dry. We ate apples and meat sandwiches and peanut butter sandwiches and fresh peaches. We ran down dry creek beds and scampered up smooth and craggy rocks. I got to thinking about how glad I was to be there, how happy I was to be part of this particular family, how grateful I felt to be homeschooling.

But wait, was this about homeschooling? I had to give that one a little think. Today was Saturday, and Saturdays always throw me off a little bit when it comes to tallying homeschooling (not a habit I indulge much, but keeping a homeschooling blog, I sometimes get to wondering about what "counts" for a post and what doesn't).

Some experienced unschoolers say to new unschoolers that it might help to imagine every day as Saturday. I think by that they mean that every day can be the best day of the week. You can wake up on your own time and do what you like best for the whole day. The day is yours. What you eat, read, play with, wear, listen to or watch and when; who you talk to or how long you stay quiet; where you go or don't go--most of these things (with some real-life realities in there) can happen the way you like best. If Saturday is the day you association with the most freedom, choice, and enjoyment of being alive--if that's your idea of the best day--then by golly, make your homeschooling like that.

Today, we did. This is what our best day, which just so happened to be a real Saturday this time, looked like:

We rambled around, free with our time. Security was evidenced in hands-up, easy smiles, and an equal willingness to try something new or pass. Some parts of the hike we ran through. Other places, we lingered. There was food when we were hungry. Water to drink. Friends to play with and talk to, or time alone.

The landscape itself was terrifically interesting, and just challenging enough to give a little thrill of mastery at a good foot placement or a solid jump while still being accessible. For three boys who like to play pretend best of all, there was plenty of fodder for imaginative scenarios.

There was helping, holding, gentle reminding, practicing patience, offering compassion and working through difficult physical and emotional places together.

Sure, we learned things, because that's what people do, especially when they're enjoying themselves.

There were challenges. A couple of short meltdowns. Peanut butter exploded in our bag. We ran out of time to do one of the things we wanted to. Some spots on the hike were crowded. Other spots were hard on our bodies or a little tedious. But, that was OK. We still wanted to be there, and when we didn't want to be there anymore, we left.

I just Googled "life of Saturdays" to make sure the phrase didn't have a dual meaning that I didn't know about. It doesn't seem as if it does. However, it does seem like there are a good number of people who think a life of Saturdays is a pretty fine idea. I can't say I disagree.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Shy Guest

Look at this guy! The dogs saw him first, but luckily, from the confines of the newly-enclosed porch where they couldn't get to him. (Brodie, a couple of years ago in Tallahassee, did some sad and serious damage to a backyard turtle's upper and lower shells.) Then, while I was fussing at the dogs for barking maniacally at what looked to me like nothing, Woody spotted our guest in the grass.

I was intrigued, and my mind's eye went to a happy homeschool morning spent wondering about and researching and observing the turtle. But, Fox was interested only in touching his upper shell once, then ran off to play on top of the car again. And while Woody sat with me in the grass for a few minutes waiting for the turtle to come out, he then said, "Mom, there were other things I wanted to be doing with my day."

See what I mean? About the growing up fast? I am struggling with this, with being the parent of a child on the cusp of a new maturity. I am wanting to slow down and savor and be present with them, but really, oftentimes they--especially Woody, 6, verging on 7--have their own ideas about their individual lives. He needs me less and less to suggest activities or initiate plans. Fox is just a more independent kid in general, so has always come to me less for help. I am feeling a little unsure of my role and how well I'm fulfilling it.

I tend to think of animal encounters--especially wild ones--as spiritual. It's often an opportunity to open myself to new ways of seeing, maybe followed by a realization or moment of understanding. Always, it's a crossing of paths with a fellow earthling, evidence of the rich and beautiful diversity of life here on our planet. I feel reverent, often cautious, glad, awed, and inspired. But I don't often consider it my role to interfere. I know that animals possess motives and wisdom that I can only guess, and not knowing how my actions will affect their futures, I mostly observe and send out goodwill.

Still, our house on a narrow, well traveled street surrounded by other houses staffed by big dogs and curious cats did not seem like the ideal place for a wandering terrapin. So, I picked up the clamped-tight turtle and walked him  down to vacant lot next to the creek, pointing him toward the water and tucking him away under some bushes so he'd emerge to what I'd imagine would look like a good place to keep on growing up as a turtle--lush, green, moist, and covered.

Later, on my own I looked up "red striped turtle" because that was the most distinguishing feature I could see, those orange-red stripes running down his head and face, plus yellow marks on his front legs. My guess after looking and pictures and doing some geographical comparing is that he was a three-toed box turtle, a species that can live anywhere from 40 to 70 years. Supposedly, when the turtles are younger than 10-15 years old and the pattern on their carapaces is still vivid, you can estimate their age by counting the rings. I zoomed in on the picture I took while Woody and I sat looking at him in our side yard.

Best I can tell, he was about 6.

What would knights do? And big shoes.

I had terrible anxiety dreams last night. I was driving a car from the back seat, heading the wrong way on a one-way street while a marching parade was coming at me. I somehow slighted a dear friend and struggled to give my excuse. And, Woody decided he wanted to go to school.

I need to work on that last one. Woody might decide he wants to go to school. And if that time comes, I'd like to be graceful and supportive of his choice. In my dream, I told myself that I would have been, had he not decided that he wanted to go to kindergarten, starting at the beginning to be sure he didn't miss anything. On top of that, in the dream, on his first day, we forgot to pick him up, and when we realized it, it was pouring rain so hard outside that we couldn't leave the house.

Here's a picture of Daddy Honey at 21. He looks 13 to me.

Woody's winter shoes came in yesterday from Soft Star Shoes. They fit him great. Only those are my feet. I was surprised that I had such mixed feelings about the evidence of his growing up.

At breakfast today, we had a great conversation over our grits. I mentioned in passing that this was a pretty good pioneer breakfast. Woody asked what a pioneer was, and I told him. Then Woody asked if it was a good medieval breakfast, and Fox piped up that it was kind of like oatmeal and porridge. So we talked about New World crops and Old World crops, and I said I didn't know when or by what path corn showed up in Europe. (I later looked it up and found that it was introduced by the Spanish and Portuguese by way of the Americas.) But that the honey, butter, and goat's milk we were drinking would have been in Europe in the medieval times. Then again, not the chocolate syrup because cacao beans were New World.

A favorite t of Woody's a Color Farm Original straight from former fiber artist and dear friend Joy.

As we were finishing up, still chatting about what daily life was like for knights, Woody looked down at his shirt and asked if knights might have worn tie-dye. Probably not tie-dyes, I said, but plant dyes. 

Andean dyes, but a cool picture from the British Museum.

And this conversation was exquisitely timed, because the big pokeweed bushes in the backyard are full of berries about to ripen, and I was hoping to try out making fermented ink and dying some cloth that beautiful bright fuchsia. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Rosh Hashanah and Mushrooms

Last night at sundown started Rosh Hashanah. I forgot to mention it to the boys until today, but then I remembered. We read Apples and Honey out on the porch, which I just "enclosed" with a baby gate so that we can leave the front door open to come in and out without having to worry about the dogs escaping. That added a lovely 6'x12' "room" to our abode, and has been very well used so far.

So, out there we sat, reading, eating farmers' market apples (first time I've had those!) sliced with honey, and talking a wee bit about calenders and when new years begin according to various cultures.

We came inside and kneaded the bread I'd started this morning (though not challa bread) and drew pictures and made a Rosh Hashanah postcard to send to friends in Tallahassee. I tried my hand at writing Hebrew for the first time. I tried to write it from left to right, as it's read, but I ended up stopping after the first word because I had less control over the width of my letters that way, for some reason.

Fox and Woody got to squabbling some in the afternoon, so I left Woody at the computer to be able to play in peace and took Fox outside to turn the soil in one of the raised beds and plant some lettuce with me. While out there, we noticed a massive cluster of glowing white mushrooms in another bed. (This picture is of a side cluster, which showed the mushroom forms better, but the really big cluster you can just see the edge of there on the left.)

We went on a mushroom hunt through the yard to see if we could find others. Oh-ho, boy, did we.

Fox was done after this, but Woody came back out with me and we tried to identify some of them at the Rogers Mushrooms site. That was really hard. I didn't even really feel confident about one single identification. But, we learned some of the terminology for talking about mushrooms, and we found that one way to help identify a species is by taking a spore print. So, we did, with this guy, whose spores seemed to hold the most promise of showing up against white paper.

I've wanted to learn how to forage safely for wild mushrooms for many years, and it seems as if we live in the right part of the world to do it. Tonight, I may pop a few of these pictures up on a forum or two and see if I can get help figuring out what they are.


Oh, friends. I'm going to keep on keeping on with this blog as long as I can, as long as it's fun to write and fun to read, but being employed whilst homeschooling is a whole other can of worms. I'm only a few days into it, but I have to be vigilant with my thoughts and attention to keep them on today and on my boys. Maybe it's just a matter of practice.

Time will tell.

Meanwhile, let me catch you up.

Saturday, we made a sign for the powerline pole in the front yard. There are no less than four other little boys living on our street now, all aged in between Woody and Fox. And while all of us parents are watchful and nearby, cars still speed up and down our road.

And we made pesto. A lot of pesto. The basil did beautifully this year, so we put up a quart of it. So far we've had it on pasta, in omelets, on crackers, and on rice cakes. I wanted it on tonight's pork chops, but Daddy Honey's verve for pesto is fizzling.

And finally, a note about children who tend to need direct, personal experience to convince them of certain truths. Sometimes--whenever you safely can, really--it's good to let them have it.  Almost as soon as Fox showed his own little personality, it was fiercely independent, dogged, tenacious, and self-assured.

In search of hard boiled eggs, he hauled the egg carton out of the refrigerator. Woody and I tried to convince him the eggs in there were all raw, but he howled otherwise. So, I gave him a dish and let him crack one. He was a little put out by the sticky drippiness of it, but, after we cleaned up, we boiled a few eggs.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Park and Dave

Per the boys' request, we spent the whole midday at the park. Can you tell in the picture how the leaves on that oak tree are starting to lose their green? We talked a little bit about that process, how all leaves don't exactly "turn" colors, but rather the breaking down of the chlorophyll allows some other colors to show up (yellows and small amounts of red and orange) while trapped glucose in other leaves combined with retreating chlorophyll is responsible for the purples and deep reds.

We also played with a left-behind tennis ball in the field, climbed up and down and around the castle play place, and waded in the fountain.

One of the reasons I'm glad for this blog is that I am creating a record of what works and what doesn't. I'm a confident new homeschooler, but still a new homeschooler, and on insecure days, it helps to look back on good strategies.Today, we moved easily from one kid-led activity to the next. I ran a couple of errands in  the middle, but was mostly realy, truly, happily present with them without much regard for time or other obligations.

Why is that headspace so hard to maintain?

I got a job that starts soon. The Director of Religious Education for my UU church. I'm excited, but worried. I have a tendency to do "think work" throughout the day when I have a pressing task, and doing that keeps me distracted from the boys, not really into what they're doing, or into it in a really superficial way. I am trying to remember how good it is to have plenty of dedicated time to just play with them. It's what they love to do more than anything else in the world, and is what most of their learning is based on.

This afternoon, when we came home, we set up medieval shops. We made a commercial for Woody's, "Arms & Armor: A Shoppe for Arms, Armor, and Woodcarvings." His shopkeeper character's name is Dave.

After we made the video, we looked up medieval English currency to be able to price the various swords and shields and such for pretend sale. We learned about pounds, shilings, and pence, and wrote out tags in the appropriate format.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


We are home, and every toy that has ever been a favorite is out on the floor. The boys are giddy to be stepping over and among them. Snap Cubes are formed into bicolor teammates who are marching according to made-up rules across the chess board set up on the bottom bunk. Lego knight pirates surf with Playmobil figures and Army men in the ankle-deep tide of dress-up clothes spilled in the dining room. Hands get washed of sticky Bumble Bars in between bouts of Wii and Pandora dance party.

And I woke up with a not-sore back for the first time in six weeks. It's good to be back at our favorite place.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

O.W.L. and Atlanta on the Cheap

I finished my whirlwind weekend of O.W.L. training, and it was challenging and interesting and fun and exhausting and really, really great. We ended today by sharing three words that described how we felt at the end of the training, and mine were optimistic, inspired, and connected.

I remembered what I liked so much about being an educator, especially when everybody in the class wants to be there, the material is fun and engaging to those in attendance, and the goal is to avoid teaching and accomplish facilitating.

Afterward, happily graduated as a trainer and looking forward to being able to offer the sexuality education back at my Fellowship, I had the rest of the afternoon to do what could be done for fun in Atlanta. The boys, having seen the MARTA train running alongside Interstate 400 when we first came to town, asked if we might ride it. So today, we did.

We took the Red Line south to downtown Atlanta, aiming more or less for Centennial Olympic Park, which my brother-in-law and one of my co-trainees who is from the area assured me would be fun and cheap.

The train station was right next to the Atlanta Public Library, so we popped in. It was a little sad, underused, uninspiring, and probably desperately underfunded. But, they did have a nice art display of a local artist's large-scale woodcut prints.

The walk to the park was maybe fifteen blocks more, enough to give us a nice Sunday-in-the-city feel.

And the park itself was great fun, with people there in all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, and languages playing and enjoying the almost-fall late afternoon.

It was a nice time. I felt sad for Daddy Honey, who remarked on how much he wished he got more time like this to spend with the family. Tomorrow is a long day of travel, then, normal life in Fayetteville resumes.

Friday, September 7, 2012


Daddy Honey is one of six siblings, all of whom live in different cities in the Southeast. Travel in this part of the world can be done for pretty cheap if we couch surf, keep an eye out for coupons and specials, and stay away from the more touristy spots. So yesterday, we headed west from Augusta toward Atlanta, where  Daddy Honey's next oldest brother lives and where I am getting my aforementioned O.W.L. sexuality education training.

Fresh off the interstate, we caught a Braves game. (Money savers: day game rates, BOGO coupon, ate before we went into the game.) Woody had a smashing good time. Fox needed a little help lasting the whole game, but because there weren't all that many people there, we took breaks from the game to walk around the stadium, which helped him stay entertained. 

And today we did something I'd been looking forward to since 2004, when I was first introduced to giant puppets by helping to build a giant limpkin for the release party for the Heart of the Earth book Between Two Rivers. 

We went to the Center for Puppetry Arts! I was smitten from the start. Plus, at $8.95 a ticket, it was among the least expensive of the inside destinations on this warm Atlanta day. 

Most unexpectedly, Fox had a complete and total breakdown. He was terrified that the puppets were going to come to life and try to get him. I blame Scooby Do. We took turns sitting with him outside the building and helping him to calm down while the other parent toured around the museum with Woody. 

But after about 30 minutes of that, we coaxed him back inside by showing him pictures from our cell phone of the Jim Henson room, which was well lit, where the puppets didn't move, and where he recognized a good number of the characters. 

Sir Didymous from Labyrinth.

Ma and Emmett Otter from my personal favorite holiday movie, Emmett Otter's Jug Band Christmas

And after that, when Fox relaxed and started to enjoy himself, we had a fantastic time. The boys wanted to watch all the videos on how the puppets are made. They touched the foam and fur and feathers that all the muppets were made from. As I type, Daddy Honey and the boys are playing with the rod-and-string Manta Rays that they made from the little kits we bought on the way out. (We looked up Manta Rays on the computer to learn a bit about them including where to draw in the gills.)

It was lovely.

And on the way back to Uncle John's, we stopped--of course--at the co-op. Mr. President is never off-duty, and relishes the chance to 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Visiting Friends in a New Place

My homeschooling and La Leche League friend Sarah moved to the Augusta area around the same time that we moved to Arkansas. We stayed in touch, and when I told her we were coming to Augusta to visit family, we arranged for a play day with her and her three kids, ages 7, 3, and 8 months. Serendipitously, our mutual friend Sam and her kids (7, 5, 3, and 5 months) and were also coming up! So as Sarah said, we made a right party of it.

The kids played in, around, and through the house, up stairs and down, in closets and around corners, upside down, in costume, and with honking horns and glowing light sabers. They had a terrific time. And Sarah, Sam and I talked about homeschooling, family, religion, locations, politics, and human behavior. But not for nearly long enough. I miss them both dearly. It was a rare and special treat to have them both in the same room at the same time. 

In between bouts of whole-house play, we went for a hike through a particularly lovely patch of North Central Georgia woods that's just right there on the other side of the chain link fence at the back of their yard. Sarah had cut a slit through it so with a quick duck you could be out there in the trees.

We stayed with Sam on our way down to Florida at the end of July. She asked how the boys were doing with so much time away from home. The answer is hard to pin down. They mostly seem to love it. But they miss Daddy Honey a lot starting at about 2 weeks, and they miss our house and their toys. They love to see family and friends. They don't love having to leave family and friends again. They don't so much mind the car trip. But, sometimes, in traffic or bad weather, the hours aren't happily received. This time it will have been 5 weeks away, and while I'm glad for all we got to see and do during that time, I think it was a touch long for my little crew. Still, when Woody asked today how much longer until we get home, he said that while he was ready, he liked being in new places.

Our travel will likely be curtailed some anyway because...I got a job! A 12-hour-a-week job as Director of Religious Education at the UU church. More on that later, but one of the first things that it will change is that I won't be picking up and leaving town for any extended period until next summer at the earliest.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Bea-utiful Augusta, Georgia

Daddy Honey did half his growing-up in Augusta, Georgia, and to there we returned to do some visiting  over his mama's 68th birthday. It had been a long time since we'd visited--maybe 18 months or more. The boys had to get reacquainted with their grandmother and step-grandfather, but did, in their own ways, with warmth and grace that moved me.

The day after we arrived, we went down to the Riverwalk Park alongside the Savannah River. I thought that would be a good time, but Fox came down with a sudden, inexplicable but unrefutable Bad Mood. 

We tried to help in as many ways as we could think of--walking slower, stopping to look at bugs and rocks and such, carrying him, joking, quietly listening. But, it ended up that we just needed to get out of the (considerable) heat and do something different. 

I could relate to that.