Friday, December 31, 2010

Resolutions

I suppose some people spend the last week of the year coming up with resolutions and goals, but I hate resolutions!  Goals are okay, but I've learned not to make too many of them.

And now it is New Year's Eve, and all the planning I can do has been done.  For the next couple of hours we'll simply be together, and dream a little, and then fall asleep with the prospect of an entire new year in front of us, unsullied and full of potential, and as always we'll enter into it hoping that it is a year of happiness and plenty.

Monday, December 27, 2010

It's Never Too Early ...

Each year at the end of December I start our school planning for the next year.  Part of that is taking the temperature of our homeschool thus far and deciding what to tweak in January, but I also look ahead to the fall.  Now that we are knee deep in our grade 5 Waldorf year (we use the grade 5 story curriculum ~ I don't bother to keep track of what "grade" we are in for skills) and very happy to be back to using Waldorf methods I decided to take a look at what Live Education offers for grade 6, and wow, does it seem to be right up J-Baby's alley!  Astronomy, Physics, Mineralogy, The Middle Ages, Ancient Greek and Roman History, and more Geometry?  Sign us up!  Or rather, I'll be saving my pennies for the books.

For the near term, I have our books for our first North American Geography block checked out from the library and have placed them on hold with T-Guy's account so we can have them through the end of January.  I ordered the book that we need for February as it wasn't available from our city library or the county system.

J-Baby is excited to be starting lesson work again after our light month and holiday break.  He is just old enough now to be worrying that he is perhaps a bit behind other kids when it comes to some of his skills, but talking him through it he realized that he is far ahead in many areas, especially science and history, and he really understands the why of things rather than just the what.  The child is a deep thinker.

T-Guy, on the other hand, lives so much in the moment that he hasn't mentioned starting our lessons again. Right now his life revolves around playing with his new toys and trying to talk Papa (who is home all week) into playing Wii, or at the very least letting him and J-Baby play Wii.  He's also thinking about his birthday which is in just a couple of weeks, and baseball, which starts gearing up in January with a two day camp, evaluations, and catching school (that is still a surprise); perhaps that is why he isn't thinking about school work.

As for me, I still have to fine tune our schedule for January.  We are going to switch our "lite" day to Mondays, which seems counter-intuitive but we always struggle to get back in the groove on Mondays anyway, and that is when most of the homeschool group is able to meet.  So we will do skills work in the morning, go to park day, then to the library, and finally do any necessary errands (health food store and banking).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

In the Bleak Midwinter ...

Yesterday we had a lovely Solstice party to celebrate the return of the sun. Six families gathered together to share a potluck lunch, decorate sun cookies, roll beeswax candles, and a have very simple candle lighting ceremony.  We used this Waldorf verse:


The gift of light we thankfully take 
But not shall it be alone for our sake
The more we give light
The one to the other
It shines and it spreads and it glows still further
Until every spark by friends set aflame
Until every heart with joy to proclaim
In the depths of our souls a shining sun glows.
I loved how the kids were quiet for just a few minutes, passing the flame from person to person.  Of course, their reverence didn't last, but we couldn't expect it to.  It is enough to remember the 22 people gathered in a circle, faces illuminated with candlelight, welcoming the sun.
It has been rather bleak lately, with rain and cold, and the sun did not show its face to us yesterday (nor were we able to observe the total lunar eclipse that occurred on the same day as this solstice).  While I generally love the rain (as long as I can stay home) the boys and dogs are done with it, and I'm rather weary of taking dogs out to potty in the rain.  I do hope today is the last of it; I'm ready for a sunny Southern California Christmas.
Still, we have turned the corner back into the light.  I love Christmas as a family holiday and for the joy that it brings my boys, but the Solstice is my personal favorite winter holiday.  When it occurs in the middle of the night I will wake myself and light a candle in the darkness, alone with my thoughts and hopes.  I feel connected to all of humanity; solstices and equinoxes may have had various religious holidays spring up around them but they are scientific phenomena that all people have observed throughout the ages.  In part it is the these natural phenomena that brought about scientific inquiry, giving us a reason to ask Why? and to seek the answers.  The tilt of Earth's axis and the resultant seasons are the reason that life on this planet is possible as we know it.
The Winter Solstice brings hope.  We know that the days will lengthen, the crops will grow, and that we will be warm again.  As much as I enjoy Fall and the crisp, shortening days with the inward turning it brings I also look forward to the outwardness that is Spring in all its glory.  I love the turning of the earth and the cycle of seasons.  Winter is our pause; our coldest weather may be yet to come but the days will grow no shorter. Soon enough it will be time to plant; in the meantime we can plan our gardens.  The busyness of the holiday season passes and we come to a time of reflection and new beginnings.  In my own little family we start again our festival year with New Year celebrations and January birthdays.
So welcome back beloved friend, our dear sun!

Monday, December 20, 2010

What's {not} Cooking?

Oh, that would be me.  After performing admirably all day (It Baked!  It Broiled!) my beloved range started screaming at me just as I was about to put dinner in to cook, beeping loudly and flashing Contact an Authorized Service Center on its display.  Like most people I just turned it off, waited a minute, and turned it back on hoping for the best, but no, Contact an Authorized Service Center started flashing again, still accompanied by the constant loud beeping that the oven makes when it is unhappy (don't spill water close to the front panel or be prepared to unplug the unit to silence the beeping and then wait for the electronics to dry, which takes days).


I love my range.  It is a Jenn Air slide-in dual fuel range with convection.  That means it has natural gas burners for the control I insist on when I am using the cooktop (I hate electric burners) but has an electric oven which bakes more evenly than a gas oven.  I can set the oven temperature as low as 100 degrees for culturing dairy products.  I can dehydrate in it and proof bread dough in it.  I can bake three trays of cookies at once (if I want to, but I usually prefer not to dry them out with convection).  It has a nifty meat probe that helps me roast meats to perfection.  And have you ever had a convection-roasted turkey?  Nom!


And now I am oven-less.  I don't hold out much hope that a repair technician can get here this week.  It is nearly Christmas, after all.  I'll probably be lucky to get someone out here next Monday.  At least I'm not cooking Christmas dinner (I am hosting Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas breakfast, however).


I don't know if I should continue to use the cooktop or not use anything at all.  I think we'll use it to boil water for tea but otherwise shift our cooking to some of my other appliance friends: the slow cooker, the electric frying pan, and the electric Dutch oven.  I also bit the bullet and ordered the Breville Smart Oven that I have been looking at for more than a year, because chocolate chip cookies must be baked for Santa.  And because I wanted it and couldn't justify it to myself before tonight.


But dinner tonight?  Pad Thai for the adults, charbroiled chicken with steamed rice and broccoli for the children ~ thank goodness they are still cooking at our favorite Thai restaurant!

Friday, December 17, 2010

And In the End ...

I decided to spend the past several weeks taking it easy.  Not on break, but not doing a main lesson block or introducing new math material.  We did history (The Story of the World), science (The Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way), lots of reading, some math (applied math as well as review and story problems) and spelling, and of course health, PE, and lots of art/music.

And today was the last of it, and we are on break for three weeks (same as our local school district rather than what our charter school friends are doing).  Of course, we're never really on break and certainly we'll do history, science, reading, PE, and art/music over the next three weeks, but I won't be thinking about it or worrying how and when we'll do it.

So coming up in January: more Life of Fred, a North American Geography block, more science, spelling, reading, literature, grammar, writing, PE, health, art, music, and whatever else we come up with!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Gift Conundrum

I hate holiday gifting.

Each December I face the same issue, to give homemade gifts or to give purchased gifts to those members of my family who place a high importance on the gifts they receive and don't appreciate handmade items (those of you who have never received negative feedback on homemade gifts are very lucky).  I enjoy making gifts and doing so aligns with my personal values, but I worry that my insistence in doing so only causes me to come off as pretentious and holier-than-thou.

So I cycle between anger, despair, and stress when it comes to holiday gift giving.  It isn't about what I can afford based solely on my income, but on what my values are.  I like to give gifts that are beautiful, useful, or consumable.  If I can't make something homemade I like to purchase something homemade, but in either case the gift recipient can't return it if it isn't what they want.  Forget giving second hand gifts within my family; it is generally considered akin to giving someone a bag of your garbage.

What I want is to give homemade gifts and not worry that people won't like what I made or think that I make homemade gifts because I am "cheap".  I hate when others form expectations based on what they think your income is or what they think you should do (like go into debt for holiday gifts).  I kind of hate that my family hasn't joined the handmade revival (although I was giving handmade before handmade was hip) and still thinks that the best gifts come from factories and stores.

The truth is, I know I can't please people even if I shop for them.  We all know how hard it is to hit a home run in the gift department, even with those we know really well.  It's even harder when we are talking about adults that we see only a few times a year and when budgets are involved.  Is your brother still into punk rock, and if so, what is current in punk rock and does he already have it?  Does he have an iPod?  Would buying a CD be archaic?  Do you give an iTunes gift card instead?  Does he know how to download music?

It's not like everyone else out there is hitting home runs either.  I mean, really, how many popcorn tins can one person receive?  Are we supposed to feel carefully considered because we received a gift that was peddled as a fundraiser for someone's child's school?  Is the fact that someone spent real money on an impersonal gift supposed to make us believe that it is still better than something handcrafted, a gift of time or talent, or a gift of charity?  (Don't get me started on charity gifts, which my family derides as giving yourself a gift under the pretense of gifting someone else.  Honestly, they'd rather have presents.)

Some families resort to giving gift cards.  Gift cards are less stigmatized than giving cash (which really shouldn't be stigmatized but is because people know how much you "spent"), but really, all they do is allow the giver to choose where you get to spend the money they are giving you, thus potentially limiting you to shopping at Sephora when what you really need is at The Home Depot, or eating at The Cheesecake Factory when you prefer In 'N Out Burger.  Also, they shift funds to chain stores and restaurants rather than allowing you to patronize local businesses simply because it is difficult for family members who don't live in your town to buy a gift certificate from your favorite local store or restaurant (assuming they even know what those are).

I don't particularly enjoy receiving gifts as an adult.  Perhaps it is because the magic has worn off and I see past paper and bows to items which serve no purpose and deplete the earth's resources.  Perhaps I am jaded living in a society of (mostly) plenty and see no reason to receive things that I could buy for myself if I wanted to (but probably haven't, which tells you something right there).  But mostly it is probably because I stopped judging the value and happiness of my life based on the stuff I own, and thus giving me stuff doesn't bring me happiness, even at holiday time.  You can't prove you love me by giving me the best present ever and you can't make me think you don't love me by giving me a popcorn tin dud.

And that, I suppose, is the crux of it.  When did holiday gift giving to adults become about giving them exactly what they want?  When did adults start making holiday wish lists for themselves?  When did our worth as human beings become something judged by the holiday gifts we give?  Why is buying something valued over making something, and spending more valued over spending less?  Why the heck is going into debt valued over living within your means?

And so the cycle.  Decide to give handmade gifts.  Work on those.  Start to feel insecure about handmade gifts.  Decide that monetary gifts would be better received.  Get angry about that.  Throw hands in air.  Post rant on blog.  Decide that handmade is good enough.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

Disclaimer:  This rant only applies to certain branches of the family.  My father-in-law and stepmother-in-law love all things handmade as well as simple holidays with a focus on people, not presents. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Busy December

I don't mean to not be here.  I'm just in a weird place right now, at times incredibly busy, but also succumbing to complete inertia at other times. There was a funeral to plan and attend and now I have started the task of moving and sorting through what is left of my grandmother's possessions. Sometimes when I am procrastinating doing something in the house I will head out to the garage and spend hours with the boxes. Already I've sent 12 huge boxes of housewares to Goodwill.  I'm starting to think that I want to stay away from thrifting for awhile.

In the meantime, it's the Christmas season, which brings about a busyness of its own.  I made our advent calendar the night before I flew up north for my grandmother's funeral; I needed to know that it would be ready to go the day after I got home.  I was inspired by a couple of very simple envelope advent calendars that I saw online, but had to make it my own:


I used kraft coin envelopes, which I already had.  We purchased some rubber stamps and scrapbooking embellishments and I went to work decorating the envelopes with numbers, stamped images, and the embellishments.  I hung the envelopes on baker's twice using miniature clothes pins and then painted a slightly larger craft clothes pin bright red to mark the day.  I had originally thought we'd take each envelope off the garland when it was opened, but it really messed with the weight distribution so I came up with the idea for the red clothes pin.  The envelopes aren't sealed shut which means we can reuse them next year.  I don't put candy in our advent envelopes, just a slip of paper with an activity or craft on it.

(Since I took these pictures we've decorated the mantle with garlands, candles, and cut crystal and we've hung our stockings behind the garland.  It looks pretty plain in the picture.)

Here is a close up of a few envelopes:


And one with the red clothes pin:


So far we've watched Christmas specials and movies, done some crafts, decorated the house, gone to Disneyland, eaten at a favorite restaurant, and more.

I keep saying that life will get back to normal once we get past the holidays ~ maybe I should just accept this as normal for now.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Depleted

Way back when we were just starting the homeschooling journey one of the many benefits of homeschooling commonly touted by the veterans was how flexible homeschooling could be when life pitched you curve balls.  Back then I couldn't imagine that I would need this flexibility, but in 2006 I faced a serious health crisis and a diagnosis of a chronic disease, in early 2007 my grandfather passed away, and in fall 2007 my mother died after a couple of months of hospitalization.

It was about that time that rhythmic homeschooling fell by the wayside in our home and we started to go with the flow of unschooling.  It certainly has its benefits but I have written time and time again about the importance of rhythm to my family.  We finally tamed all the chaos and got ourselves back into a solid homeschooling rhythm.

But last month another curve ball came our way.  My grandmother had a (second) massive stroke and we made the decision to move her to my sister's for hospice care.  Needless to say we weren't thinking about homeschooling.  My grandmother passed away peacefully eight days later, and then there were plans to make and a trip to her old hometown so that she could be buried with my grandfather.  Then I came home, but the work was only just starting.  Only today was I even able to contemplate getting back on track with focused lesson work.

It hasn't been all play and no work for the boys; they have kept up reading, had their science lessons with Papa, attended a performance of The Tempest, watched several episodes of The Cosmos, practiced singing Christmas carols, played geography board games, knit a little, listened to audiobooks, worked on baseball skills, drawn, done some writing, discussed the most recent findings about the building blocks of life, and more.  It is truly amazing how well unschooling works.  Indeed, I find that it works really well for just about everything, excepting math and that rock solid rhythm that I like for us to have.

It is true that the flexibility of homeschooling can be a benefit in these cases; I was able to take my boys with me out of town without worrying about them missing school or keeping up with homework.  But it also creates issues.  My boys lost their daily rhythm and I had a hard time choosing between my responsibilities to them, giving the necessary help needed to my sister, and caring for myself.  And as we all know, we tend to put ourselves last and that certainly happened with me.

So here I am with two weeks to go in what was planned as a short block to begin with.  We lost the last week of our November Ancient Cultures block (but that was a four week block so we managed fine), had a week that was planned off anyway, and lost the first week of our first North American Geography block.  I sat down today to do some planning and realized just how very depleted I am.  All weekend was spent catching up on housework that hadn't been done while I was away as well as driving to my grandmother's storage unit and moving all of that to my house (five hours in the car yesterday after very little sleep).  This morning I went for groceries, came home, and realized that I have nothing to go on.

For next couple of months I will be juggling being a full time homemaker, a homeschooling mother, a wife, and the executor of a living trust.  Not taking care of myself isn't going to be an option; what sort of works in the very short term won't work at all with the added responsibility and stress I will have until my job is finished.  I have to find a way to make it all work.

So now I have to decide what to do for the next two weeks.  Get back into a basic rhythm but give up on the first geography block for now, rearranging our schedule to add an extra three weeks to our school year?  Drop the Ancient Geometry block planned for January and move the geography block there?  We've done some of it already and geometry will be thoroughly covered using Life of Fred, but this block looked fun(!).  Keep Ancient Geometry but drop one Botany block since we did so much with it during the 2008-2009 school year?  Go on full holiday now and start everything again in January, or get this next month of mathematics in?

Reading all those choices (which I just came up with as I was typing) I think the best choice may be to condense Botany into one block (knowing we've done some of it and that it will come up again in biology), giving me space to move the first North American Geography block to January and the Ancient Geometry block into February.  We can spend the rest of this month reestablishing our morning rhythm with holiday crafting in place of the main lesson.  That gets us back on track with daily math and spelling.  I can breathe a bit and take my time planning the geography block rather than doing it by the seat of my pants, which is good because breath is what I need right now.