Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Little Warrior Within

Sometimes I wonder if all the painful spots of my life are a consequence of times when I couldn't control the little warrior within.  Here I am, living over 700 miles away from my mother and my daughter, and truthfully this bothers me.  In fact it's a sore spot that hurts if I bump into that inner bruise of homesick.

Yesterday's cool, rain filled day must have primed the pump on those emotions in the well.  Maybe it was the phone call from Mom last night, the one where I could hear tears arriving in her voice as she said good night to Elliot.  Honestly, if it was only possible to see him twice a year it would break my heart.

Then I looked at the handwritten letter from Emily on the table and wondered if I too will end up being that far-away grandma, sending care packages and love and feeling sad that I'm not there for weekend visits and holidays.  I thought the terrible thought that Emily really doesn't ever need to come back here to go to college because if she ever chooses to take on more traditional, accredited learning, there's always online degrees.  Maybe she misses us terribly, but never enough to want to make a life here.

And I might just sit here and grow a little grayer feeling lost and full of "there's no hope."

Maybe it was the fact that I was listening to some really sad Irish music, which I love because it is so beautiful and is such a perfect accompaniment to the rain.  It brought an epiphany to the surface when Delores O'Riordan sang "there's no need to argue anymore."  I guess after every break-up, this is true.

The epiphany was that while I have been learning about the Quaker faith and the value of pacifism, on the outside I look like a pacifist because I don't own any weapons and have no desire to go to war.  But on the inside, I have a little warrior who is heavily armed.

Maybe if the little warrior within would put down her weapons, life would change.

A question arose.  What if I made a conscious effort to refrain from arguing, in the way that a pacifist refrains from combat?  If I just refused to engage?  To only speak what needs to be said without throwing up the shield of "I don't agree," and just let it all pass through me.

I look back and remember that the little warrior within fought hard to be released from parental bonds, only to grow wise at the fireside, when the flames died down and the glow from the coals made it safe to scoot closer.  Closer to the ones I fought with, closer to the ones I love and miss.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Bubble Art Project

Sometimes getting an education becomes a boring routine, even for kids who are learning independently at home.  So variety and self guided learning projects are very important for success in our homeschool. We have found that interdisciplinary projects such as a mix of art and science raises the level of excitement and engagement. This morning I was inspired to set up a hands on learning activity in our kitchen.  When Elliot saw the activity, he said "ooooh! Science!"  And though it is part kitchen chemistry, it's also a wonderfully contained mess of an art project. 

Bubble prints are simple, fun, and fast.  Here's how:


  •  White construction paper or watercolor paper
  •  plastic straws
  •  cookie sheets with sides
  •  acrylic paint, watercolor paint, tempera paint or food color
  •  clear liquid dish detergent (other colors work, but add a tint to the color of paint)
  • water 
  • small cups
  • newspaper or drop cloth


 1.  Cover work areas with newspaper or drop cloth

2.  Make the bubble mix in the small cups using half dish detergent, half water, and a few teaspoons of paint or food color until you are satisfied with the intensity of the color.  Repeat until you have at least three different colors of bubble mix per workstation.

3.  Place the cups into the cookie sheet.  Put a straw into the bubble mix and blow gently.  Let the bubbles flow over the edge of the container.  Remove straw.  Lightly grab the bubbles with the paper.  The bubbles leave a colored print as they pop.  Put the straw back into the container and continue until you have filled the page with as many prints and colors as desired.

The result is simple to clean up, just rinse everything in the sink. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Unexpected View

At five o'clock this morning, I woke up feeling funny, stuck in a giggly fit of laughter.  The memory of a moment we experienced yesterday at the zoo popped into my head and sent me into a snorting cycle of gasping for control hysterics, doubled in a ball of shaking hilarity. I kept telling myself to settle down, it wasn't really that funny.  Richard lay next to me wondering what was so entertaining.  Without joining in my laughter, his response was to dryly agree, "yes, I did overhear that. It was funny."  I guess at five am laughter like that is not contagious.  I'm sure you won't laugh either, as it would be too difficult to replay the moment as it actually happened in real time. 

Elliot and I sat down on a large wooden crate, glad for a place to rest and enjoy the experience of observing a group of chimpanzees.  While we observed the enclosure, we listened to the comments of the older couples that were sharing the small glass viewing area with us. Being suddenly aware of our fellow observers, I looked around and realized that we were taking up a lot of room as we sat on the crate. I moved our water bottles and scooted closer to Elliot.  Soon after making more space, one of the women came over to rest beside us.  A few seconds later, we all enjoyed watching the group of chimpanzees as they came very close to the glass. Someone mentioned that all the chimps sat with their backs facing us. 

And then Elliot and the rest of the group got a very intimate look at the backside of a chimpanzee.  One of the eldest chimps in the group stood up to expose a very saggy, wrinkly dark pink behind.  It drooped like a sack of loose pantyhose. It was a startling, alarming sight to an eight year old who is sensitive.  In an audible voice, he said

"Uggh!  How did that happen?"

And the woman behind me dropped a grape she was eating.  We heard her surprised chuckle, more like a guffaw, as the grape rolled in front of our feet.

I mumbled something about the natural process of aging, and we made our way out of the viewing area.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Rainbow Window

In the house on Brendonwood, mine was the only bedroom with a window that faced east.  On clear mornings, my pink room would glow with the morning sunrise.  One summer I spent a few dollars on a rainbow decal for this window, and after that, each sunrise also arrived with a rainbow reflection on my wall.  As the sun rose, so did the rainbow.

What a happy way to wake up on summer mornings.  Often, if it was warm enough, I might have the window open with a fresh breeze blowing in and twittering birdsong to further lift my spirit.  On weekends, there might also be an enticing, comforting aroma of pancakes rising into bubbly tender rounds on the stove.

The land around our house was a low lying valley, with heavy snows in the winter, abundant rain in spring, regular summer storms and cool and sometimes freezing autumn days.  When the yard wasn't covered by snow, the grass was deep, lush and kelly green with soft earth underneath.  Walking on it in bare feet was softer than carpet, and intensely aromatic.

Despite being a northern climate, in this area, gardens thrived in summer, and fall harvests were bountiful.  On Saturdays, I would look through the rainbow window and see my father working on the weeding or planting a row of corn.  I can see his blue jeans and the pocket with a white hankerchief he used to wipe the sweat from his brow.

Sometimes on summer nights, a thunderstorm would roll in.  I loved the sound and the energy of it, and would arise with the sound and open the window for a closer experience.  Lighting would light up the valley in white, then as it faded to black, I would feel blind for a moment. When it struck again, I'd be delighted by the sight of the wide land, the indigo sky and the dark outline of the trees.

As I travel on the inner journey, consciousness is like the night storm.  Sometimes I glimpse the meaning of my life and am thrilled by the beauty of what I've been given.  Then, in a flash, in the rush of now, and do, and let's, the darkness settles in and blots out the wow of what I was just experiencing.

During those years at the rainbow window, I struggled with all the normal growing pains of childhood, some that are better left covered under the gravel of forget.  Mostly, that northern, rural, idyllic childhood that my parents provided becomes sweeter for me with time.

Monday, September 17, 2012

My latest obsession

After being blessed with a few sales, I made a trip to the fabric store.  It's a bad habit of mine, to keep recycling the profits into new materials.  But I can't resist a day in my little corner sweat shop.  Sunday was cool, rainy and the perfect day for uninterrupted creativity.  Well, I'm sure there were a few interruptions, but no one really wanted to cross the threshold into my world of flying fabric scraps, thread balls like tumbleweed, the air filled with floating plush fiber to find me, buried in my cozy mess.

After messing around with some really crazy long fibered faux fur, I got out the vacuum and began to assemble something that I wanted. 

If there's time, I might just make an alternate version of this for myself, minus the poodle ears and tail.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Six Homeless Families

One of Elliot's goals for his service project to "help the homeless, one ninja at a time" was to raise enough funds to bring at least one homeless person away from the street and into a safe, permanent home.  It was an enormous, almost impossible goal for a child of seven.  I attempted to explain the concept of how much money that would take, not to discourage him from trying, but to provide a realistic perspective.  At age seven, Elliot thought that maybe one hundred dollars could buy someone a house. His response was to use the first thirty dollars to purchase a tent.

Perhaps this is cliche', but with God, all things are possible.  ALL things.

Five months after opening up Elliot's Ninja Art  he has achieved and gone beyond that goal.  It turns out that it wasn't necessary for him to actually earn thousands of dollars, but to raise awareness in our community. 

Six homeless families are now preparing to move into six apartments. It didn't happen as a result of the television news broadcast and Elliot's interview, or the newspaper article in the Greensboro Voice.  One day we acted on the suggestion of Elliot's Taekwondo master to make a flyer.  We made several copies, and Richard took one to work.

Two weeks ago, I received an unexpected phone call from a gentleman at Richard's workplace who wanted to order a custom painting.  Our conversation, catching me by surprise, was brief.  Later, Richard came home and explained that this man was very interested in Elliot's mission, and also requested contact information for people we have met along the way who work to provide services and shelter to people experiencing homelessness.

This week, we learned that this man is the owner of an apartment complex with six vacancies that he is willing to open up for families on the street. 

We are continually humbled and awestruck by the events that have been unfolding through Elliot's project.  I once believed that in order to be successful, one had to land a respectable career, work hard, and continually earn more money to establish financial security.  I didn't expect that in order to be successful, one could simply encourage and support the blossoming of a child's beautiful idea.

  The one thing that helped me to avoid my imagined and long hoped-for professional life was the thought that I would have to make lots of childcare arrangements and hire help to keep up the house.  I'm learning to let go of that artificial and idealistic image, and accept that I am where I am right now for a very important reason.  I remind myself that I want to be here in my second hand clothing, with no important, demanding, exhausting, stressful job to do.  Even if some days at home can be just like that.

Time keeps moving along and hopefully I move and grow with it.  Last night while lying awake in the middle of the night, I realized that I have a habit of believing that life as it appears now, will stay the same.  A memory of Emily and I playing basketball in the dark on a clear fall night came into my head.  While we shared the magic of how the night sky can release one from inhibitions, from constant tasking, from the assumed roles we take on during the day, the kid in me came out to play. I didn't mentally forecast her move up north.  I thought we would always have time to shoot some hoops under the stars.

And now, I keep thinking that it will be like this forever, Elliot and I doing "school" in the mornings.  His handwriting forever the same.  His pencil dropping habit.  His lack of focus on things he really doesn't like to do.  I forget to forecast that one day, he'll be signing his name in a flash, grabbing the car keys and heading out the door.  My prayer is this:  please let him take what he's learning now about impossible dreams and God be a seed firmly planted.  Let it be a perennial or an evergreen.  Let this miracle of six families be a reference point for constructing big dreams in the face of so much reality.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sunshine and Poetry

The days of glorious fall have arrived in our town.  After a week of pressing humidity and rain that crumples clothing, curls hair and flattens the will to take our dog for a simple walk, we are feeling light, our bodies stuffed full of fresh air and sunshine.  The windows have been opened, the neighbors have come out to chat.  With a freshly mowed lawn, a trimmed arbor and a remade fire hearth we are celebratory inside.  Days like these arrive to change my mind.

Elliot and I have an outdoor classroom that we use when the weather is nice.  It's a screened porch that we've set up to include a large worktable, a chalk board and white board.  We keep the strings of lights up from Elliot's eighth birthday party, and plug those in every morning.  Yesterday, as we opened our notebooks and began our writing lesson, I could feel an overpowering pull within my soul to leave the porch and spend the rest of the day out in the yard.  Elliot felt it too.  After struggling with this feeling for another twenty minutes, I released my will and let the spirit carry us away from books and notebooks, out into the light.

I reminded Elliot of the importance of daily work to balance life, admitting that one of the big lessons of homeschooling is learning how to work around the house.  It would be perfectly okay to leave our books and work on some projects together.  While I know he would have rather hopped on his bike or spent the day in a tree, we compromised, with a play break or two when we needed to relax.

It was wonderful.  I enjoy spending time like this with Elliot.  He was very helpful and stayed by my side with a pair of clippers as we cut away the overgrown vinca vines and ivy that were dominating the arbor floor and making lots of hiding places for copperhead snakes.  While he worked, he kept telling me how he didn't like to cut the vines, not because it was difficult, but because he loved to have places in the yard that made him feel like he was in the jungle.  He said when he grew up, he would buy the house and let all the vines grow.

Then he sat underneath the butterfly bush, happy to find a secluded place he knew I would never ever cut down.  

There may be a time in life when Elliot decides to write about that memory. It was an experience he wouldn't have unless we followed that prompt from the spirit and walked away from the books.  I have forgotten to tell Elliot that writing is not only thinking, but thinking about our memories.  The way he felt when....

sitting underneath his favorite tree while yellow swallowtails and monarchs flutter on the blooms.

We began our school year learning to write and appreciate poetry.  I enjoy this part of teaching more than any other subject.  Although I am not a poet, it is the most enjoyable subject to teach, especially because there aren't many rules to follow, and a beginning writer doesn't have to write in complete sentences. I love it so much that I wonder if Elliot would be bored with me if I only taught poetry for the entire year.

We start with a sample poem, think about what's going on in the poem and try to pick apart the form.  I always ask what the poet is doing with the words.  How did they do that?  I also ask what the poet is trying to tell us. 

Here are a few of Elliot's poems.  He speaks them out loud and tries to write them as fast as they come out, but sometimes the words fly away before they can be captured on the paper.  So I take notes to remind him, as Eve Merriam does in Catch a Little Rhyme.


When I think about winking
I try to wink
but instead


You do not know my secret
I dash though the night
with my friend Flash
I dash with Flash 
to save the day
Monster Mash


Smart Jane farts loudly in a crowded elevator
and feels proud.

Jane let the fart fly in the White House Elevator
and President Obama smelled her very stinky fart.

That was not very smart.

In fact, some people think Jane is so dumb
she's hopeless.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Signs of Life

  After a summer of absolutely 0 requests for Knees and Paws, the busy season is arriving. Before I'm ready. My summer of no sales had me thinking that my shop is done for. But just when the monitor seemed to be showing no signs of life, one new style has arrived, via a custom request.  Today I'm grateful for the visions of my youngest customers, who make the best suggestions!  The following is a set of Bubble Gum plush poodle accessories, complete with extra stuffed wrist and ankle cuffs.  They inspired me to make more sets in different colors.

I'm not sure how much I will be available online in the next few weeks, because I'm hoping to be at my sewing machine!  (AND the post office!)

Friday, September 7, 2012

Back from the edge of the Cliff of Doom

    I wonder if other educators experience the vertigo I feel during back to school season.  It's like standing on the precipice of the cliff of doom, where I contemplate an unending fall into the void, or scaling the crumbling rock face millimeter by millimeter.

It's difficult to have perspective when you're learning to teach via the bootstrap method.  I do have some practical field experience and accredited theoretical training on the process of how people learn how to learn.  This means that my method of teaching is to recognize a particular project or problem, then guide the learner to construct their own knowledge through the assignment, then to reflect on the experience.  One example of this is Elliot's Ninja Art to help homeless citizens.  Through the construction of his business, he actively participates in his own learning and is afforded real world experiences.  He's learning things that textbooks and government standards cannot teach.

Yet we cannot ignore that there are government standards and daily drudgery.

Spelling and writing are one of our biggest areas of need.  I have been researching packaged curriculum and decided that the Barton Reading and Spelling Program might be our best option.  Unfortunately this program is beyond my budget at the moment and so I have to wait.  In the meantime,  I've been working on creating a spelling game.

I want to have fun on this journey.  Although there are times of sweat and tears, I want those times to be few.  I not only want learning to be fun, but I want to help Elliot find humor and play while exploring the realm of written language.  Math was never funny.  Maybe that's why I never learned to compute large formulas.

Language, on the other hand, has the power to take one on emotional journeys.

So, while I'm waiting to earn enough to purchase the Barton system, I'm taking matters into my own hands and constructing my first spelling game.  Two working titles are "Literate Cave Folk" and "Teach a Cave Man to Spell."

Before you assume that I'm suggesting that my son spells like a cave man and I'm reinforcing a negative stigma, please read on.

In the game, the learner chooses a Cave Folk character and takes him on a journey, through situations where he must build words to help his character cooperate, work, play, survive danger, satisfy basic needs, have adventures and celebrate.  The game will be driven by situation cards that move the character all over the board.  When in the middle of a situation, the learner must help their character build words using phonograms.  The learner/player who has the longest list of words at the end of the game is declared the winner.

The first example of how to use a phonogram to build words is

                                                "things that make you go OO"

Like when you're a cave folk and the sun goes down and there's no such thing as controlled fire, flashlights or LED night lights.  There's only eyes peeping through the brush and rustling noises.  Then, all of a sudden, a round orb of white light rises.


Or when there's an unexplainable pain in your stomach and you discover that the berries growing on the bush are edible.


Or when you are struggling to make a shelter and you discover that a sharp rock can help cut the vines.


Or when after working on the shelter, your tummy starts to rumble from the berries.


But then another situation arises in which the cave folk must take those experiences and explain them to the other cave folk back at the cave.  The whole explanation would be a series of "oo! oo! oo!" and no one would understand.

            So the challenge is to give the cave folk character different phonograms in combination to build words and thus add meaning.

     The learner can then make a list of the first four words, "moon," "food," "tool" and "poop."  (My son is eight, and this game is supposed to make him laugh.  Language is funny.)

Although the game is in it's beginning phase of development, I see a lot of potential for humor.  And while Elliot already knows how to spell some of the basic beginning words, building confidence through using what he knows to build new words is the goal.  The opportunity for building huge lists of words during the course of the game, which can be played over several weeks, is why I am excited.  New situations can arise for the cave folk, every single day.

Knowing that I learn to solve problems in a constructivist sort of way, making things up as I go along, helps me to relax.  The idea for the game is keeping me focused on positive solutions, rather than negative fear.

Aren't we all still cave folk trying to explain our experiences to one another that have meaning?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Slowly, beautifully, I finish last

After a week stomach disturbance, I am enjoying a weekend of feeling healthy.  What a lift to my spirits this brings!  It's almost as heady as being in love.  Yesterday I was able to run for over an hour.  When my body wanted to stop after ten minutes, I just kept pushing on, giving myself more time to work myself into a red faced flush.  When I thought my lungs and heart would burst, I slowed down to recover and climbed a steep hill.  I would not stop moving.  I kept working up to my top speed, running in cycles of intervals.  I honestly think that I could have gone for another hour this way.  It is so exciting to break through the mental game I play, every single day.  The game of limits.  The game of an underachiever.  The game of finishing first.  I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to stay on the treadmill, and finish the race in last place, to be the last one to leave the room.

 Yesterday's run for last place is still having a positive effect this morning.  I have more energy and a feeling of strength through my core.  More powerful than the best motivational coach, my health has become the empowering factor in my life.

I have an old habit of limiting myself through the illusion of "not enough time" or "not enough energy" or "not enough finance.'  Classic scarcity thinking combined with a desire to finish first is the main reason why I have not achieved the levels of success and joy for living that I crave.  Economizing my potential through simplification is really a negative way to live.  Although I feel like I have overcome many of my wasteful spending habits, the "less is more" thinking really does not translate to other areas of life.  Perhaps I can explain.

I have limited myself by economizing time. In a desire to finish I rush and skip things and miss out on the pleasure of thoroughly experiencing all sensation and possibility.  Here's a little story.

I love to prepare meals.  I love to bake.  I enjoy being in the kitchen for hours while music is playing and smells are floating.  I love the chopping, the sizzling, the rising of warm goodness.  I especially love tasting and sipping and testing.  If dinner could be an event of sampling while standing at the counter, that would be heaven!  I have a beautiful memory of dining this way while Richard and I were dating.  One summer evening we spread out a mini buffet of creamy swiss wedges with tart green apples and crackers.  We sipped beer out of salt rimmed bottles, caught up in recognizing the miracle of life reflected in each other.  After our little meal, he washed the dishes.   As he sunk his strong hands into that basin of bubbles, my focus shifted to he way he took his time with the chore as if he enjoyed it.  As if he had time to do this thing that I never felt I had enough time to do.  It was one of the most beautiful and memorable nights of my life.  Cheese, crackers, and washing dishes.  It ranks higher than a trip to an amusement park in the file of best life moments.

Here's where things get muddy.  I like simple pleasures, but only if the simple gift that I am enjoying is spread out over a big block of time.  This is what I often forget during my daily routine.  This is why I've stopped making lists because they end up making me feel like I'm in a race.  I can enjoy the most mundane operation of toilet cleaning if I'm not in a rush.  I often rush when I am tired so that I can hurry up and rest.  So, energy for thoroughly enjoying the simple pleasures of life is something I desire.  Strangely, this means less time for draining activities (online activities included) and more time for things that make me feel uplifted, like running, swimming, bike riding, and of course, creating little projects.

 Breaking out of this race to finish first is my new focus, and something I intend to weave into our homeschooling journey.  The answer lies not in another workbook, another method, another set of rules to master. It is not going to be a quick fix miracle, or another atrocious book on teaching ANY child to spell, that involves Forcing your student to write.  The really wonderful epiphany I'm experiencing is the revelation that teaching is all about uncovering a child's belief that there are limitless possibilities to do the thing you thought you could not do.  Especially if you take the time to finish last.

So here I am, recognizing that the ever driving goal of efficiency in our society has negatively impacted the outcome of so many years of education.  I might have intelligence and could function successfully in the workplace, but became so disillusioned and dissatisfied and burned out by the rush of it all that I take a wild leap to figure things out for myself, on my own terms.  The world and its love of efficiency, speed and skill is not about to change because I feel like this drains the pleasure out of life.   But now that I know this, maybe a new developmental leap is in the making.

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