Monday, January 27, 2014

Gnomes, Outhouses, and more about our days...

(So, we had a wonderful sleepover in the woods last week, in-between snowstorms, and the best photos I got were of Ani taking a trip to the outhouse.  Granted, it is the most beautiful outhouse I've ever seen, and she was wearing a brand-spankin' new hat that I made all in one afternoon, but really. For as beautiful as it is, this photo shoot is a little silly.)  (And yes, there was the "Mama, you aren't going to take photos of me sitting down in the outhouse, are you?" Um, no darlin.)

I found myself wanting to talk more about what I was writing about last time - the routine, the structure - in this one-sided conversation I am having.  I felt like I gave the impression that we are quite formal these days, and schooly.  Well, for us I guess we are. The fact that we are doing anything at approximately the same time every day is revolutionary.  However, the flexibility, the meandering, the spontaneity, it's all still there.

isn't it so pretty?
Our days are still mostly conversations.  What kind of mouth does the Giant Squid have? Do you think the ancient shaduf looked like this? Doesn't it look like Spain and Africa are actually touching? Do you think they might be touching? 

I also found myself thinking about a quick conversation I had with a vendor at market, just before Christmas.  She has two grand-daughters who I discovered are living with her, and she threw out an exasperated sigh to me and set into talking about how hard it is to homeschool them when they don't want to sit still or learn anything (these girls are roughly 6 and 4).  Knowing there was a short line behind me, I took a second to start to say something about how we do it at home, but I guess I made the mistake of saying, well, we mostly unschool in our house, and the dismissive smile she gave me, along with the "well, that'll do it" told me that she has an image in her head of what that means, and it doesn't match how we live.  Her look told me that I take the easy route, not schooling my kids, and it stung. 

Finding the line between interest-lead learning and providing some flow is tricky.  It can take a lot of energy to be available and spontaneous. I would say that our choice is far from "easy", but it makes for a rich and mostly really enjoyable life.

I've spent a lot of time since that moment at market thinking of how I could give this woman a glimpse of another way of doing things.  I would tell her I spend most of my days with my children, listening to them and paying attention to what they are drawn to.  I would tell her that we play a lot of games, read a lot of books, and listen to music. I would tell her that I don't freak out when they are so deeply into a game that I can't possibly steer, because I value their play time just as much now as I did when they were 6 and 4.  I would tell her that my kids learned to read when they were ready to read (at ages 9 and 6), and that I wished I hadn't panicked about math so many times. 

Really, I wish it hadn't mattered that she scoffed when I said we mostly unschool.  It just revealed a lack of understanding on her part, not a shortcoming on mine.  I could also have told her that the whole thing changes every season, that we are constantly tweaking and figuring out what is working and what isn't - that our fall was confusing and disappointing in many ways and that I am so thankful that our fresh start is feeding us right now.  I am learning that we all do better when I can shape some of what we're doing.  I'm not so interested in debating whether or not that makes us unschoolers, as the label truly does not matter to me.  I am interested in finding that sweet spot that feeds all of us, kids and grown-ups, and makes us feel whole and engaged.

But enough navel-gazing.  Back to this mischievous gnome...

Little stinker.  I see you...

(Interestingly, as I've been writing this post, I've seen a couple of others out there in blogland talking about how their families do or don't "unschool" (here and here.)  Must be the contemplative nature of this January...wish we were all sitting around with our afternoon coffees together, talking it out!)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

You know it's a good day when...

...there is chocolate on your shirt and clay drying on your elbow.  Make that shirt a pajama shirt that you never got out of, and make outside a winter wonderland, and it's a near-perfect day.  I need to record more of those, because they do happen! They do! And it helps me to be able to go back and remember...Last week was our first week getting back into some rhythm since Eliza and Dan began their Appalachian Christmas Carol rehearsals back in November, and it was as rough as you might imagine it could be.  But this week, we're rockin' it.

French class
The secret has been finding times throughout the day when we are gathered.  The girls are so independent now, which I couldn't imagine ever being a problem when they were younger, but it means that they are often absorbed in something in their rooms and cannot be pried away.  

I can hear you asking "why do they need to be pried away from something that is so absorbing to them?" It has to do with staying connected to each other.  It has to do with having some common experiences to build from.  Meeting for an afternoon tea and poetry (this is where the chocolate on the shirt came in) means that we are interacting and sharing, laughing at the Shel Silverstein that inevitably shows up in someone's hands. Playing with words together.  It is so easy to disappear into one's own bubble, and resurfacing can be tricky.  Having some predictable times of the day to make contact helps us share the day.

je suis un yak

What seems to be working right now is a bit of structure.  Eliza has a math program that she's working through at her own pace in the mornings.  We read through lunch - currently from Story of the World, or something related to the time period, from the library.   After lunch Eliza does the cleaning up while we all listen to Pimsleur French.  These photos are all from "french class", which is to say, there is always something else going on - making clay models, drawing, folding clothes...

Gathering together at several points throughout the day also carves out the "free" time of the day, which then gets filled with art projects, reading, and, for Eliza, hours-long writing sessions.  Something about having a framework for the day provides rich pockets for delving into other things.  I don't know that I'm describing this particularly well, but it's as if rather than having hours and hours of open time, there are stepping stones to lead us through the day, and the stones show us not only where we are going, but also describe the gorgeous other time that gets filled in in whatever way interests us.  

I've heard of a Waldorf concept of in-breathing and out-breathing which is maybe what I'm trying to describe here. It's a pattern of together, apart, together, apart that lends a nice rhythm to our days.  It's a structure flexible enough to accomodate the spontaneous sleepover or need to follow a question down the rabbit hole of the internet, and the best I can say is that it's what is working for us right now!

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~
Now to some of the particulars.  (This is really two posts in one, but I've heard some complaints about my lax blog-writing lately, so I'm trying to catch up a bit...)

This fall we read Mark Kirlansky's The Story of Salt, which is so interesting that I think we'll probably return to it several times, and occasionally we find some follow-up to that interest.  This week it was Saltmen of Tibet (or Salt Shakers of Tibet, as Ani calls it), the story of a nomadic community of people in Tibet who send a small contingent on a 3-month journey every year to the holy salt lakes to gather salt.  It is a beautiful, slow movie with subtitles, and you never quite know how those will go over, but we loved it.  At one point, as a symbolic animal offering to the Goddess of the Salt Lake, one of the men sculpts yaks out of clay.  Ani was inspired, so one French class resulted in several sweet little yaks and one "Lord of the Animals" as the character was called.

Eliza has jumped into writing a novel this past week that had her on the computer for several hours a day, giggling and exclaiming and interrupting herself to read aloud from chapter after chapter.

Ani's math time is centered around game playing.  Occasionally we read a math book (Life of Fred or something by Marilyn Burns who is big into Math through Literature), but lately the practice comes from card games like Kapaga (the national card game of Greenland, of course) or cribbage, or strategy games like Pente.  A part of the practice comes from being the one keeping score.

for the record, in this game you don't want points.
Eliza spends a lot of time drawing (she bought a couple of new Mark Crilley Mastering Manga books with Christmas money; you can see her work over at her blog, Rattlesnake Plantain) or reading (she just finished a book she loved, called Ivy's Ever After and has been listening over and over to an audio version of Gathering Blue, the sequel to The Giver).  Ani is usually immersed in a book (recently it's been The BFG by Roald Dahl and compilations of the American Girl books about The Depression) or drawing while listening to a story (Anne of Green Gables, The Penderwicks, Dragon Rider and Harry Potter ANYTHING being her favorites).

Choir has started back up, we've joined back up with the learning coop for this quarter, and we've been trying to spend as much time as possible with our friends-in-the-woods who have returned from living in Texas for the past year.  We're happily busy, with the snow slowing us down just enough...

Sunday, January 5, 2014

a new year, a new bird

It's a new year, so around here that means a new bird.  I am guessing that within another year we will have exhausted most of the local over-wintering possibilities around here but we don't seem to be changing this tradition soon.  Maybe some year we'll find ourselves in Hawaii or Mexico or somewhere with some exotic migrants at this time of year, but until then, it's mostly the small winter survivors for us.  Ani is going from being a titmouse in 2013 to its close cousin, the black-capped chickadee in 2014. The folklore I've found suits both species, and is a good fit for this little, happily chirping girl.  This year she shares her bird with Dan.  (It wasn't a hard guess - this little guy's been at our feeder faithfully every morning!)

Chickadee is associated with the thinking process, higher mind and higher perceptions.
It is also associated with mystery and the feminine.
Chickadee can help you uncovering the mysteries of the mind.
With a Chickadee totem,
you can perceive more clearly in the dark and understand higher truths.
Chickadees are a social bird, usually traveling in groups,
and this is reflected in their totem people.
They love being with people and are usually cheerful and fearless.
For the Cherokee, Chickadee is the bird of truth.
People with this totem always tell the truth, no matter how much it hurts –
however, with Chickadee’s help, they can learn to express the truth in a manner
that heals, balances and opens the perceptions.
Truth can be shared in a way that adds joy to everyone’s lives. (LinsDomain)

I love this, and especially for these two people in my life.  They are definitely truth-tellers, and who couldn't benefit from learning how to express the truth in a manner that heals and balances?

Eliza and I were reluctant to share the chickadee.  I was also not really wanting the hardy sparrow from last year.  Knowing we were heading out on our annual hike, we kind of, um, averted our eyes (ok, Eliza blindfolded herself with her hat) until we got to the park.

our band photo. casual, cheerful, very fashionable.
 While we heard lots of flocks of small birds making their way through the trees, it wasn't until we left the park, after our hike, that we actually saw any birds! It was a little disconcerting, but finally, a robin flew across the road ahead of us. My bird!  Most of the folklore I have found regards the robin as sacred; any damage to the bird or its eggs brings harm or death to the perpetrator.  It is also a weather forecaster: "If it sang high in the trees, fair weather was supposed to follow, but if a robin stayed close to a house all autumn, a harsh winter was thought to lie ahead." (Folklore of Birds)

A Robin totem will stimulate new growth in all areas of your life. 
Believe in yourself as you move forward. 
Obstacles will fall by the wayside if you do and confrontations will be for show only. 
This totem gives you the ability to will new growth into your life. 
Meditate on Robin and the correct path will be revealed to you. (LinsDomain)

Eliza finally, amidst some panic that she might not see a bird on the first of the year, spotted a crow. I love the crows. So must she - this is the second time she's spotted one as her bird (see what I mean? Cycling through all of the local varieties...).

Crows are the keepers of the Sacred Law
and to have a Crow totem is very powerful.
Personal Integrity are your watchwords and your guide in Life.
If you have a Crow totem, your prime path
is to be mindful of your opinions and actions.
You must be willing to walk your talk,
to speak your truth and to know your life's mission.
Crow is a omen of Change.
Crow lives in the void and has no sense of time,
therefore, it sees past, present and future simultaneously.
Crow merges both light and dark, both inner and outer.
It is the totem of the Great Spirit and must be respected as such.
They are symbols of creation and spiritual strength.
Look for opportunities to create and manifest the magic of life.
Crows are messengers calling to us
about the creation and magic that is alive in the world today
and available to us. (LinsDomain)

Creation and magic are definitely a part of Eliza's constitution. 

And...then we crashed.  The photo below tells much of the story: the bed, the couch, some tea, the bathtub, the bed, the couch, some tea, the bathtub - on repeat, with little variation.  We have been laid low by the flu, which is a wonderful call to stop and be still.   

So, that's us in the new year! Starting quiet...
This is what Ani brought downstairs with her today to make her feel better
while she hung out on the couch. Sister love.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

playing playing playing

By the time the girls are grown, we'll have many years of these photos of them in their Gramma's and her sisters' old fancy dresses.  It never fails to crack me up, seeing how they compose themselves in their get-ups.  Eliza asked me to make sure to include the one's good to be able to laugh at yourself, don'tcha think?

Apparently, this is Ani's fancy-dress pose.  And I wasn't lying about the pajamas! She wore them all week long...

One day we tromped over to the cousins' house for some snow play. We were in Wisconsin, afterall...

We got to be a part of a game night with the cousins over at Gramma and Grampa's.  I wish we got to do this all the time.

On one of our last days, and before the temperature dropped further, we got out for some sledding in Dan's home town. It was pretty much all he wanted to do during that week home, and the snow was awesome.

We love you, snow pirates!

two christmases

Or more like two and a half Christmases and then a large party and...well, it was a week in Wisconsin that had endless festivities!  Here is the first part of Christmas, with my family...

(What - doesn't your family play "HA!" on Christmas Eve?)

...and here is the second part of the celebration, with Dan's family...

(OK, I kind of want to post all of this series, it is so funny. Trying to get seven kids looking in the same direction....oy!) (And yes, Ani is wearing her new Christmas pajamas. She did not take them off for three days.)