Thursday, August 9, 2012

Is That Candy Mountain, Charlie?

As I pour through medical and mom-blogs about my son's condition, I become overwhelmed.  Tears fill my eyes as one mom recounts her thoughts as her son has a flare-up... "I miss my boy."  Honey, I know how you feel.

Overwhelmed.  Hell, who am I kidding.  I have already been overwhelmed about thirteen, or forty-seven, times today.  It was heartbreaking to see my daughter embarrassed by her babytalking twelve-year old brother.  It was painful to watch him sob because he didn't know how to chart his song for his electric guitar lesson.  It hurt when I was unable to clearly explain to my husband why he had to be treated with compassion when he screamed his head off over dying in a video game.

And mostly, it pains me to know that I let it go this long.  He was on the antibiotics... he was getting better.  Then he was off the antibiotics, and still on the grain-free sugar-free dairy-free expensive food diet, and he was doing okay.

Then, I got sick.  I rushed to the hospital (after negotiating with myself for a week)... but it wasn't strep.  Just a virus.  The doctor in Urgent Care said, "So, I'm not sure what you do when a member of your family is ill.  You know, to try and steer clear of your PANDAS child."

Ummmm...  we don't share cups?

I DON'T KNOW!!!  Holy creeeaper!  What do I do?  I boost up Chailyn's NAC, his Olive Leaf Extract, and give him Xylitol.  I try to rest and get better.  (stop laughing, I said "try")  But how do I, as a stay-at-home mom with a working husband and a younger daughter, "steer clear" of my immune-compromised son when I have the ickies?

In the meantime, I made an appointment with his pediatrician.  The nurse, I'm sure, didn't know the position I was in and could not get him in for a week.  The doctor was very understanding.  She listened to my frantic jabber about his newest tic (repeating things over and over- which my husband doesn't believe because he has never heard it first-hand), his age regression, his anger, and how he climbed a tree so tall the fire department had to come and get him down.

Then, she calmly wrote a prescription for two refills of augmentin... and told me to ALWAYS call at the very moment I think I see a flare.  Then she wrote down two homeopathic preventatives for when I have a slight inclination that there are germs around (or if we go to a hands-on museum or a water park).

Now, with our son on his antibiotic regime (plus the fish oil and the melatonin), and a tube each of homeopathic sulfur and oscilococcinum tucked into my purse for quick ick prevention, I feel like we are headed up the right path.

But that path ain't paved in gold.  No ma'am.  It's rocky, and it doesn't lead to the Big Rock Candy Mountain, Charlie.  I'll be happy if it just leads to Plainville.  A little plain-ville would feel nice right now.

So, as we gear up for September... which in homeschool terms means some classes resume and we get on a nice schedule (ahhhh), I am only hoping that all of this works.  At least helps.  Because it breaks my heart to see him losing friendships over his PANDAS flare.  Kids, while they often are MORE understanding than adults about tears and tantrums, still don't want to be around someone who screams.

Who would?

Well... I would.  'Cuz I also want to be around the hugs, the deep belly laughs, and the joy!  Wait, maybe that is Candy Mountain up ahead.  Everyone mount a unicorn.  What is life anyway if there's nothing interesting to see on the ride?

Friday, August 3, 2012

PANDAS, Marbles, Cappuccino and Me

Today has been a strange day, for many reasons.  Let me count the ways...

I woke up with a very painful hand, the softy part of the outside of my left hand.  Throughout the day the pain has been creeping up my arm into me elbow.  No, I didn't do something valiant, heroic, or even cool to injure it.  I leaned on it while holding a book to try and crawl my way over my daughter on to the bed so we could read together.  Yep.  Lame.  But it still hurts.

Second, I kind of felt floaty all day, like I was outside myself but not really.  This could be due to the double earaches, or the fact that I'm subconsciously trying to detach myself from the roller coaster that has been my son lately.

And that gets me to that part.  Two nights ago we discovered the wonders of melatonin.  We gave it to our normally nocturnal twelve-year-old and he was asleep within an hour, slept through the night, and got up before lunch time.  Needless to say, this new routine has been a slight adjustment.

However, it comes at a time when he is having an outbreak of PANDAS symptoms.  He has been highly volatile, experiencing age regression, straining to write (last night it took him a painstaking five minutes to write a six word sentence), and repeating phrases in babytalk.

"I want some ice cream.  I want some ice cream.  I want some ice cream."
"I gotta find my marble.  I gotta find my marble.  I gotta find my marble.  I gotta find..."  You get the picture.

I think I have a few lost marbles, too.

On the way to School of Rock, it was like Rage and Sorrow were embraced and rolling rapidly down a steep grassy hill.  Scream-cry-scream-cry-scream-cry for an hour and a half.  And that wasn't even me.  I spent the drive with one hand on the wheel and the other rubbing my overly-emotional son's neck.  This whole thing has been such a ride.

Oh, sorry... are you confused?

If you don't know us well, you may not know that my son was diagnosed with PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Affected by Strep.)  Essentially, he got strep at some point and it caused his antibodies to swell his brain, and his dopamine doesn't drive right.  See, all this stuff is linked together. New  PANDAS symptoms outbreak caused by the germies that are giving me an earache, earache possibly causing the floaty sensation, melatonin necessary so I can sleep and get healthy, yada yada yada.

And now I'm at a coffee shop while my son is at his first night of Nirvana Rock Camp, where he missed his first half hour because I wrote down the wrong time (which doesn't usually happen in my world).  In addition, I am writing on this blog, which I haven't done in a very very long time... and I am doing this INSTEAD of doing my actual writing WORK (that I get paid for).

"Well," I say, as I sip my honey cappuccino, "Let's just call this warm-up exercises and therapy rolled into one thirty minute session that ran me $3.21 plus tip."

I am learning to embrace our new family motto:  It is what it is.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

You'd think with all the working I do, my butt would be off by now.

I'm really not sure how I have manipulated time to squeeze in ten hours of work a week... but I have.  Since registering with eLance, I have been hired for five writing and editing jobs.  Four of them are ongoing or weekly articles!  While I am absolutely thrilled to be doing what I love and making money at it, I can't say that I really had that time to spare to begin with...

Or did I?

What's fascinating about this transition time is that I feel compelled to work harder at EVERYTHING I do, because I don't want to fall behind.  I'm reminded of that common saying, "If you want something done, ask a busy person."  Is it because people who are busy are capable, or people who are capable are busy?  OR, is it just that over-booked people get caught in a crazy propulsion, an inevitable inertia created by caffeine consumption, compulsive schedule-checking, and a frantic idea that there is not enough time.

STOP.  Slow down.  Take a breath.  That's what I have to do.  Have a cup of tea... yesterday morning I read the paper.  Yep, the honest-to-goodness printed with ink on tree-pulp newspaper.  It was really relaxing.  I got out the kids' planners again, because for some reason I really felt I needed to organize things in the concrete world... my brain could not be trusted.    But it's all good.  I let the kids pick out a couple of great workbooks at The Teacher Store today... things they are interested in or need some reinforcement on.  Kayden started learning French today... her choice, on her own.  And she picked out a cursive book because she's been begging to learn it for a while, and I hadn't gotten around to it.

I'm thrilled with the fact that I'm following my dream and adding much-needed income to the family's coffer, and I'm taking this transition into work/mom/education at full speed.  Maybe I should have eased into it... but the world doesn't stop, the laundry doesn't clean itself, the grass doesn't stay in the ground (but the twelve year old son can cut it).  I'm learning that this can change things for the better, let the children have more responsibility, and the husband, too.

Otherwise, one day, I'll look behind me and won't have a butt... as it will have been worked right off.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

My Life

Over the last few days, I have relaxed about the money situation.  It kind of goes that way with us... the ups and downs.  It's what makes life interesting, I guess.  I once asked Jason's grandmother, whom had been married to his grandfather for over sixty years, "What's the trick?"

Jason's Grandma with my kiddos.
She answered, "Don't talk about money.  If you have some, great.  If you don't, you'll get some soon enough."

I like that rule.  It's a good rule.  Every time I look at her picture on our refrigerator, I think of these words and thank her.

So, I promise I will no longer panic about money... and instead follow grandma's rule for a happy marriage.    

Often times real wisdom comes not from a book, or a link on the internet, or through the advice of an expert.  It comes from someone who has lived, experienced, loved... and who is close to us.  

I have been told recently by a friend that sometimes we need to break free from all of the "manuals" and self-help books, parenting books and well (or not so well) intended experts and self-proclaimed gurus... and just trust ourselves.  Trust our instincts.  Do what we know feels right, and don't worry about what people out there in virtual world (or reality) think about how we live our lives.  

I have long since given up reading parenting books... I could have saved a lot of time and angst if I had just listened to my folks, who always said, "Babies don't come with instruction manuals."   Apparently, Barnes and Noble didn't get that memo.  Somewhere along the line, I realized that no one else can be an "expert" on  MY children.  (With the exception of experts on specific medical conditions, of course.)

And even if you did try to plan it all out... the plans change.  Life is more like a painting than a map.  It's more like an overture than directions.  There is no one set way of getting from the "start" to the "end," but there are a million ways to enjoy the ride.

It's my life.  My family's life.  No-one else need live with the outcome, no-one else is held accountable at the end of the line.  That thought gives me peace.  It gives me confidence.

And today... for some reason, all our plans got cancelled... and that's okay.  Perhaps we needed a day to relax, to breathe, to work in the yard and do art projects, catch up on chores... to enjoy the music.  I don't need to fill up my days to have a full life.  I don't need to fill up my children's time to make sure they are learning.

Today, in this moment, these thoughts give me peace.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Thank you, man that took ten seconds at the rec center to tell my daughter how fast she is (keeping pace with his seven minute mile).  You may have inspired a runner.

Thank you, lady in the Dollar Store who stopped me to ask if that was my son singing... who then looked at him and said, "You have a song in your heart.  You are amazing, and I'm sure you will make it your career."  You, Dollar Store lady, may have inspired a musician.

Sometimes it's the smallest gesture from a stranger that is incredibly meaningful to a child, even more than the largest overture coming from Mom or Dad.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

I am going to...

"Broke (In the sense of having no money)
Many banks in post-Renaissance Europe issued small, porcelain "borrower's tiles" to their creditworthy customers. Like credit cards, these tiles were imprinted with the owner's name, his credit limit, and the name of the bank. Each time the customer wanted to borrow money, he had to present the tile to the bank teller, who would compare the imprinted credit limit with how much the customer had already borrowed. If the borrower were past the limit, the teller "broke" the tile on the spot."

Interesting origin of this simple word, which has been buzzing around in my head and manipulating my thoughts, emotions, relationships and actions these days.  We are down to the nitty gritty, and no amount of Gorilla Glue could fix that tile.  So, last night Jay and I agreed that one of us would need to get another job.  

We have tried to cut expenses... I no longer go to the salon for a haircut, I tweeze instead of wax, we cut back on music lessons, we go to the dollar show on our date night, we skip a lot of events with friends that we would love to attend... The very most unfortunate thing is that my children are not able to participate in as many classes as I would have hoped. (sigh) I honestly don't know where we can cut back any more.  

(Well, okay... we can be more careful about turning off lights and running the dishwasher less.  And probably smartphones are not a human basic need... )  

But generally speaking, we are not big money-spenders.  We rarely go out to dinner, I don't buy new clothes (unless the undies get holes or the kids can't get into their pants anymore- yes, kids grow), I've sold all the gold I've ever owned (not much), and I don't constantly buy my kids the newest video game or Monster High Dolls.  So, when my oven finally conked out yesterday, and we counted the number of electrically challenged light fixtures in the house, not to mention the non-functioning garage door and the expired computer anti-virus software, (none of which we can afford to fix), my loving husband and I decided that one of us needs to get another job.

It should probably be me.

And I am scared.

Why am I scared?  Since leaving my career up north, I have worked part time several times.  I have been a desk-clerk at a dance studio, nannied other people's children, started (and abandoned)  my own organic cookie company, sold various products through the "party" model, and taken on freelance writing projects.  Why am I so scared now?  What's different?

Two things:  One, we are now home schooling.  Getting another job with change a lot.  Two, I am right in the middle of trying to achieve my soul's dream of writing for a living- writing what I want, on my terms.  Getting an hourly job will put a huge crimp in my write-time.

Oh wait, THREE!  The last one being that Jay and I are trying to realize both of our lifelong dreams of becoming coffee shop owners once again.  

Doh!  Wait, there's FOUR!  The final reason being I'm afraid that life as we know it (and like it) will fall apart if I begin to work outside the house again.  Now, don't get me wrong on this one.  We do not live in a chauvinistic household.  I made the choice to stay at home, I respect my choice (so should you), and I'm good at what I do.  I am a household manager, teacher, event planner... We are just getting into a comfortable rhythm and I'm honestly afraid to upset it.

I have been desperately trying to study and figure out how to increase traffic to my (newly monetized) blog.  But when it comes to technical language, I might as well be reading the instructions about how to assemble an Ikea media wall- in Japanese.  I have read and re-read chapters in a very simply stated instructional book, I have gone through the web-crawler installation wizard multiple times...  I need better exposure.  I need links into my page.  I need... a glass of wine right about now.  

Meanwhile, I asked my hub to give me two weeks to get this all moving.

My two weeks are almost up... so I am preparing to write up my resume.  (gulp)

It's not that I don't want to work.  I have never shied away from a challenge, or from hard labor.  It's something deeper.  It feels like a loss... it feels like I've failed.  Myself.  For once I decided to make writing a career for me, to dedicate my rare free time to my passion, to never again be afraid to say, "I'm a writer."  THIS time, I was really going to do it.  

But life got in the way.  My momentum?  Broke (n).

How many people have had to give up their passion to work a day job, to make ends meet?  I know.  I know.  Most of us.  What a wonderful world it would be if we could all do what we loved, and survive on it.  Oh, what a wonderful world it would be.

And then there's the coffee... we were finally on track with that... Jay and I have been pouring whatever leftover energy we have into truly making a go of it.  I don't want to see that come to a halt. 

And then what lesson will I be teaching my kids?  (not the lesson I spouted all over about the other day...) Yes, I could go get a job at a coffee shop (great market research), but then I will feel like some kind of liar or traitor if I leave them to start my own place, or if I'm roasting and selling on the side.  Grrrr....  damn morals.

My thoughts are kind of spiraling out of control.  This blog is uncensored, remember?  It's where I purge my mind so I can refresh.  (I apologize if it feels disjointed... Actually, no I don't... because feel disjointed.  What comes across here is genuine.) I don't want to be afraid.  I don't want to stop doing what I love. 

I think writing this has given me strength.  I think stringing out this thought process on paper (well, virtual paper) is helping me sort it all out in my brain.  I am GOING to be a writer.  I am GOING to use my passion to help support my self and my family.  I am going to do that by...

I am going to...

I am going to edit my last year and a half's worth of blog posts into a book.  I am then going to sell it as a Kindle book.  I AM going to do this.  

There, I said it out loud (kind of), now I have to do it.  Cuz one thing my daddy always taught me is that I am not a quitter.  Especially not when everyone knows I've started something.  

This blog may be about home schooling... but in a way home schooling is just about life, and making choices, and pursing goals.  It's about looking at a problem from many different angles, and then choosing the best way to tackle it... so aren't we all just home schooling adults?  

Friday, March 9, 2012

Embracing the Reed

Yesterday I wrote a very long blog post essentially detailing everything my children did without an agenda, without a list, and without meltdowns during the course of a wonderful day.  This morning, I changed my mind (did not publish it) and wrote this instead... because that's the point, isn't it?  The reed who bends with the wind is stronger in the end, than the mighty oak whose roots are torn up in all it's strength because it is not able to change.

This morning I woke to heavy snow blowing around my back yard, white and Wintery as it has not been so much this year.  A thousand thoughts ran through my head... from "we may not make it to classes today" to "it's cold in here" to "Kk's going to want to play outside in her snow pants."  By the time my cup of Sumatran finished steeping in the French press, the sun was shining brilliantly and the mercury in our back window thermometer was rising.  Go figure.

One thing that every native Michigander has ingrained in their brain is... always dress in layers.  You never know what Mother Nature is going to wrap around her little flock at any given moment. If you're only wearing a sweatshirt, with no undershirt beneath, you might be sweating by noon. I'm learning now that we always need to be prepared for life in the same way.  [Wear your underclothes at all times.  You never know when you'll have to strip down to your skivvies.]

So, yesterday we had a wonderful visit with some new unschooling friends... who, by the way, have really wonderful and intelligent teenagers and a nine year old.  (Yes, children of different ages can and do have a great time together.)  During my conversation with my new friend and her sixteen year old son, I had an epiphany that has brought me much calm...  by providing a nurturing environment and being attuned to our children's passions, they will learn to have a wonderful and happy life doing what they love.  Isn't that what we want for our kids?

I was a very well-rounded youth,  incredibly competitive and ambitious.  Voted "Most Likely to Succeed" by my senior class, I now wonder, "By what measure of success?"  I went to college on scholarship straight out of high school.  I transferred schools three times and changed my major twice.  I settled on English with a Business minor so that I could be incredibly "marketable."  What?  Again, I say, "WHAT?"  I was a PRODUCT of my education.  And I have spend my life wondering what my passion truly was.... "Jack of all trades, master of none."  That was me... floundering in a sea of possibility, only looking at what I could do that would "utilize" my degree.

This is NOT the kind of success I want to instill in my children.  I want them to be happy, content, and at peace in their lives.  I don't care if they make a million dollars a year, or even $100,000 salary with a smart corner office with a window... unless that's what THEY want.  Instead, it's my job to instill in them a better meaning of success.  And the only way I can do that... is if I am the reed.

I need to let them explore what they love, helping them find the tools they need to prosper in that passion.  My dad always said, "If you love your job, you will never work a day in your life."  By forcing them in to a stressful schedule and an arbitrary curriculum, I feel I am undermining that very goal.  Their education should not be a process that produces a product that some employer wants to "purchase."  It should be a means to living a wonderful, happy life.  And in the meantime, I want my family to live that wonderful life, too.

My husband and I have recently dipped our toes back into the coffee business.  Our children are excited and want to be involved... but I'm not sure if the most important lesson they will learn from this is where Guatemala is on the map or the germination time line for a coffee seed.  I think the very MOST important thing our kids will learn is that pursuing your passion will make you feel fulfilled (success!)... and that the way to do that is to educate yourself.  They see us reading books about how to build our business, looking up web sites about coffee origins, planning out our marketing strategy, testing our product on a target market.  By the time we open our doors, our children will understand that we accomplished all of that through educating ourselves.  They will know, without a doubt, that they should never "settle" for being a "marketable product."

So, what I intended to be a very short post about being flexible (and really embracing an UNschooling philosophy), and how that s going to help keep peace in our household, turned into a diatribe espousing the virtues of following our passions, versus working toward a job.  Ah, well... I guess I am the reed.

But here's a last thought... the oak tree, the one that can't change in the wind... he can't help it right?  His steadfastness is ingrained in his very molecular structure... Hmmm...  I don't think I'll extrapolate on that metaphor at this very moment.  Another post altogether.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Rx: Homeschooling

If Homeschooling were a bottle filled with pills, it would
look like this!  Don't you think?
Rx: Homeschooling

When used properly, Homeschooling can be an effective treatment for childhood anxiety, learning disabilities, ostracism, boredom, decreased creativity, lethargy, over-scheduling, and childhood depression.

The possible benefits of Homeschooling can be overwhelming, and include (but are not limited to): boosted self-confidence, increase in family bonding, building of community, focused learning, explosion of creativity, increased free time/play time, and additional access to unique educational opportunities.

WARNING:  Homeschooling may cause side effects such as (but not limited to) headache, nausea, weight gain, insomnia, heart palpitations, marital conflict, loss of libido, and gray hair.

USE WITH CAUTION and only under the direct care of a seasoned homeschooler and with the support of friends and family.

Homeschooling is not for the faint of heart.  

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Just what did we learn? (includes a link to cool free classes)

It's three o'clock.  The time of day when a lot of school kids are getting onto busses... having had their fill of knowledge for the day.  Quadratic equations on top of dangling participles on top of the life cycle of a Great Winged Petrel, all wrapped up in the period table of the elements.  Gawsh.  It's when I start thinking about all the "stuff" my kids' schooled counterparts are learning during the day that I can easily slip into self-doubt.

Especially when it's raining and my tummy hurts.  And we missed music lessons because my tummy hurts.

Orange Flower's
Purple Life
My daughter started the day with a paint brush.  Let me preface by saying that this weekend she really pushed herself... and she created some of the best eight-year old art work ever to grace our cluttered dining room table.

This morning, however, it was as if all the inner turmoil of every starving artist on the planet was unleashed through my little girl.  She woke up and went straight to the easel.  (yeah, no coffee)  She started sketching a cake, which looked like crap.  She erased the cake.  She whined.

She just COULD NOT think of anything good to paint.  I suggested that if she paint a coffee mug, I would buy it if no-one else did (at her future exhibition).

NO WAY, Mom.  She hates painting mugs,  she sucks at them, she said she was a horrible artist and she was never going to do art again. (stomp stomp stomp)

I suggested breakfast.  She was NOT hungry.  (seriously, coffee... I mean for me)

I suggested painting a portrait of her guitar.  She was sure the drawing she made sucked, and could I erase it FOR her because her arm hurt from erasing.

I suggested painting it up really close so you could just see the strings and neck.  That was stupid.  I suggested a break.  She thought a break was good but only if she could watch something.

Lonely Pear in Pink
Sure.  Fine.  Whatever.  But only until her brother woke up, because I was NOT going to start the day with tv and gaming with HIM.  That was a different battle.

And so, the exhausted uninspired artist rested.

At some point Chay rolled out of bed (he had been up late into the night reading an awesome book called "Okay for Now."  He started into a cupcake-baking project all on his own [bonus].

Finally KK, (after asking me to stay OUT) began to apply paint to canvas.  Honestly, I had a hard time withholding critique.  But I did tell her I knew she could do better.  While concentric squares of various random colors were okay... anyone could do that.  (don't be hard on me, she obviously hadn't even put thought into the color scheme) The things she painted, and worked on diligently over the weekend, which showed her talent for perspective and lighting and color, were breathtaking.  I told her if she wasn't feeling inspired then gosh-darnit don't paint.  Start up again when it feels right.

I braced myself for more tears and throwing, hoping she wasn't grabbing for the muddy orange-ish water in the brush-cup.  But she didn't throw.  She didn't say anything.  Had my honesty actually worked?  Yay, something right!  I think I will be okay after all.

Am I getting off track?  It's three o'clock and we are finally at the library, despite my the interesting feelings happening in my stomach.  The kids got in about fifteen minutes of Muzzy language online and each checked out some science and lit magazines before Chay jumped upstairs to get in on the origami-bookmark-making session in the Teen Zone [] .  Pssst... they also offer free tutoring every Wednesday night from 6pm-8pm. AND a free Guys Read Book club.  Check the link!

I sit here on my computer, finally gently sipping a cup of coffee, and writing this blog post.

I have to get KK to jazz at 4:15pm, and we plan on the rec center tonight for lap swimming.  My *hope* is that we will have quiet time tonight to read and such.  The kids will practice their piano and guitar... and so it's not going to be a day wasted.  Let's rundown the learning for today:  music, foreign language, art, culinary arts and phys ed.  Okay, so if we approach this like college... tomorrow we handle math, spelling, science and geography (plus music and phys ed again).

I think I will be okay after all.  I think we all will.

And that bit of art work KK made today... well, I looked at it again... and it was all right.  The beautiful thing about art, I told my daughter, is that everyone likes something different.  Otherwise this world would be one heckuva boring place.

Enjoy the Fall

I did it!  I'm me!  Here I am, world.  No longer am I hiding behind the (albeit very cool) vintage image of the perfect mother in her apron cooking something delicious for her adoring family!  I have to admit, when I started blogging a year and a half ago, I was digging into some very deep muck- often times I was ranting, and melting down, and going through all the turmoil of a new and completely clueless home school mom.  I wanted to be blatantly honest.  I thought the best way to do that was to put myself in a personal protection program.  But who was I hiding from?  My friends knew who I was... because I wanted them to read my blog, I posted it in my Facebook Page as MY blog! (der) 

What about people who don't know me?  (You know who you are.) Is it going to matter if I call myself by a different name, or if I reveal my children's identities?  Is a future employer going to go online, find my blog, and NOT HIRE my child because they once had a tantrum and told me they hated me... or because they have a sensory processing disorder and needed extra help at age ten to get through frustrations?  ...well... hopefully by "job time" my son will have the tool belt of skills he needs to cope without my help... [OH gosh n' golly I hope so]

So to those of you who know me as Kara Muse... "Hi, my name is Melinda and I am a recovering undercover blogger."

It helps to jump with a friend by your side.
This feels so good.  I feel like a new person, literally and not just virtually!  It is very liberating to be who you are, to let your flag fly in all of its freaky glory.  I think it's liberating because I KNOW I am doing what's right for me, for my family, so I am ready to go to bat for my ideals.  And it's also liberating because if I am being honest and open about my struggles, it might just help some other family who feels like they are on a downward spiral... sometimes knowing that someone else has been where you are and survived the jump is all you need to let go and fall.

That's my mantra for now... let go, and let life.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Loony Zone

Today I worked on fancying up my blog!  Do you like it?  You know when you are going out with your partner (as if... hehe) and you put on a little lip gloss, take off the yoga pants, and fluff your hair?  You know... pretty.  My blog feels pretty.  She just smooched herself in the mirror.  And winked.

I have to be totally forthright with you... last night I was about to have a meltdown of epic proportions.  We started out well enough... it was a slow Sunday... the kind that starts out with eggs scrambled by my eight-year-old daughter and freshly roasted coffee expertly French pressed by my adoring spouse.  It was the kind of day that begged for painting in pajamas and plucking the ukulele laying down on our big purple shag rug.  In fact... the day's production was wonderful.  Cady got really into acrylics as she gears up to be the youngest artist on exhibition at our local coffee shop.  See photo right->

Not only that, but the smell of freshly baked muffins wafted through the house... as Asher baked up a batch of his finest.  Sounds like a day of  perfection, right?  So, what the *&%# was my problem?!?

{HEY, my hub just walked in and gave me the PERFECT illustration.}  

He innocently asked, "Why are they screaming?"

I am literally chuckling, my tanked top shaking like a bowl full of jello-shots.   Here's the short-list of an answer.  

My Children Scream Because They Are:
  • being funny
  • being Fred
  • angry
  • hurt
  • pretending to be a baby
  • pretending to sing like an idiot
  • attacking the dog
  • attacking each other
  • ninja stalking the neighbor
  • laughing hysterically
  • pretending to be a parrot
  • trying to get my attention... from the basement when I am in the upstairs bathroom
  • talking in Spanish
  • jumping on the trampoline
  • screaming to fill up the quiet
  • being zombies
  • acting like a chimpanzee
  • acting like a child
  • trying to irritate the pucky out of me
  • making sure I don't try to procreate any more
  • making sure they haven't lost their voices
  • singing first round of American Idol
  • telling me the dinner was good/bad 
  • making sure I know they are hungry
  • tired
  • breathing
Okay... that's just a partial list.  My house is quite often insane.  Which is something I love about my house, especially since my kids don't carry that over into dinner with Grandma and Grandpa.  I guess my house is just a "be as loony as you like" zone.  We are breeding eccentrics over here... but I guess nothing wonderful came of conformity.

What was I saying?  Oh, yes... bed time on our perfect Sunday brought me to hysterics.  My sweet artist, Cady, could not stop being a total goofball... and she had her older brother on the bandwagon.  It was a right old hootinannee.    Except, after ONE MORE ANNOYING SOUND, I was D.O.N.E.  No more pants pulled up to the nipples walking around like Erkel, no more arm pit farts, no more bugged out eyeballs or massive wedgies, no more sliding around on bellies in feetie pajamas making platypus grunt noises, and for Goddess-sake NO MORE SCREAMING!!!!!

I cried.  I did.  I walked out of the room and cried.  Is a little quiet too much to ask?  Is it?

Ahhh.  I feel better now.  A good night's rest (with no alarm clock set), and a quiet talk with myself (oh  yeah, and with the crazies that inhabit my space) has set everything straight.  Today I vowed to spend some time apart from my beautiful children, and to do something meditative.  We went to the gym and swam laps.  Cady was my personal trainer, swimming twenty laps alongside me... but without talking.  Asher swam laps, then did some water-spinning somersaults and stuff before showering and heading to the game room on his own.  On.  His.  Own.  (grin)

And tonight... oh sweet tonight... I got to sit in the lounge at the opera house while Asher rehearsed (on a totally different floor) and work on my own things for two whole hours.  Hence, the blog makeover.  (kisses)  She looks fabu, I feel so much better... and I didn't hear a single scream until just then- when my husband came in- but it came from basement... and it stopped on its own.  I think it was a delighted scream.  The guinea pig is probably in a dress

Yep, I was right.

He hates that... but he looks beautiful. ;)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Focus: Money


I can't deny it... my family has been talking a lot about money lately.  I hate money.  I would live on a commune in a second.  But money is a harsh reality that we can either live with... or live with.  While money can't buy happiness, knowing how to manage what you have can sure spare a lot of headache.

We are a middle income family.  My children have everything they NEED, and much of what they want.  However, last year my husband made less money than the year before. A significant amount less. (Sound familiar?)  So we need to be careful about where we spend or we will end up eating beans and rice at the end of the month.  Not that I don't love beans and rice... just maybe not for breakfast. So, in the spirit of unschooling,  I decided to bring the kids in on the conversation in a very real way.  This is how we did it.


I picked up one game called Real World Math: Unexpected Events. World Math: Unexpected Events Games-game-7804  
In this game, each player has a little check book.  The object is to go around the board, filling out debits and credits in your check ledger... and whomever has the most money left at the end, wins!  Now, thank the goodness that filling out a check book ledger is like riding a bike.  You don't forget how.  I hadn't actually filled out my check book ledger in years, and yearsandyears.  Now, in the first game Cady and I ended up in the red.  I explained to the kids that this was bad.  We talked about why you should not spend money you don't have... but this game didn't allow for that. While the game is fun, and my kids actually WANT to play it, I wanted something to teach them the value of managing money and how to stay within a budget.  How could I make this lesson better?

Make up a game.
 Now, I am a self-admitted enabler.  I have always been the kind of mom that does everything for everyone... until I realized that it was killing me and not doing anyone else any favors in the long run.  This year, I've been better about having the kids do household chores.  But I felt like I was a serious nag all the time.  OR they would say, "I'll do it later."  Part of the great thing about homeschooling is that the kids have all this "extra time."  I had been letting them waste that playing games and watching TV while I turned into an exhausted house frau... and then an angry army drill sergeant.  Time to combine lessons on money  management with job responsibility.

In comes "THE CHORE GAME."  (photo right)

I picked up one of these pocket organizers at The Teacher Store.  On sturdy note cards, I made pictures of different chores around our house.  Feed the Guinea Pigs, Clean the Bathroom, Empty Dishwasher, et cetera.  Each chore has a matching pair.  Each card has a payment value on it.  For example, Clean the Bathroom is $100.  Every Sunday, we sit down and play a game of Chores (which is played just like Old Maid).  There is one card that has no match, but instead of Old Maid, it's Manager.  The player left with the Manager wins the game, but also is responsible for making sure everyone else gets their chores done that week.

Each family member has a line of pockets, each with seven pockets labeled with the days of the week.  After the game is played, everyone distributes their cards into the days they will perform their chore.  Daily chores are simply moved down the line as they are completed each day.  When one-time chores are completed, they are flipped over.  At the end of the week, salaries will be paid (in fake "housebucks") if all the jobs were completed.  The kids can then use those "housebucks" for activities or exchange it for money ($100 Housebucks = $1.00.  Generally their chores add up to about $300-$400 housebucks a week.)  I created a menu of things the kids really like, so they can gauge what to save for.  My daughter loves sleepovers, so a sleepover with one friend is $250 Housebucks.  Why?  Because it costs us money, time and energy to have a friend over.  It is a privilege that must be earned.  Lunch out at one of our local diners is $200 house bucks.  Family bowling night is $1000 Housebucks.  

And yes, my husband and I play, too.  Sometimes he will get Cook Dinner or Clean Bathroom... and it shows the kids that while Dad works and makes the family's money, he also has an important part to play at home.  It takes a team.  YAY, TEAM FAMILY!!!

So far, it has worked really well.  We have added a few more chore cards as we saw a need for them.  Sometimes they don't get their stuff done, and I have to tell the manager to do his or her job.  The laundry still looks like Trash Heap, and more often than not you have to maneuver your way carefully through the bedrooms.  BUT, it feels like we are a team.  We all enjoy the game, and the kids choose their activities wisely... knowing that if they have a sleepover on Saturday, they may not have enough Housebucks to also go out to lunch Tuesday.

The next step in the game is to make checkbook ledgers for each of us, so the "cash" doesn't run out.

Let me know if you have questions on how to implement this game at home!  Also, PLEASE share with us any other money - management activities or resources you have used successfully.

Also, tell us about free and cheap field trips and other home school-ey stuff.  Share the wealth! :)

Monday, February 6, 2012

I'm Back, but Not the Same

I am so sorry, dear readers.  I have been absent for what seems like a lifetime.  Indeed, I feel like a different woman now from when I last posted.  This year of home schooling, or let's just say "living,"  has taken an incredible turn into the sunshine.  Before I start singing "the hills are alive, with the sound of music," let me just ground that in the fact that my feet are fully on the ground and I always carry an umbrella.  But for now, I am happy and my family is harmonious.

I have realized, through a long and unexpected series of events and new relationships, that it's not precisely how you teach your children math and history and science that's the real foundation of education.  More so, it's how you build their relationship with learning that's important.  My ingrained (from 17 years of formal education) adherence to academic rigidity was causing a major chasm between me and my children, and my husband's insistence on a tight schedule was interfering with our loving relationship.  Ugh.

I've recently had the opportunity to be in company with a great deal of unschoolers.  While for a very long time I was afraid of that term, I have now come to embrace its very essence.  It means- to follow the child's lead, to give them a taste of many different learning opportunities and let them run with whatever interests them, to center their education around what inspires them.  I still make sure they do math, and learn proper grammar and spelling... but why should I make Asher do a report about a famous author when he is eager and willing to write an inspiring blog post about his passion for parkour?  When he is in a production of Carmina Burana at the Opera House, it makes sense for him to learn about Carl Orff.  When Cady is busy making organic cotton candy, she is more than excited to look up the history of "Faerie Floss," along the way learning a great deal about the World's Fair and life in the early 1900's.

Asher is taking History of the Renaissance and Physics at our co-op, along with cooking, knitting, felting, and drama.  Cady is taking Cooking Around the World, learning about various cultures as she tastes her way through exotic countries.  The thing I've learned about most home schooled kids is that when they want to learn about something, they do.  Another thing I've learned is that home education in the U.S. is growing by 15% annually, and colleges are actively searching out home educated children because they tend to choose their majors well and become passionate about their work- thus being high achievers in their fields.

An incredible shift has taken place in my mind... from "homeschooling because I didn't have an option", to homeschooling as my chosen option.  I like how we are able to learn in a holistic environment, instead of chopping life into subjects.  For us, for my family (because I have said many times, I would never claim it's the best for everyone), it's what works for now- and maybe for a very long time.

Another exciting thing is that our family is in serious conversation about getting back into the coffee shop business.  The kids LOVE this idea.   I will leave you with a little snippet from one of my other blogs, which highlights unschooling at its finest!

I imagine a cool, funky, eclectic shop with big leather couches and a checker board painted on one of the wooden tables. [Asher] would have a hand in all the baking... because his desire has been (for several years running) to be a pastry chef... and judging by his chocolate death pie (handed down from father to son), he's doin' all right! [Cady] could spin her organic cotton candy in the certified kitchen, re-branding it “Sugar Buzz.” It would give us something to work toward as a family, together. As a home schooling family, it is the perfect platform for learning about life, about economics, about work and money management.[Asher]voluntarily read a book called “Beat the Rat Race” last night, and gave me a run-down of assets and liabilities this afternoon. We also watched a video about coffee production, from plant to cup. They were fascinated.

While Dad gets roasting, the kids and I will be starting a tiny little windowsill hydroponic coffee farm. (No officer, those are coffea arabica plants. Like a cup o joe, Joe?) I seriously think it's the logical next step in the world of the caffeine junky. However, it takes three years to achieve a cherry... In the meantime, the lovely process of growth and germination will provide us with excellent botany lessons! I also hope to plant some various potted tea herbs. Making our own delicious herbal-brews may also be on our horizon. Why do it if you're going to do it half-assed, right?

So we no longer separate school from life.  Our family feels in harmony, happy, and re-energized!  Sure, we have our struggles like every other family.  But now they seem small and conquerable, hills compared to mountains.  I look forward to sharing more of my journey with you!  Perhaps I will eventually give up the pseudonyms so you can also follow our coffee shop journey... Let me think about that! 

So for now,
Kara Muse