Sunday, October 21, 2012

Time to Streamline!

Combining this blog with my other Life Full of Saturdays blog

Go To My New Lifelong Learning Blog

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Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Best Thing? As in ONE Best Thing??

I'm having a hard time coming up with the single Best Thing about being an unschooling family. For the longest time, The Best Thing was when I was reading to all 3 kids in my bed. Being able to touch all three at one time, was simply The Best Thing.  But over time, new Best Things cropped up. Old Best Things improved. And sometimes, even when I thought there'd be no way to top something - something came around the corner and DID top it.

So I think I'll start with a list, and then if I want to expand on them, I'll have some future topics! ha!

Our "Best Things" List

                          ... in no particular order
  • Reading in bed with all 3 kids (have to start with that one)
  • The explosion of voices when the kids come through the door all wanting to tell me what a fabulous experience they just came from
  • Watching the courage on my child's face as they tackle auditions, travel, walking into a room of strangers
  • Listening to their unwavering loyalty as they defend their sibling from some injustice
  • Late night conversations when it's so clear how much trust we have
  • Spending all day with other homeschoolers/unschoolers and then all going out to eat together because we just didn't want the day to end
  • Being open-minded enough to step out of society's expectations and doing what's best for our children
  • Connecting the dots on how supporting strengths lead to lifelong passions
  • Listening to the laughter upstairs as they share stories with their friends
  • Driving in the car, radio blasting Queen or Jimmy Buffet, and all of us singing along at the top of our lungs
  • Sitting in the sunroom with guitars, piano and singing along to Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi (or anything from our Rise Up Singing book!)
While this might be the Short List of all the Pattersons' Best Things, they all came about because of the parenting choices we made and our decision to be Unschoolers.  For us, it's all about Relationships. And these relationships can bring so much joy because of the time we spent nurturing and trusting.

As the "kids" move into adulthood, I'm excited by what new heights our Best Things will reach!

Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you got till it's gone...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Aaaarrr, Mateys! Today Be the day!

It's Talk Like A Pirate Day again!! We have always enjoyed this day to the fullest, with my kids adjusting their own Texas drawl to sound more like Captain Hook.

Interestingly, when I look back and think of how we used to celebrate most things, it always centered around food and TV! Isn't that funny? But we always found some television show to be representative of whatever we were learning about or exploring. So we latched on to Talk Like a Pirate Day and ran with it!

This year marks the 10th Anniversary of Talk Like A Pirate Day.  Our house has been full of eyepatches and fake hooks for years now. And even tonight, Katie's pulled together a costume and is heading downtown with a friend to celebrate!

But my favorite was when my 3 kids acted and sang the Veggie Tales song: The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything.  We were living in Wichita Falls, Texas, and surrounded by homeschoolers who ONLY let their children watch Veggie Tales movies. That clearly wasn't my kids' experience. But when they saw this particular Veggie Tales song, they claimed it as their personal theme song! We laughed so hard at it. Three pirates sing in this video, and each of my 3 kids learned their part.  Michael and Katie were used to performing and loved it - but Alyssa was a little more shy. So they gave her lines like, "You look like Cap'n Crunch" and "Hey, look, I found a quarter!" I know I have a video in the garage somewhere of them singing this - I should get out there to find it! In the meantime, think of Michael, Katie and Alyssa as you watch this video.

Movie Options

Our video library had several pirate options, so maybe you can find one on Netflix or at the RedBox:

Pirates of the Caribbean - any one of the series would do. Although I don't think I'd try learn Pirate talk from Jack Sparrow. Ha!! Still, any excuse for a Johnny Depp movie works for me.  Hector Barbossa, on the other hand, that's a great pirate voice to emulate!

Hook - with Robin Williams as Peter Pan and Dustin Hoffman as Captain James T. Hook. Lots of fun - great costumes!

The Goonies - of course you can't forget this one.

Treasure Island - if you haven't read the book, the 1950's version might be interesting to watch. Or if you have younger kids, The Muppet Treasure Island might be more your speed!

Blackbeard has several versions.  And there's a great restaurant on South Padre Island called Blackbeard's - THE best onion rings in the world. In case you're down there, it's lots of fun! But I digress - I TOLD you though - food & movies are my thing! (and, evidently, exclamation marks!!!)

Mutiny on the Bounty - you can't go wrong with that one! Especially if you want an old black and white movie.

Master and Commander is a great movie. A little intense at times, but I think it's one of Ron and Michael's all time favorites.

The Pirates of Penzance was always a favorite at our house too!
Steve the Pirate from Dodgeball might be fun to watch today!

Captain Ron - a very quirky movie with Kurt Russell. We loved this movie for a variety of reasons, probably mainly because of the name.

And as I was looking up the links for the movies we have and love, I found a link to The Complete List of Every Pirate Movie Ever Made! How about that?

Pirate Songs

The International Talk Like A Pirate Day website has a huge collection of famous and obscure Pirate songs. Lots of links and downloads are available at their song collection page.

But here are our personal favorites:
A Pirate Looks at Forty by Jimmy Buffet (we love all thing Buffet - Parrotheads, we are!)
Hoist the Colors - from the Pirates of the Caribbean, kind of creepy, but very pirate-like (movie clip)
I Am the Pirate King - Pirates of Penzance
15 Men and a Bottle of Rum - yo ho ho and a bottle of rum! (You know this one)
The Jolly Roger - I just found this one, could be cool to learn.

I'm sure there are so many more songs! Share them here if any spring to mind!

Internet Slang

But if you want to share our shortened versions of Pirate lingo:

  • SMT - Shiver me timbers!
  • R - Aaaarrr (easily confused with "r" for "are")
  • AVH - Avast, me hearties
  • BDTH - Batten Down the Hatches!
  • LL - Landlubber
  • SOBE - Son of a Biscuit Eater

And, if you want to stay current on All Things Pirate - you can join the Talk Like a Pirate Facebook Page. That way, each year, you'll be reminded of the fun!

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Antidote for Animal School: Unschooling

This quote has been circulating through the unschooling community for years. Lately, it recurred on Facebook and several people shared some great links. Some question whether Albert Einstein actually said the quote. But that doesn't really matter. The quote itself has been a huge inspiration to me - possibly one of the reasons why we ended up unschooling our children.  A fabulous wikiquote devoted to Albert Einstein gives so many of his quotes as well as the contexts and people he was actually talking to. It's really fascinating.

You've probably seen the original 1939 story Animal School, by George Reavis. This video, below, modernizes it by taking the story and applying it to beautiful photos of the animals. The creator of the video goes on to include his explanation of which children he sees most correlates with the various animals.  I like his explanations.

"Your child is a Unique Blend of talents, personality and ingredients...
nowhere else to be found. "

I'm happy to say that my kids were removed from the school system early on. Somehow, I was always aware that people were being dealt with like this, as I was growing up. So when I noticed this same one-size-fits-all approach happening with my own child in school, I knew that I had to find a better approach. And we did. We focused on their strengths - something schools are simply not equipped to do. But as a family, you can! My kids have grown up under a completely different paradigm. 

It seems to me that the antidote for "Animal School" is Unschooling. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

That Time of Year Again...

You can't miss it. "Back to School" ads. "School Clothes" shopping. Even conversations among complete strangers who run into each other at the grocery store, eagerly anticipating their child being away from them soon. It's August, and there's so much excitement surrounding the kids starting their new school year. 

For homeschooled children, this can often leave them feeling a little left out. They've forgotten the horror stories the kids told them of their school year last April or May. For some reason, by August, the slate is wiped clean and most of them sound pretty eager to head back to their schools. Or at least that's what the marketing would have you believe.

Over the years, magazine articles, and now blogs, give great suggestions to help combat this: 

  • Find a Not-Back-To-School Party hosted by a local homeschool group
  • Go out to breakfast (brunch in our case) on the day the school kids go back
  • Sleep in that day
  • Host a mid-day potluck for your homeschooling family friends
  • Let your kids have a slumber party - on a "school night!" :::gasp:::
  • Make a week or two of great day-trip excursions that your kids would enjoy - children's museums, nature centers, amusement parks (think of how short all the lines will be!)
  • Head to the beach or camping - the places will be cleared out and you can avoid the hype altogether!
But what if you, as the mom or dad, are a little wistful about all this Back to School stuff?  Sure, you know in your head that homeschooling is a better way. Still, something nags at you. It's called American Marketing! And it's been working on you every August since you can remember.  So when all of society is pushing one way, and you're swimming the opposite way, you might need to bolster yourself up a little bit. 

You should pull a few things to the front of your mind: 

  • Jot down all the reasons you chose to homeschool your child. You might even keep this in a journal so you can add more reasons that come up as time progresses.
  • You will be able to protect your child's love a learning - finding amusing opportunities and fun experiences 
  • Your child will avoid one of school's big lessons: intellectual and social conformity
  • Your child will be able to develop at their natural pace and have a truly individualized approach for learning
  • Your child will have far less peer pressure
  • Your child will be able to truly learn what's before him, instead of just remembering and repeating
  • Your child will be able to avoid the constant test prepping that happens in schools
  • Your child will be able LIVE in the world, instead of just read about it
  • Your relationship with your child can be so much deeper and richer because of the experiences you are going to have together!

These are just a few ideas that come to mind for many homeschooling families. I'm sure you'll be able to create a list of your own!  

Just remember, all the Back-to-School hype will end after Labor Day, so why not try to celebrate your family during these few weeks of chaos. Remind yourself and help your children to see that your family has an exciting year ahead too! Maybe the last couple weeks of August can be full of new traditions for your family. Go ahead and ride this wave of enthusiasm that we're being bombarded with. Harness it and let it be a celebration of your family's freedom to choose home education!  

And, when you run into that mom who says, with her child beside her, "I can't wait! One more week until school starts!" You will be able to just look at her and say, "I know! We're so excited!" My best advice is to move away quickly at that point. She won't really know how to respond and all YOUR child needs to hear is that the road ahead for them looks GREAT! 

Originally written for Linda Dobson's August 31, 2012, PATH Newsletter, , which she retitled it (I'm terrible with titles!) Tips to Help Your Homeschooled Child through the Back to School Hype.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Long Line of Lake Lovers!!

        Dontcha just love a little alliteration? haha!

But it's the truth. My family comes from the midwest, so we weren't often running to the beach each summer. We were, however, running off to The Lake. As a kid, we'd go to the Lake of the Ozarks with other families in the neighborhood. It was the most wonderful vacation! One of the families had access to a giant lake house. The kids would sleep upstairs on the balcony and in the bedrooms while the adults...well I don't really know where they stayed. We would just go to bed listening to them laughing and playing cards downstairs. Our days were filled with Shasta sodas, open-faced grilled cheese sandwiches, and fishing for perch off the covered dock with various dads as they took turns showing us how to bait a hook and remove a fish without snagging ourselves. Delightful memories!

Later, when I was a teen and well into my twenties, my dad owned his own pontoon boat on Lake Ray Hubbard outside of Dallas. We'd gather friends, pack a ton of food and drinks and moor the boat off a sandy edge of the lake. We'd swim, play on floats, relax and enjoy the sun. It was definitely The Party Boat.

And, when I was going through my mom's pictures during her recent move, I found this one. It must be around 1922. My dad is the small child on the man's shoulders. They were swimming in the lake outside Fort Scott, Kansas.

So, not being one to break with tradition, my kids have had plenty of lake experiences. In Alaska, we spent a lot of time at playing at Mirror Lake or Goose Lake on Elmendorf AFB.  We put a sailboat in at Folsom Lake outside Sacramento and resumed our love of boating.  We'd head back to Texas to sail with Ron's brother Scott and their family on Lake Tawokoni, east of Dallas. And when we moved back to Texas, we'd have a boat at Lake Arrowhead and then later at Lake Travis.  Our family camping trips would always be near lakes or rivers. Ron was the sailor and I was the swimmer - so we must have been hardwired for spending time on the water.

Now that the kids are grown, we're still on the water. And this past weekend, we enjoyed another weekend on the lake. This time, it's Lake Texoma - a huge lake that is on the border of Oklahoma and Texas.  Ron went ahead of us and got the boat ready.  It's big enough for us to sleep aboard, and this was the first time we've all joined him on this kind of sailing adventure! Ron's "New" Boat.

Katie was able to make trades for her work, Alyssa is off on these days. All we had to do was wait for Josh to finish his firefighter shift. Dodging rainstorms all day and evening, Alyssa and I packed the car. Katie had to work the closing shift, so she didn't get home until 2 a.m.  Luckily, Josh was at the fire station near our house, so we were able to be on the road by 7 a.m.! They were all pretty sleepy, so I drove the whole way.

When you have to drive for 4 hours, you have a lot of time to ponder. I missed having Michael with us - he would have stayed awake and chatted the whole time with me.  Katie falls asleep the minute the car pulls out of the driveway. That's only a slight exaggeration - she's just always been this way!  Poor Josh had had calls all night long, so even though he was tired, he just couldn't sleep in the car. Luckily for smart phones, he was able to pass the time looking up all the different fish he'd be able to catch on Lake Texoma, what bait he might need, what the weather would be like, etc.

By Dallas, everyone was awake again.  I felt like a tour guide as I explained what some of the downtown buildings were, and the different parts of Dallas. Growing up there, I had lots of stories of learning to drive there, knowing people from different parts of town, and silly stuff my dad used to tell me as we'd drive around. The kids all humored me!

We made it to the Bait and Tackle shop, kind of a grocery store at the edge of the lake, and bought fishing licenses. Josh has really turned Alyssa into a fisherman! She loves it. Of all the kids, she was the least fond of lakes. She LOVES swimming, but when lake water is murky, she's just SURE some Alligator Gar is swimming near her and about to take off her toes.  Ron was never a fisherman - he's the only person I've ever known that could go on a fishing trip in Alaska when the salmon were running and catch NOTHING. The fish practically jump into your arms then - but not his. So watching her get excited about rods and reels has been fun. Listening to Josh and Alyssa quiz each other about  how to tell a white bass from a largemouth bass and a carp from a catfish is pretty interesting too.

It wasn't long before we had the car all unloaded and Ron was taking us out onto the lake. The kids took turns lounging on the the bow of the boat. The wind wasn't that great so we sailed out toward the dam and took down the sails.  The kids fished a little, but didn't have any luck.  So they pulled out the rafts we had brought, ate our sandwiches, and just hung out on the water. Ron had installed a great new ladder on the side of the boat. But I had major coordination issues and just couldn't seem to master it!  Once again, mom ends up the butt of the jokes for that afternoon - but, hey, I'm used to it!

We started to head back toward the marina, everyone feeling a little sunburned. Just as we took the sails down and decided to motor in for a ways, the wind picked up. So we hoisted the sails again and suddenly took off!

The boat went faster than I had ever gone, and of course, Alyssa got a little panicky. Not being the sailor, I don't know the terminology. Although, it would be a good idea to look it up, because when you have your husband decide to teach you how to sail in a stressful situation, it's not pretty. I know my kids are used to a little shouting when Ron and I trying to accomplish something, but poor Josh. We might have startled him a little when Ron jumped up to do something with the sails and handed me the tiller, shouting,
"Just keep us on course!"
What the heck did that mean? What course?
"Put her into the wind!"
No, it wasn't that I didn't hear him! And no extra volume would help me figure out the lingo.
"Do you mean pull the stick toward me?"
Well, I won't bother you with the deterioration of that rather loud sailing instruction. Suffice it to say that we've been married for 25 years and our language can get a little "salty" under stress. Have you ever noticed that voices can really carry on a lake? I'm sure people in Oklahoma AND Texas could hear us! Yeah.

So, the boat was heeling (tilting, to the rest of us) - a lot. Katie loved being able to reach into the water on the low-side. Alyssa was sure we were going to capsize and at one point sat on the floor of the cockpit clutching a floating cushion, just praying it would all end quickly. I wasn't really sure what Josh was thinking, but he was trying to learn those sailing terms as quickly as possible! Eventually, Alyssa got used to the speed, and while I wouldn't say she enjoyed going fast, she was able to get off the floor and sit in the seat with Josh.  Ron returned to the helm and continued to instruct us all on what the boat was doing, how it was adjusting to the wind, what we could do.  Josh told me later that he felt like he    
learned more on that little 30 minutes of sailing  than he ever thought he'd learn.  He was even able to take the boat in toward the marina himself!
Tiki Bar with stove and lights

When we came back toward the dock, fish were jumping everywhere! Our fishermen were excited. Luckily, the marina restaurant was closed so we cooked our hot dogs and sausages at the little Tiki Bar on our dock.  This way, they could start baiting their hooks and get fishing! The idea of fishing off the sailboat didn't really work out that well. Even when we were going slow, the bait would drag along the top of the water. It just didn't work right. So they were happy to get the chance to fish again.

Sadly, they didn't really have the right bait for the fish around there. Alyssa caught one little sunfish, and that was it. They were up until midnight running up and down the dock with flashlights and putting their poles into the water at different spots. Huge fish - that they later determined to be carp - were banging into the styrofoam that holds the dock up. They even spotted big Alligator Gar- fearless fish that came over to see what the net was all about.

 Everyone slept well on the boat (sorry for the blurry pic) and the next morning, Ron got up early to cook breakfast and Josh was ready to start fishing again. The temperatures were changing so there was just a little steam on the lake. Josh and Alyssa ended up paddling around the marina in the dinghy, Achilles.  Which reminds me... our 40+ year old boat has had several names and Ron pulled the last one off. He just couldn't see himself sailing Venus. So we're all making suggestions and voting on a new name. In the running are: The SusieQ, O Susanna, AlyKat, AlyssaKate. I think it will end up O Susanna! I'll keep you posted.
When I look back at family vacations we've had over the years, they seldom happened in the summer.  But we'd almost always fit a Lake trip in there somewhere - the weather usually being perfect for sailing, swimming, and fishing. Even though the kids are all grown, I'm happy to say the tradition continues!

                                              My little slideshow of the Lake Texoma Trip

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Reinventing the "What If...?" Game

When I was little, especially late at night, I could get myself into a tailspin. I'd worry about all kinds of things.  And, because I was a chatty little kid (surprise, surprise!), I'd go to my mom.
"What if things don't work out?"
"What if they don't like me?"
"What if there's a car wreck?"
"What if.. what if... what IF??"
After a couple of these questions, my mom would shush me and say, "You're playing the What If Game."  What that meant at our house was that you're borrowing trouble, worrying about things that may or may not happen. I spent a lot of time on that. Sometimes, it helped me figure out scenarios and what to do if something bad DID happen. But mainly, it just wasted my time.  I heard a saying once,
Worrying is like a Rocking Chair... lots of action, but going nowhere.
In my case, telling me I was playing the What If? Game was meant to help me. But it was also meant to get my mom a little peace and quiet.  Unfortunately, it ended up minimizing what I was thinking about. It made me be even more critical of myself, thinking,
"Why am I so negative?"
"Why do I bother people with my crazy thoughts?"
"What's MY problem??"
I don't think that was ever my mom's intention, to make me feel worse. But I didn't really have the power to shut it off, just because she slapped a label on it and implied I should knock it off. I just didn't have the tools.

In parenting, we do that sometimes, consciously or not. We either step in to solve the problem, or we dismiss our kids concerns as not important.  Solving the problem for them prevents them from figuring it out, and then ultimately trusting themselves that they CAN figure out problems. It keeps them dependent on others for solutions - always waiting to be rescued by someone smarter, stronger, more resourceful. See the problem with this route?

And if we gloss over their worries, they'll learn to take them somewhere else. They certainly will learn that they can't share them with you! And you're supposed to be the one helping them figure out the tough lessons in Life. If you take this option, you miss a huge opportunity to not only help your child, but also to reinforce your relationship with them.

So let's rewrite the rules for the What If? Game.
Because, now I have tools.  I know these things:
  • Your mind can only think about one thing at a time. This is just a simple fact. We often think we're multitasking, but it's never really simultaneously. It's a constant shifting. So, try to control your mind to the point of, "OK, I need to think about this instead right now."
  • Attaching yourself to a particular outcome is where the suffering starts. We don't know everything and we really can't see around the proverbial corner. How many times can you look back and see that something really seemingly catastrophic turned out to either make you stronger for something else or yourself, allowed you to relate to someone in a different way, or opened you up to some unforeseen opportunity. So thinking, "I don't get it - right now. But maybe I will down the road," might be a helpful approach.
  • Is the bad thing happening now? Ok, then. Breathe. This is all about living in The Present moment. I'm not saying to live in La-di-da Land, look at what's happening now. Is it where you want to be TODAY? Is it what needs to be happening NOW? If you can look at the situation more calmly, you'll be able to assess the situation more accurately than if you're full of anxiety. You'll have time to panic when/if it does show up.
  • Visualizing GOOD things happening can be just as powerful as visualizing the worst case scenario - so do that! Getting in the habit of doing visualizations can start at any age. When you're putting your child to sleep, help them to visualize some peaceful happy setting. Remind them that they can go back there in their mind at any time.  We spend so much time panicking about that imaginary horrible scenario - what would happen if we spent that much time visualizing great stuff? So how about taking it even to another level?  What if your visualization was about conquering that fear you're worrying about? What if you think about succeeding in that situation that is distracting you from the Present?  Run a few of those scenarios in your head and see how that feels.
  • Which story you decide to tell yourself is TOTALLY up to you! Neither are based in facts, so why not be kinder to yourself? Physically, this will help you as well. A body that is constantly anxious and tense will act a completely different way from one that is content or even happy. So choosing a happier story is kinder to your physical body as well as your mind.
  • Have a handy list of your strengths or of things you have accomplished. This may seem odd at first, because we're taught that focusing on our good points is conceited, egotistical - definitely not a good thing.  But when you think about it, how could being ACCURATE about yourself be a bad thing? Sure, you may not want to regale everyone at Park Day with all your wonderful accomplishments, but tell yourself the truth. Make a list of the things you feel good about accomplishing, things you are genuinely thankful for... this list will boost your self-esteem and help you when you're at a low point.
  • Generosity trumps Stinginess.    It's as if you are looking through two different lens: one of Scarcity and one of Abundance.  And it all boils down to your personal perception. If you feel full of whatever you're wanting, you are much more at peace than if you are worried there simply isn't enough to go around. When we're afraid we're not getting our fair share, we resent those who we think are getting more than us. It's not a pretty picture - but it is incredibly common.  Unfortunately, this has a huge impact on our day-to-day attitude, on so many levels. It keeps us unhappy and negative. But using the other lens, think of yourself as having so much that you can share and be generous with others.  Society often throws us into unnecessary competition.    But think about when you helped someone else - with no gain for yourself. You felt happy and positive about the world. Why not try to do that more often? Help someone else. It doesn't do anything to diminish your own light. Take a break from your own melodrama for a while and find someone less fortunate than you. Help them...and you will end up helping yourself.
That's probably a pretty good start at my list. Incorporating these kinds of ideas into your child's world - or even more firmly in your own world - will really help us all reinvent that dang What If? Game.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Society Crushes Budding Scientists

The video is only 1:39 minutes but it's worth a quick watch.  Science doesn't have to be a rote memorization experience - and it shouldn't be!

Dr. Michio Kaku reminds us that we have to PROTECT our children's creativity and curiosity and wonder about the science that is around us all the time!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

One Little Word

Lots of people come to unschooling wondering what it's all about. While some shake their head and fall back in line with more familiar ways of thinking, others are compelled to learn more about it. They read books, join email lists, engage with people at local parkdays. Unschoolers share how they've come to embrace the concept or how they overcame those schoolish thoughts and ways that seem to be so ingrained in our patterns of life.

New unschoolers seem to be mesmerized by examples of daily life in an unschooling home. We share what happens in a day, demonstrating flexibility and humor.  We explain that one day can be so incredibly different from another - still they want to hear more. Some veteran unschoolers go to enormous lengths to answer questions, guide newcomers, dispel fears.

But in spite of all these detailed discussions, advice, and guidance, I've come to realize the importance of one small word in the success of unschooling families.

What is the word?


A simple preposition that makes all the difference. Think of how important that word is, when you visualize these scenarios.
Ron with Katie, Alyssa & Michael in the tent

Playing WITH your children.
....board games
....card games games
....make believe the treehouse
....on the tire swing the fort in the living room
.... in the pail of bubbles

Working WITH your children.
....on how to assemble a kite
Playing in the sand at South Padre (Sue & Katie)
....or ride a horse or a bike or a jet ski
....about how to change a flat tire
....on how to use mod podge, or make stepping stones
....on how to build a power point, or connect the modem

Talking WITH your children.
....about getting a new pet
....about which movie to go see
....about advertising you both see/hear on TV or billboards or radio
....about what kind of job he might like
....about why grandma has to repeat things so often

On the road to Alaska...
stopping off to explore Yellowstone
Interacting WITH your children.
....about how they feel when kids are mean
....about how to stand up for what's right
....about how to really listen and fight the urge to interrupt
....about what can be done about the homeless man on the corner
....about what you can do when you feel bored
....about what's considered rude or inconsiderate or kind or helpful
....about grocery shopping, or laundering, or cooking

 I'm sure you can come up with a bazillion more examples of things you do WITH your child. I just want you to realize that no matter what it is - the WITH aspect is the most important part!

Remember 20 years ago, the debate was "Quality" time vs. "Quantity" time? It had a lot to do with women choosing careers - but it's really not that black and white. You can have "quality time," and just not enough of it. And you can have "quantity time," but not be engaged or really present with your children. It's never simple, is it? You have to walk into it all consciously - checking and rechecking to be sure you're parenting in the way that you want.

Modeling behavior, having heartfelt discussions, getting the opportunity to share life experiences can only happen when you're WITH them. It seems obvious, but sometimes when you're tired or the kitchen is a mess, parents can get impatient and prefer the kids to go do something in the other room. That's when I want you to remember the little word: WITH.  Time will fly, and your relationship with your child as an adult as well as so many aspects of their own personality, will be directly related to how much WITH Time you gave them.
All of us together before
Michael left for the Peace Corps, Katie left for NYC, and Alyssa got engaged
So if you have to, paste a little piece of scrap paper like the one above with the word "With" on your bathroom mirror...or your put it up on your fridge with a magnet... paint it, cross-stitch it, print it - whatever you have to do to keep it in the front of your mind!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Firewalking and Spoonbending!

Last night, Katie went with me to a fun free workshop in South Austin.  We were going to learn how to  SPOONBEND!  Of course, I was a little skeptical, but my happiness about doing something with Katie kept that all in check.

The room was packed with people, some I knew and some I didn't. HeatherAsh began to talk about the stories we tell ourselves in our mind - some that limit us and aren't even true. She's a wonderful speaker and I always enjoy her presentations. She spoke of the power of imagination, the power of our own energy, and even a little about quantum physics.  We talked about how we mistakenly think of matter as SOLID, when in fact, it's primarily space between the solid particles. I wrote a little about that recently with the Higgs Boson discovery in July, in Mysteries of the Universe.  So after the discussion, they presented us with a whole bunch of spoons and forks of varying thicknesses. The goal was to override your brain's chatter about how this could not be done, and simply feel for the space within the metal. HeatherAsh led us through a few visualizations, we called up as much energy as we could muster, all the while working on our flatware.

And voila! 
The results of Katie and my Spoonbending Workshop!
"Then you'll see. It is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself."
The Matrix

Impressive, huh?

I never finished my blog post a couple months ago about another mind over matter experience I had through Toci, the Toltec Center of Creative Intent.  I went to a FireWalk! I had no clear idea about whether or not I would participate, but I found the whole thing fascinating. I remembered watching Oprah do the firewalk with Tony Robbins on television and was intrigued.

HeatherAsh has been leading Spoonbending workshops and Firewalking for decades now. When I went to read more about the experience, I came across a reporter documenting firewalks for National Geographic. And who do you think was there in California leading his experience? Yep, you guessed it - HeatherAsh.

My friends and I went to the event and, again, listened to HeatherAsh talk about mentally overcoming obstacles. A few people had done this before, and I found that a little reassuring. So when the coals were ready, we went out to the fire walk.  The excitement was building, drums were drumming, people were shouting - just like in the video. Then the time came. A few of my friends marched across confidently. I started taking some deep breaths. If they could do it, so could I!!!

I inched toward the coals....
My friends cheered me from the other side....
And I walked across glowing hot coals!

Wow! THAT was exhilarating!!!!

To be completely honest, I did get a little blister on one of my feet, but nothing a little aloe vera couldn't take care of! 

So these two events have proven a couple of things to me. 
1) The Impossible might not be. 
2) The next time I find an obstacle, I have a couple pretty strong talismans in my pocket: 
I have walked on Fire! 
And I can bend spoons with the power of my Mind!

Thursday, July 12, 2012


I'm fascinated by what motivates people... in the workplace, in the home, everywhere! This video talks about the human desire for self-motivation, and how creativity and innovation really only comes with autonomy.  This video can be applied in lots of different areas.
Check it out!

I'm adding a label Sue's Video Collection, so I (and you, if you're interested) can easily find these great videos that I run across out on the internet, Facebook, etc. They seem to vanish on me, and then I'm left wondering where it was, who shared it, or the specifics of the video. So, hopefully this will help!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Mysteries of the Universe!

It seems we're on the cutting edge of Quantum Field theory and Particle Physics this week! I am no physicist, but for some reason I find this fascinating!

Here's how I broke it down for myself, and maybe it will help you too.

Particle Physics tries to explain what makes up matter. They look at the tiniest particles to give them explanation of how the universe was built and even how galaxies stay together.  These physicists study many things, but they are very interested in the properties of subatomic particles, or bosons.

In 1964, three scientists, one named Peter Higgs, wrote papers postulating that there is another boson out there, very different from the rest.  It was named the Higgs Boson, with the controversial nickname, The God Particle. Scientists have been looking for evidence of this particle for decades now.

Here are a couple of videos with a little more explanation:

And on July 4th, scientists working with the Large Hadron Collidor (LHC) at Cern, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, announced their discovery that they have found a particle that acts as the Higgs Boson was expected to act.

 From the Washington Post article: "After the Higgs Boson discovery, what's next for physicists?
“At the beginning I had no idea a discovery would be made in my lifetime,” Higgs, 83, said at a press conference in the Old College at the University of Edinburgh, where he worked from 1960 until his retirement in 1996. “It’s very nice to be right sometimes.”
Science is always changing, always checking itself, always looking for explanations. And sometimes, when they make a discovery, it opens all kinds of nearby doors that before seemed shut. So this week is a big deal - we might be a little bit closer to finding out more about the mysteries of the Universe.

If you want to read more:
The Higgs Boson Made Simple at The Cosmic Log at MSNBC (lots of videos at this site)
Physicists Find Elusive Particle Seen as Key To Universe at the NY Times
 "What Exactly IS the Higgs Boson?" in How Stuff Works

Monday, June 11, 2012

Stick With It!

I found this a while back and shared it on Facebook. But, as people probably already realize and I'm just a little late to figuring this out, Facebook stuff scrolls away and then it's much harder to find again.  So I'm going to share it here. That way, I can find it again when I want to share it with someone.

 I like this little 2-minute video from Ira Glass, who many will know from This American Life.  This video really applies to any skill that needs to be honed, or creative endeavor that needs time to grow - not just storytelling or writing. 

And here's the longer version of this, more of just an interview with him:

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Black and White... or Gray?

I've been criticized recently for being too black and white with regards to "the type" of family that should consider - or more importantly, not consider unschooling as an option. I even wrote a blogpost last winter addressing this, Should YOU Unschool?

In looking back, of course that list was black and white. How else do you juxtapose two very different ways of parenting and looking at learning? And I guess I should have somehow conveyed that NO ONE is constantly on one end of the spectrum 100% of the time.  We all have bad days. We all have moments that are DEFINITELY less than stellar. But we don't just write them off and say, "Unschooling is anything, so that's ok too!" We step back and readjust. We try to improve and overcome our own shortfalls. We try to make our behavior (that is sometimes deeply rooted because of how we were raised) more aligned with the parenting and educational philosophies that we have consciously chosen.

Any parent can look at my list and see, in a general way, which seems to be the better fit. Lots of parents think they want to unschool for a variety of reasons - and they're not all good reasons. So, if you get really honest with yourself and where you are in your own life, you can see if unschooling is a good fit for you.

Here's the issue that keeps resurfacing.  When people say:

  • They require Math worksheets
  • They let their babies "cry it out"
  • They believe children are always trying to "get away with something"
  • They enforce rules in their house that their children neither agree with or have a say in
  • They scream at their kids
  • They blow off their kids' questions and curiosities
  • They keep firm boundaries between adult interactions and kid interactions
  • They resent the time they spend with their kids... for all kinds of reasons

These are the kinds of things that do not work well with unschooling. 

I'm often criticized for making that statement. 

The argument is, "You can't say that to people because they'll walk away from unschooling thinking that they cannot do it, or aren't doing it right."  And, my answer, as heartless as it may sound, is, "So? What if they do?" If they are really interested in unschooling, they will think about it some more and come back to the idea again. How many times does that happen to us as parents, we make a decision, only to find ourselves facing it again down the road? Or maybe they'll make some other choice that works better for their own family.

But if we sit here nodding with all kinds of parental choices, we are agreeing with them. Doesn't someone have to stand up and say, "Um, no. Please hear this, in the gentlest of ways: That is not going to go well. That is not going to create the best loving nurturing relationship."  I am not saying that the relationship will be without love and nurturing - but if you're looking for the best possible outcome, you're creating your own obstacles! 
Here's a scenario:
A parent is new to the idea of unschooling and seeks out more information. In doing so, they feel criticized for something they're doing. They are told it's not in alignment with unschooling. They throw up their hands, and say "Oh! Well then I am not an unschooler!" And walk away.
I can't relate to this. If I am curious about having a better relationship with my kids and choosing a better educational path, someone's comment is not going to derail my process. I may choose to look for info somewhere else. Or I may even just listen because there are some concepts that I'd like to understand better. But that one critique will not rechart my course. And if it does, then I am just blowing whatever direction the wind blows.  Not good.

Now that my kids are 18, 21, and 23 - all happily thriving in adventures of their own - I do have some experience under my belt.  These are three of the most different human beings and their paths have been so distinctly their own.  That has given me this fabulous opportunity to look back, retrospectively, and see what worked and what didn't.  Some parenting and educational choices were pure luck, and other's were incredibly well-thought out.  And, because I am HUMAN, I screwed up plenty of times.  But then I tried to realign myself with what I thought was the best way to interact with my children. I tried to catch myself, and correct the course. Sure, I could list all of my mistakes - and maybe that would make me more relatable - but I don't want to give the impression that those mistakes are good things. 

People want to say that Unschooling is not black and white - that it's all gray. But I disagree. It's the PEOPLE who are "gray." People have shortcomings, bad days, etc.  We're not computerized, and we have all kinds of emotional baggage that surfaces from time to time. Our implementation is sometimes gray because we're on a continuum. We don't start our parenting lives knowing exactly how to do everything right.  Most likely, we will not get through it without some regrets. But if we can set our sights on a goal - and get really clear on what that looks like - we will move along the continuum in a positive way. And we will land where we feel is right.

But the philosophy of unschooling your children stays constant. 

Maybe even, black and white?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

For Some People, It's Just Natural

I pondered my options for the June Unschooling Blog Carnival submission. I could share a tribute to my dad, something I wrote last Fall called Holding Onto the Side of the Pool.

Or I could share the photo montage that the kids did for Ron last Father's Day. It was really sweet and if you want to take a little visual walk down memory lane with us, I'd love to snag this opportunity to share it again! So here you go:

But I didn't really feel like that was what I wanted to share. Sure, Ron's a good parent - he's involved, he listens to them (sometimes), he has helped, driven, chaperoned. Heck, once he even agreed to be in one of Katie's plays since he was waiting for her during every rehearsal - probably sleeping in the back row of the theatre. But they needed a Mr. Slugworth in Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, so he took a deep breath and stepped up onto the stage.

Double Piggy Back Rides
Instead, what I really think is remarkable about him is that he is The Quintessential Unschooler. He just loves to learn. It's what he does. And when he decides to learn something, it's full immersion.  Sometimes the kids' interests or opportunities sparked his interest, or his sometimes sparked something in them.

Ron & Michael
When I was busy reading about unschooling and how to raise children, Ron was simply... living. Playing with the kids. Exploring whatever was around.  I followed him around the house, reading snippets from various books. I even bought him Gatto's Dumbing Us Down and Guterson's Family Matters. He read a little and said, "Yeah, well we all know this about schools. Um, we were there." Then he put down the book. He felt no need to have any battle cry go up about the injustices of institutionalized learning. A simple, "Bring'em home," was what I got after a long list of why I thought it would be a good idea to try homeschooling after Michael finished 1st grade.

I continued to connect on the internet, reading and learning about this new world we were stepping into. But all the while, he was simply connecting with our kids on topics that interested them. It was just the natural thing to do. And once they were home so much more, he had a lot more opportunities. More reading, more game playing - more adventures out in the community and out in the world!

Ron & Katie hiking in North Carolina

Never too young to hike Enchanted Rock!

Typical evening...or anytime
Ron's not the kind of dad who just sits around with the remote control and waits for someone to bring him a beer.  His TV watching is deliberate - the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Sons of Anarchy, and his John Wayne & Clint Eastwood video collection. But even with those, he's Skyping with Michael in Nicaragua to talk about Martin Brodeur's latest goal save, or he's playing the Movie Line Game with Katie or Alyssa as they pass through the room. I'm sure you know it... you pick a line from a movie and say it, then the other person has to guess which movie it was. For a while, we had quite an extensive movie watching period, so they could come from anywhere: Monty Python, Three Amigos, Beetlejuice, The Blues Brothers, Jeremiah Johnson.... just to name a few. It used to drive my mother crazy when she'd come to visit. They could spend an entire dinner playing that game! She wanted them to have "meaningful" conversations. I just smiled because I knew the connection that was happening between them was the real goal.
Backyard Hockey with Katie & Michae

When we lived in Alaska, where our homeschooling started, Ron took up hockey. He always enjoyed watching the sport, but he was born and raised in Mesquite, Texas. Not a lot of hockey there. So even though he was 20 years older than most of the guys playing, at 44, he signed up for a little boot camp, and figured it out. He started going to pick-up games, the kids tagging along to watch. Next thing you know, they're all signing up for hockey teams, we're trekking across the state to tournaments,  and even building an ice rink in our back yard!
Dry Ice Experiments turned into Mad Science!

Next stop would be California. Sadly, the ice rinks weren't nearly that important to Californians, so it was time to shift gears. Alyssa and Michael were really interested in horses, so Ron took them to find a stable that offered lessons. He picked the brains of the ranchers and horse owners every chance he got.  The kids were always with him out there, so they watched and listened and learned. He helped Alyssa figure out how to drag feed through the stalls to give to each horse. He bartered for horse leasing, and agreed to help build a giant riding arena. So he and Michael climbed ladders, measured and sawed for weeks until it was finished.  All three learned so much there. 
Michael learning to ride Gilly

Once when they were out riding horses together, they found a little injured barn owl.  He showed 
them how to wrap it up in a towel and get it to the local raptor center. A few weeks later he was taking them out to see it be released back into the wild.

Learning to sail with Katie & Alyssa - Folsom Lake
Ron was always interested in sailing, so while we were still in California, he bought a little Venture 22 sailboat. He and Michael worked and worked on it. All three kids learned to sail at Folsom Lake.  So when the homeschool group in Davis needed chaperones for a sailing charter through the San Francisco Bay, he was the natural choice to step in. Ron, Michael and Katie all sailed on the Gas
 Light, a 50 foot Schooner - what a trip!

Helping Alyssa pet a Bat Ray (Monterey Bay Aquarium)
His interest in history took them to Angel Island for a group overnight trip. His love of science led to a Halloween party full of dry ice experiments.  His fondness for the outdoors took them on mountain hikes, snow cave adventures, camping trips, and beach excursions.

I could list one adventure after another that Ron experienced with each of the kids. But that might take a little longer than a typical blog post. Suffice it to say that Ron did not stand on the sidelines. He was a hands-on, involved dad. Not because someone told him it's good to do that, but simply because it was the natural thing for him to do. The kids were curious - about everything - and so was he. So when opportunities presented themselves, he was right there with them - guiding, listening, and stepping up to "give it a try."

Learning is simply a part of life for him.
For Ron, unschooling the kids was just a natural extension of that.
Just a cute picture of Ron & Michael (1991 Welcome Home)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Book Hoarding, Children, & Maurice

Some books you just can't donate.  

After years and years of unschooling, I've accumulated "a few" books. There are bookshelves in nearly every room. And, we're not talking about shelves that have a couple books artfully placed with a lovely vase next to them. I'm talking bookcases crammed full of books. Once the row is full, we've even wedged them on the tops vertically.

My kids, now nearly grown, have their own favorites stacked by the bed, on their dresser and in their own bookshelves. Yes. We're Book People.                  

But when the Bastrop fires happened last year, I felt for those homeschooling families that were dislocated and needing...EVERYTHING. At the same time, we had been watching the Hoarding shows, and my family kept looking my way.                              

"Those bookshelves, Mom! Sheesh!" was what I'd hear after each show.
And, "Who are you saving those books for?"

Sometimes I'd say, "Well, when you homeschool YOUR future kids, I will be prepared. I will have everything you need." But Ron would remind me, "Don't you think you could just pick a few favorites and then donate the rest? I mean, won't you want to buy nice NEW books for your grandchildren?" He had a point.

So I started sifting. Interestingly, when I sorted books and the kids were nearby, I'd ask them, "Keep or donate?"
"Little Bear series? Keep or donate" Alyssa would pipe up, "No, don't give that away!"
"Where the Wild Things Are?" No, that was Michael's favorite. Michael even went as Max for Halloween while he was in college, making his own costume... as usual.

We ended up keeping a lot more than we thought we would. While the internet and cable give us FABULOUS learning experiences, there's something about snuggling next to mom reading a familiar book at the end of the day.  I'm glad their memories of these books were as warm and fuzzy to them as they are to me. I don't think they'll ever forget the sound of Ron reading Hank the Cowdog to them. Something about being born and raised in Mesquite, Texas gives you an accent perfect for that series.

 I did give a way quite a few books - several rubbermaid tubs full. Yet, still, we kept several rubbermaids full too, just loaded them into storage. Did Ron really think we'd be able to limit it to one or two each? ha! Who knows how they'll feel about them when (way) down the road they have children and want to share their favorite books? But, there I'll be...fully prepared.

The passing of Maurice Sendak reminds me of how much we loved his books. Some authors just connect with you and he was one of them. Listening to his interviews over the years and seeing the quotes on the internet remind me that he had respect for children that we don't always see. He didn't talk down to them or give any kind of belittling of childish ways. Reading his books and understanding the messages he was saying had a ripple effect that I think would have pleased him.  I'm sure people will continue to enjoy his work for years to come.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from Maurice Sendak - some from interviews, some directly from the books.

"I believe there is no part of our lives, our adult as well as child life, when we're not fantasizing, but we prefer to relegate fantasy to children, as though it were some tomfoolery only fit for the immature minds of the young. Children do live in fantasy and reality; they move back and forth very easily in a way we no longer remember how to do."
"Children are willing to expose themselves to experiences. We aren't. Grownups always say they protect their children, but they're really protecting themselves. Besides, you can't protect children. They know everything."
“. . .from their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions, fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives, they continually cope with frustrations as best they can. And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things.” 
“Peter Rabbit, for all its gentle tininess, loudly proclaims that no story is worth the writing, no picture worth the making, if it is not a work of imagination.” 
“I think it is unnatural to think that there is such a thing as a blue-sky, white-clouded happy childhood for anybody. Childhood is a very, very tricky business of surviving it. Because if one thing goes wrong or anything goes wrong, and usually something goes wrong, then you are compromised as a human being. You're going to trip over that for a good part of your life.” 
“If there's anything I'm proud of in my work--it's not that I draw better; there's so many better graphic artists than me--or that I write better, no. It's--and I'm not saying I know the truth, because what the hell is that? But what I got from Ruth and Dave, a kind of fierce honesty, to not let the kid down, to not let the kid get punished, to not suffer the child to be dealt with in a boring, simpering, crushing-of-the-spirit kind of way.” 
"And Max, the king of all wild things, was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all."
“But the wild things cried, “Oh please don’t go - we’ll eat you up - we love you so!”And Max said, “No!”The wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws but Max stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye.” 
“And [he] sailed back over a year
and in and out of weeks
and through a day
and into the night of his very own room
where he found his supper waiting for him
and it was still hot” 

Stephen Cobert did a very funny interview with Maurice Sendak recently. It's in two parts: