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!