Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Pause and Reflect

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This time between Christmas and New Year’s Day has always been one of my favorite times of the year, because I relish the idea of a fresh start. When I was a teenager, I used to thoroughly clean my room, rearrange things and make new posters for my wall. Of course, at the time, I lived five miles down a snow-packed dirt road in the prairie and had nothing better to do. But even now, though I have no time to deep clean my drawers and alphabetize my music collection, I still like the chance to make myself better. I don’t really do “Resolutions,” but I like to make a plan of action. After reflecting and journaling about where I am now, I plan out what I will do in the year ahead.

It’s important to really take stock of where you have been before planning where you need to go. This is true not only for your personal development, but for your homeschool and family life as well. So before you rush into any plans for the next semester, take this time to pause and reflect. Catch up on your record-keeping. Write some journal entries. If you haven’t been keeping records, you may find it difficult to remember where the time went, but pull out your calendar and family photos and try to recall the achievements or big moments of the year. Ask your kids for help because they will probably remember different things than you will.

Sit down with each child (older kids can do this themselves) and write about the following:

What were my favorite things to do this year?
What did I learn how to do?
What are the three most interesting things I learned about this year?
What am I most proud of?
If I could change anything, what would it be?
What three things am I most thankful for?
What do I want to learn more about next year?
What do I want to learn how to do next year?

Instead of writing down these answers, you could also do a video interview with each child. What a keepsake that would be!

Another exercise you might try with your kids is mindmapping. Have them draw a picture of themselves in the middle of a piece of paper, and start writing down random thoughts and memories about the past year. There is no need to put things in any order, or remember every last thing, just brainstorm. Their thoughts might surprise you.

Once you have collected input from your kids, pull out a notebook or keyboard and do your own homeschool brainstorming:

Describe what is working. What do you love about homeschooling?
Describe what is not working. What do you dislike about homeschooling? Is it something you can live with, or do you really need to change something?
Describe your home atmosphere. Does it reflect the true interests and values of family members? Are people happy at home? Is there anything you would like to improve?
Everyone has habits, good and bad. What are some good habits you have developed or maintained this year, not just for yourself, but for the family as a whole? Did you stick to a budget? Start recycling? Stop drinking sodas? Give everyone a collective pat on the back. Then list some bad habits that you would like to change.

Very often the act of reflective writing will unleash new thoughts, old worries, and ideas for the future. Just let them come. Write it all down. Don’t try to edit yourself or stick to a format. Switch to big bold letters when you feel the urge. This is catharsis time, so don’t be afraid to get it all out there. And you don’t need to do all of this at once, perhaps a little bit per day.

You may also want to use this time to get caught up on some scrapbooking for your homeschool. I found a few links about this here:

http://www.knowledgequestmaps.com/To-Notebook-Lapbook-or-Scrapbook.html

http://eclectichomeschool.org/articles/article.asp?articleid=23

http://www.crosswalk.com/family/homeschool/record-your-end-of-school-year-accomplishments-part-1-11604210.html

For those of you who don’t already make homeschool scrapbooks or yearbooks, I’ll be sharing a series of posts about this in January, but until then, consider taking some more pictures. In fact, now is an excellent time to take pictures of the things you want to change, so you can have before and after photos! Messy dining room table? Collapsing homeschool shelves? Chaotic craft closet? Scowling child? Junk food in the pantry? Later this year when you’ve fixed those things, you can take pictures of the new improved versions.

Gingerbread Beach Cottage

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For our last Christmas in Hawaii, my daughter and I made our own version of a gingerbread house. The idea was to try to duplicate one of Thor’s epic beach cottages, although you may not see much resemblance. The only gingerbread we used was for the surfboards. We used giant shredded wheat biscuits (split lengthwise) for the body of the house because we wanted it to look like a lil’ grass shack. Various pretzels and graham crackers provided building materials; and the foundation was cardboard placed over Heineken bottles, since everyone in Hawaii seems to drink Heineken. We used cornmeal for the sand, seaweed for the palm trees, and thick frosting to hold the whole thing together. It wasn’t long before the ants found it!

Can you imagine your own “gingerbread” creation for Christmas? It’s a fun kind of mix between architecture, cooking, and design, with a bit of ingenuity mixed in. Teenagers make especially capable helpers. Have fun!

Thanksgiving Traditions – Ohana Style

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I’ve never been a big fan of construction paper turkeys or pilgrim motifs. But I understand the urge to decorate for holidays and special occasions. When I lived in an old farmhouse in Connecticut, every day was like a Norman Rockwell illustration. Thanksgiving was always the time to rake leaves from the giant maple in the front yard. We’d put the whole family to work piling leaves on a giant tarp and drag it off to the leaf pile at the edge of the woods. When the pile got big enough, my husband would toss the kids into the pile again and again, until he got too tired to lift his arms (the kids were never tired). In those days, it made sense to decorate with gourds, pressed leaves, and branch bouquets. My kids and I made cute little owls by gluing googly eyes and felt wings onto pinecones. We hung them from the chandelier. We had a “nature table” on one shelf of our corner hutch where we composed our latest nature walk finds of feathers, rocks, bones, seedpods, snake skins, etc…

Then we moved to Hawaii, and all my previous conceptions of Autumn, Halloween, and Thanksgiving were turned upside down. There were no maple trees, but plenty of plumeria, palms, and banana trees. Gourds, pumpkins and pilgrim centerpieces were shipped in from the mainland so we could all pretend to be in New England. But it was very weird. We could go to the beach in the morning, come home and eat the traditional turkey dinner, then the kids would run out barefoot to play with the neighborhood kids. I know it sounds like paradise – and it was – but I missed the familiar sights and smells of New England. I missed our family and friends. But after a year had gone by, we made more friends, and gradually Thanksgiving became something different.

People in Hawaii know all about feasting with family and friends – they do it every weekend! Just drive to any beach and you will see a makeshift family compound of tents, tarps, picnic tables, coolers, portable grills, and surfboards. The elders will be sitting in the shade “talking story;” the dads will all be grilling teriyaki burgers with beer in hand; the moms will scold children and laugh with each other while shooing flies off the picnic tables; and the children all play in the waves until they get hungry or thirsty enough to come in. Hawaiians don’t just have a typical family day at the beach. They have F-A-M-I-L-Y days at the beach, which means everyone in their entire extended family and a dozen friends as well. This is what the Hawaiians call ohana. It really is heartwarming, in the same way that those Norman Rockwell paintings of Thanksgiving are heartwarming.

Even though we never had relatives visit us at Thanksgiving, we started gathering with our friends every year. And every year our circle of friends seemed to grow bigger and bigger. Our last Thanksgiving in Hawaii was spent at our friends’ little house near Kailua Beach Park. Everyone went either kite surfing or jogging in the morning, then we rinsed the sand off and started cooking together. Later, more friends showed up with food and wine to share. We “talked story” and laughed, and went around the long table saying something we were each thankful for. It was wonderful. Can you tell I miss them?

The idea of designating an official day of Thanksgiving may have sprung from our colonial pilgrim history, but it’s really a tradition that spans all cultures. The idea of feasting with friends and family, and remembering our blessings, can be celebrated any number of ways. Turkeys and pilgrims are not necessary. For me, in Hawaii, setting out my placemats with little squirrels and acorns seemed ridiculous. Instead I grew to appreciate the special decor that island dwellers know best: a pile of “slippers” outside the front door from all the ohana within.

Cozy Children’s Books for November

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Can I just say right now that I am a sucker for children’s books? Any kind of books really, but especially children’s books. And it KILLS me that my kids are too old for these! It almost makes me anxious for grandchildren just so I can have somebody to read them to . . . almost.

I think I’ll just find somebody else’s children to read aloud to. In the meantime, here’s a short list of my favorites for this time of year. I listed them as Amazon links because it’s an easy way to show the covers, but I’m not trying to twist your arm into buying these. In fact, I recommend finding these at your local library instead, unless you fall in love with them and absolutely must have your own copy. This happens.

I really love detailed illustrations that fill the whole page. Every time you read the story, there’s more to see and more to appreciate. My kids would hold the page down with their hands to stop me from turning the page too soon.

Illustrated children’s books are like poems; stories and moments pared down to the most essential perfect words, but embedded in a vision that tells the rest of the story.

Do you have any favorite cozy books for November? If so, I’d love to hear about them, please share in the comments below.

Helping Kids to Find their Passion

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I wrote a guest post over at the Bliss Habits blog about helping your kids find their passion. You can check it out here.

My daughter Emma has so many interests, she can't pick which one to follow, but there's no hurry.

Our Halloween Horror is Growing-Up

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This Halloween my teenagers wanted to go to a pumpkin patch and corn maze, just like we did when they were little. Fall has always been our favorite time of year, especially after living in Connecticut, where the gorgeous autumn foliage combined with the smell of wood smoke and apple cider made it feel like we were living inside a Norman Rockwell painting.

After Connecticut, we moved to Hawaii for six years, where Halloween was more of a shorts and flip-flops event. Any costumes we made had to be lightweight or the kids would swelter. There was one heavily trafficked pumpkin patch on the island, but we waited till three days before Halloween to get our pumpkins from the air-conditioned grocery store so they wouldn’t turn black with mold before the big day.

Now that we have moved to Northern California, the kids couldn’t wait to go back to a real pumpkin patch, so we did. There were fields of autumn flowers, pumpkins, hay bale pyramids, goats to pet, a haunted barn, an apple cider stand, gift shop, and the ever-popular corn maze.

The kids enjoyed it well enough, but realized it wasn’t the same as they remembered. Even if we could go back to Connecticut it wouldn’t be the same, because they are not the same, and it made them kind of sad. My oldest son frequently pines for the “good old days” when life was simpler, when he didn’t have to think about college and his job and moving away from home next year.

It occurred to me that both my boys will probably be away at college next Halloween, but I didn’t mention it because I didn’t want to ruin a perfectly good day. Instead we talked about future Halloweens on our future family farm, where they will bring their future kids to visit, or maybe live nearby.

We talked about how “growing up” changes our perception of things; how what used to be magical somehow seems more mundane. A child’s world extends to the edge of his or her family and friends, bounded by a neighborhood or perhaps the edge of town. But as we grow older, our awareness gradually stretches to encompass so much more, good and bad. We might move away, make new friends, learn new things, and experience more heartaches.

On the surface, it seems so sad to leave behind our childhood favorites, but not if we remember to make new favorites. There is still plenty of room for play in the adult world. We may not go trick-or-treating, but it’s still fun to dress up and go to a Renaissance Fair or build a contraption for the Maker Faire. Hayrides may not be as exciting as they once were, but now we can go mountain biking or river rafting. As our perspective changes, so do the opportunities.

Probably the most important thing is to keep family and friends close, no matter how we play. Nostalgia is useful for passing on traditions and stories to the next generation, but we can’t live in it. Instead of being sad that tomorrow will never be the same as today, I prefer to think that tomorrow will be even better.

Dashing Expectations

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My dad wanted me to be a lawyer. I got good grades and seemed predisposed to a sensible occupation, but I just couldn’t get excited about law. What I really would have liked to do was “commercial art,” as it was called in those days, but my dad convinced me that art was a risky career choice, so I decided to go to a military academy instead. I don’t regret that decision, because it broadened my horizons, and led to great adventures and friendships. But here I am again, reading typography books for fun and pining over those “Where Women Create” magazines. The trouble is, I feel like I lost my creativity somewhere back at the Academy, and I have to get it back.

In 2006, I started taking “New Media Arts” courses from my local community college and it was wonderful – like coming alive again. I took drawing, graphic design, digital art, art history, and some other courses before my schedule imploded. It’s hard to go back to school while homeschooling three kids! The kids felt like I had abandoned them, and my husband couldn’t understand why anyone would ever want to take typography. That’s OK, because I believe there is a time for everything, and they needed me then.

Our lives are full of expectations, from ourselves and others. We all push and pull on each other, unconsciously sharing our fears, hopes, disappointments and habits. I’ve tried very hard not to impose expectations on my kids, but I know I do anyway. Whenever I give advice, I’m influencing them to do something the way I would do it, or the way I think would work best for them. Is it possible to not give advice to children? I doubt it, but I do believe that less advice is best.

Have you ever known someone who not only gave you unsolicited advice, but had a firm conviction you should follow that advice? It’s very uncomfortable, because if you don’t agree, the other person may be insulted or angry or put up an argument. It won’t take long before you avoid that person’s advice at all costs, or perhaps instinctively rebel from it. That’s even more uncomfortable. Have you ever found yourself doing the same thing though – perhaps with your kids?

What if we never offered unsolicited advice? And if someone did ask for our opinion, we simply offered it with no expectations attached? This takes a lot of trust, and self-awareness. We have to believe that our kids are inherently capable, though they will make mistakes (just like we do). We have to know that our kids do not belong to us, and the fact that they choose differently doesn’t make our choices wrong. This might be a hard switch to make, especially if we are used to other people laying expectations on us. We have to undo all the phony connections that are based on ego (the thinking self), and simply be ourselves.

I still struggle with how much to give in to my family and how much to hold my own. I try not to expect anything in particular from my kids, but I cannot shake the expectation that they will always be wonderful. My dad does the same for me, even though I never became a lawyer.

Capture Your Homeschooling in Photos

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We all tend to take photos of our kids at holidays or on vacation. Scrapbookers and social media devotees take many more. But how many of you are taking pictures of your homeschooling routine? It’s OK to take a few traditional shots of the kids sitting at the table with a textbook, but that gets boring fast. Homeschooling is not school-at-home; it’s a way of life. Taking pictures is s-o-o-o important. Even if you don’t use any curriculum per se, you are busy doing things all day. And you won’t remember what you did. Trust me on this.

YOU WON’T REMEMBER. But journaling and taking pictures will help bring it all back. Looking back at the end of the year, you will be amazed at what you did. Put it all together in a scrapbook and you will have a visual memory for a lifetime.

Here are ten photos you should take for each of your kids:

  • Favorite reading spots.  Do your kids like to read outside on a blanket? In a tree? In front of the woodstove? Catch them in their favorite spot (preferably when they are not looking).
  • Bedroom in all its messy glory. Children’s bedrooms change over time in very personal ways that reflect passing interests. What toys are scattered about? What posters are on the walls? Take new pictures every year.
  • Picture of bookshelf.  For the same reasons that bedrooms express personality, a child’s bookshelf or shelves will show what he or she is interested in. Plus, taking pictures of those books, knick-knacks, photos, and other treasures is a great way to hang on to those things without actually hanging on to them.
  • Child’s portrait next to a stack of curriculum or library books – not just any books of course, but books he or she is actually using. This can be very cute if you try different poses and angles. Get creative!
  • Something your child does NOT like. In this case, it would be math.
  • Let your child take some pictures of “homeschooling” to see what he or she comes up with.
  • Science experiments or projects – these can be difficult to explain in words, but pictures with captions look great in a learning log.
  • Art projects – take pictures of the process as well as the end product. Zoom in your child’s expression when they are in the “zone” and don’t know you are looking at them.
  • Other people – coaches, music teachers, homeschool group, friends, neighbors, church members. Our worlds are full of wonderful people that we don’t think to take pictures of.
  • Have someone take pictures of you reading to them, playing games, exploring, crafting, etc. Don’t be shy. Someday you will want to remember these times, and your kids will want to see you in the picture too (and laugh at your goofy clothes and hairstyle).
  • Terminator Mom

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    I’ve been thinking a lot about the goal of this blog. What is my message? How does this fit in with the work I am meant to do?

    Here are some of the things I am passionate about:

    1. Self-education and self-improvement
    2. Sustainability
    3. Freedom
    4. Creativity
    5. Preparation for a world transition

    I think the world is in for some major changes due to population growth, resource scarcity, energy scarcity, economic collapse, and climate change (whatever the cause may be, things are changing). Being the sort of person that likes to plan ahead, I feel compelled to plan ahead for this transition and to help other people prepare too.

    However, I really don’t yet have the skills or experience to help anyone else! All I can do is raise awareness and point people to the same resources/experts I am turning to. But I do have experience with self-education, self-improvement and creativity. These are the very skills that all of us will need, now and in the future.

    Sometimes I think I’m like the mom Sarah Connor in Terminator, who raised a son destined to lead the human resistance against machines. I have this feeling that I am also raising my children to survive and perhaps lead the way in the troubles ahead. We may not have cyborgs to fight off, but there will be plenty of challenges. There will be major changes in our food, water, and energy supplies, and people typically don’t like those sorts of abrupt changes. Hopefully it will happen gradually enough that people can adjust. But I’m fairly certain that my children and grandchildren will have a much different way of life than I did. My job is to teach them how to make the most of it.

    So, that is my message. I want to reach out to all the Terminator moms and dads out there and spread the word. It’s time to get ready. Each of us has unique strengths and skills to apply to the problems at hand. We must encourage our children’s unique strengths and skills, too. Who knows what they might be or how they might serve humanity in the future? This is no time to worry about standardized curriculum or pleasing bureaucrats – we have a world to save!

    I’ll keep beating the drum of self-education in this blog, but because I am also in the process of educating myself about our coming transition, I will post thoughts about that in my other blog: www.jamiemcmillin.com

    Next topic: What are you learning?