Monday, December 28, 2009

White Christmas

I am an unapologetic lover of winter, snow makes me as giddy as my five-year-old. So we were all dismayed to see rain fall on top of all the lovely snow that had accumulated when we woke on Christmas Day. We were much gratified to see that rain turn into snow a few hours later and keep on snowing for days!

This whole season since the beginning of Advent has been magical this year. We added elements little by little as the weeks progressed. The day the kids awoke to the manger set up and lit in the dark was very special. Whatever we did the rest of the weeks leading up to Christmas included the manger scene and baby Jesus. When we were making gingerbread cookies one day, I told Puck we would give some as gifts to our friends. His eyes lit up at the word "gift," and he immediately said; "Gift for baby Jesus." He had asked me about the three kings earlier that day, and we must have talked about the presents they brought with them. As soon as the first batch of cookies was cool enough, he carefully carried two gingerbread men over to the manger, where they have kept watch over baby Jesus ever since.

The night of the Solstice we had our first-ever spiral to walk. We had talked much over the weekend of the longest night and shortest day of the year. We evoked the ancient celebrations of the return of the light and what it meant to peoples convinced that the sun was leaving forever to finally "get" that it would return each year. I set it up in the living room in the dark, with candles all around and the lit Christmas tree behind it all. The children were mesmerized as they walked the spiral, in silence, one after the other. When it appeared more difficult to remain quiet, Pierre picked up his guitar and strummed a soft song, bringing us back to a reverent feeling and adding much to the ambiance of the occasion.

Christmas Eve was spent with my family and fond thoughts of our family in France. The weather was fair to middlin', but everyone made it and my parents' house was filled with beautiful decorations, a warm fire, good food and lots of love.

Christmas Day we stayed home in our pajamas, as per the children's request. We were delighted to oblige. The kids got us up at seven o'clock precisely with a leap on the bed and a showering of homemade and other gifts, they had waited so long to give them, they were bursting! Pierre went down to light the fire and candles, a tradition in his family, then we followed, rather at a gallop. After opening gifts and some breakfast, we did not get dressed, but each enjoyed their new toys and gifts. Pierre and I cooked and baked and helped kids figure out how to use their new toys. (Note to us: no electronics next year!) We had a feast fit for...children, lol! They wanted hamburgers and fries, we made hamburgers and fries, along with smoked salmon, some brie, a good baguette and my now-traditional Yule log. We spent time around the fire, playing guitar and knitting, time playing a new video game, and had a little family Christmas music concert.

Since then, we have been shoveling and sledding and watching movies together when it gets too cold outside. Family and friends have stopped by and emails and phone calls made to France. You are all in our hearts and thoughts, enjoy the remaining days of the season, nine more to go!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Blogging 'Bout Boys: Positive Parenting

Blogging 'Bout Boys: Positive Parenting

A wonderful post from Jennifer, mother of four boys, that sent a much-needed wake-up call. When sibling fighting seems to be the main theme of your waking hours, here is something to consider.

Baby and Reindeer

Puck really loves his reindeer. That and llamas are his favorite animals...funny baby.

Sleigh Ride!

We all loved the lighting of the town Christmas tree, horse and cart ride, hot cocoa and carols in the crisp December air the other night. The holiday season is on, may it be a peaceful, joyful one for you.

A Really Big Ball of Yarn

Craziest knitting project ever; size 50 needles and four strands of bulky yarn, wound together in one big, big ball. The combination makes a cool blanket, warm and soft and fluffy (and only a knitter would know how long it takes to make.) Next to them, you can see the size 1's for the baby sock project that is also going on; it's all about balance!

Basement Play: Joan of Arc

The original script by Lily, telling the tale of a young runner, on a mission out of besieged Orleans to collect information. She encounters more than she bargained for when she meets the Maid herself.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Home "school" update

Aragorn is whistling while he does dishes, Lily is smiling as she cleans her bird's cage and listens to "Emma Jean Lazarus Falls Out of the Tree" for the 34th time, Alienor is happily cutting out paper dolls, Arthur and Puck are sound asleep next to each other in my bed, it is a peaceful moment.

We saw a beautiful production of "The Nutcracker" ballet this morning and are still a bit in the dream state it left us in. This week brought a big, bad ol'winter storm, showering us with a foot of snow, blowing winds and below freezing temperatures. It was great!

We finished up our study of Medieval times with Joan of Arc. What an amazing figure in history and in women's history. We learned much about the power of one individual with faith in their mission, about what life was like in the late middle ages in France and, sadly, about the corruption of politics, even way back when.

Alienor has been studying the lives of Catholic saints. She sincerely wants to be a better little person and is very devout in her intentions. It's reality that hits her all too often with sibling or other conflicts that put her over the edge. She is the best baby minder ever, and will find things for Puck to do for hours on end.

Arthur has been weaving and finger-knitting his little heart out. His huge accomplishment this week was obtaining his own library card. He had to sign his whole name on the line to do so, and though I have never taught him a single letter, he did it anyway, very nicely, in fact. He is so proud of his card. If you stop over, he will take it out and show you.

Puck is talking and talking and talking. He is very funny, into everything and does just what a two-and-a-half-year-old should do; be cute and make trouble. He loved the five minutes of the ballet he saw before falling asleep yesterday. He sat entranced and silent, like all of the 5000 or so children, including homeschoolers with toddlers and babies, through the entire show. The only difference in my case was that he was entirely out.

We have made candles for our advent wreath, put up advent calendars, and kept our intentions to find kind deeds to do for others in this season. Today we will celebrate Lily's 13th birthday and Thierry's 40th. Time to make pancakes and sausages!

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Hey amour,

Happy We Met Twenty-one Years Ago Today Anniversary! I always thought I'd feel so old (not to mention bored) after twenty years of loving the same person, nothing doing, you're the best!

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Final Day in the Days of Joy Series: Day Thirty

First Snowfall

How appropriate and how cool that on my last day of posting for this exercise in gratitude, I should wake to a fresh mantle of snow and softly falling flakes in the dark before dawn. This is my favorite day of the year; when winter's white blanket first covers autumn's brown dearth. I am just as excited as the children to see snow. I am lining up the boots, gloves, mittens and scarves by the door so that we can be ready for a snow fling as soon as we've had breakfast. Thank you, Mother Nature, for a fitting end to the days of joy and a beginning of many more.

Days of Joy: Day Twenty-Nine


Even if the baby in question is two and a half...already! Babies in the bath, with their sweet little curls and their absolute delight in water, their pudgy little selves and smooth new skin, all lovely-smelling in your arms when they're dry and in pajamas and ready for a cuddle.

Baby's arm wrapping around your neck as you try to sneak out of bed to "get something done," before the rest of the house awakens. How nice to be needed, how blessed to have known such beautiful moments once in a lifetime.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Day Twenty-Eight in Days of Joy

And Counting

It was either a tiring week or one lacking in inspiration, but here I am, a whole week later and no days of joy entries. So, the three days to come will be days of joy, each and every one.

Today is show day; the three oldest are in a play called "The Christmas Wizard of Oz," and I know it will be a great day.

PS It is Monday and I have gained some perspective, in retrospect, of course, on the crazy week it seemed to be last week. We lead a very boring life, all in all. Normally, we are home in the evenings together. The kids fight about setting the table, forget the water, argue about who has to get up and get the water, we eat dinner, read a story (while the two-year-old wreaks havoc). They scuffle while they brush their teeth, need one more drink, have one more question, one more booboo that requires a band-aid or homeopathy, then all are tucked into bed by 8. Last week we had something else going on every single wonder! It was a good week; a first day of Advent tea and decorating of the whole house in one fell swoop, play rehearsal almost every night, a guitar concert/open coffee house where Aragorn debuted his guitar-strummin' stuff, then the play. Lots of joys, lots of complications.

We really do create our own problems and their solutions, on lucky days.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Days of Joy: Day Twenty-Seven

Giving Thanks

The day of Thanksgiving was a glowing, happy day of family, food and joy, the way you hope it will turn out. The children got along (having more tv and game screens than the total number of children had to help, sigh), the adults were kind to each other and nothing got burnt. All of this without excess alcohol consumption...mainly, perhaps, because my sister is expecting again, after an eleven year hiatus between children, it will be twelve by the time baby arrives. I am delighted for her and her family. I am so happy to think I will be an auntie again...a new baby to cuddle and spoil.

Thank you to all involved, from the cooks to the cleaners to the drivers (I got to knit and nap both ways). Happy Advent to all, may the coming season of Hannukah, Christmas or Solstice be a blessed one.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Day Twenty-Six in Days of Joy

Showing love

Without instilling guilt or shame, one of my wishes for my children is that they understand how privileged they are to have enough; (and then some!) and to realize that not everyone does. I hope they will cultivate a sense of gratitude and abundance, then be moved by the desire and rightness of sharing what we have with others. As we begin the Advent season; be it a countdown to Christmas, to the Solstice, or Hanukkah, I want to share with them a sense of reverence for this special time of the year, to bring light and warmth where there is darkness and cold in the world and in our own hearts.

I have days when this becomes a boring lecture, to little avail, I am sure. When we find a news story or a book on someone whose generosity and living among the poor has changed the world, my husband and I share it with the children. Mother Theresa is a household favorite, as is Ghandi and Sister Emmanuelle (champion of Cairo's poorest).

Yesterday, before a promised annual trip to the mall, I brought up the subject at circle time. Circle time is our daily morning gathering to light a candle, share joys and sorrows, remember those of our friends, say a blessing, learn a verse or poem, toss around our math beanbags for practice. I reminded them that while we were going out for a fun day, there were children who were hungry or without a home. I asked what we could do to help out one child today and throughout the holiday season. Alienor, 8, immediately brought out the "guest at your table" box from church. She told the story of the people on the box, and everyone ran to get money to contribute. There were pledges of allowance money and thoughts and prayers.

This was a good start to the day. On our way home from our day of bad food and tons of fun, we decided we would choose a really cool toy for a contribution to Toys for Tots. Once again, allowances were offered and wrapping services proposed. I guess it is easy to be a little generous when you have just had a wonderful day, but I am glad to see little hearts and minds turning towards others. I wish it could become more concrete for them. Yes, we've volunteered at the soup kitchen and we will again. Their question from that experience was; "why can't parents who have a (Ouii, PS3, other video game thingy) buy food for their families?" Hmmm, maybe not the best lesson, but we'll work with it. We frequent inner-city libraries where the homeless hang out when it rains and parents drop their children and disappear, then the children are reprimanded...for being abandoned children? I am never sure who to be most angry with in those cases.

As I was searching for ways to begin the Advent season in reverence and awe, I found this sermon from last year. I find it so inspiring that I will post a link to it here:

It was given last year by Robert W. Henderson last year at the Covenant Presbyterian Church, but its message is positively universal. I will take his suggestion of incorporating silence as a way to calm the outer din of commercialism and folly (especially with Black Friday coming up). It may be a challenge to create ten or twenty minutes of silence with a two-year old around, but teaching the concept and giving the older three a space and time in which to pray and meditate on their own, is something that will benefit everyone.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Day Twenty-Five in Days of Joy

Designing Lace

I would not term this a new-found talent, more like a new idea and adventure, but I am satisfied to have designed my first lace shawl. I have been looking at patterns and books for months now, never happy with what I found for some reason or another. To begin with, I bought the yarn before I decided on a pattern, so that limited my choices. Then I thought I would find a project that would not be so challenging as to make me work on it in the wee hours of the morning when no one could talk to me. Now I have realized (after knitting up the yarn into a disaster of a "no-fuss" project and frogging the whole thing), that the only time I get to knit anyway is when no one else is up and I might as well make something interesting and beautiful if I am going to do justice to the yarn. This particular yarn is just right for the person I am knitting for; Schulana Sojabama, I won't reveal the color, but it is soft and lovely and a joy to knit. I used a combination of lace patterns from "A Second Treasury of Knitting Stitches," by Barbara Walker, her books are true gems in the world, and learned how to chart from a Meg Swanson book on lace and an online site with explanations for charting.

I kept wanting to buy another present for this person, feeling that this project was not to have a happy outcome, but now I am pleased to see it take shape and having ventured into designing lace, can echo those maddening knitting books that love to say; "It's really not that hard."

Day Twenty-Four in Days of Joy

Joan of Arc in the Basement

I was visiting a friend yesterday and she asked what the children were up to. I told her that when I left the house they were putting on a play in the basement. As I told her about it, she questioned me, and I discovered what a cool project this really was. She asked if I had written it myself or if it were a pre-made script. "No, Lily wrote it herself. We read about, talked about and saw a film about Joan of Arc, or Jeanne d'Arc, last week, and this was how she decided to complete the unit, it was all her idea." Aragorn wrote a semi-serious, irreverent report on her life that made me glad he is not in a Catholic school as I once was, and Lily wrote a play. When I left they had spent three hours in the basement, building sets, hanging curtains and creating costumes. When I returned they were in rehearsal and as happy as clams. There will be a performance in the near future, don't miss it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Days of Joy: Day Twenty-Three

Remembering to be Grateful

I have renewed a couple of projects this week and taken on a new one or two, and all of a sudden, the blog has been abandoned. The biggest change is my promise to myself to make my mornings run more smoothly by beginning the day with meditation, getting the necessities done before the children wake up...and knitting while listening to inspiring lectures and essays.

Since baby has been waking up around six (am, yes), this has left me no time to write, dang it. The point of the exercise (meditation, discipline) is to remind me to be more grateful and more focused. I guess I can't grump about that, so my joy for today will be that of gratitude itself. (And my prayer for a little more time in the morning tomorrow.)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Days of Joy: Day Twenty-Two

The Buck

Aragorn and I went out for a short walk yesterday, and just as we were approaching the woods, he stopped stock still and said; "look!" I stopped just as suddenly, being used to his superior spotting skills...and stared. There was a really big buck right in front of us, giving us the once-over as well. We have seen many deer along this path, but I have yet to see a buck. It was a magical moment, he was magnificent. No one moved until he turned and trotted off into the woods.

Days of Joy: Day Twenty-One

Paper airplanes

Arthur has learned to make paper airplanes and he is as proud of it as only a five year old can be! The result is that we have a regular flotilla of planes all about the house, and one does hate to recycle them, as he holds them very dear...but I'm afraid we may be under siege from an abundance of airplanes soon if I don't start retiring the older models.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Days of Joy: Day Twenty

Charles Dickens

Our read-aloud these days is "A Christmas Carol," the original tale. Quote of the day from this work:

Dickens' description of the first time Scrooge sees his old pal, Marley's face in the door knocker:

"Marley's face. It was not in impenetrable shadow as the other objects in the yard were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar."

Please be so good as to improve upon that, if you will.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Days of Joy: Day Nineteen

An Office!

We have made an office out of a bedroom, and this is the first time I am sitting in it alone, looking out the upstairs window at the sunrise and the beautiful fall colors in the remaining leaves.

Not that we had a spare bedroom, but there was somehow an empty one, reverted to the name "mama's sewing room," which never lasts long around here because they love to play musical bedrooms all the time. I had so much given up hope on that ever happening again that I removed the fabulous sewing table to the basement, imagining dark, long hours of working on whatever the next project might be...poor me. (I don't mind sewing, but I would really rather be knitting. Sewing is done out of necessity; duvet covers for our French down comforters, curtains, fairy or knight capes, baby slings in a fabric I like, etc.) However, now that it is for the adults to use for work, they may not move into or otherwise take over this space. And guess what the "desk" is for the space? The sewing table with a laptop on it, of course!

To make more space in their bedroooms, two of them have moved their desks into here. This works just fine, they work at their desks in the day time, we use "the office" in the early morning or at night. So when they all unexpectedly woke up with the roosters this morning and daddy had not yet left for work, I took the steps two at a time and promised "just ten minutes" in my new office, joy!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Day Eighteen in the Days of Joy

Knitting and Sewing

It seems that we have finally found the joy in these activities when performed together. For years, Lily and I have been knitting happily, and they have all done a little sewing with enthusiasm, but there are partially completed projects all about the house and the guilt I feel each time I come across one is terrible. There has also been the little matter of Aragorn not wanting to knit, "knitting is stupid and I don't want to do it. I want to go to school so that I won't have to knit, it's not real work," have been some of the more pleasant comments.

That all changed this week. Two birthday gifts to Alienor changed my mind. One was a lovely gift of sheets of good felt and needles and embroidery floss. The other was a wreath made by a seven-year-old friend. The one gift was so simple and perfect that we had to put it to use, the other so beautiful that it absolutely inspired me to give time to these endeavors, wherever they may lead.

Monday we began. The older two chose yarn and began to roll it into balls, that took the better part of an hour. I cut two pieces of rectangular felt for five-year-old Arthur, who really wanted to be a part of things, pinned them together, drew dotted lines to stitch along, threaded his needle and away he went. Alienor, eight, liked the idea of making a stuffed animal. She chose a piece of black felt and worked on her drawing on scrap paper all morning before putting it on felt in white chalk for me to cut out. A friend arrived for a knitting lesson, so everyone took a break from handwork to play with the others.

The friend, I am happy to say, got on beautifully with her knitting. It has nothing to do with me, she is just naturally talented, but by giving ourselves time to focus just on learning to knit, she was able to do it very quickly. Another day, I might have tried to over-achieve and start everyone in the house on a project and help out and not get on with the knitting we meant to do. After producing one holey trapezoid, the hallmark of all novice knitters, she made the nicest little square of pink and yellow yarn, no mistakes, no holes, no extra stitches. Nice going!

Later that day, Arthur finished stitching, with very neat, tiny stitches, his entire "backpack" he wanted to make. Alienor learned the blanket stitch and hemmed her little black bear and Lily decided to make a dove from felt A. loaned her from her stash.

The next day I took up knitting again with the two eldest. Our project had shifted from slipper liners to actual slippers, so I needed a moment to find a pattern simple enough, yet in the round, for slippers. We all sat down together at the table. I expediated the younger ones to the playroom, though they were clamoring for help with their own projects, in order to create a focused atmosphere for our lesson. Wow, what a difference. With me wholly focused on their stitches, they made great and quick progress. Aragorn, who had never managed to complete more than four rows in a day of knitting, was increasing, following a pattern and knitting like a pro. Lily, who had never consented to follow a pattern in her many years of knitting, was not only following it, but explaining it to her brother. Those slippers will be works of love, not stupid at all.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Day Seventeen in Days of Joy

The Sound of Music

Example not lecture. Children learn by imitating. Both true, as this experience has shown. I have always longed for all of us to have enough interest in music to each play and enjoy a musical instrument. My approach was paying for lessons for interested parties and poking around a bit on the piano I dreamed of having in the house for years. Interest waxed and waned, lamely, on a very small scale.

Yes, I noticed that if I wanted to practice piano, I would soon have little hands all wanting to pound on it too. But until I began a penny whistle program to teach myself* and then the children, and encouraged my husband to take those guitar lessons he'd always wanted to take, there was not much happening musically in our house. All of a sudden, our walls echo with music. The two piano students seem to occupy that instrument non-stop, the guitar players are constantly strumming and the recorders, harmonicas, and yes, penny whistles, are blowing melodies at all hours of the day.

I am amazed, I am grateful, I may be going deaf, but it is with the sound of music in my ears.

* The penny whistle program is called Living Music From the Heart, it is by Jodie Mesler. Her blog/order site is:, I highly recommend it!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Days of Joy; Day Sixteen

Yoga class

I have returned to my yoga class after two months of absenteeism. No good reason and a dozen reasons for not going for so long; the baby is ill, everyone else is ill, vacation, it's too nice out, it's too yucky out, I'd rather stay home and knit, someone needs to buy; jeans, rat food, paper, licorice, the cockatiel pooped on my yoga duds as I was walking out the get the picture. That time when there are two adults in the house and it is neither too early nor too late to "get things done" is rare and much needed sometimes. It is so easy to let other things replace what can be viewed as a mini-vacation for mama.

But...everyone does better when mama takes time to go to yoga class! There is something special about relinquishing all actions to someone else's dictation for an hour, stretching the limits of body and mind in a way that does not involve carrying a toddler, stirring soup and talking with the chiropractor on the phone while two kids fight, one plays guitar and another screams for a band-aid. I appreciate the quieting of mind, the wooden floors beneath the yoga mat, the warmth and peace of the room. Thank you to my wonderful teacher and fellow students who make it such a great place to be.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Day Fifteen in Days of Joy

A Perfect Day

With the whole family home for a day of no school, no weekend obligations, and plenty of good food, the day of Alienor's birthday was a thing of beauty and joy for all of us. There were pancakes for breakfast, just like a Saturday. Then the older children read their chosen book of the day and tinkered about their rooms. Alienor, Arthur, Puck and I cuddled up on the sofa and read "Harry Potter." It had been years since I actually read the book and I had forgotten how very good it is.

After a lunch of nachos and quesadillas, Alienor and Arthur and I attended a nature program and went for a long walk in the woods. The day was sunny and warm, perfect for being outside and rare for November. We stayed until the sun was setting on the river across the way, a glorious end to a wonderful day.

Dinner was hamburgers on the grill and homemade fries (French, of course). We read some more Harry Potter and went to sleep. I hope their dreams were as good as their waking moments.

Friday, November 6, 2009


Day Fourteen in our days of joy experience; fostering and enjoying the high spirits of seven-year-old Alienor, my little girl who was about to turn eight. Her whole little self was excited about the coming day. We teased her a little throughout the evening; birthday? no, I don't think there's a birthday happening here tomorrow. You're going to be how old? Five? Six?

There was such sweetness in her expression and such happiness to think that we would all be thinking of her for a day, that it would be impossible to label it selfish or greedy. It was the anticipation of a family tradition and a shared love and joy.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Days of Joy: Day Thirteen

An Afternoon Outdoors

Everyone was very excited to be going back to playgroup after a two week hiatus. Where to hold the event became a hot topic. Our general rule was 50 degrees and over, we go outside. The day promised to be sunny and warm-looking, but only 45 or so at noon. The question was soon decided by the holder of the keys to the alternative; her church. She was brave enough to face the elements, we would be too. Thank goodness! I had really been looking to spending some time in the sunshine, and though we froze our... exterior parts a little, it was great to be outside. Lovely day, thanks for the push, fellow homeschoolers!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Day Twelve

Celebrating the Life of a Friend

Dr.Jim Hodges; teacher, scholar, bringer of wit and wisdom, character. He chose All Saints' Day to depart to another realm, with typical insight and one last wink to the world. Immediately upon meeting him, you realized that Jim was someone special. His wit was lively, his knowledge of the world thorough and his opinions decided.

He was an expert on birds, their songs, their migrating habits, their mating grounds and practices. I learned quantities of things from him on birds over the years. His approach was thorough and simple. Each day, he said, he walked outside and greeted his Creator and then fed and watched the birds in his yard. They would come to him, eat from his hand, sing. From the time he was a boy he observed and studied birds, one island in particular received his attention as a wild place to observe their spring rites and learn their calls and song.

He was a professor and continued his studies every day of his life, reading four newspapers and one book a day, and studying, just last week still, two or three languages, Hebrew, Greek and Arabic being the ones I remember.

A week and a half ago he gave a class on personal finance, the state of the world and how to survive in it. I wouldn't have missed it for the world. As was his habit, it was riveting, controversial, and educational. Until the end, he remained true to himself.

Though I miss him, like so many, I am grateful to have known him in his last years, he touched lives everywhere he went, our family's included.

I do hope Jesus speaks the right dialect of Arabic when Jim meets him!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Days of Joy: Day Eleven

A Long Library Visit

Lily, Aragorn and I took a trip to the library without the younger three today; bliss! I got to ask the poor reference librarian all of the questions I had been saving up; can you find a biography of Harun-al-Rashid? The black and white movie of Thomas Edison? Canterbury Tales, children's version? How about ordering a book on CD for a seeing-impaired friend? Thank goodness the reference person gets "credit" for each question they take while on duty; I went through two of them while I was there.

I wandered through a guided tour of the children's and young adult section with my kids, they pointed out all the cool books I have not yet read and I offered suggestions of what I had read that they might have missed; not much!

Libraries have always been hallowed, favorite places for me, I am so lucky to live in an area with seven or eight at my disposal, what better resource could a homeschooler ask for?

Day Ten in days of joy: cranberry sauce and postponing grocery shopping

We are obsessively organized where food is concerned in our house. We make out a menu each week, a shopping list to go with it and shop once. No take-out, no restaurants, unless we are traveling or the occasional exception. However, with the bouts of swine flu the past two weeks, I have been putting off shopping forever, adding a couple of things here and there in quick trips to the store and using up items in our freezer.

Last night I found cranberries from last year; time to eat those! Although it is not yet Thanksgiving, I have sauce simmering on the stove to go with our chicken tonight. We will celebrate with family out of town this year, and the kids will miss their favorite cranberry from scratch sauce, so we're having a mini-holiday now. I'll bake the angel food cake I've been promising Lily as well...a real 1950's dinner.

Days of Joy: day nine: a haunted house

We made our haunted house from the gingerbread house kit we bought; fun and sweetness! I mixed the dough, Lily baked the house, I assembled and everyone decorated. I'll have a picture up just as soon as I figure out how to remove it from the camera.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Day Eight in Days of Joy: Trick-or-Treating

A joy of childhood with no equal; running up and down the neighborhood streets in the dark, dressed up and gathering insane amounts of candy. It was, according to my husband who stayed home to give out candy, rather than freezing his sitting-down-parts out in the cold like some of us, a perfect Halloween night. The wind picked up and with it the leaves went flying in great waves everywhere. The rain abated for a few blessed hours and all was color and wind and spookiness. Truly a grand occasion.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Days of Joy: day seven, getting better and one long nap!

Yesterday, many of the little people in the household began to look a little more perky. Some of them even got dressed, others promised to do so tomorrow. The littlest one gave me a fright however, he went down for a nap at 1:30 or so. He awoke around 3, and fell immediately back to sleep in my arms. I finally settled his heavy self on the sofa in the middle of everyone at 4 and he stirred not a muscle until 6:45. Upon waking, however, he was jubilant and noisy and full of ideas to keep us on our toes until way past my bedtime!

I'm keeping my fingers crossed for trick-or-treating tonight. We do have a plan B the kids came up with: take all the candy Mama has not yet eaten and play trick-or-treat in each room in the house, "helping ourselves," as one put it, hurrah for ingenious ideas!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

How to Look Gorgeous in Fifteen Minutes or Less

I have just been informed that this is my 100th post. It seems to me I should have chosen some momentous topic to write about for the occasion, but sadly enough, beauty will have to do. If just one thing in here rings true with you, then perhaps this be "all ye need to know."

I firmly believe in this, by the way. Laugh if you will, but staying home on many days with my children could be enticement to "let myself go" or be too busy to wash my face or get dressed.

No one is paying me, (darn it), and there is no one but my children to see me on some days, but I've decided no pay does not need to mean no self-respect. Same thing for a high-power job or career in academia; being busy or smart doesn't have to mean you look like you couldn't care less about your appearance. So this is what I do each morning.

Shower or bath; this takes the most time, so if you shower the night before, your prep time can be cut to 5 minutes. Start with a good hair cut or really long hair which doesn't take you half an hour to untangle. Wet head, brush, throw in product, finger-style, voila. That's all I do. The good hair cut costs more than my frugal self will admit, but it makes all the difference to the amount of time I need to spend on it each day.

Wash face, apply moisturizer. I quit using foundation this summer, when it would just sweat off anyway. How liberating, how much cheaper! Apply some of whatever makes you feel prettier. For us red-heads with no visible eye-lashes, this means mascara and eye-liner for me, it might be lipstick or blush for you. With practice it takes one minute to "slap face" as a friend once put it. Put some decent cloths on, sweats are for running or for days when you are too sick to get out of bed. For more polish when going out, I keep a compact in the car and brush on powder and a little lipstick at the first red light. Or powder at the first, lipstick at the second. If you live in a small town, you might want to do this in your drive-way or in the orthodontist's parking lot. Try not to park outside an office window.

Have a beautiful day!

The Rest of the Story

I used to think that Paul Harvey was the cat's meow. Then I grew up and listened to his news and commentary and was horrified. But this is my story, not his, those just happen to be five words from the English language whose harmony suited me this morning. Lest I sound too goody-goody and lovingly grateful in my days of joy posts, let me tell you how things also look around here.

I'm writing with a konked-out baby sprawled across my lap in my bed and I've run out of tea. One week of children with the flu has left me brain-addled. I made myself a cup of chai this morning and very hypocritically dipped into my personal supply of Stevia because I don't "do" sugar and I decided long ago that life was too short to drink chai with no sweetener. I proceeded to tilt the minuscule quantity of Stevia into the sugar bowl instead of my tea cup. The hypocritical part of the story is that to a poor-me syndrome led me to break into the Halloween candy this week before trick-or-treat night. I bought it early this year, figuring it would be one less thing to try to do at the end of a weary week, and I did NOT resist temptation, even though I hid it (from myself) in the garage in a far corner inside a pink shopping bag all crumpled up. I tried Babe Ruths for the first time in years (yucky, waxy chocolate), Mounds Bars (very satisfactory), more than one of those escaped the bag, and picked up a couple of bags of Milky Ways to compensate for the missing quantity, as I was yet again buying kiddy acetaminophen and ibuprofen at the pharmacy last night...I only had two on the way home. Note to self; never tell yourself where you hid the candy, and use the pharmacy pick-up window, for goodness' sake!

Today's big dilemma: how to have a no sugar day (mostly for myself) to fast before Halloween's big candy orgy when I promised we would make a haunted house from our gingerbread house kit. Can you tell I've had no adult to talk to for a week or so? But I hear your voice, dear reader, telling me to buck up and have some self-control, for goodness' sake. Got it, thanks. Or stop fixating on sugar? I like that advice even better, thank you again.

I did manage a shower while baby howled in hubby's arms for three minutes, and I thought I would do a short piece on how to look gorgeous in fifteen minutes or less. Please see next post.

Days of Joy; day five and six; feet and fire

Once my little guy came down with this nasty flu, my arms have been full of him for hours on end, so no blogging, despite my best intentions to make this a daily affair.

I am most grateful to have a healthy body, including feet clad in speedy sneakers, to run up and down stairs, bringing tea, treats, remedies, hugs and kisses to my munchkins.

Having a home with a fireplace in it is another on my "most grateful" list. For me, it makes everything cozy and homelike to be able to bring in wood, shake the snow off my boots and light a fire. It has been extra nice this week as a source of warmth and a place to gather to hear stories or play Nintendo or draw.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Defenders of Fair Damsels

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Renaissance Fair and the Child in Us All

Each year our family dresses up and heads to the Renaissance Fair. I could find lots of excuses for this; former theatre major honoring Shakespeare's time, history lesson for all, a fun day for the kids. The truth is, we all love it, and it was my idea, just for me, with kids as an excuse. I don't like to sew, but months before, each year, we start dreaming up and concocting a new variation on Renaissance-type characters we will invent garb for this year. This year we had a messenger, two knights, a page, an assassin, a pirate and a peasant. We saw demonstrations of alchemy, a tournament between two knights on horseback and lots of bards and troubadours. We got to try our hand at medieval martial arts and try on fun costumes and dream a little all day.

Pirates at the Ren Fair

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Ren Fair Fun

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Day Four in Days of Joy: Staying Home

Working from home and staying home were blessings beyond compare yesterday as three out of five came down with the flu and daddy was still trying to get over it but battling severe aches and stuffy nose. Our son was everywhere and helping in every way; making scrambled eggs when I finally made it downstairs at 9 in the morning, fetching things, adding wood to the fire. Our day consisted of lots of tea and blankets and reading "Anne of Green Gables" in front of the fireplace. Oh, and we did move our blankets to the playroom mid-afternoon to watch a movie together. Keep us in your thoughts and prayers, as baby (I know, he's two, but he is the baby) woke with a burning fever a couple hours ago.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Candle makers

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Candle rolling

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Day Three in Days of Joy

Monkey bread for breakfast. Now that took me down memory lane of the best slumber-party breakfasts. I told my children about monkey bread a week or so ago and they didn't believe me. I got up yesterday, googled a recipe and had it ready by 9. I really just used my regular sweet-dough recipe, rolled it into little balls and dipped each in a butter/brown sugar sauce and put it all in a pan to rise and bake. They thought it was great.

Day Two of Days of Joy

Family pizza night! In which, each week, we make pizza (and I was the chef since the normal one was down with the flu), rent a movie and hang out together. It was a fun night, we saw the old Freaky Friday, the one with Jodie Foster as a 13-year-old.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Day One; Cardboard Boxes

We did have a lovely day yesterday; the kids came together with great enthusiasm to open up the wax and make a few candles. The boys most liked the idea of making red candles and bundling them together to look like dynamite. The eldest boy and ringleader of these little hoodlums, had the idea of making "fake candles" for his cardboard tank. I did not have the same level of consideration for the project. I let them know that this was an important job, we were making candles for our winter's supply. This pretty much went in one ear and out the other, if that; "Yada, yada, yada, mama." Who was I to prioritize in this cool game of rolling up wax into fun shapes? I agreed to one candle each for the endeavor. Luckily, they wanted really small candles, and everyone ended up making a personal candle with string for wicking.

Within ten minutes the first two boys had made two or three candles and were back in their tank. The girls lasted a little longer, but soon took up residence once more in their box house. It was only the baby and I. He had a great time. We rolled together and after rolling all of the apricot ("YE-YOW") candles on the table, he consented to roll the other colors too. He would have stayed there all day, happy as a lark. Normally, the others would have too, but a greater force was pulling them away; big cardboard boxes.

They had been cutting, creating, scheming and imagining for three days. The first box was actually the one the wax arrived in; it was big enough to play in, not because of the quantity of wax we ordered, but because of the necessary padding for it. For one whole day, I was delivered packages wrapped up and containing either the baby or the five-year-old. Even my husband joined in and delivered one to me while I was making dinner. Man, if having babies were only that easy!

The second box they recovered the next day from the recycling box, taping it back into shape. My daughter, 7, thought of a source for the third one yesterday; an unused wardrobe box in the basement. This REALLY big box of course occasioned much jealously amidst the tank team, which led to the negotiating and side-changing and mixing up of who was "living" in whose box that lasted until evening. Is this learning? the grandparents may be asking. If every diplomat in the world were as talented at bargaining and working out deals as these four, there would most likely be no need for war.

Fantastic diversion for two days of incessant rain and cold. Our first day of joy was a success, I am grateful.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Days of Joy: Playaways

Not being in a particularly creative mood and feeling the pinch of "days left to finish up" our study of Medieval Times, I am allowing myself to be inspired by two friends and fellow bloggers: and They have each set out to have 30 days of happiness, full of fun projects, activities and the attitude to go with them. In laughlivelearnlove you will find photos and recipes and ideas galore if you are in need of a little extra fun these days.

It might be the cold, incessant rain, it could be the sickness of one family member after another, but things are feeling a little dull around here. I do not have plans for tomorrow, but today,... today we are going to open up those five lovely boxes of beeswax that arrived a few days ago and make candles until we are sick of making them or run out of wicking, whichever comes first. Then we will play our penny whistles and read "Anne of Green Gables" aloud. I have no doubt we will be able to incorporate the Middle Ages into this program. We'll turn out all the lights, make our candles by candle-light and cook our lunch in the fireplace, a little wild boar would be perfect.

While we're doing that, we will recharge our AAA batteries for a nice afternoon of napping or knitting with our playaways. I'm afraid I've become a little addicted to the idea of a story in my ear. It's all the fault of "Sense and Sensibility" and the fact that it is just as satisfying to listen to it read by a marvelous Englishwoman who does voices for each character than to have to bear the tolerant, amused expression on my husband's face, or his exasperation, as I rent the movie one more time. I had never dared check out a playaway at the library. I don't do books on tape, since I rarely have time to listen to them. I was at the library alone the other night for a moment, with my knitting, but feeling the pain of being surrounded by books and not reading. I happened to have my little guy's walkman in my bag, he must have handed it to me at some point in the day, so I had a set of earphones. I meandered over to the playaway section to see what was available. If you have never tried a playaway, it is a tiny little gadget, about 2 inches by 3 inches, real skinny, that contains a single recorded book. It comes with a AAA battery, that you will usually need to change before the book is over, and you plug a set of headphones in, hit the "power/play" button and away you go. My kids have been using them forever, but it looked too complicated for non-techie me. It's not! Amazing! When you are interrupted, you hit the same "power/play" button and it saves your spot for you until later. If you are simply trying to absorb something less enlightened than Jane Austin, you have a choice of 2 or 3 voice speeds. I accidentally bumped it in the pocket of my bathrobe the other morning (I've found I can listen in alone moments like throwing in a load of laundry or brushing my teeth), and it went to a hyper-speed rendition of the story, not at all as nice, but understandable.

There are my plans for a joyful day, how about you?

Monday, September 14, 2009

LAKE SUPERIOR, as told by Lily , age 12

This is the story of our vacation. Before I start though, I am going to give you a summary on Lake Superior, so you get to know more about it.

Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in North America, and one of the three largest freshwater lakes in the world. It is also the largest of the great lakes of North America.

Lake Superior has a number of islands on it, but the ones we saw while on vacation are the Apostle Islands, a group of island clustered together in one part of lake superior.

Lake Superior is 160 miles wide, and 350 miles long. Its surface area is 31,820 square miles. Lake Superior is 1,392 feet at its deepest.

On July 30Th, 1985, American immunologist J. Val Klump was on a scientific expedition when he reached the depth of 733 feet in lake Superior.

September 7th, Monday, 2009, Labor Day

Today was the first day of our vacation, and we had to get up at 3:00 am to hit the road for a ten hour drive to lake Superior. We drove for most of the day, stopping three times at gas stations to eat and use the restroom. Finally, after looking at three different campgrounds, we decided on Little Sand Bay. By then it was about 4:00 pm, and we were glad to get out of the car. We went for a swim in the huge and beautiful lake Superior, which was clean, but very cold.Later, we headed out to the nearby town of Bayfield to eat. After getting a pizza and eating it on the beach, we set up our tent and went to bed.

September 8Th, Tuesday, 2009

After a tiring night in the tent, we got up and went for a hike along the beach. We ate lunch, then went back to the beach in swimwear, where we spent seven hours in the cold water. Later, we ate supper and went to bed.

September 9Th, Wednesday,2009

This morning we drove to Bayfield to find a laundry mat, and a grocery store. After doing our laundry and buying food, we went to dairy queen, then back to our campsite. After lunch we went to the beach, but is was to cold today to stay long, so we spent the rest of the afternoon at the campsite, carving with pocket knives. Supper was a nightmare. We had bought dinner in a cup for supper, but it have to be microwaved, so we had cold chicken noodle soup and easy mac, then went to bed.

September 10Th, Thursday, 2009

We spent the morning at the campsite, but ate lunch on the beach. Then we drove around for a while, hoping to rent a canoe, but when we could not find anything, we went to the beach and ate supper there.

September 11Th, Friday, 2009

Today we spent the morning packing and going to the beach, then set off at 12:00 pm to go to lake Pepin, the next stop on our trip. At three we stopped by pizza hut, then went on. At six we got to cobblestone inn and suites for the night. We slept very well there.

September 12Th, Saturday, 2009

After a wonderful breakfast at a hotel, we drove for twenty minutes to the town of Pepin, home and birthplace of pioneer Laura Ingalls Wilder. Today was a sort of fair for Laura days. We stayed until about two, then drove for five hours until we got home. It felt good at home.

That is the story of our vacation, and I am sorry if it was not to well written, as I am new to this kind of thing. I hope you enjoyed it all the same.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Packing up and Heading Out

"If you are going on vacation, give yourself a day to prepare." Advice from a genuinely concerned author, mother of one or two, on how to eliminate stress from a mother's life.

Except that I have five children and I have been "preparing", not packing, mind you, that will take 30 seconds, but just preparing, for two days now, and we leave tomorrow. Somewhere along the line, my husband got the notion that the Apostle Island National Park in the very north of Wisconsin, on Lake Superior, would be the perfect vacation destination. It has been a year or two since that time. And here we go, a ten-hour drive, north, when all reasonable people, birds and animals are heading south for the winter, planning cruises to the Bahamas, jaunts to Hawaii or Florida...we're going north. (Just between us, I LIKE north, but the rest of them want to swim for a week solid, we'll see.)

For weeks now, we've been researching the area, found out there are bears galore, some wolves and wild cats too, waves of up to seventy feet...finally got over all the anxiety and nightmares of little people worried about lions and waves and bears. Recently, we've been reading reviews of campgrounds and randomly calling people in the Bayfield phonebook for their opinion on the local campgrounds.

Ten hours in the car. The possibilities are endless; road alphabet games, story-telling, knitting, books on tape, screaming toddlers...the last time we took a road trip with a two-year old, all of the great books on tape were yanked out of the CD player in a hurry each time he woke up and demanded; "hai-ye had a pah-ty," or "My Hair Had a Party Last Night," by Trout Fishing in America. Would you like me to recite the lyrics? Because I can. Along with "All I want is a Proper Cup of Coffee," the only two songs on the CD he wanted to hear. This time, I have a plan. I offered the three youngest their very own CD walkman. (I can hear my media-free friends right now, my only defense; it's not a DVD player, lol!)They can listen to, from youngest to oldest; "High School Musical 2," "Katie Kazoo," and "Geronimo Stilton," ('cause I heard that story 3379 times last year stuck in traffic around Chicago.) WE can listen to "The Mysterious Benedict Society" and "Gregor the Overlander," and if the older two decide to listen to their play-aways, the remaining adults can pop in "Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families," or U-2 or Natalie Merchant or...have a conversation.

Problem number one; finding the walkmans (do we say "walkmen"?) I thought it would be simple; one store would surely do the trick, wouldn't it? Well, the first store was too expensive, so I declined to buy three of the four sets they had, I would find a better deal. Ah, how many hours of our lives do we lose out searching for the better deal?

I tried the next store on my list; cheaper, but zero left in stock. I started to get an icky twinge in my gut. I really hate to shop, unless it's for shoes when I have a real budget. I go home and look up stores online, find a great deal and send hubby, since he is going out to find one of those cool tuner thingy's to connect his ipod to the car stereo. He comes home empty-handed. I call around, no luck, go back to store number one; one left. Who the heck bought three walkmen since yesterday? The nerve! I go pick up the pizzas for dinner, a compromise in our busy day. On the way, I stop by one of the drug stores I had called and who had one left in stock. Victory, there are TWO, in TWO different colors!!! (And at this point, who cares that they were two dollars more than the original three I passed up.)

In the mean time, I have made purchases only camping would permit; I'll spare you the list, but it meant, for convenience sake, my annual pilgrimage to a really big store I never like to set foot in.

We drop the bird off at the boarder's, make arrangements for the plants and the rat and the mail, clean the whole house, rearrange the furniture in one bedroom. Drug store again for what we forgot at the big store. Oh, and go to the library three times to make sure we've returned everything, checked out the audio and paper books we'll want and a third time to sign up for the electronic book system, a very cool option.

Now to squeeze that mountain in the living room into our mini-van...happy vacation to us! We'll be off the grid for a week, no computers are along for the trip, cell-phone batteries will be out by the time we don't call us, we'll call you.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Chores...continued, Thank you!

There were so many great responses from you all, that I want to put them in a separate post. Thank you for writing, thank you for your perspectives, your ideas and your respect for different ways of looking at the subject!

Here are the posts, in order, as well as some quotes from email responses.

Blogger Lisa Musil, Military Wife, Mom to 9 said...

There are nine of us under the roof--my husband and I, our four birth children, ranging in age from 9 to 2, our grandson, age 2, and our foster daughter (17) and her 1 yo daughter. My husband earns the income and generally tries to clean up after himself. I am the "manager / supervisor". I make sure everything gets done--and I do a fair amount of the day-to-day upkeep. The three older kids take turns doing dishes. They've elected to take those a week at a time--so they have 2 weeks off at a time from dishes. Since I've gone back to school the new plan is that we will tackle the "big" chores together omn the weekends--not sure how this will work yet....

August 28, 2009 6:53 AM

A Homeschool Story said...


Thank you, I appreciate your perspective from a mixed-generation household. I wonder if having "a week off" really helps keep everyone in good cheer. I'll have to think about how that one would work out for us.

Good luck with school!

August 29, 2009 10:01 PM

Blogger Amy said...

Hi, Came here from your post on the unschooler yahoo group. Here is my opinion on the excerpt you posted. I think she should have a career in politics b/c she has put a great spin on the topic and almost makes you feel guilty if you were to "force" your child to do chores at the expense of your relationship. But let's look at another situation. What if she got the same reaction when she asked her daughter to brush her teeth? Would she rather just let her daughter's teeth rot out of her head so as not to withdraw from the bank of her good relationship with her? IMHO, it IS putting the child first when they learn to be a responsible member of the family, and by extension, our society. There is a natural power struggle within the parent/child relationship and it sounds like she has decided to let her daughter win. (mother to an almost 3 yo and a 4 1/2 yo)

August 28, 2009 7:30 AM

Blogger Amy said...

I wanted to add that I am sorry if I came off harsh on my comment the other day. I have spent the week reading through every post on this blog, and it has given me a new perspective on our lifestyles here in America.

August 29, 2009 8:52 AM

Blogger A Homeschool Story said...

Hi Amy,

Thank you, your post made me laugh. As someone involved with LLL, politics and churches as well, it has become harder for me to accept a "party line" as a cure-all for everyone's problems.

I hold dearly to ever-improving communication with my children, no buts. However, improving does not mean always winning or losing a debate. Improving means coming to an understanding and then accomplishing what needs to be accomplished, sometimes despite our feelings on the subject. Does this need to cause door-slamming and yelling? The goal is for it all to be done in peace and contentment!

And no, you were not harsh, you were respectfully expressing your doubts.

August 29, 2009 10:10 PM

Anonymous Amy said...

We have 6 in our famiy: Dad, Mom, 12yo, 9yo, 7yo and 2yo. Dad earns the money that pays for uor house, fun etc. Folding laundry, unloading the dishwasher, taking out trash and recycling are all chores that are split among the 3 older kids. 2 yo 'helps.' They also have to pick up toys (usually at some multiple of their age - 12 yo picks up 24, 7yo picks up 14 etc.) I cook, shop, school the kids, load the dishwasher and wash laundry. Yes, there are arguments, but they get rewards - clean dishes, clean clothes and an inch or two on the floor to play. I don't remember my own childhood chorers as damaging my relationship with my parents.

August 28, 2009 7:32 AM

A Homeschool Story said...

Amy 2,

Thank you for posting. I am glad to hear that chores getting done did not damage your relationship with your parents. I did have an email from someone who mentioned great resentment of their parents all through childhood because of work they were expected to contribute to the household.

I like your natural distribution of tasks in a household; Dad working for food, everyone helping to make it all happen. It sounds so logical and irrefutable, as though it would make sense, even to a child.

August 29, 2009 10:13 PM

Email responses:

I read through your blog and have my opinion. I am not a maid. We all make the mess, we all clean it up. I will take the kitchen (although the older girls have to put the dishes away). Then they alternate picking rooms that they want to do. They pick a number and who comes closest gets first choice. Now Emma (5), whose only responsibility used to be straigtening shoes, wants a room too. So she gets one room and the other girls get 2 rooms each. Sometimes they just need to be picked up; other times they need to be dusted and swept. I usually tell the girls after the rooms are chosen if they need additional attention. They also have their daily chores. Hannah has to sort laundry (and occasionally switch loads); Kaity does recycling. They both pick up dog poo and put dishes away.

They can't play outside or do anything fun till homework and chores are done.

My response:

From one no-nonsense woman, who accomplishes great things and has from a very young age, thank you!

I only had two children but was a
single parent who was exhausted every day from working to provide a
living and maintaining every aspect of the lives of three people. If my
kids didn't see chores as part of the requirements of everyday living in
our little house, I would be dead! I could not have provided the
"extras" for them, ones they wanted, such as camping trips, local
outings, discussion times, reading books together, putting on family
plays, making a garden, cooking together. I would have been doing all
the chores while they....what? Didn't learn the joy of accomplishing
something. Children can be taught that chores maintain an environment so
that environment can maintain them and pleasures in life.

We used Family Meetings once a week and amazing things happened. (My 10
year old son took over doing the family laundry for the summer and did it

My response:

Thank you, also, for the reminder of all the time the children are saving you by helping out, thus improving their own quality of life.

From Melisa Nielson, website;, Waldorf homeschooing consultant:
You know... I do believe that we have to preserve the relationship and I think my take on it is a bit different - feel free to quote me here.

When it comes to a small child, they are learning through imitation, we clean, they clean. When they hit about 9yrs, some children really start resisting. They need a little direction in my opinion - especially with a larger family - say three or more children. I have the chore chart - it is down to the 9s! We had fighting over prayers even so we cut that out by giving each child a day where they are responsible for all the meal prayers. Mom and Dad need to be models too so we are included on the chore chart. The fighting about chores is down to almost none - I don't yell about the chores, I give a reminder in the morning - then the chores are done before play time... period. I wouldn't spend a ton of time fighting about it. I think so many times we worry about hurting feelings or damaging them for life - the real damage comes when we release children on the world that don't know how to do dishes or fold laundry. You don't have to fight about the chores - just remind them firmly - I rarely fight since the chart is done. A simple question is given at breakfast "who has KP today?" The children with KP speak up and I give them any extra thoughts I have about the kitchen, after breakfast it is done. The child on laundry starts the dryer and the timer - when it goes off he/she folds and lets me know they've moved the laundry so I can put in another load. If I am asked "can I go play?" or if a friend shows up at the door - I ask "are your chores caught up?" If the answer is no then they can either let their friend help or they can be quick to do their chores and then go play.

I don't think chores have to be a huge pain - or a life changing fight. Mom has a choice. I totally agree with saving the relationship - but you don't have to lose your house in the process! Both can be accomplished. I say if you are fighting about it then there may be something else at play - are you up on your inner work? it takes two to fight, lol... if one side doesn't then there is no fight.

My response:

Thank you, Melisa, words of wisdom from a smart mother of four.

There is a great quantity of responses from a relaxed homeschooling list that I am part of, thank you all. I am going to request your permission before posting your comments, they will be included soon, I hope! The list:

Blogger zamozo said...

We're a family of four - 2 adults, 2 kids (18 & 11)
We don't and never have assigned chores. Hubby and I both work. I don't work full time but we do operate three businesses out of our home and I work away from home 10 - 20 hours per week. My full-time stay-at-home mom friends ask me how I keep my house clean. The key for me has been to maintain a positive and pleasant attitude about cleaning.(We also don't have pets - per everyone's agreement.) Now that my kids are older they frequently ask me how they can help when I'm tidying for company. From time-to-time, I ask politely for their help, even when company isn't coming. They know that they can say, "no" and I won't get upset. I try not to interrupt them when they're involved in something important to them and I usually phrase my request with a flexible timeline such as, "Honey, when you're finished playing that game, would you please gather up the dirty dishes and bring them to the kitchen?" We have no negative bouts over housework and my kids are learning how to do various household tasks (it's not rocket science) and are very responsible members of our family. My 11 yo likes to surprise me sometimes by cleaning and arranging a certain area of the house.

It really does work but it may take awhile to reach a point this cooperative and happy if there's been nagging and coercion in the past.

August 28, 2009 8:05 AM

Blogger zamozo said...

I just read some more wise words from Joyce Fetterol. These were on an e-list and she was writing about requiring kids to prepare their own food when they don't want to eat what was fixed for dinner -- different situation but similar emotions and goals:
What you wrote above is very goal oriented, the objective being to
move the child from dependence to independence. Unschooling takes a
less direct route that happens to end up at the same destination. The
mindset of the unschooler is to help them and support them. (Which is
different than a mindset of doing everything for them.) The *side
effect* of that is kids who do more and more for themselves on their
own schedule. (Whole) humans all naturally want to feel competent. If
we step back and give the kids the impression we expect them to be
independent, it can make them more dependent. It can feel like a
withdrawal of love.

August 28, 2009 8:32 AM


Blogger A Homeschool Story said...


Thank you for your thoughts. You make such a good point with the statement; "a pleasant and positive attitude," because our attitudes as adults are the catalyst for creating and maintaining the atmosphere in our homes.

Learning to phrase requests in a non-threatening way is a much nicer way than its opposite. It does seem that when time presses, things don't always come out as kindly as we would like them to.

Paying attention to the present and remembering to insert a pause between action and reaction is vital.

August 29, 2009 10:20 PM

Blogger Tamara said...

Hi! Got your email and thought I'd come check it out.

Like everything in the AP community, it seems to come down to those who are more Dr Sears/mainstream AP (which often has a natural living component and isn't what most people mean by mainstream parenting), and those following the TCS philosophy. TCS makes some good points, with their extreme anti-coercion stance, but frankly, IMO, isn't practical for people who have more than one child. I know some people who make it work, but it's far from easy, and even they don't follow it to the letter.

So, at the risk of writing a novel, I'll say that growing up as the oldest of 6, some resentment of having to be "jr. mom" is just par for the course. And there are always times when each of us just. don't. wanna.

I don't know if you're looking for concrete ideas? Can the kids earn "free passes" to get out of a particular job once a week or so? What about folding it into homeschooling - each week/month as you study a different form of government/society/economy, redistribute the chores as they would look in that place and time. How would chores be distributed in a communist household? In a feudal realm? In a capitalist society, can the kids with money pay the other kids to do their work for them? What rate for chores will the market bear? What if the "poorer" kids unionize?

August 28, 2009 8:58 AM

Blogger A Homeschool Story said...

Thank you, Tamara,

You have such good common sense and such a no-nonsense vision of household matters. I love your ideas for teaching social history through work, that's fun.

I had to look up "TCS"; had never heard the term, though I know families who practice this and have great kids.

I personally, refuse to be labeled and squished into a limited group mind-set on any topic. Does this mean that I refuse to commit? No, it means I choose to think it out for myself, take what makes intelligent sense for me and let others make the same decisions.

August 30, 2009 7:23 AM

Blogger zamozo said...

Having read her website extensively and followed her writings on e-lists I can confidently say that Joyce Fetterol is not a follower of TCS, nor am I. There are elements of TCS philosophy that are shared with the principles of unschooling but I find their claims and methods extremely impractical and frankly, coercive in spite of their claims to the contrary. I think that Joyce advocates for respectful and non-adversarial parenting with the goal of a positive relationship with her child above most all other goals.

If Joyce's writings intrigue you, I encourage you to read more at her site and Sandra Dodd's. Join the Always Learning yahoo group where you read TONS of their ideas and suggestions.

I don't, however, wish to get into a blog comment debate so I'll end my commenting with this post.

August 28, 2009 9:21 AM

Blogger Tamara said...

Huh, guess I stirred something up (unwittingly, that's for sure)! I'm not familiar with Fetterol, nor am I a homeschooler or unschooler. Therefore, I'm sure my perspective is oversimplified and relatively uninformed. I certainly didn't mean to turn your comments into a debate - I've avoided that place for the last 7 years and didn't mean to bring any of it here! My apologies for butting in!

August 28, 2009 4:27 PM

Blogger Tammy said...

We've had a chore chart posted on the fridge for as long as the kids can remember. The only thing that changes with it is occasionally I reprint it with the chores shuffled around so they all get experience and time enough to master each thing that needs done to keep a house running smoothly. I grew up with one brother and no other siblings and our house was just magically clean all the time because my mom did everything while we were gone. I left home not knowing how to do anything. It was horribly embarassing to have to ask people how to do simple things like clean a toilet and do laundry. I think we do kids a big disservice in not letting them take part in keeping the family home clean. It teaches them skills they need to know in life and adds yet another thread that bonds our family together. Working together (or sometimes alone) in making the home a peaceful and organized and lovely place is always a good thing in my mind.

August 28, 2009 6:11 PM

DeleteBlogger A Homeschool Story said...

Hi Tammy,

Thank you for your encouraging words. My mother, bless her, she reads my blog, did everything too. It was as you said; "magically (and perfectly) cleaned" while I was at school. While the house was always nice for us, my own housekeeping skills were non-existent when I left home.

The chore chart has created a space in which the details of what needs to be done are clear. The arguments the kids are having happen when a chore is not on the chart; clean the rat cage, help pick up the playroom...everyone thinks everyone else is doing less than the other.

I think, in the end, that our system is for the best. Yes, children are part of the household too. Yes, they deserve respect and kind treatment. They also deserve to be trusted with some responsibility, for the good of the household and their own training and sense of worth.

I greatly admire those whose temperament and patience allows them to gently request a child's help and then accept an eventual "no,". Some days I am OK with that, and then I make requests. Other days, for efficiency's sake, I will simply state a need, point to the chore chart, and expect what needs to be done to get done. Many times, when the kids are deeply involved in an activity or having a hard time of it, my husband or I will simply do a job. The point, after all, is not to make a point, it is to have a reasonably clean, pleasant home to live in.

August 30, 2009 7:51 AM


Friday, August 28, 2009

Chores and the Child

Running a household with five children is a task. Not an insurmountable task, but one that takes a bit of doing and concentration. Naturally, we have elected to share the chores associated with keeping the house from falling down around our ears with the older part of the population of minors. It just makes sense on many levels; helping out so that Mama is not all the way worn out at the end of the day, learning responsibility and useful skills, freeing up time by working together so that we can do more pleasant things; read aloud, go out, hang out and play a game, go for a walk, etc. I also believe in giving them chores to do that are real work, so that they can see the difference they make in the house. Most days everything goes smoothly and the children are very helpful. There are days, though, when I am more fatigued from all the encouraging (insisting insistently) I need to do in order for jobs to get done that I would be by just doing it myself. There are also days when the fighting over who needs to do which chore which day is beyond battle-zone-bad. And yes, the chore chart is on the fridge!

I just came across an article that made me stop and think; here is an extract and a link: the question; is it really worth all of the angst I need to go through to get them to carry out their chores? Would it be better to do it myself? What do you think? How does it work in your house?

Article extract from:

a wonderful unschooling blog! Tomorrow, we will hear from the other side of the coin.

"I don't know how you arrived at the conclusion that chores belong to the parents

It's not a universal truth. It's a mindset that helps me achieve my goal. My primary goal isn't improving the state of my house. My primary goal is improving my relationship with my daughter. My goal is to put the relationship first and then figure out how to fit other things in without damaging the relationship.

Most parents say "I put my children first BUT ..." But that "but" changes the statement. If you've ever made a child cry or get angry or slam doors over something to do with the house then at those times the house is coming first and the child is coming second. Most parents may feel the times their children come first are enough to balance out the times they don't. (Even more important, I think, is what the children think!)

If that's your thought, then none of this will make sense.

But one thing that shifted my thinking was realizing I was making withdrawals from my relationship with my daughter to pay for something that would be gone tomorrow. And I'd have to do that everyday. In 10 years what would I have to show for all those withdrawals?"

Monday, August 24, 2009

Monday We Wash

So what does a homeschooler do all day? Just like "normal" people; we cook, we clean, we wash and dry doll clothes. The girls spent a looong time washing out their dolls' wardrobes and delicate handknits.

We also build; with blocks, with sand, with glue and light bulbs and spray paint. We visit with grama and grampa, pass from daisy to brownie scouts. We star in musicals, play at the beach and color ourselves blue.
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