spaces & edits; also battleships

Oh, terrible blog post title. Maybe I will come up with something better. If I do, you’ll never know this happened. If you’re reading this, then that’s as good as it got. (Sorry if that’s how it turns out.) battleshipsI have to keep it short today—I am chin-deep in preparations for the homeschool history fair and things are wacko here. Our topic: the attack on Pearl Harbor. At first it was all of World War II—I said no. Then it was Martial Arts. Then my son said he never said that. (He totally did.) Then it was Tae Kwon Do, since he takes lessons. Perfect, right? No. Then it was back to all of World War II—I said no. Then it was 2 weeks before and I said we have to narrow this down! Hence, the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In addition to the normal homeschool agenda, the homeschool history fair, the substantial (and disheartening) demands of family life right now, laundry (that’s always its own crappy little category), feeding these people (Ohmygod they eat constantly ... well, not my son ... I have to constantly beg him to eat. Ergo, I am constantly involved in feeding these people one way or another. Or not feeding them. That is also exhausting.), blogging and fussing about everything, I am also on deadline for the final edits on The Mosquito Hours. Glad to be on the final round of edits, also terrified because this is the last chance to make sure it is just right. Also on my to-do list: find a place for my book launch party. Of course that wasn't freaking me out AT ALL.

(It was.)

Well, I am happy to say I found a really great place so that little job is out of the way! At first, when I started trying to determine the right locale, I was totally freaked out (I know! Can you believe it?) because it had to be PERFECT or EVERYTHING WOULD BE RUINED! (Yes, I was yelling about it. You would yell, too, if choosing the wrong locale for you book launch party would result in EVERYTHING BEING RUINED!) But then I stepped back and in a moment of clarity realized ... well, I really shouldn’t pretend like I have moments of clarity. I don’t want to lie to you good people. My moments of clarity are more like nanoseconds of clarity, but a nanosecond is indeed a measure of time in which great things are possible. Anyhow, in my nanosecond of clarity (which really does go by very quickly, but not without impact), I realized I should simply have fun with this. It’s all gonna be okay, people.

A good friend led me to a lovely little coffee shop down near the beaches and I must say it is fantastic. The ambiance, the warm-and-fuzzy of the people who work there, the espresso drinks (delish), the big windows and sunniness. They even stream my favorite radio station. It was serendipity! It has the same vibe as my favorite café in Boston, which is exactly what my sister said when she checked the place out! I got the best hot cocoa of my life there this past Saturday. My LIFE, people. The locale was a toss-up between this place and a coffee shop downtown. The places are about the same size but the downtown place has that cool urban feel. The bustling streets outside, the old buildings, the cobblestone. But it’s got a too-cool-for-school vibe. A lot of hipsters. I prefer warm and fuzzy. I am a lot of things but “cool” ain’t one of them.

I would love to share pics with you and there were some on my phone, but I seem to have deleted them in some moment of purging madness so I had to use stock photos to decorate this post. coffee_drinker (That's not even me.)

Oh. Well, look at that. This didn’t end up being all that short. You're welcome. ******************************************************************************

My novel, The Mosquito Hours, will be released in early May! Wanna stay up-to-date on news about it as well as have my latest blog posts conveniently delivered to your inbox? Then subscribe to my newsletter! Click on it right up top there on the right. See how easy I made that for you? (You’re welcome.)

right now

Do you ever feel like you’re the only one looking for the lost socks? The only one who is even trying to find the lost socks even though you keep asking people where the socks might be? Are you beginning to suspect that you are the only one who cares about the lost socks? Lost socks make me nuts. Because who will find them if I do not? No one. Exactly. See what I mean? I’m the only one. Exactly.

I don’t like right now. In fact I really hate right now. I have pretty much hated right now since November. Too many people I love are sick. I cannot seem to balance out everything. I have a kid who has developed a fear of choking and for the last month has eaten nothing more solid than foods the consistency of yogurt. Nothing with texture. Or fiber. Or much nutrition ... Although he did eat a slice of cake the other day. Little known medical fact: it is impossible for a human child to choke on cake. (That is not actually a medical fact.)

It’s been a long, difficult, sad right now. Since November.

I woke up the other morning to more snow, frigid temperatures, van doors frozen shut. I was furious. And discouraged. And enraged. Oh, I was really mad. Because pretty much everything sucks right now. But I carried on. We hoofed it to homeschool co-op even though I was so cranky. (I mean, really freakin’ cranky.) But I sucked it up and put on a happy face. You know, because behaving in a socially acceptable manner is good modeling.

And then we had a really great time. I genuinely felt better.

Afterwards, we went to my friend’s house for our weekly kid-swap and she watched the kids while I got some work done (much-needed). I got a bunch of stuff figured out. Maybe it wasn’t perfect life balance, but it was some of it. As I worked I suddenly felt warmth on the back of my neck. I turned and looked out the window.

sun_is_out The sun had come out! The sun! And then when I got home, Steve (not his real name) pulled together supper and did the dishes so I could do yoga.

Turns out not everything sucks.yoga_candle

(Not even close.)

One joy scatters a hundred griefs. Chinese proverb

Found that quote in my inbox later that same day. I subscribe to Real Simple daily thoughts or quotes or whatever the what-not they call them. Some days I swear they know what I need to hear. If it weren’t so helpful it would be creepy. So I guess that even though the joys don’t negate the troubles, they help. They provide a little balance. And for that, I will remember to be grateful.

more_socksIn the spirit of seeking joy, I think I’m going to join the rest of my family in their disregard for lost socks. There will always be more socks at Target. And if I go to Target, I will have to get a mocha at Starbucks, right? Joy. See? (You’re welcome.)


My novel, The Mosquito Hours, will be released in early May! Wanna stay up-to-date on news about it as well as have my latest blog posts conveniently delivered to your inbox? Then subscribe to my newsletter! Click on it right up top there on the right. See how easy I made that for you? (You’re welcome.)

a change of plans

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Messy homeschool room.

Had this really philosophically heavy couple of days—but in a good way. And my thinking is clearer now and I feel a hundred times lighter.

But that was precipitated by a bunch of crummy days.

Let me start off by saying I am fully aware that mine are first world problems. And now that I have gotten that piece of guilt out of the way ...

Lately, I have felt as though I am always—ALWAYS—2 steps behind. In every single area of life. My fiction writing, my blog, our homeschool, the tidiness of our house, cooking meals. Shaving. (Oh my word, shaving. Who the frick-frack has time for that?) Seriously everything. I am probably even forgetting something. Or several things. Bottom line—I have felt like I simply cannot get it all together.

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Pizza boxes on the chair. Empty pizza boxes. And a pile of dirty laundry on the floor.

Conferring with my sister, who also frequently shares this sentiment, was not helping. Usually it does—knowing she is out there also screwing everything up usually makes me feel better. But this time it did not. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that everything was off. I was trying to get my foothold in our new home and city (I am not so good with change, which is an understatement of enormous proportions) and our new homeschooling community and a book to be published in the spring and trying to achieve NaNoWriMo again this year.

In July, Katie Fox of The Art of Simple wrote this lovely blog post about grace—the everyday kind we take for granted. She called it “common grace.” And this idea pops into my mind now and again and whenever it does, it gives me pause. Because I think remembering the small everyday beauties might be the key to happiness. Not forcing, not fighting, not freaking out about everything that is not getting done. (Which is what I usually do ... )

“For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.”Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Right around the time I first read this blog post, I experienced just this kind of moment that she means. I can’t recall the exact circumstances now, but I was sitting on the floor with my kids and we were talking and laughing and they each naturally moved on and off my lap. I simply allowed them to move as they wanted, stealing hugs and kisses from each. Their happiness that I was being present with them in that moment was palpable. And it occurred to me that this was the most important thing I could do: BE THERE. That this was a big part of what they need to be happy right now in this their one precious childhood: ME. It occurred to me: I make them happy—I am so lucky. I need only to show them kindness and give them my full attention—that's all. It's so simple and so fragile. A huge responsibility, but also the easiest thing on earth. There is nothing to worry about if I can do this. And I can do this.

There is so much common grace if only I take the time to seek it. I have a really nice life—I am so fortunate. And allowing unnecessary worries to seep in (or work I don’t really need to do to stomp in) and cause unhappiness makes little sense.

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So, I changed my plan this month. I am dropping NaNoWriMo. Was I getting a lot of writing done? YES. Almost 20,000 words at the time I decided to stop. But was it worth the sacrifices to my time with the people I love and the stress I was feeling to get it done? Nope. I think the breaking point came last week when I found myself thinking, “I don’t have enough time to visit Mem,” and I that I didn’t have the time to go see some good friends we really miss on Thanksgiving weekend. No! I thought. Stop! No goal is worth these kinds of thoughts. So I let it go.

I set a new goal: finish a draft of this book by the end of the year. I can do that. In the meantime I will be with my kids fully and visit friends and do Christmas crafts and work at enjoying this one precious life.

I don’t have to facilitate the perfect homeschool—I just need to read and cuddle with them, sit on the floor and play games with them, do fun crafts with them and give them a lot of freedom to play and explore. I don’t need a “cleaning day”—I have been a very successful guerrilla cleaner for years. I don’t need to keep a strict writing schedule—I will write this new manuscript after the kids go to bed and while they are busy on the playground and at red lights. I will visit Mem whenever I want. I will keep it simple. Life is not organized—I have to stop trying to force it to be so. Ahhhhhh!

(I’m probably forgetting something. Oh, well.)

Please come back on Friday for part 2 of my serialized short story “Red Step-Stool”!

crap, i didn’t socialize the kids—i knew i was forgetting something...

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a girl with all her colored pencils

The 2 questions I am asked most often once people discover we homeschool are:

1) What about socialization?

2) What about algebra?

Well, friends, I took 2 years of algebra and I don’t have the faintest idea how to do algebra. I have gone many years without knowing algebra and so far, so good. Maybe it would have come in handy for... I really have no idea. I’m sure someone out there finds it handy. But I personally do not. I wonder why don't people ask, “What about flower arranging? How will they get through life without knowing flower arranging?”

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a rainbow girl

Allow me to relay another little math-y story.

I took honors chemistry in high school. Because I was a “smart kid” and “smart kids” take honors classes. I took honors Earth science and honors biology and earned A’s, so when it came time for chemistry, of course I signed up for honors chemistry. Turns out I totally SUCKED at chemistry. It is so freakin’ math-y. No one warned me that it would be so math-y. I understood what was going on for about the first 3 days of class. Although even that many days is in question. The highest test grade I earned was a 62 and that was on the first test before everything got completely, 100% confusing. The teacher used a grading curve to determine our grades and I didn’t even understand how that worked. We would get our tests back and the other kids would get out their calculators—the kind with all those extra buttons that do unspeakably, unknowable math-y things—and they would say, “If I get a 97 on my next lab and a 98 on my next quiz and a 95 on my next test, I’ll end up with a 97 for the whole semester!” Now, these different elements held different values, plus the curve that I didn’t understand in the least, so even figuring out my grade was more than I could calculate. I would get my test back and say, “I got a 34!” I ended up with C’s every semester. I have no idea how that was possible.

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General Grievous and Captain Rex built from Lego Hero Factory parts

Here’s the deal: when (if) my kids want to learn algebra, they can go take a class at the community college or utilize one of the many online resources. Or a good old-fashioned textbook. And if they never want to learn algebra, that’s okay, too. Because it will mean they are engaging in something else that is of greater interest to them. And where there is interest there is passion and where there is passion there is learning. And then anything is possible.

Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.
Lewis Carroll

My kids never fail to amaze and surprise me with what they do when given the freedom and time to explore that which interests and excites them.

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My Little Pony—friendship is magic!

And socialization? We live in a society. It’s pretty impossible not to get socialized if you leave the house. If your kids spend time with a variety of people—people of different ages and backgrounds with genuine qualities and histories to share—they will be socialized. If you model the behavior, qualities and values you hope your children will embrace and embody, it’s all good. They will be socialized. Will they think differently because their experience varies from the traditional school paradigm? Yes, probably. But the world is rarely ever worse off when creative thinking is employed.

And if they turn out to be a little weird, it will probably have more to do with the quirks of their mother than the influence of homeschooling. I'll try to watch myself...

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mama and dada

a stranger said my house stinks

Does one really need to empty out the bottom of the toaster oven? In theory, won’t it all eventually simply burn away? I would bet that lots of crumbs have already burned away without my explicit knowledge. It’s sort of a perfect system. toaster_oven_crumbs I never clean it. This is not an act of will—more like unintentional neglect. Now and again, when I am toasting something (usually toast) Steve will holler from somewhere in the house, “Is something burning?”

“Just the 2 year old bread crumbs, honey!”

I think it smells pretty.

(Although apparently not everyone does...)

We had an open house the other day and one of the parties that came through said my house is smelly. (It is NOT.) This was the quote from their agent: The buyer really liked the area, the house showed pretty well, but it had a very strong odor, and that was a real turn off.


Was the odor akin to Fritos or raw sewage? Paint or athlete’s foot? A little specificity would be most appreciated. And I made mini muffins for these freakin’ people. With tiny and adorable mini chocolate chips.

disinfectant_wipes Additionally, random people coming through my house is totally freaking me out. They are touching everything with their germiness and who all knows what. It has prompted us to wipe down the whole place with disinfectant wipes after every showing. Luckily Steve is crazy in many of the same ways I am which normalizes us. (I think.) We hide this activity from the kids just in case it’s actually crazy.

dish_rack And I have to put away my dish rack every time we have a showing to make the counters appear more spacious and it’s a pain. I like my dish rack because it makes my life easier and all these shenanigans are not making my life easier.

(I’m a little fussy right now.)

Also, all this uncertainty is giving me a stomachache.

That, I suspect, is the root of the problem. I am no good with not knowing.

Flow with whatever may happen and let your mind be free. Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. Chuang Tzu

I bumped into that quote in Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything by Laura Grace Weldon. I love this book—its perspective is so refreshing and right-on. It’s helping me solidify my own homeschooling philosophy, which has evolved into more of a life-learning philosophy. Meaning we don’t think of learning or “education” as separate from life itself. We (meaning all people, not just my brood) are always learning—you just try to stop us! Case in point, this Chuang Tzu quote. Just when I was feeling as though the unknown were about to engulf me, this quote stops me in my tracks with its freakin’ logic and wisdom. How dare you, Chuang Tzu. Of course I don’t know what’s going to happen! No one ever knows what’s going to happen and any sense of that idea is an illusion. But I embrace that illusion! That is my happy illusion!

I think it’s funny how often little gems such as this fall into your path just when you need them. Or maybe we notice them more when they pertain to what’s happening in our lives. Who knows. Either way, it made me smile. And breathe.

livelaughlove_vases Apparently this was my lesson for the day. Thank you, Chuang Tzu. I will try to stay centered and I will work on acceptance.

I will not accept, however, that my house is smelly. And if it is, it’s my stench and that of my most beloved. But I will consider cleaning out the bottom of the toaster oven—just in case.

clutter is not the worst thing that can happen

Not cleaning made my life better. BR_mess2 That makes me sound gross which is not entirely accurate. Clean bathrooms, clean kitchen—totally. I HATE crumbs and sticky food messes—they seriously gross me out. And nasty stuff in the kitchen sink drain totally freaks me out. But that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is your average, day-to-day crap pile. Mostly, this will be from the kids. If you don’t have kids, it will be from your husband. If you don’t have a husband, it will be from you. I haven’t really covered all the possible living-arrangement scenarios, and I strongly believe in being all-inclusive, so please simply insert your own configuration here, confident in the the knowledge that I embrace all of you.

That average, day-to-day crap pile used to make me raving nuts. Mean Mommy. Grouchy Wife. Seriously grumpy. I would reach the end of every single day and grudgingly, angrily, hostilely clean up that crap pile. Put everything back in its stinkin’ place, resenting every moment it took.

Then I chose not to do that anymore.

(You can do that, too, you know.)

messy_living_room Nothing bad will happen if you only clean that crap pile every 3 days or so. I swear—I totally ignore it most of the time. Trying to get the kids to help was more work than cleaning it myself. While I believe it’s important for kids to understand their responsibility to the home, I also believe that will naturally ripen as they develop. You live the behavior you want to nurture and you encourage them and you keep your expectations low when they are little, lest you find yourself wanting to toss them and their crap piles out the window.

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is only so much you can achieve each day. And peace of mind and body should be one of those things. To give the best of ourselves to our kids we have to recharge. Better to ignore the crap pile and take some time to rejuvenate to ensure you have the best to give.

I did help myself out by cutting back on the clutter that I could—the knick-knacks, the amount of stuff out on the kitchen counter—and I seriously purged in general. I went rather cuckoo—stuff I didn’t really need or care about, duplicate items (do you really need 4,200 towels and 5,300 kitchen gadgets? No, you don’t), all that stuff you keep “just in case” (of what?)—GONE. And it worked—we have space and no more crammed closets and cabinets. That kind of simplifying makes day-to-day tidiness easier to maintain.

BR_mess1 And the crap pile? You clean that every few days. You let it go. Someday the kids won’t drop everything on the floor and throw their stuff around as a matter of course. They will outgrow this behavior. You can let this one go. I swear, you really can.

Easter_candy Speaking of cleaning up, please tell me what the hell I am going to do with this enormous bowl of sugar? Seriously. This is the Easter haul. That is a large-ass bowl pictured right there. There is no way my kids are going to consume all that. Any takers? I will mail it to you. I could stretch this pile out all the way through June—I am notoriously chintzy on doling out the sugar to my little ones. Their idea of a “treat” might shock some in its skimpiness. (But—ssshhhh—they have no idea I’m a cheapie.)

Keep the bar low—it’s how I roll.

holy crap i almost bought a $50 trash bin

Holy crap I almost bought a $50 trash bin. fancy_trash_bin

It never made it out of the van.

I woke one day and decided our white plastic Rubbermaid flip-open trash bin was too ugly to reside in my kitchen any longer. (That’s how it happens—I wake one day and certain things are no longer tolerable. Could happen to almost anything around here. I do suggest Steve watch himself. I mean, I can’t ditch the kids—you can’t just run around being a bad mother. No, I have to keep them. But bad wife really doesn’t carry the same stigma.)

(Steve knows I’m totally kidding. Or am I?)

I considered decoupaging the trash bin—even found instructions on Pinterest and bought a jar of Modge Podge. But then I thought that project might be too crazy even for me. At any rate, that ugly trash bin had to be relegated to some other, less visually obvious duty—such as laundry lint collection—and a new bin would have to be procured. But those stinkin’ fancy stainless trash bins are expensive. And their purpose is to collect trash—I am not immune to that irony, people.

Typically, I try to find fun, frugal ways to solve dilemmas such as suddenly hating a trash bin I’ve lived amongst for several years in perfect but suddenly defunct harmony. I am hesitant to declare that I’m cheap, but I’m kinda cheap. I like bargains, I like consignment shops, I like finding discarded items on the neighbors’ lawns. But that ugly white trash bin had to go and I happened to possess an expired Bed Bath and Beyond coupon! Pretty frugal right there! I called them up and Chantal, who answered the phone, promised to honor the expired coupon and I set off to peruse their glorious inventory of beautiful—not ugly—trash bins. Shiny and sleek, they seduced me, they beckoned with their come-hither loveliness and I chose a stainless beauty with rails to be secured inside the cabinet. That glorious trash bin would swoosh in and out and I could almost pretend there was no trash bin! (Except when I had trash to dump in it.) The measurements were perfect. Clearly, this was fate. I carried it to the counter, lovingly held it close, presented my expired coupon (which the good people at Bed Bath and Beyond did indeed honor) and $54.99 plus tax later, I placed my pretty trash bin in the back of my van and as I pulled away from the store, I suddenly thought Holy crap I just spent $54.99 plus tax on a freakin’ trash bin. Luckily, Target is in the same shopping plaza and I went right in there and bought a white plastic trash bin whose dimensions could be accommodated under the sink (that part of the idea was still good) for $4.97 plus tax (a lot less tax) and returned the shiny one the next day lest I seem nuts having just bought it. I prefer to exhibit my brand of crazy in more subtle, less conscious ways.


Look how gross the floor of my van is. Popcorn, anyone? It's covered in dirt and filth and dead bugs. Yum! Kids just have a knack of knowing how to enhance everything.

This trash bin triumph leads me to relay a less victorious moment. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had entered my novel, The Mosquito Hours, into a writing contest—big prize, publication with Amazon, waves of accolades. The book made it through the first round, 2000 entrants down to 400—not too shabby.

But that was as far as I got.

I spent about a half hour telling myself it was all over, maybe I was simply no good, I should give up all aspirations and hopes. It was a pitiful 30 minutes.

Then I readjusted.

And that’s what I want to tell you, good people. There is no failure—there is only readjustment. I don’t intend to get all sickly sweet here on you, but one of the things I keep reading and thinking about in all my homeschooling learning and experiences is that there is no failure in homeschool. In homeschool, when you don’t yet know how to read at the age of 7 like you’re “supposed to,” there is not failure in it. There is no comparison. There is only tomorrow and tomorrow to keep on doing. Doing the things that will lead to the reading. There is doing, observing the outcome, doing more.


Do or do not. There is no try.

Where there are no expected outcomes, there can be no failure.

Failure is merely another word for fear. Master Yoda also said, Named must your fear be before banish it you can.

This writing life of mine—this life—is an adventure of doing. I cannot fail. I can make plans, execute them and observe the outcome. I can make adjustments. There is not one singular, right, exact way to do this. There is no try. There is do. I am doing! Look for The Mosquito Hours for your summer beach reading pleasure! It’s happening, people! Fear of failure, hereby banish you do I!


I don’t need the shiny bin, the flashy prize. All I need is to do, readjust, observe and do some more. Place trust in the power of doing.

And never, ever spend $50 on a trash bin.


how much is enough?

Steve and I spent the last 3 days stripping and refinishing floors, painting walls, cleaning out the garage, prepping molding for fresh paint. The kids were at my parents’ (thanks, Mom and Dad!) or we would have achieved exactly 2% of that stuff.

basement_moving_boxes As I de-clutter my house in preparation for selling it, this pile of boxed stuff keeps growing higher and spreading wider along one wall of my basement. It is all the stuff that is too “personal” (framed photos and kids’ art) and clutter-some (most decorations) to keep out. And boxes and boxes of books. Oh, and random weirdness like binoculars and tiny camera tripods. It makes me wonder how much we need some of this stuff if we’re living happily without it. I do not mean the books and photos of my kids. I mean the tiny tripod. (Why do we have that?) It leaves me wondering what do we really need? Not want, like or possess “just in case”—need. I am thinking about sufficiency versus excess.

How much is enough?

I am a contributing blogger at—I write on a variety of parenting topics from reclaiming the Green Hour to battling cabin fever, spending quality time with your kids to creating meaningful Thanksgivings and Christmases to taming the plethora of toys in your house. (I am much better behaved over there than I am here.) I write about all the things you can do with your kids to make their lives richer. However, I do not explicitly claim to accomplish all those things about which I write. I do my best.

Do you ever wonder if you’re really doing your best? I do.

I guess it might be more accurate to say that I wonder if I am doing enough. Because how much is enough?

busy_kids1 I jokingly referred to myself as the “boring mom” to a friend today. We are kind of a homebody family—we stick close to the hacienda. We keep our activities simple and our schedule loose. I love the freedom we enjoy and that we sometimes stay in our jammies until bedtime. (Then we change into clean ones.) I love that we sometimes cuddle together on the couch for half the morning reading or creating together. That a big afternoon out is the woods or the playground or our own neighborhood. I believe in simplicity. My kids are happy. They are almost always busy with activities they choose themselves. I rarely hear the word “bored” from their mouths. But here is the plague of this homeschooling mom—while I firmly believe that there is no curriculum or list of activities that can possibly encompass all that there is to know, and there is no set amount of time or specific age by which to learn a particular skill, that allowing my kids the freedom to do the things they want to do each day is the best thing to encourage a love of learning, that play should be the biggest part of what they do right now, that my job is to answer their questions and find new materials to incite their curiosity and interest, I still can’t help but wonder—how much is enough?

And yet maybe simply asking that question is a start—is enough upon which to build. Maybe keeping it simple and authentic is enough. While I want more for my kids than what is merely sufficient, I want to be aware of what feels like excess.

busy_kids2 It’s a delicate balancing act and there is no blueprint. You gotta do it from your heart and your gut. And you know what? I can do that. We can do that.

Oh, one last (unrelated to the current topic) thing: I said I was going to post my short story series on Fridays, but I changed my mind and it will be Thursdays. Someone told me that the best days to blog are Tuesdays and Thursdays and who am I to question the collective unconscious whims of the masses? That would be just plain crazy.

(And my unique crazy is far more interesting!)

because i just can’t leave well-enough alone

chest_purple1This week I decorated an old storage chest. I totally do not have time for weird projects such as this, but why allow that fact to stop me? Exactly. chest1

I’ve had this chest for a long time. I bought it at Bostonwood (which used to be called Maverick Something Something) in Allston, Massachusetts (woot woot for Allston!) and dragged it many blocks down Commonwealth Avenue to a sweet studio apartment I lived in when I was 23.


Dead cat scratches on each corner. (She wasn't dead yet when she did the scratching.)

The chest has been painted over many times and served many purposes over the years—sweaters, extra blankets, I can’t even remember what-all. Most recently, it held our winter outerwear in the breezeway. One of the things I like to do periodically is start moving furniture around. It begins innocently enough—perhaps I need to rearrange some storage or something. But then you move one thing and you need to move something in its place to store whatever you emptied out and sometimes when you move something, you see that the paint on the wall needs to be touched up and if you’re bothering, you might as well paint the radiators the same color so you have to go down to Rocky’s Ace Hardware and buy the paint. And then you should really put up a shelf right there—it would look awfully nice—but its color is wrong so just paint that, too. The other curtains would look better with this new furniture arrangement and newly painted wall. They’ll have to be ironed, of course. Meanwhile, this all began because there was one too many sweaters to fit in the bureau. Would a better solution perhaps be to give the offending sweater away? Yes. But why would you do that? Exactly.


This chest project began because I am tired of organizing the girls’ toys. The best thing for kids’ toys is to have little bins (label them if you have a laminator—the best mothers laminate) on shelves at their eye-level, thus making available to them all their stimulating and educational play options. (All your kids’ stuff is stimulating and educationally rich, right?) Then they go to Harvard. If you do this exactly right, they will go to Harvard when they’re 12 and turn out like Doogie Howser, MD. DO NOT get a big toy box (like you had when you were a kid) because then all their educationally rich stuff gets all jumbled together and they won’t be properly stimulated and then guess who’s going to Harvard? No one.

But do you know who organizes all those little toys every stinkin’ day? ME. Thus, I wanted a nice big toy box (like I had when I was a kid) to just toss all the toys in and shut the lid and go downstairs again. So I decided they can just go to college at the normal age to a nice regular university, just like I did, and take 6 years to get a BA at 3 different schools after changing majors twice. I turned out FINE. See?

And here I bring us to the purpose of this blog post: potato paint stamps! (Did you see that coming?)

Once I decided regular college was just fine, I went out to the consignment shops and the Salvation Army Thrift store to buy some kind of toy chest for them. Found nothing. I didn’t want to buy something new or something they would outgrow, so I decided simply to re-purpose my good old storage chest. I shifted a bunch of stuff around, painted a few walls and then tackled potato stamping! First, I got me some little paint samples from Rocky’s Ace Hardware and painted the top purple.


Then I carved little shapes from halved potatoes to fashion simple flowers and voilà! Toy chest! (‘Cause I’m a bad mother.)



There are other things around here I also can’t leave alone. The kids’ tables, for example.


These are those really inexpensive ones from IKEA that lots of people have. And even though they were only $19.99 for a table and 2 chairs, they have held up really well.

IKEA_table2 These chairs I snagged from a neighbor’s lawn (no one was sitting on them and I love to take free stuff off neighbors’ lawns). I am discriminating about the free stuff I remove from lawns. (That’s what I tell everyone.) I painted the tables with some paint I had around and smoothed contact paper over the tops.

IKEA_table3 But then the table was too low for the new chairs so I had to fashion special bottoms for the table legs. See how things just snowball?

Anyone can unnecessarily refinish all kinds of things around the house—even you! I promise that you don’t have time for it but why would you allow that to stop you? Exactly.

how to build a chicken coop

I feel like Charlie Brown this week: “I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”

Everything has kind of gone off the rails. It’s December and everything always goes off the rails in December. Our homeschooling rhythm—loose as it is—has pretty much fallen apart. My work time has been more than disrupted—bombed-out is a better word—utterly taken over by craft projects (which I do because I love to craft) and Holiday parties (which I like but mostly could do without as I am borderline anti-social) and gift buying and wrapping and card-ordering and envelopes that the freakin’ printer won’t address for like 30 torturous and confusing minutes until I make Steve figure it out. (Which he does in 30 quick seconds. Seriously. But can he embroider? No, he cannot.) I have plans for Christmas and Solstice activities to do with the kids and I can see them unraveling a bit and I know without question that I am going to have to pare it all back. I haven’t officially cleaned the house in 2 weeks, just done that panicky oh my sweet lord how long has it been since I ran some cleanser and a brush in there? kind of cleaning.

The other day my sister and I were texting. She asked how I was doing. I said:

"Kind of feeling hopeless-ish and sad and overwhelmed. I’ll be okay. Just down for some reason."

She said:

"That was my whole week last week. So I decided not only to exercise each day which helps me, but also to nurture myself more and I have done that this weekend and feel better. I have also worked on the record player in my head. I love you... You are wonderful!"

(This is why everyone needs a sister. Unless you have a kind of crappy one, in which case no one needs that.)

My sister had been freaking about about her unfinished chicken coop, worried that her girls would freeze or go and eat (more of) the neighbor’s vegetation. She didn’t know how to build a chicken coop, which was the main crux of the problem. This was also the crux of her bad week. And from there she slid into the pit.

The morning of my bad day I’d heard on the radio the Philippines Prime Minister speak in the wake of the devastating typhoon in his country. He tearfully implored world leaders to seriously address global warming, not in the name of political posturing but for the good of the 9 billion people for whose welfare they are responsible. I think that was the root of my hopelessness which just spiraled out as the day grew long. Then I started to think about all the places where I was not quite hitting the mark (in my humble opinion) and from there it was all downhill.

Good grief!

Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials. Lin Yutang

As with all months of the year, you do not get time back in December. You use it and it is gone. This is how stupid time works. There’s no way to get everything done, especially when you are special like me and get overly grand ideas about what MUST get accomplished. (That sounds familiar...)

But at the end of the day, I can remember to thoughtfully choose where to give my energy. I can gracefully recall the blessings in my life. So, while it is wise to mindfully leave some things undone, I think the bigger question might be why we slide back into those hopeless places. How to stop the slide?

chicken_coop Today my sister finished her chicken coop—she got it done. She had to wrestle with a great deal of unruly chicken wire and call on the help of a good friend who does know how to build a chicken coop. She sent me this pic this afternoon moments before she jumped in the car to pick her kids up from school.

So maybe we just keep trying and call on good friends and in the face of hopelessness gracefully recall the blessings. Maybe we wrestle with the unruly until we get it done, whatever that might be.

our homeschool life—which pretty much just looks like life OR observations from a hannaford supermarket shopper: “it’s the middle of a tuesday—why aren’t those annoying kids in school?”

I’ve had my first blog post topic request! And as I think I have about 7 readers, I thought I’d better honor the request lest my readership be reduced to 6. SARAH commented: Since you seem to have time on your hands, can I making a blogging request? I would love to hear more about your 3 month plan with the kids and unschooling. I find it super interesting but also kind of foreign to me. Also, please clean that dried crud off the stove and change your panties. This isn’t a college frat house.

Per her request, I cleaned the stove and am now writing the blog post. (The panties bit I could not accommodate. Sorry, Sarah.)

So, to explain, unschooling is a way of educating that encourages and champions child-led, natural, interest-driven learning. We don't utilize a fixed curriculum. We think of living and learning as the same thing, doing so together and pursuing interests as they arise. When you think about it, the way all of us learned before we went to school was organic. Learning to walk or talk—those things are encouraged but not directed by a curriculum of any kind. They are modeled and encouraged, yes, but allowed to unfold naturally. That is the basis of the concept behind unschooling.

In allowing interests to direct learning, those organic interests lead to reading texts and doing projects and, later, taking courses. But the important factor is that the energy and activity around an interest is chosen by the kid, rather than chosen and dictated via an all-encompassing curriculum, meant for all kids, when we know that kids and the ways in which they learn best are all different. Since unschooled kids are not on the usual time-table, you might find some that read when they’re 4 and others when they’re 10, for example.

When we started to think about this, I wondered how the kids could be different and think differently about the world and their place in it if the learning environment were less dictated by adults and more fine-tuned to their own interests and views. The hard part—coming from my school-learning perspective which spanned 20 years—is allowing my kids the freedom to learn from/in the world without worrying that they are learning the "right stuff" at a pre-determined pace. I have to “de-school” my own brain all the time, which is really challenging. Also difficult is being certain that I am doing “enough” and doing it “right.” There is no guide to follow and that’s hard for me. Which might speak to the influence of school in my life...

When I talk about my 3-month plan, I simply refer to my loose schedule of craft projects (for the girls, the boy HATES crafts for the most part), science experiments, cooking together and outings. I find cool stuff to do (tons of stuff online and in some of the books I have and check out of the library) and make sure I have the supplies on hand. Outings are very simple: from trips to the playground with other homeschoolers to activities at the library to nature walks to programs at Audubon sites, etc. I basically sign up for every email and Facebook update from sites and groups in my area. Then we do the stuff if we want to, or don’t. Or sometimes it gets replaced by an activity that comes up. Sometimes they simply want to play all day.

I like to make sure several things happen every day: reading aloud together, time outdoors and learning games (cards, board games, etc.). These are the anchors. At the beginning of each month, I check out a crapload of books from the library. Books that focus around their interests, the current season, stories that are simply fun and some surprises thrown in to potentially pique new interests. They are given a lot of time for free play, which I really believe is highly underrated for learning and development.

And let me just admit how often we don’t do the activities I plan, which totally freaks me out. But life gets in the way and their own ideas take over or people get sick and fight left and right, etc. It doesn’t take much to throw it off. And I am learning to be okay with that. I think of the 3-month plan as more of a guideline and an insurance policy that I have activities at the ready.

One of the best perks about unschooling is how it affects life: it becomes an entire lifestyle view. And we can do what we want when we want and that includes staying in bed until 8:30 every morning cuddling.

I have plenty of days when I want to run screaming and fantasize regularly about all the time I would have for writing and getting homemaking done and showering if they were at school all day. I also second-guess myself all the time—ALL THE TIME—about how we’re doing. But I wouldn’t change it. I know this is not for everyone and I have utmost respect for all the ways by which other parents choose to educate their kids. And I only hope for the same in return.

This is very much a simplified overview, but I think it might give you a sense of it. Following, please enjoy pictures of what the play and create area typically looks like. Enjoy!

why are multi-vitamins so enormous?

Seriously. They can put a monkey in space but they can’t manufacture a multi-vitamin that is smaller than an infant’s fist? (I know they put that monkey in space a really long time ago, but I’m not as updated on scientific breakthroughs as I probably should be, even though my husband has a subscription to Wired.)

She’s five. But do you see what I’m talking about?

I can’t swallow pills.

Not entirely accurate—I can swallow them eventually. Here’s how I do it: Put pill in mouth. Take sip of water. Decide it is too much water. Spit some into sink. Decide it’s not enough water—take a micro-sip. Breathe as I try to psyche myself up to swallow pill. Cringe as it begins to dissolve in my mouth. Try like hell to swallow it, repeatedly holding up index finger—just hold on—at anyone who attempts to speak to me. (Quite often the phone rings right about now.) Finally manage to swallow the chalky, bitter, vitamin-y sludge. Swig down giant gulp of water. Breathe heavily as though I’ve just run a 5k. I do all this in the kitchen. (I’m never kidding when I talk about all the time I spend in here.)

This is more than you wanted to know about me, yes?

I’m getting to a point—I mean it.

So, I have been back-sliding lately. I do really well for short periods of time keeping everything in perspective, but then I always seem to slide back into worrying about all of it. All of the stuff I am trying to keep going. (Please assure me that I’m not alone in this.) I need to write more. I need to get that freelance career really rolling rather than limping along. I need to figure out once-a-month cooking. I need to read all those parenting books. I need to make sure I am doing enough with the kids. We are “unschoolers” which means we homeschool without a curriculum. The concept being that the kids are allowed the freedom to pursue their interests and play and create as much as they want, having faith that they are learning. The end result is days that are filled with activity that does not necessarily look anything like “learning.” And as the parent, I’m supposed to be totally cool with that, because I have faith that kids learn on their own time-table and this will all be for their benefit in the end. I don’t know how many of you can relate to this precisely, but I think you can probably find something comparable.

But life has a tenacious way of interjecting itself into my plans. (I’ll bet you can say the same...) I generally plan activities for the kids 3 months at a time (this is the print-out I use): projects and science experiments, cooking together, outings. Because even though we don’t use a curriculum, I want to provide an enriched environment conducive to learning. But it seems like half the time my stinkin’ plans fall apart. The house needs to be cleaned or someone gets sick or unexpected stuff comes up or breakfast and getting dressed seem to take all morning or they just aren’t all that interested in what I am attempting to do. And then—only to make life that much more interesting—the pot boils over on the just-cleaned stovetop. Right? It’s challenging to meet the deadlines and keep up on reading the books that will make it all easier, make it all make sense, make it all work once and for all.

That’s just about the exact moment I feel like I am failing. Again.

But in spite of it all, things are getting accomplished. Why do I always focus on what’s not getting done?

I have this vision of the perfect life I could be leading wherein all elements are just so—if I could only plan and execute it. But the truth is that even if my life had only one aspect—instead of many—I guarantee that one thing would not be perfect.

So I ask: are the kids happy? Are they laughing (a lot)? Are they well-fed? Is the house basically sanitized? Do we have peace? Am I slowly but surely moving my career forward? Do I have clean underwear most days?


It’s like swallowing that enormous pill. It might take a few false starts and a lot of effort, but in the end it will always get (imperfectly) done. And on the good days, I know that this is enough.