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.