Monday, June 30, 2008

How Do I Get My Kids To Help With the House Cleaning?

It's easy! Appreciate them and let them be creative.

Alexander and Sophia have been helping me since they were about 18 months old. They started by sitting on my bed while I folded laundry with the job of folding washcloths or they had a towel in their hand and followed me around dusting. They have always been included in house cleaning. When they were younger, we worked side by side. Both kids used to love to "wash the dishes" which really meant spraying the hose or playing in a sink full of suds. However, I always appreciated the effort they made and expressed the fun I had working beside them. Sometimes I would say, "Well, since you were such a big help today, we have extra time to read a book or go to the park." I think even at an early age they felt they were contributing to our family.
As the kids got older, they slowly started taking on independent jobs. Alexander started with vacuuming the family room when I was at work. He loves to manage time so I gave him instructions to start at 9:30 so he would be finished by the time I arrived home. Steve said it was amazing. At 9:30 every night, he would get to work without having to be reminded. At first the job he did wasn't that great, but I kept encouraging him and soon he was moving furniture to vacuum underneath and now does an excellent job! With Sophia, she needed to work side by side with me for a longer time. She likes jobs that bring immediate recognition such as setting the table or helping to make dinner. However, she now is in charge of dusting and vacuuming the living room and does a pretty decent job!
This weekend, Alexander was in charge of folding four loads of laundry. As always, he turned it into something fun. When I went upstairs, he had folded all the clothes and piled them into two separate walls. It looked so cool.
Here is my advice:
1. Let them be creative while cleaning. For almost a year Alexander and Sophia had fun coming up with creative ways to fold dish towels. Sometimes they were folded as rectangles or triangles, other times they were twisted, etc. However, one day they were all "perfectly" folded. I asked why. Well, they finally figured out that the towels fit in the drawer better if you just folded them normal.
2. Appreciate them. If you are afraid they will not do the job you want when company comes over, don't give them jobs for this occasion. Let them have the day off! However, when they do jobs, notice specifics that you like, "Wow! Look how the counter top is shining." or "I always miss that area when vacuuming. Thanks for getting it."
3. Let them have ownership. Sophia loves to rearrange the bathroom or move the silverware around when she cleans. It won't be the end of the world if things are moved around.
4. Find jobs that satisfy the kid's personality. Alexander and Sophia have different needs and weren't ready for the same jobs at the same ages. Respect who they are.
5. Brag about them. Always let your kids hear you telling others about the wonderful things they do. We all like to hear it ~ even kids! Sometimes Alexander or Sophia will mention later that it made them feel good when I was telling a friend, family or stranger about how much they help out.
6. Have fun yourself. Let your kids inspire you to try a new method of cleaning or organizing.
Do you have great ideas too?

Friday, June 27, 2008

How I Became An Unschooling Mom

1. My parents. I was born to parents who I would not characterize as hippies by any means, but parents who had experienced three other children in the school system before me and had some alternative views on education. They instilled in us the belief that the experiences we had on summer break were just as important in our lives as our school year experiences.

2. My Mom. My mom bravely volunteer bussed us to a black neighborhood my kindergarten year. I remember my mom riding the bus with us the first day of school. The environment of the school was wonderful. Each year we met new and interesting people. My two sisters and I grew up with not only one black female principal, but two. So, I feel like I had a pretty alternative school background.

3. Teaching. When I became a 5th grade teacher I was fortunate enough to teach at Horace Mann Foreign Language Magnet School. Not only was I exposed to children far below an economic level I grew up in, but I was exposed to children who came from all over the world with a variety of ideas on education. This was such a rich experience in my life that clings to me still.

4. Principals. In my short seven years in the public school system, I had the privilege of working for two awesome principals. The first, Dr. Lewis, came into my room the first week of classes to look at my lesson plans and wanted to know why we were memorizing multiplication facts. He said that was "a waste of our time". Instead, he wanted me to teach them different ways of finding the answer. The second principal, Keith Wilson, trusted us. He trusted us as professionals to be different and try approaches that weren't the norm.

5. Students. When I was teaching 5th grade and then middle school ESL, I saw many students, especially boys, who had so much knowledge in their heads it just blew me away. However, they were not testing at grade level for reading, writing, or math. Something inside me always felt there was a better way for them. I didn't realize what it was until I discovered unschooling.

6. Attachment parenting. As a family we slept together and woke up together. Both kids naturally weaned when they were ready which meant I tandem nursed for years. One of my fondest memories is nursing both of them at the same time and looking down to see them holding hands. They are both still so close.

7. Alexander. When he was three years old, we were talking about going to school when he turned five. He said, "I am not going to school and you can't make me." This was very unlike his personality which made me think, "Why am I sending him to school? I love being with him and would love to share in his learning journey."

8. Sophia. She loves to play. Since about the time she was two years old we have had to put on a production of her favorite books. We would read morning, afternoon and night and in between she would be one character and I would be the other. The idea of sitting her in a desk all day and robbing her of her creativity seemed so wrong.

9. Steve. My husband has always been very supportive of unschooling. He patiently shows the kids things he is doing and includes them in his daily life. Without him, this would not be the success it is.

10. Me. I unschool for selfish reasons. I love to be busy in the kitchen listening to Alexander and Sophia play, I like watching them discover things for the first time, and I get satisfaction from seeing that when they are allowed to learn at their own rate, they truly do learn it. They feel confident in their abilities to learn and don't feel they have to follow a timeline to learning set up by strangers. Most important for me, I unschool because I love having my kids home with me. I love laughing with them during the day, cooking side by side with them, running errands together, having quiet time together and I like that we are together enough that they know me better than anyone else in this world and I know them just as well. I trust my kids to listen to their bodies and know what is right or wrong for them. I feel like unschooling is my gift to Alexander and Sophia and luckily for me, I get to share in this gift!

11. Unschooling Community. (Thank you Darcy for reminding me. How could I forget this influence?) Alexander, Sophia and I are fortunate to have made friends with many families that also participate in unschooling. This wonderful group of friends allows us to feel like our alternative lifestyle is the "norm" rather than an oddity. We meet weekly to socialize and learn together. Not only do the kids learn from each other and the other wonderful moms, but I learn so much from each person in our group whether it be a child or an adult. I can't even express the knowledge within our group. I feel that because of this wonderful community, I have the support to raise my children the way my heart has led me.

12. Family. My extended family (mom, dad, sisters, brothers) has been more than supportive in our unschooling journey. They may not always understand what we are doing, but they never seem to doubt that we are leading our children with the best of intentions. I know this is not a luxury all unschooling or even homeschooling families have. I am very fortunate.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What? No Moans and Groans?

Last night I woke up around 3:30 thinking, "Did I just roll over without moaning and groaning?" and "Did I just change positions without feeling intense pain?" Well, I am happy to say that I woke up several times again after that not feeling about 75% of the pain and stiffness I have been experiencing in my knees, shoulders and wrists. Keep sending your healthy, healing thoughts this way that my current condition becomes a regular part of my life!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Could My Organs Be Doing a Little Jig?

If you haven't noticed yet from my previous blogs, I have absolutely loved reading GOING GRAY by Anne Kreamer. I have loved it so much that I found her email address on her website, emailed her before going to bed, and woke up to a very friendly reply back from her. She said my blog was "terrific" and "your writing resonates with warmth, love and wisdom." That totally made my day! Anyhow, I have finished the book, although I do have one more entry I want to write about another day. You know when you read a good book and you aren't ready for it to be over? Well, that is how I felt. So, I searched more on Anne Kreamer (hopefully she isn't able to track my searches and thinks I am stalking her). I found the following article which really hit home for me, not about coloring my hair but going off meds.

The following is my favorite part of the article:
When Jablonski (a primatologist, an evolutionary biologist and a paleontologist. She studies skin not from the dermatologist’s perspective, but from the evolutionist’s -- how we went from ape fur to skin -- and the social function of skin. And she thinks skin is our most underappreciated organ) was asked about her own skin in a New York Times interview, she said, “I like it. It is my unwritten biography. My skin reminds me that I’m a 53-year-old woman who has smiled and furrowed her brow and, on occasion, worked in the desert sun too long. I enjoy watching my skin change because it’s one of the few parts of my body that I can watch. We can’t view our livers or heart, but this we can.”

Over and over I have thought about what Jablonski said, but in the reverse. Since going medication free four months ago, I have been able to physically feel and see what rheumatoid arthritis is doing to my body. However, the other night while walking down the stairs at work (I have figured out that if I let my students out 3 minutes earlier for break, everyone doesn't have to see my awkwardly walk down the stairs) I had this new realization. I can't see my liver, kidneys, and heart, but I wonder if they are doing a little jig inside my body because they are so excited I am not killing them with medication any longer. I wonder if they are in fact working on repairing the damage the medications have done and they need to do their part before I can see and feel changes in my joints. Isn't that an exciting thought? For me it is a very comforting thought and one that makes it bearable to live with the physical side of this a little longer.

Friday, June 20, 2008

I Feel Happy! Oh, so happy!

I feel happy today! I slept better than I have in a few weeks and woke up earlier than I have in weeks. While the house was still quiet, I brought my laptop and tea back to bed with me and had some good quality time with the internet. Just as I was getting out of bed for good, Sophia caught me and asked me to lay back down with her to snuggle and talk. This is one of the luxuries of unschooling your children - there isn't any big hurry in the morning. The computer finally called to the both of us and we sat down and did online surveys together for almost two hours! I love that she can predict the answers I will give and vice versa. When Alexander finally made it out of bed (after 10 which is late for him) we convinced him to take some of our favorite surveys. We found out he isn't really a hippie but has the spirit of one! Also, his Star Wars horoscope is that of a Chewbacca. It was nice to wake up to a relaxed morning of quiet time and then laughter with two of my favorite people - Alexander and Sophia! Later today I see a gal that is doing some energy work on me. She is the greatest. Of all the alternative stuff I do, she is my favorite! Then we are off to pick up our first veggies of the season from our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). I love this time of the year. It is so exciting to see people happily gather to collect organic, locally grown vegetables. To complete this perfect day, it is Friday. That means Steve is home all weekend! I love to be happy!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Shiny Gray Hairs are Here!

How do you like the new grays? You may be able to see the line developing in the picture of Steve, Sophia and me, but overall, I don't think it is too bad. I can feel the true me coming out again. I love it!!!! By the way, if you haven't noticed, Steve also has gray hairs coming in which I find very attractive!

Inspired by Anne Kreamer's article in MORE magazine, I decided to read her book Going Gray . You may wonder the same question my husband and sister did, "How can someone write a whole book about going gray?" Well, I recommend this book to anyone over the age of 40, even if you aren't considering going gray or you are already there! Anne Kreamer has a comical, real life way of sharing not only the process of going gray, but also about aging. I keep finding myself laughing out loud as she (a married woman) shares her experiment of posting her before and after photos on and received more interest with the gray hair, going to bars to see if there is interest in women with gray hair (there is!) except at gay bars, impersonating a stay at home mom trying to get back into the corporate world with gray hair (difficult to do), visiting LA and realizing gray hair doesn't exist there, and coming to the realization that gray hair doesn't mean you can't be stylish. She visited three different image consultants that all loved her gray hair but had much to comment on her choice of clothing and shoes. She found going through her clothing and getting rid of her big-shoulder-padded suits from the 90's was almost as difficult as going without hair coloring! I still have a few chapters to read, but have found Anne Kreamer to be truly inspirational!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Clean Refrigerator

This week I shared with Stacey the frustration I feel that the house is crumbling underneath me. Steve, Alexander and Sophia help out A LOT, but there are some things that only a mom does and I just I haven't been able to do these things in the last several months. One thing that was driving me crazy was the refrigerator. It was horrible. I have never been one to clean the refrigerator often, but it was to the point that I wasn't sure food was safe in it. Anyhow, on Friday night, Stacey watched the kids so Steve and I could go out to eat and celebrate our 20th anniversary. When we came home, Sophia had a big smile on her face. I asked what was going on and she said, "It is a surprise." Well, it was a surprise! The refrigerator was clean! It looked beautiful! Stacey had taken all the food out and cleaned everything. My reaction: cry. It was such a wonderful gift.

Reflections on Stacey's visit

My sister Stacey and her two boys, Levi (almost 7) and Leo (almost 5) just left after visiting for a little over a week. Before they arrived, I had planned on a full week of spoiling them. I wanted to bake delicious meals and snacks, play with her boys so she could have some quiet time and just sit and talk with her for hours. Instead, she ended up taking care of my family and me. She cooked, cleaned, did laundry, etc. Shortly after she arrived, my knees, feet, shoulders, fingers and wrists swelled up. Walking was a chore and even lifting my tea cup was a workout.
On Saturday we went to Cantigny so the boys could climb the tanks and see the war museum. It was a beautiful day and it felt great to be outside. Only, I walked at a snails pace and felt humilitated for myself and my family to be walking with someone who could barely move and was afraid to sit down because it would be too hard to get up. Nevertheless, we had a great time. The boys loved climbing the tanks and running around with the wooden guns Alexander had made for them. Steve and Alexander were able to talk with Vietnam vets who spent a lot of time explaining all the guns to Alexander and let him hold each one, which was a treat for him, and Stacey and I were able to leisurely talk while the boys were all busy.
Later that night I shared my humiliation of walking so slow with Stacey. She said, "That isn't how I viewed the day. I actually thought it was nice because it slowed us all down." She explained how usually life is so hurried and that I had helped everyone to just slow down and enjoy what was going on around them. WOW!!!! I can't explain the heaviness that was lifted from me when she said that. It made me feel that my illness is not always a burden, but can bring some of the qualities of life that I am always preaching about, such as slowing down and being in the moment.
Having Stacey here for a week was awesome. I selfishly hoped someone would get sick and they would be forced to stay longer. I love watching her with her boys. I have always admired how she has managed to stay connected to her boys while working full time. I loved sharing stories with someone that knows my past and me so well. I enjoyed discussing sections of The New Earth with her and it was fun to discuss and show off my new gray hairs to her. She is very encouraging of my gray hairs and really, of everything in life that I tackle. The time we had this summer will definitely be a highlight of my summer! Thanks Stacey for taking such good care of me.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Stuck in the Tub

Yesterday something funny, yet very embarrassing happened. I woke up with stiff shoulders, fingers and knees. Getting out of bed was a challenge! My body craved the warmth of hot water. I felt a little nauseated and feared I wouldn't be able to stand in the shower without passing out but knew I was going to have a difficult time getting out of the tub. I decided to go with the tub. The warm water felt great on my achy, swollen joints but the time came to get out. Since I was the only one awake, I knew I was fine moaning and groaning as I made my way out of the tub. Only, I couldn't pull myself out of the tub. This was the ultimate in embarrassment. I tried sitting in different positions, moving my body around in the tub, etc but I just couldn't pull myself up without slipping. Then I got this brillant idea. I called for our dog Izzy. She came into the bathroom right away. I said, "Izzy, go wake up Sophia." She ran right into the bedroom and started her morning ritual of licking Sophia's face. As soon as I heard her moving around, I called for her. She came in and tried pulling me up. Unfortunately her 75 pound body wasn't able to pull my 120 pound body up. So, she woke up Alexander and together they tried pulling me up. The problem was the places they were holding onto were so painful that they couldn't get a get good grip on me. At this point I was crying hard and felt totally humilited. Then something must of hit a funny bone because in an instant everything seemed funny. I started laughing which made the kids laugh. As I am sitting in the tub naked, we were making jokes about how funny this would be as a SNL skit or wouldn't it be funny if we had to call 911 and the ambulance and fire department showed up. That would be an interesting one to tell the neighbors. "Uh, yeah, I was stuck in the bathtub and had to have emergency help to be pulled out."

I think it must have been the laughter that finally gave us the energy to get me out of the tub. The rest of the day we would just giggle at each other thinking about me sitting in the tub not able to get out.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Happy 20th Anniversary

Steve and I met 21 years ago. He was a strong, lean package pickup employee working for JCPenney while attending community college on a guitar scholarship and I was a cute 19 year education major working in the infant department and living with my parents.

Our first date was to the drive in. We ordered Pizza Hut pizza and wine coolers. I remember what he liked about me was that I wasn't afraid to eat. I ate as much pizza as he did! What I liked about him was his nervousness and sincerity. I could tell he was nervous by the shaking of his hands, but I also saw in him a true interest in knowing me.

I think the connection between Steve and I has been there from the beginning. It didn't take us long to realize that we wanted to spend every waking moment together. We were married a year after our first date.

In the 20 years we have been married, we have put ourselves through college (and still have the student loans to prove it!), we have lived in two states and seven different homes (five we rented and two we owned), we have owned 10 cars (only two of those being brand new and the rest very used to more recently slightly used), and we have had three used couches and two new couches (the first new couch set is 13 years old and the second is about 4). We have welcomed into our home a variety of guitars and equipment. We have taken very few vacations but still fondly think of lazy weekends that we rented movies and ordered take out food doing nothing more than eating, napping, and ???? all weekend long. We have experienced new jobs and once no job, we have experienced both our parents divorcing after we were married,and we left the Catholic church early in our marriage for a spiritual path that we call our own. Best of all, we have shared the birth of two beautiful children together.

Basically, we have grown up together and fortunately we have grown closer together. We have learned a lot on our journey together and it hasn't always been easy. However, it has always been comforting to know that my very best friend is always there traveling along the road with me!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Who Feels Good Today?

It's Me! It's Me! I feel better today than I have in a really long time. Maybe it is the excitement of my sister Stacey coming for a visit today. Wish me luck that the good feeling continues.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


Yesterday morning Alexander asked how I was doing. I said, "Not too good." Sophia piped up with, "That's okay because the day before you had a really good day." She keeps me motivated and won't let me feel sorry for myself. She always thinks about the good. Good news for today is I am feeling better!!!!

Izzy, Our Border Collie

A little over a year ago, this beautiful Border Collie joined our family. I have to admit that in the last year, there have been times that I wondered if we took on more than we could handle. She is a smart, energetic dog that has challenged us on many levels. However, she has brought so much good into our lives that it is difficult to imagine not having her. We always tell her, "you were made just for us." I really do believe it is true. Having Izzy in my life has renewed a patience I haven't had to use since my kids were young, she makes me think, she is my nap partner, she follows me wherever I go, she gets me and/or the kids out walking every day and the time we put into training her is so rewarding when she can show off her tricks for company. Best of all, I have met so many wonderful friends because of Izzy. We now can walk through our neighborhood and people wave to us. Of course we are only known as Izzy's owners, but that is okay. We have met encouraging dog trainers that have supported us through many tears. Our Izzy has opened up a whole new world to us!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Farewell Kisses

Anytime Alexander or Sophia say good-bye to me, even for something as little as a walk around the neighborhood or a quick run to the store, they give me hugs and kisses. One time a visitor was here and said, "Geez, she isn't going to war." I like that they treat every separation as if we may never see each other again and that they want to make that connection to me each and every time we separate. It is nice to have a grand farewell and know that you are missed even if it is for only a few minutes. And when I come home, it is awesome to be greeted at the door by two smiling faces!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Why go natural?

Many may wonder why I have decided to go back to my natural hair color. Well, here are a few good reasons:

1. The skin is considered our largest organ. So, all kinds of things can be absorbed into your skin and then your body. I once heard good advice on skin products (moisturizers, makeup, shampoo, etc.). "If you can't read it, don't eat it. If you can't eat it, don't wear it."

2. My children. I have always taught my children to "listen to their bodies". If something was telling them it isn't right, then listen. I want to be a role model and follow this same advice. Putting chemicals on my body doesn't feel right. Also, I want my children to believe that aging is a beautiful process and not one to be fearful of. All the changes that are seen on our body show the world our life experiences and accomplishments. Crow's feet are really just a sign that we laughed a lot, stretch marks that we were fortunate enough to bring life into this world, and gray hairs show the wisdom we have accumulated through our life journeys.

3. Appreciation for who I have become. The other day I watched three beautiful teenagers at the pool. Their bodies were perfectly free of fat, wrinkles, cellulite, age spots, etc. Their bodies were about as perfect as they will ever be. However, I saw an insecurity in them that I don't see in middle aged and older women. They don't yet feel comfortable in their own skins. As we age, we may not be happy with what has become of our bodies, but I think we learn to know our bodies and when I see women my age and older, I see a feeling of comfort they have found with their own body. I like that.

4. Friends. I have several friends who have chose to keep their natural hair color - grays and all! They are so beautiful.

5. Reading. I read four good articles that really helped motivate me to make this choice.

6. Lastly, the expense. I am getting tired of forking over $50 every eight weeks to cover up who I really am.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Zandyman 2008

Alexander, aka Zandy or Zandyman, turned 12 in May. One evening Sophia, Alexander and I were discussing an article in Mothering magazine about "Red Parties" which are a celebration of a girl starting her menstrual cycle. We liked the idea of celebrating this wonderful occassion but felt that when the time comes, we would prefer it to be more intimate, such as Sophia and I going out to eat as two women that have accomplished something great in life. Alexander thought this was a great idea too but was curious about how boys celebrated their entry into manhood. As unschoolers, we tend to follow what feels right for us. So, we started brainstorming. What would Alexander like to do? When would he do it? He knew for sure he wanted to do something alone with dad and we left it up to Alexander to know when he felt he was ready for this type of celebration.
Steve and Alexander both enjoy the mechanics of how a gun works and have talked about trying out skeet shooting. So, the morning after Alexander turned 12, they went skeet shooting. This was Alexander's first time of shooting a gun. They had so much fun. It was definitely a male bonding event for both Steve and Alexander.
It is an amazing thing to watch your son take on the responsibilities of a young man. He now mows our lawn, has a mother's helper job, is doing some dog sitting, helps around the house with anything and everything I need and he is taller than me. He is definitely a young man that I am proud to have as a son and friend.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Happy Birthday Sophia! Today is my daughter's birthday. Doesn't she have the most amazing smile? People always comment on how beautiful her smile is. It is an awesome feeling for other people to see that beauty in her.

Here comes the gray!

Look at the new colors coming out of my scalp! Every time I walk by a mirror, I feel this urge to bend my head over to look at the new hair. It is almost like watching a new building being erected. Here is a picture of my hair growth as of Saturday, my first missed "touch up" appointment. I was hoping there wouldn't be a lot of contrast in the colored hair and the new dark hair coming in, but I can now see that was very optimistic thinking. I will have the dreaded line around my head showing the world that I am trying to go natural.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Just What I Needed

I clicked on Louise Hay's daily affirmation. Guess what it said?

"My body is always working toward optimum health."

I was feeling a little defeated this morning by the extra dose of stiffness I woke up to, but this is a nice reminder that my body does have the ability to heal. I feel better already with this thought!

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

Growing up in Kansas, the smell and feel of rain was always comforting to me. The sound of thunder and the sight of lightening felt so peaceful. Neighbors would gather outside to watch the skies and we would secretly hope for a power outage so we could sit in the dark with candles and our family.
I woke up earlier this morning to the sight of lightening. Unfortunately, the comforting feeling is gone. I was barely able to roll over in bed my body was so stiff. It feels sad to now dread something that once brought such peace.
The research on arthritis stiffness and weather seems to vary. My rheumatologist didn't seem to believe there was a correlation. However, my husband first noticed it with me. Whenever there is a shift in weather, my body stiffens up. I so want to trust my body to heal, but days like this feel like I have been defeated.