Nature in our yard

Look what was making herself at home by my front door....

These are called banana spiders. The North American banana spider (as opposed to the South American one, which can be deadly) is not aggressive. They build their large, intricate webs near my house all the time and sometimes we let them (depending on how close they are to our doors) and sometimes we remove the web with a broom, careful not to harm the spider.

Mom, Would You Mind If I Failed?

That's what my daughter Shawna asked me last night.

My daughters take CCD classes at the catholic church near us. (don't ask me what CCD stands for because I have no idea) This is the church we recently had my mothers funeral service at. For any new visitors who don't know much about me, I was raised Roman Catholic but have been agnostic my whole adult life (I've recently become drawn to Buddhism but that's more of a way of life rather than a religion). After adopting our three children, I wanted them to have an "official" religion so I had them baptized Catholic. They started CCD so they could do their first holy communion but then they didn't go back the following year because they said it was boring - which is how I remember it being when I used to have to go as a kid. They decided to go back again this year and give it another go. They're free to choose their own path and I would actually prefer them to form their own opinions and values before being influenced by those of a religion (any religion).


In Shawna's class they were supposed to memorize the ten commandments, in order and then be tested on it. She was kind of stressing about it (I didn't know that she was anxious about it) and that's when she asked me "Mom, would you mind if I failed"?

I told her my feelings on being tested were that all it proves is you were able to memorize the material, it doesn't prove that you learned anything. I told her that if the ten commandments meant something to her then it was more important to live them, not memorize them in order.

What would it mean if she was able to memorize them in their correct order?
That she was a good person?
That she was smart?

No...it would mean she was able to memorize some facts.

Big friggen deal.

My daughter is a good person.
My daughter is smart.

I love my daughter. :-)

On another note about this church...

Shawna decided to join the youth group. I was actually little hesitant because of something that happened to Cimion last year when he had joined. Cimion told me that during a discussion about how the "devil" shows itself here on earth and about evil, one of the kids said hard rock bands. Cimion told me that he actually thought the kid was joking but when the kid said "...bands like Godsmack" (We're big rock fans in our house and one of our favorite bands is Godsmack.) Cimion told the kid that wasn't true and that he should listen to their music before making judgements. When Cimion came home and told me, it opened up a whole discussion about real evil...like child molesters and people that torture animals.

So I was a little hesitant but she wanted to try it. Her first day there, Billy called me to say that the leader of the youth group told him that after the meeting, she and the kids would be walking up to the highway and holding up signs in protest of abortion.


My daughter is only 12. Abortion is not a high priority in her life right now and it sure isn't something she feels so strongly about that she would hold up signs in protest over.

I myself am pro-choice. I have strong opinions on things like abortion, homesexuality and organized religion, and although I share my views with my children, I respect their right to form their own set of beliefs.

And I expect others to treat my kids the same. Until my daughter has formed her own opinion about abortion, I don't want her blindly follow what anyone else tells her.

I called the church and left word that Shawna was not to participate and that I would be by to pick her up. I told the leader how I felt and that if it was going to be a problem, I would take Shawna out. I also recommended to her that trips to the senior center or hospitals may be a little more Shawna's speed. LOL She said she understood and that Shawna was welcome to stay.


I updated the squidoo page on unschooling and added the pending blog and website links that some of you sent in this week. Keep 'em coming. :-)

November is almost here..

...and that can only mean one thing.

Black Friday. :-)

For those who may not get out much, Black Friday is held the day after Thanksgiving and retailers across the country sell at a discount to start the holiday shopping season off. You have to know your prices though and most major retailers will offer a selection of products at considerable discounts while others are priced as you would find a weekly sale item. It pays to patronize stores you're familiar with and look at their ad before you go.

I've blogged about my past experiences with shopping with Billy on Black Friday. For some strange reason, we enjoy this crazy tradition of waking up with the sun and going shopping with hundreds of other people. If nothing else, it sure is entertaining. LOL We usually go to either WalMart or Kmart, and then to Circuit City (if we were already thinking about buying something). I may take a look at
Ace Hardware this year because one opened up a few minutes away from my house. I'm also waiting for the EB Games/Game Stop ad to come out because we would like to get a second system and I'm hoping to get one at a good price. Any recommendations? I've gotten some good deals over the years on a Kodak digital camera, a bike for my son and the steering wheel for Playstation 2.

Sites like
BlackFriday.net are helpful to see all the ads in one place (good if you want to hit several stores). You can sign up for an e-mail letting you know when a new store has posted their ad. I may even shop online this year at amazon.com and overstock.com (I love that site).

Anybody else ever shop on Black Friday?


Unschooling Concerns

When I first began unschooling my kids (and myself), I found a lot of food for thought at the message boards at unschooling.com (the boards are no longer there). I saved several topics that were useful for me and have shared them here from time to time. I recently found one while cleaning out some old folders and thought some of you may find this helpful. Be warned-it's long.

By Mary on Tuesday, May 8, 2001 - 07:54 am:
Hi my name is Mary, and I really want to unschool my daughter, age 4 instead of sending her to preschool next year. She currently goes 3 mornings a week. She always seemed to like it, but is now begging me not to send her. She just sits on the floor of the classroom, refusing to participate. She won't talk, just sits there and looks incredibly sad. This is a child who is so exuberant, happy, creative, etc outside of school, and used to be in school. She creates pages and pagesof artwork a day at home, with paints, chalk, markers etc. She makes collages and structures out of recycled stuff at home. At school she wont do art! How can this be? My daughter is always so sociable, now she won't play with the other kids at school. I do not want to crush her spirit or her individuality . Please help me. Yesterday I stayed in her classroom with her, the teachers were happy to have me, but the director of the school was against it. She didn't throw me out, but told me i neded to leave cold turkey, and this "is herJob" to be here. What??? Anyway I did mention pulling her out next year, and the looks I got, made me feel so rotten. I was told how important the learning, the interaction with peers, the transitions from one thing to the next, all this is invaluable, and you can't duplicate it at home.

My instinct says to leave now. I guess I just feel like an overprotective Mother. I guess I am afraid. Please help me, and so sorry to ramble, I am just upset. Thank you for taking the time to read this.
By Queenk on Tuesday, May 8, 2001 - 08:45 am:
You were given instinct for a reason, so dont dismiss it. If shes not happy theres a reason. Trust your child and yourself, and you'll come to the right decision for your family.
By April Spitzer (Aprilspit) on Tuesday, May 8, 2001 - 08:46 am:
Trust your instincts. Listen to your daughter. You see that your daughter is miserable. She says she doesn't want to go anymore. Take her out of preschool now. She probably doesn't do art at school because they tell her HOW to do it the correct way, and WHAT she should do and WHEN. At home she is free to do art in any which way she chooses.

Of course the preschool people would tell you it's a mistake to take her out, they're losing money! This is their life! They don't want anybody to think their jobs are unnecessary. I would definitely be wary of anyone that tells you you're not welcome to stay in the class with your child.
By Steph on Tuesday, May 8, 2001 - 08:50 am:
Mary, you have instincts where your daughter is concerned, for a reason.

It has always amazed me, that the first things that a person is taught in a child-development class, apart from the physical requirements of caring for children, are separation-anxiety, intrinsic learning, and trust.
And yet it seems to me that childcare places all over the country, are encouraging their parents and teachers to believe in "cold turkey."

It just doesn't agree with any of the research which they are so quick to fall back on when it suits them.
And maybe I'm cynical, but it is a business. It is hard not to take it personally when someone no longer wants your services, and I think that happens all the time.

It happened last year when we took my 5yo out of the preschool that she had loved the year before. The *feel* of the teacher and the direction of the class, was just too harsh.

Believe me, they weren't *supportive* of our decision to have her at home. But what mattered to us, is that we'd been through not trusting ourselves with our oldest daughter, and ran into all sorts of complications that could have been avoided had we just trusted our instincts-which-are-there-for-a-reason, and what we saw in her.

Like you describe your daughter, our oldest loves projects and crafts at home, and yet at school was innundated with ditto work and disapproving looks. I'll never forget her coming home with a ditto that they had to color just like the teachers.
It had rows of children sitting at school desks. She had colored it correctly, but when she came home, she took it out and made the children into mermaids, adding tails and prettying up their outfits.
In 3 homeschooling years, she hasn't slowed down from her projects or plans or creativity. She doesn't hate structure or dislike anything, really. She adapts difficult situations to herself, rather than visa-versa. I think that unschooling has validated that....validated her own instincts which might be more in tact than even mine.

There are still tugs (sometimes pulls) of doubt any time big changes are in the works. I don't know if that ever changes.

Four is a wonderful age to learn to find and follow one's own rhythm. What a gift that would be to her.
By April Spitzer (Aprilspit) on Tuesday, May 8, 2001 - 08:57 am:
I wanted to add, that it seems to me that society tries from the moment we are pregnant to get rid of our natural instincts. There are people telling us what to do from the beginning, and doctors that tell us we better listen to them, they've been to school they know best. Teachers know best. Friends and family members know best. From the very beginning we are told which professionals to trust, and throw our own instincts out the window. I learned that doctors don't always know best when I gave birth to my first daughter. Yet I still didn't completely trust my instincts.

I quit nursing both girls early because the doc said they weren't eating enough. I saw the negative affects of too many trips to the doc for antiobiotics when my girls were sick, but I STILL thought that surely doctors would only do the right thing.

It wasn't until I saw my daughters in a weekly playgroup, stop doing spontaneous arts and crafts because they were waiting for instructions that I finally said to heck with what everybody tells me! This isn't right.

From now on I will try to let my instincts as their mother tell me what is right, and stop looking to other people all of the time.
By steph on Tuesday, May 8, 2001 - 09:07 am:
Aaaaammmen, April.

(And btw, I was editing my comments while you were posting-Neither of the other comments were there when I began)LOL

I quit nursing my oldest too early, because a hurricane stressed me out. Had I stuck with it, it would have been calming and healing for the two of us. Instead I switched to formula and dealt with gas pains and crying fits that cooincidentally were not an issue with the two children I breastfed afterward.

All on the advice of others.
Tough lessons.
By Sandra Lynn Dodd (Sandradodd) on Tuesday, May 8, 2001 - 11:50 am:
-=- She always seemed to like it, but is now begging me not to send her.-=-

Don't ever make her go again, no more than you would leave her with a scary babysitter, or put her on a city bus with scary-looking people alone. Each hour of stress will have to be undone. Cut your losses. Keep her home now. If you paid for
this school, let the money go without another thought. If you could pay to undo what's done, it would be worth it, but you can't.

Get her some new art supplies (GOOD ones, not cheapo stuff) and put on some happy music and make her favorite snacks and live happily together!

By zenmomma on Tuesday, May 8, 2001 - 12:30 pm:
Congratulations for listening to your daughter! Many parents are so used to listening to the experts, that they disregard the statements of a 4 year old. She is so lucky to have you. :-)

***I really want to unschool my daughter, age 4 instead of sending her to preschool next year. She currently goes 3 mornings a week. She always seemed to like it, but is now begging me not to send her.***

My experience has been that all of us, including kids, go through stages in our lives. Maybe your daughter enjoyed what the preschool had to offer at the beginning. Now that she's gotten her fill, or had her curiosity satisfied, she no longer needs or wants it. When my now 7 year old dd was 4, she begged to go to "real school". And I mean begged. Daily, and with passion, reason and full explanations. So, I found her a tiny, private kindergarten (6 kids) and had her go there. She enjoyed it while she went. At the end of the year, though, she had had enough. She asked to come back home with her brother. She got what she needed and moved on.

I'm really not saying anything different than the others who have have posted. Trust your instincts. I'm just adding that I don't think you have to worry over having sent her in the first place. It seems like she got what she needed, and now she needs to know that she can trust you to let her stop and move onto the next stage.
By Laurie Junkins (Lauriej) on Tuesday, May 8, 2001 - 12:33 pm:
I was going through the same agony not long ago with my two sons, who are 6 and 8. I followed my instinct and took them out of school (even though all the voices in my head were telling me that I was overreacting). I can't tell you how WONDERFUL
it's been and how full my heart is having them home. The other day my youngest said, "I'm glad we homeschool because now I don't get hurt every day" (he was being victimized by a bully...at SIX!). What your daughter is experiencing is just
as bad as bullies...her spirit is being broken. Listen to your heart, not the disapproving people at the preschool. You are the person who knows what's best for you and for your little girl.
By Donna on Tuesday, May 8, 2001 - 01:02 pm:
Take her out now. Do not hesitate. I hesitated and trusted the school system with my son and he has been paying the price.

It is very hard to live with yourself when you make mistakes with your children.
By Steph on Tuesday, May 8, 2001 - 01:42 pm:

What a wonderful sense of peace you have. Suitable for your screen name. :)

Thanks for sharing what you did, because it addresses my current wrestling in such a restful way.
By Mary on Tuesday, May 8, 2001 - 02:54 pm:
You guys are absolutely wonderful! I am so touched by all of your responses. You are right, I'm going to take her out tomorrow. I guess I just needed a boost of courage, and I got one. I only signed her up for preschool bc I thought it would be fun for her, not to punish her, and that is what it has turned into. I never wanted her to be there if she didn't want to. Zenmomma, I think you are right. She probably wanted to try out preschool bc everyone around her (friends and family) talked about how "when your a big girl you get to go to school", when she finaly was old enough it was exciting to her. She has never been in daycare or anything, so all the kids, etc, probably interested her at first. Like ZenMomma said, she has gotten her fill and has moved on. It is no longer that interesting. And April, you are right, at home she goes to her art supplies, and just creates what she wants, when she wants. At school, she comes home with a painted picture of a strawberry bc it is strawberry season, and thats the unit they were on. Maybe she didn't want to paint a strawberry! Maybe she wanted to paint a pumpkin, but they probably didn't have any oarnge paint "available".

Sandra, you are so right, I wouldn't leave her with anyone she didn't want to be left with, so why does the world say you're suppossed to do this when it comes to school? I guess I have had my head in the sand, just going with the status quo. I thought preschool would be fun, and now that its not, I need to listen to her and say no, you don't have to go back. I feel much better now. And art supplies are our forte here, we cant stop creating!!

Thanks so much everyone. I am looking forward to all the fun we will have together. I am so glad this site exists. I don't know what I would do without it.
By Laura Naykki on Tuesday, May 8, 2001 - 03:23 pm:
Well, when I first starting reading this, I was going to offer advice, but now, getting to the bottom of the posts, instead, I'll offer Congratulations!

Your daughter sounds like my son did years ago. He enjoyed preschool for a few months, then begged to stay home. In fact, (rather pitifully to think back on) when I said that one of the reasons for preschool was so that I would have time to myself, he offered to just stay in his room for a few hours :(. I took him out of preschool at that point!

He loved drawing and painting at home, but after months of preschool, he did less and less on his own. He was never a coloring book kind of kid, though. All his drawings had to be his own - he wasn't interested in just coloring someone else's drawings. Unfortunately, that's a lot of what they did in preschool - coloring pictures and following someone else's directions.

He's been drawing his own pictures and making things out of clay for almost a decade now. He's 13, and unschooling was *definitely* the way to go for him.
By Carol Brown (Cally) on Tuesday, May 8, 2001 - 03:49 pm:
I'm too late to offer advice - it's all been said already!

So I'll just say - welcome back to the world of sharing and enjoying life with your child :-)

By steph on Tuesday, May 8, 2001 - 05:39 pm:
LauraN writes>>In fact, (rather pitifully to think back on) when I said that one of the reasons for preschool was so that I would have time to myself, he offered to just stay in his room for a few hours :(. I took him out of preschool at that point! >>>

Oh this just breaks my heart!!! What a sweetie.
{{{{ }}}}
So glad for your decision. :)
By zenmomma on Tuesday, May 8, 2001 - 06:47 pm:
**What a wonderful sense of peace you have. Suitable for your screen name. :) **

Thank you. I'll keep that as my soul nourishing thought for the day. :-) I also want to share a little off topic observation I had recently.

When I first picked my screen name as "zenmomma", I don't think I was very peaceful or zenlike. In fact I know I wasn't. I was in the middle of several life-changing situations and was stressed to the limit. I think I picked that name because it was what I wished I could be. Not conciously, though. In fact, at the time I thought to myself, "What a lie. If people only knew."

Well, low and behold! Just like they tell us not to label a kid bossy (or whatever), because she'll live up to that label, I have found myself identifying very strongly with the zenmomma label I gave myself. It's now a year and a half later and I no longer feel like my screen name is a lie. I have a real sense of peace and joy about life now. And I feel like I can handle the curves that life throws me with a certain sense of well-being. It is, what it is. What will be, will be.

I think that's why it gives me such a nice feeling to hear the positive way most kids are described on these boards. Just a thought. I'll go back on topic now.

**Thanks for sharing what you did, because it addresses my current wrestling in such a restful way.

What are you wrestling with, Steph? Is someone asking to go to school? Or asking to come home?
By Steph on Wednesday, May 9, 2001 - 08:22 am:
Oh, my incredibly free-spirited almost 9yo likes the idea of school again.

The thing is, she has her eye on being around certain friends which may or may not even attend that school next year. We have been house-hunting and might move also.

There is just nothing certain, and I dislike scrambling so.

I concern myself with having "worked" to adjust my own goals and plans to our unschooling lifestyle, and now having to adjust again, and if so probably unadjust when she experiences that teachers are not "flexible" like mom. :)

She loves being home, and doesn't want school to be closed to her either...and not for academic reasons at all. She wants friends that she can see often, and unfortunately because the support group has been scattered so far around our area, she hasn't had that.

Her friends are school kids, who she doesn't see enough because they have homework to do, etc.
She is in activities, but the difference in schedule and others' throughout the week, is affecting her. She just wants to hang out with people. We've talked a little about how kids in school don't "hang out" much either, but this is her theory and she wants to follow it through.

She makes plans and calls kids to invite them over, but usually has to wait weeks. We've also been very busy...too busy..for months.

Personally, I think that moving from a townhouse to a neighborhood house will fix most of this. We'd have more capacity and a front yard. So we're working hard for that, and if we move to a certain area, I've read the support group info, and it feels more comfortable.

But then I think that most things in life can be changed drastically just by rearranging them. LOL
A philosophy going back generations.

Just so much up in the air. Your post though...
It truly gave me a sense of "::::::Breathe::::::::Stephanie, no matter what, it is going to be fine."

And we will be.
Inside I know that, but it takes reminding to remember it moment by moment.

And that is what zen teaches, yes? :)
By Anne O on Wednesday, May 9, 2001 - 08:22 am:
***it seems to me that society tries from the moment we are pregnant to get rid of our natural instincts.*** I wanted to share something along these lines. I had the final meeting last night with the library board about my grant proposal to start children's programs. I worked so hard on that grant and when you read it, you can read my very heart and soul in it. The board needed to sign the final approval last night. I was a bit nervous because the board consists of people who are very academic-oriented. People for whom I don't have a lot of respect, nor much in common. People who make decisions about a library in which they spend little time.

Anyway, they were speechless after reading my grant application. It was like they never even THOUGHT anyone could care about children in the way I had conveyed on my application.

After they signed the approval, I volunteered to work the desk while the librarian finished up the meeting. Jacob was with me, helping me and working on the computer next to my desk. I felt one board member's eyes on us the whole time we were working.

Later, she came up to me and told me she couldn't believe how I treated my child. She said it was clear that we were good friends and that I truly enjoyed him and enjoyed being with him. She said she never even thought of feeling that way toward her children...that she listened to all the negative things people said about children and applied those to her own mothering. She was guilty of saying that she couldn't wait to get rid of the kids after a school vacation. She was guilty of signing them up for activities just to not have to be around them. She was guilty of belittling them and stifling their spirit. And she told me all of this because she never even CONSIDERED that you could be a nice, joyful mother...which she concluded I was from reading my grant application and watching me with Jacob (she is an acquaintance, also, and we often run into her while out and about in the community...me grocery shopping with my kids and them weighing the produce and figuring out how much it is going to cost...her alone, while her kids are in school).

Anyway...my point is...it saddens me that people have lost the basic faith in themselves to question what they are doing, how they are living, how they are raising their children, even when it just doesn't feel right to them. They continue the path of *what society says I should do* instead of just saying "NO MORE" and letting the natural state of joy and happiness enter their lives by listening to their hearts.

This has been a beautiful, inspirational thread, and I honor you, Mary, for putting your concerns out there to see what the Universe would send back to you...you have blessed us all (and especially your own child).
By Steph on Wednesday, May 9, 2001 - 08:35 am:
>>>>Anyway...my point is...it saddens me that people have lost the basic faith in themselves to question what they are doing, how they are living, how they are raising their children, even when it just doesn't feel right to them. >>>

Just when I thought that the discussion had reached a peak. Anne, this news is fantastic, and the above is so completely the point!!
By Steph on Wednesday, May 9, 2001 - 08:38 am:
>> I thought preschool would be fun, and now that its not, I need to listen to her and say no, you don't have to go back. I feel much better now. And art supplies are our forte here, we cant stop creating!!


How quickly you knew.
Congrautlations to you and your daughter, Mary.

Think of what your decision says to her, about how she has a voice in her life and how her presence is welcomed at home by her mom. It's a big deal.
By Anne O on Wednesday, May 9, 2001 - 08:53 am:
***Congratulations!!*** Well, the grant isn't actually awarded yet...the board just signed the required form...but thanks, as I envision and Trust it will be awarded...!
By zenmomma on Wednesday, May 9, 2001 - 09:58 am:
**Just so much up in the air. Your post though...
It truly gave me a sense of "::::::Breathe::::::::Stephanie, no matter what, it is going to be fine." **

And, no matter what, the way it is, is the way it is. My dh and I were discussing this very topic this morning. His brother called him yesterday and is (again) very unhappy with his life. Hard to understand for us, since he is healthy, with a roof over his head, with a loving woman at his side, able to eat, play, dream, live......To us, all the other stuff is just details. Take 'em as they come and make what you can of 'em. Or should I say learn what you can from them. That's my newest take on adversity. "What am I supposed to learn from this?" Not a new idea, but new for me.
By zenmomma on Wednesday, May 9, 2001 - 10:03 am:
Once again your post has left me with a smile (thinking of you and your wonderful children),and something to ponder during the day (wondering why all children can't be so honored).
By mary on Wednesday, May 9, 2001 - 02:39 pm:
well we had a beautiful day here. When I told Molly we didn't have to go to school this morning, she was so excited. She said "I never wnat to go again!" My response was "thats great, then we won't". I could tell she was suprised, but she quickly accepted it and asked if we could make some blue play-doh. Of course I said yes, and even showed her how oil and water don't mix while we were making it. No, I wasn't pushing learning, just making observations, and we had a great time. We even made brownies, and now she's outside playing in the sandbox. I am totally into this life already. It is a very happy, peaceful way to live. I thank you guys for leading me gently to my own realization of it.

Anne, I loved reading about the bond you have with your son. It sounds wonderful, full of respect and love. I often wonder why I am the only one at the grocery letting my child weigh foods, find items on the shelf, etc. The world is in such a hurry isn't it? Its nice to read about everyones family.

Thank you all so much.
By zenmomma on Thursday, May 10, 2001 - 12:12 pm:
I'm so happy for you both. It *is* a wonderful, happy, peaceful way to live. Welcome. And as Anne would say....Namaste. (I just love that, Anne!)
By April Spitzer (Aprilspit) on Thursday, May 10, 2001 - 04:54 pm:
Well, low and behold! Just like they tell us not to label a kid bossy (or whatever), because she'll live up to that label, I have found myself identifying very strongly with the zenmomma label I gave myself

That is wonderful Mary (zenmomma), and I totally agree with you. We tend to live up to how we label ourselves, so it would be nice to label everybody as kind, patient, loving, and perfect just the way they are!

Other Mary,
I'm so glad for you!! Doesn't it feel freeing to know that this is the direction that you're taking and it's OKAY!!?
By April Spitzer (Aprilspit) on Thursday, May 10, 2001 - 04:56 pm:

I should've signed that...

By zenmomma on Thursday, May 10, 2001 - 08:05 pm:

I should've signed that...

**~Patience~** **

Actually, I always thought you were going for something a little different with "Aprilspit". :o) I always smile when I see that. What would one become with that label?
By renallyn6 on Thursday, June 14, 2001 - 09:22 pm:
Oh I wish I had found this thread earlier. I am trying so hard to transform myself from a Mom whose first instinct is to yell into a "zenmomma" (insert smile here) I just love how you labeled yourself...and IT WORKED! I am going to see myself as a calm, loving, joyful person and FAKE it if I have to until my brain gets it. I was proud of myself today because when one of the kids was doing something irritating I was able to inject some humor...it felt sooooo good. Anne, you are an inspiration! Nuff said.

Plane Ride

Our recent trip back home to NYC for my mothers memorial service (we moved to Florida in '02) was my daughters first time on an airplane. My husband & I have flown many times and don't think it's a big deal anymore, but seeing it through their eyes was great!

We flew out of Orlando....Jacqueline & Shawna in the airport waiting to board.

Billy took this picture of us on the plane:

Jacqueline took this picture.

Coming back to Florida, we flew out of JFK (always an experience in itself-lol)

Waiting for boarding to be called...Billy playing on the laptop and Jacqueline reading over the material we got on our trip to the United Nations.

Billy took this picture of two tired girls and one very awake one. lol

Shawna took this from her seat:

I just realised from posting these that Shawna wore her Girl Scout shirt both flights. lol


If you've been having trouble loading this blog..

...I fixed the problem. It was the blog roll for Blogging Chicks. I copied it to a post instead and linked to it at the bottom, with the other blog rolls we belong to. :-)


Not-Back-To-School-Pool Party '07

On August 20, we hosted the 3rd annual Not-Back-To-School Pool Party at our home. I wasn't sure if I wanted to have it this year because it was so soon after my mother passed away (I hate typing that-it always stops me for a minute). After going back & forth, I decided to have it. My family was fine with whatever was going to make me feel better and they would go along with what I decided.

We had a bunch of local homeschooers/unschoolers (our local homeschool group is a mix of everything-lol) over for a day of swimming, playstation, eating, hanging out, playing, talking and having fun.


Greenwich Village ~ NYC

Here's more pictures of our recent trip home to New York City. We made a stop at my favorite place in NYC....Greenich Village. :-) I worked and hung out there for many years and to me, it's just the coolest place in the city. (Dive) bars, (hole-in-the-wall) clubs, CBGB's, Rocky Horror, punk rock stores.

I was so happy to see my favorite clothing store Trash & Vaudeville was still open! I had to take my girls in there! Actually, Shawna got a little scared and had to leave. LOL She stayed outside with Billy and out friend Vito, who hung out with us for the day.

Over the last few months, Jacqueline (my newly nine year old) has been very interested in my pre-mommy fashion days and we've talked a lot lately about mohawks, multi-colored hair, motercycle jackets, black nailpolish (ah! those were the days!). Anyway, she's been dipping her toe in the hard rock pool a lot lately and decided to buy a "punk rock skirt". One of those short, pleated, plaid mini skirts. She had brought her own money and had enough for the $35 skirt.

First of all-I was so estatic that one of my daughters wanted to buy something at a store that almost 100% of my wardrobe had been bought from when I was younger. So because of that, I did what any punk rock mother would do.

I bought it for her. :-)

Here's my girls with the shirt, Shawna's holding it before she ran out.

Jacqueline & I outside the store, with her wearing the skirt. She's also wearing the black fishnet fingerless gloves she bought.

Yes, I'm a proud mama. :-)

We also went to Washington Square Park, which has a lot of cool history. There's always something going on there and we hung out and listened to some musicians. That's Jacqueline putting a dollar in the case.

Billy & Vito in the park.

It was a really nice day. :-)


Love and Lying

Shawna lied to me last night.

It's not important what she lied about. What's important is how I handled it. And I feel pretty good about that.

We went outside on the deck, just her & I, and spoke about how difficult it is to have a trusting relationship with someone if they lie to you. I asked her if she believed me when I tell her something and she said that she did. I asked her why. She thought for a moment and said, because you tell me the truth. I asked her how that felt to her and she said that it felt good and comfortable. I told her that it means a lot to me to have that same exact feeling towards her. We talked for about 30 minutes about how relationships are built, over time and that when the foundation is trust and honesty, that relationship can grow and withstand anything.

I knew she felt bad. She's very sensative and emotional and her relationship with me is very important to her. I felt bad also. Being lied to, especially by someone you love, is not a very good feeling.

After she went to bed, I wrote her a note and put it in a spot where she would see it when she woke up. It said:

Dear Shawna,
I want you to know that even though you lied to me, YOU ARE LOVED!
I love you no matter what.
Love, Mommy

It's very important to Shawna to know that she's loved even when she does something I may not agree with or like. Because she was adopted by us at an older age (she was 8 when we adopted her...she's now 12), the concept of unconditional love is one she's slowly understanding.

When I saw her this morning, she came over and hugged me and said "I love you too. Thank you for the note. It made my eyes get watery when I read it".

So...no puninshments here, no shaming or yelling or threats.

Just discussion, examining our feelings and love.

Lots of love.


Mindful Parenting

Mindful Parenting
By Stephanie Renfrow Hamilton

Somewhere between the lullabies and your child's first driving lesson, parenting becomes your spiritual practice.

It's tempting to wax romantic when I think of my earliest days practicing yoga in the verdant hills of St. Croix. But the fact is, I would have done anything just to get out of the house.

My husband and I were living in the U.S. Virgin Islands and I had just given birth to our second child in two years. Tulani was a peaceful baby girl, serene with a mischievous streak (she'd nip me while nursing, then giggle impishly). But she arrived so soon after Malcolm, a sweet, active boy who, when he was just three days old and snuggled at my shoulder, placed his fingers on my neck and pulled me in. This is what it's all about, I remember thinking. An infant's arm around a mother's neck completes the circle. In time, though, a daunting feeling overtook me, and it wasn't so soft around the edges; it was the fear of botching things, the nagging suspicion that I was not equal to the task of parenting. And so another impulse crept in: Run, head for the hills. That running away meant taking outdoor hatha yoga classes on a hilltop in the Caribbean.

As fate would have it, I did what a lot of new parents who haven't quite settled into their roles do: I renewed my interest in spiritual pursuits. My efforts were piecemeal, to be sure, and they were more solitary (yoga and meditation) than congregational (church of any kind was a seasonal event). But over time, I did become more conscious of the ways in which yoga might carry over at home. And I began to wonder how other parents were putting yogic principles to good use in their homes.

Across the country, I spoke to a range of mothers and fathers practicing yoga or meditation or both, who expressed various levels of commitment to their practice. Some have trekked to ashrams here and in India, kids in tow; others have embarked on their inner journeys without ever leaving home. Although many have experienced deep states of meditation, they vary in their success at bringing such peaceful states to their childrearing. None of them ever pushed the practice on their children, but rather let it influence them by example and by discussion.

Not all of these parents could point to proof that their practice had transformed their lives. But many spoke of the increased energy levels they enjoyed, the heightened awareness of the moment-to-moment experiences of daily life, and the greater empathy they felt for their children. It was as if these moms and dads were saying to their young, the divinity in me salutes the divinity in you. Namaste in action.

Many spoke of coming to terms with the constant juggling of doing both their yoga and the dishes with reasonable regularity, placing neither their practice nor their children first, but recognizing that, somewhere along their spiritual paths, their parenting had become their practice. The same mindfulness that goes into preparing the body for meditation through yoga, for instance, can be brought to bear when cooking dinner, tucking in bed sheets, or changing diapers.

These were decent, earnest stories these parents were offering, at turns, gritty and inspiring. So heartening were their lessons, in fact, that my usual tendency to bemoan my own lack of progress seemed pointless. For, in listening to their struggles, their humor, their stark reflections, in sensing their capacity for generosity and growth, I somehow sensed my own.

The trick is to stay in that recognition of mutual divinity, to stay in namaste during all our dealings, especially those involving our children. For, in our impatience with our kids, we sometimes forget our shared connection to the infinite. And in our fear of losing our children—to independence, peer pressure, death, disorder, or despair—we may hold onto them too tightly. At times the childrearing path seems impossibly narrow. That is, until we actually walk it and experience just how vast it is.

Ritual & Routine
It's no mystery that practicing some form of yoga or meditation with some regularity can nurture a sense of security and order in kids' lives. Haji and Jasmin Shearer are a young, soft-spoken couple living in Dorchester, Massachusetts, raising a son, Patanjali, age 8, and a daughter, Sakeena, age 5. Both have had some success getting their practices down to a routine, dedicating either mornings or evenings to sitting meditation. Fitting in time for yoga—both of them have practiced hatha yoga since 1985—takes a bit more maneuvering. Sometimes it doesn't happen at all, save for the occasional Savasana before bedtime or Tadasana while waiting in line.

As a couple, they speak often of peace. Sometimes it's direct, like when Haji, speaking for the four of them, says, "All of us have this ideal that peace is possible." Or when you can't catch them home and their voice mail kicks in: "If you think about it, every moment is a miracle. Thanks for participating in ours. We'll call you back. Peace." And sometimes it's indirect, as when Jasmin talks about the family singing nightly bhajans (Sanskrit songs of devotion) before tucking in the kids. Her account of these bedtime rituals takes you right back into childhood, under the covers, listening in wide-eyed awe to ancient melodies rendered that much sweeter by the voices of people you love. "The children take turns picking the songs, and it's a good way to pull our energies together," she says. "It feels so relaxing it's hard to leave them and go do what I have to do for the evening."

These kinds of nesting rituals are your "family practice," says Bo Lozoff, who along with his wife, Sita, launched the renowned Prison Ashram Project near Durham, North Carolina. He is currently working on a book about everyday spirituality called A Meaningful Life: It Just Takes Practice, so his memories of morning family sessions with their now-grown son, Josh, are not far from the surface. From the time Josh was 4, Bo would pull up his recliner and read to him from the Ramayana or the Mahabharata. He'd start the day in this way at a leisurely pace, allowing time for the stories to be understood at a deep level.

Even watching television was a mindful act in the Lozoff household. After Josh turned 5, the Lozoffs agreed to turn on the television only as long as they watched shows all three of them liked. "Viewing was a conscious choice for us," says Bo, "not something we did because we were bored. When there is a child in your home who loves watching these programs, it just becomes a part of your practice."

Bedtime had a sense of purpose as well. Bo remembers singing to Josh from his cache of personal favorites, folk and pop songs like "Mr. Bojangles," "Sweet Baby James," and Bob Dylan's "Forever Young." The point, he says, was to begin and end each day with a tender, sacred moment so that it turned full circle into one seamless event. He adds, "There is no way to replace such times with things that don't take as much time."

Being Here Now—Even During Chores
Last summer, Marcia Miller, who teaches Integral yoga in downtown Columbus, Ohio, made an announcement to her students in one of her quarterly newsletters. She had to cut back on some of her classes so that she could have more time to do the laundry, she wrote. This chore was a metaphor for all the little things we do that we think are "less important," she explained.

Her point was a logical extension of her karma yoga teachings, suggesting that everything we do is worthy of our full attention. "If, when you're folding clothes, you're really there for the task, you're creating harmony and a sense of order in the home," she tells me by phone. "There's a huge difference in the emotional life of your family if you can find your underwear in the morning."

Marcia says she's received more positive feedback about those few paragraphs in her newsletter than anything she'd ever written. "When I am home with my children, I assure you that they do not care if I can do 10 deep backbends in a row. They do care that I am present both physically and emotionally to create a safe place where their needs get met," she reflects. Those needs include enjoying a mom who is calm and loving, who can organize the household decently and sing them their lullabies at night. The loving calmness that her boys value so much, she points out, gets cultivated during her morning asanas. "In essence, daily life is a mixture of the simple (laundry) and the sublime (bedtime kisses and songs), and the practice of yoga can help with both."

For some parents, the struggle has less to do with interweaving the simple with the sublime than with finding time to juggle the parenting and the practice. Is this a true dilemma or is it more likely the agitated worries of a divided mind? Even moms and dads quite far along in their spiritual development have different ways of answering that. But many paths lead to this simple truth: As long as we carry on our child-rearing with love, respect, and our full attention, our needs to be good parents and our needs to practice are being met. Marcia, for instance, recalls the time when one of her students, a mother with two young children, told her that she would have to drop class for a semester because she didn't want to miss her kids' bedtimes too many times a week.

What a perfect karma yoga posture, Marcia remembers thinking. "She was doing absolutely perfect yoga by not coming to class. I told her, 'It's more important to put your kids to bed than it is to do headstands.'"

Bo Lozoff offers a similar point of view. "When you have children, there is no more important spiritual practice than being a parent." The notion that our practice is something that we only do with other adults needs rethinking. It's a false distinction, he says, adding: "Only a paranoid culture would make us keep such a ledger or speak about having to give to our kids and take for ourselves separately."

Tough Love
When little ones see their parents practicing asanas or hear them speak about niyamas and yamas (the do's and don'ts of living offered by the Yoga Sutra) as they do in the Shearer household, chances are that solid, simple, nonviolent messages become part of a trove of tools for living. I asked Haji and Jasmin on separate occasions how their yoga practice affects their disciplining the children, especially in a world where spanking is the norm. Taking away privileges and "treasured items" and time-outs are definitely part of the package, says Haji.

But hatha yoga or focused breathing also gets harnessed into their family life. "When I get upset, I just sit down and breathe and repeat a mantra to myself," says Jasmin. Similarly, when the kids "start getting off balance," she says, "I'll tell them 'come into yourself' and I might have them go sit down and breathe." Jasmin admits that the kids' responses vary, but she believes they are "getting" her centering tactics on some level: She's overheard both Patanjali and Sakeena tell their friends, "Sit down and breathe."

Children can better understand the power of such centering devices when they can deploy them on adults too. "Sometimes when I'm disagreeing with Jasmin, Patanjali will tell me 'Dad, You need to be nicer to Mom,'" Haji says, "and I'll stop and realize that he's reminding me to hold fast to our principles."

To have an 8-year-old show you or tell you that you're wrong is great yoga training, Haji adds, with a hint of amusement. After all, good role modeling is not about being right all the time. "It's about asking who's going to go for the highest good—which one of us is willing to get up off of our ego," he says. "To think that we adults are the only teachers in the house or that we always have all the answers is the height of ageism."

Children as Gurus
Our children are perfectly capable of showing us who we should be—a fact Robin Gueth, who teaches at the Yoga Source in San Anselmo, California, has realized repeatedly since her daughter Katharina was born five years ago. Just recently, Katharina offered her mom a way to ease her own adult emotional pain. "We were visiting a friend of mine, when this friend and I had a tough argument. So I took Katharina and left. Driving back in the car, I burst into tears," Robin recalls. "Then I realized that Katharina had never seen her mother cry, and I started to worry how she would take it. But I'll never forget the way she looked up at me and said 'You know what, when I miss somebody, I howl like a coyote.'" It wasn't exactly a time-honored spiritual tradition, this canine hue and cry, but it resonated all the same. Says Robin, "We howled and howled like coyotes until it rattled all the way down to our hearts."

Loving without Attachment
When we meditate, we're taught to see our thoughts drift by, without judging or harboring. Certain thoughts, however, don't waft so well. For parents, in fact, no thought is quite as primal and terrifying as the fear of losing a child. I suspect many of us have fretted privately, with varying degrees of obsession, about losing our children to illness or death. But for Marcia Miller and her husband Roland, this fear was no mere mental exercise in terror. Six or seven years before their sons were born, Marcia gave birth to a daughter who lived only three days. A year later, another daughter was born; she lived three months. Both infants had heart defects. With each death, Marcia remembers, she felt herself "lose connection with that universal spirit." In time, that excruciating pain, that utter bafflement at life's random cruelty, passed, making way for what she says was a much deeper connection to spirit.

Both Marcia and her husband were practicing and teaching Integral yoga (which includes hatha, karma, and bhakti yoga), but coping with these deaths challenged everything they thought they knew about the world, including their experience with yoga.

"It was a huge lesson in attachment. It reoriented my relationship with yoga in a deeper, more realistic way," says Marcia. "Even though it's biologically and emotionally reasonable for us to be attached to our children, it's an attachment that creates pain. The Sutra says that anything we resist—like losing somebody—creates pain. We had to learn to experience love without attachment."

For Marcia and Roland, "watching [their] child's spirit leave the body" was the ultimate unselfish act. "It teaches you about the deepest kind of love," she says. "I'm embarrassed at how simplistic I was before I experienced that loss. I thought if people just did yoga everything would be all right. And that's true, but not outwardly—outwardly, the people we love are still going to die or disappoint us in some way. But inwardly, yoga gives us tools to help us live with the changes and pain that are an intrinsic part of life."

Some parents may find this particular kind of unconditional love an impossible stretch, like an asana that hurts too much to execute. Mercifully, many will never have to face what Marcia and Roland did. But if yoga and meditation teach us anything, it is that we must never underestimate our capacity to expand, to take on more, body, mind, and soul. This marvelous, enabling potential of yoga seems at the very heart of Marcia's point.

As parents, we'll always be faced with the dual task of nurturing and teaching our young even as we carry on our own inner work. If we're wise, we'll undertake these tasks simultaneously, letting both assignments inform who we are and who we'll become, without letting one take precedence over the other. After all, the goal in both instances—raising our children and raising ourselves—is to cultivate fully realized human beings.

With our loving guidance, our children will grow up ready and willing to do good works and to commit to some sort of body, mind, and soul work of their own. It helps, then, if we look at our parenting as something we'll be doing over the long haul. "We need to see our children as people we will want to be involved with all our lives," says Bo Lozoff. One of the great tragedies of our culture is that our kids go off and leave us when they grow up, he points out. And that's a shame, because being involved with your adult kids, he says, "can be just as important and rich and beautiful and juicy as being with them when they are small."

Stephanie Renfrow Hamilton, mother of three, has written and edited for Parenting, Essence, and McCall's.She is a coauthor of The Whole Parenting Guide (Broadway Books, 1999).

Learning Math Concepts

My nine year old daughter wants to be an astronaut and she's passionate about astronomy and space. I've learned more about the solar system from her, and because of her, than I ever did in school.

A few months ago, she and my husband (I call them the two space cadets-lol) were watching Apollo 13 with Tom Hanks and there's a scene where they were using math concepts to figure out how to bring the capsule back to Earth. Jacqueline asked Billy to pause the movie at a scene that showed the paper they were writing on so she could get a look at it. She wanted to know what they were doing and what type of math that was.

This started an ongoing discussion about algebra and calculus and since then she's been asking Billy to explain it to her. He told her that he would look around for a book because he needed to brush up on it himself.

That was a couple of months ago and because of other issues going on in our life, he hadn't gotten around to buying the book yet.

Taking matters into her own hands, (my mother always said-when there's a will, there's a way) Jacqueline spotted an algebra text book in a used book store and bought it with her own money.

The other night she asked Billy to read her a bedtime story and when he walked into her room, there she was...all cozy in bed with Sally, the bear she created at Build-A-Bear. She handed Billy the book she had selected...the algebra textbook. She also had a notebook so she could jot down notes.

I couldn't resist a picture. :-)

Have I mentioned how much I love unschooling recently? :-)


Garden Totems

A while ago, I came across something called garden totems on a gardening site but it wasn't until recently that I decided to make some. I've been thinking about ways to use my mothers glass and flatware items and decided to try and make a couple of them yesterday.

What I did was gather a bunch of items (bowls, dishes, candle holders, etc) and arrange them. I used clear GE Silicone 2 to attach them and let it dry overnight. I then added some decorative pieces (an earring for one and marbles for the other) as a finishing touch.

One of them will be a butterfly drinking bowl for the new butterfly garden we're starting. That's the taller one in the picture-the one with the bowl on top. We'll add some small rocks, dirt and water for the butterflies to enjoy. The other one is a garden angel and she'll also go in our butterfly garden.

The ones I've seen around the web were a lot taller but I wanted to keep mine shorter so there's less chance to break.

I think my mother would have loved them.


Unschooling Squidoo Page Updated

Just a quick post to let all of you know I just updated the Squidoo page on Unschooling and added all the pending comments and links. If you haven't yet added your unschooling link, feel free to do so. You can add the link to your blog, myspace page, website, yahoo group etc...any site that is unschooling....commercial or non-commercial.

Update on Unschooling Voices

I just send out an e-mail to all participants of Unschooling Voices and figured I should post it here also. I'll just copy the e-mail here.

Hello everyone!!

I wanted to take a few minutes to update all of you on the status of Unschooling Voices. As most of you know, my family suffered a tremendous loss in July when my mother passed away (it's so hard to even type that). Tomorrow will be three months and we're slowly getting back into our routine while taking care of her estate and working through our grief. I've just started blogging again and I want to thank those of you who have posted condolences and thoughts to me on my blog. They mean so much. My mother & I were very, very close and every day I feel the loss of not having her in my life. She was a big part of my children life and my daughters miss not having their Mom-Mom around to sew and garden with them. My husband was extremely close to my mother and he chose to be with her, when I couldn't do it, in the last hours of her life when I had to make the decision to remove her from her respirator. He held her hand and played Janis Joplin & Led Zeppelin (the music she loved) for her on a CD player as she crossed over.

I'm looking forward to getting Unschooling Voices back up and running. In keeping with the timeline of past editions of the first of the month, as of right now, I'm hoping for November 1. I was going to try for Oct. 1 but wasn't able to make the deadline. We're up to issue #10 and the question for that issue is located here:

Unschooling Voices Main Page

All the details and information regarding Unschooling Voices can be found on that page, including links to issues 1-9. If you have a blog or website, please share that link so others will find out about it.

So keep sending in those submissions. At last count, I think I received 32 so far and they will ALL be included in the next edition.

Thanks again...I'm looking forward to reading and organizing this next edition. If you have any questions that i didn't cover, feel free to reply. It may take me a bit to get back to you, but I will.

Hugs, Joanne