Monday, December 21, 2009

New holiday tradition

I love When our house sale in Wyoming closed, I ordered the perpetual advent calendar pictured below. The box sizes are varied, so you could put actual small treasures in them, but we've been doing it like a treasure hunt. Each night after Bret gets home I put a note in the appropriate date and give the girls clues to where they can find that day's prize (an edible treat/holiday book/tickets to see a holiday show/a $1 bill for each girl/etc...). It's been a really fun way to count down to Christmas, and to get to know some of the nooks and crannies of our new home.

Of course, we've also enjoyed the chocolate-a-day calendars that Uncle Brian and Aunt Livia sent...Vivian ate all her chocolates on day 2...not Sabine, she takes this stuff seriously.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Economics of Unschooling

Great article by Ren here. A couple of my favorite sections:

Food should be a celebration of life. Ideally, it is a source of pleasure and connectedness, not stress. Even with a smaller budget, approaching food and nourishment with an attitude of abundance will do so much for the level of calm and peace in a family. Portioning and worrying and talking about what one does not have isn’t going to help children feel the warmth or joy that a family exploring food with an open mind can create.

Peace and joy are more healing than any food of which I know. Healthy relationships, in which all members of the family are respected and given choice, create enough harmony to overcome any ill-effects of the “junk food” so many parents worry about constantly.
For instance, when Jalen is passionate about a movie and all the toys or characters that go with it, all I have to think about is the cost of preschool. The monthly school fee is far greater than all the desires he could have in a month. His world is expanded to a much greater degree by having his choices supported than by being sent to some institution.
Natural learning does have a cost attached to it. So does school. In choosing this unschooling path, we are choosing to put our money into people, into interests, into passions, into the things that really matter for each of us. I look at myself as an investor. I invest time, money and creative energy into helping my children explore their world more fully. I am investing in them as human beings. Human beings who have the potential to affect change in this world. Human beings who aren’t crushed by school thought and the paralysis it can bring. Human beings who will have the ability to see their passions as the most important path in life and who possess a deep inner knowledge that learning is a life-long endeavor. Along the way I am also investing in my own passions and interests alongside them. My children know what it means to honor those inner urgings because they see it played out from day to day as we all learn together and apart.
I think she's brilliant!

Oh, and I have a few posts labeled inexpensive fun...if you're interested. :)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Mutlu Yıllar!

(That's Happy Anniversary in Turkish) mom and dad! They married in Ankara, Turkey (dad was Airforce, mom was Civil Service) 45 years ago today. They had to have 2 ceremonies (one with Turkish officials, one with US, if I remember correctly...) so they actually have 2 anniversaries -- today and tomorrow. Double the fun!

This photo is them standing in front of the apartment they lived in when they were first married. They took a trip to Turkey with my brother Steve and his wife Linda last fall...good times!

We love you!
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Thursday, November 5, 2009

I'm a winner!

So you know those people who always win raffles? Yeah, not me. I never win drawings. I mean, really. NEVER. I buy the raffle ticket(s) write down my name and contact info, and just forget about it.

OK, now that I really think about it, maybe I won a thing or two at one of the Life is Good Conferences, but then again it might have been Bret or Sabine or Vivian's names on the ticket...usually I stick with things that I can semi-control like silent auctions (out of my way, I have a pen and will use it!!!).

But as of tonight, I'm a winner! First, I got out of the house with minimal mommy-clinginess from Vivian. (Granted she was upstairs in the bath when I left and Bret was talking to her, so maybe I just didn't hear the screaming.) Then, after a blissful 15 minute drive where I got to blast the radio and sing loudly to the station of my choice without another soul in the mini-van asking me to pick up the water bottle that fell under my seat, or what snacks we have in the car, or telling sisters to please stop antagonizing each other (so, not every car ride is like that, but you know what I mean), I arrived at Bolt Fabric Store for Amy Karol's book signing for her newest work:

I just bought the book tonight, so I can't comment on it, but I'm thinking it's going to make me more than a little distracted from packing! Must...concentrate...on...filling...boxes!

I have had her first book

for several years, and have found much inspiration from it. While the projects and patterns are great, I think the best thing about it is the attitude that ANYONE can sew, and that there's no need to be perfect...It feels like you're working alongside one of those nice friends that is supportive/funny/kind and wickedly creative.

Did I mention how deliciously wonderful Bolt is? I found it a few years back during a visit to Portland when I bought another sewing book (Sew What Skirts) at Powells, and the cashier asked me if I'd been to Bolt (nope). I wrote down the name, and lo and behold it was down the street from the Community Cycling Center which was on Bret's to-see list, so it was a win-win.

(Confession, I still have the fabric, washed and everything, that I bought that day to sew a skirt from the book...fortunately, I still love the fabric, and really will make that skirt someday...)

Anyhow, we were talking about me being a winner, right? So the time for the drawing arrives (this is after I've asked Amy to sign my newly purchased second book, and my first book, found in the house out of its Dewey decimal order on the bedside table and we've had a nice chat...she's just like she comes across in her book -- very warm and sweet -- wait, that sounds like I'm describing a Krispy Kream donut...never mind...), and my name is drawn. Mine! Me! Wahoo!

This is what I won:

It says on the outside: This bag contains very important craft supplies and
possibly some chocolate. Yes it did! Two packages of iron on fabric transfer paper, a copy of Bend the Rules Fabric (which I had Amy sign for Kat -- she needs a nice surprise, right?) two bundles of sweet fat quarters, a box of Amy's new labels (they have just the amount of sarcasm that I love!), and indeed, some chocolate (shhh, I didn't tell the girls, though Sabine read it on the bag...I tried to gloss over it...). It was such a nice treat to win, and just what I needed at the end of this week.

I also got to talk with several interesting women -- many of whom are teachers of classes at Bolt (did I mention that Bolt is about a mile from our new house?) And that they have not only an amazing fabric selection, but also some amazing classes? And there's a solar waffle cart across the street? Oh yeah.

Oh, and when I got home, Sabine presented me with this creation (the photo does not do it justice):

Bret has made some lovely little sculptures with copper wire (dog, cat, flowers...must take some photos...) and Sabine got a hold of a little wire, a bead and a button. Sweet little flower. Creating things is so wonderful, as is receiving things that have been created by hand.

All right, this ended up being a much longer blog post than I intended...but it may be the last one for a bit. Tell me to go back to packing if you see me here again in the upcoming weeks.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


...sweet friend Catalina.

We had our mobile vet euthanize Catalina yesterday at 1:30 at home. She had been having a tough time off and on for the past few weeks (vet suspected cancer of the spleen, but figured x-rays may or may not confirm it, and at her age (2 months shy of 16 years) and in her condition, the x-rays might have had a negative impact on her health). As some of you know, she also went through a rough bout of vestibular syndrome this summer, when we thought it was the end.

Apparently, having "Cat" in her name made her think she had 9 lives. :)

She ate a chicken dinner on her last night, and Bret had slept with her on the floor a few nights before (when she was having a tough time...but she "bounced" up in the morning to have another coulpe of good days). She got to take a some good trips to the coast this summer, and always had a wag in her tail and an excitable bark. Espeically when playing in the sand. She will be missed, and joins many of her dog (and cat) friends beyond.

Interestingly enough, our mobile vet was also the vet for Cynthia Rylant when she lived in Portland, and he euthanized one of her old dogs. She is the author of Dog Heaven and Cat Heaven -- beautiful books about losing a pet -- and numerous other books. Now I just need to find where I put my copy of Dog Heaven...

Monday, November 2, 2009


Had a great time trick-or-treating with the girls -- last year I stayed home to eat, I mean pass out candy, but we only had 3 people come by (2 of which were our neighbors) so this year we all went out.

Ronnie was down here to take her girls to the teen-unschooler-portland-party, and so joined us for the evening of fun.

Made yummy easy veggie chowder (with butter instead of margarine) with bread from Little T, then remembered at about 4pm that we still had a few pumpkins to carve, so whipped them out...

(Bret's alien pumpkin)

Then put the finishing touches on Sabine's costume:

from here. (Worth every penny...we use this daily...)

Then facepainted Sabine:

And then took some photos of both girls with Catalina -- Vivian was a PIXIE, by the way, NOT a fairy. :) She picked out the costume at Goodwill (thank she said it was itchy and wanted to cut the sleeve off of it when we got home...go for it girl!)

Here are a few of my favorite photos from the night...some folks went ALL OUT on decorations/costumes...very fun.

Not sure if you can see them very well, but I made treat bags for both of the girls from fabric they picked out (when we went to the fabric store to buy elastic to fix Vivian's wings...). Sabine spotted the zebra fabric, and we knew we had to do something with it (besides sew a zebra costume...that's what masking tape is for!) and Vivian picked out a very cute blue owl print. Just right for a pixie.

Sabine and Vivian have been generously sharing their "loot" with the grownups...we're all almost candied out. Bring on Thanksgiving.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Pumpkin Carving Fun

Must have been a fun party, as we forgot to take very many photos! But here are some of the jack-o-lanterns that were created.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Blue-Collar Brilliance

Just read this interesting article in Utne -- it originally appeared in The American Scholar.

Blue-Collar Brilliance

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Made me think about what kinds of knowledge is valued in our society, and how that impacts our perceptions of people's worth.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Great post from a list I'm on

Apparently I've become a once or twice a month blogger...really, I hope to start posting more frequently, but we've just been doing other stuff!

I did want to share this post from the Unschooling Basics Yahoo Group. A parent was asking about how unschooled kids learn anything...but especially subjects like math. The response is from from Joyce Fetteroll whose webpage has a wealth of information on unschooling. (If you're reading, thanks for giving me permission to post this, Joyce!)


To add to Meredith's great post, I think when nonunschoolers read
about what unschoolers do it sounds like we're trying to impose some
airy fairy theory on kids, denying them the hard but good-for-them
medicine of disciplined learning and replacing it with something
gentle and nice, but that, from the outside, looks totally
ineffective. Unschooling seems to be a way of avoiding being mean to
the kids but will ultimately leave them unlearned.

[emphasis mine] But the truth is that what kids learn in school is *made* hard to learn. Not because educators are mean ;-) but because they need to demonstrate that specific learning is taking place. In order to prove learning, they are limited in the methods that yield something testable. Unfortunately the natural way we -- and all animals -- learn is scatter shot. We pick up bits and pieces here and there as we need them. We naturally learn to grow our understanding. It's very very hard to test for understanding (especially since we don't approach understanding linearly). (And very very hard to grade!) That's why most tests test for what's been memorized.

Learning is sort of like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. We naturally
work on the areas that interest us that expand and grow to meet up
with other areas of interest. And we jump around. At first the puzzle
often just looks like bigger pieces of chaos. ;-)

In school, the kids are told what they're going to make and told to
find the corner piece and place it in the corner. Then the next piece
that attaches to it. Then the next piece that attaches to it.

If the two puzzles were tested against school standards: how many of
the upper left is done, the schooled puzzle worker might have a
several dozen pieces in the corner. The natural puzzle worker might
have two. But what would be missed by a standardized test is all the
*other* pieces the natural puzzle worker had assembled. And, while
the schooled puzzle assembler might test well, they aren't learning
ways to tackle a jigsaw puzzle. They *look* like they're
accomplishing something, but what they're learning is that doing
puzzles is hard and boring and pointless and left on their own it's
unlikely they'll finish it. The natural puzzle worker doesn't look
like they're accomplishing anything (judging by their progress in the
corner since that's *all* a standardized test can test) but they're
having fun and the real accomplishment is happening far from the
testing area. And if they enjoy it, they're likely to do many puzzles
in their life.

School is to natural learning as Spanish class is to picking up
language as a child. One is hard and pretty much ineffective after
class is done. The other is effortless and effective. The second is
so effortless that we don't even take it seriously. We just know it's
something mysterious that happens and has no relationship to anything

But it does! That's how we are designed to learn! It's messy. Chaotic
natural learning is very frustrating for someone who wants feedback
that specific learning is taking place. If there had been a
standardized test of language acquisition in 18 month olds, a typical
question would be pronouncing their name. My daughter would have
failed. A standardized test would *not* have asked how many dinosaur
names she knew ;-) (She had a shirt with 9 dinosaurs on it which she
could rattle off. She could say pachycephalosaurus before she could
say Kathryn ;-)

I'm betting that unless you're a history buff, that you've forgotten
way more history than you remember! The political doings of dead
white guys is really dull for most people. What most people find
interesting is bits of history of whatever interests them, social
history, how people lived in the past (movies and books are good for
that). As the build up that jigsaw puzzle, it eventually connects to
bits and pieces of political history.

My daughter probably knows more about early 1900s America than I do
because she's been fascinated by early baseball and has read several
books about it. One of her favorite guitarists was dressed as a
gangster in a video and that sparked an interest in gangsters. We're
reading a book about gangsters in film and it's starting way back
with the beginning of real gangsters and prohibition and the politics
surrounding it.

Is that the same as slogging through a history course? Absolutely
not. In some ways it's inferior since it doesn't cover the
"important" stuff. But how much of the "important" stuff do most
people remember? In many ways it's superior. My daughter really knows
the information she's read about early baseball. She hasn't just
memorized it. She knows the whys and wherefores. She knows some of
the social and political history that influenced what happened.
That's a foundation she'll build on throughout life.

The thing is educators get to say "We did our job. We put the
information in there. Not our fault if they don't remember it 10
years later." But *shouldn't* part of their job to be to make those
12 years time well spent? The "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader"
is pretty telling. But it doesn't tell what it supposedly does: that
5th graders are smarter than adults. It says that great huge chunks
of that stuff you put up with learning for 12 years is going to be
gone by the time you're an adult.

Yet how many adults can still recite the theme song to Gilligan's
Island? ;-) Some think it means we're naturally drawn to trivial
entertainment and must be made to learn the hard stuff. No, what it
really means is that if it's fun and *personally meaningful* we'll

> I mean, how will the kids learn math? You know, adding,
> subtracting, multiplication?? What about language? How will they
> know what to capitalize or the correct punctuation?

I know, it's hard to imagine. But they do. We are natural puzzle
solvers. We want to understand how things work. We want to master
what we enjoy. We don't necessarily want to know how things work on
someone else's schedule, though!

Just because an unschooled kid might not be using standard
punctuation and capitalization when schooled kids are doesn't mean
they don't care. It means it's not important to them. Yet. Mostly
kids are writing for themselves. *At that age* they don't need to
communicate to someone else so all that's important to them is
getting the thoughts down onto paper or screen. (It might be a story.
It might be a label.) Translating thoughts to words is important part
of writing. (And the part that's hard to test! Testing grammar and
punctuation is easy and why its made more important in school than it
really is.) Later, when they're communicating with others (and trying
to read others' communications) on message boards and email and so
on, they'll feel the difference between standard grammar and
creative. Reading a novel in chat speak might be interesting once but
it would be pretty obvious how limiting it is for meatier
communication! ;-) (But writing out thoughts formally on a text
screen is equally limiting! Each has their uses.)

It's really really really hard to imagine how kids can learn math
merely by using it. As an engineer I was certain you couldn't learn
math without hours and hours of practice. I was wrong. I didn't learn
math so much as practice applying formulas. I didn't really
understand what lay beneath the formulas because it was obscured by
the tedium of getting the precise answer to the 3rd decimal point. My
daughter, though, understands *how* numbers work. She understands
their fluid nature and how they're manipulated. The notation just
formalizes what she intuitively understands.

I've written a fair amount about math and reading and grammar (and
lots on chores!) at:

Also two articles that might help you understand why school makes so
much sense and why it's so hard to grasp why unschooling is better are:

Products of Education

Why You Can't Let Go


Monday, September 28, 2009

Lego house...

Sabine's is below. James May's is here.

Our new horsey

So our first Portland Horse Project pony got stolen...we thought about putting up a sign that read "We're from Wyoming. We hang horse thieves" but then thought better of it...Instead, Bret went to the hardware store and bought steel cable. This one's far.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What we've been doing...

...instead of blogging...

Lots of pattern block designing...

Visiting with friends young (little Eileen Cunningham-Maloney, or is Maloney-Cunningham???)...

...and old (well, compared to Sabine and Vivian)...that's Chloe on the couch (younger daughter of Frank and Ronnie, they and their elder daughter MJ came down the following day), Seth (token boy...) and Qaci (daughter of Zenmomma and Jon) all came to town to see the CSI Exhibit at OMSI, and other Portland delights! Vivian and Sabine were delighted with having teens (and other grown ups) around, as were we!

Building with Kapla Blocks (marbles make a nice addition)...

Keeping cool during the heat wave (Bret's birthday canoe made a really nice (if expensive) wading pool, but at least we didn't need to run out and buy a wading pool!)...

Finding scores like this one at Goodwill ($8!, but we did have to spend $7 on mallots...but it's an amazing instrument -- has beautiful tone!)...

And finding/tying up just the right pony for the Portland Horse Project. (We have a ring in front of our house)...

I like this one because it shows not only Cicso (friendly neighborhood ambassador cat) but the chalk board where we were writing/reading words (and drawing pictures) with Sabine.

Oh, and I almost forgot -- saw the Indigo Girls in concert at the Oregon amazing evening, made even nicer by Dave's offer to babysit so Bret and I could go sans-children...Zenmomma was in town the night before to hear a speaker, and we talked her into going with us. Very fun!

Photo credit here, since I didn't even bring our camera with us to the concert!

Now we're making plans for the fall (including DoJump Classes for Sabine and Vivian), playdate swaps with homeschooling friends, park days, OMSI visits, and more...stay tuned!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Visiting the Groves in Kentucky

The girls and I had a great time in Kentucky with Granny Jean, Boopy and Uncle Turk (aka Austin).

Vivian presents (little) Clifford.

Granny Jean and Vivian.

Uncle Turk with Clifford, that's his dog The Dude's dark brown head at the bottom of the photo. Apparently I didn't take any photos of Boopy with my camera, except this one of his elbow. Sorry dad!
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Grandpa Jack's visit

Sabine with Anna and Grandpa Jack

Using Bret's new (birthday present from Jack and brother Kevin) fishing rod kites in the backyard. Love multi-use presents...

Vivian and Sabine enjoyed going through the box of hats and other treats brought by Grandpa Jack.
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LIFE was Good!

Somehow...we forgot to take our camera out until the last 24 hours of the conference...these are from the final picnic at Esther Short Park and the Barefoot Boogie the night before...good times were had by all!

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Oh...and blocks

The girls often are doing other things while watching TV...

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