Slow Down and Smell the Gandhi.

Nov 30, 10 Slow Down and Smell the Gandhi.

When I get stressed out, I have a tendency to let my emotions go faster and faster into tighter and tighter spins, like one of those giant spinning tops. And when my emotions go haywire, my mind and body aren’t far behind. Except I don’t stay balanced like that, I end up spinning off out of control and careening into anything in my way. And this, my friends, is one of those times. This whole year has kind of been like one step forward, two steps back. I’m hanging on to my newfound mindfulness and am clinging to this quote:

“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” – James Baraz”

Whereas before I wasn’t aware of my spinning top tendencies under stressful times, now I totally am. I’m not good enough yet to keep myself from feeling manic inside, or going out and changing my hair color to suit my mood, but at least now I know where it’s coming from. So, OK, I’m not wishing anything to be different, but I do want to slow my erratically spinning axis down a little. Or, a lot. So I’m breaking things down from complicated to simple….Gandhi style.

I love Gandhi. If I could go back and talk with anyone in history, he’s tops on my list. In fact, I wish I could go live on his commune and spin my own cloth and run around in my bare feet with goats and collect water from a well and eat with my fingers and talk to him when he was giving life lessons.

The closest that I can ever get to him actually happened during the West Hollywood Halloween Carnival. There, out from the midst of the cross dressing princesses, scantily clad superheroes, and tetris people….there he was. Gandhi.


All my favorite things about Gandhi rose to the surface, and even though I know that’s not him, I still love this picture because my expression totally looks like it would if it really were him. I probably wouldn’t be wearing a pirate hat and purple wig though.

Gandhi teaches me a lot, but most of all to simplify. With all the crazy going on in life, what can I focus on that brings me simple joy? Snuggling with Sassy. Playing games with the kids. Reading a story out loud with them. A long hot shower. Baking muffins and cookies. Running. Singing really loud in the car. Am I able to continue to enjoy these things? Yes. So instead of spinning out in a million different ‘what if’s’ or ‘this isn’t right’ or 3049580398349534 other things to worry about, I’m going to focus on slowing down and enjoying the small stuff. I’m going to focus on the only thing that’s ever really in my control…my own self.

Each one has to find his peace from within. And peace to be real must be unaffected by outside circumstances.
Mohandas Gandhi

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Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting…

Nov 29, 10 Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting…

You know what I love about blogging? Sometimes I sit down to type out a quick little blurb about our day or something equally as fascinating, and what ends up coming out is this huge long post about something totally unrelated. But it becomes so long and so beside the point of what I started typing about that I end up saving the post for another time so I have time to properly finish whatever it was that I didn’t know I wanted to write about. Which is what just happened right now. I sat down to talk about Chinatown, and ended up with 8 paragraphs about mono, kids, being a team, rowboats, compromising, and a walrus. And I’m not even jacked up on Nyquil anymore!

In any case, 2:30 am is too early to be trying to find closure for a blog about Mono and walruses, so I saved that one and will replace it with this original idea about Chinatown and Los Angeles. Because we recently went to Chinatown! Even though the kids hate riding the metro! And I’m all, “How can you not like riding the metro! It’s like a Disneyland ride! But without waiting in line!” And they’re all, “We don’t like it! It’s boring!” And I’m all, “There’s no such thing as a boring metro, just boring people riding the metro!” And they’re all, “Whatever mom!” And I’m all, “Whatever, kids! You’re raining on my parade! Who doesn’t like metro rides!!!” And they’re all, “WE DON’T!”

So sometimes a compromise is in order. I explain that I don’t ride the metro as much as I’d like, and today I’m really itching to take the red line down to LA. They agree to it as long as I stop the pitiful whining and give them some pocket change for souvenirs. We’ve learned to make as much of our day win/win as possible…which is where the mono and rowboat came into play but I’ll have to explain that later.

Anyhoo, we took the red line to Union Station then got on the gold line to Chinatown. Because near Chinatown there is a restaurant that claims to have served the first french dip sandwich…Phillippes Original. Sandwiches were good (the mustard is so spicy it’s like atomic mustard!) but the macaroni salad and brownies were to die for. We all loved it. Except Sassy, who had other ideas about what rolls should look and taste like.

Then we walked to the actual Chinatown even though the weather was getting cold, windy, and unpleasant. I really wanted to take pictures when the red lanterns strung across the streets turned on! Luckily, there are tons of cheap souvenir shops so we scored on getting some cheap tacky crap. But you know, it’s always the cheap tacky crap that you learn the most from. Sassy got a samurai sword but kept calling it a ninja sword which led into a huge discussion about ninjas and samurai and the difference between the two. It carried over into the next day, where we googled lots more info about samurai/ninjas. We also got a crazy mask, one of those moustache/nose/glasses/bushy eyebrow combos, and a wolf figurine.

The red lanterns never did turn on, so after some great pastries we got back on the metro and rode home.

I used the fancy video option on my new camera to take some videos, and then edited them in imovie. And so now I can share with you the highlights of our trip, and you can see all the cheap tacky crap in all their glory! Also, a big 20 foot long macaroni! You can also witness the Sassy attitude and her new favorite indication of displeasure…the “thumbs down” gesture through half closed eyes.

A Day at Chinatown from freeplaylife on Vimeo.

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Conversations I’ve Had As An Unschooler.

Nov 28, 10 Conversations I’ve Had As An Unschooler.

Until somewhat recently, I’ve spent a huge amount of time kind of laying low. Which is to say, I wanted everyone to find me nice. And charming. Maybe witty, but mostly just nice. Happy. Unthreatening.

As I was watching Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I realized I had been holding on to Middle School survivor mentality. As the older brother in the film points out: “don’t talk to anyone, don’t look at anyone, don’t go anywhere, don’t sit down, don’t raise your hand, don’t go to the bathroom, don’t choose the wrong locker, don’t get noticed…” That was me in a nutshell.

And then, ironically enough, the same public school system that crammed me into a box and shoved me into a shell became the tool that blew the top off of my under the radar life. Things got so bad for Naturalist by the end of 3rd grade, I had no choice but to pull her from school and begin homeschooling her. I guess the crying before school every day for 3 years finally clued me in to how she was really feeling. I’ve never said I was a quick study, but once I finally manage to jump into action, there’s no stopping me.

Telling people I was a homeschooler was difficult enough, because there is still a huge freak factor about homeschooling going on in the minds of other people. But then to bring up unschooling when we started doing it 3 years later…well…there’s no way to fly under the radar about that. I’ve learned that people don’t hesitate to give opinions about a few things: baby names, political views, and what they feel about how I’m educating my kids.

I thought that I would put a few of these conversations to video using the brilliance that is xtranormal. Not only because it illustrates how funny and sometimes cringe worthy many of these encounters were, but also because I’ve taken 3 different cold medicines in an effort to tone down the viral firestorm that is going on inside my head right now and things are a little fuzzy when I look at the computer screen. It’s easier to be descriptive with cute animated bears than it is typing it all out blog style!

So here it is, just some of the many comments I’ve heard when I tell people I’m an unschooler!

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Really. She’s trying to kill me.

Nov 27, 10 Really.  She’s trying to kill me.

Every month, a post or two is written here with such a similar motif, it’s become a recurring theme. In fact, it’s so recurring, I now have searches bringing people to freeplaylife who are wondering, “Can PMS really kill you?” “Is PMS dangerous?” and “Can you die from PMS?”.

Now, I’m no doctor, and I don’t want to spread rumors or fiction, but I’m an expert in PMS so I can say with no hesitation, yes yes and yes.

Those of you wanting documented proof of my expertness..well…they don’t hand out diplomas like that. But let me state for the record I have every PMS symptom imaginable. Bloating, headache, backache, cramping, oilier skin, nausea, irritability (or, some may call it “insta rage”), moodiness, sleepiness with an inability to actually sleep (I don’t even know how that’s possible.), crying spells, food cravings, foggy thinking, and oh the list goes on and on. I become this psychotic lunatic (redundant? not when we’re referencing PMS…) whose pain and suffering make me highly suceptible to emotional outbursts and overindulging on massively salty/fattening/chocolaty foods. Which reminds me, the best cookbook I ever bought was this one: Bitchin’ In The Kitchen: The PMS Survival Cook Book

In any case, after experiencing all these medical symptoms, it kills me that until the 1950′s, PMS was widely considered a figment of the imagination by doctors everywhere. Male doctors. Male doctors who never had an egg explode out of their ovaries, burrow itself into a lining grown in their belly, then be ripped out of that nesting place and bled out of their penis for 5 days. It took a real PMS expert to spotlight the medical issues going on every month. A PMS expert who happened to die in 2004. True, she was 87, but still. A PMS expert who had periods her whole life and who happened to die. Coincidence? I don’t think sooooo.

Last month, and all the other months before now, I always try to bring awareness to this hidden danger by highlighting all the ways PMS is trying to kill me. But this month, I was prepared. I started taking Midol preemptively. I took water pills to make sure the bloating with accompanying backache never happened. I had a heating pad just waiting for the word, so I could soothe my cramping achey stomach. I went to the Earth Bar and got all this natural nasty digusting supplements to eat and drink to keep the PMS monster away. There wasn’t much I wasn’t ready for.

And sure enough, the day my period started, I was managing my symptoms just fiiiiine. At least, I thought I was until I started feeling achey all over. Which is weird, because usually the aches are a little more centralized. And then my throat started hurting. And then my head got all stuffy and throbby. And damn if my period didn’t call in the reinforcements and get some viruses in on the action. I think it’s trying to wear me down this month so it can finish me off with the death blow next month. Maybe it will doubleteam me with swine flu. My period is so persistent and wily!

Now, with all this talk about periods and symptoms and foods, I think I’ll go whip me up a corndog/bacon/klondike bar combo before bed. Washed down with a hearty potion of theraflu. I’ll turn my heating pad on, keep the kleenex close by, and curse the day PMS walked into my life.

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My Brother Saves The Day!

Nov 26, 10 My Brother Saves The Day!

I am 8 1/2 years older than my younger brother, Bud. Even though he used to sneak into my room when I was at school and steal all my carousel horses from off my dresser, we’re great friends. I can’t remember a time when we weren’t.

We shared a room for a while when I was in middle school and he was in kindergarten…I slept on the top bunk and he’d sleep on the bottom bunk. If he couldn’t sleep at night, I’d take my stuffed animals and put on a puppet show for him. And if that didn’t work, then I’d stick my hand down between the slats of my bed, and he’d reach his hand up from his bed, and we’d fall asleep holding hands. Not that it was all schmoopy perfect between us…like I said, he liked to steal my stuff and I liked to show him who was boss by pinning him to the ground and sitting on him. I also would avoid doing any work when I babysat him by telling him that mom and dad told me he couldn’t eat anything while they were gone. He was forced to sneak into the cupboards and eat dry cereal.

I’d like to think that by making him fix his own stuff to eat, I helped him become the amazing cook he is today. Both today as in the general sense of who he is now, and specifically today as in for Thanksgiving. Frankly, the warm weather and trips to the beach had disoriented me and made me forget that Thanksgiving was even around the corner. Usually, in Colorado, it’s obvious when Thanksgiving is, because it’s too cold to go outside without a big parka on, but not cold enough to be very snowy yet. Here, the trees are still green! But Bud was way ahead of me and offered to take on the meal. Usually I”m a bit territorial about holiday cooking. I like to cook, I like to pick the meal, I like to organize what gets cooked when, I like to produce an amazing feast, and then I like to get all the praise for it afterwards. But this time? I thought of all the extra sleep I could get by not lifting a finger. And so, all I had to do this year was show up and sit down!

look. at. this!



It was fabulous, and tasted even better without the thought of obsessing and planning the meal for the last 2 weeks taste in my mouth!

A toast to awesome brothers who can throw down some amazing meals!


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Opting Out of Thanksgiving.

Nov 25, 10 Opting Out of Thanksgiving.

I’m not opting out of the idea of Thanksgiving, the thankfulness of Thanksgiving, the givingness of Thanksgiving.

I’m just opting out of what my traditional role would have been. The preparer. The Chef. The activities organizer. The party planner. The craft maker.

I don’t have a full set of baking dishes, first of all, to construct my elaborate and decadent array of Thanksgiving foods. This time of year was the one time, other than Christmas, where I managed to pull out every pot, pan, cookie sheet, and specialty pan in order to cook a delicious ensemble of savory dishes.

Back in 2007 I blogged about my traditional Thanksgiving plans:

Instead of Tom the Turkey, we’ll be eating a big, juicy prime rib (in the oven now, giving off the most delicious smell) and in case that’s not enough we’ll also be dining on honey glazed ham. Also in the oven/stovetop/microwave/refrigerator:
Stuffing (Stove Top, my favorite!)
Candied Yams
Candied Carrots
Mashed Potatoes
Jello Salad
Crescent Rolls (Pillsberry, my kids insisted)
5 assorted Pies (Village Inn, my dad’s gift)
I like to get all my cooking done for the whole entire year in one go, which is why we have 10 pounds of roast baking alongside 8 pounds of ham alsongside enough side dishes to feed the neighborhood. But it’s amazing the creations that can be made with a few simple ingredients….shepherds pie, stew, sandwich meat, pot pie, ham rolls, split pea soup, ham hock stew, etc

in 2009 I described some fun activities that usually erupt on this day:

As for traditions, it’s pretty simple. Lots of good food, all day long. Naps anytime you want one. Dessert any time you want it. Everything made with lots of butter and cream cheese. Ummmm, nerf gun battles have been known to erupt, as has Dinner Roll baseball. My older sister has 4 kids that my kids love to be with, so they play all day and usually have a sleep over and play all night too.

I also took a little picture of me before the crazy cooking began…unbeknownst to me that would be the last Thanksgiving I’d spend in that kitchen. I also never could have predicted that in a year, I’d have gotten rid of everything except those shoes, socks, and apron!

Bench Monday::Kitchen Edition

Last year my take on everything was:

Thanksgiving is all about 3 things for me:

…repeat over and over, as many times as I can during the day.

Cinnamon rolls in the morning, followed by the full meal around 11…that way, the food buffet is available for the entire day and night. I prefer a big Roast over turkey, 4 kinds of potatoes, 6 different veggies, stuffing, rolls, gravy, salads… I like everything to be homemade, except the stuffing, because who can beat Stove Top?!

But this year? I’m in a different place. Geographically, yes. But also mentally. This move has really knocked me out. I know I’ve heard allow yourself a year to adjust to moving, but I’ve moved a lot the last 17 years and it’s been easy for me to adjust and get into a new groove. I like the change of pace, actually! And while I LOVE it here, it’s just been a tougher move. A tougher adjustment. And not only do I not have the equipment to do all the cooking, etc., I don’t really have the inclination either.

Luckily, you don’t have to have a fancy dinner or cute crafts or fun games to have a happy Thanksgiving or to be thankful and grateful.

So dinner this year will be prepared by my favorite (nevermind only) brother, Bud. He’s hard at work in the kitchen, whipping up my grandma’s cloverleaf rolls!

Regardless of how much or how little you eat, or how big or little your celebration is, or how many or few loved ones you’re with, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and hope that thinking of all the things you have to be grateful for puts a smile on your face.

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Teaching a Lesson vs. The Lesson Being Taught.

Nov 24, 10 Teaching a Lesson vs. The Lesson Being Taught.

I’ve been mulling this idea around in my head for a long loooong time. Ever since I took a step back to evaluate my ideas about parenting and learning about 5 years ago. Right about the time I transitioned from homeschooling to unschooling.

The things that shifted in that transition weren’t my core principles or goals. It was how I went about doing them. For instance, I strongly believe in literacy. Right, I mean, who doesn’t believe that reading is a good thing?! Well, Naturalist didn’t for a long long time. I was trying to teach her a lesson about the importance of reading by going along with the school and making her read 20 minutes a day from kindergarten on. Didn’t matter if she liked the book or not. Didn’t matter if she was tired or not. I wanted her to know that reading was important and enjoyable by teaching her a lesson on being dedicated to reading. And then one night when she was 8, in a fit of dyslexia induced frustration, she threw her book across her bed and yelled, “I am NEVER going to read ANOTHER BOOK for the REST OF MY LIFE! And I DON’T CARE!”

It hit me like a thunderbolt. I was teaching her a lesson, alright, but it wasn’t the one I thought it was. To her, the lesson being taught was that reading was a punishment. A chore. Something she *had* to do because I was making her. By trying to teach her a lesson, I was missing the most important point. I value reading because it adds so much to my life. I connect with stories, I cherish them, I am happy when I pick up a book and curl up somewhere to get lost in another place and time. I wasn’t teaching her any of this! So I stopped making her read. I stopped pushing books on her. I stopped obsessing about her reading habits (or lack of them). I started reading amazing stories aloud. I got her books on tape. We would watch movies based on books, and if we liked them I’d read the book to her. Once she had a background of enjoyable reading, she started picking up books that interested her. And soon she was becoming absorbed in stories and loving books and reading on her own.

It was a profound paradigm shift for me to realize that often when I’m trying to teach a lesson to my kids, the lesson being taught is very different to them. And it starts when they are young.

Spanking a child for touching an object they were told not to is probably to teach them a lesson not to disobey. The lesson being taught is that they shouldn’t explore. Shouldn’t use their hands. Shouldn’t be curious. Shouldn’t want to know more.

Letting a child cry it out at night is to maybe teach them to calm themselves down and work it out. The lesson being taught is that they can’t depend on anyone to help. That they are alone. That no one will help.

Sending a child in to time out when they are emotionally out of control is perhaps to teach them what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t. The lesson being taught is that their emotions are bad, or wrong, or punishable. That feeling what they feel and expressing it is not OK. That no one is there to help them figure out how to calm down or work through strong emotions without being upset or angry at them.

Making a child go to school even though they are miserable going, is a way to teach them that no matter what, education is important and you have to go to school to learn. But the lesson being taught is that education is boring, upsetting, negative, horrible, and out of their control. That learning is tedious.

For Naturalist and school/reading, forcing her to school and to read didn’t match up with the lesson I really wanted her to learn. When we go to a museum and my kids spend the whole time running around like feral kids, laughing and joking and not doing worksheets while there or writing up essays after we leave…I ask myself what the lesson is in that. If I made them do worksheets and essays, would they want to go back to the museum? No. No they would not. They would find the experience boring and worth a lot less faced with busy work that interrupts their own experience with the museum displays.


When I would tell my kids, “No, you have to finish this learning stuff before you can go off and do something fun”, was I teaching them to love learning or that learning was boring and everything else was fun?

If I want my kids to learn responsibility and self restraint, and then put rigid rules and limits on things like TV, eating, video games, etc., then what are they learning? Self restraint or my restraint? Responsibility or following someone else’s rules?

Whenever I come across values I want to teach my kids, I always filter it by asking the question, “Is teaching them this lesson my way really the lesson I want them to be taught?”

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The Streets of Los Angeles.

Nov 23, 10 The Streets of Los Angeles.

If I had to come up with another name for what we do here besides ‘unschooling’, it wouldn’t be homeschooling. It would be ‘on the road schooling’ or ‘always on the go schooling’ or ‘travel schooling’ or ‘roadtrip schooling’ or something like that. And now that we’re here in a new city, with so many new things to discover, it’s never been more true. We even brave the crazy Los Angeles traffic (it’s everywhere!) to go north, south, east and west. Wherever the museums, activities, interests, and opportunities take us.

Doesn’t traffic look prettier all out of focus?! yes, yes it does!

So, I made a little video showing quick, fuzzy, out of focus traffic on the side streets and highways of LA. I did this not only because I love out of focus lights, but also because I have a new camera that takes video. Love that too! And Naturalist and I are planning on starting a big new project together so we’re teaching ourselves all about video editing, imovie, and filmography of all kinds. If we were in school, they’d assign projects to show mastery over certain skills. Here at freeplaylife, we do projects to teach ourselves skills that we want to learn. The difference is profound. The former is graded, quantified, often quickly forgotten, and comes with a good deal of stress. The latter has intrinsic value, internally guided quality, personal interest, and often feels more like play. And I love that the most!

point to point. from freeplaylife on Vimeo.

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Hey WordPress App! You suck!

I’ve just lost an entire post I wrote using only my iPhone and a glitch filled app for WordPress. It’s always sad to lose an unsaved post under any circumstances, but one that took time to meticulously type using their insanely small keys causing cramping and pain in fingers, arms, and my very soul…well, that’s just wrong. (it just crashed on me again! But this time I’d copy/pasted the text. Fool me twice…well, you’re just not going to fool me again…) (it tried to fool me AGAIN!) (ps, wordpress app, I hate you.) (pss, ‘save’ means you keep everything just the way it is, not save it as a fresh new post without text/pics!) (psss, when I say hate you I mean with the fire and passion of a thousand burning suns!)

I’m not going to retype it. I’m tired and cranky and cold (50 degrees here! Brrrrr!). I will sum up though…

Sports. Bad at them. Not a runner. But training for half marathon. Ran 8 miles today! Very slowly! But still did it! And managed to take pictures along my route! Woot!

(pssss. WordPress App, posting one picture 5 times vs. 5 pictures one time is real funny. You think you have the last laugh, don’t you. Just wait until I find another wordpress app. I’m so going to erase your ass off my phone!)

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Internet Is The Best Teacher Around Town.

Nov 21, 10 Internet Is The Best Teacher Around Town.

When people find out I’m an unschooler, they often ask me if I’m crazy. And I say yes, yes I am…but it’s not related to unschooling at all, it’s just a charming personality quirk. And then if that doesn’t scare them away they ask the second most asked question that I hear: “How can you be a good enough teacher to teach them every subject at every level?!” And then I say, “Luckily, we live in the 21st century! We have computers, TV’s, podcasts, iphones, ipads, itouches, internet, cable, video and computer games (yes they are SO learning tools!) libraries, virtual libraries, email, telephones, museums and community programs! I don’t have to teach anything! I just let my kids point themselves in whatever direction they want to go and help them find the right resources!”

Seriously. The technological marvel that is our evolving world right now makes it almost impossible NOT to learn something every day. It’s like sitting a child down in front of a delicious buffet and then worrying that they won’t get anything to eat. If a child is hungry, and a child has access to food, a child will eat. If a child wants to know things (AND THEY ALL DO!*) and a child has access to knowledge, then a child will learn!

Just because public education is stuck in the 1800′s doesn’t mean we have to be! And we’re not. Definitely not. We recently created a private school ‘umbrella’ for the lovely state of California, which lets us do our unschooling in peace. We named it Freeplaylife Academy, but we just as easily could have named it “School of Google”. I care less about wrong answers than I do about coming up with tons of questions. The questions that no one has an answer to are tops in our house! We are constantly going on Google to search for information.

Naturalist has entered into a pretty serious scholarly phase in her life. She makes it a point to research a couple new things every day, independently. I don’t know what she’s studying until she pulls out a random and obscure fact about something we encounter during the day. I think age has a lot to do with it, at 14 she is processing information in a personal way…it’s her own journey of discovery and she just can’t get enough! But I also think that when she was forced into a curriculum in school it took away her drive to learn (especially when she has to work because of her divergent learning style!) but wild horses can’t stop her from learning when given the freedom to choose topics that are relevant and interesting.

Another way to put it is over on this blog in this post: “12 Dozen Places to Educate Yourself Online”

All education is self-education. Period. It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting in a college classroom or a coffee shop. We don’t learn anything we don’t want to learn.

Those people who take the time and initiative to pursue knowledge on their own are the only ones who earn a real education in this world. Take a look at any widely acclaimed scholar, entrepreneur or historical figure you can think of. Formal education or not, you’ll find that he or she is a product of continuous self-education.

That particular blog has a great compilation of free, open source online learning resources from a LOT of different places. I got all tingly reading it! The world is our teacher. Life is our teacher. And the internet is our Dumbledore.

And luckily, we’re never far from him!

A video talking about how kids not only want to learn, but will teach themselves using only a computer. Even poor children who don’t know english and have never seen a computer in their lives. It’s a remarkable thing Sugata Mitra has done!

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An Interview With Mackenzie Bearup!

Nov 20, 10 An Interview With Mackenzie Bearup!

Another hotel room bed, another interview! This one was twice as fun because not only is Mackenzie an amazing person who is making a huge difference in the world, she’s also my niece! She’s in town to be honored by CNN, as they host a gala event “CNN Heroes: everyday people changing the world!” live tomorrow night, to be aired Thanksgiving Night. She was nominated as one of their heroes, and while she didn’t become one of their top 10, she’s number one to me!

So you may be asking yourself, what did Mackenzie to do be nominated for a CNN hero award?

According to her website, Sheltering Books:

Since 2007 Mackenzie Bearup has been collecting women and children’s books and donating them to homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters and residental treatment centers that house children.. As of September 2010 Mackenzie has delivered over 47,000 books to the various shelters.
A recent study predicts that 1 in 50 children in the US will be homeless at sometime in their life. Many of them will end up in a shelter often with just the clothes on their backs.

Mackenzie started this book drive after learning about a residental treatment center that was building a library. She decided to donate books she no longer needed to help these children. Then she asked friends and neighbors if they had books to donate, and her book drive took off from there.

Mackenzie recently formed a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) called Sheltering Books Inc. so your donations will be tax deductable.

For her amazing charitable work, she has been acknowledged by CNN, the Huffington Post, and many other news and philanthropist organizations. Diddy even gave her a shout out!

I was thrilled to be able to see her again and spend some time talking about Sheltering Books and her chronic pain condition, RSD, that started her thinking of how to help others and get her mind off the daily pain she lives with.

At 17, she runs Sheltering Books with help from her mom, BethAnn. Together they are a force! Right now the book donations are rolling in, giving many women and children the chance to read in shelters that have very little. Right now, Mackenzie and BethAnn not only accept the donations at their house, they also drive to pick up donations and also drive to drop off the donated books to shelters all across 6 states. They have also started shipping books to shelters that they cannot drive to. The boxes are heavy and cost money to ship. They are hoping USPS will grant them free shipping since they are a non profit company…if anyone out there has connections with USPS, let me know and it would be great to help them achieve that! They are so generous with their time and money to make sure that all the donated books find shelters that desperately need resources like that. They are also spreading awareness, even to the shelters they’re helping. One shelter, when asked if they could use donated books, replied back, “Books?! These kids don’t read!”

They rely solely on monetary donations to provide the cost of gas, shipping, and travel to do their work. They have plenty of books coming in, so if you’d like to help out in other ways, go to, there is a ‘donate’ button at the bottom of the page, and any paypal donations you make will be tax deductible.
You can also find her on facebook: Sheltering Books

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“That’s What She Said!”

Nov 19, 10 “That’s What She Said!”

Lately, something has happened to Golfer. At 11, his once boyish voice is now stuck somewhere between squeak, squeal, and man. Sometimes he sounds like a stuck pig, and other times he says something in such a deep voice I turn around quickly to see what kind of big male is standing beside me. His shoulders and arms are widening and getting all muscley. He used to appreciate hugs, now he only likes forceful shoves on the back. He eats twice his body weight at every meal.

18:30 gratitude

He growls. Like, all the time. Barks and growls and then explodes into the air like a maniacal imp intent on destroying the world.

I entered all those symptoms in to ‘WebMd”, and while it didn’t give me any specific answers as to what horrible medical condition he’s suffering with, it did suggest that maybe it’s the cause of all my tiredness. Word.

He’ll always be my little boy, but he’s not my little boy at the same time. This change from 10 to 11 years old has been as big a shift that I can remember. His body has matured. His face and voice have matured. His emotions and attitudes have also. His humor….well, his humor is trying to catch up.

Tonight, after watching a youtube video from Seananners on the brilliance that is Minecraft, Golfer said, “I just don’t get why those “That’s What She Said” jokes are so funny!” Seananners says that a lot in his videos. Frankly, I find them some of the funniest jokes around. It takes a simple, uncomplicated and boring sentence and turns it into something a little more spicy! But hearing Golfer talk about them as something that I needed to explain made me go all panicky inside. Our sex talks don’t go very smoothly. Not smoothly at all.

So I took the coward way out and widened my eyes like all, “It’s a mystery, those jokes!”

He kept talking out loud. “Like, I know you can’t say it with everything. It’s not funny after everything. But I don’t know when to say it! Like why is it funny to say it after “I’m holding on to some wood”? Can I say it after “I have to go to the bathroom!” ? I don’t think I can. I just don’t know why. Why is it funny after some things and not after others?”

The rest of the night, after anyone said something, I could see him mentally adding “That’s what she said!” to the end of the sentence and trying to decide if it was funny or not.

I think I’m going to let him work this one out on his own. His own personal 21st Century right of passage.

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Preventing Sensory Overload.

Nov 18, 10 Preventing Sensory Overload.

There was a time in the not too distant past when my whole raison d’etre was preventing sensory overload in my home.

Sensory overload is what happens when you have a really particular kid who is extra sensitive to noise/taste/touch/environment/visual stimulation, mix that kid up with some thunder/particular food/clothes/school/fluorescent lights, and stir in some sleepless nights. Voila! You have created the emotional volcano that erupts from a child who is sensory overloaded and who then takes it out on anyone around. Especially if that person is you…because they feel safe and secure and loved by you and the calm and quiet place you provide for them. Except you do not feel calm and quiet inside. Inside, you feel like you are being rubbed on with a brillo pad…raw and pained.

I am not a big labeller, I don’t like to diagnose or treat ‘disorders’. I like to know and love kids and everything they bring to the table without putting them in a box. But, the day I read about Sensory Integration Disorder, I felt angels singing in my ears. Each of my kids is prone to sensory overload in different ways, and when I learned about how to make the world easier for them as well as taught them how to handle the overload, my life became much less complicated. It is always empowering for everyone involved when there is understanding and respect for how the other person processes things.

Naturalist has the hearing of an owl. (disregard if owls don’t, in fact, have good hearing. What do I know, I’m not the Naturalist. But I’m assuming they do because their eyesight is piss poor but they still manage to find enough to eat.) When she was 3, she refused to sleep because of the ‘not monster’. A monster who would come into her room and whisper “not, not, not” over and over until she went insane. This, in turn, drove me insane. This went on for yeeeeeears. Then we moved to Vegas when she was 5, and for a few days she slept really great! Then I unpacked a box of her stuff and she immediately exclaimed, “The not monster is back!”. After looking over the newly unpacked things, it turned out the not monster was the whisper of a second hand on a tiny clock. This hyper hearing affected her in school, since she would focus her hearing attention equally on the teacher, the kids, the fly on the window, the rustle of papers, and the kids playing at recess outside. Other sensory issues that made it hard for her to be in a classroom: flickering fluorescent lights, sitting upright in a chair, and moving from task to task on a set schedule. Taking her out of school quickly solved so many daily overloads she was having at the time. She also had huge sleep issues which were resolved miraculously by a lava lamp. She also sleeps in a hammock now. For a long time, I felt like I had to walk on eggshells around her, in order to prevent a huge emotional vent. But now that she’s 14, I honestly can barely remember those days. Being informed + her getting older = sensory overload free days! Now she can tell me what’s bothering her way before it gets overwhelming.

Golfer has a problem with sudden and loud noises. It started after one bad thunderstorm when he was 4 or 5. He began obsessing over the weather…if it looked stormy or windy outside he wouldn’t leave the house, and would place his hands over his ears in anticipation of a loud thunderclap that usually would never happen. He would lay on the floor unable to move out of fear of thunder, only able to cry and scream. Movies with sudden loud sound effects are right out. Loud crowds or music…right out. When we went to the airshow last week, even though he was so excited to see all his favorite planes there, he was unable to focus because of the noise when the jets would fly overhead. He was constantly on guard against having the loud noises return unexpectedly, and turned into a ball of stress. Then we got him the earphones or whatever the noise blockers are called, and it was like a new kid! I wish I’d thought of this sooner. I would have gotten a pair of these when he was 4 and 5. In fact, when I posted the pics I realized that lots of my facebook friends have them for their kids. I have such smart facebook friends!


And Sassy. Well. Sassy doesn’t like to wear pants. Or socks. Or shoes. She doesn’t like the feel of any of them. She does like flip flops, so moving to warm So. Cal. has helped because she can wear them anytime, unlike in the winter in Colorado. Socks are negotiable. Pants are non-negotiable. I mean, she doesn’t ever wear them around the house, but going out it’s important to have some on. I’ve tried skirts, dresses, shorts…no no no. But now, thanks to Lindsay Lohan, jeggings are everywhere! the look of pants, the feel of soft leggings/sweats. She keeps them on a lot easier. Another thing Sassy has a hard time with…touching messy stuff. She’s never been a big fan of playdoh or finger painting or eating with her hands. In fact, even sandwiches bother her because sometimes the messy middle dribbles out and forces her to touch it. Today I had an aha moment after remembering the cool way we’d eat hot dogs while in Germany. They would take a roll, impale it on a hot poker (making both a hot roll and a space for the hot dog), put some condiments in the hole then shove a hot dog into it. I never got messy eating one of those! I could hold the bread without anything leaking onto my hands. So I recreated it with some roast beef. I got a little roll, shoved my finger inside and made a space for some rolled up cheese and roast beef, dribbled in some mustard…and look! Non messy roast beef sandwich! I’ll have to try this again with PB&J!


Do you have any other tips for helping kids not get overstimulated?

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Looking for Fall.

Nov 17, 10 Looking for Fall.

The kids and I are on a mission to find Fall in Los Angeles. We’re wistfully remembering this time last year when fuzzy sweaters, hot chocolate, hearty soups, warm blankets, and crisp cool days signaled a colorful changing of the leaves. I miss the smell of autumn.

Today we set out on Mulholland Drive to try and find it. It’s my favorite drive, winding up through the Hollywood Hills and across the mountains until it drops you off at the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

We brought Frito and a picnic basket along with us. I wore a sweater…and even though it’s got short sleeves I still thought it was a nice sentiment. The weather was a balmy 70-something while the sun was still out. Everywhere we looked…green trees.


We parked at a great hiking spot in Coldwater Canyon, claimed our picnic spot, and devoured our typical picnicy food: fruit, hummus, naan, yogurt, a selection of goat cheeses, the fixin’s to make the best sandwich in the world, some drinks, and some pudding Sassy tossed into the grocery basket at the last minute. Once we were stuffed to the point of wanting to nap, we headed out to hike around and find a sign that it is, in fact, Fall and not Summer.


It was hard prying Naturalist away from her book. I never thought I’d type that sentence, since she didn’t hardly want to pick up a book until she was about 12…now I can’t get her to put one down! Sassy reassured us that she was giving us some cover with her hand guns in case she had to snipe any evil dudes while we searched. Incidentally, this reminded me of the spectacular homeschooling poster that has the tagline: “Come the zombie apocalypse, the kids in public schools will wish someone had taught them melee weapons fighting and small unit tactics.” It’s only funny because it’s true!


After wandering over hill and dale, we spotted something. Little specks of yellow and red. Fall! Autumn leaves and berries! Yes!


Convinced that we’d found it, and getting chilled because the sun had gone down (by 5pm! This makes me sleepy by 6pm and wanting everyone to go to bed by 7pm!) we headed home and made some chocolate chip cookies.

Sometimes it’s the little things in life that make a day feel full of awesome.

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Unschooling Sassy.

Nov 16, 10 Unschooling Sassy.

Sassy, at 6, has never been to school. Or preschool. She’s never had ‘rules’ like the older kids have before we started unschooling. She’s never been on anyone else’s schedule for eating, sleeping, playing, learning. Whereas the older kids remember a time before we started unschooling and a time after (Naturalist was 10, Golfer was 7), Sassy only knows her life as an unschooler.

I grew up with bedtimes, eating times, playtimes, learning times, snacktimes, and time outs. All of these decided by other people in an effort to help me see what was right for me. As a mom, I also did all these things to help my kids know what was right for them. And then, as we continued into unschooling I realized that as basic human beings, the only person who knows what’s really right for them is the person themselves. Usually, in our culture, we withhold this autonomy until one day, at 18, BAM!, our regimented and controlled kids become adults. I remember this shift, and it was dramatic for me. One minute I was in a home where most of my choices were made for me by school or home, and the next minute I was in college wandering around a grocery store wondering which food choices were right for me. In my life leading up to that point, I had assumed that what was right for the other people making the rules for me was what was right for me, and so to think about myself as an individual was a little overwhelming.

As an unschooler, I’ve sped up the process of autonomy and given it to my kids a little earlier than 18. And while we work and function as a family unit, I believe that each kid is in charge of a few key things: their bodies, their thoughts, their feelings and emotions, their actions and their words.

The balance isn’t always easy, especially with a Sassy 6 year old who came out of the womb barking orders like Napoleon Bonaparte. I am constantly checking my world view with this one, because what she says so often challenges my innate sense of adult and parental authority! For instance, this morning she asked me to make scrambled eggs for breakfast. So I did. Really good ones with goat cheese mixed in so they were nice and creamy!

When the eggs were done, I set them out and told her they were ready. She replied, “I’m not hungry anymore.” To which I replied back, “You asked me to make these, and now you’re going to eat them! Come to the table!” In a classically Sassy response, she leveled a look at me and said, “Mom, you’re not in control of my body.”

My initial reaction was to be frustrated, angry, a little resentful, and defensive. My thoughts ran along the lines of “I MADE your body! I can certainly be in charge of it! I’m not your beck and call girl, to make food left and right that then goes uneaten! You said you were hungry, so now you will eat!” Pre-unschooling I would have made her come to the table and sit on the chair until she was done eating what I had made her. I would have felt I was teaching her manners and respect. I also would have been teaching her that someone else…me…was in charge of her body.

Deep down, this is what stops me from having that reaction. Especially with my girls, I feel like it’s so important to let them be in charge of their own bodies. At a time when this kind of body control is contributing to eating disorders at a tragically high level, I want my girls to know that it’s OK to be hungry and then change their minds. That they can eat when they’re hungry and not eat when they’re not. I thought about how often I make myself a snack and then realize I don’t really want to eat it right then, or take a few bites and then save the rest for later, or change my mind about eating it versus something else that sounds better. I thought about Sassy’s statement, “You’re not in control of my body”, and how I don’t want to challenge that. I want her to say that over and over to whoever is telling her differently, whether it’s me trying to get her to eat when she’s not hungry or someone else trying to get her to do something she doesn’t want to. I hold my tongue and stop guilting her into eating just because I slaved away over a hot stove to make it for her. I don’t shame her for asking one thing then wanting another. I don’t lecture her about respecting me and what I do for her. I don’t make her choice into a big deal where all of a sudden I imagine her as an indulgent adult asking people to do things for her and then changing her mind on a whim.

I instead respect her and her control of her own body. Her own hunger. Her own choices. I remind myself that strong women come from empowered girls. I let her know that it’s on the counter when she wants it, and I’ll help her reheat it when she gets hungry. Which she did a dozen or so minutes later.

8?:365 living positively

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