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In Defense of Unschooling


It’s almost time for school to start, and with it the inevitable question, “Where do your kids attend school?” For the past several years the answer has been a local charter school, still public, but home based. They provided all the curriculum, kept attendance records based on the work samples we turned in, and were there to answer questions. They also provided some great extra curricular activities. But this year we are unschooling (If you want to know what I’m talking about you can Google it or read John Holt’s Teach Your Own) This is something I’ve wanted to do for 10 years, since my oldest was 4 and the thought of sending her to school seemed daunting. There are all kinds of ways to homeschool, but this has always been my favorite..

But even so, I have never done it. I have never followed my heart, based on the fears of what others would think, as well as my own fear of failing my girls. But this year I have decided to follow my gut. My gut believes in unschooling. Maybe your gut doesn’t and that’s okay! Your gut doesn’t have to listen to my gut. Your choice is right for you and my choice is right for me. In a world where everyone is constantly comparing themselves to others and trying to keep up with the Joneses, it is hard to be a unique thinker. But that is what I am, that is what we all are. Our thoughts and ideas are uniquely our own. No two families look identical. They may have similarities, but they are unique in their own way. And that is wonderful! That is what makes the world so diverse and beautiful. I don’t want to be the model for you, heavens no! I don’t want that responsibility! Nor would I want to push my ideas on you, because what works for me may not work for you. If you see something I’m doing and it appeals to you and you want to try out, great. But otherwise, who cares what I’m doing? I mean, of course there are parameters. I want my girls to learn and grow, the same as most parents do. I would never want to do something that was to their detriment. But I don’t think schooling at home is to their detriment. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity and a huge blessing!

I know a lot of teachers and I respect them immensely. I couldn’t do what they do. I don’t have that gift. But it’s different with my girls. I want to nurture them as much as possible and give them the freedom to learn and grow within different parameters than the public school system. You can disagree with me, you can think I’m crazy, but please don’t ask me what they’re learning or if they’re socialized. My girls are two of the most social kids I know. They make friends easily wherever they go. And they are able to interact with adults, too, because they’ve never been told they couldn’t. My oldest went to public school for 2nd-5th grades and my youngest attended Kindergarten and loved it. But after 3 days of 1st grade told me she was done with school. She went through a seperation anxiety for a while and wanted to be with me all the time. And I am lucky enough that I was able to indulge her. Was it the right choice? Should I have just made her stick it out? Maybe. But for us, at the time, it was the best choice. Circumstances change and with them our choices may alter, but ultimately it’s our call, mine, my husband’s and my daughters’, how we approach education.

My girls are very creative and independent, they are learning all the time. And the thought of putting them in a classroom for 6 hours a day doesn’t sit well with me. They’ve been given the choice and they’ve chosen to learn at home.

So even though I may ask where your child attends school, I’m just being conversational.  I don’t worry whether or not their teacher is good or the curriculum is sufficient or they’re being socialized. What your child experiences at school is between you and them and their teacher. You’re their parent, not me. But just because public education is the norm, it doesn’t mean it’s the only way to go about educating our children. I wish you the best on your chosen path.


New Year, New You?!


New years are kind of like new relationships. Hopeful and anticipatory. Fresh with no mistakes. You have that mental list of what you’re going to do this time around, and also, what you’re not going to do. Intentions are grand. Possibilities are limitless. And then, like with all good things, reality begins to creep in. Oh reality, you killjoy. Why can’t you just let me live in my fantasy world a little while longer? La-la-la, I cannot hear you. Budgets, bills, housework, grocery lists, they all come crashing in on you like so many bricks and you realize that your idyllic intentions have gone right out the proverbial window. I spend a lot of time regretting–things I’ve done, things I haven’t. And comparing myself to others, who seem to be much better at being grown-ups and productive members of society. I want to read their blogs so I can follow their plans, cuz mine always, inevitably, go up in smoke.

When I admit I’m bad with money, people suggest I make a budget. Oh honey, I’ve got a budget, I can make a budget all day long. A good one, a thorough one. But I always run into the same snag. Either the budget requires more funding than my actual income allows for OR I have to actually possess the discipline to follow said budget.

Sometimes I think I should have married an accountant. But ultimately, my unhealthy relationship with money (and food, etc.) cannot be pushed onto anyone else. Sure, if I had someone holding a figurative gun to my financial head, it might help me follow a budget. But would I be happy about it? No. Would I be resentful and trying to find ways around it? You better believe it.

Discipline, quite unfortunately, is a one-man show. Ain’t nobody gonna do it for you. All the personal trainers and financial consultants in the world aren’t going to make you into anything more than you, yourself, are willing to be. It’s the old leading a horse to water scenario. You can make me a kale smoothie, but I still have to drink that mother. You can put me on a budget, but you can’t force me to not try and figure out how to manipulate a few more bucks from thin air, in order to buy that junk I don’t need.

Delayed gratification has never been my strong suit. I’m not sure I have a strong suit. My natural talents are eating and spending, both in excess of what I should.

So I can put on my fancy ‘new year’ clothes and pretend for awhile on those first few dates, that I am a better person than I really am, but eventually, the jig will be up. No matter where I go, there I am, in all my flawed glory.

My New Year’s resolutions? Oh, I have plenty. But realistic expectations? Those seem to be in short supply.

For all intents and purposes it’s Day 3


So technically this is only my second post in the challenge but I don’t want to have to think that hard so I’m just calling it day 3, to coincide with the day of the month, cuz you know, mothers need one less thing to think about! Right now it’s hotter than blazes so running errands this morning/afternoon fried my brain and parts of my body. I am hot and tired and dehydrated and cursing my ancestors for settling in a desert valley.  But thank all that is holy for air conditioning. The one in my  van is broken and it’s too expensive to fix, and given the age of the car (13 years) not really worth the investment. So suffer I must, for one more summer (knock wood) I thought last summer would be the last summer but life has a way of laughing at your plans.

I’ll admit, I like my luxuries, because even when we lived in a cooler area, there was no a/c in most of the apartments up there and man, when the heat waves hit, it was tor-TURE! So even if I move someday to a place where it’s 65 degrees 95% of the time? I’m gonna need the option of a/c for that other 5%. I’m not good at suffering. I’ve learned this about myself. In some ways I’m tough. I have a fairly high pain threshold. But extreme labor pains and herniated discs? Yeah, those exceed my threshold. I can’t recommend either of those experiences. Although at least two out of three produced a cute baby. All I got from the 3rd thing was a scar…come to think of it, I got a scar from the first two also. Okay, C-sections and back surgery, neither are high on my list of most enjoyable experiences, but hey, thank goodness for modern medicine. And a/c.

We spent two summers in a house built in the ’20’s with an evaporative cooler and two holes in the ceiling. No vents.  Holes.  One in the hall, the other in the living room. It was brutal. Once it gets over 95 degrees, a cooler does nothing. We spent many an afternoon hanging out at Barnes & Noble or a local coffee house. God bless America and businesses that run their a/c. Where I come from, it’s cruel and unusual not to. In fact, there may be laws in place. A few years ago when the economy took a dump though, I noticed a lot of businesses running them less, or at less-than-freezing, which was a bit disappointing. Needless to say I am spoiled. I have become accustomed to electricity and running water and cold air being pumped through my house. If there ever is a zombie apocalypse, I am soooo outta here!  Seriously, just shoot me in the head so I don’t come back and try to eat you. But otherwise, over and out. In my mind suffering is a four-letter word. Hopefully I haven’t just thrown down the equivalent of a karmic gauntlet.

Just in case, let me clarify. I have done more than my fair share of suffering. Yes indeedy. I am merely pointing out that I don’t enjoy it and that in most cases, I am pretty soft. In cases of comfort and convenience that is. But I camp. I mean, I’ve peed in the woods. I’m not a total slouch. I don’t mind getting dirty or digging in my garden. I even bust out the lawn-mower on occasion. Lest you think I am good-for-nothing. Please just don’t take away my modern conveniences for more than a few days. Preferably not at all. And I shall do my best to extend the same courtesy to you.

Better a day late than never…


So I just heard about a blog challenge for the month of July. I’ve never done an official challenge, other than challenging myself and then not following through. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott says to write every day. It doesn’t matter what you write about, it’s like exercise, you just have to do it. I’m not good at exercise, either figurative or literal. But moving my fingers seems easier than moving my body, especially in the 100 plus degree weather we’re having. So today is the 2nd day of the rest of the challenge. It also happens to be the 19th anniversary of the day I got married. My marriage has been an evolution, to say the least. The good news is we have both changed and grown and we have learned to accept one another much better than we did 15 years ago. We persevered. Perseverance is important in relationships. Because some days are better than others. I believe that’s where the commitment part comes in. When we commit to love the other person it’s with the knowledge that they will, in fact, at times, be unlovable. That’s where commitment trumps feeling. Feelings are all well and good when they’re warm and fuzzy. But sometimes they’re hot and angry. Sometimes they make you want to run screaming into the night or rent a studio apartment and live alone. But there’s something to be said for sticking it out. It builds character. It fosters growth. It’s like that expression, ‘iron sharpens iron’ only more often than not, it’s like chalkboards sharpening fingernails. Not so pleasant to the senses. But the work, as with most work, produces an end result that is rewarding. At 42 I do not want to start over. I do not want to be my ‘best self’ in order to trick some other poor unsuspecting soul into liking me. Really, it’s too late for that. I am finally comfortable in my own skin, but also, much less willing to accommodate someone else. I’ve spent almost 20 years accommodating someone and I still fall short. But I’ve done too much time to switch cellmates now! Of course I’m joking. The man I married at 23 isn’t the same man I’m married to now, we’ve both changed, for the better, I think. And I have learned to better appreciate his strengths and focus less on his weaknesses. In return he has offered me the same courtesy. I recently told someone that I don’t believe in soul-mates and I don’t think divorce is a sin. If you’re miserable, if you’re being hurt, physically or emotionally, I don’t think you should stay. But if your only complaints are the same complaints of anyone co-existing with another human being, then suck it up and stick it out. There is a lot to be said for shared history. And there’s even more to be said for stability and security, especially when you have children. We make decisions along the way. Some good, some bad. But our word should mean something. Our commitments should matter. Marriages should not be entered into nor exited on a whim. Life is a journey and finding someone who will go the distance with you is nothing short of miraculous. I’m one of the lucky ones.

Rainbow “Sherbert”


When I was a little girl my Grandmother would take us to Thrifty Drugs to get ice cream.

She would let us get a double scoop and I almost always chose Chocolate Brownie and Rainbow Sherbet. Rainbow Sherbet still reminds me of my Grandma and summer and the sweet days of childhood. I lost my Grandma on a summer day 10 years ago. The first day of summer, to be exact. It was too soon. She was not quite 80 and she was one of the most important people in my life. She wasn’t just my grandma, she was also one of my dearest friends and biggest advocates. She always gave me the freedom to be myself and encouraged me to explore my imagination.

One summer day when I was about 10 we were supposed to leave on a camping trip with my parents, but for reasons beyond our control the trip had to be postponed a day. Being a kid I remember being really disappointed. All the excitement and build-up of leaving on a trip was dashed when we found out we’d have to wait another day and sleep another night in our boring old beds under our same old roof. So my Grandma came to the rescue. She took my sisters and me to Thrifty’s to get an ice cream cone. Only this time she did something she’d never done before. She told us we could get a triple scoop. We’d never gotten a triple before! And I’m not sure that I have since. But that simple gesture made our day. It erased all the sadness attached to having to postpone our trip. I’m sure she didn’t give it a second thought, but my sisters and I have revisited that memory many times. Sometimes life calls for 3 scoops and usually it’s your Grandma who will recognize when it does!

The Learning Curve


Discipline has always evaded me. I blame it on my inner artist. The creative gypsy I cannot seem to tame. I bought a book in my 20’s called ‘Discipline, the Glad Surrender’ but I never got around to reading it. Maybe I was afraid it would help. At 40-something I still struggle daily with the big D. The way I eat, my lack of exercise, how I spend my time and money. It’s all just so overwhelming. I try and fail and cannot seem to get back on the proverbial horse, without getting bucked off again.  The bottom line, it’s no fun. I don’t want to clean my house. I don’t want to balance my budget. But I want my house to be clean and my bank account to be full. In other words, I want to have my cake and eat it too!

I tell my husband I would make a great rich person. I’m really good at spending money I haven’t earned…and even the little bit I occasionally earn. As a Mom I have a fear of passing this less than admirable trait on to my girls. Yesterday my sweet and generous 12 year old was be-moaning  how she’d spent some money she’d earned. I started in lecturing, but it wasn’t exactly making her feel better. Sometimes I think I make my girls feel worse. I can be so blunt, so literal when trying to explain things sometimes. I have to remember to sprinkle my lessons with kindness, gentleness.

She was disappointed. I was disappointed for her. But I saw a teachable moment. I told her it was awesome that she was so generous that she’d spent the bulk of her money buying junk food and sodas for her friends at the sleepover she’d gone to. But I also told her that she could be generous without blowing her whole paycheck (so to speak). She had worked hard making her duck-tape creations and selling them. She had done well. But now she had little to show for it. I tried to explain the concept of saving some, blowing some and then maybe making a well thought out purchase. We talked about impulse buying and also how much things cost and how quickly they can add up.  It’s like the blind leading the blind though. I am familiar with these concepts, but I’m a hypocrite when it comes to putting them into practice. I am of the ‘eat drink and be merry’ variety. Only, when tomorrow DOES come and I haven’t, in fact, perished, I’m left scrambling as to what I’m going to buy groceries with.

This was bad enough in my 20’s when it was just me. But now my stupidity trickles down to my children. So we talked and I tried to explain what to do next time. I told her I understood her disappointment and that it was a hard lesson, but here’s what you can glean from it. It was hard not to just give her some more money. But to be honest, I don’t really have any to give her. And it’s just as well. I need to let her fail so she can learn. And hopefully, fingers crossed, she will grow up to be a much smarter adult as a result. It is hard raising children when you’re so flawed yourself. Some parents seem to do a better job than others. I know I’m not a total failure, but there’s still room for improvement, a lot to learn. Who knew being a Mom would mean learning alongside my children. They have surely taught me more than I’ve taught them.

The 12 Books of Christmas


I love children’s books. As a kid, I was an avid reader, but it wasn’t until my 20’s that I truly began to appreciate the art and story that combine to make a great picture book. Maybe it’s because book stores weren’t as plentiful when I was a child. I remember well the excitement of getting my Scholastic book order from school and our bi-weekly trips to the library.

I started collecting children’s books long before I became a mother. Often times for the wonderful artwork and sometimes for the great storytelling ability of the author. Being a wordsmith myself, I am a sucker for a well-spun tale. And among the many, many picture books I’ve collected over the past 20 years, some of my all time favorites are my Christmas stories.

When I was about 9 or 10, my Grandma bought me a copy of The Night Before Christmas at TG&Y, a 5 and Dime store we frequented on the weekends we spent with her. I still remember the illustration on the front cover. I must have read it a lot because eventually I was able to recite it from memory  to my younger sister, while we lay in our bunk beds trying to fall asleep, despite our anticipation of Christmas morning.  So of course I have continued the tradition and read that story to my girls every Christmas Eve.

Every year I think I will read at least one story to my girls each night of December leading up to Christmas. Although I rarely achieve the 24 book  goal, we have come close.  So I thought I would share some of our favorite holiday titles, in no particular order, just in case you don’t already know about them.

1. Eloise at Christmastime by Kay Thompson

2. Santa Calls by William Joyce

3. Olive, the Other Reindeer by Vivian Walsh


4. Angelina’s Christmas by Katharine Holabird

5. Merry Christmas Curious George’s by Margaret and H.A. Rey



6. The Sweet Smells of Christmas by Patricia Scarry



7. A Charlie Brown Christmas by Charles M. Schulz

8. Bear Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson

9. I’ll Be Home for Christmas by Holly Hobbie

10. Santa Mouse by Michael Brown

11. Santa Mouse Where Are You? by Michael Brown

12. The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore, Illustrated by Mary Engelbreit

Other favorites:

Shelia Rae’s Peppermint Stick by Kevin Henkes

The Gift of the Magi by O’Henry

Elfis by Alan Katz

Frosty the Snowman

The Steadfast Tin Soldier by Hans Christian Andersen

The Nutcracker

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Showing UP!


Showing up is hard sometimes. I mean of course I am physically “here” but mentally, emotionally? Not always. Some days I have to retreat to the cocoon of myself in order to survive. But as lovely Glennon reminds me, life is Brutiful (beautiful and brutal) and if we don’t show up we won’t find the beauty.

It is hard being a woman. Not as hard as it was 50 years ago,but still. Some of the stereotypes still exist. And all of the pressure we put upon ourselves never went away. In fact, in some ways I feel like that part has gotten harder. In the ’50’s most women were mothers and house wives. To challenge that was taboo and I’m so glad my sisters before me fought to show the world that they were intelligent and worthy and capable of more. But it introduced a new paradigm. The need to be all things to all people.  Although we now have the ‘freedom’ to pursue our own passions in the work place and the world at large, as a result we are pulled in a million different directions. There is nothing clear-cut about the definition of what it means to be a ‘modern woman.’

To be a Mother doesn’t look the same for everyone. And that’s okay. In fact it’s absolutely necessary. How frightening if we were all Stepford Wives. But nonetheless, we struggle with comparisons. With feeling like we’re not enough. With never quite knowing what our niche is. Because womanhood transcends motherhood. But motherhood is all-consuming.

Lately I have struggled extra with my identity. Since my husband has been injured and off work I feel more pressure than usual to contribute financially. The thing is though, I can’t be everything. But still I try to be. I hold myself to this high standard and then beat myself up for not measuring up. In my mind I am never enough. And the scariest thing about that is the image I may be portraying to my daughters. But how can we be everything? How can we be self-actualized and self-sacrificing at the same time? I don’t know how. I truly don’t. I’ve read stories of women who have done it. But I know even the ‘successful ones’ struggle and feel inadequate and like they’re letting someone down.

I’m still trying to learn, 40 plus years in, how to find balance. As a result I feel like I am constantly tossing things one way and the other, trying not to tip the scale too far in one direction. I’m a frantic mess. It may not show on the outside (although it probably does) but I am just trying to keep everything from collapsing. But it’s like that old adage about putting the oxygen mask on yourself first, so you don’t pass out on those that need you.  I’m still learning to breathe. Breathe and show up. Most days that’s all I can do.

Melanie Made Me Do It!


My friend and I were talking the other day about labels. Not the kind you put on jars, the kind we apply to ourselves and others. I was saying how I always feel weird when people refer to me as a writer. I guess I feel like I have to be a certain kind of writer with a certain level of success to slap that title onto the front of my name. And then last night, another friend called me the “W” word. She asked if I’d been blogging regularly and told me I better be. I told her not really and she made me promise to blog at least once a week.  So I’m gonna try to honor that promise.

The thing is, I have an inferiority complex. I read others’ blogs and think, wow, how dynamic, how inspiring, how creative. And then I feel like mine is so flat. What do I have to say that’s so profound? Does anyone even read these? Am I even funny? The truth is, I’m envious of the succesful blog-hers. Who have ‘made’ it, so to speak. Whose blogs have been featured on Huffington Post or talked about in the blogosphere.  I’m just a little old writer in no-mans-land rambling about her kids and her failings at motherhood. And really, honestly, I started this blog for myself. As a way to chronicle my girls’ lives, remember some of the funny stuff they’ve said, or the struggles we’ve faced together.  I wasn’t expecting a Pullitzer prize, but a bit of a following and a comment from someone other than my sister, occasionally, would be nice.

But I’m not ambitious. I never have  been and at this point in my life, I doubt I ever will be.  So I just put it out there and if it’s well-received, awesome. If not, so be it. I was the same way with my music, back when I actually wrote songs on a regular basis and played for live audiences. I was just telling my story, relating my struggles and my triumphs. And if someone else could identify, well, then that was just icing on the cake.  So I don’t expect I’ll ever have much of a following. But that’s okay. Because as Anais Nin put it, “We write to taste life twice.” And I love savoring life’s morsels.

Eight is Great!


Eight. It’s not quite 10 and is a ways off from 12, but still, it’s 8! Eight years since I held this baby girl in my arms. Since I could supply her every need and hold her safely in the crook of my arm. She’s growing up and she’s amazing. The tiny little bud I thought might not bloom in the shadow of her older sister. But blossom she has. And she supplies her own sunshine. She always has.

She has the most compassionate and loving heart, always thinking of others and concerned for those who are hurting. And my girl loves to cook! I’m not sure where she gets that from, it isn’t me, but I encourage her just the same. Recently I was asking the girls if they would let me live with them when I’m an old woman. And my almost 8 year old said, “No, but I’ll cook all your meals.” I had to laugh. I know I’ll be well-fed and well cared for.

She is my monkey and my mermaid…she loves to be silly and to swim and to play and create. If she gets it into her mind to try something new, she takes it upon herself to find out how and then she does it!  She is a self-starter and a go-getter.

Even though she’s growing up, she still doesn’t like it if I leave for too long and sleeps right next to me every night. And I don’t mind it one bit, because I know that baby bird is going to fly my nest far too soon.  So I snuggle her close and try my best to savor each moment of her childhood.  After all, it’s fleeting. It seems like it was only yesterday I brought her home and now she’s 8! Happy Birthday M.J.  Mama loves your sweet heart. ♥

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