Houselight, Winterlight

Working at the top of the house in the Garret is very important to me in the winter.  The Garret is subdivided into the Slum and the Pigsty.  The Slum is (naturally) where we do our Slumbering, and the Badger’s adjacent study has drifted into the appellation ‘the Pigsty’(can’t think why).

All the pictures below were taken at the same time on the same day with the same camera setting.  It interests me how different in the light as I move through the house. 

The Slum faces south and has two roof windows, so it's always full of light reflecting up off the sea, even at this dark time of the year.  

The smaller Pigsty is also light, but faces north so the light (and the room) is colder.  On that side of the house the Badger sometimes needs a little heater on beside him as he works there, even when the slum is quite warm.

And then the stairs lead down from the Garret into the Dark. 

It really does get very gloomy as one descends into the house on a winter morning. You can see the piles of things we've been sorting out for the charity shop, waiting to go at the top of the stairs!

I’m so glad we have the window Alice made for the light that shines through from the bathroom. 

Downstairs the passageway is almost dark.  

If we are expecting visitors I turn the electric light on.

The front room faces north and the light is distinctly frigid before midday. When we light the stove, that room comes alive.  It's a wonderful summer room, as it's always cool and shady, very restful in the heat.

The morning light fills the back room, but in this season that can still be decidedly bleak; these pictures were taken on a dark, overcast day - on a bright day this room is gloriously sunny.

The kitchen is lovely in the morning – as you can see, Joe has finished the floor!

 But, how glad I am of the Garret, the lightest place of all!


365 Day 32 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

This was a BIG thing to go!  It hung in the passageway next to the hooks where we hang our outdoor coats.  Most of us (in our household) feel unnerved by continual encounters with our passing selves.  We appreciate the need to check for spinach lingering between the teeth before we hit the street, but prefer that to be done in looking glasses tucked into modest corners.  That mirror was undeniably in-your-face, and not improved by said face being in it, looking right back at ya!  Goodbye and good riddance.

Yesterday, paint and wood.

The kitchen is progressing.  Joe insulated the floor.

He boarded it too, but that took longer than expected.  He discussed with us carefully whether to use tongue and groove boarding to get a tight fit between the boards – we don’t want crumbs to be feeding rodents out of sight!  He thought plain boards would do the job, and they cost half the money, so we went for that.  He said the only difference would be you can see the nail places in straight boarding, even after they’ve been filled.  I don’t mind that.  I’m a Christian.  Nail marks have a special place in my heart.

Then Nick got in on the conversation later in the day and said straight boards wouldn’t do, they’d shrink.  The novelists among you should pay attention to this.  The opportunity to observe interactions such as this is the source of colour and texture in fictional narrative.  All novelists benefit from travelling by public transport, eating in caf├ęs and sitting in hospital waiting rooms, eavesdropping shamelessly.  Anyway, Joe stood there with a section of tongue-and-groove in his hand, looking a bit uncertain, reluctant to commit us to an extra two hundred pounds (that’s $315 right now), but we bowed to Nick’s absolute certainty (Nick is absolutely certain about everything) and went for the tongue-and-groove.  As Joe had all the timber on his van by this time, he had to go back and change it.  When he got the tongue-and-groove back to our place and began to lay it, it came to light that about a third of what they’d given him was sub-standard, so he had to sort through carefully, keeping this and setting aside that to take back.  Plus he wanted to use full lengths where he could for a pleasing finish, but use cut lengths where it didn’t show too much, to save money.  So this wasn’t quick and easy.  But by last night the floor was down.

Kevin said we needed some more paint, and showed me on the wall while Joe was fetching the replacement timber, how undercoat was grinning through.  Hebe and I mutter amongst ourselves that this is because they insist on painting with a roller. Using a brush and determination Hebe got two coats on the chimney breast with just a sample pot.  Anyway I said I’d go to Tunbridge Wells (where the shop is) for yet more mega-bucks Fired Earth paint.  I’d promised to visit my beautiful mama in the afternoon, 3 o’clock, usual time.  So I slogged over to Tun Wells, got the paint, stopped for a sandwich in the lovely Nutmeg Tree where all is comforting English tradition with fragrant teas and waitresses in frilly hats and aprons, then got back with the paint by twenty to three.  I had to get a new network card (for rail travel discounts) which cost me £28 ($44) ouch!  The ticket to Tun Wells was £12 ($18).  The lowest qualifying price for the discount turned out to be £13 ($20).  Sigh.  The paint was £29 ($46 nearly).  So I spent about £100 ($157) today!!!  Double-sigh!  Thank heaven for editing work tiding me over while I wait on the publisher frowning over the sales of present books before making a decision to publish (or not!) my next novel.

When I got back four hours later I took the paint to the kitchen.  Joe glanced at it.  Kevin had gone – he drives the bus for the old people in the afternoon. “Thanks,” says Joe. “I think we had enough in the tin, but that’ll probably come in handy.”  He’s lucky he didn’t die right then.

By the time I left the house I was just early and late enough to reach the end of the road with a clear view of the 304 bus sailing by on its way to Mama’s village out in the country.  The No 5 was due in 15 minutes, but it didn’t turn up.  In a hurry, I hadn’t stopped for my coat, and as the day grew toward dusk it was beginning to freeze.  I could see my breath like a dragon.  I waited ages for the bus, but no luck.  The Badger had to go back up to Oxford, but he is kind to me.  Before he went, he took me out to Battle in his car, took Mama’s car and put gas in it for her (the pumps defeat her), shared a cup of tea with us, and took me home – this adding 45 minutes driving around to his already 3 hour drive back to Aylesbury.  My Badger is a sweetheart.

It was a full day, we were tired, Hebe had been cutting granite all day at the masonry, the night was cold – but we enjoyed a big plate of baked beans, cabbage and carrots, and (forbidden dairy, what the hey) macaroni cheese for supper by the fireside, the happiest people on earth.

Today?  Perhaps I’ll tell you about today tomorrow.  It includes getting that tiny toolbox in the post to you, Deborah, because I didn’t manage to fit that in yesterday.  xxx


365 Day 31 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

Every month I write a column in this magazine, so they send me a freebie copy.  The deadline for April’s is tomorrow as it happens, so I’ll be writing an Easter article today.  It’s only a little column, 290 words, on living in Gospel simplicity.  The reason I included the magazine in my 365 throw-out is really to do with disposing of things mindfully.  Because when I’ve read it I don’t put it out with the recycling bin – ooh, that reminds me, dustbin collection today!  Any magazines I have, including this one, I keep in good condition, reading them quickly so I can pass them on before they are out-of-date for someone else to read.  If I can’t think of anyone who would like them, I give them to the surgery waiting room.  This magazine, Woman Alive, I usually put through my next door neighbour’s door, as she is also a Christian.

And that’s January gone!  

Our Homeschooling Journey ~ Chapter 2

Continued from Chapter 1 ~

Taylor demonstrated the pully she made the other day using things around the house. The first attempt failed, but she eventually figured it out!
Have I sheltered them? Protected them? I hope so. When they were young this was actually one of the most compelling reasons to keep them at home. Do I think a third grader needs to be exposed to sex and drugs in order to 'grow'? Ummmmm, hmmmm, no. Drugs, sex, alcohol; the girls know about them all, and have since they were old enough to understand. To me protecting doesn’t mean withholding information, but sharing it in a way that invites questions and exploration without having to live it to know it. They’ve learned about these ‘facts of life’ in a much different way than I did. My 'healthy, normal' way? Adolescent children whispering “facts” in the bathroom before lunch or during recess. Or how about one of my first introductions to sex from a fellow 8th grader that was already having sex in the living room with the foreign exchange student living in their home while her parents slept unstairs? Yup. I’ve protected them, thank God.

Do I think the girls behave differently than most teens? I have to give that a yes. Not all teens, but most I've known. Whether or not it has to do with the fact that they are homeschooled or simply the expectations I’ve put on them, I don’t know. Most likely a combination of the two, I have developed quite "the look", it is enough to silence children, dogs and cats alike. I wish it worked as well on husbands. ;) Do they talk back? Not really. Are they rude and disrespectful? Not often. Do we have bad days? Yup. Do we have good days? All the stinkin’ time. Do they experience low moods and righteous teenage indignation? Some more than others. Do we laugh? Every day, hysterically at least once.  Do we enjoy each others’ company? Absolutely, and I know not everyone can say this about their teenage kids. I’m pretty sure my mother didn’t enjoy my company one bit when I was 15. ;) Am I accessible for questions, worries, concerns? Yup, bring it on, I love to figure things out.  Truly, homeschooling them has been as much about teaching them as it has been about teaching me. I am much more patient. I am much smarter. I am much wiser than when I began. 

Friday has become 'Experiment Day'. While I prep next weeks work (this usually takes me hours!) the girls each prepare and work on their own experiments. Once everyone is done they demonstrate their success, or sometimes failure! Here Riley plays us some musical notes...
As for the learning? I love it. I love it. I love it. Despite getting very good grades back when I was in school, there was something missing. That love and hunger for knowledge just didn’t compare to…hmmm...boys. Teaching the girls has made me rabid to learn. I really can’t get enough and every new thing we uncover leads to another, and yet another bit of knowledge. I can only hope that my fervor reaches the girls and shows them that being smart and knowing ‘stuff’ is a pretty cool thing. In all areas of my life I’ve learned that knowledge is indeed power. Learning doesn’t stop (or begin) in the “classroom” (otherwise known as the kitchen or living room or dining room...), but comes at us from all angles and directions, kind of a non-stop barrage. This past school year we wrapped up our study of the Civil War, and quite frankly I was dismayed at how very much I hadn’t known concerning such an important time in our history. Consequently,our vacation last fall  took us south ~ Antietam in Maryland, and Gettysburg in Pennsylvania were two of our destinations. We walked the soil of these battlefields, saw the landscape as these soldiers did, and studied amazing artifacts left behind. We grimaced over the 'medical' equipment used to amputate thousands and thousands of limbs, spending time imaging the extreme pain of amputation without drugs. We marveled over the cannons, situated in exactly the same place, perhaps the very same cannon that fired shot upon shot upon the 'enemy'. I grew sad and thoughtful gazing across the field where Pickett's men made their desperate, brave and futile charge. I love having the freedom to make it all so vivid and real.

You may be wondering whether or not I feel there are any drawbacks to homeschooling. Well, certainly some things have been more challenging than others. Teaching them how to read was probably the hardest thing we’ve tackled. The English language is a very tricky thing, I wasn’t aware of all that I took for granted until I tried to teach it! But drawbacks? Honestly, none that I can think of. It’s true that for someone like me who loves quiet and silence it could be a challenge to have kids around 24/7. I don’t send them off each morning with a bag lunch and a smile, and then relish the hours of peace before me. Instead, our day begins together, plays out together, and ends together. But I’ve arranged the house so that we each have space. I have my own studio and the girls have theirs. This means that all three girls share a bedroom, but they enjoy each other’s company and so this isn’t a problem. Often whole afternoons will pass where I don’t see or hear from them. (Except for the occasional belting out of song lyrics… ;) So even in a house full of people we each get time to enjoy our own company, thankfully.

I definitely fall into the category of homeschoolers that loves a schedule. I use (and adore) workbooks (definitely not a favorite of all homeschoolers) and textbooks. There is another avenue open to parents for whom public school isn’t an option, but neither is homeschooling. It is commonly referred to as unschooling. It’s an approach to life and school that lets kids learn at their own pace, in their own time. They choose to ‘study’ things that interest them and mainly learn from living. Before you rush to judge this (and many, many do) perhaps you should take a peek at this post  written by the eloquent Suzy Q over at A Soulful Life.  It was written so beautifully by this unschooling, blogging mom, that I won’t pretend to try and do it better. It may not be a perfect fit for you, or me, but so what? Much of my entire life isn’t a fit, perfect or otherwise, for the general population, but it works for me. Everyone has their own unique path to follow, and just because something tests (and often crosses) the boundaries of what we accept as the norm, doesn’t make it wrong. While I personally find education to be important, there are several things that rank much, much higher ~ happiness, peace and a genuine sense of self all easily trump a high SAT score. You may have 8 years of college under your belt, but how much is your life worth without happiness? Zip, in my humble opinion. J

Jordan's experiment was a miserable failure.. but she had fun trying...

And then... the attack of the killer apple. A little bit of humor makes for a much better day!

Having just spent two longs posts raving about our homeschooling experience, you might think I'd recommend it to everyone. I emphatically would not. In fact, I think that there are quite a few parents who would do their children much more harm than good keeping them home. But I do offer it as an option, perhaps one that hasn't even crossed your mind. Especially if you have a child in school and it just isn't working, they aren't thriving, and you're not finding the help or answers that you need. I often hear "I'm not smart enough." I really have trouble believing that one. If you have a genuine desire to do this whole learning at home thing, then the answers will come, from here, there, anywhere. The Internet has been a lifesaver, especially once we hit Algebra. Spouses, friends, grandparents, other homeschoolers ~ they can all prove invaluable as you find your way. I have some awesome books that have been flipped through over and over again. The answers are all out there, and I've never yet met a person who I thought was "too stupid" to teach their child at home.
To be continued in the last chapter of our homeschooling journey...

Peace & blessings ~ Melinda

But only

St Johns (our church) is, as we say in England, rather high up the candle. Though it is part of the Church of England rather than Roman Catholic, it describes itself as British (or English) Catholic – ie it models itself on pre-Reformation thinking.  Personally I wish we could go back even further to pre Council of Whitby and join up with our Celtic roots, but that’s another matter.  Anyway we have a lots of robes and incense and candles and all that jazz, and as part of our preparation for the Eucharist we include, as Roman Catholics also do, the congregational prayer based on Luke 7:7 or Matthew 8:8: Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.

As I prayed this prayer yesterday, I noticed its ambiguity. “But only” could mean two similar but different things.  It could mean: I am not worthy to receive you, yet/even so/however simply speak the word and I shall be healed.  Or it could mean: I am not worthy to receive you, just simply speak the word and I shall be healed.

The first meaning suggests a certain inner distress or turmoil to be overcome, ie I am dismayed and embarrassed to find myself in a condition unfit to receive you – HOWEVER if you will say the word, I shall be healed.  The second meaning suggests a more tranquil seeing, accepting of one’s inner state, ie As I am clearly unfit to receive you I rely on your transformative grace, all you have to do is say the word and I shall be healed.  See?  There’s a difference.

This ‘but only’ is there in the translations of the Bible we read, and in effect we are all reading different Bibles because we are all constantly making assumptions about what we hear/read, not always realising that others are reading/hearing it quite differently.

A good example of this is the text where Jesus says “I am the way, the truth and the life; no-one comes to the Father but by me”.
Most preachers I have heard speak on this interpret it to mean in effect “I am the bottle-neck of Heaven.  If you don’t subscribe to the Christian creeds, you won’t get in”. 
Personally, I think it means something different.  I think it means “I personify everything that is good, everything that is true, and what it is to be fully human.  All people committed to goodness and truth, all who are open to life and love, are travelling my way and part of my family”.

Then there is the story of the Prodigal Son, the bit at the end where the older son is jealous and the father says he could have a party any time he wanted to.  No-one seems to preach on this, but I think it’s a story about the two ways we fall off the tightrope of walking in Providence.  Some people err in being too profligate and wasteful – much as the human race has taken the precious gift of the earth and squandered it in filthy over-industrialisation and commercial greed, like the Prodigal Son with his orgies and prostitutes until he is reduced to the unimaginably unclean (to a Jew) state of sharing his home with pigs and envying their table.  But some people err in the other direction, by failing to see the abundance inherent in their situation, failing to trust the providence of the Father, living their lives in parsimony and scarcity when it was meant to be a party.

I wonder even if there is a need for us to quarrel as we tend to do, over biblical interpretations.  They seem to me inherently ambiguous, and I wonder if that isn’t part of the Bible’s nature as a living book.  It’s as we engage with it, look deeply into it, that we see depth upon depth, catch a glimpse of jewels winking in a new shaft of light when we had never noticed them before.

What I think is theologically dangerous is when people actually tweak the text to make it fit the preconception. I once saw this actually, literally, set in stone.  I lived for a while in Aylesbury, and as I was still then a Methodist minister I preached on the Aylesbury Circuit every Sunday.  This included occasionally taking a service out at a designed village.  A farmer had leased all his land for building (but kept the ground rents; good move!) houses.  So a large estate had been built, with a centre including shops, a doctor’s surgery and a church to be shared by all the denominations.  On the outside wall of the church a large circle of stone was to display a biblical text.  The text they went for – brilliant, inspirational, if only they’d actually done it, was based on 1 John 4, verse 7 – Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God and verse 16 – God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God.  It’s the Ubi caritas (Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est) But, worried about losing the monopoly on soul-health, they twisted it round so that it said not Where love is, there is God, but Where God is, there is love.  They switched the biblical wording around to make it say what the Bible does not say but many (most, even) Christians believe (and think it ought to say), that salvation is a commodity to be obtained by acquiescing and adhering to our formalised doctrines.  This is not what Jesus said.  According to Him, you can say “Lord, Lord” till you’re blue in the face  (Matthew 7:22, Luke 6:46) – it’s if your life is characterised by kindness and compassion that is the mark of your allegiance. “By this” (nothing else) “shall everyone know that you are my disciples; that you love one another.” (John 13:35)


365 Day 30 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

I used to be a Methodist minister, pastor of (simultaneously) six churches.  I had a terror of arriving somewhere to preach or take a funeral/wedding only to find I’d left my glasses at home.  So I had innumerable pairs of cheap non-prescription reading glasses scattered about – in pulpits, in my bags, in the car, in the pocket of my robes – so that this could NEVER HAPPEN. And I don’t need them anymore.


I have read more about the Theology of Hair than I might have expected to.

St Paul started it of course.  I have read what he has to say, and read with careful attention a considerable number of dissertations on the subject by faithful sisters looking deeply into the scriptures to shed light on the Way.  I love the Bible, and I find in it the guiding light of God’s truth, but I don’t read it in the way that allows it to be interpreted as straightforward instructions for daily living lifted wholesale into the present day.

That is to say, when I read in Scripture a general statement like “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love is from God,” (1 John:4.7) I perceive that to have a universal application.

But what Paul had to say about hair and clothing I believe to be of specific and particular application.  That there are many who disagree with me passionately I know already and I understand why.  It’s not that I don’t get it; I do, but I disagree.

I walked a while, as some of you know, along a Plain path.  I found it illuminating, spiritually nourishing, but a bit complicating – Plain but not all that plain if you see what I mean.  I found it distracted me from the focus of Gospel simplicity which I think I came here to find and follow.

At the present time my focus is on seeing what I can do to address the amount of packaging I bring home when I purchase food and household goods.  The other thing I’m considering at the moment is how to reduce the amount of water I use.

Today I didn’t do so well in either regard.  It wasn’t such a good day.  I woke up still tired from yesterday, with a lot to do.   I’d figured out during the week that if I wash my clothes when I shower (letting the water accumulate by putting the plug in the bath) then I can use the one lot of water for both purposes.  Our dish-drying cloths had been soaking in a bowl in the bathtub since the day before yesterday.  The sun was shining today, and the day breezy, so I thought I’d better quickly rinse them through and hang them out on the line.  In a hurry, because I had to be somewhere else by 10.30 and needed to shower, I washed the cloths through to get them out of the bathtub.  I forgot a) that I was meant to be washing them in the shower water and b) that the same applied to the clothes I’d taken off last night and left in a heap on the bedroom floor.  So instead of one lot of water, I required three – the dish-drying-cloths, the clothes and the shower.

Then I remembered that as this was the day the Badger planned to rotovate the back-yard for re-sowing, magically transforming all of it to a ploughed field and digging up the socket for the washing line (this sort) in the process, I had nowhere to hang out washing anyway.

Cursing and muttering I headed off to town and did my various errands there.  Hungry, tired, and knowing I would return to find four other hungry souls waiting at home, I decided “Oh, blow it!”  I went into Marks and Spencer and got some packs of ready-made sandwiches, some supper ingredients in sturdy plastic packs, a drink in a plastic bottle (on offer with the sandwiches), and a lemon meringue pie in a foil dish and cardboard box.  Not an outstanding success on the packaging and water fronts, then.

But, why I was going into Hastings was to get my hair cut.  Why I decided to cut it again was to do with packaging.  I want to use Lush shampoo because it’s Earth-friendly, animal-friendly and comes in zero packaging.  The conditioner that goes with it comes in a bottle you take back to the store to be re-filled.  The only snag is, Lush shampoo can make my hair a bit lank when said hair is long.  So I thought I’d cut it off.  Short.

You know what?  I so totally wish I could write to St Paul and say: “Now, here’s the thing.  In our society today hairstyles do not have the cultural connotations they did back in AD 70.  But what we do have today is a problem with mass-production and industrialisation that is threatening to take down the whole planet, via an ugly path of destruction involving water wars, deforestation, and unimaginable suffering in the lives of the world’s poor. I humbly ask permission, this being the case, as part of my path of simplicity, to keep my hair short and use Lush shampoo.”

If he wrote back, I’d show you the letter, I promise.

The result (honest and humble apologies for disappointing friends who feel God’s truth in the Bible requires ladies to wear their hair long):

365 Day 29 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

2 pairs of shoe-laces.  Something I have learned about clutter is the insidious power of Small Things.  I tuck them away in a drawer or on a shelf waiting for them to Come In Handy – them and all their aunts and cousins and distant relations.  They rarely do, but they gradually accumulate into a drifting shoal comfortably insulated by dust, occupying entire drawers and obscuring actually useful object from view.  They sit on shelves competing for attention, reducing genuinely beautiful and useful object to One More Piece Of Stuff.  Let them go, say I!

Our kitchen

Would you like to know how Joe and Kevin and Nick are getting on in our kitchen?

Until the end of December our kitchen looked like this (ignore the strange woman in the pinny and focus on the units etc):


Now it looks like this.  

It is quite dangerous.  Like most houses in Hastings, it's built on a hillside: so though the ground is underneath the front of the house, underneath the kitchen at the back of the house is a four-foot gap, like a partial basement.  Kevin managed to fall through, which his brother (Joe) found extremely funny. 

I’ll keep you posted.


365 Day 28 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

What to do with things like this?  It came with an item of flat-pack furniture – probably a wardrobe or bookshelf.  It’s a kit for securing a tall unit against the wall, in case your toddler decides to attempt scaling it while your back is turned.  We move our furniture rather frequently and have tended to rely on educating the toddler in the inadvisability of climbing tall thin articles of furniture.  Hence the anchoring kits become surplus to requirements while still extending the allure and promise of indispensable usefulness.  We had more than one of these lurking in drawers.  I added this particular one into a man-drawer kit that we put together and Freecycled.  People snap up such kits in an instant but I’m not quite sure why.

Peace and light

 Every now and then I have this URGENT need for peace and tranquillity.  Today, for example.  So I have temporarily signed out of life and am reading a book.

Yesterday Susanna came to see me and we spent a couple of happy hours talking at the fireside.   As well as the honey, she brought me a gift of a most beautiful wall-hanging candelabra.  

On the one-in-two-out principle, two pictures went.  This is what it looks like lit at night :0)  Thank you, Susanna!

365 Day 27 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

 This is a doll’s house size tool kit, final remnant of paraphernalia associated with the creation of Taking the Tide of Love.  I’m not sure who to give it to.  Do you want it? 

Valentine's Decor ~ Part 1

I love how the changing of seasons brings fresh inspiration. With February just around the corner, I got bit by the love bug!! First off, I wanted to switch out the ornaments in my apothecary jar to something that would fit the Valentine's theme. I had some jelly hearts that I used for a pop of red, which I layered with puffed marshmallows. I like the final result....except I'm somewhat tempted to EAT the candy when I walk past! );

The runner on the kitchen table was looking rather bland, so I decided to create a new one. After visiting Walmart, I found some white burlap [as opposed to the natural color], which I loved. A yard was only $3.74 and I only needed about half that amount!

I started by cutting it to the size I needed, and then pulled threads until I had the desired fringe length. [Call me weird, but I love doing this!! (;]

Now I cut the fringe so that it's even. If you are able to cut in a straight line to begin can eliminate this step! ha

To give it a bit of pizazz, I added some ribbon ~ red, to be exact!! Here's where some basic sewing skills come in handy. Just lay it on the burlap, and pin it in place if you like. I just stitched it fast on one side of the ribbon, but you could do both. A sewing machine would be faster, but I don't own one. Furthermore, I get a kick out of stitching. Don't ask why!

Tada!! The finished product, completed in about 15 minutes! Check back soon for part 2 of my Valentine's decor.

Friday is nearly here...and the beaches in Florida. I.can't.wait.  Love to all!

Our Homeschooling Journey ~ Chapter 1

I figured that it was about time to tackle the whole homeschooling thing. It's such a huge part of my life, but it really is unexplored territory for most, and I thought it was time to talk about our journey. And also an opportunity for you to ask any burning questions you might have. This post morphed into many, many pages as I wrote, and so I have split it into three separate posts in order to thorougly cover all that I'd like to. Please, please ask any quesions that you'd like, I'd love to answer if I can. This post only reflects our way of approaching schooling and I don't pretend that this applies to any other family out there. In fact that's one of my favorite things about homeschooling, the freedom to approach it as you chose!

Some of the books that we're currently reading...
Homeschooling. What a loaded word. I know for a fact that this one word brings to mind many different stereotypes, some possibly true, and others that miss the mark completely. Perhaps to many an awkward, antisocial genius child, wearing a sweet and modest prairie style dress pops up as your mental picture. Really, don’t be ashamed if this is so. In fact, it’s exactly what appeared in my mind when my mother decided to homeschool my sister about 20 years ago. My other sister, my brother and I went to public school (some more happily than others), but when this same path appeared to be reducing my little sister to a depressed, panic stricken young girl, desperate measures were called for. Eventually the only option left to my mother was to pull her out and teach her at home.  Even being safely at home, it took many years to restore some sort of balance to my sister’s life, and I shudder to think where she’d be now if my mother hadn’t been brave enough to do the unconventional. Not that she had much support from any of us, sadly. But, one thing I’ve learned is that life has a wonderful sense of humor. And here I am 2 decades later choosing the same path as my mom, but with a very different opinion and outlook than I had at 15.

My three girls have always been home with me. Many children start off in school, but when they find the fit to be a miserable one, only then does the homeschooling journey begin. In fact, one friend of mine told me that her son’s teacher told her he was the perfect candidate for homeschooling, and I’ll admit that surprises me. Sadly, I haven’t felt supported by many of the teachers we’ve come across, so this story was a pleasant one to hear. Other kids start out at home, and somewhere along the way want to give public school a shot. Some stay, others head back home as fast as they can. The girls were never given that choice when they were younger. It was my job to do what I felt was right, and public schooling never felt right. If you think this is unfair, take a moment and consider this ~ how often do you hear a public schooling parent giving their child the option to learn at home? Each parent does what they believe to be best and home was where I felt my girls needed to be. Later, as they grew, they decided for themselves that learning at home suited them just fine. I don’t know what decisions I would have made had they come to me and wanted to try school. It wasn’t an avenue we had to explore. We were all happy with the arrangement.

Taylor and Jordan's area in their studio. Their own space to read, write, work on the computer, craft... or sing at the top of their lungs! ;)
Back when it was time to enroll Taylor in school I really couldn’t imagine putting my sweet, innocent, super sensitive little girl on that bus and sending her out into the world yet. She was just too small. If felt very, very wrong to me. She belonged with me where I could guide her, teach her and allow her to play and explore. Since the day they were conceived I have felt a large sense of responsibility. Wholly and completely. Now I realize that I was simply living out a deal we agreed upon before we began this lifetime. I promised to guide them, in an unconventional and often unusual fashion, towards adulthood. My teachings wouldn’t reflect the norms of society, but it would get us all to where we ultimately choose to be ~ happy. With a deep and steady sense of self.

As they grew older people would often ask me what I planned on doing once they hit high school, often assuming our days at home would abruptly end. I never spent much time worrying about the ‘hows’ of things. I imagined that when I got there,  then I’d figure it out. Really, that’s what I’ve been doing since they day they slid into this world… why stop now? And here we are, 15 years later. I have two girls in high school and I find these to be some of the most exciting years yet. Full of challenges. Yes, I spend much time relearning things I’ve don’t really remember learning  in the first place, but with the help of the Internet and some amazing books, it hasn’t been a struggle at all.

Riley's very own personal (and very pink!) space
Taylor is now 15, Jordan almost 14, and Riley Mae will be 12 in April. My girls have never walked the halls of a public school, suffered through a long and miserable bus ride, lost a locker combination or been ruthlessly tormented by a bully. They have never suffered anxiety over tests, experienced detention, been pressured to have sex or offered a joint. They have never had to ask to use the bathroom. They have never smoked a cigarette or had a beer. They have never forced down a school lunch. ;)

What they have experienced is life. Not the life contained in a classroom, but many different facets of life and the world around us. They’ve had time to read, time to play, and time to grow without the pressures of society bearing down on them. They enjoyed time to find their way without being told a direction or a goal.

Anyone who knows my girls can tell you that each is different. Taylor loves to learn and does so with ease. Someday I will miss not having her constantly around to refresh my memory on things we’ve learned, names and dates that have slipped my mind! She has always been very obedient and well behaved to the point of creating anxiety in herself that we spent much time healing. She’s one of those easy kids you always hear tell about, but don’t actually believe exists… ;) And then there’s my Jordan… a bit more of a challenge. She is the most like me in temperment. She is highly creative and has explored every craft I’ve tried and then some. She doesn’t beat around the bush, but does often gets in trouble for speaking her truth. Not because it isn’t important to do so, but because it is very important to be kind about it. And then there’s Riley Mae, my youngest. She’s also been pretty easy, although now is testing out some limits. She and Jordan enjoy spending hours and hours together with our many pets, and so along the way Miss Riley has picked up an attitude or two. We’re working on that. ;) She is a player, in the very genuine sense. She’ll still drag out all her dolls and spend hours teaching them school or feeding them dinner. Her imagination is a grand one, it’s had ample opportunities to develop. Homeschooling hasn’t been about creating carbon copies of myself, but instead granting them the freedom to discover their truths all by themselves. And accepting them when they differ from mine.

Perhaps, as most people do, you wonder about the social aspect. I will warn you that if you are ever to happen across a homeschooling mom or dad, you might want to refrain from asking this question! ;) It is most tiring. After all, when I think of my years in public school, I’m shocked they didn’t stunt my social abilities! Do you believe that high school was the place where you grew the most, and discovered how to behave kindly and with compassion? I can only speak for myself, but what I remember is a lot of disrespect and cruelty. Survival of the fittest.

School finds us where it finds us. During a recent frigid spell we were most comfortable gathered around the wood stove in the basement. This week the couch has been my spot of choice.
I am also not one of those moms that tries to create tons of social situations. I’ve never been one to fill all available time with activities. While it works for some, it’s just not my thing. We don’t do dance, or karate or sports. The girls always been left to their own devices for entertainment and “I’m bored” has never been allowed in my home. Literally. When they were younger entire days (who am I kidding? Entire years!) were devoted to Harry Potter alone. Scenes unfolded in our backyard, or my living room, complete with a stick wand they made in the backyard. Spells were hurled through the air with glee! And books, there have always been tons and tons of books. Or craft supplies, they fill every available space. Animals bark, meow, maa or cluck at every turn. In fact Jordan and Riley are upstairs as I type this snuggling and loving their new ferrets, acquired today as birthday gifts. We’ll add them to the rabbits, chickens, goats, dogs, cats, rats, lizard and hamsters that we already have. Who could ever be bored with so much to do???

When they were younger their devoted playmates were my sister’s kids, their three cousins. They were as close as siblings, and often fought like them just to prove it.  Two other friends also served as weekly playmates and that was enough for us. But, time marched on, their cousins were put in school and the other friendship slipped away. We spent some time exploring the local homeschool group and participated in a couple of science fairs and history fairs. We’ve hung out at Park Day and Craft Days. As they grew, Teen Group became their function of choice. Every other week the homeschool teens get together and hang out. Some weeks they bowl, or maybe roller-skate, but most often they just want the opportunity to be together. Laughing, talking, joking and sharing. In this group they’ve managed to find a couple of truly cherished friends who get their humor and don’t judge them for the choices they make. In fact, one of their best friends became a vegetarian after meeting the girls. Pretty awesome stuff.

So,  as to the social aspect… they don’t run with a big crown. Well, okay, any crowd. But even in their small group they’ve tasted it all. The Bully. The Know-it-all. The Whiner. They’re all there, providing ample opportunities to grow and figure out the best way to handle any situation. Hands down, kindness has proven to be the most valuable and powerful tool, even in the ugly face of jealousy.

To be continued...

Peace & blessings ~ Melinda

Packaging and water

Quiet, soft early morning of low cloud, the light growing cautiously, the rain spattering hypnotically on the roof windows up here in the garret.

This is a good day.  Susanna is coming around midday bringing a jar of raw honey from Redcoat Farm.  Alice is on half-day at the library, so she’ll be home in the afternoon.  It’s Thursday so the Badger comes home from Oxford for the weekend.

But first I must get up and have a shower and wash my clothes.  Nothing dries this weather, they’ll just have to hang over the bath, drip . . . drip . . . drip . . .

In our household, some of us have been thinking about water – how much we use, how much we waste – and packaging; what a lot of it there is and how hard it is to avoid, and discovering ways to wriggle out from under the mountain of packaging in which evil Mammon is burying our society.

Over many years I have thought long and carefully about ethical shopping, fair trade, compassionate farming, organics, animal welfare, and social justice.  I have thought about the impact of animal husbandry, and noticed that farm animals compete with the poor for water and land, and eat 35lbs of grain for every pound of flesh they yield.  I have pondered the journey of each pound coin, noticing that if I spend them in large chain stores they roll out of my community and into the pockets of rich shareholders far away, impoverishing the suppliers as they roll; but if I spend them in a small local family business the beneficiaries spend them within the community again, and so blessing accrues in the place where I live.  I have thought about Gandhi’s “Think globally and act locally,” and tried to buy goods where I knew who produced them and how – well, sometimes; oftentimes I just bought what was cheap and asked no questions, like everyone else.  But all this thinking filled my head up and I have never looked properly at water use and packaging.  Well – I went to showers more than baths and didn’t leave the tap running too long, but that was about all.  I chose paper bags over plastic when offered the choice and conscientiously took my own shopping bag so as not to need a plastic carrier, but not much more than that.  Now I have taken a deep breath and resolved to tackle the issues of water use and packaging.  One of my strategies involves a leaf-mould heap and a designated wormery.  Another strategy is purchasing toiletries from Lush.

Lush (check out the Our Values section on the website) is a brilliant firm.  They use natural ingredients, vegetarian, often vegan.  They don’t test on animals.  They have a fine environmental track record.
And here are two of their shampoos that I just bought: Ultimate Shine and Squeaky Green.

No packaging at all.  That's it.  That’s how they come.  And no water making up half the product.  Several of us in our household have Lush toiletries, so we got together to make up an order to save on postage.  The (recycled cardboard) box they came in was packaging of course, and the biodegradable packaging peanuts, but I didn’t waste them.  I used them to pack up some of the 365 items that I was Freecycling – three boxes of kitchen items for a young woman with three children moving out of bed-and-breakfast accommodation into her own home.

OK off I go - heading for the shower!

365 Day 26 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

You might think this hardly counts as an item.  The image is lifesize!  I wanted to include it because it stands as an example of the kind of pointless things I am inclined to hang onto.  That pretty little scrap of fabric . . . those dear little pegs. . . multiply that enough times and you need a drawer.  Go on multiplying and you have a problem.  In Goscinny and Uderzo’s glorious series Asterix the Gaul, in which the characters’ name are all jokes – Obelix the strong man, Cacophonix the Bard, Asterix the small man, Geriatrix the old man, Dogmatix (a dog, of course), Getafix the druid, inventor of magic potions; you can see them all here – the wife of the village chief (he was called Vitalstatistix) bore the shrewd appellation “Impedimenta”.  I can think of more than one woman who could have been christened Impedimenta with good cause.  Even though she was the best cook in the village, I have no aspirations to be “Impedimenta”, but I see it coming in the accumulation of nonsense like today’s item.  I didn’t throw it away.  It went into one of the craft kits (for children) I made up and Freecycled.