Category Archives: family

Meat Sweats and 4,000 Miles


I just got back from a two-week road trip.  We went from Phoenix to Texas to Michigan to Wisconsin to Colorado to back to Phoenix.  We stayed with some dear friends who feel like family, we saw some new sights and new cities, we spent some time on the beaches in Michigan, and we bonded – Griswold style.

Most people I know seem to have very strong feelings about road trips.  They either hate them or love them.  I love them.  I find them completely and utterly and bone-crushingly exhausting… but I love them.  Watching the changing scenery, eating all the road trip junk food, collapsing gratefully in the hotel bed in some humid, obscure little town in the middle of Kentucky…

But the best part about road trips are the conversations in the car.  We talk about everything, from TV shows to music to religion to politics to a whole bunch of stuff I can’t mention in polite society.  And also?  My kids make me laugh.  A lot.  I got in the habit of making a list of some of their most memorable quotes several years ago, and road trips (and their resulting dozens of captive hours in the car) prove to be a veritable treasure trove of new ones.  This trip was no exception.

Here are some of their greatest hits from the past two weeks, with no attribution, no commentary, and no context.  I hope you enjoy.  🙂

Here come the meat sweats.

Don’t eat the baby!

Who farted?  (I said there would be no commentary, but I feel compelled to clarify that this question is asked not once, but many many many times any time our family is in the car for any extended period of time)

They’re like little pockets of love.

Meat farts!!!

I have great balls.

So if you chewed it really hard and aggressively, it would have negative calories.

So a tsunami could hit us any second?

The meat sweats come and go.

Screaming is somewhat hot.

You drink one, and you twist the other.

It’s like not hot, but I’m… wet.

There are sixteen ways to kill someone with tweezers.

I have a weird shaped face.

She’d look pretty funny if she didn’t have a mouth.

I feel a baby. GIVE ME THE BABY. But the babies taste better.

My pickle’s stuck.

Was that a joke, or was it just a happy coincidence?

They were talking about the size of their junk when they were in the morph suits.

This tastes like the smell of a urinal cake.

We started from the virgin.

I haven’t pooped since Illinois.

Please don’t peel my onion!

He has to have some alone time with his waffle maker.

It’s all part of the experience.


Filed under family, vacation

Introverts on the Vegas Strip

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Last week at this time, my whole family was in Las Vegas, Nevada.  The kids and I tagged along on a business trip, with big plans to enjoy the pool, the free breakfast every morning, and the free happy hour every night (the bartenders were lovely and wonderful too… recognizing all six of us and remembering all of our chosen drinks after the very first night)

We were able to catch up with my cousins, one of whom was like another member of the family to us when we used to babysit her several days a week up until she was one.  She’s four now, and beautiful, and Tegan’s new BFF and honorary little sister.  We had a great time getting reacquainted, and spent several hours playing at the Children’s Discovery Museum, which turned out to be the best children’s museum I’ve ever gone to in my life.  We had a wonderful late lunch at a little family owned Mexican restaurant, where Tegan and Luna entertained us by dancing to the music.

In the evenings though, we did the whole Vegas tourist thing, and checked out the strip.  We’ve been to Vegas once before, but we mostly spent it going to shows and checking out the hotels and casinos during daylight. Seeing it all at night was a whole different proposition.  We’d park in one of those giant, ten-story parking garages, and just walk and walk, taking it all in.

We watched the fountain show outside the Bellagio.  We saw a light show set to rock music over Fremont street. We walked around an indoor mall/market thing with a high ceiling that was painted like the sky and made you feel like you were outside.  We saw about a zillion street performers doing everything from mime to playing music to making spin art to impersonating long-deceased celebrities.  We politely declined the dozens of people trying to hand us their business cards with the naked girls on them.  We stopped into a White Castle attached to a casino (because everything’s attached to a casino), and had our very first infamous in-person White Castle sliders, which as it turns out taste exactly like the frozen version you can get at the grocery store.

As an aside, our choice of dinner made me want to watch the cult stoner movie, Harold and Kumar go to White Castle – I adore Kal Penn –  so we rented it the following night.  But the video had an error and quit during the last 20 minutes, so we never did find out if Harold and Kumar ever made it to White Castle!

But I digress.  The Vegas strip.  There were a lot of smells, and sounds, and colors, and lights. My first realization was that the very thing that made it all interesting and entertaining was the same thing that made it so very overwhelming.  It was the exact opposite of everything we embody.  And I don’t mean that from a perspective of judgment;  it’s just that we (well, at least the guys and I) are big introverts.  We’re homebodies.  We’re quiet.  We don’t like to draw attention to ourselves.  We’re…… basic.  What we saw over those couple of nights was very very much NOT basic.  It was flashy.  It was attention-grabbing.  It was loud.  

Tegan, who’s seven and all about the sparkle and the only real extrovert in the family, absolutely loved it, right up until the point her feet got tired and she was ready to get back to the hotel. Loved it. Loved the glitz and the glamour and the costumes and the lights.  Loved the limos and the expensive cars.  Loved the ornate hotels and the fountains and the twinkling casinos.  Loved the pretty girls in the sparkly outfits (on a not unrelated note, this will forever be the trip in which she learned what a “pasty” is.)  She did not however love those guys with the metallic body paint who were statues one minute, and moving around the next.  They freaked her out.  I found them sort of strangely fascinating.

I found it all sort of strangely fascinating.

It was fun, and It. Was. Exhausting.  On the way home, we stopped to tour Hoover Dam, but otherwise made a beeline back to “basic.”  We’ve been home since Wednesday evening, and I’ve barely gotten out of my sweatpants.  I’ve been puttering around home, enjoying sleeping in my own bed, getting reacquainted with Netflix, and catching up on normal, quiet, wonderfully mundane things like emails.

Going away is always fun, but returning home is glorious.

P.S.  Seriously though, did Harold and Kumar ever make it to White Castle??


Filed under family, random, vacation

Saying No to Say Yes

unnamed It’s a week and a half before Christmas, which is always…. tricky.

I adore Christmas.  Love it.  Love the spirit. Love giving presents. Love the lights. Love the food. Love the Christmas cookies. Love hanging out with my family.

But it can be so BUSY, which, if left unchecked, can lead to stressful.  Exhausting. The exact opposite of what you’d want a holiday season to be.

This year I was well on my way to the latter.  I haven’t been sleeping, I’m still smack in the middle of my recovery and rehab, I’m still in daily pain, the house has once again gotten away from me.

And there are gifts to wrap!  Plans to make! Events to attend!

There’s a six year old, looking to her mom with love and expectation and wonderment, trusting that I’ll make the season magical and fun and exciting.

I literally couldn’t “do Christmas” at the speed I was going, and take care of all my other responsibilities, and focus on my recovery, and make things nice for the kids, and maintain any level of sanity.  

So, I started saying no.

The first thing I said no to was Christmas cards, even though we do them every year.  The pictures, the designing, the addressing, the stamping.  And you know what?  The earth is going to keep spinning even if all my relatives and friends don’t get a smiley picture of the McGrails to hang on their wall for two weeks before they recycle it.

Then I said no to a writing project, one I’d actually really wanted to do, but that carried a deadline of ten days before Christmas.

I said no to adding 237 new cookies to my repertoire this year.

I said no to causing myself physical pain by making the house reach some magical level of cleanliness before we have guests.  They’ll deal.

I said no to feeling like I needed to answer all my emails, or respond to everyone’s questions, or to fulfill anyone else’s expectations.  Yesterday morning, I got up and cleaned out my email box with one big (what I’d like to think was polite) response along the lines of, “I’ll get to this after the new year.”

I said no to doing, deciding, or thinking about anything that isn’t a priority right now.

And those “no”s freed me.

Those “no”s mean that I can say YES to my girl, and to my family, who shouldn’t have to pay the price for me not being able to say no when it’s needed.

YES to a lazy day at the zoo.

YES to paper snowflakes.

YES to a movie and popcorn first thing in the morning.

YES to playing with new dolls.

YES to gingerbread houses.

YES to playdates.

YES to driving around at night just to look at Christmas lights.

YES to Christmas parties with friends.

YES to spending hours reconnecting over Pay Day or Minecraft or Little Big Planet.

YES to hot chocolate and whipped cream.

YES to carpet picnics.

YES to quiet moments, and loud moments, and silly moments.

The “yes”s come quickly and easily, or at least they do when I’m not bogged down with Very Important To-Dos (ie: things I probably need to say no to).  I often find it strange and frustrating how hard it is to say no sometimes. Why should it be hard?  Why shouldn’t we be able to say no at any time, for any reason, and not give it a single moment of regret?

I can’t be all things to all people at all times.  I said those words on my FB page just a couple of weeks ago, and I know I’ll say them again.  I seem to need the constant reminder.

I can’t be all things to all people at all times.

Because the thing is, there is nothing more important than my family, especially right now.  So when the moment comes and I have to make a choice…. when I feel that little tug of “But, but… you need to do this!  You have to do that!”  I’ll answer, “You know what, as a matter of fact I DON’T.”

This year I’m giving myself the gift of NO, and what a gift it is.


Filed under about me, Christmas, family, parenting, perspective

On The Road Again

Tomorrow at this time, my family will be somewhere between here and Kansas, in the middle of the first leg of our 18-day cross-country road trip.


The last time we took a similar trip, two years ago, I had all these grand plans for all the productive stuff I’d get done during my hours and hours in the car.  I’d read!  I’d write!  I’d edit! I’d make lists!

Those plans were quickly – and unabashedly – abandoned when I realized that what I needed wasn’t time to DO more, but time to just…. be.  To appreciate the sites, to sing with my kids, to chat with my husband.  I love road trips so, so much.   And this time, I have no silly notions about being productive in the slightest.  For the next 18 days, consider me “clocked out.”  I’m going to enjoy the country, enjoy my family, enjoy the friends we meet along the way, enjoy the time away from the hustle and bustle of life.

It’s Easy Rider meets National Lampoon’s Vacation.

And I can’t wait.


Filed under family, traveling, vacation

the kids, the housework, and me.


It’s a series of questions I hear a lot.  A lot a lot:

Do you really not require them to do chores?  Do they still help around the house?  How do you get them to help?

Yes, I really don’t require them to do any particular chores.  Yes, they all still help around the house.  As for the last question:  It’s the wrong question.  It’s not about getting someone else to do what you want them to do.  If something isn’t working, it’s about changing what you can change about you, and letting the rest fall as it falls.  But I’ll get back to that later.

Not too long ago, I had a bit of a breakdown (and a resulting breakthrough) when it came to housekeeping.  I’ve admitted this here on my blog more times than I can count, but I’m not the most naturally tidy person out there.  I pretty much make a mess everywhere I go.  For most of my adult life, I’ve tried to make peace with that. I thought the answer was to embrace it.   Messes are good!  Messes are happy!  Life is a mess!  And while I still agree with that when it comes to many, many things, I finally faced the fact that I personally function so much better when my home –  my haven – is running smoothly.  When things are organized.  When my desk is tidy.   When my counter is shiny.

The problem was, none of that was happening.  Nothing was running smoothly.  Nothing was organized.  Nothing was tidy.  Nothing was shiny.  My own house was a source of stress, and a big one at that.

I eventually realized that 1)  This was MY issue.  (Well, mine and my husband’s, but he already works like 17 jillion hours a week outside the house, and contrary to popular belief can’t always put out my fires too) 2) Making desperate, impassioned, embarrassing speeches begging people to help me didn’t work… and made us all grumpy in the process, and 3) The only person I had the ability – and the right – to control was me.

So I decided to do something.

Borrowing and adapting ideas from both Flylady and Motivated Moms, I started digging my way out.  (“Borrowing” and “adapting” instead of flat-out following because I took what worked for me, and chucked the rest, with no apologies.  Put on shoes in my own house??  What kind of crazy crap is that?)  I started with baby steps, and am gradually working my way to household sanity.  My own personal 12-step program for slobs.  I didn’t do it to prove anything, didn’t do it for anyone else, didn’t do it for any other reason than because I wanted to.  As with any other new habit, the first few weeks were painful difficult, but now it’s all second nature, AND my house doesn’t stress me out anymore.

This is the daily plan that works for me (your mileage may vary):

  • Tegan sleeps in our bed about half the time.  If she’s in her bed, the first thing I do when I get up is make the bed.  (Otherwise, I just do it later) For most of our marriage, the bed’s been unmade.  I sort of never saw the point, if you’re just going to unmake to get into it again.  But lo and behold, it’s really really nice to come into a pretty and freshly made bed every night.  If your home is your haven, your bedroom should be your haven’s haven, right?  Plus, it gets me in the “tidy-up” mood I need for the rest of the morning.  So I take the time to do it.  It takes approximately 8 seconds and makes a huge difference.
  • Next I go into both bathrooms, and grab the toilet brush.  Quick swish of the toilet, and then a quick wipe down of the sink/counter/mirror with a damp cloth.  Two minutes.
  • On the way to the kitchen, I stop at the closet to grab a fresh dish towel.  It’s nice to have a fresh towel every day… and plus there’s that whole issue of kitchens being germier than bathrooms.  Which is gross.  So a new towel it is.
  • I start the pot of coffee, because I must.  While it’s brewing, I:
  • Empty the dishwasher
  • Run a broom just over the kitchen/dining area
  • Wipe down the counters, stove, and sink
  • Put any stray cups, etc, from the night before in the dishwasher.
  • If there’s laundry to do, I’ll throw that in then too.  (I’ll fold it later with a cup of iced coffee and Netflix to keep me company)

BAM.  Ten minutes from the time my feet hit the floor and I’m ready to sit and enjoy my coffee and answer my emails.

The only other thing I do housework-wise consistently every day is spend 15 minutes (yes, I set a timer) on cleaning … something …  whether it’s putting toys away, tidying up the living room, or working on decluttering.   I’m convinced that getting rid of the superfluous “stuff” in the house is one of the biggest natural highs in the world.  Right now my big project is the room that was originally built to be a formal dining room that has since become a computer room slash play room slash dumping ground slash all-around thorn in my side.  It’s not where I’d like it yet, but it’s looking a lot better, 15 minutes at a time.   15 minutes is nothing.  I could easily spend four times that much watching TV, or working on a blog post, or ::cough:: checking Facebook.

One day a week, I do the bigger jobs:

  • Properly clean the bathrooms
  • Sweep the whole house
  • Mop
  • Vacuum
  • Dust
  • Clean end tables, etc
  • Change everyone’s sheets
  • Take out the trash

The whole thing takes about an hour, less if the kids help me.  And speaking of the kids:  Last night after dinner (because he likes to give me real-life examples for my blog posts without even realizing it)  Mike asked Everett – 9 at the time of this writing – if he’d take out the recycling bins.  Spencer does it more often than not, but his shoulder is still not quite up to it.  So he asked Everett.  And that’s how it works… no more complicated nor more simple than just … asking.  As is the case I’d say, oh, 75% of the time, Everett said “Sure”, brought his plate up to the sink, and went to get the recyclables.

20% of the time, the answer is “Sure…” followed by a, “when my show is over” or “after I finish this level”, or “in a little bit.”  And 5% of the time, they decline.  Because they’re too tired, or busy, or just plain choose to opt out.

In the past, that 5% caused a huge problem.  But not because of the kids.  Because of me.

The kids don’t exist to be at my beck and call.  We’re a family… we’re all equals here.  We’re on the same team, the kids and me.  I knew all of that intellectually, but until I’d fixed my own messed-up relationship with housework, my words might have been asking, “Would you please help me with xyz?” but everything else about me was screaming, “Kids!  Help me with this unpleasant task that I don’t even want to do myself!  I’m going to frame it like it’s a question, but I’m going to get all grumbly if you say no.  Stupid housework.  Stupid messy house.  If I could just get some HELP every once in awhile, instead of doing it all myself.  Grumble grumble grumble….”   I mean seriously, would you want to help that person?   Once I’d adjusted my own frame of reference, it changed everything, and that 5% became a non-issue.  Now when I ask, I’m honestly asking, and if the answer is “Not right now” or “No thanks” or “Can someone else do it?”, I’m cool with that.  Because things are running much more smoothly overall, it’s not a big deal for me to do most of the cleaning projects myself… and it’s also not a big deal for others to pitch in:  sometimes when they’re asked, and sometimes just because they want to help.   And it should go without saying, but it’s also a whole lot more pleasant to deal with housework in general when it’s with someone who’s calm and cheerful about it instead of, well, stressed out and scary.

Most days, I’m honestly happy to do housework now.  It feels good to create and keep a nice space and a happy unschooling “nest” for my family.  It’s easier to find things and work on our various projects, and I’m no longer stressed out by all the inevitable – and often necessary – messes.  Messes are easy to clean when they’re made on a fresh canvas.  It’s the messes that fall on top of messes on top of messes that are overwhelming.  Am I always cheerful and happy about cleaning?  Well, no.  This is the real world.  And some days the best I can do is recognize that it’s a necessary part of life, and something I can still choose to do without complaining.  And on “those” days?  The rare days when I’d rather stick a fork in my eye than pick up a broom or handle a dirty dish or run one more load of laundry?   I give myself the day off, and I don’t feel guilty about it.

Do I think my kids are going to be stellar housekeepers when they’re out on their own?  I have no idea.  I’m not nearly as concerned with how they “turn out” as I am with their living in a happy, cohesive, peaceful household right now.  If I had to guess, I’d say that it’s largely just a matter of personality, and how they’re individually hard-wired.  Some of my kids have always loved to keep everything around them neat and tidy… and some have always been, well, more like I was as a kid.  And neither is right or wrong until or unless THEY decide it’s right or wrong in their own life.

I do know that they’re finally able to see and experience a mom who is happy to do it, to do her best to take pride in, and take care of this place we call home … humble though it may be.  And on a deeper level, a mom who recognized a problem within herself and is taking steps to fix it.

Surely that’s got to count for something.



Filed under about me, family, learning, organizing, unschooling

A Moment

Day 9, Thursday: A moment in your day (this can be just a photo or both a photo and words)


Today we took the kids to the local aquarium.  It was a good time (it always is), as was the nice Mexican dinner we went to afterward at a little delicious hole-in-the-wall place that we hadn’t been to for years.  Neither of those were the best part of the day though.

After our early dinner, we had to wait around for a call from the shop that was working on Mike’s Land Cruiser, to let him know it was ready.  We’d gone down in two cars in the morning, and dropped it off before we headed to the aquarium.  I guess the kids and I could have gone home without him, and let him wait on his own, but that’s not the way we roll.  Plus, we were way down in Mesa – a good 45 minute drive –  and it seemed a shame to waste so much of his day off by driving apart when we didn’t have to.

So we found a nearby park with a playground, and settled in to wait.  Now, I take the two little ones to the playground all the time, but I can’t remember the last time we were at a playground with all four kids… at least not when the boys weren’t off on their own with friends.  Hanging out at a playground as a family was a treat that didn’t go unappreciated.  Tegan played on the slides and jungle gym till she tired of it, Everett pretended he was doing a “Survivor” style obstacle course on some of the equipment, we all took turns on the swings, and we eventually retired to a shady spot in the sand where we buried the kids and chatted about everything from haircuts to summer vacations to starting your own business.  The shop finally called to tell him the truck was done (and, bonus: at $100 less than estimated!  When does that ever happen??), and we slowly made our way out.  On the way, the kids decided to stop at those bouncy animals, the ones on giant springs, designed for very little kids.  Paxton, who’s nearly 13 and already six feet tall, started riding on one and laughed so hard he almost couldn’t breathe.  Everett joined in on another one, and not being able to resist, I hopped on the last one – a squirrel – to see what the fuss was about.  Instant laughter as I flopped back and forth.  Paxton nearly fell off his dinosaur.

And we headed to get the truck and start for home… tired; happy; with dirty, sandy feet; full bellies; and full hearts.  Now that’s a moment.

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Filed under family, life

Unschooling, According to the Kids

Yesterday, I took the opportunity to have a chat with all four of the kids about unschooling.  I wanted to be able to share their words, their thoughts, and their perspectives.  What follows is just a portion of the awesome conversation that unfolded.  Bold words are mine, and responses are from Spencer (16), Paxton (12), Everett (almost 9) and Tegan (5)

What is unschooling?

Everett:  It’s learning what you want, in the way that you want to learn it.

Paxton:  It’s hard to explain.  Being autodidactic.  That’s unschooling.

Spencer:  Unschoolers can learn what they want, when they want.

Paxton:  They’re not forced to go with the “system”

What is the best part of unschooling?

Tegan:  Playing, and playing tag, and playing dolls, and all sorts of fun stuff.  Okay… Playing.

Everett:  I like all of it.

Paxton:  Having the freedom to be able to do what you want, when you want.

Spencer:  Being able to set your own schedule.

Are there any negatives to unschooling?

Paxton:  Not that I can think of, no.

Everett:  No.  I like everything about it.

Spencer:  Nope.

Do you ever feel like you’re missing out on anything by not going to school?

Tegan:  I do!  Like story time.

Paxton:  Well I might be missing out on opportunities to make a few friends…

Everett:  Yeah

Paxton:  But I’m okay with that because I’m an introvert, and that’s what homeschooling groups are for anyway.

Spencer:  Absolutely not

Which leads me to my next question.  Do you feel like you have enough opportunities to be around other kids/make friends?

Paxton:  Yes

Spencer:  Yes

Everett:  Yeah

Tegan:  Mmm hmmm.

How do you know you’re learning if you’re not tested?

Tegan:  Well, I know I’m learning because everybody tells me that I’m learning every day

Paxton:  Because it’s a fact.  You learn something new every day whether you realize it or not.

Spencer:  Just because I know more stuff than I used to know

Paxton:  Over time, you just realize that you know more and can do better

Everett:  Even in school, the teachers can’t really know if you’re learning, because they’re not inside your head

Spencer:  Yeah, that’s a good point.  You could get an A on one test, or you could get an F, even if you know the answers.

Right, some people just don’t test well.

Everett:  So the teachers can’t always know, because they’re not you

Some people think that unschoolers will only learn things that are easy for them, and will not ever challenge themselves.  So do you learn things that are difficult, or do you just go for easy things that you know you’ll do well?

Spencer:  I like a challenge!

Paxton:  Yeah, if it’s too easy, it’s no fun.  If it’s too hard, it’s no fun.

Everett:  And if at school, if you were doing something hard that you didn’t want to do and were forced to do it… you couldn’t take a break and do something easy for awhile when you wanted to.  With unschooling, you can put the harder thing down for awhile, and do an easier thing.

Paxton:  Absolutely.  I’m going into programming games in Python, and that’s learning like millions and millions of lines of code.  It’s not exactly an easy thing to do.

But you have the motivation to do it because…

Paxton:  Because that’s something I want to do for a career.

Do you think you’ll ever want to try to go to traditional school?

Spencer:  No

Paxton:  Unless it’s necessary for what I want to do with my coding, no.

Everett:  I might eventually want to go, just to try it out to see, but I’m happy being unschooled.

Spencer:  There’s so many advantages to unschooling.

Do you think unschooling would work for any child?

Paxton:  Not necessarily… some people might be more inclined to want to go to school.

Everett:  Yeah

What would you say to a parent who says, “Unschooling would never work for us because my kid would just sit and watch TV all day, and would never learn anything?”

Paxton:  You learn something new every day

Everett:  You might think they’re not learning, but they really do learn something, whether you see it or not

Paxton:  What if they’re watching shows about something they want to do as a career?

Spencer:  Exactly

Paxton:  Then being able to sit and watch TV all day would be a huge bonus

Paxton:  I watch Mythbusters because I want to blow stuff up.  Blowing stuff up is cool.

Everett:  I totally agree with that

Paxton:  But the science on Mythbusters is really cool

Some people that with unschooling, the kids run the house.  Agree or disagree?  Who do you think runs our house?

Spencer:  You and Dad.

Tegan:  Spencer took my answer!

Everett:  I think we all run the house

Paxton:  Disagree.  Obviously you as the parents get the final say if an issue comes up, but it’s really pretty much a family deal around here.

Tegan:  Mommy and Daddy, and everyone except the pets

Some people say that unschooling equals unparenting… that there’s no guidance, and that the kids just run around all willy nilly.

Paxton:  No.  Just, no.

Paxton:  I mean, to an extent.  You’re not strict like other parents, but there’s still guidance.

Spencer:  And there’s rules…

Paxton:  Not so much rules, but just general.. what’s the word…


Paxton:  Principles, yes, but something else.  Just general… The word’s on the tip of my tongue.  It’s two words… (he’ll think of it later)

Okay, we’ll come back to that.  How do you learn to do math if you never have a math lesson?

Spencer:  Just doing it in our daily life

Paxton:  I use math on a daily basis… sometimes for fun, and sometimes just to figure something out.

Everett:  I taught myself.

But how did you learn it?

Paxton:  By doing it.

Everett:  You just do it, and then you do it more, and practice and you get better…

How did you learn to read?

Spencer:  Books

Everett:  The same as math

Paxton:  Self-taught.  Autodidactic.

Spencer:  Playing games, doing things on the computer…

Do you feel like you’re being sheltered from the real world?

In unison:  No

You guys are giving really short answers..

Paxton:  Do you want a novel for each question?

Yes  (laughter)  Okay, what do you think is the biggest misconception about unschooling?

Everett:  That kids don’t learn anything, that they are just running around doing what they do.

Paxton:  I agree with what Everett said, and also that the kids run the house.  That’s not true.  So not learning anything, the kids running the house deal.  I’m still looking for the two words from that other question…

Do you feel like you’ll be prepared for a future career?

Spencer:  Yes, because I’m already working on what I want to do for a career right now (working on small engines)

Paxton:  Yes, that’s why I’m starting that Python class next week.

When you have kids, do you think you’ll send them to school or will you unschool?

Tegan:  Well, I’m not going to send them to school when they’re little, but I might send them to school when they’re big

Everett:  I would do what they wanted to do.  If they wanted to go school, I’d let them go to school.  If they wanted to be unschooled, I’d unschool

Tegan:  I want to change my answer.  I’d let them choose.

Paxton:  I’d let them do what they want to do too, but I’d definitely try to urge unschooling

Spencer:  I’d unschool


Paxton:  Common sense!!!  Common.  Sense.  Those were the two words.  I don’t even remember what the question was, but common sense.

Was it the question about not having any guidance?

Paxton:  Maybe… In the context of knowing what to do, and what not to do.  Common sense.

Ooooh, okay, you mean you don’t have to have rules, because how you act in a household is just common sense?

Paxton:  Yes!

So how did you learn to have this common sense if you didn’t have rules, weren’t punished….

Paxton:  Because it’s common sense…. Like if you do something once and something bad happens, you say to yourself, “Oh I probably shouldn’t do that again.”

Let’s go back to the question about kids just watching TV or playing video games all day, because that’s a real concern for some people.  Do you think that it’s an actual thing that happens, or do you think it’s a misconception?

Paxton:  I think it just depends on the kid.  It can happen, but it’s not a bad thing.  If you think about it, a kid that’s free to choose isn’t going to play a video game or watch a TV show all day unless it’s something that they’re really interested in or passionate about.

Everett:  Yesterday, I was watching a video about how educational video games could be

Do you think you get a well-rounded education being able to follow your own interests? 

Everett:  Well with unschooling, you’re not forced to learn about any one thing.  You can learn about other things if you want to

Paxton:  But do you want to?  When you’re following an interest, do you learn a variety of things, or do you just learn about that one thing?

For example, basic skills…. reading, writing, math… do you feel that you get all those basic skills just by following your own interests?

Spencer:  Yes

Everett:  It kind of depends on what your interest is, but yes

Paxton:  I definitely got my math brain from my father, but even just by learning about what I’m passionate about, I’m definitely learning a lot about math and numbers and words… how to put this together and that together and try this… engineering….

If you want to learn about something, what do you do?   What tools do you use? Who helps you?

Tegan:  Well, you help me.  I want to learn about going on the green slide, and driving and stuff.   You help me.  You’re my person.

Paxton:  You’re her person

Spencer:  Well, right now I’m interested in getting better at small engines, so your uncle’s been really helpful

Paxton:  If I want to learn about something, my first instinct is to go to YouTube

Everett:  Yeah

Paxton:  Or, you know, find a book or something.  Or find somebody that I know who has an interest or knowledge of that subject

Oh!  Here’s a question.  Some people think that unschoolers don’t use books.  True?

Spencer:  Wrong!

Everett:  That’s totally not true

Paxton:  I for one, don’t particularly enjoy doing my reading from books.  But I will do a lot of research online… find articles, forums, everything on the subject that I want to learn about

Spencer:   I like books.  You got me that whole set of books on engine repair, and they’ve been a good resource.

Paxton:  Yeah, you’re very supportive of what we want to learn about, and help us find what we need to learn more about it, and to follow the interest.

Spencer:  Yes, you are

Everett:  But you don’t force us to do it

Paxton:  No, you just help us when we need it

So you don’t feel like I’m “hands off”, or that you’re learning on your own?

Paxton:  Not at all

Everett:  Because if we have an interest, you support it, and you help us research it.  And even if we want to do something, and can’t figure out, “how do I do this?”  we can ask you.

Do you ever feel like you’re overly encouraged?  Like do you think that you’re being pushed to take certain paths?

Spencer:  No

Paxton:  You’re encouraging us in the areas we want to pursue.

Everett:  Right, you’re not encouraging us to go into chemistry if we want to go into math.

Paxton:  I feel like any job we chose would be supported

So, Spencer you want to go into engine repair and landscaping;  Paxton you want to be a computer programmer.  Everett, do you know what you want to do when you grow up?

Everett:  Making games would be fun

Paxton:  He’s said he’d like to go into sound effects

Everett:  Yeah that’d be really fun job to do

Some people think that since we don’t really have rules in the house, and since the parents aren’t really the “boss”, that you’ll never learn how to respect authority.  What do you think about that?

Everett:  That’s not true.  We learn to respect others.

Paxton:  Again, it’s just common sense.  There are rules everywhere, and we learn to follow them if we want to be part of… Part of…


Paxton:  Yes, society.  We’re respectful members of society, just not the system.

Okay, let’s talk socialization.

Paxton:  I’m socially awkward


Paxton:  No, I’m not that socially awkward.  I’m not Sheldon.  I know how to introduce myself, say hello, shake people’s hands….

Spencer:  In school,  you’re mostly just around other kids

Paxton:  In the same room, all day

Everett:  With kids that you might not even choose to be around.  Or be friends with.

Paxton:  And being out of school, we’re around people of all ages.  I like being able to make friends with other people who have similar lifestyles, but if we don’t, I can adapt and still say hi and be friendly and become friends with one another.

Here’s one someone asked me the other day.  How do you know that you prefer unschooling to school, if you’ve never been to school for comparison?

Spencer:  We can just talk to friends that have gone to regular schools.

Paxton:  Well I’ll find out next week, even though I’m not actually going to school.

Right, but it’s one class that you chose, and something that you’re interested in.

Paxton:  That’s true.  It’s really different than going to school for what, 7 hours a day?  Being forced to learn something and do things that you may not want to do just doesn’t sound like a fun concept.

Everett:  And even if there is something you do want to learn about, you can only learn about it at certain times.

Paxton:  And you’re forced to learn it whether you want to at that time or not.  You don’t have the freedom to do what you want, for how long you want.

Do you think that unschooling is a good option for someone who is considered “special ed”, has ADHD, etc?

Everett:  I think unschooling is better than regular schooling, because they can learn at their own pace, instead of being forced to learn things in a certain way.

Paxton:  I think everyone would have some sort of label if we went to school.

Spencer:  I think unschooling would be the best choice, because something might be harder for them to learn in the traditional ways.

Everett:  And with unschooling, you can focus on strengths

Does it bother you – or maybe this hasn’t happened to you – if someone says for example, “You’re in sixth grade, you should know this by now?” 

Paxton:  It doesn’t bother me, but it’s annoying.

Spencer:  Yeah, when someone says that it’s like they’re boasting and rubbing it in your face

Paxton:  Exactly.  They’re being kind of rude.

Spencer:  Like, “Ha ha, we know more than you.”

Paxton:  It doesn’t bother me at all if I’m “behind” where the public schools think I should be, because everyone learns at their own pace, but I’d be pretty irritated if someone actually walked up to me and said something like that.

Okay, to expand on that… Do you think there is a certain group of things that kids should know at certain ages?  Or do you think everyone should just learn at their own pace?

Spencer: Everyone should be able to learn at their own pace.

Everett:  I’d say, if they want to learn it they will, no matter what age they are

Paxton:  Everyone learns at their own pace, but there will be some things that will be necessary in life sooner than others.   Like reading, math… that kind of thing

So do you think unschooling has provided you the environment to learn those things?  Or the tools to know how to learn them when you need them? 

Everett:  Definitely

Paxton:  Yes.  It’s provided me what I need to know, what I already know… AND has given me the tools to learn more when I want to or need to.

How about this… do you think it’s important for kids to learn for example, all the state capitals, or who was president when, or the dates when certain things happened…

Spencer:  It just depends on the person

Paxton:  For some people, it’s really cool for them to learn about stuff like that, and for others, it’s just really frustrating and hard to remember.  And if they don’t need it…

Everett:  No one’s going to want to be forced to learn it

Paxton:  And they’re not going to remember it anyway, if it’s not something they’re interested in

Okay, upper level math.  Necessary?  Not necessary?

Spencer:  Not

Paxton:  Yeah, unless you’re going to go into a field that requires it, you’re probably not going to need more than the basics in day to day life.

Some people worry that if kids are given too much freedom, they’re not going to make good choices.  What are your thoughts on that?

Spencer:  I think most kids would make good choices if they’re trusted

Paxton:  I agree

Tegan:  Ask me the question!

Tegan, do you know what are some good choices, and what are some not-very-good choices?

Tegan:  Hitting and punching aren’t very good choices.  Saying bad words isn’t a good choice.

Paxton:  Oh, are we going to talk about swearing?

Did you want to?

Spencer:  It’s just about knowing when

Paxton:  When, where, time and place, being aware of and respectful about who’s around you

Tegan:  Spanking someone isn’t a good choice.

Oh!   Let’s talk about spanking.  How did you learn to stay out of the street if you were never spanked?

Everett:  Because you told us to.  You talked to us.

Paxton:  There’s no need to cause physical harm to teach someone to be safe.

Spencer:  You can just say, “Don’t go in the street.”  It’s pretty obvious.

Everett:  Or you can say, “That wasn’t very safe.  Please don’t do it again.”

Paxton:  And again, it’s common sense.  If you do it once, and are told not to, you don’t do it again.  And then you get to a point where it’s like, “Hmm, that car is coming pretty fast.  Maybe I shouldn’t jump in front of it.”

Here’s a question.  We don’t require any of you to do chores, but you all pitch in when we ask anyway.  Spencer, earlier I asked you to bring out the recyclables, and you did.  You didn’t have to, but you did anyway.  Why?

Spencer:  Because the bin was overflowing, and we all use it.  It needed to be done.

Everett:  And it’s just the nice thing to do

Spencer:  Yes!

Paxton:  That’s exactly what I was going to say

Tegan, why do you brush your teeth when I ask you to, even though it’s never been something I’ve made you do?

Tegan:  Because I want to keep my teeth clean and healthy.

So how have you learned to do things if they were never a requirement?

Everett:  We just choose to do them

Paxton:  Yeah, choose to do them, then learn from the outcome.  Learn from the outcome, and decide whether or not it would be a good idea to do whatever it was again.

Along those same lines… you’re all able to set your own schedule in terms of sleep, etc.  How will you adjust to having a job and having to get up early/be somewhere at a certain time?

Paxton:  I’d just set an alarm, and get it done.  Eventually you get into a routine, and you’d get used to it.

Everett:  Yeah, you just keep doing it, and it gets easier.

Spencer:  What I do when I want to adjust my schedule is just start going to bed an hour earlier each night until I get on the schedule I want.

Paxton:  Yeah I’d rather just set my alarm.  I’d have to force myself to do it the first few times, but then it would become a habit, and get easier.  Just do it, and get it done.

At this point, I tried to ask them what they’d learned from video games, but it rabbit trailed into a very long discussion about the zombie apocalypse.  They did eventually tell me that in addition to learning what to do in case of zombies, that they’d learned (and are continuing to learn) things like reading, physics, problem solving, grammar, spelling, math, cooperative play…

Paxton:  If you’re exposed to anything enough, you learn from it.

Everett: In the video I was watching yesterday, the guy was talking about Minecraft and about how many different things kid can learn from it… even just from how big the blocks are, how they fall…

Paxton:  Portal II is also a great game to figure out physics, puzzles, how things fit together, how to think outside the box….

Here’s something that has been pretty hotly debated lately.  Do you think it’s possible to unschool part-time?  For example, saying, “We unschool except for math and english?”

Paxton:  That’s not unschooling.  That’s homeschooling.  If you’re forcing them to do it, even if it’s just one or two subjects, that’s homeschooling, not unschooling.

Everett:  With unschooling, you should be learning what you want to learn.

Spencer:  Yeah, I think if you’re going to unschool, you should unschool.    Traditional homeschooling is pretty much the same as going to school, you’re just doing it at home.

So you think that you’re either an unschooler or you’re not?

Paxton:  Yes, there’s not really an in-between.

What would be your response to somebody who said something like, “Oh I like the idea of unschooling, but I’d be worried that my child wouldn’t learn everything he’d need to know.” ?

Paxton:  If they truly need to know something, they will learn it.

Everett:  Yeah.  If they really needed it, they would know it, and they would learn it.

Paxton:  If something is truly a NEED to learn, the child would learn it… on his or her own, at his or her own pace, with no force.

And finally, are you going to grow up to be murderers and drug addicts and criminals?

Spencer:  No

Paxton:  Yes

Everett:  Well, not those things. But I might be a hippie.

Paxton:  HIPPIES!!

Everett:  Hippies rule!!

Thank you, to the four most awesome kids I know.




Filed under Everett, family, Paxton, Spencer, Tegan, unschooling


I used to love fall.  Is there anything better than fall in New England?  The falling leaves, the crisp air, the football games, the apple picking, the sweater weather.  Fall makes me think of new jeans and warm drinks and marching bands playing the fight song.

Now I’d have to drive at least an hour or two to see falling leaves, and while I could technically wear a sweater if I really wanted to, it would likely make me die of heat stroke (we’ve been hitting 115 this week), and the air won’t be crisp until December.

But I still love fall.

Everything is new again, filled with beginnings and promise.  Every year at this time I celebrate a little bit that we’re once again making a conscious decision not to send the kids to school.  Spencer is 15 now, so we’re right around a decade of opting out.   That is something to celebrate for sure!  Plus, when school is back in session, it means we no longer have to share the parks, libraries, and museums with crowds of other kids.  (That sounds bad, doesn’t it?  At least I didn’t go with my first instinct, which was to say we didn’t have to share “our” parks, libraries, and museums.  What can I say.  Us homeschoolers are possessive of our hang-outs. ;))

Cub Scouts starts up again soon, and I just registered both Everett and Tegan for gymnastics and karate, and gymnastics and ballet respectively.  Earlier this week we met with our little group of friends and fellow homeschoolers, for the first time since May.  It felt a little bit like coming home.  We’ll start getting together weekly now, as well as with our larger group, and the older boys’ with their teen group.

And of course this year, fall also means I’m starting a new business, which is perhaps the most exciting beginning of all.

Ushering in a new season is a good thing indeed.  Even without the falling leaves.


Filed under fall, family, friends, homeschooling

How cool (and hot) is the Mojave Desert

It never fails.  Every time we take a cool trip, or have a fun new experience, I swear I’m going to write a completely awesome blog post all about it.  I’ll post lots of pictures, I’ll regale you all with funny stories and anecdotes and pithy observations.  It will be epic.

And then, um, I return to the real world.  I remember, “Oh yeah, I barely have time to shower.”  There’s a house to tend to, and 4 days worth of smoky, dusty laundry.  And appointments.   And yoga training.  And the little matter of four kids who have been entrusted in my care.  And life.

It’s a shame too, because if I’d written it I could have waxed poetic about the beauty and majesty of the vast open desert, and how it’s become not only the most peaceful place in the world to me, but also a living metaphor for freedom and unschooling and life.

I could have told you about the crazy and deafening winds that first night, how hard we laughed about the frigid temperatures (It’s the Mojave Desert!), and how some of us came so very prepared for 120 degree heat… but with no sweatshirts.

I could have told you that the kids and I looked out the windows the entire time, hoping to catch a glimpse of a Mojave rattle snake, but that the only wildlife we ever saw was jackrabbits, birds, and lizards.

I could have told you how ridiculously sunburned my nose got, not when the heat finally hit mind you, but on the mild and cool second day.

I could have told you how wonderful and rejuvenating it was to spend that much uninterrupted time as a family, with no distractions, no ringing cell phones, no internet, and no TV.

I could have told you about the stars, and the moon, and the coyote.  I could have told you about Tegan and her sand, Everett and his holes, Paxton and his juggling, and Spencer and his mad tent-pupping skills.

I could have told you about the little moments, those tiny moments that make a trip great.  I could have told you about the ant we watched for a good half an hour, as it worked to saw off a little piece of the dropped peanut, to get a manageable size to bring back to its home…

But alas, a long fancy blog post is not to be.

I did however, make a little video diary (a viary?) that was lovingly put all together into a 20 minute movie by my better half.  It will be of absolutely zero interest to anyone else, unless you A) want to listen to me ramble for 20 minutes, or 2) have more than a passing interest in seeing what the Mojave Trail looks like.  But I’m glad I have it, because it really was an amazing trip.  And even though I won’t have that monumental blog post, I’ll still have the pictures, and I’ll still have the video.  I can look at them, and I’ll remember.




Filed under camping, family, off-roading, vacation

Plane tickets & new chapters


The first time Mike and I were on an airplane together was on our honeymoon.  We were headed to Florida, to a condo that was graciously offered to us by a family friend.    We were all lovey and wide-eyed, and I remember actually feeling a little bit embarrassed about how loudly our appearance screamed, “Newlyweds.”  We were, like, twelve years old, and our wedding rings (which we have since ditched for matching silver bands with a quote in gaelic on them) were blindingly clean and sparkly.

The second time – of two – was right before we got pregnant with Spencer.  We were on our way to the Bahamas with my sister and her then boyfriend.  It was actually supposed to be a cruise (which we did take on the way back) but there was a fire on the ship, and we ended up having to fly there instead.   It was a fun trip to a cool resort with great music, all-night limbo parties, and my introduction to the drink called the Bahama Mama.

This morning, 16 years since the booze cruise Bahama vacation, he booked us two tickets to Chicago. Next month I’m going to accompany him on a 4 day business trip sans kids, which will mark the first time that we’ve gone away just the two of us since becoming parents, AND the first time I’ve spent more than a day away from the kids period (I’m not counting the time I was in the hospital for five days with my gall bladder issues.  I’m pretty sure there are different rules when you’re unconscious, losing bodily organs, or hopped up on morphine)

Not leaving the kids was not a conscious decision so much as a continuation of just following my heart and their lead.  I knew I’d do it when they were ready, and not a moment sooner.  We feel most happy and whole when we’re together, whether that means sticking around home, traveling across the country, or all those medium spots in between.

But there he was.  Asking me if I wanted to go with him to Chicago.  A year ago, I wouldn’t have even considered it.  Six months ago, I wouldn’t have even considered it.

This time though, I knew it was time.  And I was ecstatic about the prospect…. three whole days in a new-to-me city, just me and that husband of mine.  The kids are thrilled to spend a few days with their grandparents, and while I’ll miss them like crazy, I know that it’ll be a positive adventure for them as well.

I feel excited, I feel nervous… but mostly I feel an overwhelming sense of the bittersweet.  Not because I’m not sure if the kids are ready, but because I know that they are.


Filed under attachment parenting, family, kids, traveling