Why Do I Write?

I feel that I have something to say. It may or may not be important to the world, but regardless, it feels important to me. I can’t seem to say these important things out loud, though.

Don’t get me wrong — I talk. A lot. As a child, the phrase I heard more than any other was, “Hey, how about you try to NOT talk for two minutes?” (As an aside, I wish someone had taught me the skills to be around people without feeling the need to fill every crack of silence, and also informed me that sometimes, people who talk a lot are gifted communicators and can harness that into a career like marketing, public relations, teaching or journalism.) But the things I say are often inconsequential.

In fact, when I’m in a social situation like a party or at work, it takes quite a bit of conscious effort on my part to not say every. single. thought. that whizzes through my head.

“I’m thinking of trying that new yoga class on Saturdays.”

“I made chilli last night and used more paprika than usual and it turned out great.”

“When I was a kid I had Fisher Price roller-skates and would skate around my parents’ basement.”

I also tell stories out loud in a way that I think some writers do: with some guessing, a fair bit of drama and hyperbole, and lots of exclamation points. My favourite thing is when people let me tell stories like this and just enjoy them for what they are, with a grain of salt. (Another aside – the same can be said for my cooking.)

But when I need to effectively get something important across — my doubts about a situation, a relationship or job; my insecurities, to a loved one; describing my beliefs in something bigger than us — I stumble.

I’m able to speak. Words come out. But they’re not right. More often than not, they are misunderstood, because frankly, they were poorly chosen. I can hear that as they pass my lips. I stumble and trip on my thoughts, get sidetracked and allow myself to be carried away by the conversation, eventually losing my original path all together.

What was it I wanted to tell you?

My brain doesn’t calibrate properly to the pace of speech. It either moves faster than I can express, pushes out thoughts before I can think them over, or it can’t keep up to my lips, which are trying to create a sentence. I suppose maybe this variability means my brain forms its messages in fits and starts. All the ideas all at once, and then I need to ruminate on this one turn of phrase for approximately five minutes. Yes… that was what I was getting at. Those words are perfect.

When I write, whether it’s typing or with a pen on paper, I don’t feel myself forming the thoughts. They come out through my fingers, and magically, there in front of me, is exactly what I was trying to communicate. Wow, I didn’t know that was what I meant!

Sure, I have to edit. I love editing. But even that seems to move with the pace of my thoughts. Mull something over once, rant about it, get it all out. Let it sit a day or two. Look again. Good lord! Did I say that? Let me put this here and move that over there and cut all of that out entirely and I see now that I forgot to mention something very important. The first draft is the soapstone, carved into a very oblique shape of… something. An owl, perhaps. Later, the features come into fine detail with the specific fine-tipped tools.

There is also the matter of being heard. I mentioned that I talk a lot — this means I often feel compelled to fill perfectly lovely silences with utter nonsense that no one cares about; and that the things I do feel the real need to say often ramble on, and on, and on. Predictably, the people who spend the most time with me learn to tune me out. I know enough from spending heaps of time with very chatty children that this is a survival mechanism and I really shouldn’t take it personally. And usually, I don’t. But sometimes I will be saying something that feels really important to me, and I’ll realize they’re not even trying to pretend to listen anymore. And yes, that hurts my feelings sometimes.

Writing makes so much more sense in this regard. Pick up what I’ve written. Read a paragraph. Distracted by the pasta boiling over? Come back in 15 minutes. If this section is boring, skim over it and get to something more relevant.

Of course, my feelings can still be hurt when it comes to writing, and I’ll tell you how. Show no interest. Don’t ask me what I’m working on. Don’t read what I’ve written. Don’t notice when I’m proud. Don’t encourage me to create. Frankly I couldn’t care less if you like what I write (argh, that’s a lie. I’d love for you to love it. But the only thing I’ll dislike more than you hating it is if you lie about it and say you didn’t), but for God’s sake… read it. Read something. Even if it’s just this blog post.

Half-Point Check-in: Guess What? My Life WILL NOT Be Simplified.

It resists. It’s ornery. This project is great, I love learning new life hacks, but for crying out loud it hasn’t simplified my life even enough to make space for writing a daily blog post about simplifying my life. OR, aiming to write a daily blog post is counteractive to simplifying one’s life. Hmmm.

I did, I’ll admit, take on a new job around the time I stopped posting these regularly (which was what… Day 10? Day 7?). Life has been rather, er, nuts since I took on the extra responsibilities.

So I apologize for posting these so sparsely. I’m busy trying to fit in workouts (not happening) and do a better job of homeschooling (this, thankfully, is happening. I hope to post some things about that soon.) and write more. I am writing more. Just not blog posts.

Day 5 of 28 Days to Simplify My Life a la Pinterest: Work Fast

Today’s tip is another from the productivity infographic pin by Anna Vital: How to Work Fast.

From an infographic by Anna Vital.

From an infographic by Anna Vital.

Here’s a slew of tips for getting more work done in less time. These are some good tips, although, I realized once I was doing them, they are specifically geared toward a certain type of work.

I think that these are great tips for a university student writing a paper. Most of them centre around writing, especially writing a draft. There is also the tip about writing 140-character emails, which, frankly, is tough. I think that the point is to keep it concise so you don’t lose people.

To follow the tip of keeping the lights bright, I worked in the sunny living room (that was nice). I put on music, which I do always find helps me to be more productive. And when I work at a desk, I usually make an effort to have it clear, though now I’m making more of an effort.

There was nothing groundbreaking that came of these tips today, however I’d say that for anyone doing a lot of writing, these could be really helpful. I’ll continue to aim for bright light, music and a clear desk for my writing environment in the future.

Tomorrow at work, I’ll get up every 45 minutes and move around, as suggested by this pinned piece from Buzzfeed.

As always, feel free to check out the entire Pinterest board for this series.

Alphabetization??

When I wrote “Alphabetization” on Neko’s Learning Plan, I found myself amiss under the heading of “Resources.” Ummmm… I don’t know. How does one teach alphabetization? She’s not a Virgo, like me, compelled to organize all her books by either alphabetization or colour. And I’m not about to have her sit down and do worksheets on alphabetization.

But only a week later, Neko has announced that she’d like to do a research project. She didn’t use those words, of course, but there it was. She wanted to learn all about the rainforest, and write about it. Great!

So, we pulled out some reference books from her shelves, and she asked how she was going to find rainforests in any of them. “Well,” I responded, “You use the index.”

Bingo! As if sent by the Universe, here was my first lesson in alphabetization! I showed her how to use the index and explained how the entries are alphabetized. For the rest of this research project she has embarked on, she’ll have to practice this new skill.

I love how sometimes, the answers just come to you.

(For the record, I mostly just left that part of the learning plan blank… trusting that we’d figure it out. 😉 )

What We’ve Learned Lately: Compound Words, Regrouping, Harvest, Dewey Decimal

Compound Words

This week, one of Neko’s favourite games has been Compound Words. We’ve been having a lot of fun playing it in the car. I don’t remember how it started – for some reason, I explained to her what a compound word is, and before you knew it, she was brainstorming compound words. We chucked around compound words for days! Some were confusing – they seemed like compound words, but were actually two words. Some were only one word, but didn’t actually contain two words within. Others, I was unsure of and had to look up. It was actually fun to see how many we could come up with, and we congratulated each other regularly on our brainstorming. Compound words – check!

Regrouping

Neko also had a really good time with a worksheet on regrouping numbers in subtraction – what you do when you try to subtract 18 from 23, for instance (steal a one from the 20 place, creating a 13 from which you can subtract the 8…). She was confused at first but soon she was really pleased with herself and did the whole page. Regrouping – check!

Harvesting Root Vegetables and Winter Keepers

We were lucky to attend a free harvest at a local CSA. Neko and some of her friends spent a couple of hours digging potatoes, pulling greens, plucking carrots, playing hide and seek in the dill, and more. They had more fun that we expected, and we came home with so many pounds of produce! We’ve been eating them all week. I consider this a very important part of her education – knowing where our food comes from, what grows here, how to store it, and how to prepare it.

Dewey Decimal

At the library on Monday, I gave Neko an introduction to the dewey decimal system and the electronic catalog. I know she doesn’t get it yet, but she knows the basics of searching by subject, and a general idea of how to use the dewey decimal system to search for books on the topic she’s interested in. She’ll need help with it for a long time to come, but it’s nice to have introduced it!

Kitten Care

And lastly, our other ongoing project is kitten care. We adopted an 8-week-old kitten named Olive from my parents’ ranch last week, and Neko has claimed her as her own. She is a very sweet little kitten, but of course keeps us busy. Neko has seen her vaccinated and has seen deworming medicine administered, she has been attempting to litter train her, she has fed and watered and snuggled her, and learned how sharp those claws and teeth are. She has also learned a lot about kitten proofing, and facilitating a friendly relationship between a kitten and an older, very grumpy male cat.

What This Blog Is Now

I wish this were an update, fully documenting what we’ve been up to, or how awesome homeschooling has been going (for the record – it has!). However, I’m just writing a quick post for now to update and say that this will be one of my primary forms of record-keeping for Neko’s Grade Three homeschooling year.

She has begun a blended program that is half public school, half unschooling – she will be in a school setting one day a week, with a second day every other week, and some Friday sport days and field trips as well. The rest of the time, she is unschooling as she has been so far.

Neko's first day of Grade Three. So thrilled!

Neko’s first day of Grade Three. So thrilled!

While not a full update, I’m happy to report that her reading and writing are up to grade level, and I would say that her math is close (more importantly to me, she finds it fun and we don’t fight about it. She has no context for math as punishment nor difficulty. And that is my longterm goal.). Science and social studies are not a concern, as they never have been. Phys ed, music, art and all the rest are going great (how could they not be? So fun!!).

Our learning plan for the year is complete, though I freely admit that I’m not beholden to even my own plans, and these are nothing but loose goals. That said, we’re aiming for the following this year:

Math: units of measure, charts and graphs, describing quantities to 1000 using different methods, multiply to 5×5, beginning division concepts

Language arts: proper spelling (moving away from just phonics), learning to access reference materials (dictionaries, encyclopedias), punctuation, capitalization, alphabetical order, story-telling (describing characters and setting), using electronic library catalog, typing skills

Science: build and test structures, describe and classify rocks and minerals, explore the nature of sound, plant growth and changes, waste and our world, magnets

Social studies: nothing specific aside from Hawaiian culture (we’re going to Maui this winter) – we generally wing it with social studies.

Physical education: improving swimming skills, winter sports – downhill skiing or snowboarding, gymnastics, hiking

Fine arts: guitar basics, appreciate different styles and media in visual art, experience the performing arts, create art using different media and techniques, understand and appreciate rhythm, explore a variety of folk dances

We’ll be tracking Neko’s progress through this blog, her personal student journal, a portfolio, and of course parental observation and even the odd worksheet.

Sometimes I Worry… But Then I Remember…

Sometimes I worry about unschooling (I know… all us unschoolers do!). I worry that because we don’t do any (or at least not much) formal instruction, and no worksheets, and no sit-down time where I walk Neko through equations and participles and such things, that she might fall behind her peers. When she shows an interest in learning to read or write, or figuring out math, we follow that interest. We have a Reading Eggs subscription that she uses a couple of times a week, and there are tons of workbooks and math games and reading primers available within the house. We read together every day, and even loosely follow the Jolly Phonics program. The opportunities are there.

Of course, I know that at six and a half, I have no reason to worry. I have plenty of unschooling friends with older kids, who describe to me on a regular basis how things have gone in their house – one kid picked up reading easily at age four, the other didn’t find that it really “clicked” until about eight. No matter the age they’re describing, it’s always the same story – they didn’t push any of the academics, they let it happen on their child(ren)’s own timeline, and provided materials to meet the child’s interest as well as a stimulating environment, then one day the child took interest and BOOM!, in about two weeks they were reading proficiently.

I’ve also seen plenty of evidence that basic math is better off learned naturally rather than through rote learning.

So, the logical part of my brain knows we’re fine. I have complete faith in what we’re doing.

And yet, I have more friends that are sending their kids to school. Friends from the States whose children learned to read in preschool at age four. Whose five year olds can recite the 5o states (I can’t even do that! Not all of them!). Who post on Facebook wondering if anyone else’s child is having trouble with their grade one homework of reading one chapter per night. Neko’s not even reading Hop on Pop yet!

I think about our impending homeschool facilitator visit, and what I’m going to tell her. Our board is very unschooling-friendly. It’s why I chose them (for those of you in Calgary, we are with Home Learning Connections). Our facilitator is hands-off, unless I need her – then she is available. We’re left to do our own thing, which is what I want. The last time she came, I told her about our regular activities, and our philosophy on Neko learning reading and math when she’s ready, and our facilitator was very supportive. So it’s not that there is any worry of her actually saying, “But you’re finished Grade One and your child can’t read! FAIL!” Still, I have nagging doubts in my mind that question our path.

Then I remember… I look back at all the things we’ve done this year.

Sledding.

Countless playdates.

Cat yodeling.

Tickle fights.

Blanket forts.

Days spent at my parents’ ranch.

Meetings to plan our little off-grid house.

Runs for fun (complete with setting up Neko’s own Daily Mile page).

Lots of neat crafts.

The girls working on their Sharpie tie dye shirts.

Sleep-in days.

Sliding, fully clothed, down a handmade mudslide along the river bank. And on and on. And I realize that given our schedule, we wouldn’t have been able to do half of these things if we had been sitting at home doing worksheets.

I understand that some homeschoolers (lots of them, probably) have time to do both. I’m not saying that just because you’re doing worksheets, you’re not having fun. (I also understand that there are plenty of kids out there who enjoy worksheets and the like and do them by choice.)

But for us, given my work schedule (one full day and two half days each week, plus stints of working from home worked into each day), and us having two extra kids in the house another day and a half each week (when I would prefer to not attempt to make Neko sit down and focus on worksheets, though I suppose I could if I needed to), I really prefer to use our time, while she’s six years old, to slide down mudslides, tromp through the woods, watch old Lindsay Lohan Disney movies while eating pizza, watch silly YouTube videos, go on playdates, do cool crafts and play at the playground.

Don’t let my face scare you. That’s just the gears going, trying to reconcile “Parent Trap” Lindsay Lohan with the current train wreck we see in the tabloids. The pizza (Coco Brooks) is delicious.

I picture myself when she is 10, or 12, or 20. This usually happens when I’m thinking back on Neko at age two or three and reminiscing about how cute and funny she was. She was also a total pain in the you-know-what and I am enjoying six so much more, but she was admittedly hilarious, and we had a lot of fun. I think a lot about how glad I am that we spent as much time together as we did, because we’ll never get to live that age together again. I’m thankful that I nursed her as long as I did; I’m thankful I didn’t need to go back to work full-time (well, really, I worked a TON of hours each week developing the store, but at least it was flexible and I still got to spend lots of time with her); I’m thankful that we went on dates and did silly things together.

I reflect on my favourite memories…

Taking a week to go camping on Summer Solstice when the rest of the kids were still in kindergarten

Having pancakes for supper in fancy dresses at a local pancake house when Justan was away for weeks and we just needed a break

Visiting a photo booth together; going for tons of playdates at our friends’ farm right outside the city; checking out new playgrounds with friends. And I realize that these will be some of Neko’s favourite memories, too.

That’s when I tell myself: It doesn’t matter that she can’t write a sentence yet, or count by twos. Like learning to walk, or talk, these are skills that will come. In the next year or two, most likely. If they don’t, then we’ll look at focusing a little more. But for the rest of our lives, we’ll have these memories to look back on. And then I feel really good about what we’re doing.

Monday: If You Want to Get Something, Give It

This post is the third in a series of eight concerning Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws for Parents. For the original post and summary, click here.

Monday is a day of giving. The message for today is, “If you want to get something, give it.”

First thing Monday morning, Neko and I had a conversation about this. “If you want others to share, or be nice to you, a good thing to do is share and be nice to them,” I told her. An apt lesson, as she was headed to Mairead’s house for the day, and the two of them don’t have the most stellar record for sharing and getting along. In fact, they know exactly how to push one another’s buttons, and do so on a regular basis. Neko was taking an avocado pit (“dinosaur egg”) to their house and was plotting how she would keep it away from Mairead, so we talked about how if she expects Mairead to share her things, Neko should give Mairead a chance with the “dinosaur egg,” as a start.

We also planned, together, to give out lots of compliments during the day. At the end of the day, we would share with one another the compliments we had given.

In the future, we will also talk a lot about being grateful for the things we have, and how, by being grateful for what we have, it can seem like enough, and we can also have more of what we need come to us almost magically.

It was a really great day, and I definitely had lots to be thankful for. In the morning, before I left for work and to drop Neko off (Justan was working downtown today and took the bus), Neko and I did yoga, I fed the hens (and gave them some whey from our cheesemaking to drink), I made coffee and a double-egg and avocado sandwich, and we had time to spare. Neko had a great day at the bookstore and playing outside, and I was thankful to have an extra staff member to help me during my shift, and good friends who stopped by for hugs in celebration of Chinese New Year – and they brought me lunch, including Pocky and fortune cookies!

I have lots of ideas of things we could do on Mondays in the future…

a) compliment each other and strangers – but remember, it’s important that the compliments are sincere!

b) practice random acts of kindness – all sorts of fun possibilities here! I won’t list them, as there are tons of ideas out there, and I’m sure you can think of your own. Look, there’s a whole website about it!

c) free hug day – I have been wanting to do this with kids for some time. A conversation would need to happen beforehand about only hugging if you are comfortable with it and you and the other person consent, but I think it could be really awesome!

d) talk about the things you’re thankful for at dinner – this is a really simple tradition that can, of course, be incorporated at dinner every day.

e) make a gift – whether there is a birthday or gift-giving holiday coming up or not, this is a great day to think of people you know who might like a gift, or to whom you’d like to give a gift. There are lots of amazing ideas for easy, handmade gifts on Pinterest!

f) send a love letter – for kids who can write (or younger ones who can dictate to an adult), writing a love letter to a best friend, grandparent or anyone else they love is a great exercise in expressing feelings and gratitude. While you’re at it, write one out yourself – maybe even to yourself! Or perhaps a spouse or parent hasn’t been told lately just how much they mean to you. Who benefits more in this exercise – the sender or the receiver?

g) hold the door for people – going out today? Take the opportunity to hold the door for anyone you can.

h) write a story about something you’re thankful for – when I was a kid, I loved making books; and now Neko does too. Take some regular, white, 8×10 paper and cut in half width-wise. Stack these new half-sheets together, fold in half and staple in the middle. Now fill with a lovely gratitude story, and be sure to include lots of drawings!

i) give each other back rubs – giving, and gratitude together! Plus – backrubs!

j) give to charity – this will have extra impact if your child or children choose the charity, and what to give. Something more palpable and less abstract than money, like toys, clothes, and so on, are easier for kids to understand.

k) talk about the Golden Rule – I remember learning this as a child: “Do unto others as you would have done unto you,” or “Treat others the way you would like to be treated.” It is absolutely, number one, the best life rule I have ever learned, and it’s easy for kids to understand (especially once they develop empathy around age seven)!

l) have a mini Thanksgiving dinner – if you celebrate Thanksgiving, how about preparing something similar to what you would serve on that day, only on a smaller scale? This may bring more of a focus to the idea of giving thanks. Be sure to talk about all the things for which you have to be thankful as you eat!

m) take someone flowers – pick some flowers from your garden, or wildflowers (just be careful picking wildflowers! Choose something safe like dandelions or a flower that grows with abandon in your area, and not anything that is threatened or rare), or buy some locally grown flowers in-season from your local farmers market, and take them to a friend. A simple way to brighten someone’s day (including yours)!

I didn’t come up with many ideas for books or movies for today, but as always, I welcome more!

Book ideas: Ribbon Rescue (Robert Munsch), Socks for Supper (Jack Kent)

Movie ideas: One Magic Christmas

What I Learned From NaNoWriMo

In November I took part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a challenge wherein writers and wannabe novelists attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days. You have to start a fresh manuscript (no earlier than 12 am, November 1), though outlines are allowed, and the goal is to complete 50,000 words or more by midnight, November 30. For most writers, this does not equal a full, complete novel (this is usually 80,000 words or more), but it does represent a substantial portion of any book. There are no prizes, technically, but for most people who attempt it, finishing is reward enough.

I tried this two years ago, but started a novel I had been planning for years, and was (is) very dear to me. This was my downfall. I was so in love with the story, I got hung up on every little point, wanting each detail to be just right.

After my failure that year, I knew that when I attempted NaNoWriMo again, it would need to be with a novel and set of characters about whom I didn’t care so much, and with a partner or group to encourage me. My goal, going in, wasn’t so much to create something salable (though that would be a welcome bonus), but to see whether I’m even able to write a project that long, and whether I want to. I knew that in doing so, I would learn about the process and about my strengths and weaknesses. I also knew that if I could power through my perfectionist tendency to give up when I can’t do something justright, I could gain the confidence of knowing that writing a novel is something I can do.

Yes!!! I did it.

And guess what? I did it. And I don’t mind the book that I wrote, so much. I’m even excited to revise and edit it (and write a conclusion). And during the last week of November, when it became clear that I was going to finish, I started to get really excited about starting work on that other novel again, which has been great.

The book that I wrote this year is about an obituary writer named Buddy, who develops chronic Lyme Disease, which leads him on a crazy ride of trying to get a diagnosis, and meeting a bunch of interesting people. Each chapter is loosely based on a tarot card, which was fun to write.

So, what did I learn from completing NaNoWriMo 2011?

  1. Everyone has a mid-novel slump. A couple weeks, or about 20,000 words in, you start to hate what you’re writing. Apparently, this is normal. You lose steam, become convinced that you’re writing drivel, and can see nothing right with your work. The only thing to do is to keep writing. Eventually you reach a point where you feel inspired again.
  2. You can fix a lot in post. For instance: looking back at what I’ve written, I didn’t really include physical descriptions of any of my characters. Nothing. Only my main character’s drug dealer girlfriend got a description. Even I don’t know what the people look like. Now I can go back and add that! Of course, adding it in the first place would have helped my word count, but the point is, revisions are an important part of the process, and there’s no use getting hung up on little details when you can go back and do it later.
  3. Consistency is the key to solidifying new habits. Commit to sticking with something every day for a month, and you’ll have adjusted to the routine of it – and hopefully you’ll start to miss it when you don’t do it.
  4. A little support goes a long way. Having friends and peers around to cheer you on when you get discouraged saves the day. And I was surprised by how seeing my friend Nicole’s word count keep steadily ahead of mine motivated me to keep up!
  5. It’s possible to find time for whatever you’ve been waiting to do. I am short on time. Always. However, I found the time to write 50,000 words in a month – because I wanted to, and it was important to me. The time was there, I just had to claim it.
  6. Six and a half hours of sleep can be enough… at least for a while. No really. I read a study. I wouldn’t do it for long – they said 6.5-7.5 is ideal, and I feel much better after 7.5 hours – but for much of November I was sleeping about six hours each night, and I survived just fine. It’s called coffee, and letting the housework slide.
  7. Chipping away at a goal a little at a time will pay off. 100 words here, 100 words there didn’t feel like much while I was writing those small chunks, but at the end of the day when I sat down to write and already had 500 words toward my daily goal – that was a relief!