What homeschooling looks like for us

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Wow, I didn’t realize how long I’d been away from this space until I actually looked at the dates! My absence here was never intentional, and I honestly couldn’t say why I ever ended up taking a break. I think perhaps it was a mix of pregnancy exhaustion, keeping up with the kids, general business, and truly not feeling like I had anything to say.

However today I felt like there was a post that I really needed to get out of my head and onto hard copy (of sorts). Many have asked us what homeschooling looks like for us, and my typical response is to give a dry, sort of by the book answer. I never wanted to go into it too much because I know homeschooling can be extremely personal and individualized,  and that often when you open yourself up you end up with a myriad of questions and eventually critiques. However, I’ve been asked so much that I decided I’d write it down in ONE spot, lol, and I’ll direct anyone who’s curious to this post in the future!

I want to make it known before I get into this though that even though I do things this way, I will NEVER EVER judge a parent who chooses to do it differently. I think that’s the beauty of homeschooling and parenting in general, we all get our own chance to do it our way. I only ask that anyone who reads affords me the same courtesy and pretty please not judge me for following my own instincts. My goal in all of this is simply to help any curious onlookers understand our family a little better. Thanks friends! Lets begin!

(This is going to be a comprehensive list of the 4 different homeschooling philosophies we enjoy…what we like AND dislike about all of them.)

1. Waldorf

I did't know what kind of picture I could add (and I must add pictures!!!) to portray Waldorf, so behold! Our messy nature table!!

I did’t know what kind of picture I could add (and I must add pictures!!!) to portray Waldorf, so behold! Our messy nature table!!

As most of you know, our family has been very heavily influenced by Waldorf education for quite a few years now. When I first found Waldorf, I was blown away by the beautiful classrooms, the peaceful rhythms, the emphasis on getting kids into nature as much as possible, the beautiful handcrafted toys, etc. Even the sub-cultural ideas of using and surrounding yourself with natural materials, and feeding your family natural unprocessed foods was so amazing to me. I couldn’t get enough! Then as I dived further into preschool-kindergarten “curriculum” I felt as if I had truly found home. I absolutely loved (and still do) the idea that a child’s main work is play. That through open ended play they can better develop their mind, body and soul. That life is the curriculum. I also love that academics aren’t encouraged until the child is truly ready for them. There’s just time to be free, to be a kid.

Along with those listed above, there are many other pieces of Waldorf education that speak to me: The idea of little to no t.v time during the week, daily circle times, celebrating the natural rhythms of the year (our family LOVES celebrating the solstices and equinoxes, such fun!). Also, the ideas of holding the space, the use of handwork (that gets progressively more involved as the child moves up the grades), and the all around love of simplicity that comes with the “culture”. The idea of keeping a solid rhythm, however, has got to be my absolute favorite thing that I’ve learned. In breaths and out breaths throughout the day, week, season, and years. Love it!

However, during this last year I’ve really started to look into the upcoming grades a bit more. Particularly first and second. I guess you could say after 3 years of Waldorf early childhood study I finally decided to leave the “honeymoon” phase and do some digging. It was so easy for me to get wrapped up in all that I loved about Waldorf (I’m quite shamed to admit) that I just assumed that I would agree with everything they’d be learning in the grades, including the timing of things. Yeah, not so much. There is still so very much that I love about typical Waldorf grade school education, but I’ve come to find that there is also so much that I dislike, and even strongly disagree with. I will keep these opinions to myself, but I hope any readers, especially Waldorf enthusiasts, will realize that I have done my due diligence on all of this. I understand the different points of view (Specifically the developmental and anthroposophical reasons) behind why Waldorf schools do certain things the way they do, and I respect any family that chooses to go along with all of it. Its just not for us.  Not all of it, anyways.

So what do we plan to do? Well for starters, our family has really been looking into the Oakmeadow curriculum lately. Its what many would call, “Waldorf-ish” in the grades, which I personally like.  However, who knows if it is what we will stick with as our base curriculum? I might choose to go back to Christopherus, or maybe even use Live Ed, and tweak them to fit our needs. Or maybe even make it up myself with the right resources. We will just see how we feel as we go. And as you will see if you keep reading, we plan on going on many “tangents” throughout the year, no matter which base curriculum (or sets of curriculum) we chose!

Another thing that we will be doing differently when it comes to Waldorf is letting our kids guide us with their academic interests, starting around age 5. This is just a personal preference. Before 5 feels too young to do much of anything academic really, but I personally feel like 5 (or a year or two before first grade) is really a great time to start slowly exploring some of their academic interests, without the structure of sitting down at a table for hours. It feels so very wrong to me to deny my kindergarten age child the opportunity to explore his interests (My son has been begging me to learn how to read) based on the opinions of others, professional or not. My own mothering instinct tells me that squashing his passion for something simply because some say he is not developmentally ready for it is far more dangerous in the long run than the alternative. So this fall our mini school will be in session! We have such fun things planned!

2. Unit Studies and Child Led Learning (Child led unit studies :)  )

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When Josh and I first came up with the crazy idea to home school our kids (When Logan was just a tiny baby) we came up with this really fun, alternative way to teach our children. In fact, we didn’t even believe a method like this really existed, only that it spoke to both of our hearts and was exactly to our teaching styles. The only way I can explain it (or the way WE plan to approach it) is through the subject of trains. Yes trains. Bear with me.

Say your child is interested in trains. Like REALLY truly loves them. Like asks you to watch train shows and read train books and talks about trains all day. So what you would do is take that passion, and use it as a catalyst to dive into other subject matter. So, one day you’ll go on a field trip to see some trains, or perhaps to an old train museum. Then another day (or week preferably) you’ll start exploring the history of trains. Then, you use their love of trains to read various books about types of trains, or train adventures. After that, you could transfer it into handwriting practice (writing stories about trains perhaps) and then even do math problems involving trains. Perhaps eventually after that draw pictures of different trains. So by the end of it, you’ve taken a child’s passion for something and created a “Unit” out of it, encompassing as many subjects as possible. Thus, unit studies! Get it? GET IT!?

Unit studies are great for hands-on, visual learners and teachers. They “approach a theme topic from several angles, encouraging activity and love of learning as well as discipline and responsibility. Units work best when the main topic is studied in the areas of Bible, History, Science, Health, Physical Education and the Arts,” found here. However, language skills and math themselves are not typically able to be taught alone through a unit study because there are so many preliminary rules that have to be learned first. However, when basic language and math skills have been mastered, they can easily be implemented into various unit study topics.

I should make it clear that not all homeschoolers approach unit studies this way. Many (or maybe most) do not approach the “Unit” by what the child is interested in, but instead by what they feel like the child should be learning that year. This allows them to plan out all the units in advance. While I understand this approach, I want my children’s learning to be a little more… organic. At least in the beginning. I want them to be able to pick the subjects that they are most interested in, whether it be from their own encounters or simply something that we come across in our “base curriculum,” and then we will go from there. That’s where, I’d say, a bit of child-led learning comes in. We will tweak it as we get further into it all (we won’t be starting unit studies until grade 1) but eventually I’m sure we will find an equilibrium between our unit study tangents and our boxed curriculum.

Tangent ALERT!: I also LOVE the idea of creating a unit study out of a travel experience. I recently read a blog article by a mom who took their family’s car trip to Wyoming and made a fun, loose, unit study experience out of it. This is the kind of thing I’d LOVE to do when the kids get older! Such a great way to learn!

(By the way, I recently re watched a video by Sarah Baldwin of Bella Luna Toys on her experiences with Waldorf homeschooling. A seasoned Waldorf teacher herself, she was extremely surprised to find that what worked best in their home school was more a mix of unschooling and unit studies, mixed with some Waldorf core basics. As I was listening I thought, “THIS is exactly what we want to do!” haha. Anyways, if you are interested in watching it, you can find it here.)

3. Charlotte Mason

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A few years ago I went to the Utah homeschooling curriculum fair in Provo. There were so many different companies there selling their products, but the one (the ONLY one) that caught my eye was Charlotte Mason. I bought a 3 part book series on it that day and devoured it. Initially I thought Charlotte Mason would be our base. I agreed with so much of what she said! Initially, anyways. Then like everything else, I tried to take myself out of the “honeymoon” phase and really picture myself teaching this way. It turned out that it didn’t all fit (Though I can’t remember why… I’ve forgotten almost everything I read that I didn’t absolutely love!! Lol). However, I did realize that there were 4 main areas that I DID want to integrate into our home school: Delayed education, getting the kids into nature and nature journaling, incorporating religion into daily studies, and the use of “Living books” in our school days.

If you don’t already know, living books are basically the opposite of textbooks. They are “Usually written by one person who has a passion for the subject and writes in conversational or narrative style. The books pull you into the subject and involve your emotions, so it’s easy to remember the events and facts. Living books make the subject “come alive.” They can be contrasted to dry writing, like what is found in most encyclopedias or textbooks, which basically lists informational facts in summary form,” found here.

I love this idea, and can’t wait to incorporate more living books in the future.

And lastly…

4. Faith based homeschooling

Our faith is central to our way of life. I’ve noticed that when I busy myself with other things and don’t weave Christ’s message throughout my days, everything in my life suffers, including our homeschooling. Its crazy how that happens, isn’t it? Really at the end of the day I think that if my children leave home with a strong faith in the gospel and a strong conscience of right and wrong, the curriculum we choose won’t make a difference. If i fail however to make our religion central to our days or choose to neglect it in our schooling, I’m certain my children will suffer. No matter how beautiful or balanced the style of education we use, it wouldn’t be worth it.

To be perfectly honest though, I’m still working on ways to incorporate our religion a little more into our homeschooling days. Yes, we say prayers at our meals and read scriptures before bed (well, sometimes), but I’d really like to do more. Like focus on a particular scripture story, and the morals that go along with it  for a few weeks or perhaps monthly. Like I said, I’m not exactly sure how I want to go about it, only that it is extremely important to me to get started…soon!

Ok, so there they are. The top 4 pillars that our home school is built on. Whew! That took a lot more time than I thought it would (I’ve been writing this now for two weeks!). To end this post, I thought I’d show you what our upcoming Autumn home school looks like, and how I plan to incorporate a lot of this in! Note: Since we are still in the early childhood stages and still very heavily Waldorf, this won’t look too academic. I’ll be interested to see what this looks like in a year or two from now!

Our Homeschool This Autumn:

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Monday- *Morning Routine. Circle time. Free play for girls/ Letter or number of the week for Logan. Outing: Park. Lunch prep together and then eat lunch. Nap. Snack. Baking day. Dinner prep. Play out front. Dinner. Board games/ Handwork/ free play. **Bed time routine.

Tuesday- *Morning Routine. Circle time. Free play for girls/ Letter or number of the week for Logan. Outing: Library. Lunch prep and eat lunch. Nap. Snack. Seasonal craft day. Dinner prep. Play out front. Eat dinner. Board games/Handwork/Free play. **Bed time routine.

Wednesday- *Morning Routine. Outing: Home school coop. Lunch. Nap. Snack. Painting day. Dinner prep. Play outside. Eat dinner. Board games/Handwork/free play. **Bed time routine.

Thursday- *Morning Routine. Circle time. Free play for girls/ Letter or number of the week for Logan. Outing: Meet up with friends. Lunch. Nap. Snack. Yoga day. Dinner prep. Play outside. Dinner. Handwork/ Board games/ Free play. **Bed time Routine.

Friday- *Morning Routine. Outing: Farm School. Lunch. Nap. Snack. Cleaning day & folding towels. Dinner prep. Play outside. Dinner. Board games/ Handwork/ Free play. **Bed time routine.

*Morning Routine: Wake up. Go for 5 mile walk MWF (kids in stroller w/snacks). Go outside and say morning verse. Water Plants. Do stretches/yoga. Make and eat breakfast together. Scripture story or kiddy devotional.

**Bed time routine: Clean up toys. Drink sleepy tea or tart cherry juice. Bath. Read scriptures. Say prayer. Lights out by 7-7:30!

— For those interested, though I originally planned on using Oak Meadow’s lessons for teaching Logan his letters, I have since decided to make up my own mini curriculum for him this year. Every week he will explore the same letter in different ways (including sign language…which he already knows) to help them stick. Some days the activity will take place outside. Sometimes it will be a sensory activity. Some days it will be on the chalk board or at his desk for a bit. By spring next year the goal (if he still wants to, that is) is to have him be able to write and sound out all of his letters, and then slowly begin to write and read short words before summer starts :) .

So that’s it, folks! That’s what homeschooling looks like for our family now. Thanks for reading! Till next time!

Mindy

p.s- I am going to try to post weekly from now on, if anyone is interested :) . I also plan to start our family blog back up again so that this can simply remain a space of encouragement and ideas. My family blog is where I will be shamelessly talking about my kids nonstop, while simultaneously posting waaay too many pictures (for relatives and friends). Stay tuned :)

Helpful Kids

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A big part of our daily rhythm lately has been centered around developing “Practical life skills”. What are practical life skills, you may ask? Basically, they are the little household duties that we do every day and probably never think to ask our children to help with. You know, doing dishes, folding laundry, cleaning windows… that sort of thing. I’ve known for a while that I should be including my kids more in these activities, but it wasn’t until I was reading an inspiring new book this past month that I decided it was time to get to work. And I have to say, it’s been a pretty interesting experience!  We have found that not only do these daily activities help them contribute a bit to the house keeping and teach them about the importance of work, but also can be rich in sensory activities and basic math. Also, they are a great way to use up extra time.

Anyways, if you’re interested, here’s a list of some of the activities we’ve added in so far. Though this may seem like a lot for a 4 year old and two 2 year olds, I assure you it is just enough for my kids. In fact, they love helping so much that they are often the ones to remind me what “chore” is next!

1. Dish washing. We’ve started putting a bucket full of soapy water and a sponge on a beach towel on the kitchen floor. Every day after lunch, the kids wash their own dishes (with my help) and put them on counter. This makes for a great sensory activity.

2. Vacuuming the living room daily (and their own rooms on Fridays). My girls LOVE vacuuming so this is an easy one to sell.

3. Washing the windows once a week. Each child gets a window they get to spray down and wipe. That way there’s no fighting :)

4. Baking days on Monday. We can practice simple math when measuring and adding ingredients.

5. Helping with cooking in general. My son absolutely loves to cook, and often asks me for the recipe for his favorite meals. So, instead of brushing him off, I try to let them all help me with at least one aspect of every meal. It may take longer, but I think the memories we create are worth it.

6. Soup day veggie cutting. We recently purchased an awesome kiddy knife that allows my kids to chop veggies along side me. So, every Thursday after their nap we wash our vegetables and spend the next 20 min. (slooowly) chopping them and adding them to our soup.

7. Bed making. My son is responsible for making his bed every morning before coming downstairs.

8. Kiddy table wipe downs after meals.

9. Watering the potted plants outside every morning in the spring and summer.

10. Picking up their messes before nap time and bed time.

* I’d like to add a toy polishing to this list, but still haven’t gotten around to doing it. We have a plethora or wooden toys around here these days, and I think many of them could use a good beeswax rub down now and again :) .

** I’d also like to have them help me fold laundry, eventually. Maybe in a year or two.

blog1 blog2 blog3 blog4 blog5 blog6 blog7 blog8 blog9Images from around our home this week :)

This holiday season was good, not one of my favorites, but it was good. Honestly, I’m actually liking this “post holiday” time more than the actual holidays. I feel like I can finally breath again. Like all of the bad parts of the past year have been laid to rest (though honestly it wasn’t THAT bad).  Even though the days are long and gloomy, it seems like the further I get from 2013 the happier I am. Cold, snowy January? Bring it on! Even colder, greyer February? Lets do it! As the kids and I have started adapting to our new winter rhythm (this is the first year I’ve planned their curriculum around the changing seasons…loving it!) I feel a fonder appreciation for these frigid months. Really, they only seem so long because most of us hate being cold (me! me!). But truly, winter is just a fleeting as every other season (Though it can be a bit longer in Utah). So, we are pushing ourselves to spend time outdoors daily, even though we’d rather stay huddled over our little living room heater. We search for animal tracks, made bird feeders, paint with food coloring on the snow. There’s magic in every season. Looking forward to getting to know you better, 2014. Its gonna be great!

Oh, and since I haven’t done this in a bit, I thought I’d let you in on what I’ve been up to lately:

1. Found this class online and was so excited. I really miss school (surprisingly) and this looked like the perfect mix of academics and fun. Starting in March.

2. For all the real food health nuts out there, this upcoming (free) conference looks awesome!

3. Loving this book, a gift from my husband (er, santa). Its full of great tips about the most antioxidant rich plants varieties, cousins of the ones we eat now, and where to find them (for instance, the wild apple has over 50% more antioxidants than the average grocery store apple, even the organic ones). I know, I know. I’m a nerd.

4. Lastly, can’t believe I’m reading this for the first time. Its been recommended to me so many times, but I’ve only just gotten around to starting it. Such a wonderful, helpful, uplifting book.

Christmas Smithsmas!

christmas2013christmas2013(1)christmas2013(2)christmas(3)christmas2013(4)christmas2013(5)Oggl_0452christmas2013(6)christmas2013(7)Happy Holla-dayz, y’all!  Oh, man.  This year felt CRAZY!  It wasn’t, but it felt like it was–know what I mean?  As you may have gleaned from previous posts, I kind of love traditions.  I’ve taken it upon myself to institute more than a few of them in our little family and, while am pretty committed to maintaining most of them, I’m still figuring out which ones will stand the test of time.

This holiday season was a bit simpler than the last.  That is to say, we haven’t really gone anywhere and I cooked neither Thanksgiving nor Christmas dinner!  (That’s kind of a huge deal because they’re my favorite.)  As a result, we ended up joining friends for those meals and it was totally a thousand times better that way!

I’m not saying I’m never cooking holiday dinners again.  I’m just saying that you can cook them for me if you want.

As for what we’ve been up to, there has been a lot of crafting!  The boys and I made all of our tree trimmings and decorations aside from the lights (maybe next year?) AND they helped build and paint their new beds!

We had our second annual Polar Express party and it was even more fun than last year!  We made golden tickets, Rowan penned an invitation for us to deliver to Buck at work, and we ding-dong ditched all of our friends with their invitations.  I think that may be our favorite part of the whole ordeal!

We wait until night time to deliver them and try to time it so that their friends are getting ready for bed when we get to their house but, as is customary, I’m usually running late so people are either out or asleep when we get there, haha.  Still, it’s so fun parking down the street and running up to the door together, Stellan trying desperately to be quiet, ringing the doorbell and scurrying into the shadows to wait for someone to answer and find their shiny ticket on the ground.  When nobody answers we run back to the car, stifling giggles as we go.  It’s so cute!

Rowan shocked us all this year by informing us that Santa was dead. It’s a long story but, it stemmed from that Veggie Tales movie where Greek carrots act out the story of Saint Nicholas and I may or may not have pointed out that that was who Santa is based on and that he lived a very long time ago.  I decided to just roll with it because I was traumatized as a child when I happened upon Santa’s true identity in my household (I was 5).  We learned a little bit about St. Nicholas (they’ll learn more as they get older–he wasn’t all sugar plums and candy canes, after all.  Dude was hard core!) and decided that we still wanted to pretend like so many other people.  We visited Santa, twice.  The first time, the boys tried to guess who it really was beneath the beard.  By the second visit, we had been pretending long enough for them to assume it was the real deal, haha.

Rowan surprised me with his first gift to me this year!  It was a cute light-up musical Christmas house.  I guess he saw it when he was at the store with me and my mom.  He took her aside and asked her how many cents it was because he wanted to buy it for me.  Sweet boy.  My mom got it and wrapped it for him.  He was so excited to have a surprise for me, he wouldn’t stop talking about it.  It was pretty much the cutest.

We did presents with my mom on the 24th and she totally astounded us with the number of gifts she had accumulated for the boys throughout the year.  Girlfriend knows how to spoil somebody!  The boys loved everything she brought and I was a little worried that Christmas morning would be rendered somewhat underwhelming as a result.  We only do three presents per person every year, haha.  But, stockings don’t count and they’re kind of a big deal.

On the morning of the 25th, the boys woke up to the little gifts at the end of their beds and we played in their bedroom until daddy got home from his long night at work.  They didn’t look at all disappointed when they observed the small assortment of gifts beneath the tree and were pleased to see that one of Santa’s reindeer had apparently come into the apartment to eat the carrots and hay that we had left out–and Santa, his Christmas jerky.

We made our Christmas pancakes and challah (a traditional Jewish bread that is served on high holidays and other special occasions, the braids of which are representative of the 12 tribes of Israel) and spent the rest of the day with family and friends!

I can’t believe the year is over already and I can’t wait to start the next.  I have a feeling it’s gonna be sweet!

**Oh, and some anonymous cutie left a note from Santa on our door Christmas Eve night!  Thank you, whoever you are, for your thoughtful gesture.  It was pretty precious.

Shopping Responsibly (Pt. 1)

*This post is a long one, but stick with me to the end–you won’t regret it!  …Or maybe you might.  But, probably not.  I’m about 97% sure.*

Hey, you guys!  I know, it’s been a coon’s age since I last posted.  I’ve been researching some things and mulling a lot of stuff over in my head.   A few weeks ago, I watched a short video spotlighting a young man who is on a mission to put an end to the use of sweatshops and forced labor/child labor in the manufacturing of so many of the products that we buy here in America (and elsewhere in the world).  It was meant to be an uplifting video about change and protecting the rights of others, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say how upset I was after watching it.

The fact that some companies use unethical practices in order to keep costs down and profit up is not new to me.  When I was in college, I saw a screening for a documentary on the lives of Chinese factory workers who had been contracted under Wal*Mart.  I was appalled by what I saw, and decided not to shop there anymore.  (This was a fairly easy decision for me because I had worked there for 3 years and had reached the point where you literally couldn’t pay me to step foot in there, haha.)

A few years later, I came across another article that gave me doubts about one of my favorite stores (Forever21).  It wasn’t about Forever 21 specifically, but I started to wonder how they could possibly afford to sell $3 camisoles and stuff without making ethical concessions in the manufacturing process.  I no longer felt like I could shop there and frankly that wasn’t that big of a deal either because, while their clothes are certainly cute and well within my budget, they’re also very poorly made.

Since then, I guess I put it out of my mind.  I took my business to places like H&M, Target, DownEast Outfitters, and occasionally the clearance sections J.Crew, Banana Republic and Anthropologie (crazy good sales!).  I’ve long had my concerns about H&M since they’re pretty inexpensive, but I’ve been reluctant to look into it.  If I don’t know about a potential problem, it’s like it isn’t there–right?

Anywho, I ultimately came across the aforementioned short video and it has apparently sparked something within me.  I’ve been researching international labor standards, reading article after article pointing fingers at some of my favorite brands, watching documentaries that show exhausted factory employees working in unsafe environments under unacceptable conditions.  I’ve watched with disgust and disbelief as people in various positions of power explain in interviews why it doesn’t make sense to “pay their employees more to do less” or why it’s impossible to increase pay or lead-time for deadlines when consumers expect more product faster and at a reduced cost.

I’ve seen pictures of children sewing intricate beading onto the plackets of Gap shirts, watched videos of them being stolen or sold by their parents and taken far away from their homes to harvest cotton or cacao.  My breathing gets shallow just thinking about it.

People argue that if there were better jobs available in those areas, people wouldn’t work under those conditions.  They argue that it’s impossible to hold developing countries and areas with failed economies to the same standards we expect where we live.  They say that we have to respect cultural differences and the laws of these other countries (or lack thereof).  In one documentary, one of the interviewees (an abused worker) requested that we don’t stop buying the products that they make–after all, it is the source of their livelihood–if that’s what you can call it.  To a certain extent, that ALL makes sense.

BUT….something must be done.  That may be the way things work in those areas, and it may be the best option for the people working there, but that in no way makes it acceptable.  These factories are contracted by many of the wealthiest brands in the wealthiest areas of the world–companies who can afford to pay fair wages and have the influence and resources to ensure that their contracted laborers are being treated properly.  I don’t think these companies are giving us consumers enough credit, either!  I’m not exactly rollin’ in the Benjamins, but I’m willing to pay in increased price for a product if I know it’s not the product of human atrocities.  I know I’m not the only one who feels that way.

Some links:

  1. I can’t find the specific video, but here’s a TED talk with similar information:  Making Global Labor Fair
  2. I can’t find the one about Wal*Mart, either.  But, there are lots about them.  (Like “The High Cost of Low Prices.”  You can find the entire documentary on YouTube and I think it’s streaming on Netflix and Hulu.)

Soooooo…..what’s a girl to do?  Freak out and spend five weeks being depressed and overwhelmed?  Did that.  With flair.  After that, maybe search for some socially/economically/generally ethically conscious places to spend money while continuing to investigate ways to address the big problem.  Luckily for you guys, I’ve compiled a heart-inflatingly impressive list of businesses who take human rights seriously and even give back to the world through various programs and charities.  If you’re like me, you’ll be pleased to find that you’ve got so many options outside of recycled tire shoes and solid jersey knit yoga wear (but you better believe it’s in there!).

I don’t think this needs to be an all or nothing kind of decision.  As I mentioned earlier, the workers themselves rely on the meager income they’re making–so, boycotting the companies that employ them won’t necessarily improve their situation.  The idea is to be aware of what’s going on in the world, and to use our minds and our buying power to convince manufacturers that they won’t go out of business if they demand higher prices for their goods in order to pay their workers fair wages and improve the quality of their working conditions.

Having said that, we can support companies with good ethics while we strive to find a realistic way to address the issue at hand.  Look for things that are labeled “Fair Trade” or “Union-Made”–though that certainly doesn’t guarantee you anything.  Dishonest companies know the buzz-words, too :(  I can’t vouch 100% for any of these brands because, you just never know.  But, as far as I can tell, these are some of the good ones!

While many of the brands on this list are probably within the price range you’re used to, many more of them are likely to be well above it.  That being said, higher prices are to be expected when sweatshops haven’t been utilized in the manufacturing process.  (Case in point:  handmade shoes.  Don’t worry, nothing on this list is that expensive :))  Think quality (and quality of life) over quantity.

(Other options, of course, are to amp up your thrifting or to make your own stuff.  In which case, you get a fun foray into finding ethically made materials–hooray!!!!….?)

I think it’s kind of fortuitous that I ended up writing this post during this time of year.  Everyone’s looking for presents to give–why not find your loved ones a gift that gives back?  We can use this opportunity to spread the word about labor rights in an exciting and uplifting way!

Without further ado…

Brands that ROCK!

31 Bits: (jewelry) Gorgeous bracelets and necklaces, designed by women in Uganda who are paid living wages, given health education, finance training and business mentorships.  They offer a trunk show program where they send you some necklaces and an information kit and you can host your own 31 Bits party at home and give your friends an opportunity to buy some pretty jewelry and learn a little somethin’ somethin’ at the same time!

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TOMS:  (shoes/glasses)  Anyone who hasn’t already heard of TOMS likely doesn’t have the internet either, so I doubt an introduction here would do them much good.  If perchance you’re reading this and aren’t acquainted with the brand, I should tell you that they offer several styles of shoes and glasses and have a “One For One” program so that, for every purchase you make, you’re essentially supplying shoes/glasses for someone in need.  They recently added a marketplace feature to their site that promotes brands with a similar mission to use business as a means of bettering the world (many of which are included in this here list)

fashionABLE:  (scarves/leather accessories)  Each purchase funds the creation of small business cooperatives for women in Africa, and the company only partners with manufacturers who employ women with fair wages and fair hiring practices.

Falling Whistles:  This business was born from an experience that one of the founders had when traveling to the Congo and met with child soldiers who told him how the children who were too small to bear arms were sent to the front lines armed only with whistles.  The whistles they sell serve as a symbol of protest and the revenue is used to educate people about the war, invest in Congolese entrepreneurs and promote justice, accountability and transparency in Africa’s Great Lakes region.  BUY ALL THE WHISTLES!!

Falling Whistles

The Giving Keys:  (jewelry/accessories)  This company uses old keys to make their products and employs those who are looking to transition out of homelessness.The Giving Keys

Same Sky:  (jewelry and even cuff links for the gents!)  K, this shop is one of the priciest (we’re talking $50-$500), but if you’ve got the money to spend, why not use it to help provide jobs for women around the world who are struggling to lift themselves out of poverty?

FORTUNED CULTURE:  (jewelry)  Founded by a woman who was raised in Los Angeles but whose roots are in the 3rd world countries of Eritrea and Ethiopia.  Every purchase funds charities that address the various different human needs that are symbolized by the pieces in each collection.

HALF UNITED:  (jewelery/accessories) Half of their profits from every purchase goes directly toward fighting the global hunger epidemic.  Their materials are locally sourced, so they also support local small businesses and artisans!

Harper Belle:  (jewelry)  This one is another splurge site ($50-$200 a piece).  Harper Belle has partnered with a company called Vitamin Angels to provide vitamins to children in need, and the company employs local artisans in Bali.

From You With Love:  (jewelry) Each bracelet purchased provides one year of schooling for a  Tibetan child in need.

The Base Project:  (jewelry) The Base Project partners with two Namibian artisan cooperatives to build a bridge between artists in the developing world and the U.S. fashion market.  Their products are fair trade and provide the artisans with additional income for school fees, health care and food.The Base Project

LemLem:  (women and children’s clothing and accessories/home decor) Founded by Liya Kebede (supermodel, actress and former World Health Organization Goodwill Ambassador) LemLem helps to inspire economic independence and preserve the local art of weaving in her native country of Ethiopia.  Most items in this shop are $100-$200, but there are a few in the $30-$50 range.

Apolis:  (MEN’S clothing/accessories) These guys….they just take care of their people.  The create good jobs in several countries, including our own.  They are committed to fair treatment and their products are downright sexy.  They’re also a certified B Corporation, which is awesome.  This shop has higher end items, so unless you’re in the market for candles and keychains, expect to spend a bit.

Krochet Kids intl.:  (womens’, kids’ and mens’ clothing/accessories) This company teaches women in Uganda and Peru how to crochet, provides jobs and educates them so that they can be self sufficient.

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Della:   a socially responsible fashion line that provides jobs, education and skills training to women and men of Hohoe.

So many more to come!

Weekly Simplicity: Simplifying how we raise our children

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For today’s simplicity post I wanted to talk about something that is very near and dear to me lately… Simplifying how I raise my children. Maybe its just me, but I often wonder when in our history raising children became such a difficult task, filled with so much theory and critique? Its all too common to feel like an inadequate parent today, even when you are trying your absolute hardest to make their childhood memorable. There always seems to be someone out there doing it better, some new news article telling you why your ideas about raising your children are wrong, even when they feel so right. Never mind all the housework, cooking, cleaning, and quality time that goes into raising children, you need to do THESE things (insert whatever this month’s new child development research is pushing) in order to have happy, healthy, emotionally balanced children. Its enough to make any parent feel inadequate…and slightly crazy.

Something I have come to realize, and I hope I can accurately convey in this post, is that nobody knows your  children better than you. Sure, there may be that certain relative out there who claims that they truly DO know the best way to do X and if you would just listen to their advice, your household would be a lot calmer. Or the friend that always seems to do it a little bit better than you, and is always offering advice . I’m not saying its not good to listen to and ponder their advice. On the contrary, I believe that’s what makes a well rounded individual. But there is a difference between hearing advice from others and thinking, “Hmmm, maybe she has a point. Let me think on this for a while and figure out if it goes along with my values and what I know to be true” vs. “Man, they have so much more experience in this stuff, and clearly its working… apparently they know best.” Get it? And unfortunately, I think many mothers, myself included, frequently go along with the latter. Maybe its because so and so’s kids really are so much better behaved than mine, so she’s GOT to know better than me! Or maybe its a societal pressure, “Hey, everyone else’s kids are doing this. I don’t want my kid to be an outcast!”

But you know what? MOST all of us get a chance to be a parent in some form or other. And do you know what that means? It means that MOST every person on this earth gets their chance to raise their children the way that seems most natural and fulfilling to them. And you know what else? Its going to look different in every household. To me, that’s completely necessary. The world thrives off of its diversity and uniqueness. As long as you are a kind hearted, well meaning parent that is actively trying your best to raise your children right, you’re decisions are as good as anyone else’s. That’s my take, anyways :)

So, back to simplifying our lives with our children. I believe that’s the first step, trusting your parental instincts above all others. Next, I think its just as important to learn to keep the big picture in mind. This has really helped me. Stop for a minute, or five, and think about the kind of man or woman you want your child to be when they leave to house. What characteristics do you want them to have? For me, I imagine my children being: Confident, creative, honest, hard working, free spirited, passionate, and kind. I want them to leave our home with a deep desire to please heavenly father over anyone else, and to respect themselves as a child of god. I also want them to have a deep love of nature and the outdoors. When it comes down to it, if I can cultivate those things in them, or even HALF those things, I know I’ll have a big smile on my face as I watch them go.

So, that brings us back to today. Once you know what kind of person you hope them to be, and if you are able to keep it in mind, your day to day will get less and less complex. Why? Because you know the end goal, and that’s a powerful thing. So what if they have to wait until next year to take piano because you don’t have enough money? And who cares if you accidentally messed up and let them watch television today when you swore you wouldn’t? Is this really going to impact your end goal? No. So what if I forgot to read to my children today.  You know what I did do? I DID tell them I loved them multiple times, AND sat beside them while they did arts and crafts, AND taught them how to clean up after themselves, AND played make believe with them before dinner, AND took them for a walk. Wait a second, I just worked on FIVE of the goals I had for them! And I didn’t even know it!

And just like that, you’ll realize what’s truly important in your day, and that more than likely you are already doing quite a bit to reach those goals.

Its the quality time, and the good intentions that count in the end.

I’m not saying we should become lazy or stop trying, I’m just saying we need to learn to cut ourselves some slack now and then. Yes, keep trying, daily even, to be a better parent. Its so, so important. But when you inevitably mess up, and we all will, stop and reflect on all that you HAVE done to meet your goals for them. Then, take a deep breath, forgive yourself, and let it go. Its those end goals that you’re aiming towards after all. Keep the big picture in mind. The rest will follow naturally.

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“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou

 

I love this quote, its something I live by. Never remain static, every day is another chance to improve for the better.

Happenings and Links

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Tea parties. Road trips. Walks around the lake. A few of the things we’ve been up to lately. Sorry for the silence. I’m getting back into the swing of this blogging thing after a long, crazy summer. Thanks for those of you who follow us here. I’ve noticed our number of followers has been growing, and I’m so thankful to be reaching so many more people. The main purpose of this space was to provide hope and encouragement in the way of healthy living, healing sickness, natural parenting and all that goes with it, and homeschooling (for those who do that as well.) Thanks for sticking around and following us. If I help one person with this blog, I’ll have reached my goal:)

Things I loved this month:

1. This short film. Seriously, these women are awesome. It may seem silly at first, but give it a chance. They can all teach us something about living life to its fullest, and choosing to see the positive side of things no matter how bad it gets :)

2. The fact that this calendar is actually happening. I love Phoebe Wahl’s work. Can’t wait to purchase it.

3. This series a friend introduced me to. Guilty pleasure :) .

4. Using this stuff for our cuts, bruises, and on occasion severely upset stomachs.

5. These cute lavender satchels. I’m thinking of having the kids help me make these into mini pillows, and putting them in their beds to help them fall asleep.

 

Weekly Simplicity: Simplifying your food

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This week I wanted to talk about something that I don’t think is touched on enough, but that I think has a tremendous impact upon your health, your peace of mind, and your overall goal of simplicity…. Keeping your meals simple. It seams easy enough, but mealtime can become a real stresser for families. Ours included. It is so easy to let it become more complicated than it should, or forget the basic principles that make meals simple and nourishing in the first place. Here are a few rules that help keep our family in check, in case anyone is interested:

1. Eat whole, unprocessed foods. Whole, nourishing real food is key to simplifying your meals. If you only eat foods that your great grandmother would recognize as food (Mostly things on the perimeter of the grocery store with a few staples from the middle) you are already cutting down on the amount of excess junk stored in your kitchen, and taking the guesswork out of your cooking (Is this healthy?….Yes!). Once you have that basic foundation, you can mix your meals up any way you like. Can’t get much more simple than that.

2. Every meal doesn’t have to be a special occasion. One peak at instagram or pinterest and you realize that people are obsessed with eating intricate, decadent meals regularly. Or so they make it seem.

“Oh what, you didn’t have boeuf bourguignon made from all organic ingredients, with homemade chocolate eclairs and poached pears for desert? Hmm….That’s too bad.”

Seriously people, meal time should be first and foremost about simple and nourishing foods. Sure, there are times when we want/need to cook a decadent meal, but we shouldn’t feel pressured to make every meal special. Sometimes mealtime is just plain boring. And that’s ok. I can’t tell you how many times my son complains, “Uhg, lentil soup AGAIN!!” (We have it every week). Its a simple dish that feeds us for two days, and yes, its downright boring. But its simple and healthy and cost effective. And on those regular days when nothing important is going on, that’s all that matters.

3. Have a rhythm to your meals. I have found that our family probably has a list of 10 meals we eat regularly. That’s it. The meals are all simple and most of them last for two days, or have ingredients in them (like leftover chicken) that can span the space of two to three days. We have a few basics that we eat every week, and then the rest of the time we rotate the remaining meals in as we see fit.  Even though we all know what’s coming, and it might not be particularly exciting, it makes planning meals so much easier. Having a rhythm to our meals, knowing what we are going to eat beforehand, really takes any extra guesswork out of cooking, and makes it all the more simple.

4. Don’t get wrapped up in the supermarket hype. Supermarkets are like the mall; advertising everywhere! One trip down the grain isle and you can easily feel like you need five different products to improve your health. This cereal says it will lower your risk of heart disease! This fortified milk has added omega-3′s so you’d no longer have to eat fish! This meal replacement drink has so many veggies, you’ll never have to eat a real one ever again! Eeesh! Stop and recognize those advertisements for what they are…scams. No amount of processed fortified food can ever replace the real stuff. And though the packaging might look pretty, and the health claims may seam like they’ll change your life, they almost always come up empty. Just focus on the real, whole foods. Keep it simple. Your body will thank you for it in the end.

El Día de Los Muertos

diademuertos1)  A picture of me and my Dad, my Lola & Lolo, and paper elephants to represent Buck’s Mom.  2)  A calavera, colored by Rowie.  3)  Mexican crepe paper banner.

I’ll come back to Halloween in my next post, but I wanted to talk about today while it’s fresh in my mind because I was unexpectedly moved as a result of our celebration.

Earlier this month, I was looking into different activities we could do for homeschool and I came across a bunch of Halloween themed worksheets and a few sugar skull coloring pages.  They were so pretty and fun, I knew I wanted to have the boys color them so I figured we could do a lesson on El Día de los Muertos!

At the time, I knew very little about the holiday other than that it involved ornately decorated skeletons and took place right around Halloween time.  The more I learned as I researched it, the more I wanted to incorporate the celebration into our family traditions.

There’s a LOT of history behind The Day of the Dead!  It’s origin dates back to a month-long Aztec festival that was dedicated to the goddess of the afterlife.  The holiday evolved when Spanish conquistadors came to Mexico and brought Catholicism with them.  That is apparently why it’s now celebrated on All Saints Day and All Souls Day (November 1st and 2nd) instead of the entire month of August, as it was before.

While, at first glance, the multitude of skull and skeleton decorations may seem a bit macabre–they’re actually really sweet!  The culture in which I grew up portrays skeletons mostly as symbols of death (as the end of life).  My understanding of the Day of the Dead decorations is that they are meant to represent the fact that our loved ones may have passed, but they’re not gone.  The calaveras (skulls) are decorated beautifully to inspire happiness.  The calacas (skeletons) are depicted engaging in activities that the deceased loved ones had enjoyed in life.  Día de Muertos is a celebration of life!  It’s an opportunity to devote a few days to really thinking about the people who have gone before us, remembering them fondly, passing on their legacy, reinforcing our connection to them and reminding ourselves that death is not the end.

Every November 1st and 2nd, the souls of our loved ones are said to return to be with us.  Traditional celebrations vary widely all over the world, but most people either visit their family’s/friend’s final resting place to tidy it up, decorate it, enjoy a picnic and sometimes spend the night–or they set up an ofrenda (like an altar or shrine) in their home with pictures and food, etc.  Marigolds are supposed to attract the souls of the dead, candles are lit to light their way through the darkness, their favorite food and drink is left to nourish them for their long journey, often a bowl of water and some soap and a hand towel are placed nearby so that the souls can wash up before they head back.  Sometimes, pillows and blankets are set aside so that they might take some rest beforehand as well.  :)

While I personally believe that our deceased loved ones can check in on us anytime they like during the year, I am deeply inspired by the idea of having an actual annual event to honor them in such an earnest, playful and positive way.  It’s a fantastic way to preserve memories!  I learned lots of new things about my Dad tonight and was reminded of many things I had forgotten.  My boys were so excited to hear stories about the Lolo (grandpa) they’ve never had the chance to meet!  I also think it was cathartic for my Mom to get to spend an entire evening reminiscing and looking at pictures of her sweetheart.

I showed her this cute video short that explains the meaning behind The Day of the Dead and it sparked a vague memory of having picnics and spending the night at her family members’ graves when she was a little girl in the Philippines!  It’s a super big deal there but it hadn’t occurred to me that she might have celebrated it growing up.  (She emigrated to the United States when she was very young.) **I cry every time I watch that video and the boys have watched it about a million times in the past three days.**

Mom brought a picture of my grandparents to add to the ofrenda, and we’ve included my husband’s Mom as well, only we don’t have any pictures of her on hand (!) so the boys and I made little paper elephants to represent her (as they were her favorite animal).  I asked the boys what they wanted to put on the table for Lolo Jimmy and Grandma Kitty and they put all of their remaining Halloween candy (more on that, later) in their little bowls :)  We made a plate of food for everyone to share (it’s a small table, and we’re only doing it for the symbolism anyway) and since it’s 2013, I included wet naps for their pre-departure cleanup.

Remembering my Dad, eating food he loved, listening to The Beatles and looking at pictures…..it was all so nice.  My Mom went home, I took the boys to bed and Belly asked to sing “the Heavenly Father bird song” before going to sleep.  (My Heavenly Father Loves Me –it’s a children’s song that we sing at church sometimes.)  I sing it to them sometimes because my Dad used to sing it with me, but I had never mentioned that to them.  Anyway, it was a perfect song to sing tonight and as we did, I felt completely overcome.  I was sad….but so happy at the same time.  And, I felt comforted and close to my babies– and my Dad.

Of course, I think about him all the time.  But I’m already really looking forward to celebrating this holiday every year.  Buck had to work today, so we’re going to celebrate his Mom tomorrow :) WP_20131102_016WP_20131102_011

WP_20131102_009WP_20131102_019The boys’ cute masks were printed offline for free–aren’t they so cute??  I got them here! The sugar skull that Rowan colored was a free printable too, but I can’t remember where I found it.  You can be sure that there was plenty of Googling involved.  I free-handed the skeleton, which is why the proportions leave a little something to be desired (don’t talk to me about that ribcage.)

Click here to learn more about The Day of the Dead!

You KNOW you better click here, too.

Tonight was so good.  If you have any more information or personal experiences celebrating Día de Muertos, please share!