lifestyle

Staying Organized with a Bullet Journal

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When people ask me what I do, I always pause because it’s not a simple answer. I am a stay-at-home-mum to two teenagers, and I run our household (including handling all the finances). I also do consulting work, and I sit on the board of directors for a couple of non-profit societies. In other words, I have lots to keep track of!

I use Google Calendar for all my appointments, and I share a calendar with my husband, which helps us coordinate the use of our one vehicle. But I really only ever use the month-at-a-glance view, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for detail. Try as I might, I could never get in the habit of flipping around between weekly and daily views, probably because I found them ugly and not an easy way to visualize the layout of my day or week. There was also no easy way to make a list of to-dos that weren’t date or time sensitive.

I’ve tried using planners in the past, but the page layouts didn’t seem to fit my life very well. I don’t have a regular routine – each day is a bit different. I found I either ran out of room on the paper or I had entire pages wasted because there was nothing scheduled for those days. In the end, I’d always ditch the planner and go back to my default method: a TON of to-do lists, written down on various pieces of scrap paper and scattered all over my desk…needless to say it was a bit chaotic.

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The other problem I wanted to solve, aside from keeping track of appointments and to-dos, was how to better organize my time. I often have large blocks of time at home, and making the best use of that was a challenge. I’d start working on one thing (or more often, get sucked into Pinterest or Facebook) and next thing I knew half the day would be gone. I also had trouble tackling my long to-do lists – I knew it would be helpful if I could divide them up and schedule them for specific days, otherwise the giant list just sat there feeling too big to tackle. Anything with a due date ended up getting put off until the last possible minute, which would throw off the next couple of days while I frantically tried to catch up. And then there was my housecleaning routine (or lack thereof), which I talked about in my last post.

So, with all of this in the back of my mind, one day while browsing Pinterest I stumbled across a reference to something called a Bullet Journal. Intrigued, I Googled the term and saw that, whatever it was, it was trending big time! I was soon directed to this website belonging to Ryder Carroll, who is accredited with creating the Bullet Journal system (or BuJo as it’s known by its fans). It’s basically a fully customizable planner system that uses a few simple techniques to help people stay organized, track their time, and improve their productivity.

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The concept is pretty simple, but the potential for indulging one’s creative side has not been lost on the Internet. It wasn’t long before various online communities (and by communities I mean people united by a particular obsession) began creating fabulous BuJo page spreads and sharing them all over Pinterest and Instagram. There are blogs and entire YouTube channels devoted to all things BuJo. It has brought together planner/organizer geeks, OCD list-maker types, and art supply nerds (who doesn’t love a set of coloured artist pencils or markers?)…and I would say I feel right at home in the last two camps! The BuJo trend has created a renewed interest in calligraphy and handwriting, doodling and sketching, and all sorts of stationary supplies, much to the benefit of companies such as Leuchtterm (makers of one of the most popular BuJo notebooks), Goulet (makers of fine fountain pens), and Tombow (makers of coloured artist pens).

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So what exactly is a bullet journal?

Basically, a BuJo is a blank notebook that you fill with schedules and to-do lists to suit your needs. The basic elements are:

  1. an index;
  2.  yearly, monthly, or weekly views;
  3. bulleted lists using specific symbols;
  4. task migration; and
  5. collections.

The index is placed at the beginning of your notebook and is basically a table of contents that you create as you go along. This allows you to put anything anywhere in the notebook and be able to easily find it.

The views, or spreads as they are often called, are pages showing appointments and scheduled events. Some people do a “future log” which shows several calendar months. It can be as simple as this:

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Or as complex as this:

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There are also monthly spreads:

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And weekly spreads:

 

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People use different combinations of these spreads depending on their needs.

Finally, there is the daily task list. Here is where to-dos are written down in bullet format:

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The bullets have symbols, often described in a Key, as follows:

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An important element of using the bulleted lists is the concept of “migration”. If a task does not get completed, you “migrate” it to the next day (or week, depending on your layout). This allows you to make a big list of tasks, perhaps even knowing that you won’t get to all of them that day, but at least it is written down. It sounds simple, but I have found migrating to be a really useful element for staying organized.

Finally, there are “collections”. A collection can be anything really: notes from a meeting, ideas for a new project, lists of birthdays to remember. People have come up with all kinds of idea for collections, which of course are shared all over the Internet: habit trackers, gratitude logs, meal planning, and book lists just to name a few.

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The nice thing about the Bullet Journal system is you can put a collection anywhere because you have an Index. Once you create a collection – for example, a packing list for an upcoming vacation – you simply note it in your Index with the page number. Now you can easily find that list any time you want, and it really doesn’t matter if it was squeezed in somewhere between your weekly schedule and your list of tasks for a particular day.

Bullet journalling can be used by anyone. In fact it turns out my husband has been using his own version of bulleted lists in a little notebook for years. But if you are the kind of person who benefits from the act of writing something down, and perhaps taking time to make it pretty and colourful, or if you find drawing and colouring meditative, then a BuJo is particularly appealing. In my next post, I’ll show you my own Bullet Journal and how I use it to stay organized.

Meanwhile, below are some videos about Bullet Journalling. The first is by Ryder Carroll, the creator of the Bullet Journal system. It shows the original concept, which is very simple. Fans refer to this as a “minimalist” BuJo.

The second video is by my favourite BuJo guru, Kara Benz of Boho Berry. Not only is she an inspiring young lady who turned her artistic talents into a successful business, but her videos are well produced and enjoyable to watch. Her video is the first in her “Bullet Journal 101” series.

 

 

 

Categories: career, family life, Homemaking, lifestyle, Personal Growth | 1 Comment

How Living Space Affects Parenting

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You might not think that how you parent and the space you live in are related, but as I wait for our new house to be built I’m anticipating aspects of my parenting that will be positively affected by the change. Having separate rooms for the kids and having a proper dining area are just two of the important changes from our current situation that will help me as I guide my two spectrum-kids through adolescence.

The feeding therapy program for Mr. Boo is going well. His weight has stabilized and he’s eating a well-rounded diet, but I have been unable to make meals at the table happen regularly. Even just doing dinner has been difficult, due to the fact that the one space we have for eating serves as my desk and home office. To prepare the space for a family meal, I need to clear off the table (which means finding space to put all my stuff), pull the table out from the corner, and then gather chairs from various locations around the home.

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Having a proper dining table, a dedicated space for eating, will be a huge help with that. I plan to have ALL meals take place either at the dining table (family meals) or at the eating bar (kids’ meals and snack time). Not only will this help expose them to a wider variety of foods, but it will provide some much-needed family time…yes, despite being homeschoolers with mostly-work-at-home parents, older kids means less time spent interacting with each other. The few times we’ve had family dinners, I have really enjoyed the conversation and the sharing that goes on.

Having separate bedrooms is also going to help me address some parenting issues. My brother and I shared a room for the first 12 years of my life, and I have very pleasant memories of playing with him and whispered conversations after the lights were turned out. My kids have enjoyed the same relationship, for which I am very grateful. But now that they are entering their teen years, certain issues are coming up around privacy and needing a space of one’s own. They get moody, and when they are together each provides an easy target. Personal space and personal stuff is becoming increasingly more important. But bedtime is also an ongoing issue, and that’s what will change for the better when they have separate rooms.

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Miss Em has been independent in regard to bedtime for a couple of years now. Hard to remember now that I had to put her to bed until she was 10 years old! Now she puts herself to bed, and at a reasonable time. When she knows she needs to get up early, she goes to bed early.

Not so for Mr. Boo. He still lacks the maturity and self-regulation to forgo the pleasures of whatever-he’s-doing-at-the-time in order to get a good night’s sleep – even though he knows that having to get up when you haven’t slept enough really sucks and makes your whole day lousy. Up until fairly recently, I was putting him to bed, ensuring that lights got turned out and computers put away at a reasonable hour. He always hated being told it was bedtime, and I always hated having an argument when I was at my most tired.

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There were other reasons to hate bedtime: I couldn’t go to bed early if I was really tired or sick (Hubby is often away for work). Miss Em couldn’t enter the room while I was putting him to bed, because she was too much of a distraction for him. It didn’t seem fair to boot her out of her space at a time of day when she was winding down herself and wanting to relax in bed. Mr. Boo was also chafing at being “treated like a baby”, but a few trials over the holidays showed that he just didn’t have the self-discipline to pull it off on his own.

So we came up with a compromise: I would no longer put him to bed, but when his sister said “lights out”, he had to obey. Miss Em is naturally a “take-charge” kind of gal, and doesn’t find it difficult to enforce bedtime (most of the time). She also somewhat enjoys being able to set bedtime for the both of them. They have even developed a routine where she reads to him before lights out (bad fan fiction and not-so-creepy pastas* are favourites). But on occasion, he gets resistant and she has to deal with his antics. And sometimes she just doesn’t feel like taking on that responsibility. That’s when I feel guilty; it bothers me that I have essentially pawned off my parenting duties onto my daughter. But it was the best solution we could come up with, and all agreed it was their preferred choice, if not an ideal one.

But…when the kids have their own rooms, Miss Em will finally be absolved of bedtime parenting duty. She can go to her room whenever she pleases, independent of her brother’s needs or moods at the time. Hubby and I will be able to enforce a lights-out time that meets his needs, while still leaving Miss Em with the freedom to set her own hours. She will be able to get away from her brother and claim a space of her own, which is increasingly important as she gets older.

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As I dream about moving into our new home and how that will change our day-to-day lives, I see a connection between the spaces we live in and our ability to find solutions that meet everyone’s needs. Our current house was never meant to be permanent, but with the kids getting older I’m finding myself increasingly hampered when it comes to implementing new parenting strategies. Perhaps that has made the relationship between parenting and living space more apparent to me. It was certainly on my mind while I was designing our new house, and I can’t wait for it to be done!

 

* creepy pastas is the Internet term for what we used to call “urban legends”; some of them are written badly enough that they end up being funny, and those are the ones my kids enjoy reading

 

Categories: family life, Feeding Therapy, lifestyle, Miss Em, Mr Boo, New House Build, parenting | Leave a comment

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes

If David Bowie’s voice isn’t running through your head after reading that title, you’re probably a lot younger than I am!

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I’ve been thinking a lot about changes lately.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve come to realize that I’m entering a new phase in my life. The children are increasingly able to be left at home alone, and my mother has moved to our area and now serves as a handy (and free!) babysitter. This has opened up many possibilities that have been closed to us since we became parents almost 13 years ago, and I find myself marvelling at newfound freedoms after so many years of being needed at home with the children.

As I’ve thought about the changes this is bringing to my lifestyle, I’ve looked back on my life and realized that such changes have been occurring pretty regularly since the time I was very small. In fact, I can break it down rather accurately to a major lifestyle change approximately every 10 years. My goals, my responsibilities, and my level of freedom have changed with each decade and have brought with them a dramatically new lifestyle. I’m reminded of that saying “You can have it all, but not all at once“, and I’ve come to conclude that it describes my life quite well. This realization has brought a sense of deep gratitude and satisfaction. Each and every stage has been wonderful in its own way. Before I get tired of my life, I’m on to something completely different. It brings a colourful perspective to life, and a sense of adventure, too.

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My 50th birthday is less than 3 years away, and as I approach my sixth decade I’m enjoying thinking about the five that have come before it:

The first decade of my life was childhood, with its utter dependence on my parents. Luckily, I had good ones. I had a good home and a safe and happy life. My lifestyle revolved around elementary school; the rest was either play or following my parents’ agenda (music lessons, vacations, etc). The second decade of my life was high school and university undergrad. My freedom and independence slowly grew (not fast enough for me most of the time!). High school had a tangible goal (to get into University), and University undergrad meant freedom from parental rules and total ownership of my education.

The third decade of my life was filled with graduate school (Masters and PhD degrees). I no longer lived with my parents, and I spent a good deal of my free time socializing with friends (parties and night clubbing) and enjoying my hobbies (horseback riding and hanging out at the barn). I look back on fondly on this time: the world was my oyster, I had total freedom, and I had no responsibilities for anyone other than myself. It was the All About Me decade!

In the transition between the third and fourth decade of my life, I launched my career as a research scientist and got myself into a position where I was basically set. I had established myself and made good connections in my field. Had I continued, I would have enjoyed a solid and respectable career. But as the fourth decade rolled in I met my future husband, got married, and had two children. It’s a cliche, but a true one: having kids completely changed my life. From the moment my daughter was born my entire focus shifted to my children. I was no longer the centre of the universe and I didn’t even care. I experienced a love so profound, and a calling to motherhood that was so strong, that nothing else really mattered anymore. I’d had the All About Me decade, I’d achieved my goal of establishing a career, and I was ready to move on to something completely different.

Babies and toddlers are all-consuming. For a while, I forgot what it was like to walk around without the weight of a child on my back or in my arms. My purses became covered in dust; instead, I kept a full diaper bag ready to go at all times. Leaving the house was a massive exercise in project management, and my days were filled with other mothers and babies and child-centred activities. I didn’t sleep much, I was exhausted most of the time, but my heart was full of a joy I’d never known before.

As the kids became capable of dressing, feeding, toileting, and washing themselves and more independent in their learning, my time began to free up somewhat. As my fifth decade progressed, I was able to read books again and I took up hobbies such as knitting, quilting, and sewing. We bought our acreage and I began studying and planning for a small permaculture-based farm. I even took on a part-time job but, as with all my newfound activities, it was based from home.

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I’m now approaching my sixth decade, and I’m seeing some big changes ahead. Miss Em is completely independent at home and can babysit her brother during the day; at night they can go to my mother’s house. Mr. Boo is attending the learning centre 2 full days per week. This means that my free time can now encompass things that take place outside the home. I’ve been volunteering with a local non-profit organization and have recently taken on a leadership role. I’m really enjoying the interactions with other adults and working together for a common goal. I’ve started hanging out at our office one day a week to assist with tasks and sit in on a number of meetings that my role requires me to attend. I’ve been able to spend more time with Husband, sans enfants, which is also a pretty new experience for us. This newfound freedom is set to grow even further this fall, when Mr. Boo will be joined at the learning centre by his sister, and both will attend 3 days per week. For the first time since becoming a mother, I will experience what it’s like to not have children at home during the day (thankfully, they will still be around most of the week!).

I’m pretty excited about the possibilities for myself, and my changing role as a mother. Homeschooling has been such a big part of my job for the last 12 years, but I’m beginning to view myself as the mother of children who attend school part-time. I’ve enjoyed our homeschooling journey immensely, and I feel my children have been given a unique and wonderful first decade, full of unstructured learning, unconditional love, and emotional security. The next decade brings changes for all of us. But as with each new decade of change, I greet this one with excitement, enthusiasm, and gratitude. Bring on the next adventure!

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Categories: family life, lifestyle, Personal Growth | Leave a comment

Back to Knitting

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One of the great things about quitting my job is that now I have evenings free. I like to sit down after dinner and watch Netflix while I knit. Not only can I make stuff, but keeping my hands busy prevents mindless snacking!

I’ve got more hats and scarves than I know what to do with, but one thing I can never get enough of is handmade wool socks. My feet get cold very easily, and I basically live in socks all through winter, even sleeping with them on. So natural wool is a must for comfort and breathability. Having them made by hand just makes them all the nicer.

I use patterns from the book Getting Started Knitting Socks by Ann Budd. What I like about this book is that it gives patterns for each size of yarn, from fine sock yarn all the way up to chunky yarn. I don’t even have to think about guage, etc. I just flip to the right page and begin. The book also has details on the trickier aspects of sock knitting, such as the heel flap or picking up selvedge edges for the heel turn, and the Kitchener stitch for sewing up the toes, which I always need to review! Finally, it contains dozens of cable and lace patterns if you want to get fancy! I don’t have the patience for that; plus it makes it hard for me to watch a movie and knit as I need to focus on the pattern.

My favourite way to knit socks is two at a time on a pair of circular needles. But if I don’t have the right size I’ll happily use double-pointed needles, especially if it’s a simple stockinette pattern that doesn’t take too long (otherwise I suffer from single sock syndrome, where by the time you finish one sock you really don’t feel like repeating the whole process a second time!). If you are new to knitting or need a refresher, I recommend Very Pink Knits on YouTube. They have great tutorials for all kinds of knitting techniques, including this one for knitting two socks at a time on a pair of circular needles.

The socks below are a pair I just finished. I used a 2×2 rib and continued it on the top part all the way down to the toes. I don’t wear open shoes in the winter, so the extra bulk isn’t an issue for me. For the socks in the top photo, I just used a simple stockinette stitch because the striping pattern is more complex and I think it shows better without ribbing.

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Categories: Crafting, lifestyle | 1 Comment

Downtime for Mama: RPGing with Skyrim!

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I learned early on that my kids need plenty of downtime built into their day, especially after we’ve been out running errands or doing activities. I, too, need downtime, albeit not as often. One of the advantages of having older children is having more opportunities to do things just for myself. I run three times a week, take my dog for walks in the forest, and pursue other interests such as sewing and knitting on evenings when I don’t have work to do. Sometimes I binge-watch a TV series via Netflix, or online, and I read books while I’m snuggling with Mr. Boo at bedtime, waiting for him to fall asleep. It’s really important for me to make sure I carve some downtime for myself out of my week. As they say, if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!

Lately I’ve discovered a new pastime, playing a role-playing game called The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Now, while I do like video games, it’s not really my thing. Yes, I played through the Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time and loved it, and also enjoyed playing Banjo-Kazooie while my kids watched (they were toddlers back then), but after a while those types of games all seemed pretty much the same. My husband likes to play games like Battlefield and Far Cry, which are too testosterone-laden for my liking, and Miss Em and I enjoyed watching him play through The Last of Us (great storylines), but I hadn’t found any games that made me want to come back and keep playing when other opportunities beckoned.

About a year ago, my husband came home with a copy of Skyrim that he’d bought from a sale bin and thought the kids might like. We are a Mac family and Skyrim only runs on PC. We did have a PC hack going on our Mac, but as it wasn’t legit, it crashed a lot. Last month we finally bought a copy of Windows so Mr. Boo could take his programming course from Youth Digital, and installed it on our Mac using Bootcamp. Mr. Boo pointed out that now I’d be able to play Skyrim (neither kid was interested in doing so themselves), but I really didn’t know much about it. So he showed me a YouTube trailer for the game, and I thought it looked pretty intriguing. I was definitely blown away by the scenery!

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I was big into the fantasy genre of books when I was a teen and young adult. I read Piers Anthony, David Eddings, Terry Brooks, Steven R. Donaldson, etc. I still have my complete collection of The Belgariad and The Mallorean – which I re-read about every 5 – 10 years – and I own all the Shannara books (incredible series: 13+ books and they are all awesome!). And yes, I dabbled in Dungeons and Dragons when I was in high school (the early ’80s). But I just couldn’t get into it. Frankly, it required way too much imagination, and the action moved a bit too slowly for my liking. But this…Skyrim is everything I’d wished D&D was back then. I am loving this game!

I had no idea how much fun I would have creating, playing, and developing my character. The graphics are amazing, the experience is rich and varied, and I’m quite certain I can get a whole lot of game play out of this before I get tired of it: there is just so much to do!

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Being one who doesn’t read the manual, I jumped in with both feet, but after playing a few hours I realized there was probably a lot here I was missing. So I headed on over to YouTube and found this amazing complete walkthrough playlist by Culveyhouse. As a narrator, his voice is pleasant to listen to (something that is seriously lacking in many YouTube videos and especially important if you have 400+ videos to watch!) and he does a great job of balancing information on all the little things you can do with not making it boring to watch. The first 25 or so videos, which take you from the opening scene up to learning your first Shout words, taught me SO much about all the things you can do in the game and really upped the experience for me.

In order to ensure I don’t encounter any spoilers, I started skipping around after episode 32 and I only watch videos for quests I’ve already done. If I see anything really important I missed, I can always go back to that area, and I just really enjoy seeing the strategies he employs and reliving the quest experience from a slightly different perspective. If you are a fan of Skyrim, or want to see what it is all about, I highly recommend his walkthrough playlist.

I’ve been fairly busy and haven’t had a chance to play for a couple of days now, and I miss it! But once I get started, I like to play for at least a couple of hours, so I save it for my evenings off – it gives me something to look forward to!

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Categories: family life, lifestyle, Personal Growth | Leave a comment

Finding Work-Life Balance

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Last year, Husband reached a crossroads in his career path. It was time for some big decisions, and – as our family has often done – we chose the road less travelled. We came up with a plan that excited us, but it would require some serious belt-tightening for a while. At around the same time, I had an opportunity to take on more work at my editing job, and I gratefully accepted.

I work from home, and I set my own hours. But I do have deadlines and sometimes that means dropping everything, including sleep. Taking on more work turned out to be far more challenging than I’d anticipated. By summer I was feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and unhappy with the way work had taken over my life. My house was a constant mess, I stopped cooking and baking and embraced convenience foods, and I found myself saying “no” to my kids far too often for my liking. My life felt a little bit like this picture below!

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Miss Em turned 12 this summer, and I’ve noticed that she needs me just as much as she did when she was little, but unlike when she was younger, she doesn’t always let me know it. Whereas little kids will actively seek you out to “fill their attachment cup”, a tween doesn’t always do that. I realized that I needed to be proactive about making time for her. And Mr. Boo seemed ready to start getting more focused and involved in his interests, but without someone to facilitate that, it wasn’t going to happen on its own. And I really wanted to be that person.

Although I have always appreciated being able to stay home with my children, I didn’t realize just how much I loved that job until I found myself unable to do it properly. Working only served to reinforce in my mind and heart that my priorities were being with my children, sharing in their learning, and being a homemaker.

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I missed my old life, but I liked my editing job and was glad I could bring in some extra money for our family. I was also very happy to be working from home – at least I was there when someone got hurt, or a crisis came up, or someone just needed a hug – but I was missing the deeper nurturing that comes with spending time together just hanging out, when kids spontaneously ask questions, share their fears, and brainstorm new ideas. These are the types of interactions that you cannot schedule, they have to unfold when the time is right, and you do that by making sure there is lots of time for it to happen.

So over the summer I decided that, come September, things were going to change. I was going to find that elusive “work life balance”. With support from Husband, I was going to reduce my workload, commit to Project-Based Homeschooling, make an effort to spend quality time hanging out with each child one-on-one, and get a handle on my housework (I had to clean the entire place when my mother-in-law came for a visit and it made me realize how much the clutter and mess had been contributing to my stress level). Toward the end of summer I began to slowly develop a daily routine, shifting my work to later hours rather than mornings, when I have more energy for housework and hanging with the kids. I don’t have what one might call a schedule, but there’s a definite flow to the day.

Three mornings a week, I go for a run first thing in the morning. When I get back, or after I wake up on non-running days, I check my email and my news feed on Facebook while I eat breakfast. After that, I do some housework – a load or two of laundry, dishes, put some clothes away, etc. – or maybe knock a couple quick items off my to-do list. By that time the kids are awake and either myself or Husband has made them breakfast. Mr. Boo and I started a routine of brushing our teeth together so that he gets it done (otherwise he forgets, and I forget to remind him). Then he and I sit down for some PBH, or we work on his Youth Digital course. Next I hang out with Miss Em. We do PBH or we go run errands together (she likes doing that with me, I like having her along, and it’s the perfect opportunity for her to spontaneously share whatever is on her mind). If I have a work assignment, I try to get that started by mid-to-late afternoon, and Husband takes over dinner so I can work into the evening. In between all of this there is the countless putting out of fires that is the life of a stay-home mum. The kids get into fights, they need help with a transition, Mr. Boo needs support with situations that are liable to set him off, my parents deserve at least one long phone call a week, I coordinate appointments, pay bills and track finances, keep track of deliveries and garbage days, and so forth.

It’s a pretty loose schedule. But even though every day is different, I feel a rhythm and a flow to our days now and I’m much happier. True, I’m not making as much as I was before, but what I’ve gained back is priceless. I’m finally feeling like I’ve found that elusive work-life balance, and it feels good!

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Categories: family life, lifestyle, parenting | 1 Comment

The Joy of Riding

Hubby and I are several months into our weekly riding lessons now, and it has been everything I hoped it would be and more. Those of you who aren’t into horses or riding will have to indulge me with this post. Bringing riding into our lives has been a big deal around here.

There’s something about riding that is like meditation. I suppose there are many hobbies or pursuits that leave one with this feeling, but for me nothing comes close to it like riding. No matter how bad your day, no matter how sour your mood, getting up on a horse results in your mind clearing of everything. For one blissful hour I am focussed on my body and my equine partner, working together, with constant back-and-forth communication. It is really an honour to engage in such a conversation with another creature, one who is so strong and powerful and yet willingly submits to carrying me on his back.

My lesson horse is named Boomer and he’s a Quarter Horse. My trainer is working on getting her official Equine Canada certification and Boomer is the horse she is using, so she is schooling him in dressage and jumping. I’m so impressed with him – he looks lovely under saddle whether he is doing a cowboy-ish lope, flying changes in a lovely dressage frame, or hopping over jumps with controlled enthusiasm. I have to confess, Quarter Horses have never been my favourite breed. I’ve always thought of them as the workhorses they are, not as elegant and light movers. But our trainer’s two lesson horses have really won me over. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with her skills in horsemanship – she understands horses on a level few people do, and her skill is reflected in her horses. Her little “cow pony” is turning into a lovely little dressage horse (he recently won Training Level Champion at a local dressage show!), and since Dressage is my favourite equestrian pursuit I am very pleased to have a well-schooled horse on which to practice.

Meanwhile my husband has discovered the magical, meditative powers of riding. He seems to really enjoy the relationship he’s developing with his horse, Partner. My husband is not known for being effusive, so seeing his face light up as he excitedly talks about his lesson is truly amazing. I couldn’t be more thrilled that he is enjoying it so much. Riding with him is a real treat.

My husband on his very first trail ride.

I can’t believe I survived for 10 years without riding in my life. Now that it’s back I am so very grateful. Horses will be in my life from now on, I’m certain!

This was an exciting day: our trainer came to our property and we set out on a trail ride from our own driveway.

Categories: country scenes, critters, learning, lifestyle | Leave a comment

We do it for the Lifestyle

I went to get a haircut the other day. It was one of those rare occasions when Husband was home on a weekday so I ran to the nearest “quick cuts” type place to get a trim. The lady cutting my hair began chatting me up and when she heard my kids were homeschooled she asked, in a puzzled voice, why we decided to do that.

This question always stumps me because there are so many reasons why we homeschool. I never knew where to start: if I criticize the school system I risk offending the person if they have kids in school, if I talk about wanting to be a larger influence in my kids’ lives or just wanting to not waste the precious few years I have with them I risk offending working parents. If I talk about Natural Learning I will inevitably end up in that tired old discussion that starts out with “well what about Math?”. But this time, in a rare moment of inspiration that arrived when I actually needed it and not an hour later, I answered with “it’s a great lifestyle”.

Because really, without going into a debate about government-run institutions deciding what our children should know (and, by inference, not know), about the abnormal social dynamics of peer-segregated environments with very low adult:child rations, about the commercialization of childhood and how schools (and TV, mind you) foster it…the simplest answer is that I love this lifestyle.

I love that we don’t have morning rushes. We get up when our bodies tell us we’ve had enough sleep (unless we have an early appointment, which is not often). We eat a wholesome, home-cooked breakfast when we are hungry and not in anticipation of when we may next be allowed to eat. We often plan our days based on the weather, taking advantage of a sunny day to drop everything and go to the park or the beach, or deciding upon waking to a rainy, dreary day to stay home and bake cookies and do crafts. I love that the kids spontaneously invent fun things to do at home, and are able to pick something up the moment inspiration hits them.

I love that we spend so much time together as a family, and that the people we associate with come in families, too. I love that they have friends of different ages and that they see adults as just another person to talk to rather than a group of authority figures that warrant suspicion. I love that we can go places when others are in school or at work and have the place to ourselves. I love that weekends are quiet family time with very few planned outings – for most other families these are the hectic two days when one tries to fit in everything that can’t be done during the week while trying to connect with kids they have barely seen for the last five days.

I love that my kids take charge of their learning, are curious, and do not hesitate to seek out information on whatever topic happens to interest them. I love that taking my kids to an activity means connecting with other parents that “get” me and our lifestyle. I love how individual homeschooled kids are, how little they care for being like everybody else, and how tolerant they are of differences.

It’s a relief to be able to sum up that question in one simple concept. And doing so made me realize all over again just how much I love homeschooling, and how incredibly fortunate I feel to be able to do it.

Categories: lifestyle | 3 Comments

Winter Crafting

With winter fast approaching the days are much shorter and there is less opportunity (or desire!) to be outside. It’s the time of year when life slows down a bit, and that leaves more time for crafting. I’ve never thought of myself as an artist, but about 7 years ago I learned to knit and liked it so much that I’ve continued dabbling in fibre crafts ever since. There’s something really satisfying about making useful items and knitting while watching a movie means less temptation to snack instead!

I have been knitting and crocheting for a few years now but this past month I added a new crafting technique to my repertoire: needle felting. I’d been interested in it for some time after seeing some of the beautiful creations people can make, but never really got around to trying it until our Learning Centre held a felting class. Now the class was for wet felting (hand-felting wool using soap and water) but one of the families brought their needle felting materials as a few people had suggested that they would prefer that over wet-felting. And so the kids and I learned to needle felt.

Son is too young to do it himself, though he took a few stabs with the felting needle just to try it out. But he is a fan because of the ability to sculpt wool – particularly after he saw another boy’s Minecraft characters that his mother had made for him by needle felting. So for my first project Son helped me make him a Creeper (of course I can’t find it now to take a photo, but will update this post when I do). Now he’s requesting I make a Shadow the Hedgehog doll (he already has Sonic and Tails so I can use them as models). I love the idea of making something special to him, and also of him playing with natural fibres rather than plasticky junk.

Daughter and I both enjoyed needle felting very much. I went out and bought a whole bunch of roving, needles, and a multi-tool and I’ve been practising every now and then. It’s especially nice to do it with Daughter. The Learning Centre has rented a table at a local Christmas Craft Fair and the kids are making crafts to sell, so Daughter and I have been working on some items for that. Here are some of the items I’ve made so far:

While Daughter and I were felting yesterday I explained what roving is (fleece that has been washed and combed out) and how it can be spun into yarn. She suggested that we should get our own sheep so we could make our own roving and yarn. I think it’s a lovely idea and I’m going to look into it further. We could also raise angora rabbits or goats for the same purpose. I would just have one or two of these animals as it would just be for our own use and as a hobby, but it sure would be fun to see the process going from animal to yarn (with roving for felting). Sheep are also great lawnmowers, apparently, and since one of my pet peeves is using lawnmowers (seems ridiculous to burn fossil fuels for aesthetic purposes, but I can’t deny how much better the place looks when the grass is mowed) it would be a doubly-useful animal to have around. And how marvellous to be able to make items from yarn we’ve “raised” ourselves! I’ve always wanted to learn how to spin and dye my own yarn so this would be a good excuse to do so.

Categories: family life, learning is fun, lifestyle | Leave a comment

Back to Unschooling…

I’m taking a break from my autism-related posts to talk about daily life here at the Freelearners’ Homestead. We’ve been back at it since September (our homeschool program started up) and I wanted to share some of the things we’ve been up to. I find so many people who inquire about homeschooling, particularly unschooling, want to see what it looks like in terms of daily life, which is why I do such posts every now and then. Plus it’s nice for me to look back and see where we’ve been and where we’re headed. 🙂

Daughter is up to her usual creative pursuits. She is still intensely into drawing, getting out books from the library that show various drawing techniques. She loves the Ed Emberley books, and I confess so do I. Using simple, step by step techniques that use simple shapes, the books teach you how to draw an immense variety of things. DD always gets great ideas from these books. She recently used her learning funds to purchase a book on drawing dragons. Dragons are her passion these days. A while back it was Orcas and she spent much time over many weeks learning to draw the perfect Orca. I love how she gets really into a subject, explores it in depth, and then moves on to another. She produces reams of paper each week as she practices her drawing. She has created a dragon character called Arcada. She is constantly working to improve his look, and here is an example of the latest incarnation. Here she was working on the hind feet (she made a slip of the pen at one point, which is why there’s an arrow pointing to it with the word “accident” going off the photo edge).

She also spent some time practising how to draw characters from the Sonic the Hedgehog series. I love these, you can totally see how she experiments with sketching and then fills in the colours. She was really proud of these, especially because she could draw them in different poses and aspects.

She also picked up her clay work again after a long absence. Her brother is really into Sonic the Hedgehog and they both spent some time recently watching the Sonic X series on YouTube. So when she picked up her clay she decided to make small models of Sonic and Tails the Fox. I wish my iPhone camera took better closeups because the pictures really don’t do justice to the level of fine detail in her work. She is known for her ability to craft miniatures and make very fine details with her hands.

This year I began putting aside some time each week to work one-on-one with the kids facilitating various projects with them. We call it “Project Time”. Daughter and I are working on a big movie project. She’s been making movies for years now but usually they are spontaneous affairs. This time we’ve developed a storyline, started on the script, picked out characters (she is a big fan of Littlest Pet Shop movies, as I wrote about previously) and she has started crafting some props. We hope to start shooting later this week. This is her project and she leads the way, with me simply assisting and facilitating in whatever way I can. We’re both pretty excited about it and to me it represents the very best of Natural Learning.

Meanwhile Son is…well, he is who he is! Still loves video games and computers, though he can often be found engaging in much imaginative play. He also enjoys crafting, though there is a distinct common theme running throughout – anything game related, lol. Here is some Lego Minecraft Objects he made one day using a YouTube video as a guide.

He also loves printing out game characters, having me cut them out, and then playing with them. He has lots…

But lately he’s been wanting to have Sukapon characters. He just discovered the old school game Sukapon, but the issue is that the characters are made of little bits that float, so this was tricky. We came up with the idea of using tape. Here are two characters (with their energy bars) that he has been carrying around and playing with for two days now.

A really neat learning moment occurred recently that taught my kids about an important event in modern history. My complaints about the ridiculous process that is airport security screening, after returning from a recent trip to Ohio, led to a discussion of 9/11. Before I knew it both kids were watching Zero Hour with me and asking tons of fascinating questions. They simply couldn’t wrap their heads around the notion of “bad guys” choosing to kill themselves to attain some goal. Seemed pointless to them. Which brought up the subject of religion and belief in the afterlife and how that can be a real game-changer when it comes to predicting what “bad guys” will do. It was one of those spontaneous moments where the kids’ were really caught up, genuinely curious, and eagerly engaged in exploring the topic further.

Finally, Son continues to produce spontaneous displays of some deep grasp of number relationships that seems to come out of nowhere. We’ve never done any “math” with him, just what comes up in day to day life, yet the kid can add simple numbers in his head and now he seems to have somehow figured out multiplication. On more than one occasion he has spontaneously divided some number into equal parts in his head, though he cannot explain how he does it. I did sit down with him one day at Project Time to explain the concept on paper. He grasped it immediately and after solving a couple equations declared it to be immensely boring and pointless, lol. Needless to say I’m not all that worried. 🙂

Categories: family life, learning is fun, lifestyle, natural learning | Leave a comment

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