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A new plan for our girl

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If you’ve been reading my blog of late, you’ll know that we recently enrolled our daughter part-time at a local high school, and that she’s been having some real struggles with the transition.

After trying different ideas to support her, including medication for her anxiety, we have come to the conclusion that this step was just too much, too soon. We all really wanted this to work, but it’s apparent that she was not ready for it. And once we were able to step back, look at the situation, and recognize it to be so, we also had to ask ourselves if a high-school classroom will ever be a suitable learning environment for her.

I’ll admit, there was a wee bit of grieving on my part. There always is when you put your heart and mind to something, only to realize it isn’t meant to be. But when I was ready to do so, I’m pleased to say the answer was obvious. I’ve seen it before, my girl put in situations she couldn’t handle – preschool being one of them, classes at the local community centre were another. At the time, I despaired over what to do and what it all meant. But I knew in my mother’s heart that these situations weren’t working for her, that she was not yet equipped to deal with them without more…more skills, more support, more understanding. Now we have a much better understanding of her unique challenges and needs, and it isn’t as difficult to say “that isn’t going to work for her”.

We have taken her out of high school and used Spring Break to rethink our options for her education. At first, we thought she might be able to go to school this fall with a private one-on-one support person to guide her through the day. But through discussions with her therapy team, we have come to recognize that this is likely not the best option for her. She would have only one year (Grade 10) in which to gain the skills and ability to take on a full university-track course load* for Grades 11 and 12, and given her current condition that is unlikely to happen. Her brain works so hard just navigating her environment that she exhausts easily. Also, she would be under a great deal of pressure to graduate with her class, and not doing so would likely deal a serious blow to her confidence.

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So we’re falling back on our wonderful homeschool program, which offers a special program for the Grade 10 year and options for high school that will allow her to take as long as she needs to earn her diploma while still maintaining her autism funding. She will soon start working with her counsellor on a specific program for managing social anxiety, and I’m looking for tutors and similar programs that might work for her. I’ve already found a local private math tutor who was recommended to me as someone who can work with kids on the spectrum. We’re going to meet her tomorrow and see if she will be a good fit for Miss Em.

This “experiment” with school has, in some ways, been a blessing. It has helped us to understand the severity of her social anxiety and her executive functioning deficits, which allows us to make informed choices for her. And the take-away message from this experience is one that shouldn’t surprise me: our daughter is unlikely to take the conventional path to education and career.

Thankfully there are so many paths one can take, so many options available to her. In the end, I come back to my homeschooling roots, and our family’s “outside the box” approach to life, learning, and personal fulfillment.

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  • I just want to emphasize that the goal of college/university is hers. Although I loved my university experience, I do not believe it is the right choice for everybody, nor do I believe that success depends on it. If my daughter chooses not to go, then we are fine with that. 

 

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Step-by-Step: External Insulation

The Roxul Comfortboard arrives!

The Roxul Comfortboard arrives!

Previously, I described the unique wall system we designed for this house: a vapour-permeable wall using conventional materials and construction techniques. This week I got to see the wall go from drawings to real life as work began on the external portion of the wall (the internal portion is simple mineral wool batt insulation sandwiched between 2×6″ studs).

The first step was to put a layer of house wrap over the plywood sheathing. This particular house wrap is vapour-permeable but does not allow liquid water to pass. It is meant to protect the sheathing from any rain that might make it behind the cladding. It wasn’t necessary in our case since we have a 3-inch thick layer of mineral wool insulation between the sheathing and the cladding and we had already planned to put house wrap on the outside of those layers, but code requires it and since the membrane is vapour-permeable we didn’t feel it was worth the effort to get out of doing it.

First layer of house wrap.

First layer of house wrap.

Next, vertical 2 x 2 furring strips were nailed to the studs, and strips of 1.5″ thick Roxul Comfortboard were cut and fitted between them. One of the many advantages of mineral wool insulation is that it is not as “squishy” as fibreglass insulation and is therefore much easier to cut. More importantly, mineral wool does not loose insulative effectiveness when compressed. So the guys could make sure it fit nice and tight between the studs.

First layer of external mineral wool insulation.

First layer of external mineral wool insulation.

Next, horizontal 2×2″ furring strips were nailed to the vertical strips, and another layer of 1.5″ Comfortboard was placed between them.

On the right is the vertical layer. On the left is the horizontal layer going over top.

On the right is the vertical layer. On the left is the horizontal layer going over top.

First layer going up on the left, second layer on the right.

First layer going up on the left, second layer on the right.

Attention to detail!

Attention to detail!

Even the corners were covered.

Even the corners were covered.

The whole thing was then covered with a sheet of house wrap. This was taped to flaps of housewrap that had been laid under the sill plate (bottom of the wall) and the top plate during the framing process. The end result is the entire wall of insulation plus furring strips is encased in housewrap. Even though mineral wool is unaffected by moisture, the furring strips will probably appreciate staying dry.

The red tape attaches the outer layer of house wrap to the inner layer, creating a fully enclosed structure.

The red tape attaches the outer layer of house wrap to the inner layer, creating a fully enclosed structure.

The board and batten siding will be attached to the horizontal furring strips. In order for the guys to see them when the time comes (since they are covered in house wrap), special staples were placed along the nailing lines. The staples come with a rubber flange to seal up the hole created by the staple. The bright green colour makes them especially visible. They also used these to mark the window and door openings.

Green gaskets mark the staples that show where the nailing lines are for when the cladding is attached.

Green gaskets mark the staples that show where the nailing lines are for when the cladding is attached.

The walls are now ready for the windows to be installed. I can’t wait to see my beautiful windows out of the box!

 

 

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Step-by-Step: prepping the roof and floors

This past week the framers finished putting the plywood sheathing on the roof and they attached the fascia boards to the side gables. Meanwhile the floor crew finished tamping down the dirt, laid out the rigid foam insulation and vapour barrier, and taped it all up in preparation for the slab pour on Monday. I’ll be writing a dedicated post about our slab insulation setup, but for now I’ll just post some more photos!

Roof sheathing is done!

Roof sheathing is done!

The fascia boards are 2 x 8 cedar planks.

The fascia boards are 2 x 8 cedar planks.

This view shows the "pop-out", an architectural feature that I added for interest. I'm very happy with how it turned out!

This view shows the “pop-out”, an architectural feature that I added for interest. I’m very happy with how it turned out!

Three-inch thick Type II EPS rigid foam insulation (total R = 12) is laid down first.

Three-inch thick Type II EPS rigid foam insulation (total R = 12) is laid down first.

Spray foam is used to fill any gaps.

Spray foam is used to fill any gaps.

XPS rigid insulation was used around the perimeter.

XPS rigid insulation was used around the perimeter.

Vapour barrier over top of the rigid foam insulation.

Vapour barrier over top of the rigid foam insulation.

The slab is 4 inches thick except along the edge where it steps up to 2 inches thick. We added wire mesh to help prevent cracking where the slab gets thinner.

The slab is 4 inches thick except along the edge where it steps up to 2 inches thick. We added wire mesh to help prevent cracking where the slab gets thinner. The house wrap that went under the sill plates is folded over the edge. 

The roofing membrane is almost done, and the skylights have been installed.

The roofing membrane is almost done, and the skylights have been installed.

Monday will be a big day as the slab will be poured. On Tuesday the metal roofing arrives, so by end of next week the roof should be finished!

 

Categories: New House Build, Step by Step series, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

We’re Building a House (and having panic attacks)!

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On Monday February 29, the day I had been dreaming of for so long finally arrived: we broke ground on our new house!

We had just received notice that our building permit was approved, and the excavator was dropped off that weekend. On Monday morning, the framers showed up to mark the lines for the walls and then the excavator started digging.

You may be wondering why it has been two weeks already and I have not posted a single photo. The truth is that those first few days were very stressful – while friends and family were congratulating us, on the inside I was a mess. It was about a week into the build before I was sleeping through the night without waking up in a panic. Throughout the day I would have anxiety attacks. While I knew that building a house can be a stressful experience (they don’t call it a “divorce house” for nothing!), I really wasn’t prepared for how stressful it could be.

One reason for the stress was the financial obligation. This house is part dream home for sure, but also largely a necessity. The 30-year old mobile we have been living in for the last 6 years is falling apart before our eyes, and it will not survive another winter without putting some money into it, which we are loathe to do. In terms of financing the new house, we probably could have used another year or so but we decided we just couldn’t wait any longer. Consequently we are on a tight budget, and that made for some stressful moments during the first week or so.

You see, while a good contractor can provide a pretty accurate estimate of the costs involved in building, the one big variable is what lies underground. Until you start digging, you really don’t know what you will find. You have to dig down to a certain type of soil that is hard enough to support the weight of your home (and won’t break up in an earthquake, for example). If you have to go down further than anticipated, it costs you in many ways: the extra cost of concrete for higher foundation walls, the extra cost of fill to plug up the holes you’ve dug (it’s not as simple as just putting back what we dug out), and then there is the chance that you might have to bring in an engineer to approve the changes you’ve had to make, and that can cost a lot of money.

We ran into a few hiccups during the dig, and for a while there it wasn’t looking too good. I was freaking out that we might not have enough to finish the build: thus my almost-daily panic attacks. But in the end it all turned out okay; our contractors did a fabulous job of problem-solving, and it turned out that the downsides had some upsides to them in terms of saving costs in other areas. The final tally is not in yet, but it looks like the damage (in terms of going over budget) is not going to be too bad. That was a huge load off my mind, and I am back to sleeping through the night!

Another source of major anxiety for me was the finality of certain choices. I’ve had years to think about what I want, but always I was able to change my mind and refine my plans if need be. The start of the build marked the end of the design phase, and I found that a bit terrifying. I now had to make decisions that would be essentially irreversible! That caused a few late nights as well, going over (and over again) all the details in my mind to make sure I had things just as I wanted them (in my next post, I’ll relate a story of how I saved myself from just such an irreversible mistake).

I’m happy to report that I’ve made it through those difficult first few days and am now able to truly embrace the joy of seeing my house come to life! As a bonus, during those stressful moments Husband and I leaned heavily on each other and came through it feeling closer than ever – no divorce house for us!! So stay tuned for lots of photos and progress reports!

BEFORE: a lot of site prep was involved to get this area clear and strip the garage for demolition.

BEFORE: a lot of site prep was involved to get this area clear and strip the garage for demolition.

 

AFTER: the garage is gone and holes are being dug!

AFTER: Day 1 – the garage is gone and holes are being dug!

 

Categories: New House Build, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

On the Road to Eating Competence

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In the last two posts in this Feeding Therapy series, I outlined the feeding and eating program developed by the Ellyn Satter Institute and provided some background to explain how I became a “feeding failure”. Today, I discuss our goals and our plan for getting there.

The ultimate goal of this program is to get my children to the point of Eating Competence, which is a model developed by the Ellyn Satter Institute. As described by the model, eating competent children:

  • feel good about eating, and have the drive to eat
  • naturally eat as much as they need, and grow in the way that is right for them
  • learn to eat the foods their parents eat
  • enjoy a variety of foods, and enjoy learning to like new foods
  • enjoy family meals, and learn to behave well at mealtimes

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In the case of our family, there was a lot of overeating going on, virtually nothing that the adults ate was eaten by the children, the kids had a very limited variety of foods they would eat, and an intense dislike for anything new. Family meals did not happen in our household, and the kids actively resisted the idea of doing so (and frankly, so did I, for reasons outlined in my last post).

Achieving the goal of Eating Competence requires me, the parent in charge of feeding, to follow the Division of Responsibility, which is:

  • provide regular meals and snacks
  • choose and prepare the food
  • serve food at the table, without TV or other distractions
  • make eating times pleasant
  • show children by example how to behave at mealtimes
  • be considerate of your child’s lack of food experience without catering to their likes and dislikes
  • don’t serve foods between meal and snacktimes
  • let children enjoy the body size and shape that is right for them

I know from past experience that, when starting any new lifestyle plan, it’s important to take baby steps towards the end goal: do the first step until it feels normal and natural, and then add the next. So, as recommended by the program guidelines, I broke the process down based on where we were starting from and the particular eating issues that our family was facing.

  1. the parent is responsible for providing food
  2. implement regular meal and snacktimes
  3. eat one meal at the table together as a family
  4. gradually have more meals and snacks at the table
  5. gradually reduce the “extra foods” added to the table to accommodate specific likes and dislikes

In my next few posts, I’ll talk about how it is going, the steps we have implemented, and any difficulties or results we are seeing. Thank you for following along!

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Categories: autism, family life, Feeding Therapy, parenting, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

An Exciting Announcement!

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It has been five and a half years since we moved to this property.

When we bought this place, the plan was to live in the little mobile home for a couple of years and then build an environmentally friendly home. But life has a way of throwing obstacles in one’s path, and that was certainly the case for us. After an aborted attempt to get started two years ago, and with the ancient mobile rapidly deteriorating before our eyes, I’m thrilled to announce that we are FINALLY building a house!!!

I have not been keeping up with my blogging of late, but now I will be reporting regularly on the build, documenting the process and the unique design of the home. What’s unique about it, you may ask?

Well, I noted above that I wanted an “environmentally friendly” home, but what that means has changed for me over the years. If there is an upside to waiting so long, it’s that I’ve had ample time to do my research into “green building” and I’ve changed a few things along the way. There are a few unique design elements in the plans, and in some ways I have ended up going against the grain of current thinking around green building practices. I’ll be happy to detail this in future posts and to document the success (or failure!) of our design in the months and years ahead.

Meanwhile, as you can imagine, my life is about to get a whole lot busier! But I am so thrilled to finally be at this point, that no amount of work can get me down!

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What Easter Means to Me

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Today is Easter Sunday. Millions of church-goers are heading off to services, dressed in their Sunday best. The story of death and resurrection is an ancient tale that stretches back in time long before the Christian version, and my guess is that one would be hard pressed to find a culture from any period in our history that didn’t celebrate the arrival of Spring.

Five years ago, our family left big city living and moved to these 4 acres on a wooded hillside, nestled among the trees of the pacific northwest. For the first time, I was living close enough to Nature to start noticing and experiencing the cycle of life. We arrived at the end of February and, eager to get to know our property and the flora and fauna that lived here, I spent many hours walking in the forest and open areas around our home. I discovered vanilla leaf when I noticed dozens of shoots rising out of the forest floor like a tiny army of green sticks. I found wild nettles, and pacific bleeding hearts, and western trillium. I could not get over the birdsong that filled the air – sweet melodies from thrushes and sparrows, raucous raven calls, and the staccato laughter of the woodpeckers.

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That first year, everything was new; but each year after that, as Spring came again, I found that some of the new had become the familiar. I saw the same signs of life appearing in the woods and trees. I began to understand how our ancient ancestors must have viewed the world and the passage of time. The notion of a circle, a cycle of seasons, became so much more vivid to me. I felt that sense of comfort in seeing the cycle begin anew each year. There was something reassuring and satisfying in seeing the same sequence of plants rising from the earth after the winter, to hear that the birds had returned safely from their winter journey.

After five years here, I still experience that sense of joy and excitement when I see the signs of Spring. In the winter, we turn inward and thoughts are of hearth and home. But in the Spring, the sunshine and warmth pulls us outdoors and we get to rediscover the plants and sounds that we’d not given thought to for so many months.

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Today was such a day. I awoke to a gorgeous sunny morning, and I couldn’t help but grab the leash and take the dog for a walk right away. The birds were singing, and the sun felt wonderful on my face. I saw buds on the bushes all along the side of the open trailway, as though someone had sprinkled green confetti over the landscape. I saw trillium plants, and cherry blossoms, and the long, lush maple blossoms hanging heavy from the trees. I thought about Easter, and the countless generations of people who have lived closer to Nature than any one of us today, how much more powerful and comforting those signs of Spring must have been to them, and how much more a cause for celebration.

Growing up, I spent far too many Sunday mornings sitting in a church, bored and restless, to ever consider doing so of my own accord again. I often take a walk through the forest on a Sunday morning and think about how much more that feels like worship and prayerful connection for me than being within the physical and spiritual confines of a religious institution. The tall, bare trunks of the Douglas Firs rise like columns in a cathedral. The birds are my choir, the scent of the damp earth is my incense, and my heart feels light. It seemed a fitting way to spend this Easter Sunday morning.

As I walked, I thought about the seasonal cycle of Nature and how it stands in contrast to the way of manmade things. Cities and landscapes are always changing and growing. The house I grew up in is no longer there, replaced many decades ago by new homes that hold no memories for me. The tiny farm that sat on my street when I was a teenager, the last of its kind in that neighbourhood, long ago yielded to condos. My university campus has been in a construction boom for 20 years, and even those who still work there comment on how much keeps changing. None of these things ever go back to the way they were. And so I think we modern people tend to view life as linear, as a path stretching endlessly into the future, with no way back to the past and no way of predicting what it will look like in times to come.

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But Nature isn’t like that. We get to revisit the past each year. The bleeding heart blossoms that dotted the forest floor last year were all but forgotten until I saw the leaves and buds the other day. I get to re-experience the tender green leaves of wild nettles, the thrill of waking up to a morning filled with birdsong after almost forgetting that such music could be heard. In this worldview, the future is not entirely unknown. I know that the trilling buzz of hummingbirds will become more frequent, especially when the elder flowers bloom. My magnolia tree is about to burst forth in colour. Our forest, which has been bright and open all winter, will close up as the branches fill with leaves and the grasses and shrubs cover the ground with a thick, tall mattress of growth. There is something comforting and reassuring about this perspective, and I understand why our ancestors centred their feasts and celebrations around the cycle of the seasons.

Easter is many things to many people, but for me it is about the celebration of Spring. It is the renewal of life after the death of winter. I can still remember the brackens turning brown and slowly tumbling to the ground last fall, and yet now I see tall stalks rising up, bright green and full of life and the promise of summer. But Easter is also a reminder that life can be viewed as a cycle and not as an endless line stretching ahead into the unknown. I love the connection to the earth that moving here has brought me, and so for me Easter is also now a celebration of thanks for that, for this place that has won my heart and to which I feel more connected than any other place I have lived.

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Miniature Polymer Clay Box

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Miss Em has long loved to sculpt things with polymer clay. She especially loves doing miniatures, and used to spend hours watching YouTube videos of people making tiny creations. She recently picked up her bin of clay and got to work on a little project.

I had mentioned to her a while back that when she was 3 years old, she went through a phase where she was obsessed with ladybugs. I told her how one day we were out walking in our neighbourhood and saw an interesting insect, which she said might be a ladybug larva. Sure enough, we went home and looked it up, and there it was in our insect book.* She smiled as I told her this story, but I figured she had about as much enthusiasm for “when you were little” stories as I did at age 12, which is to say “virtually none.” Little did I know…

So a few days ago she is sitting there with her clay and asks me “Mum, what year was it when I was 3?” I told her, not thinking much of it, and went back to my work. A little while later, she shows me what she has made. It’s a tiny box, with a lid that fits snugly over the top. The whole thing is no more than 2 cm wide! On the lid is a ribbon tied into a bow, and the year “2005” in tiny lines of clay (she still gets her 2’s backwards sometimes, so cute). Inside the box…was a ladybug. It was her little commemoration to her love of ladybugs when she was 3 years old, and it warmed my heart!

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* turns out I blogged about our discovery, and in the blog post I discovered she was actually 5 years old, not 3.

Categories: a day in the life, Crafting, Miss Em, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Vacation Woes: it’s all about the transition

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We’ve recently come back from a four-day holiday at a remote cabin site with no electricity. The weekend can best be described as stress and chaos interspersed with all too few moments of calm. In the midst of the tantrums, the screaming, the throwing of objects, and the tears (mine and theirs) I felt tossed and turned on a sea of insecurity and doubt. Where had I gone wrong? Had I failed my children? Were they so disabled and dysfunctional that the basic dream of a family getaway with friends was, for our family, just a pipe dream? Had my parenting somehow robbed my children of the ability to cope with anything outside of their home environment?

Now that we are back and I’ve had a chance to think over what happened, I’m feeling less panicked about where to go from here. That last night before we all packed up to go home, my children miraculously emerged from the cabin and actually interacted with the rest of us, sitting by the campfire for cuddles and playing with the other kids on the rocks along the river that lay a few feet from our cabin, while Husband and I enjoyed some snacks and good (uninterrupted!) conversation around the campfire on the river’s edge. My friend noted that it was a shame we all had to go home the next morning, as my kids seemed to be finally coming out of their shells. Back at home, someone else reminded me that, for autistic kids, it’s all about the transitions. You’d think after all these years I would recognize this…but I really didn’t see it until after we came home.

My friend, whose grown-up son has Aspergers, told me that she never took him on a holiday that lasted less than a week, because it would take him 2 to 3 days to adjust to the new environment and routines, after which time he would be fine. They went on holiday expecting the first couple of days to be chaotic. I did not. I did not anticipate that this was a transition and that my kids would need time to adjust. All I saw were kids who couldn’t handle the environment and I despaired. I didn’t stop to think that they would eventually adjust, if given some time to get through the transition.

It’s not that we haven’t travelled before, but almost always the kids have been on board with the plans. In this case, their friends had to cancel and, with no electricity at the cabins, they felt there was really nothing in it for them. In other cases we have gone on holidays and have not experienced such a difficult transition, so I really wasn’t prepared for this one. In the future, we will make sure that if the kids are not really on board with the plans, we stay long enough for them to get through the transition phase. Also, we will go into it with the expectation that the kids will need a lot of support, and that the grownups will have to wait a couple days to enjoy their down time. We feel that it’s important to expose them to this situation once in a while (i.e., a holiday or trip that isn’t on their agenda) in order to give them practice at adjusting to such situations. Hopefully, with the right expectations, the next time won’t be so hard on all of us.

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I’m back…

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Last fall I started a new blog. It was fuelled in large part by a growing feeling that I needed to make changes to my parenting and my homeschooling. I was full of ideas and I felt that starting a new blog would be a good way to embark on a new approach. This post, which I wrote back in July 2012, explains my thoughts at the time, and this post from September 2012 gives some idea of where I expected to go with it all. Well, I’m here to tell you that it didn’t last very long. I now look back on it as a moment of doubt in an otherwise lengthy history of doing what works and what has always worked for us.

I recently browsed through this blog and was reading over some posts from many years ago when the kids were younger. How the time flies! The photos of them bring such joy to my heart, and some bittersweet pain as well. Those little kids were such a handful, and yet such a joy. They are growing up into lovely people, but sometimes I miss their wee hands and being able to hold them in my arms. I realized that this blog is a treasure of memories and a record of my journey. It didn’t seem right to break it apart, and so I merged the new blog into this old one and will continue the journey onwards from here. 

In my heart we always have been, and always will be, freelearners. We have never done things the way “most people” do them, and that makes all of us happy. While I tried briefly to move away from the unschooling label, the truth is we are unschoolers and always have been. The discipline that I felt was missing turned out to be missing from my own life, not theirs. My discovery of Project-Based Homeschooling provided the answers I needed: training for me to be a better mentor and unschooling parent to my children. 

Don’t get me wrong – I still don’t have this parenting thing figured out completely. But I’d rather document my journey, with all the different paths and dead ends I’ve tried, in one place. 

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