Sticking to My Homeschool Goals

When we started homeschooling, I had a fairly decent idea of how I wanted to do things. I’d been doing research for a couple of years and I was drawn to a particular style of homeschooling that was created by a woman named Charlotte Mason. I appreciated her no-nonsense attitude and belief in short lessons and mastery over vast amounts of limited knowledge. I wanted my children to be challenged because I believe that kids can do a lot more than our modern day thinking allows. I wanted them to love learning and to spend time outdoors and not be tortured by with busywork. I felt like the Charlotte Mason approach supported these goals. But was I ever unprepared for the vast amount of curriculum that is currently available to modern day homeschool families! So many choices! What to choose from? For one booklet, there are fifteen different reviews on thirty different blogs. Which one will work for my children? This one worked great for mine! We should all do these things! Homeschool goals be damned! Obviously the way this person is doing it is much better than anything I had planned!

One program in particular had a strong marketing base–Brave Writer. It was very expensive, nearly $500 for both of my elders. It had so many good reviews and so many moms swore by it that I felt positive that it would be epic for our children. Fortunately, someone gave it to me for free. I was thankful that I didn’t have to drop that kind of fortune on writing curriculum. Thankful didn’t begin to cover it when I realized that the program really didn’t work for me as a teacher or for my children because it ultimately didn’t support my homeschooling goals.

I love my eldest but he is a flighty soul and needs anchoring with strong, common sense material. Like his mother, he needs a level of predictability and I found Brave Writer to be a bit too free spirited for both of us. My daughter tends to fold when things get too hard and she needs to be challenged more often so she can gain confidence. There were some excellent ideas from Brave Writer but overall, the “conflict free” approach struck me as a bit…saccharine. There was no grammar, no structure, no attention to the details that help people learn to write. Instead, the focus was on getting children to love writing.

While I have no issue with an approach that encourages love of writing, like in marriage…love does not conquer all. In marriage, we are often required to tough it out through things that are not so fun and easy. We sometimes have to do things we don’t like. Love for each other does not mean that marriage will be easy. Love of writing does not mean writing will be easy. When I was in middle school, my mom gave me a composition book that was written in the 1800s. It was the most difficult writing book I’d ever had to work through and I hated every single second of it. But it made me a better writer and it taught me a very important lesson–persistence.

I also don’t think that children need to love every subject *gasp*. Not everyone likes writing. What I want my kids to learn even more than the love of writing is that sometimes we have to do things that we don’t like to do and we still have to do our best…even though we hate it. Charlotte Mason talks about the importance of establishing good habits. My kids might not want to brush their teeth but it’s good for them in the long run. They might not want to do their copy work every day but it’s good for them. Eventually, it will just become part of their routine and they won’t even think about it. I don’t expect my kids to write the next great American novel but I do expect them to understand basics like how to express themselves clearly through writing and speaking.

That’s not to say I want to torture my kids. We originally started with a classical homeschooling writing program “Writing with Ease” which was also highly recommended. I found it to be incredibly boring for myself AND my kids, which is why we are currently on the hunt for something better. My mom suggested the books she used for me when I was young and we will probably give them a try. I’m willing to be flexible and I will gladly incorporate some of the things I’m learning from Brave Writer, but it can’t be our main source of writing/language arts curriculum. It made me a little sad because I was excited over how much people loved it…but I am just not a free spirit kind of a homeschooler. I need routine, I need predictability, and right now…I need it laid out…step by step.

In some ways, I envy my mom in her early homeschooling years. She still had a lot to choose from but at least she didn’t have a thousand people on the Internet all claiming to know which way was the right way. Having fewer choices seems like it would have made things easier (although she says going to book fairs was kind of like the Internet). I just have to stick to what my goals are for my kids and stop getting distracted by other people’s goals for theirs.

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A Life Well Lived

I recently finished re-reading Little Women the other day. As a child, I always related more to Jo than any of the other girls–she was like me…she was a writer, she had a temper, she preferred male friends, she loved her sisters, and she never really quite fit in anywhere. Fashion and fuss were not her thing…she liked books and longed to go to college. I found that not much had changed–I still very much relate to Jo. Only this time, I felt like I understood the poverty aspect of her life in a way I never had before.

We have always been working to get out of debt but last month, we made a decision to get really aggressive with it…aggressive in a way we had never attempted before. This level of aggression requires a level of sacrifice and self denial that my husband and I have never really done. Homeschooling helps by keeping me busy and off the computer and online shopping–although it’s easy to get distracted by all the cool things that would be “perfect” for the kids. Minimalism keeps me under control in that area–I don’t have the space for all of the things, so that also helps me to say no when faced with cool looking things. I thought that I already understood being content with what I have but with this new commitment, I am realizing that I’ve actually been very discontent and still mindlessly consuming. If I had truly been practicing minimalism the way I believe in it, we wouldn’t be in the financial strap we’re currently in.

Thus begins the practice of telling myself “no”. I can’t impulse buy the things I would normally convince myself I needed under the pretext of “it’s for the kids”. There is literally no room in our budget for impulse spending. There is literally no room in our budget for anything but the barest of essentials. This is a new realization as now I truly have to make a solid effort to make sure that we have a home-cooked meal every night because we genuinely cannot afford to eat out like we used to. We HAVE to eat at home. It is the difference between getting out of debt and not. It’s the difference between being able to afford Christmas presents for my kids this year and not.

I confess that this sudden lifestyle change is difficult. Now instead of just buying something and tell myself that we’ll figure it out later. I have to evaluate each and every purchase. Is it necessary? Is it needed? Things that I thought I was already doing but not at this level of conscientiousness. Every time I think I have minimalism and frugality all figured out, I find that I can still evolve.

So I’ve been watching videos and reading books by people who live a simpler life. People who are content with rice and beans and who make their own bread and live life more self sufficiently. Where the priority is not what’s fashionable but what’s truly essential. The tagline of my blog is “quality over quantity” and in my head I’ve always associated that line with material objects. I’ve always sort of understood as if you buy something, buy something high quality! It was never about maybe just appreciating what you have. This summer I spent a lot of money redecorating our house and feeling discontent with our furniture and angry that we could not afford to buy anything new and serious “quality”. My failure to grasp that our current furniture, while plain and unfashionable, is sturdy and perfect for our life with three young children. It is also warm and welcoming because it is worn and indicates that it’s not a big deal if you spill your crackers on the seats.

The process of grasping my failure to truly understand the concept behind minimalism began gradually when I started homeschooling our children this fall. When I made purchases, there was a voice in the back of my mind asking, What if you need that money for something for the kids’ education? Then my husband brought up the idea of really getting aggressive with our debt. I jumped on board, not truly understanding what that was going to entail. I don’t think either of us really knew what it meant when we made the decision–it was only about a month later when we found ourselves with a depleted emergency fund because we kept tapping into it that we realized we were going to have to make a fundamental shift in our behaviors.

So we made a budget. It’s tight, I’m not going to lie. There is no wiggle room for splurging in that sucker. Every expense must be evaluated–every penny must be tracked. I’m squirming a bit under the level of self control I must now exercise but I have a strong accountability partner in my husband. I have homeschooling, household chores, and cooking to occupy my days. My priorities are shifting from–does my house make me look like I am leading a minimalist lifestyle  to is my house a good learning environment for children and do people feel comfortable when they come over to hang out? Ironically, minimalism is not completely free from consumerism and I fell for it.

When I read about Jo and her family and their life of poverty that was centered on work, study, and service–I felt a kinship to that. I empathized with Meg for wanting nice things…it’s an easy trap to fall into. But I also loved Marmee for serving others who were even poorer than she was and for her strength of character in raising her four girls to be grateful for their situation. And I felt like I understood Jo on a new level when she decided to turn Plumfield into a school and continue that life of work, service, and study. That is a life well-lived and I wanted it to reflect in my own. Money doesn’t solve anything and having more just makes you want more. It makes you more frivolous with the stuff you already have because you can just go out and buy another one. But when every penny must be evaluated, you are more careful with your decisions.

And so our journey to being debt-free continues…

Renovations

The first time I went to our parish priest’s house, I was very nervous. Every week he railed against the evils of money in his sermon and I knew he worked a good job when he wasn’t preaching. The fear of walking into his home and finding it fancily furnished with high end furniture was a real fear. It was a pivotal moment for me on whether or not I was in or out with the whole church thing. But when I walked in, I saw immediately that the furniture was used. The home was simply decorated with books, icons, and various items that reflected the family’s Palestinian/Russian heritage. It was welcoming and homey and I was all in. The message was clear–money and possessions were secondary to the family’s primary value…the gospel. I wanted our home to reflect our values as clearly as I saw them here.

People’s houses say a lot about who they are. It tells you what their values are. If you walk into a house with designer layouts and tons of expensive possessions, chances are that person’s values are about money and image. If you walk into a house that’s covered with pictures of their children and family–that person probably values their family. That’s why it’s fun to visit other people’s houses and get a feel for who they are as people.

I started watching the show Fixer Upper recently and got completely addicted. Like, binge watched. I couldn’t stop until I was finished with all three seasons available on Hulu. I was suddenly overwhelmed with the desire to update our house…which we had not touched since we moved in eight years ago. We’d always talked about doing something like painting or getting new floors, etc, but we never got around to it. Minimalism had helped me accept the imperfections in our home and to be content but after watching this show, it was gone. I had fallen down the rabbit hole of consumerism and was determined to do something at any cost.

What I really wanted to do was paint. But the trouble is that when you do these sorts of “small” changes, it can quickly escalate in other things….like new wall decor, new furniture, new light fixtures, etc. I did my best to keep things on the cheap…Goodwill and Walmart were my go-to sources for purchase. And when we finished, it looked great…but the funny thing was that I didn’t feel any happier than I did before we painted. It was nice but I still felt empty. I began questioning why it was that I actually wanted to change things.

After further reflection, I realized what my real trouble was. I never wanted to be a suburban housewife. I wanted to be a hip globe trotter a la Colin Wright. I once ran into a friend at Target and he said, “You looked so suburban I almost didn’t recognize you.” It was intended as a joke but it crawled into my soul and stayed there. I cannot be associated with these women who strut around in their active wear because they can’t be bothered to dress themselves. I cannot be the boring, bland suburbanite soccer mom that is mocked in stereotypes. I had to prove it. And I was going to do it by updating my house to be the hip, cool place I wanted it to be.

Except that this did not reflect my true values. Aesthetics are important to me, but they are definitely minor values…as they are also to my husband. We discussed what it is we want people to see and feel when they come into our home and we both wanted the same thing…we want our home to be warm and welcoming and comfortable…not cold and untouchable like an art gallery. What is truly important to me is knowledge, my family, and my church (not necessarily in that order). Money is not my value and I certainly do not want anyone to walk into my house and think that money is our first priority.

A coat of paint is not so bad. We’ll probably finish painting the interior of the house now that we’ve started. But at least now I recognize that it is not going to cure whatever insecurity I have about my station in life. It’s not going to make me cool (and seriously, I’ve never been cool, so why try and start now?) and it’s not going to change who I am–a suburban housewife with a knack for writing and an obsession with research. It’s just paint.

Isolation

I was listening to the Katy Says podcast yesterday. I discovered Katy Bowman’s work about six months ago and it has really shaken up the way I look at exercise and movement. In her podcasts, she often talks about the disconnect modern society has created between itself and movement. For example, driving a car has removed the need for walking to and from where we need to go. Our sprawling living arrangements has made it more difficult to walk and thus creating the need for the car. Our furniture has removed the need for sitting on the floor and has turned us into Wall.E style humans. The conveniences of modern society have made us sedentary. But while she covers that in her podcasts and writing, she also talks a lot about how our conveniences have isolated us from our surrounding communities.

At church last Sunday, the sermon was also about isolation. How something as simple as a bike lock has removed us from social contact with our communities. The speaker mentioned that when he was in Morocco, someone was paid to watch people’s bikes. If you went somewhere, this guy would watch your bike for you until you came back. If your bike was still there, you’d give him some money. But here, we have bike locks and no social contact. In my city, we have bike stations where you put money in a machine to rent a bike. Imagine if that was a person? We’d be forced to interact with people. Katy also talks about this as a benefit of more movement–if you’re walking to the library, you see the world from a totally different perspective because you are interacting with it instead of being isolated from it.

Another example would be cell phones. Once upon a time, kids used to walk or ride bikes to someone’s house to see if their friends could play (movement and personal connection). Now, play dates are arranged via text message between parents (consumerism and isolation). No one would dream of stopping by the neighbor’s without calling first. Facebook is, of course, another example. Some argue that the advantage of Facebook is keeping in touch with long distance relatives and I have no problem with that. But it is not the same thing as a phone call (here is where cell phones do prove useful after all) where you have more of that personal connection. If you write a letter, you have to write down the words, put it in an envelope, and walk it to the mailbox or post office (movement). If you just scroll through Facebook to check out some photos, you remove both the movement and the connection.

All of our stuff–all of those conveniences–not only are they making us sedentary…they isolate us from the most important thing–connection with others. Look up anything about health, happiness, and longevity and you’ll always find movement and community listed as essential ingredients to a fulfilling life. What conveniences or things in your life remove you from movement and contact with others?

I’m Back!

It’s been awhile since my last post, so here’s a brief update:

I do not have a thyroid problem.

I spent several months after my last post feeling exhausted, emotional, sleep deprived, and unhealthy. I had no interest in things that I normally enjoyed doing–including this blog. So I went to the doctor to see if I had an issue with my thyroid…thyroid problems run in my family. But when I described my symptoms to her, she said I sounded depressed. Sitting in her office, I couldn’t think of any reason why I would be depressed. Then it occurred to me when I got home–oh yeah, my friend died almost one year ago. That’s why. Mentally, I didn’t make the connection. Physically, my body was way ahead of me. I refused the medication prescribed and started taking steps to get myself out of my funk. It’s been a little while but I’m back to this blog, taking long walks, swinging kettlebells, doing yoga, and eating well. I stay busy with the house and the children and have become very active in my church community. All of these things keep me from falling into the trap of self involvement and pity.

We’re homeschooling next year.

Yikes! The hubs and I made the official decision last month to pull the kids out of school for fall 2017 and start teaching at home. I’ll be doing most of the work–he’s in charge of sports and Spanish. As a homeschool graduate, I feel like it’s my moral obligation to give homeschooling at least a year. If it works out, great. If not, I can return my kids to public school knowing I gave it my best shot. I didn’t want to wake up in twenty years and regret not even trying. So we’re trying. I’m shopping for curriculum and getting excited about the possibilities! It’s going to be interesting homeschooling from the parent perspective.

I’m writing a book.

I don’t promise it will be published and it has nothing really to do with minimalism. It’s a book about teaching the Bible as literature to children–I’ve been studying the Bible this way for a couple of years and have written articles for another blog through the lens of parenting. It’s been great. The book is basically being written twenty minutes at a time but I am surely making progress!

Thoughts for this blog

I have become very interested in how minimalism relates to community–how being less interested in consumerism promotes community among neighbors. I’d like to expand beyond “buying local”, which I don’t think truly promotes community as much as one might think. But how can living with less positively impact our relationship with our neighbors–particularly with people who are different than us? I hope to write more about this in the future.

There you have it! A brief update on some of the things happening over here at Simple Material. Hope all is well with you!

Groups and Identity

My oldest friend came to visit yesterday–we have been friends since elementary school and bonded largely over our shared rejection from a group of popular kids at the church we both attended. She’s one of the few people that I can say I’ve known for twenty years. We’re similar personality types–both Type A–and it’s been fun to look back and realize how much we’ve grown up together. We have similar epiphanies around the same time and it’s always a relief to have the conversation and know that she understands exactly what I’m talking about.

We were talking about eating healthy, as we often do. This time the conversation flowed into how diets tend to run fanatical…it’s always presented as so black and white and truly, it just boils down to whole foods and moderation. She wondered aloud why it is that people have to be so dogmatic about what they eat and I said, “I think it’s because everybody wants to be part of the group that is correct.”

“Right,” she said. “Everybody wants to find THE path and THE truth and point out that everyone else is wrong and unite over their self righteousness. The reality is, it’s not that simple. It’s about finding what works for your body…each person is so different.”

Exactly. And that’s so true in terms of life as well. Everybody is looking for that place…that group…that label that identifies them and makes them who they are, so that they can point at everyone else and say, you are NOT this and you are wrong. Much to my amusement, I realized that not much had changed since high school when we were so desperately trying to fit into a group of kids that didn’t want anything to do with us. My inner teenager was/is still trying to fit in with the kids in the popular group…they just wear different labels: first the army, punk rockers, vegans, runners, hikers, minimalists, whatever. I keep trying to fit my square peg in a round labeled hole and I just never quite fit.

I have read (because I’m a nerd and read about these sorts of things) that it’s in your thirties that you start to break free from all that. You become more comfortable with who you are as an individual and by the time you’re in your forties, you basically don’t give a damn what other people think and just do you. I feel like in my twenties, I knew I didn’t fit in. In my thirties, I’m starting to recognize that it has less to do with where you fit. Nobody really truly fits anywhere unless they follow all the rules of that group and seriously…who really truly follows all the rules? It’s more about living and enjoying life as you lead it. Stop worrying about what group you belong to or what rules to follow to be perfect, and just live to the best of your ability. Take care of each other, eat food you like, spend time with people you enjoy, and just be grateful for the time you’ve been given. Sooner or later, we will all join the exact same group in the graveyard regardless of what dogma we followed in life.

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Photo Credit 

 

On Stress, Change, and Hair

I’ve been toying with the idea of cutting my hair off for awhile. I wrote in another post about the story of my hair–how I’ve always had it short and then I decided one day to grow it out because I was sick of it and I didn’t want to think about it anymore. It’s now the longest I’ve had it in years, but whenever my hair is this long, I rarely last more than a year before I get antsy and need some kind of change.

What I’m trying to figure out is why I feel like I need a change right now. Women’s identity is often tied up in their hair and oftentimes we make rash decisions to change it based on something that is happening in our lives. Life has been changing for me lately and the changes have been stressful–my husband is moving to second shift at work and will be signing up for classes in the mornings, which means long days with the kids for me; our van decided to start stalling while driving and so it’s currently in the shop, but it’s fixable, so that’s good news; and because of the van, our emergency fund is now depleted. I know that the purpose of an emergency fund is to cover emergencies and avoid going further into debt but it’s really hard to feel like we’re ever going to get ahead when these things keep happening.

My husband listens to the Dave Ramsey podcast and he says he gets irritated when people call in saying they paid off $100,000 of debt in less than a year…usually because one of them went back to work and the other one got a super awesome promotion making six figures and so of course it was really easy for them to pay everything off. He says that when we are finally debt free, he is going to call in and say, “Woohoo, we’re debt free, but it took FOR-FUCKING-EVER!!!” Because that’s how long it takes for a lot of people!

In any case, I’ve been stressing over our finances…worried that there isn’t going to be enough, that a car is going to die and I’m going to be stuck at home with the kids during these long days, wondering if I made a mistake quitting my part-time library job…that we’re never going to be financially independent and I will never get to do the things that I stupidly did not do when I was young–like backpack in wild places, travel to Europe, India, and Thailand, road trip across Route 66 and down Highway 101, retire in a small town on Lake Superior and write for the rest of my days.

So yeah. What does this have to do with hair?

Like so many other women, I tend to cut my hair when my life is in crisis…when I feel like things are spiraling out of my control, so I reach for the one thing I know I have some say over. Especially when I see pictures of cute, seemingly carefree women with pixies on Instagram (I set up my account again…no Facebook AND no Instagram was too Luddite for me)…then I think, I want to feel that way again–the way I felt before I was married and had three kids and a mortgage and a stupid loan that I regret with every fiber of my being (the loan and mortgage, I don’t regret the first two). So I cut my hair and then I am left with my life being exactly the same way it was before. Except now I have short hair and a monthly maintenance bill…which doesn’t really help the whole financial independence thing. I’ve yet to see a frugal blog with a short-haired protagonist.

While I’m trying not to fall back into old patterns, I was contemplating this move before all of this happened. I like my long hair, it’s easy and cheap to maintain but I thought I would do more with it. I’m not much of hair girl…I don’t like fussing with my hair beyond an occasional blow dry and flat iron (and it better not take longer than a few minutes). So what usually happens is that my hair ends up in a ponytail or a bun and that’s the extent of the so-called “variety” that I expected from long hair. I could make more effort, but I stay home with three kids…one of whom is a messy toddler and it seems sort of ridiculous to put a lot of work into a hairstyle that is overkill for a day at the zoo. I’ve never been that dressy mom on the playground because I’ve never been a dressy person. The closest I’ve ever come to being put together every day is when I had a pixie because it took five minutes to fix my hair. Long story short–I am a simple maintenance person. I’m not fancy, I prefer comfort over fashion, and while I would never wear socks with sandals, I’ve committed many fashion faux paus in the name of comfort…to my trendy sister’s everlasting horror (she hates my Keenes…I can’t live without them). A pixie fit my style because it allowed me to look fashionable without investing a lot of time. Long hair also fits my style because it’s easy, but I feel like I’m starting to fall into the “mom” trap of just looking like “blah” all the time. Invisible. That’s how I feel. Invisible.

I don’t really know what I’m going to do and the odds are very likely that I will do nothing. I’m just thinking out loud about things that are silly and it’s my blog so I get to do that. So if you came here looking for deep exploration of minimalism, frugality, beauty…that’s not happening today.

How do you handle stress and change in your life?