Our Nature Filled Kindergarten Gap Year

Kindergarten Gap Year

Kindergarten Gap Year

This past week the boys and I visited Wisteria Suri Alpaca Farm that is a mere 12 miles from our home, for a tour and activities like spinning fiber into yarn. As we entered the gates of the farm we were greeted by two beautiful white Great Pyrenees and a very spunky Australian Shepherd. We entered and paused to give the dogs time to get to know us and to welcome us, before we touched them and spent our time saying hello.

The farm owner and host commented how glad she was that we had such a nice calm energy. The animals had a busy day, and looked happy to see us despite their day filled with earlier visitors. We were able to meet some younger, timid, Suri Alpaca males and then a host of adult female Suri Alpacas.

As we moved throughout our visit, I noticed the beautiful wildflowers covering the ground between the limestone rocks. Nature has a way of growing where it falls, there is such a great lesson in that for our lives.

We stopped to handcraft bird balls filled with Alpaca fiber as a gift their Grandmother’s neighborhood birds in building their nests. Since we downsized, we do not own the trees in our neighborhood, which is hard to explain to a five-year old. Why is a question heard often in our home. I explain this is a temporary stop on our life adventure and they seem to accept that and move on.

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Our host Keiko asked about my work, and I told her a little about my writing and my working exploration into nature connected psychology and EcoArt Therapy. I was explaining how easy it is for me to explore my work, as they boys experience nature together.

I realized as we spoke how hard it can be to welcome families to her farm with the distractions children experience today. Many do not know how to immerse themselves in nature, and ask for permission to enter by simply pausing and saying hello. It is something they learn by doing, and with our over scheduled society that  can be difficult.

We talked about how my children knew from the modeling they have seen their whole life to enter an animals space and let them come to you. I am a nature lover and that is a natural part of my parenting toolbox. Nature has always been my prescription for peace in our house, lots and lots of outside time for everyone is paramount around here.

This is not the first time someone has commented on their calm energy. They are not always calm as they are energy filled boys, but it is more of a reverence for the space they were entering, not unlike entering a spiritual place or a cathedral.

Quiet, slow, and with an open heart. One is more cautious than they other, and needs time to be open to the animals. I have been working with him over the years to let him know that what he feels is okay, and when and if he is ready to make contact he will. He can now verbalize his feelings and told me he was “a little” nervous.

We do a backpack carry when he feels this way, so that he can participate and feel secure. He has been able to embrace many animals now, but he has never been forced to be ready on some arbitrary schedule.

I am reading Ben Hewitt’s book, HomeGrown. Although our boys are not able to roam on open acreage, I am inspired by the idea that I can do my part in providing nature connected experiences even in our more suburban setting.  This is a beautifully written book giving you a glimpse into what is possible. It also helped me with something I was struggling with and that is the idea of living in the present. We do not have to decide right now, what our children’s education must look like for the next 12 years. My husband has asked, “why do we have to decide today?”  Their futures are their’s alone, and as I have always believed that, his descriptions of his boy’s days reminded me to breathe. We can take it day by day. That is the beauty and the eye opening process of a Kindergarten Gap Year.

This is how our “gap year” is emerging. They are learning to read, grow and be, but not based on a curriculum based on an age. They are twins, but just like other children and siblings are as different as two people can be. I do not want them to be labeled, ready for this or ready for that. I want them to celebrate their successes as they come organically.

Our experiment now has a name, the “Kindergarten Gap Year”. It really hit me when I turned down a consulting assignment to teach a reading curriculum to public school teachers. I have seen the organic process of my sons learning to read and none of it was as rigid as the tool I would have to present. I just did not believe it anymore.

Now, I understand that teaching twenty plus children requires a more assembly line approach, but that in itself makes me sad. Every child deserves the ability to learn organically in a place that feels safe, open, and trustable. A child should be able to say, “I want to play outside”, and for that to be celebrated and allowed. They should also be able to learn about something until they are ready to move onto something else.

Our first year into home education has evolved into a Kindergarten Gap Year. This time with them has been the most eye opening experience. The things you are able to observe as they grow and learn, would not be possible if they had been sent to school for eight hours each day. They are learning to read and write, but they are learning so much more and so am I

Connecting To Your Parenting Inner Nature

Families Connecting to nature

Weeknight Fishing Trip

The movement of the dock beneath me, the sounds coming from the ducks and their bodies as they moved through the water. The laughter from the boys as they would cast their line. The sky as it changed from blue, to orange, to pink, to a beautiful deep dark blue. I noticed how the insects that were becoming more active were not bothering me. The most startling connection was as I sat, I could see the spiders coming out from under the layers of the walls of the dock. Beginning to repair their webs. I felt a connection watching their intentional work, as if it was choreographed. It was startling to me that I did not feel threatened or feel a need to move quickly from my observation spot.

This past week we took the boys fishing when my husband got home from work. We have always enjoyed being outdoors, but my “inner nature” project work has made it an intentional part of every day. One activity that had we omitted it, would make me feel as if we missed something that day.

I have been a little quiet on the blog, as I dove into new learning opportunities for myself and the boys. I am studying the practice of using nature connections as a part of a parenting and teaching tool box. It has created some wonderful experiences for all of us.

There is so much written today about disconnected family life, and the long-term negative effects on children. What has not been widely shared, is easily accessible activities that busy families can fit into their week. Our downsizing experiment has brought me a level of awareness about what is essential to our happy life, and our ability to opt out of a frantic life, and slowing down is a necessity.

Every day is not perfect, but every day has great moments of joy and lately more contentment for me. As parents today, we are all striving for the same thing. A happy, healthy child that feels loved. That can feel complicated in a life of longer school days, working, and a yearning for more time together.

I had a conversation with a husband and wife, successful business owners, and wonderful parents to their beautiful kids. The part that struck me was on two separated, isolated conversations they both mentioned, wishing they had more time with their kids. More connection time, beyond dinner, homework, and bedtime.

The husband was raised by a father who fished, camped, and hunted with his sons, and he now realized he had done none of those things with his own child. He wanted to, but honestly had no idea where and how to fit it into their life.

We all struggle with balance and lifestyle choices, and solutions are unique to each family. The parents giving up their dreams and livelihood would not help their children, but perhaps some easily accessible nature connected activities would serve both the father and the son. It might even create a momentum of more nature connections within the family.

We talked about the Texas State Parks program, Family Camp Out. It is a perfect way for a busy family to experience the great outdoors without changing their natural family rhythm. We talked about weeknight fishing trips, and where to do that in the area. Trading traditional dinner time, for a picnic and a fishing adventure. This father’s differences in raising his family  does not have to be right or wrong, but the key is to find ways to nurture everyone in their household.

As you get to know your own families inner nature, take some time this week to connect with Mother Nature. Here is a simple, easy way to get started.

Go for a walk and be intentional about your goal of connecting. As you walk by or into a natural area, pause and listen. If you have children on the walk with you, ask them what they hear. If it is a safe place, sit and listen. Now close your eyes, and silently thank the natural area for its beauty. It is like knocking on a door before entering someone else’s house. It helps you switch from your daily busy world of thoughts and to-do lists, to a more mindful state of just being.

If your children are with you, know that they already sense how to do this. Children are always willing to say hello to animals in nature, encourage them to do what comes naturally. You can extend that by saying thank you to the breeze, or the warmth of the sun. You don’t have to say this out loud, if you are concerned with people thinking you have lost it! Nature does not use verbal language, so it’s not like it could respond verbally anyhow.

Now look. What do you see? As my children and I were on a walk the other day, we noticed all of the different grasshoppers and insects living in the grasses. Which reminds me of all of the levels of life. Things are always happening, whether we see them or not.

We even found some cucumbers growing along the fence of a construction site. A former garden or farm not willing to give up just yet, or maybe seeds dropped by a bird. These are moments that you can understand nature’s resilience in the face of adversity and it becomes a metaphor for life. “Where there is a will there is a way.”

It becomes a way to interpret the world without “talking about it”, which is a gift to all of us.

Just taking a moment to pause, listen, and feel your surroundings will welcome in the most natural of stress relievers. This activity can be done with a potted plant, but outside time is best to be able to transform your awareness into nature.

Will you take the time to seek a connection to the environment that surrounds you this week? Although going to the wilderness is always a wonderful way to connect to ourselves and nature, why not try something just outside your front door?

Foraging for Answers: How to Decide With So Many Possibilities

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I use nature to help me in so many areas of my life, and have since I was a child. It was not something consciously chosen, rather a natural solution to much-needed solace.

A recent conversation with Paula of the popular blog, Rainforest Mind, happened just as I had completed a few pages in my “capture” journal.

One of the most difficult aspects of modern life is actually not a new problem, but today’s hectic life can mute out your greatest desires if you do not have a way to turn them off now and again.

I am an idea person and over the last year I worked on a way to bring those ideas down out of my spinning mind and into a safe place. I believe that to make sense of these messages and ideas, you need to capture them. You need to do this in the same way they come to you, naturally and in bits and pieces.

My process begins with a walk in nature. You can do this is a natural area, park, or just down the sidewalk in your neighborhood, but the more natural the better. Nature provides a sense of mediation space and can be one of the best ways to clear your mind and unplug. To create even more benefit from this walk would be to take it slow, and really pay attention to your surroundings. I notice many walkers, so intent on exercising their muscles, they forget to exercise their mind as well. The nature that surrounds us can alleviate stress and distraction better than any candle filled room.

Notice the temperature as you walk, is there a breeze? Look for signs of life, birds, flowers, plants.  All of these things will help you become more in tune with your natural surroundings.

Now when I recommend a method that is as fluid as the very generator of the messages itself. I use a sketch pad for such “idea captures”. No electronic media, just an artist’s sketchpad. I don’t write in complete sentences. Just whatever is coming my way in bits and pieces. I add photos I have taken or clips from magazines if they inspire me.

Next, I do nothing.

I only add to the pages if another idea comes my way, or I feel compelled to know more. You will likely feel a rush of energy from this. Unresolved thoughts can drain your body and mind, capturing them and putting them in a safe place alleviates this energy drain.

A day or two later, I come back to the pages. Do I still feel that way? Are these messages part of a theme? If you have one that says, I want to live in the country, but the photo you have is of a condo in the city, then you have conflicting messages. This is okay. This is better than okay, it is great!

The idea is to look at all the notes and words and consider what it might be hinting at?

Often we need to edit the thoughts, but our mind is too busy for that at the moment. This technique is one I have used throughout my life. Get out into nature. Now, a walk around the block will help, but a true walk through a botanical garden, forest, or a hike along a river will have a much different effect on your senses.

This was first thought of as a therapeutic tool in 1874, and referred to as a camp cure. It is very much like pressing the mental reset button. You do not need to go camping to get the benefits of a camp cure. Often we need a simpler reset to clarify the messages we are receiving.

Find a local state park, a botanical garden, or hiking trail and take some time for yourself. Consider your “capture journal’, talk to yourself if you want, or simply walk.

Take in all that surrounds you. You will see that there is beauty hidden in plain sight. Consider looking for natural elements you can collect to take home (if that is allowed). A smooth rock that catches your eye, take photographs, listen, and really listen to the sounds around you. As you learn to tune out the noise of the modern world, you may just hear and see what your own intuition is trying to tell you.

You can create a foraged memory bowl of your walk. Just put your treasures into a glass bowl, and leave it next to your capture journal. You may think this is a bit hokey, and if you do that is fine you can stop reading. You are trying to capture the moment when you unplugged with something you can see and touch.

After your local camp cure, take a few moments to add it to your journal capture. When and if you feel compelled to make a decision on your captured ideas, take a slow walk through your journal and imagine it coming true.

This is not about wishing on a star, rather really seeing if these images and words are something you want to dive into. If it is yes, then by all means dive in. If it isn’t, turn the page. Every new page, brings a blank slate.

Can You Work & Learn With Your Kids?

In my search for a life and work that works for our family, I have learned new skills and discovered callings that were long since hidden. Today’s post is short and sweet. It is possible to work and learn with your kids, but you may need to reconsider your meaning of work. Here is a peek inside our work/play/learn day yesterday for our beginning of  “Not Back To School” week.

Just start by exploring treasures just outside your door. The effects of nature on happiness and vitality will allow you to listen to your calling and the time together is good for the soul.

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Downsizing: Deciding Where to Move in Transition

Small Space Living Garden Herbs

This sign is a piece of a crate that has seen better days. My parents bought peaches at a roadside stand over 60 years ago. I found the crate in their attic several years ago.

I know what you are thinking… I would go nuts in 1000 square feet with two kids, a husband, and a family pet. Add on top of that the fact that I play (aka work) at home and you probably think I should be in the funny farm by now. I have had several people ask me how we decided where to move, so this post is about the choices we made.

Should It Stay or Should It Go?

One of the things that has helped with this transition is that we only have things we love… well the adults anyways. I have read so many books on how to declutter kids, and all I can tell you is that the process evolves just as their interests do.

I make sure that the possessions that inspire me to play (aka work) and nurture relationships win a place in our home. My husband frankly, is the least cluttered person of all of us so this was not hard on him at all.

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This was not easy at first, because just prior to our downsizing, I had a small wedding design business. I did about 20 weddings a year. All handmade, rustic, vintage style and I had the props to prove it. I had old doors, farm tables, vintage chairs, and more. Upon deciding to downsize, we decided to shut down the business. We were moving more than an hour north and it just was not feasible to continue. It was a relief in some ways. I started this business with a friend to supplement (replace) my lost consulting income that dried up overnight. She and her family moved and I kept the business going. I loved working with flowers and plants and styling an event.

I loved getting to know the local flower farmers. I had the right ingredients, but the wrong business.

This process has taught me to live with only the things we love and that my former business had all the right ingredients, but the wrong recipe.  I did not have to give up on the elements that gave me so much joy, but I did have to find the way to incorporate those into my work in a way that everyday would feel like play.

Key Ingredients for a Happy Downsizing Experience

One of the key stops on our downsizing path came from, where we chose to try this experiment. We had to get real about what we could afford, but we (I) had conditions. I did not want to feel punished. I knew we needed a reality check, but I also knew that I would not have the staying power if I was not at peace about it. Call me weak, but I knew myself well enough to be sure I set myself and my family up for success.

What Are Your Musts?

We chose a Townhome with an attached garage. This was important for a mom of two kids that had not lived in the apartment since before we were married. It also felt more like a home.

The golf course seems excessive, but it was about the environment. I did not want to feel boxed in, so even if the Mad Scientist could not afford golf (yet) we could see the beautiful rolling grass and nature.

What do you have now that drew you to that home? Try to think back to the day you chose it and why.

Professional Help

I used a Realtor to find this property. This is the first property she recommended, even though I looked at the others. I was not convinced I had to be in a Townhome. This seems silly now, as most days I feel like I am on a vacation.

Finding a Quiet Place

The last thing that was on my list of requirements for working from home. A quiet place to make phone calls and write when I need it. I use the business center that is available in the community to find a quiet place to work. I also have taken calls in my micro garden. It is a beautiful way to enjoy outside and still get some work done.

My two micro gardens are always just outside the door if I need a minute or 10 of calm. I always enjoyed gardening before, but micro-gardening is more peaceful. It is all the good parts of a garden, the scents and scenery, with none of the stress or obligations of tending to a large space. I also bring clips of herbs and cuttings indoors to liven up the place. I will write more about how to start a micro garden in future posts.

The key here is that everyone needs a personal space. Even if that means a corner with a comfy chair, headphones, Pandora, and a book.

Why You Need to DeClutter Now

What you may not know is that I feel more engaged and in touch with a greater level of creativity than ever. Why? A cluttered, complicated life is a recipe for disaster. It is like a layer of fog over your life. More and more families are trying to do it all and be everything to everyone, except the very people that matter… themselves.

I hope this gives everyone a better idea of where to start when downsizing with kids. We have had a happy experience that has changed the way we live. It is not easy in the beginning, but if you take the time to consider what is important you will be glad you took the plunge. The best advice I could give you is to stop worrying about what everyone will think, and just do what is right for your family.

Opting Out of a Frantic Life and Into an Inspired One

Opting Out of a Frantic Life and Into an Inspired One

 

It did not hit me until the “Kindergarten Round Up”postcard arrived from the local public school district that our decision to opt out of public education really sank in.

Opting Out of Kindergarten

Intellectually, I knew that my children already know many of the requirements to exit Kindergarten and that they are already learning organically as they did when they were infants. It still gives one a little pause when you know that you are going against a cultural norm or expectation. Luckily we are in a state, where it is so common to homeschool that you barely get a second look from many.

I was reading an article by writer Ben Hewitt about how he and his wife Penny Hewitt are unschooling their kids – freestyle. The article highlights their two sons and their ability to roam on their property and the stories they tell at the end of the day. They talk about a very small amount of time spent on actual studies and the rest is hands on learning.

We are currently living in a suburban golf course community, but my children spend so much time outside.  We chose this for a downsizing experiment and we have everything we need. Whether that be swimming, local parks, or just playing outside of our small home. The elements of fresh air and open spaces is still available and in my opinion vital to their development. You may not have acres for your kids to roam, but local parks are close by. We often joke that we could be tour guides for the best parks within a ten mile radius.

Nature Soothes the Soul

As much as I would love to live in a country house on acreage, our small living experiment is just what we needed to escape our self-imposed prison. Our two tiny porch gardens are not only a retreat for me and the boys, but also for our neighbors. Many have stopped by on their morning walks to say how much they enjoy our small oasis, and how it brings such beauty their morning walks.

The idea that nature soothes is not a new one, but how far off track we have gotten from enjoying the health and learning benefits of nature is startling. I recently had a conversation with a school psychologist, who remarked how surprised she was to drive through a town recently and to see children outside playing. We talked about the amount of time children spend indoors and how the number of children that knock on her door has increased. Isn’t this crazy?

When we lived in our former suburban nightmare, it was common for the boys and I to go out for a walk or a hike around the lake and not see any children. Not one! These master planned neighborhoods are built with green spaces to promote health and well-being, yet there is no one home during the day to enjoy them.

This is not a judgement against those living that life, rather a message that nature can heal what stresses them. It can give our children a place to run, learn, and grow into the grounded people that know how to handle the stresses of the world. It can give tired moms a place for a personal retreat. It can heal a frantic world.

In Search of a Calling

In Gregg Levoy’s bookCallings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life he writes about listening for your call. I find that modern life has to be simplified to hear that call. This is a terrific book for helping you get quiet and listen to what your life is trying to tell you. It also reminds us that we do not have to change the world, we just need to live authentically in ours no matter what your resume says.

I know this because I am living proof. I was finally able to tune into how to live a life that was truly ours, but it took simplifying our lives to block out all of the noise getting in the way.

You can simplify your life without radical downsizing like we did, but getting quiet is essential for anyone struggling to identify their best work.

It is difficult to find quiet time for reflection, with no “place” for it in your life. This can be as simple as a cup of tea and a blanket. This is a signal to your body that you are taking the time to nurture your soul and by extension your life.

To create a place to nurture your soul can be as simple as a small spot for plants and a place to sit and enjoy them. Even in our 1000 square feet, we have nature tucked into places to bring as much peace and harmony into our very active household as possible.

Whatever your plan for the upcoming autumn, take a few minutes today to find a small spot to begin soothing your soul to hear your call to your best life.

How to Turn Up The Volume on Your Intuition and Mute Your Fears

 Tune Into Intuition and Drown Out Fear

A few days ago, I called my Aunt to wish her a happy 84th birthday. We had not spoken in some time, not by phone. Life gets in the way, but we have a great bond that began many years ago with a letter.

I was 19 when my Grandmother, her mother, passed away. My Grandmother was a writer and wrote to all of us often. I can still see her secretary where she wrote those letters in my mind. Photographs tucked into the woodwork and glass above the desk. She wrote to the people in the photos. She wrote to me at times when I needed it most, although I never knew how she knew that I needed her. Losing her was this first time I had experienced a profound loss.

My Aunt, her daughter, took up her place as my supportive pen pal. Not often, but the timing was always just what I needed. I am sure my father had something to do with this. Over the years since, my Aunt Nancy has always been there in the background, when things were tough reminding me of who I was and that I would find my way. She was at my wedding, telling my husband that he found a good one. She was there to remind me to believe it too. She was there in letters, when my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder in my twenties both rocked my world and saved me.

She said, “you sound so good honey.”

It was more than just a statement. I knew she felt it through that connection on the phone. I am happy. I did make it.

We talked about writing and how hoped I would I help someone else as much as she and Ma (my grandmother) helped me. I am the current generation of “the writer” in our family.

As I was working with a client a few weeks ago, I knew that she too was not trusting her intuition. I had traveled this path and could see it clearly. She had one persona for her work and the other that was just there in the background if you read between the lines.  Her truest self was there, but it was hiding. She needed to know that those subtle pieces of her soul did reach her audience unless they were really paying attention. It was hidden in the very few photos on her blog with her family. This was a huge part of who she was, but she had separated it from her work. She needed to serve the others and herself, by letting them see it too. She needed to trust herself.

Here is a little of what she wrote back to me, “…you really hit at the core of me… I want to say thank you though. You care so much. And you help me think about myself in a new way. ..”

The ultimate betrayal is when we betray ourselves. Worst yet, we cannot share our best work with the world if we are hiding the very pieces that define us. Those pieces when you can feel joy over a phone are the ones that are the truest part of you. Just talking to my Aunt reminded me of how far I have come, and how much I have to share.

We are always on our right path, but somewhere along the way you muted your intuition, you stopped trusting it.

This is what Jeane and Nancy would say…”you are strong and gifted. You can move mountains. You just need to trust your gut.”