Getting There

So much of city homeschooling is about the journey, the people and places we learn from as we go about our days.

On our way to and from meeting homeschool friends for morning bowling, we took our time traveling by foot and bus and subway, making sure to notice all that was around us. Subway fiddlers, transit maps, mild autumn air and November flowers were just some of the things that captivated us during our travels.

A city is a big and beautiful classroom. Its museums, libraries, universities, and cultural events create boundless learning opportunities for children and their parents; but so too do the everyday sights and sounds of a city.

The journey to our destination can be circuitous, unpredictable, enchanting. Often that's just how we like it.

Infant Wisdom

It's been a busy holiday week. Our days have been filled with family gatherings, meals with friends, and city holiday events. I was beginning to sense that the week was catching up to all of us. The kids had more moments of crankiness, more short-fuses, more sugar-fueled outbursts. With a Sunday morning brunch and a busy afternoon planned today, holiday overload was kicking in.

As I was nursing my 10-month-old early this afternoon, knowing she was done, I grew impatient that she was still lingering, unwilling to let go so we could move along with packing snacks, donning jackets, and leaving for our next activity. Then I stopped and realized what she was telling me: "mama, slow down and stay."

So we did. After a week of go-go-go, today we slowed and stayed. We shortened our brunch, canceled our afternoon plans, and spent our afternoon together in the quiet comfort of home and family.

Our children teach us, show us, tell us. All we need to do is listen.

At The Tree Farm

There are certain days each year that help us to mark the passage of time, to notice the growing and changing of our family, to remind us to pause and remember. The day after Thanksgiving, the day we find our Christmas tree, is such a day for our family.

We began this tradition when my oldest was the age of my youngest, when she made the trek with us out of the city to a lovely Christmas tree farm and helped us to select our perfect tree while riding in the same baby carrier that my infant now sits in.

On today's walk through the woods at the tree farm, we passed the lot from which we selected that first family tree four years ago. The lot is now filled with baby trees that grow and change each year, waiting for the time when they will be old enough for picking. Like these baby trees, my little ones are ever-changing, still years away from adulthood and yet so quickly growing up.

At last we arrive at the mature tree lot and take our time finding this year's perfect tree. Each year we say that our tree is better than the last. And maybe it is. Maybe each year is even better than the last...

If your family is selecting a Christmas tree this year, I highly recommend two books that we enjoy in the days leading up to finding and cutting our tree: Christmas Tree Farm by Ann Purmell, and Christmas Farm by Mary Lyn Ray.

Cultivating Calm During the Holidays

The holiday season is full of merriment: lots of entertaining, a busy and prolific kitchen, gatherings with family and friends, nurturing new traditions within our little family, decorating, preparing, celebrating. Full of merriment, but full.

Among all of the excitement and enchantment of the season, I am trying to cultivate calm in my home. At this time of year, kids--and grown-ups--can get so easily over-stimulated and over-scheduled. I am working on finding the right balance between welcoming so much goodness, welcoming so many opportunities to gather together with family and friends, and helping us not get so over-booked that we miss those calm, peaceful moments to reflect on the magic of the season as a family.

Cultivating these calm moments over the coming weeks will take some effort and vigilance on my part. It will take being selective about our holiday happenings, balancing active and quiet times each day, setting limits and altering plans if necessary.

The holidays can become overwhelming for both children and parents. As I embrace the joy of the season, I am watching my little ones, noticing if the rhythm of our days becomes too strained, and cultivating moments of calm amidst the merriment.

Weekly Mothering Challenge: Try Batch Cooking

I have been endeavoring recently to perfect the art and skill of batch cooking, making lots of food at once to eat and then freeze for later. With Daddy taking some time off from work this week and Thanksgiving festivities happily drawing me closer to the kitchen, this is a good time to work on batch cooking. I am trying, as best I can, to *simply* double (or triple) everything I am making these days. We eat some now and save some for later to maximize time and effort.

Once I become more skilled at batch cooking, I am thinking we may purchase a separate freezer for our basement storage area for extra food that won't fit in our small pantry refrigerator. So far it's been helpful to have extra bowls of lentils, and lasagna, and pasta sauce waiting in the wings for days when I don't want to cook or know what to serve.

In this month's issue of Natural Life Magazine there is a great article about using batch cooking to promote community and convenience, suggesting strategies for forming small batch cooking groups that work together to make large meal portions to serve several families throughout a month. Such a fabulous idea!

In addition to preparing quarts of spiced squash and apple soup, mounds of biscuits, and many other goodies this week, I am also using farm-fresh cranberries to make several batches of this very yummy cranberry bread recipe that my aunt graciously passed along to me:

Auntie's Homemade Cranberry Bread

1 1/2 C chopped fresh cranberries
4 tsp grated orange peel
3 T sugar
(mix these three ingredients and set aside)

3 C sifted flour (I used whole wheat pastry flour)
3/4 C sifted sugar
3/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
3/4 C orange juice
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp nutmeg
1 C chopped nuts (optional)
3/4 C water
1/2 C melted butter

Pre-heat oven to 350-degrees. Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, add eggs to orange juice, water, and melted butter and mix. Add to dry ingredients and stir enough to blend and moisten. Add cranberry mixture and optional nuts and mix, being careful not to over-mix.

Add to greased 9x5x3 loaf pan (or separate into two pans), bake for approximately 1 hour or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Eat immediately, or for best results, cool completely, wrap in tin foil, and refrigerate for 24 hours. Enjoy!

The Season of Celebrating

This has been a weekend of celebrating. A big five-year-old birthday, getting her OWN library card, and a big promotion for Daddy led to warm celebrations with loved ones and served as the perfect launch for the month-long holiday festivities ahead. I definitely love summertime, but now through New Year's is by far my favorite time of the year.

Holiday music is playing in my kitchen, winter stories are emerging, and plans are percolating for a delightful family Thanksgiving and a December full of seasonal celebrations. City holiday tree lightings, a visit to a Christmas tree farm to select the *perfect* family tree, Santa spottings, holiday brunches, open houses, winter solstice celebrations, and a trip to the Nutcracker ballet make this time of year magical for all of us.

I don't know if it's my age (34), my increasing focus on more mindful mothering, or my maturing little family--probably a bit of everything--but I am much more conscious and contemplative of our seasonal celebrations now than ever before. Among our everyday to-dos, I am trying to stop and think more carefully about how we celebrate this enchanting time of the year. I am conjuring new family traditions and enhancing old ones. For instance, celebrating the winter solstice will be a bigger event for us this year and our holiday party hosting continues to be altered and embellished.

What seasonal celebrations are you preparing for over the next few weeks, and what are some of your family's holiday traditions, old and new?

Friday Night Lights

Wishing you a bright start to your weekend!

Take the Bus

We have been on a bus kick lately. While we greatly rely on public transportation in general, I am loving our city bus system even more than usual recently. I think part of it is that we are at a nice spot age-wise now where my five-year-old is fairly self-sufficient on the bus, I don't need to lug a stroller for my two-year-old, and my 10-month-old is still content to be carried in the Ergo. I think also as the weather becomes cooler and more variable, we are increasingly drawn to museums and other indoor spaces on easy bus routes. And the kids absolutely adore the bus as an integral part of our city adventures. In fact, the journey--watching the fascinating people and places we see from the bus--is often more interesting than the destination itself.

My neighbor told me about a great iPhone application called "Catch the Bus," which uses real-time GPS to let riders know when the bus will arrive at various stops, rather than relying on bus schedules. There are also similar apps for other devices. This is very helpful for city parents who don't want to be lingering outside with little ones for too long!

City parents: How do you rely on your city bus and subway system for your city homeschooling?

Weekly Mothering Challenge: Find Your Rhythm

Every family has its own rhythm, its own pattern of getting through each day, week, and season. And rhythms change, sometimes frequently, based on the ever-changing needs of little ones and the natural cycles of the seasons and of family life.

Sometimes it takes experimenting with different rhythms and routines to determine one that best suits your family; and sometimes it takes more closely analyzing current schedules to unravel the best rhythm. Are there some days that seem calmer, happier, simpler? Are there other days that seem more chaotic and stressful? Take a look at the calmer days and figure out what is happening--or not happening--on those days and try to create a family rhythm around it.

Perhaps some days are more stressful because of too many outside activities and commitments and you might want to incorporate more home time. Or maybe the opposite is true: maybe you are spending too much time at home and need scenery changes each day. Maybe your stress comes from too many homemaking tasks, like laundry and cleaning, food shopping and cooking. If that is the case, perhaps you can tap into a support network of family and friends for help; devote certain days to laundry or batch cooking/freezing while Daddy or Grandma take the kids; outsource some of these tasks if possible; or just let go of some things. For example, neatly ironed (or folded for that matter) clothes are not a priority for me, so my kids and I wear wrinkles and Daddy's work clothes are dry-cleaned.

Our rhythm is characterized by mornings spent reading and playing, often baking then eating followed by an outside activity (park meet-up, homeschool playgroup, museum visit, nature walk, library visit, class, etc.). We then return home for a mid-day nap/quiet period where I can *sometimes* get a leg-up on laundry or dinner. Afternoons are usually spent outside with friends or at a class, followed by dinnertime, then bath, books, bed. Our rhythms have hiccups as well. Toddlers who choose not to nap, chores that pile up, cantankerous little ones who are difficult to motivate--all of these things can disrupt daily rhythms.

The key is to find a simple, sustainable rhythm to your day, try to let it guide your actions and the choices you make on how to spend your time, expect interruptions and "off" days, and be open to change your family rhythms as needed.

Below is a sample grid that may help you to get started with plotting your daily and weekly rhythms. I encourage you to avoid timestamps and instead use this worksheet as a helpful daily guide rather than a set planner. (Click on the image to enlarge and print and adapt.)

Weekend Simplicity

There might come a time when our kids' passions for a particular sport or activity may consume our weekends, but for now weekends here are simple. Nothing structured, mostly out-of-doors, and focused on exploring nature and the city, weekends are a time for us to connect and replenish. While not structured, weekends certainly are full. Hours spent leaf-jumping, nest-building, learning and connecting keep us busy.

With Daddy's long consulting hours and travel, our weekends are devoted entirely to family. There are temptations--intriguing classes or activities for the kids that could lure us and distract us from our treasured family time--so we strive to stay focused on centering our weekends around family.

Simple, full, family weekends. Pure joy.


There have been a few coincidences over the past week. Last Friday, I announced the giveaway for Mary Ann Hoberman's children's book, The Seven Silly Eaters, a family favorite amusingly highlighting one mom's attempt to satisfy her seven picky eaters. Then a few days later, I received some comments on one of my posts from a (real-life) mom of seven, Miiko, that I found fascinating. I was so intrigued by her comments, mainly by her observation that after three kids it gets easier, that I implored her to tell me more.

She obliged and allowed me the privilege of sharing her fascinating insights:

"When I had one little one I tried to do my absolute best to understand her and when I had two I did my absolute best to be fair. When I had three there really wasn't enough me to go around. It took some time for me to process that I wasn't falling behind or failing. It took time for me to realize the wealth my incapabilities offered my babies. You know how three can be. It's outnumbering! In a nutshell four and onward means that there's always someone on your team. There's always a helping hand. The kids are forced to grow together in such a tight unit that they really empathize well too. They develop a natural desire to grow up and be productive and responsible. That and the fact that all the hard work you did to set the tone in the home with the first three kids does not go to waste. When kids are born into a home where all the kids wash their hands before dinner, as soon as the little one can walk to the table she just wants to line up with the gang to wash her hands before she sits down."

While it's unlikely that I would have seven children, I do find that in many ways mothering is easier with more kids, particularly now as my oldest nears age five and is more helpful and involved. I still maintain that going from zero to one was the most difficult, and in many ways two to three children has been easier than one to two because the two older ones entertain each other and the younger one goes with the flow.

I thank Miiko for her thoughts on family dynamics with seven children, and it's inspired me to give away SEVEN copies of The Seven Silly Eaters book! Victoria, Annie, Patti, GriffinsMama, Urban Schooling, HollyElise, and Basbusa'sMama-- click on my profile link on the sidebar to email me your postal information and watch your mailbox for the book!

Rainy Thursdays....

...Are perfect days for bus rides to the museum, butterfly explorations with friends, and hands-on experiments.

...And Fridays are perfect days for giveaways! I'll be giving away copies (yes, that's plural!) of one of our favorite books, The Seven Silly Eaters, by Mary Ann Hoberman, so leave a comment here or in last Friday's giveaway post, and check back tomorrow to see if you win!

City Therapy

My mothering rhythm was a bit off recently. I couldn't pinpoint exactly why, but whiny preschoolers, nap-resistant toddlers, and mobile infants conspired to make me more short-tempered, less energetic, less creative, and more overloaded by my daily mothering tasks. This is not a very pleasant feeling, as I'm sure many of you can relate, and I wanted badly to unslump myself.

I thought at first that maybe I needed some "me" time, personal time away from the kids. But then it struck me: I don't need less time with my kids, I need more time with them. But I need more time with them away from the dirty dishes, nutritious meals, and mounds of laundry that can sometimes distract and deflate me.

So I decided to mix things up a bit today. I canceled a playdate and the three kids and I set out on a city adventure. I wanted us to do something different and energizing. I wanted to forego our usual city sights and instead explore a new spot that could help us-- help me--reconnect and rejuvenate.

We began by taking an early walk to one of our favorite nearby breakfast spots, and then hopped on the subway to the brand new Esplanade Playspace along the Charles River. We played at the park, lounged on our picnic blanket for awhile, read some books, had some snacks, and soaked in the sunshine and warm fall air together.

Back home in Harvard Square, we were tired but entirely refreshed.

Days like today remind me that when I get in a rut, I need to switch things up a bit. Instead of escaping from the kids, I need to find new ways to connect with them, away from my daily mothering duties, away from other playmates, away from our usual city spots. I need more time to soak them in, savor them, and gaze more closely at those familiar, precious faces that I love so deeply.

Weekly Mothering Challenge: Simplify Playspaces

I hate clutter. Luckily, living in a city condo provides the motivation to keep our space as clutter-free as possible, but still toys and objects can sometimes accumulate and invade our limited space.

As birthdays and holidays near, I thought now was a good time to do a major de-cluttering of our playspaces. I am drawn to the idea of "less is more" for kids--and adults too. With too many toys, it seems kids can get easily overloaded and not have the freedom to play more fully and creatively with the toys they have. So yesterday, I packed up four trash bags worth of toys to donate, and retained the high-quality, often-used, multi-purpose toys that are now more prominently displayed and easily accessible.

There is still more simplifying and streamlining to be done this week. I love reading stories of "radical minimalists," like those who live with only 100 total possessions. I don't aspire to be that radical, but I do think the idea of living with fewer, more valued possessions makes a lot of sense--both to create a calmer, more creative home and also to maximize small city spaces. In addition to the toys that are already bagged and ready to donate, I think I can probably fill at least two or three additional bags with toys or items that we could stow away in the basement and see how much we miss them.

Join me this week to simplify our playspaces! I'd love to hear your tips on de-cluttering and any results you discover from a simpler space.

Blogosphere Connections -- and a Giveaway!

I love the blogosphere. Just this week, I met with two blog readers from both coasts whom I had never met, and received emails from several more. (You can send me an email by clicking on my profile link on the sidebar.) It's so special to connect with blog readers, and it keeps me inspired to ignore the mountain of laundry I spy to my left and write instead.

I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment below by next Friday and gain a chance to win one of my favorite children's books: The Seven Silly Eaters, by Mary Ann Hoberman.

Thanks for reading!

Trust Our Children

Trust our children. What does that mean? When we decided a couple of years ago that homeschooling was the right option for us, I remember reading books and hearing stories from parents saying the key to happy homeschooling is to trust your children. I didn't fully grasp what they meant at the time, to trust that my kids would learn everything they needed to know when they needed to know it. But now I get it.

I have watched my older daughter learn to read and write, not because I sat with her to teach her these skills, but because she is surrounded by literacy and is given the space to become engaged in this important process. I have seen my son's imagination bloom, not because I work explicitly to help him think creatively, but because I trust his innate curiosity and give him the time and space to build his imagination. Just as I see my littlest one learn to crawl and then to cruise, not from teaching but by learning, I see my older ones learn naturally, organically, individually as well.

We are unschoolers, meaning that we don't follow any established curriculum for our kids and instead use the resources of our city to learn and explore. We plan to continue on this unschooling path indefinitely, trusting our children to show us the way and trusting ourselves to listen--and follow.

Wide Open Spaces

I was feeling today that we all needed some wide open spaces. We needed a spot where we could run, and twirl, pick leaves, hold hands, and take deep breaths.

Gratefully, a nearby city reservoir was the perfect place to enjoy a two-plus hour walk with friends in the bright sunshine and fresh air.

As November dawns, we know our days of morning-long, invigorating walks are numbered--particularly walks where the sun beams so brightly that we are able to remove our hats and coats and scarves and enjoy the freedom and relief that brings.

So with a clear and seasonable forecast for the coming week, we'll be delighting in many outside hours in the city's wide open spaces.