Category Archives: Homeschooling

Tips, tricks, trials and tribulations of a first-time homeschooler.

homeschool resources

Great Homeschool Resources

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The Internet is the homeschoolers best friend. In our journey in homeschooling I’ve come across several resources that have been a life-saver to us in our classroom. One of my favourite homeschool resources is one that I’m also starting to use in my blogging practice as well. Grammarly is one of the best online editing tools I’ve encountered, and I wanted to share this awesome tool with you. Today, we have a guest post from Grammarly’s own Nikolas Baron, outlining the top 5 ways internet resources can benefit your eager students, whether you are homeschooling or helping with home work.

1. Grammar check programs

Teaching grammar can be difficult, but help is at hand! There are websites available that provide more than the standard, unreliable spell check and autocorrect already installed on your computer. Grammarly is one such service, giving users all the benefits of a virtual online English tutor. Copy and paste your text directly into a box on the site, and the program will run an impressively thorough check, finding problems that Microsoft Word would miss. It highlights errors, but instead of automatically correcting them, it first explains why the highlighted section might be incorrect – a big help for students and teachers alike, as it gives writers the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. The program then offers suggestions and alternatives, so that the student can choose the best possible option based on what they have learned. It’s a useful online support system for anyone needing help with written work.

2. Writing Prompts

Many kids struggle with ideas when it comes to writing creatively. That’s where writing prompt sites are invaluable! They are available for all age groups and ability levels: just do a quick search online, and you’ll find one that’s right for your child. These sites come in many different formats. Some provide sentences starters, some suggest titles and topics, and some give a list of words, characters, or events to include in your story. Others simply provide a series of pictures, giving kids the chance to ‘find’ stories hidden within them. Depending on the site, your child may be able to create their very own story books and print them out or email them to friends and relatives.

3. Blogs

Encourage reluctant writers to start their very own blogs. It’s amazing what the thought of an online audience can do for motivation levels! WordPress is a popular choice among bloggers, and it’s free to sign up. Blogging is a simple way to publish your writing online. How about starting a family blog, where each member of the family can contribute their thoughts and stories? Or let your children have their own individual blogs, where you and other relatives can read what they write and encourage them by leaving comments. Don’t worry about safety – it’s possible for parents to moderate the blog, check what kids are writing about before posts go live, and manually approve comments before children are able to read them.

4. Printables

Many educational sites store vast selections of worksheets–often free–to help children practice writing. These range from basic letter formation (tracing and guided writing) to grammar-based exercises and essay questions. Print out as many as you like and give your kids plenty of practice at writing by hand in addition to all the typing they’re doing!

5. Graphic organizers

These useful online tools are great for kids who struggle with gathering all their ideas together, grouping them into paragraphs, and writing a story or essay that flows naturally. Graphic organizers provide a simple way for students to enter all the information they’re planning to use and plan a well-structured piece of writing. These are just a few examples–there are more online writing tools available than would be possible to list in a short post like this. Mix up your approach, take advantage of what’s available, and make writing a fun, interesting activity for kids of all ages!

 

Nikolas Baron discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.

 

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Class Dismissed

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Some of you know us well enough to know that up until very recently, we were pretty die-hard city mice. One of the toughest parts of our decision to leave city life behind was leaving our beloved Waldorf school. Our whole family loved the place and I was so looking forward to sending Noah there too when the time was right.

We weren’t able to find any favorable alternatives to public school when we moved to the country in July of 2013. This is why we decided to home school our kids until a better solution presented itself, or until we were ready to travel the world as a family (our long-term dream). The role of teacher fell to me, while Nekky and Sarah both work at their own jobs full time. Fast forward eight months, and the time has come to assess where we are at with our plans and our goals. We aren’t ready to take on the world just yet, so what’s the plan for September?

I’ve really enjoyed our homeschool journey, and the freedom and flexibility it has offered us. However, there is so much that I can’t give the girls that they are missing out on. Trying to balance life, work, school, toddler-rearing, is truly exhausting, so I find myself just focusing on the basics in our classroom – covering the most rudimentary subjects, leaving little time for more creative pursuits or games. The girls get two lengthy outdoor recesses, and they are terrific playmates for one another, but it’s just not the same without classmates. They miss their peer group, and I miss the school community too. It was nice interacting with other humans each day, and I miss assemblies and parent nights.

Also, any parent knows that children behave much differently at home than they do when there is a teacher to impress, and classmates to surround them. Our girls are great, but managing their quirks and challenges became really taxing. I would never in a million years sign up to become a teacher in the conventional sense, I don’t have the patience to handle so many little personalities all at once. In fact, handling two is taking all the gumption I’ve got, and I adore those two people!

If we were travelling, if there were no other options to consider locally, I would continue on with homeschool in the fall, learning from the mistakes we made this year. We’d make sure there were extra curricular activities where we could make new friends, I’d change our scheduling to focus more on each girl for longer stretches, and I’d devote one day per week to games and creativity. I’d do a lot of things differently, but we found a very interesting school in town, and so we’re going to give it a shot in the fall.

These days, homeschooling is bitter sweet. I know the end is in sight, for now anyway, so I’m trying to really enjoy the time we have, and I’m trying to relax more and make sure the girls enjoy each day. Part of me is also looking ahead to a life where my focus shifts again to other work, and finally an opportunity to focus on my writing in a fresh new way. There are lots of things unfolding here, and it feels right on so many levels.

This time with my children has been beautiful, and so valuable – as challenging as it has been rewarding. I’m so grateful that we tried this, and I hope that the next time we open the books on homeschooling, we’re living on a beach in Thailand.

Don’t be afraid to deviate from what you thought was the best plan. We’re meant to bend and stretch and grow, and something better always lies around the bend.

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Teaching Tortoise and Hare

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There are so many moments, like the one I’m having right now, where I sit at my desk in our cozy little classroom and I can’t believe my life. If you had told a twenty-two year-old me that I would be a stay-at-home mom who was homeschooling three kids in the middle of the country, I would have laughed. Sure, we have dreams that we’re working towards, but this really is some kind of Utopia I’m living in.

Homeschooling has proven to be an incredible challenge. There are days where I, and my pupils, have all cried in frustration. There are days where I can’t believe the immensity of the job. There are nights when I lay awake wondering if I’m doing right by our kids. Ultimately, I know that there are no other circumstances where they would receive such a quality, hands-on education, but it’s an enormous responsibility, and sometimes I shudder at the weight of it.

My daughters are opposites. This isn’t news to me, but applying this knowledge to our classroom has really proven to be my greatest challenge. Siblings, especially those close in age, are so naturally competitive.  I’ve found the girls continually trying to outdo each other, even though they are quite aware that they are in different grades. Their learning styles are so very different too, which is equal parts amazing and frustrating. Hannah, our ten-year-old is deliberate and careful and meticulous. She’s a gifted artist, and she spends vast quantities of time on a different plane, we think. This makes her very dreamy, romantic, and empathic. She’s a born nurturer and humanitarian, and her imagination is vivid and epic. As her teacher, my greatest challenge is drawing her back to the here-and-now, and keep her on point and focused. I also struggle to keep her working efficiently and completing her tasks in a timely manner. Ayla, our seven-year-old is whip-smart. She often grasps the concepts (particularly in maths) that I’m trying to teach her older sister long before Hannah does. She is wickedly funny, spirited, out-going and sassy. She’s the kid with the answer for EVERYTHING. My challenge with her is to keep her from getting bored, because that’s when she starts to get disruptive and naughty. She races through her work, often sacrificing neatness and care, and so I must always work to slow her down. If she doesn’t immediately grasp something, she gets lazy and frustrated and wants to skip on to the next thing to race through. You can imagine trying to balance both of these kids at one time is a bit mind-numbing. I don’t rightly know how teachers handle classes with multiple kids!

I forget sometimes the freedom that homeschooling, and my unique lifestyle offers. When I lean on these realities, great things can happen. Here’s how I’ve decided to approach my girls individual needs, and keep our classroom a happy, inspiring place.

I’ve turned our schedule on it’s ear. I’ve decided to work with one girl at a time, switching off between Monday and Thursday. The girl who isn’t in class spends the day “at work” with my man, who runs our family business from our home. The kid in the classroom gets a full day of one-on-one attention. This almost totally eliminates any issues of focus or behaviour. The kid “at work” learns all kinds of valuable skills, gets to contribute to our family business, and gets lots of one-on-one time with Daddy. We still do morning recess, lunch, lunch recess and afternoon snack together, and each working day ends at 3:00. Then the girls will do a household chore and relax into some screen-free playtime, as we try to only do screens on weekends.

This week was our first foray into the new schedule. I think I should mix it up, so they do get some time together, and so we can have some more opportunities for play, which I feel we may be lacking. Our new twist seems to be going very well. Once again, creativity and risk-taking prevails!

How do you handle difficult sibling dynamics?

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Creating a Space for Learning – Part 2

As promised, and long overdue, some photos of our homeschool classroom! You can see the ‘before’ photos at the bottom of this post from August. Thanks to all of the helping hands (Mamma S, Chacha, Nanna, and the girls) we’ve really got something special here! [three_fourth last=”no”]

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Mamma S is the reigning queen of the chalkboard drawing. This is her first, Ayla’s Math Squirrels.

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This is some of the bounty from our first nature walk in September, which happened in our own backyard!

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Re-purposed baker’s racks from our Toronto kitchen provide open shelving, complete with Noah-friendly toys.

We started out with a communal table, but now thanks to Nana, each of the girls has their own proper desk and chair.

We started out with a communal table, but now thanks to Nana, each of the girls has their own proper desk and chair.

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Lunch on our first day of school. We invited the nursery school to join us.

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Our nature table for the month of September.

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Creating a Space for Learning – Part One

How, how, how can we be approaching the end of August? I am so not ready to begin our homeschooling! I’m only halfway through familiarizing myself with the curriculum, and our classroom doesn’t exist! Thank god we have the freedom and flexibility of keeping to our own schedule!

I wanted to share some of the inspiration I found for our classroom space, and some of my ‘before’ photos with you. Our room was originally intended as a formal dining room, but we’ve never used it as such because we have such a lovely space in our kitchen where we can eat and look out over the field and forest. The dining room is lovely with gorgeous hardwood and a working fireplace, I just think the color is a bit dark and dramatic for a classroom. I’m hoping with some of Mama S’s talent we can transform it to a very soft parchment color. She’s game for this even though it took her something like ten coats of paint to get it the current deep red many moons ago. Once it’s painted, I just have to hang our black boards, and get everything unpacked and put away.

The room currently has a bit of overflow from the move – some extra furniture that doesn’t belong in there, and some musical instruments and photos from before we moved in. The plan is to empty the room of all of the things that don’t belong, take down everything on the walls, prime and paint, and then install the blackboards and our map of Canada. We don’t have a free weekend from here until god knows when so I really don’t know how this will get done. Somehow we always find a way, so I’m trying to stave off panic.

There are three educational styles that I love; Waldorf, Montessori and Reggio. All three focus on the whole child, and try to foster a passion for learning instead of ‘teaching to test’. All three also have some common ideas about classroom spaces that really make intuitive sense to me; everything should have a place and everything should be easily accessible by the children, each room should be looked at from a child’s perspective and created with their needs in mind, children should have access to the best quality materials and art supplies you can afford, children should be surrounded with as many natural materials as possible. Here are some images of classrooms that I love:

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And here are my ‘before’ shots of our own classroom:

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Wish me luck!

Create Great Theatre With Kids

A couple of weeks ago, I finally bit the bullet and took a crash course in driver’s ed. I was in class every day from Monday through Thursday from 9:00 until 2:30. I wanted to leave the girls with something engaging and fun to do, so I made a list of what I called ‘Boredom Busters’. 

The activity that most appealed to Hannu and Aylu was creating a play. Hannu has been devouring the McEldery Greek Mythology book, so I had the girls select a story and create a play complete with props and costumes that they would stage for our close friends and family. They chose the story of Arachne, who is turned into a spider after challenging the goddess Athena to a weaving competition.

It turned out that the girls eventually felt a little overwhelmed about committing Hannah’s sophisticated adaptation to memory, so I spent a couple of hours with them and worked through the story. When I broke the story down into parts in a “what happens next” series of questions, both girls knew almost all of the lines. We decided I would read the part of the narrator, to help out Hannah who already had three roles to portray.

They seriously blew my mind and we had so much fun with this. All I did was jog their memory and suggest some very basic staging. The rest is all their steam and attention to detail, and they were so proud and excited to present their creation. I’ve included a link to the very simple video we shot, but like all stage shows the real magic was in watching the live performance.

Some tips for creating theatre with children:

  • Let them choose a story that they are inspired by and excited about. Stick with classic tales from mythology and folklore because they tend to be very simply written. Have them create a ‘script’ based on the story.
  • Keep a well-stocked dress up box for your kids and replenish frequently with thrift store finds. Think beyond commercial characters and try to find costumes for classic characters and archetypes. Sometimes the ‘ethnic clothing’ section of a thrift store can be a gold mine!
  • Don’t hold them to memorizing lines. Instead, help them remember the story arc and the key characters. If they can re-tell the story to you, then they can create a play that brings the story from the page.
  • Encourage them to play multiple characters by changing simple costume pieces. It’s great fun for kids to explore the ways different characters move and speak.
  • Create pride in their work by having them make hand made invitations that they can issue to friends and family. Turn the play into an event they can look forward to.
  • Help them rehearse by working with them on annunciation, volume, and simple staging. Resist the urge to over-direct them or turn into a rabid ‘stage mom’. Prompt them to consider how lines might be delivered, or how their characters might feel about what is happening.
  • Get involved by helping with props, costumes, set design, but don’t take over. You’ll likely be amazed by the scope of your kids’ imagination!
  • Document the event. Make sure you get video so you can play these when your kid wins their first Tony or Oscar.
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Boredom Busters!

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We’ve still got a month of summer fun, but I’m sure there are days where you wish school was back in session. Here are some fun activities designed for kids who are reading age and older. The idea is for them to stay engaged independent of much adult intervention, but if you’re feeling inspired, they are also great activities to enjoy together. [three_fourth last=”no”]

  • Choose a story from your favourite book of myths, fairy tales, or folk tales and create a play to tell this story where you perform as all of the characters! Use music, musical instruments, dance or cirque as part of the play. Raid the dress up bin for costumes and props. Choose a day to present the play to family and friends, either indoors or out, depending on the weather. Create invitations and deliver them by hand or by mail.

  •  Choose a species of  local butterfly or insect to research at your neighbourhood library . Using craft supplies, create some butterfly or insect specimens and build a habitat from a shoebox. Do a scientific presentation about your species of butterfly or insect one night after dinner for your family.
  • With a grown up choose a day to help them plan and make dinner, including a dessert. Before the day of the dinner, decide on the menu together, get groceries, and create invitations. Plan a beautiful table setting and make some decorations. On the day of the dinner have the grown up teach you how to cook the meal. The other grownups can do all of the clean up that night.

  • On a non-rainy day, use your sidewalk chalk to transform your driveway into a city street. Include shops, offices, banks, and other places to stop and see. Use your bicycles to tour through the city, pretending you’re on motorcycles. Make sure you wear a helmet!
  •  Choose two of your friends who you are missing most and write each of them a letter that includes a drawing of what your summer has been like so far. Ask your parents to help you get your friends’ mailing addresses.

Make sure you take photos of your munchkins hard at work on their projects!

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Rain or Shine

Noah and I on a practice hike.

Noah and I on a practice hike.

Or, How to Guarantee an Interesting Tuesday

It’s 7:30 am and there’s a light gray cast to the day. Our POP is currently 50%, moving to 30% at 10:00 am when we are scheduled to begin our first hike with our summer hiking club. While you are reading this, hopefully sipping coffee (which reminds me, I must take some coffee with us!) I will be trekking with Hannu, Aylu and the Noodle. We’ll either be going along swimmingly, or we’ll be quite soggy. Either way, we’re sure to have an interesting couple of hours.[three_fourth last=”no”]

I’ve been practicing with my baby-carrying backpack, which is extraordinarily comfortable. It was purchased way back when Hannah was a babe made by Macpac, a New Zealand company. Nekky had to find a local importer back then, but now you can buy direct from their website, pretty much anywhere in the world.  I suspect out of all of our kids that Noodle will get the most use out of the carrier. I love hiking, and this pack is a dream, especially with my scoliosis – it doesn’t bother me a bit. Of course, around here my walks are 40 minutes at max, and today we’ll be out for two hours, if the girls can last that long. With all of their weekly ravine walks at their former school, I think they are likely to out pace me!

I think we’ll need to start with some yoga at home because I’m feeling really stiff this morning. They should be able to manage some sun salutations, and their new room has enough floor space for all three of us to easily enjoy some poses. That and a good breakfast should give us what we need to get a good start to our adventure.

Here’s what I’ve packed:

Two water bottles

Three granola bars

Two packs of baby rice cookies

A banana

*A thermos of coffee (MUST remember this!)

Rain coats and pants for the girls

Rain boots for the girls

Rain jacket and boots for me (alas, no pants, must locate a second-hand pair)

Rain jacket and pants for Noodle (what am I going to put on his feet??)

Natural insect repellent lotion (I’m frankly unsure that this works)

Kibio natural sunscreen (this is an excellent product, I can’t say enough about the stuff!)

Wet wipes

A spare diaper (it occurred to me that the only realistic place to change Noodle will be somewhere after the hike. I think I’ll coat him in diaper rash cream, just in case)

If I’ve forgotten anything, I guess we’ll have to deal. I’m going to encourage the girls to each search for one natural treasure for our nature table, and they will both work on a journal entry when we get home. I must dash off and get ready for the day! I will post some iPhone photos later on my Facebook page. I hope we don’t get those mighty Toronto rains, and I hope nobody needs to poop in the woods!

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Staycation

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Last night I was feeling a bit out of sorts, likely normal settling-in feelings, but I remarked that I felt like we were on the most boring vacation ever. I have the most wonderful sense of general relaxation here in the country, but also that feeling of unfamiliar territory that comes with vacationing, and we’ve only been able to do a lot of unpacking and laundry thus far – hence the boredom.

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I finished setting up my room yesterday, except for hanging some art, and so I decided to take the kids on a little outing to explore some of the local hang outs. The weather threatened thunderstorms, so we chose the Dr. Huq Family Library, which is in a brand new compound that houses the Kiwanis Pool, and the whole thing is situated on the property of the Lester B. Pearson Park. Daddy had to be our chauffeur, but rather than drop us off, he decided to take advantage of the much faster Internet connection at the library and get some work done.

The facilities are beautiful, and built with sustainability in mind. You can check out the very clever specs here.
One thing I’ve really noticed in our few days of country life is how much friendlier people are than in the city. It’s very common for strangers to engage you in a conversation, especially when you have a very cute bunch of ice breakers. The girls each made a couple of friends and we’ve decided to take advantage of the pool with swimming lessons and swim memberships. It’s a great rainy-day refuge for all of us.

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Ayla wanted to check out the playground, so she and Noodle and I went to explore while Hannah stayed indoors with Daddy and a book of Greek Mythology. We discovered an amazing splash pad outside that we will definitely visit next time, Ayla worked the playground like the best of schmoozers, and Noah considered the St. Catharine’s grass quality. I think Hannah was as taken with the mythology as Ayla was with the playground because on the trip home she regaled us with tales of Prometheus and Pandora, her eyes round with wonder. I love how much she loves reading and story telling. Ayla is following her lead too – she took home two books from the book sale pile at the library that she proudly pored through for the rest of the afternoon.

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Daddy treated us to his delicious barbecue for dinner, marking the first official use of the grill gazebo. I’d say these photos convey just how delicious it was. He always grills to perfection, despite his fussing over the final product. How lucky am I that he takes such pride in his cooking?

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So, settling into our new home will be just like a staycation in many ways. There’s so much to discover, it will easily eat up our summer, and I no longer feel like the girls need camp. It’s actually kind of exciting to look forward to so much time with them, and since I get bored as quickly as a child, it will be easy to keep things interesting.

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Exploring the area with fun day trips, making the library our new hang out, hiking, grilling food outside, transforming our shaded shelter into a Moroccan paradise – there’s lots to do, and it’s going to be such a nice way to settle in!

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Two gals who are very excited to move to the country.

City Mouse No More

Two gals who are very excited to move to the country.

Two gals who are very excited to move to the country.

It’s our so-called spring here in Southern Ontario, and new beginnings are the theme around here. After finally sharing the news with all of the most important people in my life (namely, my children) I can now leave an update here. I’m leaving city life behind, at least for a little while.

Our family business has left us wanting more, and so while we contemplate the future and hatch our next great plan, we will be heading to Niagara-on-the-Lake, to the house in the country that we love so well. We call it ‘The Lincoln House’, and that’s how I’ll refer to it here. With 30 acres of secluded play space, our children will hopefully thrive in a way that just isn’t possible in the city.

We’ve built up a nest of memories here in our Toronto home – equal parts good and bad. It’s sad to leave because I love this house, I love our neighbourhood, I love the school our children go to, and I love having the energy of the city at my fingertips in those rare moments when I want to venture out. I haven’t lived in the country in about a decade, when I did a brief newlywed stint on a very isolated one-hundred-and-fifty-acre nature preserve in upstate New York. That was another lifetime ago, and an experience that still feels bittersweet.

There is no Waldorf school to speak of in the area, and another round of private school tuition just doesn’t make sense right now, so I am undertaking the wonderful challenge and adventure of homeschooling the girls (and I guess little Noodle) with Waldorf curriculum created for homeschooling families. At first I thought this idea was insane, (I mean, I never imagined myself as the marm of the polyamorous family who lives in the country and homeschools) but now I’m really, deeply inspired, and feeling so passionate about this opportunity. I already feel closer to my children. We’ll do this for a year and see how it goes, and see where we’re at. The ideal end goal is to set up home in a slightly more urban area with a Waldorf school nearby, but who really can tell what will happen next?

All of the adults in our home feel the need to simplify, and so we’re going to extensively pare down our material goods, selling everything and keeping only the very basic things we need. I’m overbrimming with glorious information gleaned from the countless, inspiring blogs I’ve found from homesteader types who have dedicated their life to family and simplicity. I can’t wait to purge, pare down, cut out, and free ourselves from so much STUFF! Stay tuned for the yard sale to end all yard sales.

We’re leaving the city at the end of June, when the school year is through. Before the move, we are planting an extensive vegetable garden at the Lincoln house as both a teaching tool, and a way to nourish our family with vegetables that we know are organic and safe to eat. I’ve never undertaken anything quite so extensive, and to say it’s an experiment will be a bit of an understatement.

The girls took the news so much better than we expected. They were excited, and very accepting, with lots of questions, and the predictable concern over friends and keeping in touch. We’re hoping some of the families we’ve gotten close to will be up for weekend play dates, but we’ll be sure to find some extracurricular activities that allow for creating a new social circle.

I’ll still continue with Les Coquettes, because I love performing with them, and I love creating shows. I do wonder what we’ll have in store after this year? So many of us are having families, and/or our priorities are shifting, and I personally find that writing satisfies my creative energy in a way that nothing else can compare to. Perhaps my Showgirl Madame days are coming to an end?

My new life will afford so much more time for writing. I want to share each step of this experience, and all of the little nuggets of wisdom we can pick up along the way. I used to think maintaining a certain glamorous, artsy, sexy persona was the key to my happiness, but with each passing day I realize that my happiest moments are with my children, and they are the greatest legacy I can leave behind. They afford so much opportunity for creativity and connectedness, and I have never experienced anything as inspiring as them. I feel like they are the catalyst that has led me to step into the next pair of shoes I was meant to wear – the pretty, yet comfortable ones that feel much better than the platform stilettos of old.

There is a giant field of question marks that I stare out into every day. This field is daunting, some parts of it scary, but  the breeze that rustles through it whispers of excitement. Change is a wondrous thing, isn’t it? By taking charge of our life, and making some big decisions, I feel like we’re empowering ourselves to be bigger and better.

What’s the biggest, scariest decision you’ve ever had to make?