The Calm Within The Storm


There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm” ~Willa Cather~

070A shower is a rare commodity in my world. The children are regularly cleaned of course with a bit of saliva on the end of my thumb or in a bathtub full of dirty water. . . .how do they get so dirty!? As a parent of four young children a hot shower is an oasis of calm. A sanctuary in which I get to take a moment for myse. . . . oh, who am I kidding? I scrub like a madman, half asleep, hoping that the house is in one piece by the time I get out, that is if I shower at all!

Luckily for me my children have the foresight to document their berserk behavior while I am out of the room. Thus the photos that accompany this piece. I found them days later when downloading pictures.

I am a natural introvert. I prefer some semblance of order and schedule. That is not my life though. The landing gear was torn off this jumbo jet when I became a parent! I say this tongue in cheek of course. Being the father of four healthy, creative and hilarious children has been one of the best things to happen to me as a person. Their inquisitive nature has forced me out of my comfort zone, on an hourly basis! Their gentle nature and warm smiles have forced me to exam my own lack of patience at times. Their whirlwind energy has forced me to recognize that on occasion the calm within the storm is simply knowing it will pass.072

I have to admit that recently I have learned more, as a parent, about myself than at any other time in my life. Not all of it has been pleasant. I have had to confront some very difficult aspects of my personality and then have had to decide whether I am going to address them or not. I have chosen the more difficult road of engaging my bad behavior in an effort to be a better parent. I can only thank my children and the relentless energy they bring into my life for this self-examination. Oddly enough I have come to the conclusion that though they are constantly on the move physically and emotionally that they are actually the calm within the storm.

075

I have to remind myself at times that we are fully able to switch roles on occasion as student and teacher if I am humble enough to learn the lesson.

 

 

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .  

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Homeschooling and Money


Five years ago we made the conscious decision to homeschool our children. It was altogether exciting and frightening not to mention a bit overwhelming. Now that we have some experience under our belts it is difficult to imagine living any other way.

There are countless positives to our lifestyle. There are also some obstacles. One of those would be living in a two income world on a single income. My wife works extremely hard to make ends meet but as we all know inflation and day to day living expenses have little foundation or consistency in relation to ones income. In fact when curious families approach us in regards to potentially becoming homeschoolers they express concern over being able to afford the lifestyle more than anything else, even more than the mythology of socialization.

In general, homeschooling lends itself to creativity. My first piece of advice would be to embrace that aspect in order to successfully live the homeschooling lifestyle. There are a number of ways to make ends meet. By exploring the less beaten path there is opportunity. Maybe not endless wealth but the potential to pay the bills and put food on the table. Lets explore some of the things our family of 6 has done to accomplish our goals.

Curriculum:  Initially we used a canned curriculum and it was very helpful. It was also a few hundred dollars and with experience we now realize unnecessary. Though it is a nice safety net for beginners there are a number of free and inexpensive resources available.At the Library

First of all make friends with your local librarians. Aside from the obvious assets a library provides in the form of books, periodicals, dvd’s and cd’s there are also a number of social/educational experiences available.  Everything from technology club to lego club, author meet and greets to local political debates can be found at your local library. Most importantly, for free! Our librarians are on a first name basis with our children and are very receptive to program ideas. They have been so warm that my oldest daughter currently wants to be a librarian when she is older.

We have found websites like amazon.com to be a great place to buy used books and learning materials. With a little research you can easily find books for a penny. The shipping tends to be about $4.99 but $5 dollars for a “school” book is perfect for the tight budget.

There are of course cheaper options. Library book sales, garage sales and thrift stores are great places to find learning materials.

We have also borrowed material and traded with other homeschoolers as well.

Clothes: I know that along with the lack of socialization myth there is an idea that most homeschoolers walk around in homemade denim dresses. Though they do exist they are not the norm. There are a number of frugal options for homeschooling families in regards to clothing.

Locally we have a number of really nice thrift stores and consignment shops. If name brands are important to you there is a good chance you can find something nice on the shelves way below retail cost. If sturdy, clean, wearable clothing is more important than name brands you can find that as well. Last year my wife bought an entire years worth of clothing for our family at a consignment store “bag sale” for less than .20 cents per article of clothing.

As with a number of these subjects garage sales are another option.

There is also the hand-me-down circuit. Our family has never been too proud to accept other peoples used clothing. 99% of it has been in great shape and very stylish. When we outgrow it we in turn pass it along thus helping the next family in line.

042Food: This can be a tough one. We all eat so we all experience the outrageous prices in the supermarket. There are ways to eat healthy and ways to do it frugally.

If you are fortunate enough to have a little land a garden is a great way to go. We have taken it to the next step and on 1/16th of an acre have an urban homestead. If you are interested in knowing more about it you can check out my blog for Grit magazine at  http://www.grit.com/blogs/whitaker-gardens-and-micro-farm.aspx or my long running gardening blog at  http://seedtoharvest.blogspot.com/

The point I am making is that you can grow food for a fraction of the cost of what you would end up paying for it in a market. You can eat it fresh or store it by freezing it, canning it or drying it to eat later. We have vegetable gardens, fruit and berry patches, edible flowers and herbs and also raise chickens for eggs.

Another option are farmers markets. In our experience you can get healthy food for a reasonable price. Plus if you buy when it is in season you can get bulk and then can or freeze some of it for down the road.

Bulk stores also have their benefit but be careful not to get carried away.  We tend to stick to things like rice and baby products.

leeExtra Income: Extra income is always helpful. Be creative. Watching other peoples children is an option. I know some people who have “shops” on ebay who have made some money. Going back to our discussion on consignment shops that is another option for some additional income. We have raised and sold rabbits for a few dollars at farm stands, sold excess vegetables from our gardens and had garage sales.

Though all of these suggestions are rather brief and barely scratch the surface the point is this, it is difficult to homeschool and to do so on one income. It is a sacrifice. But it is a sacrifice that we are committed to and with a little creativity anyone can do it. On some level you just need to reevaluate what it is that is important to you. We can always find ways to make ends meet we will never get this time in our lives back.

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine.  You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .  

Home Is Where The Heart Is


051Nearly three weeks ago my wife gave birth to our fourth child, a lovely, healthy baby girl. We decided early on that we were interested in having a homebirth. The reaction has been varied but none the less interesting. In fact it created a dialogue between my wife and me in regards to family and home in general. Not only did we have a homebirth but we homeschool and have a modest homestead as well so as you can image we have been exposed to a number of stereotypes over the years.

My goal is not to call into question the lifestyle of those who may read this piece, because honestly I am comfortable with the choices of others (for the most part). Rather it is an attempt to shed some light on some good old fashioned family values that somewhere along the line have become clouded with fear and simply put a lack of knowledge on the subject.

As a country we often speak of the importance of family yet our day to day values and experience speak otherwise. Family is regularly put aside in an effort to gain a financial or social foothold. The truth is we live in a two income world for the most part. Very few families are able to live comfortably otherwise. I would suggest the cost goes far beyond our bank accounts though.

My oldest child is nine. She did attend pre-school at one point but has been homeschooled, along with her siblings ever since. Financially speaking it was and at times continues to be a very trying experience. In fact homeschooling is what lead us to homesteading. In the beginning the goal was not necessarily even healthy meals but simply providing meals on a regular basis. By taking part in the homeschooling lifestyle it has provided an avenue for our family to grow significantly stronger as a unit and to come up with some very creative and satisfying solutions. 044

We shop at consignment shops for clothing. We use the internet to purchase used curriculum and other educational materials. We are on a first name basis with our local librarians. We grow vegetables, fruits and berries and recently started raising rabbits and chickens. We can, freeze and dehydrate summer crops and farmers market purchases. In other words we are attempting to be responsible for our own well-being as far as circumstances will allow. This of course does not imply that we can do this alone because we cannot. In fact it is only possible by being part of a wonderful and supportive community. We have amazing neighbors and have been fortunate enough to find other like-minded families in our neck of the woods. Just like everyone else we have needed assistance from time to time.

Homeschooling was the first step. It made us reevaluate the way we looked at the world and our role in it. That is the catch; homeschooling is about being active in your community. In fact it is only successful if you are fully engaged in the day to day activities of your town. My children and the other homeschoolers I know are very happy, motivated children who thrive in social situations. Recently I heard it put best when it was said to me, “Just because my kid does not act like an asshole does not mean they are not socialized.” So I politely put the “socialization myth” to rest.

043As mentioned beforehand homeschooling led to homesteading. Homesteading has created numerous financial benefits, educational opportunities and has ensured that our children will benefit from the knowledge of good stewardship. In essence you cannot separate one from the other.

Homeschooling and homesteading eventually led to us exploring a home-birth. Our second child was born via emergency C-section so we are very aware of the value of a hospital in the role of childbirth. But with that said we were fortunate enough to have one of the most empowering and beautiful experiences of our adult life. An experience that could not have happened without a knowledgeable and nurturing midwife and a patient and caring doula.

None of the above mentioned lifestyle choices were made hastily or blindly. In fact you can rest assured most people who take part in such activities are far more knowledgeable on the subjects at hand than those who simply respond out of fear and ignorance. I realize how condescending this may sound but this is the truth of the matter. In order to be successful you have to be educated. In the process of educating yourself you are in turn setting the example for your children in regards to the value of knowledge and providing the work ethic to obtain it.

Homeschooling, homesteading and even a homebirth take a c090ertain level of sacrifice. I realize not everyone can make these sacrifices; there are a lot of variables in life. There are also those simply not willing to make these sacrifices. But with that said, walk away from this article knowing there is another choice out there. Leave knowing that your spouse and your children will be the most important opportunity to express love that will come into your life. Life is far too short. Someday we will all unfortunately realize this. Do not let it pass you by while pursuing false notions of happiness.

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .  

 

Being Present


Jack Frost
Jack Frost

All is full of love. All around you.” ~Bjork~

Jack Frost paid a visit this morning. It is cold here. Near 0 degrees Fahrenheit. The trees, naked for lack of leaves, moan in protest as they sway in the winter wind. Aside from an occasional crow or vehicle sputtering by they are the only ones willing to break winters loud silence. The cold takes your breath away. My beard has frost in it and my fingers are red and numb after taking care of the animals with my oldest daughter. She is bright and beautiful as the morning sun. In truth she shines brighter than the sun who rarely shows itself during the long northern winters.

At night when it is time to lock the chickens in their coop I venture out by myself. I stop every night after they are safe behind their walls and I search the sky for the stars and moon while breathing in the cold winter air. Trying my hardest to be present and thankful for my life. By all accounts it is a beautiful existence.

My little sunshine
My little sunshine

The past year has been trying. A number of deaths, some close , some distant, all very painful. Chasms in the family tree that seem like the mouth of a great canyon opening to swallow logic. Bills to pay or more appropriately juggle and still through the rapids of life I find myself searching for the calm waters rather than enjoying where I am at. In fact as I write it reminds me of a Wendell Berry quote, a man and poet whom I respect very much, he said,”the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our feet and learn to be at home.”

Tomorrow is a reality for some yet an illusion for others and to think that we ourselves dictate the pace is purely the mythology of ego. I say this not as someone who is more enlightened than you the reader, because I am not. I say this as someone who is making a concerted effort to exist in the moment. I can see the great migration taking place all around me. Pushing onward toward the time clock to pay the bills, rushing in a frenzy from here to there, in all truth no where. Nose down we plow ahead forgetting the beauty that surrounds us every waking moment.

023 That is one of the things I find interesting about homeschooling and being a parent. It is also one of the things I find most difficult. I am speaking of providing a healthy day to day existence when stress and anxiety are at its peak. I have no real answer or solution I suppose. I find people rarely want to discuss this side of life. So, in an attempt to find a remedy, I am making an effort to be present. It is the best I can do for myself and my family.

I am trying to eat healthier to respect my fragile vehicle. I am focusing on my yoga routine and breathing. Just breathing. I am allowing myself to be vulnerable and wrapping myself in the warmth of my children’s laughter. It will pass me by far too quickly. It already has. I am sincerely trying to find the pleasure in their childish arguments and tantrums because someday I will miss those moments dearly. I meditate on their filtered voices as I hear them telling off color jokes to one another upstairs while I am downstairs, what I imagine must be the child’s equivalent of a Richard Pryor joke because someone dared to use the word “turd” out of ear shot of old Dad.

I am trying to capture photographs in my mind of each of my children at this very stage in life. My oldest daughter who is creative and forgetful. Possesses a humor far beyond her years and an empathy I would be proud to display. My son whom I wake with before the sun rises so that we can spend our weekends at hockey practice together. Both of us members of the gym rat clergy. Still, he is one of the gentlest young men I know and that makes me proud. My youngest daughter who speaks for all of us with her wide smile and sensitive eyes, her eternal youth and tiny hands, her desire to drink straight from the source of love. My wife, my lovely wife, eight months pregnant with our fourth child. On occasion through the chaos of life we are able to find a quiet space and look into each others eyes, her fluid and alluring brown eyes, and we hold one another hands. In this silence, this silence of winter, I am reminded of how much I love them all and that life is cyclical. All the pain of those around me will pass but so will the pleasure so I must try harder than ever to be present and inhale deeply the sweet scent of my beautiful life.

Kellen Thomas or Eloise Fey? We shall soon see!
Kellen Thomas or Eloise Fey? We shall soon see!

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine.  You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .  

Defining Family


Exif JPEGMy parents separated when I was 12 years old. Eventually as my father drifted out of my life so did his relatives. In turn my mothers side of the family was reasonably involved in my day to day life. They were and still are a rather eccentric bunch but I can proudly say that they are some of the most interesting people I know.

They do however have problems just like any other family. Though it is unfair to solely focus on their negatives as they do have a number of positive traits it is those negatives that tend to have the deepest claws and seem to take forever to remove from deep within ourselves as maturing adults.

The extended family reminded me of the clans from the old country. Constantly at war with one another. Creating alliances out of a mutual dislike rather than genuine friendship and then when illness or serious cause for alarm would arise everyone would rally against the common enemy only to fall back into rituals of bad behavior as soon as the storm had passed.

I remember very vividly sitting around a campfire with my cousins and my own brother and sister discussing the sad state of affairs within our family and finding it difficult to relate to such behavior. Fast forward twenty years and here I am in the same turbulent waters.

My goal with this piece is not to specifically call anyone out because truth is I am far from perfect myself. But rather to define what family truly is and how I am attempting to remedy this situation.

“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under one roof.” Richard Bach ~Illusions~  

As a single person I was far more willingly to put up with the bad behavior of others. As a parent of three young children I am far less willingly to do so. The delicate balance, that which Somerset referred to as the “razors edge”, is the ability to discern ones own prejudice in comparison with that which is truly harmful. We all have conflict or arguments among family members. Overreacting to naturally arising frustrations is a negative in and of itself. But eventually when bad habits are displayed for years, decades even, and they begin to affect the mental health of ones household it is time to put the false notion of family aside.

The difficulty that I am experiencing is that as a homeschooling family the family structure is extremely important. I have lost count of all the homeschooling books that I have read that speak of having a grandparent share a hobby or an aunt spend a day with your children. For some of us that is simply not a reality.

Though children should not be involved in the direct confrontation of adults for any reason they do recognize something is wrong when Grandma or Grandpa no longer stops by. When aunts and uncles no longer visit. When their birthday is ignored while other children in the family have very public celebrations. They quickly catch on when conversation is cut short in regards to missing relatives. They recognize the awkward hostility when relatives meet in public places. They are sensitive to the sadness that develops when adults feel the need to remove toxic relationships from their own lives.

So how do we define family when our family is broken? If we continue to nurture negative relationships we are teaching our own children a very unhealthy lesson, are we not? We are teaching them that abuse and disrespect are acceptable ways for family to treat one another when resurrecting the notion that blood outweighs all else. This is simply not true.

It is painful and even frightening to admit that ones family does not provide a solid foundation in their own lives. But when one begins to recognize the bond that exist among families with similar values a level of strength, understanding and true appreciation begins to bloom.

Within family structures there is a tendency for familiarity to breed contempt. I would hope that it is obvious that I am not addressing the trivial frustrations that exist within every family structure but rather the deep rooted multi-generational behaviors that destroy trust and most importantly love. Your family , your children , are at the mercy of your decisions to a certain extent. When it comes to creating a supportive , nurturing , caring and loving network one must make the right decision, not the easy one.

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine.  You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .