Me, a Radical Homemaker?

radical homemaker, frugal, simplicity, homeschool, farm, peace,

Okay, radical sounds hip. I can live with that. But homemaker?  The last few decades that word has been a synonym for drudgery. Besides, ask my kids who really does the dusting and vacuuming around here. They do.

What’s radical homemaking? Shannon Hayes wrote a wonderful book called Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer CultureYes, I thought when I heard the term. Naming something gives it momentum. And the lifestyles of people defining for themselves what The Good Life is all about haven’t gone unnoticed so much as undefined. It doesn’t seem radical in the slightest to many of us who try to live simply, it just makes sense.

Thankfully Shannon pulls the pieces together. As she writes,

…each of us has a calling or right livelihood that enables us to serve the common good, and in finding this calling, we will be most happy. Few, if any spiritual teachings call us to seek the accumulation of money, stuff, power, or other purely selfish interests.  Further, in a life-serving economy, we individually accept responsibility for creating our own joys and pleasures.  We do not rely upon corporate America to sell us these things.  We take personal and collective responsibility for supplying many of our needs.  In taking these steps, we discover that true economic assets, unlike money, are intangible.

There’s nothing new about this. Most of our foremothers and fathers upheld frugality and scorned excess. Throughout history people have been growing and preserving food, making gifts, providing hands-on care for the young and old, repurposing materials, and finding meaning in pleasures that aren’t necessarily linked to spending money.

This sort of lifestyle simmers along quietly and purposefully while consumer culture runs at a full boil, generating heat over every new trend and news flash.

Somehow, in a world bristling with radical homemakers, I’ve been outed as one of the representatives. “A poster child,” claimed the journalist who trekked out to our little farm with her notebook in hand last week. I’m more comfortable interviewing others rather than being interviewed, but I put my trust in her expertise. I thought it wouldn’t be too difficult to talk about trying to place our interests beyond the shallow values of appearance as I sat there wearing a thrift shop shirt that had to be 20 years old. Well, until the photographer showed up. Judging by the anxiety that generated I’m still the product of an appearance-indicates-worth society. The irony wasn’t lost on me. I gave up all hope of looking 20 pounds lighter or remotely put together and kept talking.

And laughing. Her questions struck me funny. In fact, she came right out and asked, “Don’t people treat you as if you’re odd?”

Maybe they do but I always thought that’s because I’m sarcastic and tend to sing songs with made-up lyrics.

I told her about homeschooling and the intrinsic value of meaningful learning. I told her about our local food co-op, about making homemade tinctures and about using things until they wear out.

I tried to explain why I preferred to make sandwich buns over the weekend for a party here rather than buy them. “Was it part of your philosophy?” she asked. “Was it cheaper?”

I haven’t priced such buns at a store, I told her. I ground the grain, used eggs from our chickens, milk from our cow, and honey from our bees, then kneaded the dough and baked them that morning. It cost almost nothing in ingredients and very little in time. Yet it had more to do with deeper choices. But don’t write about the buns, I said, it makes me sound really annoying.

I’m sure I’m annoying (just ask my kids) but also I’m pretty relaxed. I’m comfortable with weeds in the garden (nature doesn’t like bare dirt anyway) and stacks of reading material everywhere. I make homemade pizza all the time but that doesn’t mean we don’t occasionally succumb to the greasy allure of what my kids call “real pizza” from a little carry out nearby. We don’t have money for things like vacations or video games, we do have time to sit around talking long after dinner is over.

When I was fresh out of college I planned to save the world. I’m beginning to see it’s possible to do so, simply by saving what’s important right in front of us.

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Postscript: Thankfully I’m a small part of the finished article and the other radical homemaker piece I’ve been interviewed for doesn’t appear until this autumn in the Ladies Home Journal.

Anyone Hear A Horn Tooting?

book release, free range learning, hope, peace, natural learning, sustainability, I’ve been filling this space with hope, concern, peace and some attitude.

When I come across little-known books , music, documentaries and new research it’s a pleasure to share them.

I admit to feeling bashful when my publisher insisted I establish this site.  Sure, the net is teeming with people shining spotlights on themselves but I was raised to be polite and avoid attracting attention.  Not that I’m a credit to my upbringing. I’m too opinionated and sarcastic to qualify as polite. I’d be happy to avoid attracting attention but I can’t help it due to problems with gravity and a history of being attacked by vegetables.

But I know this site is a way of extending the work I do as a writer. Except…. I haven’t posted anything about my writing!

Well, I’m giving that a go right now.

That’s because today is the release date for my book. It’s titled Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything. What’s it about?

Free Range Learning celebrates the promise found in each person’s abilities and interests. It emphasizes community enrichment, connection to nature, purposeful work and much more.  This handbook on educating the whole child provides a wealth of ideas and resources that help to preserve curiosity, awe and intellectual vigor as lifelong attributes.

Free Range Learning doesn’t shy away from data. It cites research by neurologists, child development specialists, anthropologists, educators, historians and business innovators. And it offers insights and experiences shared by over 100 homeschoolers from around the world.

The book also takes a look at the impact of our educational choices. It asks the reader to consider alternative education as a cultural shift that is redefining success and reshaping the future of schooling. Free Range Learning asserts that innovative and ethical young people who are accustomed to critical thinking will be the best equipped to meet the challenges of our changing world.

Attention given the book hasn’t risen to a thunderous clamor by any means. I did enjoy two recent moments of attention, for the following reasons:

Participating in Writer’s Read gave me a glorious opportunity to promote the work of other authors (click “read on” to see all five books I’m reading).

And Campaign for the American Reader’s Coffee with a Canine let me talk about my hound friends ( click “read on” for photes and details).

If clamor erupts, I’ll share links to reviews (and rants too) on the main page. Right now you can find endorsements, an interview and a few articles based on the book.

Free Range Learning is published by Hohm Press, a wonderful independent press committed to books promoting harmony and integrity for the last 35 years. They don’t, however, do anything in the way of marketing.

So it’s up to me. I want this book to do a world of good. I’m trying to get the word out to people interested in educational alternatives, community enrichment and natural parenting. That may include parents, educators, administrators, policymakers, sustainability groups, homeschool groups, anyone who might be open to more holistic learning . If you are inclined, please help me spread the word.

And stay tuned, a book trailer is in the works!

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Image courtesy of Fantasy Stock

Transferring Enthusiasm

transferring enthusiasm, infectious energy, alternative education, natural learning, community education, mentoring, entrepreneurship,

There is something vitally important transmitted when one person’s enthusiasm sets off a spark in others. This sort of spirit can’t be reproduced in any curriculum. That’s why, whenever possible, we learn from people who are passionate. Potters, chemists, bird watchers, dairy farmers, blacksmiths, historians, wildlife rehabilitators, wood carvers, entrepreneurs, air traffic controllers, geologists, musicians, engineers, chefs, astronomers, you name it.

One time we drove to a part of town where we’d never gone. The address didn’t seem right, but around us friends were parking for a tour and discussion we’d scheduled at a local business. So we piled out and knocked at what looked like an abandoned warehouse. The door was pulled open by a man who welcomed us to his steel drum company. He seemed powered by perpetual gusto as he talked about the history of steel drums and his desire to preserve the music, factors which became the motivating force behind his company. He told about the shoestring nature of his own start-up and multiple problems with initial designs—- illustrating his tales with diagrams, tools and testimony from guys in the shop.

Our time there stretched out wonderfully as we played many different drums, including some extremely valuable models, and listened to recordings made in a studio he built on site. There’s no telling what particular element of that afternoon made an impression on the children and teens there. What he transmitted encompassed history, music, engineering, entrepreneurship, character-building, collaboration—all with an infectious energy.

Through any deep exploration we can uncover ever widening avenues of discovery, whether we search in archeology, cake decorating or steel drums. There are lessons to be learned that awaken us to greater wonders.

When we get a glimpse of those wonders through the eyes of others we’re not only learning. We’re sharing a source of pleasure. Asking people to impart some of what they’ve discovered and how they do it, well, that’s a gift because it lets them give us a taste of what, to them, has real sustenance.

That spark, carried from generation to generation, is how we humans have always built the future. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote. “If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work but rather, teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

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Steel Drum image courtesy of Michael Halley

Is Nature Somewhere Else?

connect with nature, look at the sky, peace, tranquility, research nature and health,

We tend to think of nature as separate. We imagine spending time “out there” hiking in some remote wilderness, drinking from mountain streams and observing creatures that have never faced highway traffic. There, in a place far from our busy lives, we might find peace, tranquility and some kind of deep connection to what is real.

If. We. Just. Found. Time. To. Get. There.

That’s part of the problem. Because we’re already there. We are nature, right down to the life processes of every cell. And what’s around us even in the smallest city apartment? Nature.

Nature is the food we eat, air we breathe, water we drink. It’s seedlings pushing up between cracks in the cement (and the cement itself, depending how you define it), birds lighting on utility poles, pollen making us sneeze, storm clouds swelling with rain. It’s a living planet in a universe of natural laws that continue to be revealed to the amazement of scientists like Harvard’s Dr. Randall and the awe of cosmologists like Dr. Swimme in The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos: Humanity and the New Story.

When we define nature as separate from us it’s easier to push it aside as something apart from our very life force.  This disconnect isn’t healthy for us or the planet.

In part it simply has to do with SEEING. I learned this when I helped conduct a psychology study in college.  We went to urban office buildings and asked people two questions. First, we asked each person to describe his or her mood. Second, we asked them to describe the current appearance of the sky. These people were in their offices or hallways when we talked to them and the windows in most buildings were shuttered with horizontal blinds ubiquitous during that decade, so the only way they could have described the sky is if they had paid attention on their way to work or during a break. Here’s the interesting part. The people who identified themselves as pessimistic, angry, depressed or in other negative terms were also the ones unable to describe the sky’s appearance. You guessed it. The happiest and most optimistic people either correctly described the sky or came very close.

That study was never published, but research these days now indicates that pausing to experience nature in our daily lives is powerfully positive. Just a few minutes of regular exposure has been shown to improve our emotional and physical health. It leads us to be more generous, to enhance relationships and value community. The effect of nature, even looking out a window at nearby trees, seems to lead us, as one researcher noted, to be “our best selves.”

So wherever we are, let’s pay attention. Let’s remind ourselves to look at the sky every day, not just for a moment but long enough to savor it (without declaring the weather good or bad). Let’s put our bodies into the experience by taking regular strolls and touching the bark of a tree, a flower’s soft petal, the texture of a rock. Let’s watch the habits of birds, squirrels, spiders and other creatures making their lives amongst ours. Let’s pick one tree near our homes and notice it as the seasons pass, as we would a quiet friend sharing the same neighborhood. It takes only a shift of awareness, but it can make a world of difference.

Nature is right here, moment to moment, in each breath we take. It connects us to what’s real and helps us be the people our planet needs right now.