Friday, December 25, 2009

Homemade Holiday

Our family celebrates both Christmas and Hanukkah, in a very cultural way. Mike grew up Catholic, and I grew up Jewish. Now, we attend a Unitarian Universalist Church, which suites our family and the way that we want to raise our children.

Anyways, celebrating all of these holidays involves lots of gift giving, all at a time when I am trying to simplify our belongings and declutter our home. So, we decided that Hanukkah would be completely homemade. What fun this ended up being! Maddie, in particular, immediately generated a list of people that she needed to make gifts for, thought about what each person would like, and got to work creating! Mike spent his share of time down in the basement working with wood and creating a fabulous work bench for the children (and something for Aunt Jen and Uncle Adam, which they will receive on Sun!), and I spent a lot of time in our new sewing room. I made a fleece blanket, an embroidered bag, and a stuffed animal for each of our children, a quilt for my mom, and other various gifts. There were also home dipped beeswax candles and ornaments, canned applesauce from a local orchard, yummy cookies, scarves, bags, drawings and paintings, bracelets, ...... all in all, a wonderful experience and the beginning of a new tradition.

But, Santa is another story. I worried that he and his elves would bring more of the toys that we are trying to stay away from. I was pleasantly surprised this morning.....his elves did a wonderful job of knowing our family's wishes! It was a quiet Christmas day (no battery operated toys!) filled with new crafts and hobbies....wood working for everyone, more bead work for Maddie, painting for Ben, a snap circuit for Amelia, and lots of dog related things for Leah to fuel her new passion. Thankfully, there was lots of time for sledding too!

It has been a lot of work (and some headaches late at night when my eyes hurt from staring at fabric).....but it was worth it. Our goal of simplicity in the new year has already begun!

My hands guiding my mom's quilt through the machine.

Oh, and a big thank you to my parents....who really listened when I said no more plastic dolls, battery operated cars, etc. Instead, we are seeing the Wizard of Oz tomorrow, the Philadelphia Orchestra in the winter, and The Lion King on Broadway (CAN'T WAIT!!!) in May. Thanks, mom and dad....for listening to my wishes and for all of the thoughtful gifts!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Art 101

I love art museums (ok...museums, in general)! So, it really drives me crazy to hear homeschoolers (not unschoolers, mind you) talking about trying to fulfill an art "requirement!" This should not be a task at all, as I see it. It is FUN to visit art museums and to create artwork at home. And, we are so fortunate to live near a really wonderful, small art museum....the Brandywine River Museum. What a beautiful place to spend a morning (and into the afternoon as it turned out...yeah for having no schedule!). Our local museum is filled with fabulous art work, especially from the Wyeths, wonderful childrens' programs, and a beautiful river to hang around after our visit. I mean, really, you can't come to the Brandywine River Museum without hanging out on Miss Gratz and Helen, the resident cow and pig statues that reside outside of the museum and beckon my children to climb on them! :)

A view of the river on this dreary and beautiful November day. One thing that I love is viewing the river in all seasons. In the summer and warm months, we picnic out here (ok, we actually picnic year round, even at times in the snow or rain), in the fall, we view the leaves turning crimson, and in the winter, we see the shadows of the leafless branches in the water. We notice how the current is moving, and we always know if it has rained a lot from the level of the river. We definitely feel at home out here.

My lens was partially covered in this picture, though I think it looks pretty neat this way. Here, all four of my explorers are sitting on Miss Gratz, the cow.

Another beautiful view of the river, with a railroad trestle in the distance.

I feel so lucky to live in the Brandywine Valley! After spending a fun morning at this museum, we took a small detour on the way home through the Brandywine Battlefield, where Washington's troops fought (and lost) a battle against General Howe and the British troops on Sept. 11, 1777. Very cool stuff!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

November 12th in Pictures

Our resident computer expert.....Amelia!

Fashions for Felicity by Maddie!

Lots of Guess Who? playing with Ben and Leah.

A successful trip to the dentist in the morning led to the acquisition of these vampire teeth.
Self-photography by Ben.

Of course, there was also quilt and blanket making, reading, dancing, webkinz playing, jewelry making, healthy eating, and a trip to the library.
All in all, a beautiful day!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Follow Your Passions......

In our house, we spend our days "Chasing our Passions!" So, here are some of our current passions.....

Mike has started brewing his own beer! His first batch was just bottled and so far it tastes great! We also are fermenting some local apple cider...lots of fun and good gifts for our "Handmade Holiday!"

Books are a passion for all of us in the Rehrman household! Amelia is very passionate about "Katy Kazoo" books, Maddie is enjoying the "Animal Ark" series, Ben and Leah love just about anything that I read to them especially the Arthur books and anything about ducks (for Leah). I am loving "Water for Elephants," and Mike is finally working through (my favorite) Harry Potter series.

We are especially passionate about each other! I LOVE spending each day with my children. What a gift!!!!

I have always been passionate about cooking and eating good and healthy food. Now, I am convinced that to keep the "piggy flu" away, we must feed nothing but healthy food into our bodies! Here is some beautiful swiss chard that I bought from our neighbor, who has a greenhouse. I normally would have this coming from our own garden, but the deer got there before we could! :)

I combine that beautiful swiss chard with ground flax seeds, goji berries, blueberries, cherries, bananas, and anything else that seems yummy and healthy to create a FABULOUS smoothie! Ben, in particular, drinks this ALL DAY! You know what they say? A smoothie a day keeps the doctor away!

Spending time laughing and reading on the sofa. What a way to pass the day!

And I leave you with Ben! He was taking pictures of himself under the blanket for a LONG time! This was the funniest of the bunch. What a spirit that boy has!

So, chase your passions! Let all the wonders of the beautiful world be your teachers! Long live life learners!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Scrabble Time

Amelia and I like to play Scrabble. It's been amazing, really, to watch Amelia spell. She is a wonderful speller, though she does not love to read (incidentally, she IS a great reader). Let me clarify....she doesn't love to read books (except joke books!). She loves to read anything on the computer! She is WILD about the computer! And, because of this passion, she is wild about spelling and typing (and she is darn good, too).

So, today, when she wanted to play Scrabble, I got excited. It is really fun to play first games like Chutes and Ladders and Candy Land with your children. But, for me, I REALLY enjoy playing games like Scrabble, Monopoly, Mancala, and Sorry! It is so much fun! And, as with everything, the learning that comes with each of these games is extraordinary. Today, Amelia was using a calculator to keep score, doing mental math, using a dictionary, not to mention creating really cool words....her highest scoring word was "Ninja." :)

I'm so glad that my children are not learning dictionary skills by being forced to look up words on a worksheet. Much more fun (and REAL) to play Scrabble!


Walking through the woods at Ashland.......

Climbing our favorite tree....a beautiful, Japanese Maple.

Making yummy, healthy treats to share with friends. Leah's sweet hands.

Carving Jack-O-Lanterns.

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A trip to Millers......

On Friday, we took our quarterly (or so) trip to Millers' natural food of my favorite places. It is an Amish run natural food electricity, gorgeous scenery, lots of horse and buggies.....and super prices on bulk grains, seeds, and dried fruits. Always a wonderful time!

I spent a lot of money! $277 to be exact. But, is this really a lot of money??? It seems so when I am writing the check to pay them (and by the way, I love that I can't use my debit card there). I bought lots of organic flours, seeds, nuts, and dried fruits, not to mention a case of organic bananas (much cheaper than buying bunches and bunches). These ingredients will become our smoothies in the morning, our bread and seed butters for lunch, and delicious stews and soups for winter dinners.

I make almost everything homemade, and I love it! I know exactly what I put in our food and what went into making it and even who had their hands in it (me and my children!). So, it might be a whopping $277 for groceries for one day....but think of the savings as I am buying so very little processed food (we all love tortilla chips and some other staples that I haven't tried making yet). Instead of boxes of cereal (bad for the earth, bad for you!), we make our cereal with cheap organic oats ($.85 a pound!) and lots of nutritious toppings. The savings is there, not to mention our health!

(Warning: I will now step onto my soapbox :)
I have been amazed and astounded lately as I see what some people eat! When Maddie was attending school, she would talk about the children who bring "Lunchables." I fully believe that these "lunches" should be against the law! The list of ingredients is as long as the Constitution and just as confusing! :) I always say to my children, "If you don't know what it means, don't eat it!" We also talk about how all food comes from the sun. If you can't trace it back to the sun, don't eat it!

When we are out and about, I see children eating crackers filled with hydrogenated oils, fast food (heaven help me!), artificially colored stuff (WHY???), and other "food" items that are not nourishing and actually harmful! What happened that we think this is the way to feed our children????

Yesterday, while we were watching the Addams Family at my parents' house (a Halloween special), there were commercials. My children are not used to seeing commercials because the only shows that they ever watch are on public tv or a tape. So, they were mesmerized....and I was feeling very critical. As you watch these commercials, it actually makes you feel like goldfish crackers are a healthy choice to feed to your children (and that Lysol bleach is the best thing to clean your even said that it was "pediatrician recommended".....WHAT???). They really make it convincing! It actually makes me (sort of) understand why some people think that cheerios for breakfast, luncheables for lunch, and frozen dinners for dinner are healthy. I said, sort of.

Ok....I'll get off of my soapbox! This is obviously an area that I feel passionate about!

Here, instead, are some pictures of the WHOLE foods that we purchased at Millers and one of the yummy, healthy foods that I CREATED (key word, I think) when we got home.

Happy, healthy noshing, everyone!

Three of the many bags that we purchased at, raw pumpkin seeds, organic coconut, and organic sunflower seeds.....YUM!

Delicious granola made from the organic oats, raisins, and seeds from Millers, along with some of Walt's delicious honey!
Always must walk on the wall on the way into Millers. A must! :)

A very bad picture of a very good thing.....raw, organic pumpkin seeds! Delish and nutrish!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

HOME school???

In our family, we usually say that we "unschool" or "learn naturally" or some other term....really, anything other than HOME schooling works for me. To me, as I've posted before, homeschooling implies sitting at a table at home and doing predetermined curriculum. For me, this is NOT the point of keeping my children out of school. I want them to live in this be a part of it...rather than learning about it from textbooks in or out of school! So, here is a little taste of our living and learning from the last week or so. Enjoy!

Looking for Wooly Bear caterpillars in the garden!

We spot a caterpillar!

Doing pumpkin activities with friends!

Hanging out at historical Valley Forge park. We attended a fabulous homeschool day there! We are so lucky to live in this very beautiful and historical area.

Valley Forge!

Climbing on a cannon at Valley Forge!

Leah playing her new "Penny Whistle" that she bought at VF.

Maddie creating a beautiful fairy home in the woods behind our house.

A fairy home created by our wonderful neighbor, Leslee. We helped adorn it with berries from the woods.

I feel so lucky to spend every day with my children! It is a wonderful journey. And, what a contrast to September....a month of missing Maddie daily and wondering what she was up to, a month of carting her back and forth to school and living by the clock, a month of being disgusted by what she was learning and how she was learning it. Enough of the negative! Our life is so positive! I love exploring this beautiful world with my family! Unschooling rocks!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Little John Holt Inspiration....

"Among the many things I have learned about children, learned by many, many years of hanging out with them, watching carefully what they do, and thinking about it, is that children are natural learners."
--John Holt "Learning All the Time"

Leah having a ball at the park! I was thinking about all of the parks that we spend time at throughout the year. As a child, we didn't go to a lot of parks, though I have great parents who took us lots of wonderful places. Upon thinking about it more, I realized that we probably didn't do the park thing because we were in school so much of the time. And, the playground at school is the one that I remember most.

I'm so glad that my kids have the joy of comparing parks. Today, when we arrived at our weekly park day, the kids exclaimed, "Oh, this is my FAVORITE park!" Cool!

Maddie writing down all kinds of information related to her "My Little Ponies." It's amazing how much my children write.....I believe because they are never forced to. Today, Maddie and Amelia wrote SO MUCH! And, all of it was important to them. In the words of Maddie today, "If you give her a Bath Make Shur that you do not get too much watar on her" (writing about Fluttershy).

Ben has been creating AMAZING castles lately! They are very beautiful and almost completely (or completely) symmetrical. What a wonderful way to "learn" about this important mathematical concept. And, so much more fun and natural than circling the symmetrical object on a worksheet. Go Ben!

Amelia reading a library book at our kitchen table. Reading is such a natural part of our day. It is also my favorite part of the day. In particular, I love reading before bed (with a flashlight) in my childrens' room. What a magical time and what adventures we go on! In the last month alone, we have been on the prairie for the book, "Skylark," and to England for a special book called, "Mandy." Now, we are traveling back to WWII with Molly, one of the American Girls.

Yesterday, as the kids and I were waiting for Maddie's tap class to be finished, we watched a 1st grader reading to his mom. Actually, he was reading in order to get an assignment done.....30 minutes of reading each night (ok, I was eavesdropping a's a small room, really!). So, the mom was typing something into her cell phone (oh, I can't stand this!) and he was "reading." Can that really be called reading??? Being forced to read something! Reading is wonderful, magical, an adventure....why should it be forced???? UGH!!!! I'm again so glad to have my children away from school, where they force kids to read! (enough of that soap box)

Let's finish with something positive from one of my favs....John Holt!

"Children learn from anything and everything they see. They learn wherever they are, not just in special learning places. They learn much more from things, natural or made, that are real and significant in the world in their own right and not just made in order to help children learn.........We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions.....and helping them explore the things they are most interested in."

--John Holt "Learning All the Time"

Rock on, John!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Random Acts of Kindness...pass it on!

On the Radical Unschooling yahoo group, Dayna Martin mentioned that her family was trying to intentionally practice "Random Acts of Kindness." This inspired me to have a conversation with my young people and see what they thought. They were excited immediately! In the last few days, this has led to so much awareness of the beauty in others and the kindness that so many others bestow upon our family. Here is a partial list of the kindnesses that I have witnessed in the last few days....

*Maddie, Amelia, and Ben wrote letters to Bubbi (my grandmom who is fairly lonely), GG (my other grandmom) and my mom and dad. All were meant to pick up the spirits of those who will receive them!

*Wel brought pumpkins and warm apple cider to park day to share with us all. Thanks, Wel! This inspired Amelia to want to bake cookies to bring to park day next week. Pass it on...

*Leslee, our wonderful next door neighbor, arranged for the children and I to visit her friend, Jenny today. Jenny has chickens, sheep, a greenhouse, and many other wonderful things to share on her homestead. What a wonderful time chasing the black kitten, feeding the chickens, gathering eggs and Nasturtium seeds, touring the greenhouse, seeing the beehives, ......

*Last week, Leslee, who just retired from working in a school, took a few hours to really show the children and me around her property. She took so much time explaining so many wonderful things and we learned so much. She also said that we were welcome to roam around her meadow and woods whenever we wanted. Her passion for nature inspired us to create fairy homes for the rest of the afternoon!

*Amelia is having a bike rally to raise money for JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation). She created a flyer on the computer and wanted to make copies of it to distribute around our area. The man at the copy store this afternoon made her 50 copies at no charge because he thought it was amazing of her to do this, and he wanted to support her!

*Mike, my wonderful husband, who was always a doubter of unschooling (until Maddie and Amelia actually went to school) left me a fabulous, positive comment on my last post supporting our unschooling ways. Yeah!

Kindness is everywhere! And, when you start to really notice it, life becomes even more beautiful!

We are Back!

We are back! Back to "unschooling," back to living out our passions day after day, back to living together in joy, back to spending our days together....back to OUR basics.

After sending Maddie and Amelia to school this year, I quickly realized that I had made a mistake. No, I take that back. It wasn't a mistake. I had to see for myself what school would be like for them. Yet, it was full of all the things that I no longer believe in.....learning that is not meaningful, extrinsic rewards, a condescending attitude towards children (not that I ever believed in that), living our day by the clock (when to take and pick up), and a clear lack of FREEDOM, in every sense of the word.

It clearly was not the right place for my children!

So, now we are back to living each day filled with all of the important stuff of life........

Hours at the library finding treasures, followed by lots of reading!

Science experiments at the table totally thought up by Amelia! Testing to see what liquids will make pennies shine the most. Ben and Leah are in the background experimenting with their favorite....baking soda and vinegar. Volcano, anyone??? :)

Creating fairy homes in our yard on a beautiful autumn day. Enjoying nature!

Maddie's natural enthusiasm as she is explaining to me about a new project that she wants to try. She read about this in a book.....she is going to send a small stuffed animal to a pen pal in Maine who will then send it on to someone else, all the time writing about the animal's adventures. Cool!

My feet are now back on the ground. I feel confident knowing that I am doing the best thing for my children by keeping them home...... No, not home, but in the world.....EXPLORING our world everyday!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Adam and Jen Get Married!

My brother has been together with Jen for a long time long as Maddie and Amelia have been on our Earth! So, it was quite exciting when Adam (finally:) asked her to marry him last summer. They originally were going to get married in Philadelphia, which made sense for many reasons....most of all it is closer to most of the people who would be attending. But, as Adam and Jen always do, they went with their guts and decided to have the wedding on a beautiful farm in the Catskill Mountains of New York! I admire them in so many ways! And, I am inspired by them! Their wedding was so beautiful, creative, intimate, REAL, inspiring, FUN, and especially full of JOY! Here are some of the highlights, though the entire 4 days that we spent celebrating their committment to each other was full of joy....from the rainy rehearsal to the fireworks and bonfire after the wedding to the dancing (and especially the raised chairs during "Hava Nagila" the toasts, the beautiful crafty decorations by Jen....the list could continue for quite some time. We will always remember this fabulous time! Thanks, Adam and Jen!!!

My brother, Adam, fishing in the 40 ft. pond on the farm. Adam recently took up fly fishing.....inspiring how he keeps learning and trying new adventures in his life!

The children and I collected these apples (and ate many, many more) from the beautiful, old apple trees on the farm. Ben also fed countless to his favorite, the pigs!

Mike and I are ready for the wedding to begin!

Chowing after the ceremony on yummy cheeses and crackers.

Adam and Jen during the ceremony, high on a hill, with the beautiful Catskill Mountains in the background, standing under the Chuppah that Mike and Jen made (Mike made the structure and Jen the fabulous fabric that adorned the top), declaring their committment to each other. I was especially moved by their REAL words and obvious love for each other. This is the start of another adventure for them. And, for me, it was an inspiration to have as many adventures as I can. After all, life is short. And, life is good!