Snake in the House (or How I Showed my True Colors)

I always considered myself to be fairly tough. I don’t scare easily. I grew up with 5 brothers and a small “wilderness” to explore, so I felt I could handle myself. Well, yesterday as I was walking out to water my garden after we got home from the park, I saw a black thing on the corner of the house. I thought, what is Caleb’s toy snake hanging around out here, and then I gave a muffled scream. It wasn’t a toy.

It was a 4 foot long black snake. It looked like it had been about to climb up the corner of my house to wear some birds were nesting in my eaves. It scared the wits out of me. I am partial to those birds, and opposed to snakes hanging onto my house, so I knocked him off with the broom. Then I went about my business.

Caleb was tracking him, and he was slithering along the side of the house, until he past the door to the basement, which has a broken storm door, that is perpetually propped open. Then he hid behind that and was trapped–this was when I finally thought to grab my camera to take a really lousy photo.



You can sort of see it. I wish I had thought to grab the camera before I knocked it off the house. And I didn’t get a chance to snap any more pictures, because he started crawling up the wall (Caleb was watching him), and then he disappeared. My guess is that he went under the siding and into the house.

I figured this was the last of him (and I really didn’t want to think of him (or HER!) in the house at all). We carried on with the day. Mostly playing monopoly-Caleb went to a neighbor’s house to swim. That night, I went up to take a cold shower to cool off before bed (it’s been HOT). After my shower I went back in the bathroom to brush my hair or teeth or something, and there he was.

I freaked out, and shut the bathroom door and stuffed a sheet under the door. Caleb came up and I had to open the door to show him. The snake was crawling under the bathtub (the board hiding the piping behind the bathtub was popped off (by me earlier). I didn’t know how to get him out, so I opened the window (no screen), and shut the door, and hoped he’d climb out in the night.

We went to bed still a little freaked, and read for a while. Then we went out to get a glass of water, and saw the snake downstairs! In the living room! He slithered into the foyer, and I tried to deter him from going up the steps with the broom. I opened the door in hopes I could just push him outside.

I was trying to manage this snake that was hissing at me and rattling his tail (which didn’t have a rattle on it). It was about eleven at night. I was in my sports bra with no shirt, because it was so hot. I was yelling at the snake, waving a broom, if any of the neighbors saw me, they would have thought I had finally lost it.

I almost had him out the door, when he slithered under the door, and back along the wall, and down the heat vent. That did it. I was appalled. The heating ducts go to every room in the house, including my bedroom! We went up to bed and stuffed the heat vent full of clothes.

Caleb finally fell asleep sometime after midnight, but I barely slept a wink. All I could think about when I closed my eyes was the snake crawling across the floor into my bed. I left the light on all night. Sometime around 2 or 3 am, I thought I heard a bird shriek. But it could have been a cat. I had the fan running, so it was hard to tell.

After dozing off a little when the sky was lightening, I got up and searched the house: boots on, broom in hand. I didn’t find him. I am hoping he ate the damn birds, and went back to the woods away from the crazy human with a broom.

Honestly, I had no idea that I was this afraid of non-venomous snakes. I didn’t really scream and act all girly, but I really wished there was another person there to be the strong one. I’m generally that person when it comes to bugs, mice, even snakes outside. My mom likes to tell the story of how I let go a water snake that my brother had caught when I was little. I let it go right back into the pond that we swam in. And I was the one my roommates turned to on my senior trip when there was a GIANT cockroach in the bathtub.

But a snake in my house is like my worst nightmare. I had many snake dreams growing up, but the one that was the most reoccurring was that there was a hole near my bed where a snake would crawl out. Those dreams were terrifying. But I would never have said I have a horror of snakes or anything. I wouldn’t want one for a pet, but outside I think they are really cool.

Inside, they turn me into a shivering mess.



Adopting a 12 year old

Jupee goes for a bus ride.

Jupee goes for a bus ride.

We travel frequently. My family lives in NJ, my brothers live in Washington, DC, and I miss all of them. I only drive back once a year though, at Christmas. The rest of the time I take Megabus. It’s cheaper than driving, and I don’t worry the whole way whether my 19 year old car will break  down.

This time when we left NJ to go back home, it was pouring rain. We dashed from my dad’s car into the bus, and still got quite soaked. Fortunately though, we still snagged our favorite seats: the back row of the double decker bus, 5 seats in a row.

The bus driver climbed up to the top deck, and asked if anyone would be willing to take responsibility for a 12 year old. I took a quick second to realize she wasn’t asking for adoptions, just a token adult for some poor kid that needed to take the bus. No one else was saying anything, so I volunteered.

A woman and a girl got onto the bus. I think she was the girl’s aunt or something. The aunt made sure this was okay with me, and okay with the girl’s parent, and we were off (with copious thanks directed my way). The girl kept saying, “I was so afraid I wasn’t going to get to go!”

Apparently they were standing out in the rain while the bus driver told them she couldn’t ride without an adult. Apparently you have to be SEVENTEEN to ride the bus without an adult.

She sat in the back with us, and I asked her about her trip. She was from Atlanta, GA. This summer she had already been to Texas and Philadelphia with a day in New York City to visit family, and now she was on her way to see her dad in Pittsburgh.

She clearly would have been fine without sitting next to us, but probably had more fun this way with people to talk to and Caleb to entertain. I felt like I should have been hiring her as a babysitter. She was also able to use my USB plug to charge her Kindle Fire. She was self-possessed and well-spoken, not shy, not obnoxious. She had snacks and money and stuff to do.

All I could think about was that she would have been left in Philly if I hadn’t been on the bus. Our society’s mistrust of children is so great, that we think they need keepers at all times. How many kids her age would love to be able to travel around the country in the summer visiting friends and family? Parents have to work, but kids could visit aunts and uncles and grandparents that they rarely get to see, if only they were allowed out on their own.

Seeing the girl jump into her father’s arms when we got to Pittsburgh made me happy and sad at the same time. Happy that she got to go; sad that she was this close to being left. Maybe someone else would have spoken up (though the silence was deafening), but people think of children as a burden–people to be trained and managed, and certainly not to be trusted.

It also got me scheming to find a way around this ridiculous restriction for Caleb’s future sake. I fully intend to put him on a bus when he’s older to visit family sometimes without me. If for no other reason (since I can “take off” work whenever I want) than for him to have the experience of being on his own.

Maybe I could get there early and go up and down the line looking for a likely candidate to “sponsor” him. Maybe I could instruct him to fake an adult already on the bus. Maybe I could buy an extra seat and check in, but not get on the bus. Maybe I could work to change this rule by then.

Any ideas?

Solstice Pie-Fresh Strawberry and Blueberry Pie

Happy Solstice! We are celebrating the longest day of the year today.


We got up early (though not at sunrise as we had planned).

We had waffles for breakfast (even though it’s not pancake day!).

I finished digging up another large-ish part of my yard and planted potatoes in it (about 3 months late…).

We went to the lake all afternoon.

When we got home we made a fresh strawberry/blueberry pie (recipe to follow), and had burrito bowls for dinner (everything that we would put in a burrito, without the tortilla). Then we ate our pie!

After dinner, we were about to go for a bike ride, when we saw fireworks shooting off downtown. We dashed down the hill, dropped our bikes, searched like mad for the keys, and drove downtown just in time to catch the grand finale. Caleb was happy. 🙂

Fresh Strawberry/Blueberry Pie Recipe (sweetened with xylitol)


I looked up a few recipes for this pie, and then just sort of winged it. We split the pie, because Caleb has something against blueberries. I used a graham cracker crust, because I was feeling lazy.

2-3 cups of blueberries
2-3 cups of strawberries, sliced (or 5 or 6 cups of one or the other)
Cook half the blueberries in a saucepan with…
-2 tablespoons of water
-3 tablespoons of xylitol crystals (or sugar)
-1 tablespoon of corn starch
Bring the mixture to a boil for about 2 minutes.
Then mix the uncooked berries with the cooked blueberries.
Then do the same thing for the strawberries.
Then spoon the mixture into your pie crust.
Chill the pie for an hour or 2 or more and serve (whipped cream is nice on top).

I hope you enjoyed the longest day of the year too. Do you have any solstice traditions?

Routines, Rhythms, Schedules, etc.

There is a commonly held assumption that a schedule or a routine is something that someone else (a parent, a school, a daycare) imposes on you. In unschooling, we tend to avoid imposing on our children, so the idea of unschoolers having a scheduled day seems antithetical.
I like the Waldorf idea of having a rhythm to your days/weeks/years. Rhythm is just what you do in your days. Creating a more rhythmic week means being more intentional to do the same things on the same days–and eliminating the things that disrupt the rhythm (but not eliminating the things that break up the rhythm in a good way).
Children (and really most of us humans) like our days to be predictable. But children need this more, because they aren’t the ones in control of the day usually. Children tend to be dragged around here and there, without understanding the reasons behind the chaos.
In Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne, he gives a good summary of children’s need for rhythm and transparency in the schedule. He also gives good suggestions for parents that have crazy work schedules to help their children cope with the constant changes. This quote is the way I think about our rhythm:

“Meaning hides in repetition:  We do this every day or every week because it matters.  We are connected by this thing we do together.  We matter to one another.  In the tapestry of childhood, what stands out is not the splashy, blow-out trip to Disneyland but the common threads that run throughout and repeat:  the family dinners, nature walks, reading together at bedtime, Saturday morning pancakes.” – Kim John Payne

– See more at:

Having a routine lets you be spontaneous. If I have a routine that keeps me caught up with work, it allows me to drop everything on a Wednesday in October that happens to be gorgeous and head to the lake for the day.
We naturally develop routines, even when we are on vacation.
Our rhythm is something like this:
Early Morning (pre-Caleb waking)-computer stuff and basement
Morning (post-Caleb waking)-food, games, stories, playing, garden tour (weeds pulled, checking for damage, harvesting, etc.)
Late morning- more basement for me, usually a video for Caleb unless he’s engaged in something else
Lunch time
Early afternoon- packaging, more play, maybe a story, dinner prep if we’re going to be out late, playing outside
Late afternoon- post office (quick stop), library, pool, track, baseball, park, plus any errands that need doing –obviously we don’t do that all on the same day that’s where the weekly rhythm comes in
Dinner time
Evening-walk or, lately, bike ride after dinner down to the steel mill
Before bed-clean up the toys, the dinner, vacuum, have a bed time snack (Caleb) and tea (also Caleb)
Bedtime-brush teeth, read story in bed, turn out light, have tickle time, then [try to be patient] at Caleb until he finally stops jumping all over the bed and goes to sleep 🙂
We never drive anywhere in the mornings, except Monday when we meet people at the park for my running group. And when we do have to go somewhere in the morning, Caleb is not happy about it.
I try to keep to a weekly routine as well, though I’m not where I’d like to be with that. One thing that I want to work on is streamlining my errands, particularly work errands (post office, Lowes, Busy Beaver, craft shore, etc.).
Grocery shopping is Tuesday, we have various activities on certain days, we have a meal plan with categories (Monday is mashed potato day, Tuesday is soup and bread, Wednesday is pizza, etc.). Weekends we stay home mostly. I try not to do errands then (this is a hangover from not having a car, the bus didn’t run on Sunday and only limitedly on Saturday). During warm season, we might go to the pool or creek in the afternoons. Saturday morning we always have pancakes. Sundays we almost always have a bonfire in the backyard.
In the summer, I would like to go to the lake every Friday, but that depends on the weather, and whether or not we are going to be in Pittsburgh over the weekend for a craft show or something. I don’t like to do more than one long drive (30 minutes or more) per week. Your rhythm will change with the seasons as well, but some things will stay the same.
I think there is a difference between kids that have been in school or living in a rigid schedule of someone else’s enforcing, and kids that are used to being in charge of their own time. There is an adjustment period.
When I left the world of being a student and an employee for self-employment and motherhood, it was a few years before I really started taking charge of the day. I had spent my entire life with someone else setting my schedule, telling me what to do, and abruptly losing that is an adjustment (a good one, but it takes time).
After 6 years of being alternatively employed and 4 years of having my own business, I feel like I’m finally hitting my stride. My hope for Caleb is that he will be self-directed all his life. I provide him with a safe, comfortable routine, but ultimately he decides what he’s going to do for his day-to-day learning.
Routines provide stability and security for children, and the children that need that the most structure are the ones that haven’t had it. If you have a baby and you are always there for the baby, and then you are always there for the toddler and the child, he will be more able to handle a flexible schedule.
My son and I have had a variety of living arrangements (including living in a van) and crazy schedules (getting up at 3 am to deliver newspapers), but the constant thing has been me–taking care of him, always being there when he needs me. Children that don’t have the security of a stable caregiver, can find security in the routine of the day. But children that are at home or with people that love them all day, may not have the same need for order and rhythm to their days.

Free to Learn by Peter Gray


If you’ve done any extended reading on unschooling online, you’ve no doubt come across some of Peter Gray’s articles. He writes a blog for Psychology Today called Freedom to Learn. I’ve enjoyed his articles for years, so when I found out that he just came out with a book, I snapped it up.

The book is about how children and all people learn better when they are playing or have a playful attitude. Of course children have the most to learn, so they play the most. That is, when they are free to do what they want, they play.

Gray analyzes the path humans took from hunting and gathering to agriculture to industry to the present, and how the role of children changed over the years.

“Thus, the ideal hunter-gathere is assertive, willful, creative, and willing to take risks, hunter-gatherers’ permissive parenting served well to foster those traits.”

As humans moved to agriculture and then to feudal societies (rather than the democratic societies of the hunter-gatherer bands), obedience and work in the fields were valued above all else. Children were beaten into submission by parents who were beaten into submission by their lords.

“In medieval society, the life purpose of those in the lower classes was to serve and obey those above them. It was in this way that education became synonymous with obedience training. Willfulness and the spirit of freedom had to be beaten out of people to make them good servants.”

There is a great section in the book about the Catholic church and how they had a monopoly on knowledge during the Middle Ages (or they wanted to have a monopoly). The early religious schools were not designed to foster free thought, they were designed to foster obedience and make sure that children learning the “right” knowledge.

Later on as protestantism spread, they started schools as well. But as in Catholic schools, “The primary method of instruction in the early Protestant schools was rote memorization. The goal was indoctrination, not inquisitiveness. The schools were designed to enforce the Protestant work ethic. Learning was understood to be work, not play.” Sound familiar?

He shows how the obedience model that served religious schools so well was co-opted by the state, when they also got interested in schooling as a means for controlling learning and attitudes.

But the history of schooling is only a small section of the book. For the rest, he cites studies after study that shows that people that play learn better and faster than those that are stressed, forced, and rewarded.

He also makes a strong case that free play is essential for kids psychological well-being, and that by removing it, our society has caused the rise of childhood suicides and anxiety disorders.

“Free play is nature’s means of teaching children that they are not helpless. In play, away from adults, children really do have control and can practice asserting it. In free play, children learn to make their own decisions, solve their own problems, create and abide by rules, and get along with others as equals…”

He also discusses the Sudbury Valley School (a free school) at length to show how children learn when they are not coerced.

Free to Learn is the best book I have read on education in a long time, maybe ever. It’s well researched, surprising, yet you feel like you already knew these things. I think everyone should read this book. Even if you never plan on homeschooling or alternative schooling, the information in this book is important for everyone to know.

I’ll leave you with this quote:

“Nothing that we do, no amount of toys we buy or “quality time” or special training we give our children, can compensate for the freedom we take away. The things that children learn through their own initiatives, in free play, cannot be taught in other ways.”

You can read the prologue here.

Make Your Own Toy Bow (and arrows)

Caleb was off most of the afternoon playing with the neighborhood kids. One of the kids had a toy bow and arrow. Therefore, Caleb came back asking me to look for “the cheapest bow and arrow at Walmart.”

Like I was really going to buy a bow and arrow (it was $16, by the way). I do make toys for a living.

So we set off into the brush by our house to look for a bow. There is a willow tree back there, half fallen down, but still alive and growing. Willow is nice and bendy, so I cut a piece that was between 3/4″ and maybe 5/8″ in diameter.

I drilled holes in the 2 ends (yes I know they are supposed to be notches, but this seemed easier and less likely to come off) and found some string that I think I bought for a clothes line, but Caleb had found it and cut it into pieces. Before I threaded the bow, I peeled the bark off the willow branch to make it look nicer. Then, I tied the string on the ends, pulling the string through the second hole to bend the branch to make a proper bow. Then I tied it tight.

And voila! There was a bow.


The neighbor kids came back while I was making this and wanted bows of their own. So I cut 2 more branches (the 3rd kid had the store bought bow) and drilled 4 more holes.


I turned the peeling and threading over to them (Caleb helped with theirs), and then tied the knots for them. I also made a crude arrow for Caleb by sawing a notch in the end of a relatively straight stick and sharpening the point. I turned the rest of the arrow making over to them.


How long will these last? I don’t know. When the branches dry out, they will no doubt break (the sad end of all my willow whips as a child as well). How do they work? Decent enough. They won’t be killing any wild animals with them, but that’s fine with me! Most importantly, we fulfilled a desire with no money, no trips to the store, and delighted multiple children. Talk about instant gratification!

Mineral Springs, lakes, and the proper way to cut 2 strawberries (acc. to C)


Last week we went to the lake, and stopped off on our way to check out the Mineral Springs. They were gorgeous, and Caleb had a good time dragging around logs to make cannons and barricades and whatnot.



Then we went to the lake, and there were lakes and canals built. You can see my new sailboat (that really sails) floating around there too.

Now Caleb will demonstrate the proper way to cut two strawberries at a time…



Yes, he’s using a sharp knife. He’s used sharp knives since he was two, I would say. Though when he was younger, there was closer supervision. But surprisingly (or not), he has been very careful with them. If he’s chopping something round (carrots, onions, potatoes, etc.), I cut them in half for him first, so they are stable. He’s never once cut himself in 6 years. I certainly can’t say that about myself! When we get older, I think we are less wary of certain dangers and less careful than a child might be.

It was funny. A family I babysat for wouldn’t let their 8 and 10 year olds use sharp knives, and there I was encouraging my 2 year old to cut up mango pieces for my salad. Trust your kids. Round tipped knives can be used if you are worried about them poking their eye out. Model for them safe ways to cut things. Let them start out with soft things, and gradually move to more difficult things as they feel ready.

May Giveaway Winner + June Giveaway + New Toys

Hey, everybody, May has come and gone, and I forgot to even announce what the giveaway was going to be for the month. So I guess we’ll keep it the same as for April. Mollie won for May, because she had the most comments for the month. She’ll get a set of African Animals III (that’s the one with the monkey, the crocodile, and the zebra).

For next month, I’ll be giving away a set of hardwood cars to the person with the most interesting comment (decided arbitrarily by me). So let me know what you think of my posts everybody (and of course, you don’t have to be agreeing with me to win). Also, I’d like to hear what people want to read about this month, so idea comments are definitely included.

Of course, you haven’t seen the hardwood cars yet, because I just made them. So here they are:



They are really smooth, and I love the contrasting colors. You can buy them here.

My recent post where I pleaded for people to stop telling their children that they were clumsy was far and away the most popular post I’ve ever had. I’m not sure if it was because people agreed with me, or they disagreed with me, or my catchy title drew them in (and then they backed away slowly from the crazy lady with the wild child).

I’ve been battling the groundhog this week. Although he’s definitely had the best of me–or rather the best of my kale, collards, and lettuce. I’ll be making moveable cages this week to protect my crops, so stayed tuned for that. I have a ant-detterent post coming plus post about line drying your clothes. So stay tuned, and comment to win free toys!