Getting Along

Part of unschooling, homeschooling, and life in general is just being able to get along with each other. Getting along is a huge part of unschooling/homeschooling. I’ve heard more than one parent say they gave up on homeschooling, because they couldn’t stand to be around each other all day.

I’ve been feeling like that myself the past month. For whatever reason, things have been rather contentious around here. I haven’t considered sending him to school, but I’ve wished I could ship him off somewhere for a while.

Yesterday morning, I sat down with my planner and listed the times and events that lead to harsh words and conflict. Then I considered ways that the conflict could be avoided. Since we are a one parent/one child household, all the conflict is between the two of us, so none of my solutions take into account sibling conflict-for that you’ll have to go elsewhere.


Our main source of conflict is me being in a hurry-usually pertaining to getting to the post office on time, but also for various other appointments we have.

The solution is getting ready early, really, really early, much earlier than I think I need to be ready. Because with kids, something always comes up. Snacks are needed, boots can’t be found, and feet are always, always being dragged.

I say, “with kids,” but in reality, it’s often me holding us up. It takes longer than I think to package up orders. I can’t find my [fill in the blank with whatever I misplaced today]. When we rushing around looking for our keys, worrying about being late, this is not the time that we are gentle and patient with our kids.

So get ready early. 

Mealtimes and snacks can be troublesome too. Isn’t it always the case that as soon as you start working or getting ready for bed that your kid wants a snack? And mealtimes, particularly dinner, can feel like so much work that we sometimes skip them all together in favor of eating junk.

The solution to this is similar to the prior solution: get ready early. Plan for snacks. Plan your meals, and maybe even start the prep before the week even begins.

I am going to start having a prep day every week. On Sundays, I’ll prep whatever I can for the coming week’s dinners, and also prepare snacks that my son likes. It’s helpful to make big batches of biscuits, muffins, and other breads and keep them in the freezer for snacks and to go with dinner.

Also I’m going to make sure I have dinner ready to put on the stove or in the oven or already in the crockpot, before we leave for any afternoon outings. Most afternoons we go to the gym for basketball, tag, running, and swimming. When we get home, it’s dinnertime, but I also don’t really feel like getting dinner. But if I prep dinner in the morning. All I have to do is dump it in the pot, and turn on the burner.


AKA the worst time of day. At bedtime, I’m ready crash. I work hard (sometimes), and I get up early (mostly). My son, on the other hand, is ready to wrestle, do flips on the bed, and always wants four different snacks (I exaggerate).

Mostly though, the problems we have at bedtime are problems of rushing. I’m in a hurry to sleep; he wants to play with me. When we get up to bed before I get too tired, I can handle this, but when it’s already ten o’clock and we have to get through a story yet, I have no patience for games.

I keep coming up with the same solution to all my problems. Get ready Early. Turn off the computer an hour before bed. Go upstairs for teeth brushing and story reading way before you think you need to. Take the time to play some games before sleeping (in bed, with the lights off).


This is a weird one. Sometimes he’ll want a bath every night, but other times, he treats the idea of bathing with complete horror and disdain. Now there is no need for daily bathing for kids (as espoused in this Washington Post article), but at least a couple times a week is my minimum. Plus when he’s enjoying himself in the tub, it’s so peaceful.

Apparently there are whole websites with ideas to make bath time more attractive to children. Bath Activities for Kids is quite entertaining. I bought a 20 pack of glow sticks from Dollar Tree, and Caleb had a glowing bath last week.

The other night I offered to have a pillow fight with him after he got out of the bath, and that was a very attractive incentive to get clean.


I hesitate to even put this one in there, because he doesn’t really have regular chores, beyond taking out the compost, but he does do chores for other things: money, extra screen time, etc. I loosely subscribe to the radical unschooling idea of chores (delineating on Sandra Dodd’s website here), which is kids that are encouraged (help is requested but not demanded), but not forced to do chores will have a better attitude toward work and helping out in general. It definitely does eliminate the fighting around doing chores.

But cleaning up toys is not on my list of things I want to do, especially legos. We’ve worked out a pretty good system for after dinner clean up. We have a race. I do the dishes and clean up the kitchen, and he cleans up his toys. Whoever wins get bragging rights (if he’s reluctant one night, actual prizes may be given out– i.e. a quarter, an extra cookie, etc).

Schoolwork, of course, we don’t do. Next week I’ll expound on why I think “schoolwork” is a blatant waste of time.

What areas are contentious in your home? Can you think of ways to smooth over the problems? Look at your fights from your child’s point of view. Watch your tone–would you speak like that to an adult that you liked?


Replacing Bad Habits with Good Habits

What I’ve learned over the past week is that simply cutting out a bad habit is not very effective if you don’t replace it with a good habit.

I cut out television, but rather than cleaning the house, working more, or doing more things with my son—for the most part, I spent more time online doing various unimportant things. I played umpteen games of scrabble on the Internet Scrabble Club. I read an entire book (300+ pages) in one sitting while my son was busy elsewhere. I knocked out another book in 2 days.

Television was just a symptom of the problem. My problem was that I put off doing less pleasant tasks (or tasks that I perceive as less pleasant) for distractions.

I’m glad I’m reading more, but I can get just as hooked on a book as a TV show. In fact it’s even easier. I can read a book anywhere at anytime.

What I need to do is to create a plan of action. It’s not enough to just say that I will only watch TV on Fridays. I need to plan a way to do all the other things I want to do that I let television steal time from.

In Superhuman By Habit by Tynan, he suggests making a list to discover what your motivation is to create a new habit.

  1. What good things will happen if I implement this habit?
  2. What bad things will happen if I implement this habit?
  3. What good things will happen if I don’t implement this habit?
  4. What bad things will happen if I don’t’ implement this habit?

When I decided that television was a problem to be eliminated, I just assumed that all that TV time would turn into being-more-responsible time. Wrong!

Alcoholics that quit drinking are notorious for taking up smoking with a vengeance. When smokers quit, they have to be careful not to start overeating to deal with stress. Smoking is a problem, but just because you quit, doesn’t mean your health problems are over.

You need to retrain yourself to deal with stress and boredom in healthy, constructive ways.

What I really need is a systematic approach to recognize time-wasters and postpone them until I have completed my goals for the day.

The Incentive Myth and Unschooling

During the industrial era, factory owners found that they could improve their employees’ productivity by offering monetary incentives. This worked well for the boring, repetitive nature of factory work, and it continued to work for office laborers where the work was still mostly repetitive and routine. Tasks to complete were spelled out clearly, and all the employees needed to do was follow directions.

The monetary incentive provided sufficient motivation to increase their productivity.

The problem with traditional schooling is that it treats learning like factory work. That it is something unpleasant. Learning it is boring and repetitive, and students need to be bribed (or punished) in order to do it. You memorize x, y, and z, and we’ll give you a carrot. But true learning isn’t factory work. It’s creative work.

Motivation works differently for creative work.

In his book, The Myths of Creativity, David Burkus asserts that management style needs to evolve as employees’ jobs have evolved. According to a recent study by the consulting firm McKinsey and Company, almost seventy percent of new jobs created are creative in nature, where there are no set of instructions to follow and creative problem solving is needed.

Multiple studies have found that creativity diminishes in the presence of incentives to be more creative. The extrinsic motivator of money is not powerful enough to activate the creative thinking process. Incentives directly interfere with the creative process. When extrinsic motivators are present, they divert attention away from the problem.

In one study that Burkus cites, the researchers found that work that artists were commissioned to do was rated as less creative by a panel of judges that didn’t know which pieces were commissioned and which were not.

What we need, Burkus points out, is a way to increase intrinsic motivation. When people are excited about a project, when they are interested in it regardless of immediate compensation, that’s when they do their most creative work.

Some businesses have come up with new ways to increase their employees’ intrinsic motivation. Or rather, ways to get out of their employees’ way, and set them free to work from their intrinsic motivation. In creative work, you don’t need to create motivation, because there is plenty of interest and intrinsic motivation inherent in the work already.

They set aside time for their employees to work on projects that they are interested in. Projects that are outside of their daily work. From ten or fifteen percent of a workweek (3M) to a whole month at the company 37 Signals, companies are encouraging their employees to think beyond a prescribed set of duties.

Extrinsic motivation– like a paycheck or a bonus– can compel you to make the car, but intrinsic motivation can spark the idea of how to make the car better. Extrinsic motivation–like a good grade– can make you memorize the primary exports of Angola, but intrinsic motivation can lead you to learn everything you can about the country, it’s history, it’s relationship with neighboring countries.

Think of all the times you learned things in school, because if you did, they would give you an A. How long did you remember what you “learned.” Then think of the times you were interested in something, and learned about it of your own free will.

Learning is inherently creative, not boring or repetitive. When you are following your own intrinsic desire to learn about a topic, you remember what you learned. You think of ways that your knowledge connects to other things that you already know– or other things that you suddenly want to know about.

You come up with ways to find out what you desire to know, unique ways, ways that are suited both to your motivation and the way that you learn and remember things.

Companies want their employees to further the growth of the company. Parents want their children to further their education.

Mostly, like the aforementioned companies, we just need to get out of our children’s way. But, like businesses that have found ways to align their extrinsic motivation with their employee’s intrinsic motivation, as parents, we can find ways to align our desires for a well-rounded education with our children’s desire to  achieve mastery and acquire knowledge.

Games are an ideal facilitator.

Games demand problem solving, but aren’t particular about the way you go about it. For example, to play games successfully, it’s important to know how to keep score. Keeping score involves math. So kids learn enough math to allow them to play the game, but they are free to learn it anyway they want.

Caleb first learned about the concept of negative numbers by playing Dutch Blitz. Being in the red is a novel concept for a four year old, but with the example of the game and help from the other players, he gained a strong concept of adding and subtracting using negative numbers.

By allowing kids to solve problems creatively, games encourage kids to come up with unique methods of learning. The way they learn will be tailored to the way that they learn best, because they are in control.

When we started playing Scrabble, my son couldn’t really read and only knew a small number of simple words. He had to look up every word he wanted to make: going from his letters to a word on a list (rather than thinking of a word and checking his spelling). Games took FOREVER!

But as time went on, he learned words and an understanding of spelling at a ridiculous rate of speed. He thought about words when we weren’t playing. We would be driving along in the car and out of the blue he’d say, “Skating is a seven letter word.” Or one day when he was laying in bed and wasn’t feeling well, he sniffled, “I know how to spell Quiet.”

He tried to figure out the most points you could get from a single play (quizzical was his word, it would span 2 triple letter scores and have the Z on the double letter score spot).

Within 6-8 months of playing regularly, he is now able to beat me (if the stars (tiles) align correctly). He memorized 2 letter words and high-point value words without even trying. He can effectively use -ing endings to get seven letter words. He’s on his way to becoming an excellent Scrabble player, and he is building a strong foundation in spelling and reading.

That’s the power of intrinsic motivation.

Project Tuesday

Project Tuesday is the day of the week where I set aside time to do a project with Caleb. I tried to launch this idea last fall, and it never caught on very well until this year. I realized that mornings are just not a good time for us. In the mornings, I’m either working or thinking about working or we’re playing games together. Mr brainwave was to try doing our project in the evening after dinner. Bingo.

Lesson learned: if your new idea isn’t catching on, try changing the time of day.

Woodworking projects are high on the list, for obvious reasons, but this week Caleb said he wanted to do something with glitter glue.

Google suggested glitter keys, so that’s where we started. We attempted to put glitter glue on the top of the keys and spread it around like the directions said. It was a total failure.

Then we got out newly purchased glitter and Mod Podge. We spread the Mod Podge on the key, and shook glitter all over it, and that actually worked. Ours don’t look as nice as some of the ones you can find online, but at least now we can tell the side door keys apart from the front door keys.


Of course a few keys weren’t enough, so we started making designs on paper with glue and sprinkling it liberally with glitter. Somehow glitter seems to make everything more fun.

Even playdough. We took the excess glitter from shaking it off the paper and dumped into homemade playdough.


There is something wild about measuring out 1/3 of a cup of salt for a recipe.

This is our favorite playdough recipe.

1 cup of flour
2 tsp of cream of tarter
1/3 cup of salt
1 cup of water
1 tablespoon of oil
food coloring (we like to use LOTS)

So far this month for Project Tuesday, we’ve made paper snowflakes and a wooden penny shooter.

For March I have some fun “windy” projects planned. We’re going to make a kite, a wind spinner, and more.


successful life is a life filled with successful habits. But every time I try to establish better habits, I am NOT successful.

To be fair, I have been moderately successful in keeping the house slightly better, being more productive at work, and my diet has improved since I was in college. But I’ve rarely managed to establish habits that make these things automatic, rather than a constant struggle.

Tynan, the man behind a very practical blog, recently published a new book entitled Superhuman By Habit. From his blog, I knew that he had many interesting ideas about creating new habits, so I eventually got around to reading his book (which I read for free with Kindle Unlimited!).

Every Monday, I plan on turning my attention to my habits and using Tynan’s book to illuminate the path ahead.

I will choose 2 habits per month to devote myself to. One will be a subtraction of a bad habit, and the other an addition of a good habit.

“The easiest time to choose a habit is when something is a major impediment in your life, or where there’s one habit that currently extends its negative influence into other areas of your life.” (Superhuman By Habit)

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I binge on tv shows. I can kill most of a day lost in the imaginary world of spies, superheroes, cops, and lawyers. When the fit is upon, it can ruin my life. Or at least put the “life” part of my life on hold.

I’ve tried a variety of ways to stop, and only been temporarily successful.

So first and foremost, my new habits will start with only watching TV on Fridays.

How will I do this?

Tynan points out in his book that our old habits are who we are. It’s the difference between being an early riser and getting up early. Using that thought as my guide, I designed my habit statement as a statement of fact.

I only watch TV on Fridays.

Rather than saying I’m going to try to… or my goal is to… I believe that stating it as a fact will be more motivational to me than “trying” it. So every time I feel the urge to lose myself in all those colorful pixels, I just tell myself, “I only watch TV on Fridays.”

My second habit is an additional thing I want to do every day-cleaning the house.

Now many people already have this habit, and the fact that I can go days (weeks!) without doing more than the dishes and wiping down the bathrooms, would horrify them. Don’t tell my mother!

I’ve tried a variety of things to beat this, but haven’t hit on the key. Again, this time, I tried stating it as a fact:

I clean my house every morning.

I use to send myself an email every morning with these affirmations. So I have to say them out loud to myself every morning. In fact on the first day I did this, I realized that I had not, in fact, cleaned the house that morning, so I started to do it.

My idea of cleaning and your cleaning are certainly not the same. I am giving myself credit on this habit if I spend a mere five minutes straightening things up and wiping things off.

Two or three songs on my ipod, and I can go on with my day.

Well, I’ll report back next Monday with more thoughts on creating good habits. And I’ll let you know if I have missed a day by then.

New Life

For a variety of reasons, I have let the blog slide. It’s hard for me to write when I feel pressed for time or when I feel apprehensive about the future for a specific reason or if I feel like I am not at my best presently. Writing for me comes from a place of peace and safety. When I feel threatened for whatever reason, the words will not come.

Last night I woke up in the middle of the night, and needed a drink. When I turned on the faucet the flow of water didn’t last long, and I realized the water pipe coming into the house under the porch must have frozen again. Rather than have it freeze harder all night, I dragged myself down there and set the hairdryer next to it (it’s on the ground) and went upstairs to wait for it to thaw.

After it thawed, I couldn’t get back to sleep. The worries and cares of the daylight hours had caught up with me. But sometime between 3am and dawn, as I read my book and thought in turns, I came to some decisions and I determined that I would be okay.

I realized that what was truly important was not where we lived, how much money we had (or not), but the way I responded.

The important things were the relationship with my son, my inner growth, our health, and our outlook on life.

Choosing to live in a van for 6 months, living on less than $500 a month, taught me that we can live anywhere. There is great freedom knowing that whatever happens, that you WILL be okay. If you need to live on beans and bananas and cut off the internet, you can do it. If you need to forgo a furnace one winter, you’ll survive. You can live without a car, and live in a car. All of these things, I’ve done. Sure, I like having a car, I LOVE having a furnace, I love having a house. But life isn’t made up of these luxuries. Life is about living.

Being depressed about your lot in life will ruin the Living. Your relationships will go by the wayside while you worry and try to distract yourself. Your health will go hell if you try to distract yourself with crunchy, salty, sugary snacks. And your inner growth can only be furthered by acceptance and growing, not fear and distraction.

So as I dust myself off, I dust off my blog. I hope you’ll continue to read about my quest for good habits and fun as I make toys, raise my son, and un-school the both of us.

Mondays-I’ll be writing about my struggle to establish useful habits referring to Tynan’s excellent book Superhuman By Habit (free with kindle unlimited).

Wednesdays-I’ll write about our Project Tuesday- the day I facilitate my son’s efforts to make something fun and/or useful.

Friday or Saturday-I’ll put up a unschooling/homeschooling post about the ways that we’ve learned things in the past week.

And of course when I make new toys or have a sale or have other business news to relate, I’ll post it here.

New Dollhouse Furniture: The Living Room Set

Hi, quick post today. I just wanted to share my new dollhouse furniture with you. I haven’t had much time to post lately, and I wanted to let you know I haven’t given up on blogging, but I maybe postponing it until January.

Without further ado, here is the furniture:

Living Room Dollhouse Furniture

100_0679 100_0682 100_0678

And remember to order your Christmas toys early. I don’t want anyone to be disappointed on Christmas Day (or whenever it is you celebrate your gift-giving holiday).

Happy Thanksgiving!

What Makes a Happy Home?

I was swinging in my hammock swing reading a book the other day and daydreaming about having enough vegetables and fruit to sell at the farmers’ market. I was thinking that I would need a name for my little enterprise. One of the names that bubbled up was, “Mama’s Happy Homestead” (in keeping with the Mama Made Them “brand”).

But immediately a sarcastic voice popped into my head and put left “Happy” dripping with sarcasm. It made me think of the emotionally scarred children of hippies and fundamentalists whose parents idealistic lifestyle ended up not producing the perfect home that they intended.

And it got me thinking: “what makes a happy home?” How can we conduct our everyday lives to ensure that our homes really are happy?

I know the quote, “Ask yourself whether you are happy and you cease to be so.” (John Stuart Mill) And I think there is some truth to that, but not entirely. If I ask myself whether I’m happy, the answer always comes back Yes. Sure there are details that are missing from my “ideal” life, but I always find myself so tickled that I can raise my son and do work that I love from my own home, that all the other stuff doesn’t really matter.

But just because I am happy, doesn’t mean that my son is (or if I were married and had other kids that the rest of my family is happy). What makes a happy home?

Well, what makes a happy human?

Ha, I am in way over my head, so don’t expect any philosophical treatises on the nature of happiness or anything like that. Let’s keep it simple.


People need to be able to exercise their free will–even children! There are certain limits that we all live under, but children need to be able to feel like they have control over their lives. For us this means that my son doesn’t go to school unless he wants to (to date, he hasn’t wanted to), he isn’t forced to learn anything either. As a parent, it is a constant balancing act between the freedom we can allow and the things which we just can’t. But I have found that the more freedoms you allow, the more trust you gain that the kids can handle it.


A happy home begins and ends with love. And with love we come back to the idea of freedom. A love that controls, that constantly finds fault, a love that doesn’t know when to let go, isn’t the kind of love we want for ourselves, so it shouldn’t be the kind of love that we give our families.

But love also means time together, in fact that is the main way that children (and even adult partners) experience love. Wanting to be around someone. Enjoying their company. Doing things that they enjoy. These are all ways to show love.

Love also means acceptance. How many grown men and women still feel threatened because they feel that their parents do not accept them? Whether it’s their career path, their religion (or the lack thereof), their lifestyle, a lack of acceptance equals a lack of feeling loved. Love means not trying to make your kids into what you wish you were or even what you are.


There can be precious little happiness where we feel threatened. Whether this threat is from physical violence (spankings included) or from emotional/verbal violence, it takes a toll on our mental health. Twice I have lived in situations (as an adult) where there was tension, and you always had to watch your back and be careful what you said, and it’s a terrible way to live. Think how many millions of children live like that their whole childhood.

Safety also means just that: That someone is watching out for us. That there is someone to catch us when we fall. As a believer in freedom, it’s a constant struggle to find the balance between protecting and enabling. The answer (though far from definitive) is to let the child determine your level of involvement. For a baby that means you will be holding them a lot, because that is what makes them feel safe. As a toddler, they’ll want you around. As they get bigger, they will take more and more freedom, but rarely more than they can handle. The important thing is being around to catch them when they’ve bit off more than they can chew.

I have found that allowing my son to determine on his own what he can handle (from climbing on the playground equipment as a crawler to weaning himself to walking over to his friends’ houses on his own to crossing the busy road) has allowed him to become stronger and more capable every day.  But I didn’t just throw him out there to figure it out on his own, which would have been scary and threatening. I spotted him on the jungle gym when he was just learning how to climb. I was there to nurse him or not when he needed it until he weaned himself. I walked with him many times to many different places before he started going by himself.


These are my top three things that make a happy home, and I feel that they encompass most other smaller things that I thought of as well.

Far from being a checklist, this list must be a constant reminder. Something we come back to again and again, especially when things are hard and busy, because they are a matter of course. Of course we want our children to be free and feel loved and safe, but we need to check and make sure that our actions are following our words. And as they get older (especially teenagers), check in with them and see how they perceive the happiness of their home and be open to what they say even if it is hurtful.

What about you? What do you think makes a happy home? Did I leave anything out?


Saving Money by Canning/Shopping at the Farmer’s Market

You really can save money by shopping at the farmer’s market and canning/freezing/preserving your purchases. People often express doubt that farmer’s market shopping can really save you money. The problem is they are looking at it the wrong way.

If you shop at the farmer’s market as a typical consumer, you may save a little on grocery store prices (and the flavor will get you hooked), but you’ll generally be paying full market price for your purchases. BUT if you are serious about eating real, local food, you will start saving money fast.

1. You can save money by buying in bulk.

Ready for peeling

Ready for peeling

For my salsa endeavor, I contacted an organic farmer at one of the markets I go to. I asked her for a bushel of tomatoes. That bushel (roughly 50 lbs) cost me $24-about 50 cents a pound. And they were amazing tomatoes-red straight through, juicy, sweet. I also bought the onions and jalapenos from her at a discount as well. I spent a total of $40 on ingredients.

For my 29 pints of salsa, and the accompanying juice and sauce that I got from the skins of the tomatoes, I saved $60 on buying 29 jars of Tostitoes salsa 3.5 quarts of tomato sauce and 3 quarts of tomato juice. Sixty dollars is nothing to sneeze at. Plus the salsa I made was with all organic ingredients, unlike the kind I buy.

Even if I count the cost of the canning jars ($20 for 24), which I don’t, since I’ll be able to use those for the rest of my life, I still come out ahead.

2. You can save money by adding value to your purchases. 


The salsa is a case in point. Tomatoes-cheap. Salsa-expensive. I also make tomato basil soup out of the tomato sauce that I make. Buying canned organic soup (like Amy’s brand) is expensive. But if I make it myself, I can make it vegan, low fat, low salt and even more delicious than the higher fat, higher sodium, non-vegan canned version.

But this applies to all your purchases. If you cook it yourself, you will save money. You can buy all organic produce at a fraction of the cost it would cost you at the grocery store.

I now buy local, organic whole wheat flour. It costs a little over a $1 a pound, which is more than bagged flour at the grocery store (which is about 50 cents a pound), but much, much less than buying bread someone else made at the farmer’s market or the grocery store.

3. You can save money by having a relationship with the farmers. 

I am now friends with some of the farmers at the markets I go to, but even the ones that I am not actually friends with, they know me. Trust me, if you start buying food to feed your family (not just a tomato or two in August) at the farmer’s market, you will quickly get on your farmers’ radars.

I get discounts from practically every farmer that I buy from. They throw in extra apples. They save me bags of day old corn that they won’t sell. They give me an extra heads of lettuce.

I didn’t start buying at the market to get deals like this obviously, but it’s a natural byproduct of buying from real people, instead of corporations.

4. You save money by buying what is abundant at the time.

Tomatoes don’t keep more than 5 or 6 days. Lettuce and other greens must be refrigerated in order to last any time at all. Berries won’t last a day without refrigeration. When things are in season, farmers need to sell them, and if there is a bumper crop, they need to sell LOTS of them.

So when peppers are flooding the market after the first frost, you need to stock your freezer. When it’s tomato season, you need to be making sauce, salsa, juice, and whatever you like to preserve. Because that is when you can save money. Making tomato sauce from grocery store tomatoes in January isn’t going to save you any money, but making sauce out of tomatoes that are flooding the markets in August and September will (especially if you plan ahead and talk to your farmer about a bulk order).


I’ll be making tomato sauce this week from another bushel of tomatoes, so I’ll give you the breakdown on my cost and savings for that. How do you save money at the farmer’s market?