Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Family, Food, Fowl, and Flowers

The Night Hike

Making Cookies

Making Soup

Our New Chickens

My mom, dad, and sister came for a brief visit this past week. We love hanging out with family, even if they don't always get us and our choice of lifestyle.

My family has always been about the food. We all love cooking, baking, eating and drinking. It plays a big role in out lives, and we love to spend our time together in the kitchen. Another reason I love my house...the kitchen is essentially part of the main living area, so we all get to hang out together while cooking, cleaning, and what not.

We ate really well while everyone was here, but the last night together, we had the most amazing meal ever. It started in the morning with my dad cleaning the stewing hen I got from a local organic farmer. We put it in with some veggies and water to simmer for about 5 hours to make our stock. During the cooking, my mom, dad, sister and I worked on planting all the pansies and violas my mom brought. My mom loves flowers and several years ago she got me hooked on Vietnamese pots. We all worked together and finished all my beautiful planters! The rest of us went for a hike and my mom strained the broth and pulled the meat off the bird. When we got back, my sister cooked the Italian sausage from the same farmer. She and my mom worked together to chop all the veggies. In the mean time, we drank some beer and wine, baked and decorated some Halloween cookies, and generally had a lot of great conversation. Around 6:00, I got a call from a friend that she had to give away her flock of laying hens as she was moving. YEAH!!! John and my dad went to get the new chickens while we added the wild rice to the soup. When they got back with the chickens, the kids all picked out one new hen and John and my dad took the rest to our neighbor. While they were gone, we threw the okra into the soup. Finally, around 7:30, we sat down to eat this amazing gumbo that everyone had a little hand in preparing. It was incredibly satisfying!

It was a brief visit, but full of what we all love.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Girls night out

Saturday night, Sophie,Ella and I went to see some live bluegrass at Barking Legs Theater in Chattanooga. Sophie has just started the fiddle, and we'd heard great things about the fiddle player, Micheal Cleveland and Flamekeeper

Originally, only Sophie and I were going to go. Ella and Max had 2 soccer games earlier in the day in which we'd had to get up earlier than we would have liked to attend. The other kids all decided they'd rather rent movies and xbox games and stay in with Daddy, who had to do some work. As Sophie and I were leaving, Ella decided she wanted to go. I really did not want to be out with her, as I knew she was tired and had not eaten much of her dinner. I was worried she would get bored, get cranky, and then we'd have to leave. She was sobbing as I was explaining all of this to her. It felt so sad, leaving her behind. I decided to give her a thorough briefing of what to expect and let her decide if she really wanted to come with us. She did.

We got there rather early and I bought the girls a drink. We were having a blast, and I was glad Ella was with us. Barking Legs is a great venue to see live music. It's really intimate. The music was phenomenal! I am always so moved by artists sharing their passions.

At intermission, we bought a cd for my dad for Christmas, and sat back down to wait for the second half. We started talking with an elderly gentleman who was sitting next to us. He was so nice! I've noticed in this community of bluegrass musicians, children are completely taken seriously and appreciated. Maybe it's all musicians, I don't know. One of the guys from the music store where we bought Sophie's fiddle also came up and said hello, asked how the fiddling was going, etc. It was just really cool. I rarely see this kind of interaction with adults and children outside of the unschooling community.

As the second half started, Ella crawled into my lap and fell asleep. This has happened maybe 3-4 times...ever, even as a baby. It was so sweet, holding that beautiful sleeping girl, sitting next to Sophie sharing the music and the experience.

We headed home, happy and content we had spent this wonderful time together. I felt very close to both my girls.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


I've been contemplating words of wisdom from some fabulous ladies on the shine with unschooling yahoo message board. This conversation seems to come at a particularly great moment for me. The conversation has been about grades, in compulsory as well as non-compulsory schooling. Next week, I have an incredible opportunity to study and dance with Carolena Nericcio, the director of Fat Chance Belly Dance. She is the creator of American Tribal Style Belly Dance, which uses improvisation as a means for women to dance together using a shared "vocabulary" of Middle Eastern dance movement, without choreography. So next week I am participating in an ATS General Skills Certification Course. I have been teaching ATS for over 4 years, started my own performance troupe, and produced my own shows, all using this incredible style of dance. I have, however, had very little personal instruction in the method by Carolena herself. I have studied her instructional DVD's, attended workshops, classes, etc, but never something this concentrated and in person. As I've been discussing the upcoming certification with other dancers, many of them have been a bit panicky about being evaluated and deemed worthy of certification. This confounds me, as I have only been looking forward to the prospect of studying with a great teacher, dancer, and visionary. I guess I don't really care whether or not I get my "certification". I mean, really, what do I need it for? I do still teach, but my ladies don't care if I have a piece of paper or not. I just want the 20+ hours of studio time with this amazing woman. I don't want to appear as if I don't care. I do care...about the dance. I don't care, one iota, about being "certified". <> I hope my passion for the dance, and not for the certificate, comes shining through.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A little about Alex...

Alex is my oldest child. I've had him in my life for 12 years. Alex is so full of joy and kindness. He's full of ideas about....well, everything. I love his unabashed enthusiasm for all that he does. I love his ability to be game for just about anything. I love that when something doesn't fit, or feel right, he simply doesn't do it. He has a quiet confidence that speaks volumes about his spirit. He wears his heart on his sleeve and doesn't know how to hide his happiness, joy, or sadness. I feel so strongly that this characteristic which makes him so him, would have been destroyed in the school environment. He feels safe in our world, which means he doesn't have to hide his happiness, joy or sadness.

Yesterday, the library was having a teen program highlighting stand-up comedy. I asked Alex if was interested in going with me. He was, so we set off. One other child was a homeschooler, so when the event was over, I introduced myself to his mom and we started discussing unschooling. As I was talking to her, Alex was talking to the librarian. They were discussing books. Alex was showing his usual exuberance for everything he does, and was telling her all about the things he was currently reading and some of his favorite past reads. She was really excited to be talking to a kid who liked reading for reading's sake. No reports, no grades, he reads because he enjoys what it brings to his life. She proceeded to invite him to be on the teen advisory board. The advisory board was going to be working on a new teen center at the main library, a special teen spot on the website, writing book reviews and recommendations, and planning events for teens. We are both really happy and excited about the possibilities this opportunity might bring to his life.

Since yesterday, I have been reflecting on Alex and all that he has brought to my life. When he was born, I was blown away by the intensity of my love for him. Through his toddler years, I was amazed by his intelligence. As we moved into an unschooling life, I rejoiced at his ability to shine so brightly. Now, as he moves into his teen years, I am so very thankful for the deep connection to him.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Bad Moments and Big Thank You

Last night, Ella didn't get what she wanted. We had a fire going in the wood burning stove and she wanted to put her blanket right next to the fire to get it warm. John asked her to move the blanket, as he was worried it was going to get really hot and possibly catch fire. It is made of a flammable fabric. She did not want to move it and said she was not going to move it. John then told her to move the blanket, that she could not have it that close to the fire. He told her she had to have it off the tile area in front of the stove, about 3 feet away. She again refused. I could tell she was not going to be reasoned with. She became rude in her comments and actions to John. He got her blanket and put it into her bedroom. She started sticking her tongue out and spitting. John got mad and said if she continued to be rude, she needed to leave the family room. I asked her several times if I could help her find a spot for her blanket that would still be warm, but would be a safe distance from the fire. She refused and kept yelling no and spitting. John took her into her room and she was really pissed. Fortunately, I had a great phone conversation with Madeline earlier in the day where we discussed these melt down moments and different ways to handle them. I took her words and some of the things I gleaned from talks at Live and Learn, and went into Ella's room with her and just sat. I tried to talk to her, she grunted at me, so I asked her if she wanted me to stay in the room with her. She nodded yes. I continued to try to talk to her, and she grunted again. So I asked her if she wanted me to be in the room with her, but stay quiet. She nodded yes again. This whole time she was banging and hitting a 3 foot plastic noise maker on the floor, door, other toys, etc. I just sat in the room with her, on the floor, not talking. A couple of times she got really close to hitting me, so I said, please don't do that so close to me. After 3-5 minutes, she stopped hitting with the plastic thing and started trying to tear up a little doll. I spoke again, trying to validate her feelings. I said I bet it felt good when she was angry to hit things. She still said nothing, but moved on to trying to rip up her planner. I said to her that I bought her the planner, and really hoped she wouldn't tear it up, because I know how much she likes it, and that she might be sad if she didn't have it anymore. She found a pencil and started drawing in the planner. She drew some hearts and wrote my name. Then, on another page, she drew Daddy with big x's crossing him out. I said, "You're angry with Daddy". She kept drawing. She drew x's on his mouth. I said, "You don't like it when Daddy yells." Then she drew x's on his eyes. I said, "Are those angry eyes"? She nodded. I said, "You don't like it when Daddy is angry." Then she scribbled him out. I asked her what that meant. She took her finger and drew it across her neck. I said, "You want Daddy to be dead." She nodded again. I asked, "Do you want Daddy dead forever?" She said no, just for right now. I told her it would make me sad if Daddy was dead forever. We continued to process things out, with Ella very calm. Before, I would have tried to get her to understand about the fire and the blanket and how we were right in not wanting the blanket to get too hot. This time, I just left it. I asked her if she wanted to go back into the family room to finish watching the show we had started. She did not. She wanted me to play with her in her room. So I did. When it was time for bed, I asked her to brush her teeth. She wanted my help, so I helped her. Then I asked her if she wanted to apologize to Daddy for saying ugly words to him. She wanted me to say the apology for her while I held her. After her apology, Daddy also said he was sorry for yelling at her. She didn't want to kiss him goodnight, but said "Good Night" as I carried her out of the room. The whole episode, after going into her room until we were playing together lasted about 10-15 minutes. I was soooo happy with the way everything went down and that I was able to change my tactics and see how much stronger our relationship can be. I'm not sure it would have played out this way had I not had my conversation with Madeline. Sometimes it's scary to let people in, share our bad moments. It's way easier to share the good moments. So, thanks. To Madeline and to the many who have touched me on this journey to becoming a better mom and a better person.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Hanging Out with our new friend

On Wednesdays, we go to Matt's house for Max to play a little guitar and Alex to play a little drums.
We met Matt when Max went to Circus Camp this past summer. Matt was the music teacher at camp, and Max really liked him. We decided to set up lessons for Max, and then Alex became interested. It's a bit of a drive for us, so we asked Matt and his wife Angela if we could just hang out in the yard while the boys had their lesson. It was no problem, and Angela and Caitlin, their daughter, decided to hang out with us.
Angela and I have a good time hanging out, and we all have been playing with Caitlin. She's 3 years old and absolutely adorable. She loves Alex and always runs up to him first to give him a hug.
Yesterday, she wore her special flower pants because we were coming. Sophie read to her, they all played hide and seek and played on her swing set. Alex is really too big for the swing set, and Caitlin always gets flustered when he gets on it and tells him he's too old. She is the cutest thing! We also played baseball and we all took turns pitching, hitting and catching, until the plastic ball rolled into the road and was run over by a car. Too sad! I told Caitlin about our soccer ball that got run over and the loud noise it made.

After a while, Caitlin was upset that Daddy was inside. She wanted to play with him, but he was still working with Alex. Ella decided to get some of her Littlest Pet Shop stuff from the car to make Caitlin feel better and forget about Daddy being inside. We all sat down and made leaf pools and ponds which Caitlin filled with water.
We had a great time being with Caitlin and her wonderful 3 year old energy. We're really glad life worked out that not only are the boys getting some music, but we all made a new friend!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Sophie had been counting down the hours until her first fiddle lesson. We were to meet her prospective teacher at Mountain Music. We wandered in a little early to look at the instruments. There were fiddles lining the walls, as well as banjos, mandolins, guitars, cellos, etc. There were people hanging out and everyone was really nice to us. Thank goodness it was just me and Sophie. There were some really expensive instruments in there and it was really small! When her teacher arrived, he tried out several fiddles to help us decide which one to purchase. We talked about full size, 3/4, left handed, old vs. new, etc. We settled on a new full size fiddle, with case, bow and resin. They were having a special, so we got the whole kit and kaboodle for $125 plus tax. Sophie was elated! She positively beamed. All the guys in the store clapped and congratulated her on her first fiddle. We headed outside to sit on the back porch for her lesson. Her teacher is great. He's not only an amazing musician, but really cool about hanging out with Sophie and not being too preachy or strict. The lesson went great and Sophie couldn't get enough. When we got in the car to head home, she said she was tingling with excitement! When we got home, she let all of us have a go and continued to play throughout the evening. The excitement has rubbed off on me. Maybe I'll pick up the banjo...

Monday, October 8, 2007

Oh Happy Day!

We had a fabulous weekend!
It started with plans with some friends to go out for pizza at a local joint, then on to an outdoor Bluegrass festival. We saw these amazing clouds on the way to eat. The pizza was fabulous, and the kids had a blast playing Pac-Man while we ate.

We walked from the restaurant to the music, set up our blankets, chairs, and wagon-sofa, and procured some yummy wine for the grownups and ice cream for the kids.
We brought a soccer ball, which turned out to be THE toy of choice for a couple of nearby toddlers. Our friends' daughter had never played with a soccer ball before, and when the toddlers were finally led away by their parents, she started dribbling and didn't stop! She played with that ball for a good hour or more. Unfortunately, the ball went into the road and popped when a big truck ran over it. Leah said she felt like she just lost her best friend!
Max brought his skateboard and practiced a bit on the sidewalk, while Ella brought her Littlest Pet Shop animals and played with those. Alex quickly found some like- minded kids who were playing gameboy and spent a good deal of the evening hanging out on their blanket while they all DSed.

The music was great! We were really excited to get to see The Del McCoury Band. John kept wandering down to the stage with whatever kids wanted to go be a part of the madding crowd. Sophie has wanted to learn to play the fiddle for a couple of years now. She starts tomorrow, so she was really interested in watching the fiddle player.

The Del McCoury Band

We also had a couple of games of duck-duck-goose. My initial response when the kids asked me to play with them was going to be "no", because I wanted to hang out with my grown-up friend. She is also a dancer and homeschooling mom and we always have a lot to talk about. Anyway, I challenged myself to go ahead and hang with the kids, my friend joined us, and we had a great time. My joining in always helps take the pressure off of the kids to get along on their own, and alleviates some of the arguing and hurt feelings that have been happening lately.

We had a gorgeous sunset before the onset of evening. We continued to have a great time well into the night, with all of us heading toward the stage one last time before we left. It was awesome and we all left tired and happy.

Friday, October 5, 2007


Yesterday, Ella asked the other kids if they would play Littlest Pet Shop with her. After some compromise, all 4 kids were playing together with her pets. Max suggested they build some structures for their pets, so he got out the block bin. And so Petopia was created. For over 10 hours, they played, created, built, rebuilt, and added to their town. There have been some disagreements and arguments, but we were able to navigate through them successfully. This is a major success for us, as these arguments tend to end all fun with everybody leaving angry and upset. They finally went to bed around 10:30, still playing and working up schemes for tomorrow. Today, and they are back at it. Their town is in tact, even after warding off the beasts and monsters (our cat and 2 dogs). So far they have an amazing park with fountain, fire pit, campground, sitting area, movie screen, etc. They have a bank complete with poker chips for money. They have a grocery store, a homeopathic store, a restaurant, and housing for themselves. They have a big wall and a town square. Discussions today have included tourism dollars, and who should decide if they let tourists into the town. They have a mayor, as well as jobs...working in the bank, owning the restaurant, grocery, etc. Their ability to create this world amazes me. What also amazes me is how they have all been a part of it together. We have been struggling lately with relationship issues, boundaries, civility, etc. I mean really struggling. It is so hard to watch the people I love most in the world battle each other and hurt each other. So Petopia has been an amazing breakthrough for all of us. This is the light and shine I try to keep walking toward.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

So why "Dancing Chickens"?

Max and partner during our Creative Dance Class

Mindy and partner during our Creative Dance Class

Some of our flock

Well, the chicken part started with my nicknames for my kids...little chicken, chickee-boo, chi-chi. I think I have always wanted chickens in my life, but never really knew it.

So, one night at bedtime, I said to Max, "Good night little chicken". He hugged me tight, thought for a minute, and replied, "I love you...big chicken". So once more, my child stole my heart.

All of this was long before we actually had our yard birds.

So next is the dancing part. Dancing plays an important role in my life. It fills a little piece of my soul. That little piece that needs just me, Mindy. Not Wife. Not Mom. Only Dancer. I love that part of me, but never want it to take over. I like how it's just a piece...part of the whole.

Lastly comes the chickens themselves. They represent to me all that has shifted since our move to our ridge one year ago. That subject to be tackled in a future blog entry. I LOVE our chickens. I also love our fresh eggs, but would love our chickens even if they didn't produce eggs. And yeah, I know, big problem if we ever decide to raise meat chickens. I really do like them so much. Sometimes I just sit on the back deck and watch and enjoy their antics.

They don't dance, our chickens. But we do. In the physical sense, we love to move our bodies to music, challenge ourselves to try new movements, and sometimes just flail, mosh pit style, to let ourselves go. We also dance in the more ethereal sense. We're constantly trying to figure out each other's rhythms, how we can fit in with each others lives, how to try new things, and how to just flail...exerting ourselves with no purpose other than pure enjoyment. No goal, no end point, just along for the fun of the moment.

So "Dancing Chickens" it is!