Saturday, August 15, 2015

My Life on Full Throttle

 As I begin writing, my cat is sniffing my lips and sitting on the keyboard. This could get interesting...

So, I haven't written every week on the blog lately, and that's because I really feel like I have been going at full throttle since I returned from the Midwest trip. It's times like these when I realize that maybe, just maybe, I have indulged too many interests at one time, but I love them too much to give them up!

The house is a mess, the laundry is piling up, the dishes are only getting done because of my  husband, and the yard...well, I'd rather not talk about the yard and the possibility of a snake living there.

So, what have I been doing, you may wonder, that has caused me to neglect the basics? Well, you see, I have three kids...oh, you already knew that. I'd say we homeschool, but since we mostly unschool, it is very hard to distinguish "school time" from just living and learning and having fun.

Okay, okay, I'll stop messing around and tell you, listwise, a few of the things that I've been up to:

  • Helping out with my girls' musical theater camp by helping backstage, tie dyeing T-shirts with all of the kids, and, of course, going to see their show. Whew! That ended last week. It was great, but I'm glad when anything's taken off the schedule!
  • Planning and executing my youngest child's birthday pool party! Yay! Again, that was over yesterday, thank goodness! I was happy but exhausted by the end of the day.
  • Going to karate classes once a week. I've actually been in karate about 2 years give or take. I usually go twice a week, but I've had to go down to once because of ...
  • Play rehearsal! I am rehearsing to be in a play in September, a murder mystery called Murder Inn. I was in drama a bit in high school and college, but this is only the second I have done in my "adult" life. Rehearsals are a blast, and performing will be awesome. 

  • Going to my historical European martial arts class once a week for about two hours, where I am learning long sword alongside my son and other classmates. We also had an annual gathering and mini competition last week. I came home with two medals, and a big bruise on my arm from getting hit with foam swords!

  • Trying to edit more fiction. I am mostly an academic editor but am taking classes, building a web site, creating a new name for myself, and doing the work it takes to transform my business into mostly fiction editing.
  • Trying to write more fiction. I have written and promoted my nonfiction breastfeeding book, but my writing passion has long been fiction. However, I haven't put in the work it takes to get it off the ground (aka finished and published). With the help of a few really awesome books that I've read lately, I think I'm ready, if only I can find a few minutes here and there to get some words down on paper...
  • I'm still maintaining my YouTube channel and this blog, although maybe not as often as I'd like.
Did I mention that I have kids? Well, they always throw a wrench into things, but I wouldn't change that part for anything. I'm going to miss it when they are gone, and I have the quiet and time to get things done.

I am not going to start a new play once this one is done or start anything else new, though, because I really do want to spend some time getting the house back into a place I'd actually like to live in (maybe not so realistic with kids, but I can try!).

So, how has your summer been?  Is it just me, or does time really fly more quickly the older you get?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Sandwiched between Growing Kids and Aging Parents: Glad to Be There

In a couple of days, I am going out of town for almost a month with my two youngest kids. No, not on some fancy vacation, although the beach does sound tempting on this 93 degree day.

No, instead I am headed inland to America's breadbasket to house sit for my sister and to take over as go-to person for a little while for mother and stepfather while my sister flies to Alaska to meet her wife, who went up a few weeks ago, and enjoy almost 2 months with her in one of their favorite places.

It has been a rough time for my mother lately. She and her husband still live independently but have come to rely on my sister, who lives less than an hour away from them, for assistance with different aspects of their lives, such as help with shopping and various errands and household duties, and of course, to call on during emergencies.

My mother has rheumatoid arthritis along with osteoarthritis, although the former was not diagnosed until she was already in her 70s. She has faced an increasingly difficult year with pain, lung disease, and a condition with her red blood cells that caused her to have to discontinue her pain meds for a while and undergo frequent transfusions. My sister has been with her through so much, which I appreciate more than I can express, especially since my stepfather has COPD and often has trouble getting around himself. I can tell it is beyond frustrating for my mother at the least.

My brother and I try to contribute however we can from a distance (he lives a few hours from her, and I live about fourteen hours away) while we are busily raising our own families.

My sister's son is past grown, although she has a very busy and demanding job, and my brother's youngest daughter just turned 16. So, I am the only one of us left raising small kids, as mine range from 14 down to 6. I didn't have my first child until I was 28, so this "delayed" start of our family might have contributed to being in this situation at this time in our lives.

I often feel inadequate where my mother is concerned since we can't do much from so far away while still taking care of our own family. We cover the cost of an emergency response system every month and also let my sister know to let us know when she needs something.

However, that lack ends up being more than made up for in the time my husband spends caring for his father, who lost his wife of 40 years last year. She suffered a heart attack after a long battle with multiple sclerosis. It has been a long, hard road of grief and more, and there is still no end in sight. My husband is an only child and does his best to help his dad out in any way he can. It is a much shorter trip to visit him, although still a good part of a day's drive, but my husband does (and we do) it faithfully and often.

There are all sorts of things I can throw in to explain how hard things can be: dealing with special needs, homeschooling, freelancing, my own health issues, and on and on. However, we are doing our best and are happy to do it, occasionally out of a sense of duty but mostly out of love. These are our parents we are talking about, the ones who gave us love, time, money, and devotion as we grew up, went to college, and eventually flew the coop. They loved and still love us unconditionally, and it's natural that we return that when we are able.

I consider it a burden no more than caring for my own kids at home would be. (That means, yes, sometimes it is, but it's one I am willing and able to shoulder.) When a beloved family member is in need, you help out of love because you want them to be comfortable. You want them to be happy.

That's really the lesson I want to pass on to my kids—to care for those you care about. Love is give and take. Sometimes, you give, sometimes you take. If you're lucky, what you get back is almost always greater than what you gave because love is like that: that feeling and knowing that there is someone out there that has your back and is there for you whatever happens. I know not everyone has that, and I'm always grateful that I do.

Of course, there are moments when I feel that I am going to explode because I am so overwhelmed. Worrying about aging parents is usually only one small part of that. It's at those times that I have to stand back and take stock to see what can be put on the back burner until I can breathe again or how I can better juggle what I have. They are times that I remind myself to remember all I have to be grateful for.

It's not perfect, not by far, but if I had to trade caring for my growing children and aging parents against not having them at all, I know which one I would choose.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

35+ Road Trip Audiobooks and Books for Kids

So, my younger children (girls ages 6 and 8) are accompanying me on a road trip soon. We will be in the car about 7 hours a day for 2 days in a row. When we return home, we will be doing the same thing. I'm always concerned that they'll be entertained at least a good deal of the time in the car because that means I'll get a lot less "Are we there yet?" and "How long until we get there?" and "Can we stop???"

One of my favorite ways to pass the time on a long car trip is listening to audiobooks. However, my favorite ones are not always kid friendly, so I end up listening to them on headphones off my phone or something.

A few months ago, however, I got a good deal on a collection of Magic Tree House books from Amazon. These are great for my youngest, who is not yet a strong reader and is actually kind of resistant to reading. I put the collection on their Kindles, and they listen to it almost every night before bed.

I thought some new audiobooks would be a great way to keep them entertained on this road trip. So, I jumped onto my favorite homeschooling group on Facebook and asked for recommendations. I wasn't expecting the awesome response I got, and they are so great that I thought I would share them with you. Keep in mind that I asked for 6- and 8-year-old girls, but the recommendations I got were a bit more expansive.

So, here are the recommendations that I received, in no particular order. Depending on availability, I include an Amazon link for as many titles as I can (in Audible or CD format or just book format), but please check your local library and other web sites if you so desire. I certainly will be!

  • Catwings by Ursula Le Guin (Audible, book 1 of the Catwings series) 



  • Scat Like That by Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer (Audio CD): Another nontraditional choice: "musical and silly: tongue twisters, yodeling, scat singing, limericks, great silliness."

  • Leo the Lightning Bug by Erich Drachman and James Muscarello (Book with Audio CD): "My all-time favorite audio version of a book."

  • Oh, The Places You'll Go and other Dr. Seuss Titles (Audible, this one narrated by John Lithgow): "There are so many Dr. Suess books and compilations of books—some read by famous actors, some not—that are really a joy to listen to."

  • Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins (Audible, book 1 of a series)

  • Fairest by Gail Carson Levine or anything Gail Carson Levine for girls (Audible)

  • Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein (Audio CD): "Recited, sung, and shouted by Shel Silverstein." "He is perfect! It's super entertaining!"

 Finally, I received a couple of nontraditional sources for audiobooks:


  • Sparkle Stories: A web site featuring a subscription for audio stories for children and families, including downloadable stories for traveling.
  • The last suggestion wasn't a specific audiobook but a great way to get audiobooks on the road, from an unlikley place: Cracker Barrel. They are all over the place when you're traveling, right? Well, they have an audiobook program, where you can rent an audiobook at one Cracker Barrel and return it to another. When you rent the book, you actually purchase it for the full price, but when you return it, you receive a refund for all of the purchase price except for $3.49 per week. I haven't tried them out yet, so I don't know how many kids books they carry or what is available at each restaurant, but it's worth a look!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Are You a Scanner or a Specialist?

I am so excited! I just learned some new words to describe how I am: a scanner, a polymath, a multipotentialite!

I have described myself before as a Renaissance soul–this is a term I only learned within the past few years. It was so nice to know that I wasn't alone, that there were enough people out there that couldn't seem to "stick" to a passion that someone had written a book about it (The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One by Margaret Lobenstine).

Today, I came across this TED Talk video by multipotentialite Emilie Wapnick.

She's a writer, a speaker, filmaker, musician, and the list goes on. She describes multipotentialites as being "wired differently." As the mother of a child on the autism spectrum, I've often thought about people and different wiring, but I never applied it to myself. Watching this was a bit of a revelation.

Wapnick discusses our culture's seeming obsession with finding your one true destiny, your one true calling. "What do you want to be when you grow up?," we're asked over and over again.

It reminds me of another one of our culture's obsessions, the idea of your one true love. It makes those who are or have the potential to be compatible with more than one passion (be that a person or an interest) seem a little odd and out of sorts. I'm not speaking about monogamy or polygamy, just the idea that there are multiple people with whom it would be possible for you to make a good life.

Careers are a little easier. Your career is not going to be upset if you cheat on it.

Embrace your multipotentiality, Wapnick says, and learn your superpowers, including adaptability and idea synthesis.

This is where I am now. I haven't figured out how to make a career out of intersecting all of my passions yet, but writing about them is a start.

I still remember when a tenth-grade teacher called me wishy-washy. That hurt, and it stuck. It has reinforced the idea in the back of my mind that something was wrong with me because I couldn't stick to just one thing.

I'm finding my multiple interests to be an advantage these days. It's certainly an advantage in homeschooling: my kids don't just learn one thing—why should I? Learning along with them is so much fun because I love to learn as well. Also, I am much happier when nurturing different passions and letting myself take a break and letting go when I am bored with one particular idea.

I love learning. I love mastering new skills. I have always had trouble understanding how someone could show an interest in a topic and not want to dive fully in and find out what it's all about deep down in the meat of it. Mastering skills also helps me build my self-confidence. I know that I will always be able to get by because I have not just one or two but many well-developed skills to fall back on.

So, what do you consider yourself? A specialist, someone with a dream, someone who has always known what you wanted to be? Or a scanner, a Renaissance soul, a multipotentialite? Someone with diverse interests who is always moving on to the next thing?

Tell me what your interest(S) are. If you're like me, maybe you will give someone an idea for his or her next big thing :)

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Our First Foray with Brave Writer

We are mostly unschoolers around our house. You know, we let the kids follow their own passions, be it Minecraft or gymnastics, and let them learn through their life experiences. Unschooling can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different homeschoolers. It's easy to find hot debates over whether someone is really an unschooler or not.

For us, sometimes unschooling means using structure or a curriculum, especially when my child comes to me and says that he wants a writing class. You'd think as a writer, I'd be all over that, but I was a little daunted and wanted some guidance.

So, as we all seem to do, I searched the Internet far and wide and finally came back to a site I had touched upon many times over the years but never committed to. Brave Writer. A hefty discount from the Homeschooler Buyers Co-Op helped out, too. I purchased The Writer's Jungle and a couple of the "magazines" that amount to guides that correspond to a certain book and help guide you in writing "assignments" that go with the book.

I admit that although I started it back in March, I still haven't finished The Writer's Jungle. It is a hefty volume that has given me a lot to think about. I enjoy Julie Bogart's philosophy, which is why I picked Brave Writer. It uses some traditional methods, such as copywork and dictation but still leans heavily on the child's own interests and wishes and finding ways to make writing useful for them. After all, who is going to be inspired to do something that they consider useless?

Although I'm still working my way through The Writer's Jungle, I've spent a bit of time listening to Julie's podcasts and reading through the Brave Writer Lifestyle discussion group on Facebook. It was there that I found my seeds for actually getting started and doing something concrete with this program. It had been months since my son's request, and I buckled down and promised him that we would start by June 1.

A file in that Facebook group suggested that you start with just one element of the "Brave Writer Lifestyle"—this is more than just a writing curriculum, folks—and get that established first before incorporating more elements into your life and routine.

For my son, I decided a read aloud with copywork would fit the best, and he agreed. So, on May 31, we started reading The Hobbit. It felt a little funny reading aloud to my 14-year-old for the first time in a long time, but after a while, it was very enjoyable. Because my voice was still recovering from a throat infection, we didn't even get through the whole of Chapter 1, but even that was enough to have me relishing the experience and remembering why Tolkien is so revered. His use of language is far from traditional and sometimes not even "correct." My editor's brain tried to switch on so I could add commas and separate all those run-on sentences. Then, I laughed at myself, thinking about how brash I must be to think I could edit one of the masters! It actually is more than just fine the way it is. My son listened quietly, never complaining of boredom, even though he generally prefers nonfiction.

Next came the copywork. This is where the issue of Arrow we had purchased came in handy because it includes prepicked quotes for dictation and/or copywork. We copied the opening passage of the book (both of us in our separate notebooks). Being a bit of a word nerd, I enjoyed it myself, savoring the writing and the passage itself. My son wrote his passage a little more slowly. Handwriting has never been his strong suit, but he chose to write it instead of type it, at least this time. I realized that he was even having a little fun when for one line, he switched to his nondominant hand to see how well he could write with it (not very!).

For my girls, being 6 and 8, I have chosen to start with poetry teatimes. This includes every little girl's fantasy tea party with real treats and drinks plus poetry! But it's not just for girls! My 6-year-old is kind of antireading (she prefers watching videos on her tablet or listening to audiobooks instead), so with her I try to be gentle and find ways to make reading fun. The poetry teatimes should help. We will have our first this Monday, even though we will be at their grandfather's house. Then, next week, we'll go all out with china, tea or lemonade, and a treat or two to enjoy while we pick poems to read. While they eat, I'll also read a bit more of Harriet the Spy, which we started this week.

I've started and quit many a curriculum. I hope that this one, especially with our slow approach in getting to know it, will be different. Why? Because when I read The Writer's Jungle, I find myself wishing that I'd been taught that way. Bogart encourages mindfulness, observation, and a host of other techniques that can improve a child's writing (and probably just their way of learning in general).

I'll definitely post some updates when I can and let you know how things are going with Brave Writer.

In the meantime, what inspires you in your homeschooling journey? Let's start a discussion in the comments!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

No More Big-Factory-Processed Meats

I came to a rather sudden and and startling realization recently.

I've stated my interest in food and nutrition. This interest comes from being a mother interested in the well-being of my children (like I have anything to say in their likes and dislikes!) and from being a woman who has constantly struggled and lost the battle to maintain a "healthy" weight.

I've read and watched and listened until my brain wanted to explode from Too Much Information!

Contradictions have abounded left and right, confusing me further. In the end, it's always come down to trying to maintain a balance, eating a variety of food, allowing a few treats but trying overall to eat in a healthy manner.

What has worked best for me over the last few years has been a gluten-free and, more specifically, primal (an offshoot of paleo) lifestyle. However, the cost of feeding a family of five even on a conventional American diet has been a strain on our budget more than once, so that balance has always tipped one way or another depending on when the next freelance check is coming and how stressed out we have been that day (week, month, year...).

Although we have occasionally bought a quarter cow or pig from a local farmer when we got a good deal, the decision to eat all (or even mostly) organic and/or locally grown meat has never been a realistic one for our family. It was just too expensive, especially when we were eating a protein-focused diet. We agreed on that much.

So, imagine my surprise, when driving to a homeschool event one day with the kids, I decided I'd had enough. I decided then and there in the car that I would no longer eat big-factory-processed meats.

Although I told my son that I was thinking about it and that I might change my mind, it didn't feel like a maybe kind of thing. It felt firm, and here, a couple of weeks later, it still does.

The catalyst? Driving through our rural-ish part of Virginia, a veritable poultry industry capital, I got behind One Too Many Poultry Trucks. It wasn't my first. It surely won't be my last, but it was the one that drove me over the edge.

As I was thinking it, my 14-year-old son, observing the overcrowded animals, said quietly, so as not to announce it to his younger sisters, "Those don't look like very good conditions."

"I agree," I responded with a lump the size of Canada in my throat. My guts twisting, I couldn't help but feel for the turkeys crammed in cages barely big enough for them, breathing heavily (probably from the crowding and no doubt the fumes wafting up from the exhaust below), feathers flying out behind the truck like dirty snow.

We wondered how many animals would become sick or die during the trip from "farm" to factory.

The Virginia Cooperative Extension Service gives these guidelines for the transport in a humane manner of poultry to fairs or other events in a humane way:

"Use care not to stack the crates to disrupt the air circulation. Never transport fowl in the trunk of an automobile since they may suffocate or die due to exhaust fumes or heat build-up....Open air coops on open bed trucks and trailers can be too drafty at highway speeds and may cause eye and ear irritation, as well as, feather damage....Most hauling problems and deaths occur because of overcrowding."

The truck ahead of us broke every rule here. We could only think of one reason that these animals would be treated this way—to reduce costs by packing as many animals onto a truck as possible and thus increase profits. 

I know there are those who would say. "What does it matter? They are food."

But to me, all living things deserve respect, even when they are our intended dinner. Unnecessary suffering and misery don't sit well with me. I do my best, even with bugs, to do as little harm as possible (I can't promise this when I feel threatened by a bee or wasp—I'm not perfect!!), but I do try.

I always knew in my heart that if I ever set foot in a slaughterhouse or typical, closed-in chicken farm that I would become a vegetarian. Apparently, it didn't even take that much to radically change my views. It just took one too many poultry trucks.

I couldn't eat the turkey in my lunch that day, and I haven't eaten any big-factory-processed meats since then.

Most days since, I've pretty much been a vegetarian, but I do eat a limited amount (due to budget concerns) of locally purchased, humanely raised and slaughtered meat. I still eat fish (and maybe more so), although the fish industry is still something that I have to learn more about when it comes to how the animals are raised, etc.

As a result of these changes, eating primally is not so realistic any more, but I'm learning my way around, eating a little differently, eating some beans and meat substitutes to maintain the proper amounts of protein and iron that I need. I've been counting calories recently, so adding some nutrient counters to my app lets me see how much of these I am getting every day. Ideally, I would be eating even less processed foods, but convenience and finding balance with my schedule and stress levels have always been issues with me.

This big thing that's happened—its a personal decision. I'm not trying to push it on anyone around me, including my immediate family members. I just no longer want to personally contribute to the sort of business that condones the suffering of animals on this scale.

I'm not going all PETA on anyone, but if (when) I find myself behind another truck like that, I want to know that I am doing what I can to support the farmers that raise and slaughter animals in a humane way and that I'm not supporting the treat-them-however-as-long-as-it-turns-a-profit mentality.

And if I can't, I just won't eat meat, and that's okay with me.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Who Am I and Why Am I Writing This Blog?

Hi, and welcome. My name is Janell, and I am a woman of many interests and (hopefully) talents, a renaissance soul if you will.

One of the things I like to do is write. I have published many articles, mostly on breastfeeding, pregnancy, and homeschooling. I also published a book last year with Praeclarus Press about long/natural term breastfeeding called To Three and Beyond: Stories of Breastfed Children and the Mothers Who Love Them.

However, with my breastfeeding days behind me, I want to do more writing about all of the other things that interest me, and friend, my interests are vast and varied and continue to grow.

As I said, I love to write. Nonfiction is great, but I want to put more love and work into fiction as well (I've dreamed of being a novelist since I was a wee 14-year-old). Paranormal fiction and fantasy are my favorite to-read genres, and I hope to someday have a place among the fantastic writers I have come across. It goes without saying that I love to read.

I have a degree in zoology because once upon a time I wanted to be a marine biologist. I still love animals, and sometimes our house seems like a mini zoo. Right now, we are down to only 2 cats and 2 dogs with visions of a puppy in our future for our 8-year-old daughter.

I am an editor by trade, and that is all right, but I am trying to break into fiction editing to make it more enjoyable.

I love video games and have a YouTube channel dedicated to family gaming. Minecraft is awesome. What can I say?

I love crafting and occasionally sell homemade jewelry like this.

I love art and can often be found sketching, painting, or discovering new techniques.

I've been taking goju ryu karate for two years (I recently earned my green belt) and just started longsword training through a historical medieval martial arts school. I love both.

Despite being obese or perhaps because of it, I spend a lot of time studying food and nutrition and trying to find a balance with all of the options out there, including health and ethical concerns.

I am a wife and a mother. These brings my interests related to family, homeschooling, autism, and all of my kids' interests into play.

All of these things define me as do many other things. I hope you'll join me on the ride as I learn, ponder, and experience, taking dips here and there and sometimes going in whole hog on different topics and themes.

Thus is the life of a renaissance soul.