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The Pile of Happy

We have a favorite breakfast around here. I’m inspired to share it with you after reading this article about Breakfast Bowls.

One of the minor reasons we choose to homeschool is nutrition. I don’t want to be handing my kids a muffin and a yogurt and rushing them out the door in the morning. I want them to wake up, eat a good breakfast, and get excited for their school day. Over breakfast we talk about our plans for the day. Some of us are more grumpy in the morning, some wake up ready to rock the day. But we all wake up hungry.

Our family’s version of the Breakfast Bowl is simple. We call it a Pile of Happy.

Pile of Happy


  1. Take a potato. Bake it, microwave it, boil it…whatever works for you. Squish it up in a bowl with some butter.
  2. Cook 1-2 eggs – poached, sunnyside up, over easy. Whatever. The key here is an intact yolk. We like our yolks on the slimy side. You cook your eggs the way you want them.
  3. Put the eggs on the potato.
  4. Add cheese, salt, and pepper. Mash it all around so the eggs, cheese, butter, and potato meld into a mixed-up mash.

That’s the basic. The most simple. But you can add whatever to it and make it even happier. Some of our additions have been (or frequently are):

  • Hot sauce
  • Sour cream
  • Cottage cheese
  • Bacon bits
  • Sausage
  • Ham
  • Fresh tomato
  • Spinach
  • Smoked Salmon
  • Leftovers that will work well
  • Anything else we are inspired to add

Why the name? At one point we made this for breakfast. We looked at the sunny egg in the bowl, surrounded by cheese and sighed.

“That just looks like a pile of happy.”

And so it is.



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Minecraft is the most amazing video game. It is creative, it teaches math, you can recreate interpretations of famous monuments… And increasingly I cringe when it comes up in conversation with Arthur.

I’ll put it out there right now – full disclaimer – that I don’t like video games. At all. I can play a video game for about 5 minutes and then I am so bored I would rather be doing just about anything at all. There have been a few that held my attention (Sim City…) but for the most part I haven’t ever really been interested in video games of any kind. I see that they have value, but I don’t like what I see them doing to my kids’ brains.

We have our checklists and for the most part they work…but Minecraft is insidious. I was all on board because Math! Building! Creative Play! All in a video game, but better than a shooting game or whatever. But now…


I’ve been watching Arthur carefully for the past year as Minecraft, in particular, sunk its claws into him. I’ve watched his dynamic relationships with several of his friends reduce to almost exclusive Minecraft conversations. I’ve sat through fit after fit after fit, with the screaming and the shaking and the threatening, because we didn’t get this update or he got a mere 20 minutes of game time or this building wasn’t working. I’ve tailored his school projects because the only thing he is interested in, really deeply interested in, in Minecraft. I’ve listened as he has, weeping, told me he feels like Minecraft ate his brain and he wants to stop playing…and watched him drop everything to be back in the cube world hours later. I’ve heard him say “I feel like my body just needs to play Minecraft…”

This is what addiction looks like. I’ve had addicted friends. I kicked the nicotine addiction more than 10 years ago and sometimes I still have my moments where I miss those cigarettes and “feel like my body needs” just one light up again. This is not okay. I am scared for my kid. I think we are riding the line between obsession and addiction, and I know it’s an easy slide down into dealing with a full scale addiction. Right now, my gut is telling me I need to protect my kid to the best of my ability.

So now he hates me because we shut off Minecraft for the summer. When we made this decision and communicated it to him, he said we are ripping out a part of his soul. When we turn it back on in September it will be with limits and restrictions. Probably lots of them to start with as we find healthy ways to negotiate this Minecraft world.

I’ve started my own research. I found this interesting article by MineMum, and I will continue to explore how we can have Minecraft re-enter our home as an educational ally and game, using it to play and learn without this over-the-top obsession and addiction. I’d love to hear from other people about how they manage video game obsession and/or addiction in their families.

We have had some interesting conversations about moderation, dopamine, brains, addiction, and marketing. Hopefully this helps us build a framework for similar conversations as Arthur gets older.

But in the meantime, I’m going to be the worst mom ever.



Garden Day

I love the idea of gardening, but the truth is that I am not much of a gardener. I like getting in the dirt and I feel really good when I have that connection with the earth, and I’ve had small successes over the years. However, more and more I realize that this is not where my talents are. Canning? Oh, I’ve got that wrapped up. Sewing? Knitting? No problems at all. But gardening eludes me. And here at the new house, we don’t really have good gardening space. Several lovely trees surround our yard, leaving not really enough sun for most garden needs.

But it is so important to me that the kids know how to garden, where food comes from, and the joy of getting down in the dirt and later eating the subsequent foods.

Enter Grassroots Garden.



Locally we have a volunteer worked, 2.5 acre garden, that grows produce for the local food bank. In 2014 they grew 70,000 pounds of food that was donated to hungry people in the area. That’s a lot of fruits and veggies. There is a beautiful outdoor kitchen, a compost demonstration area, and lots of education and workshop activities. There is always lots for helping hands to do.

At the end of last summer, my family and some of our homeschooling friends decided to start volunteering at Grassroots. It has been one of the best decisions I have made as a homeschool parent.

  • Science? Check.
  • Life skills? Check.
  • Social time? Check.
  • Outside time? Check.
  • Service and volunteer hours? Check?
  • Physical activity? Check.
  • Math? Check.

We have gotten to do all kinds of fun things, and several not-so-fun things. We’ve weeded, hauled and spread leaves and wood chips, planted cabbages, learned the components of making compost and mixed up 150 gallons of compost with our hands, harvested chard (so much chard!), cauliflower, celery, tomatoes… The kids work and talk with their friends. They get bored and wander off and we pull them back in.

Mostly my kids LOVE being at the garden. Sometimes it is boring. Sometimes it is cold and rainy. Regardless, they always leave the garden glowing, feeling good about the day, even when it is maybe a little hard or boring. We can take home a little bit of whatever we harvest for our own eating and we enjoy planning what we can make with it. There is a 4 pound cauliflower sitting in the fridge as I type this.

I forgot one important thing I check off. My self-care. I’m outside, helping, gardening, talking to other homeschool parents. I’m not good at gardening on my own, but with direction from the knowledgeable folks running the garden and managing the details, I’m perfectly happy. I get dirty. My hands smell like earth. I’m a better parent.

When we started this project, it seemed like a pretty good idea. I was so wrong. It was an absolutely brilliant idea.

I’m off to look up cauliflower recipes now.

Check The List

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We all know the screen-time battles. The begging, whining, cajoling, screaming…whatever. The internal decision; If they are on the Wii I can cook dinner with out interruption…have they had any exercise? Has their behavior earned screen time? Honestly, I have a pretty deep dislike of video games, even when I see their value. I don’t play them – when I try I have about a 5 minute tolerance and then I am so bored that I can’t even focus on the game. But the kids love them. And Arthur wants to design video games, so playing them is actually a part of that process. Not to mention that possibility of cooking dinner while they play…

A couple of years ago I read this article about limiting screen time by making it “unlimited”. It made a lot of sense to me, and it took the pressure off me always being the decision maker, or setting an arbitrary time to play Wii, or even engaging in the debate.


How this works:

Each kid has a list of what they need to accomplish each day. These lists look pretty extensive, but remember that as homeschoolers, they have much of each day at home to do whatever is on their list. Also, one of the things everyone needs to learn is time management, and this certainly helps with that.

The basics look a lot like the list from that article, especially on the weekends. After we had used the basics for a couple of months, I realized that I had an excellent tool to get some school structure and requirements into each day. So the basics are augmented with the school work that we need to do each day.

When we started, the list was pretty simple, and only Arthur had one. Cecilia was soon interested too, and we make each checklist specific to the kid; where they are at in schoolwork, skill building, etc. The list should be doable over the day, but not too easy. You can’t finish it if you spend half the morning reading Garfield. If you are up and at ’em early in the day you can finish by late afternoon, no problem.

In the beginning, it looked like this:

  • Get dressed, brush teeth and hair
  • Check in about the day
  • Living room clean up
  • Play room clean up
  • Exercise or outside play
  • Quiet time/Read something new
  • Do something helpful
  • Do something creative

We tried it out. And results!! Kids got dressed in the morning and Arthur stopped griping about cleaning his room. I stopped having to arbitrate screen time: he knew if he had checked everything off or not.

Two years later we have very different lists. I’ve added to them and taken naps off (sob). These week days they have to:

  • Get dressed, brush teeth and hair
  • Check in about the Day
  • Tidy their bedroom and school room (The Lab)
  • Clear their dishes
  • Exercise and/or outside play
  • Do a chore of the day
  • Earn “school points”

Chore of the Day: I removed “Do something helpful” and instead focused on a chore of the day. This is an age-appropriate chore that each kid can do with little help from me. “Do something helpful” had turned into them demanding a “helpful thing” from me, and then I’d have to make something up. Usually they would show up after I had done all the major chores of the day and I had nothing age-appropriate left to offer. So now the two older kids each have assigned week day chores; Monday they vacuum (Arthur does a whole room, Cecilia does the living room rug), Thursday they work together to take the sheets off their beds and wash them. No chore is difficult, but they need to be done. No chore is essential to me keeping the house clean so if they don’t get done it isn’t a big deal. I don’t have to make up chores every day, things are getting clean, kids are building life skills.

School Points: I want the kids to take initiative in their school work. I want them to go out and find things they want to learn about. And I need them to be doing some work most days that I can point to when it comes to testing time and know they will be just fine. When we started this with Arthur he was 2nd grade(ish). He was a competent reader. So I just put “Schoolwork” on the list and that was okay. But he’s getting so much more independent in what he can do. We can’t cover every subject in a day, and I want us to have lots of room to discover rabbit trails in our school and just play. So now we have a list of possible school subjects: reading, math, writing, science, handwork, Scout achievements, cooking, project specific work (related to whatever we are currently delving into). Each kid needs a certain number of school points each day – the number needed varies depending on the day and what we have going on that day. More points on days we are just home, less when we are out and about.

Arthur needs 20 minutes of a subject for one point, and he must have one writing point and one math point. Cecilia needs 10 minutes for her point, with reading and math being required. In this way, if we delve into Climate Science for an hour, we knock out a bunch of points. Or if we hunt and peck, reading a history story here, memorizing a poem there, knitting a few rows…that’s okay too. There’s structure, but it is structure that moves with our day. Just the way we like it.

On weekends the list reverts back to basics – do something creative, play outside, read something new…

But what about Simon? At 3 1/2 he wanted his own checklist. I thought about what he could do on his. It’s simple. It has pictures.

  • Get dressed
  • Brush teeth
  • Help Mama and Papa
  • Clean the bedroom
  • Pick up your toys in the lab
  • Exercising
  • Clear your dishes
  • Schoolwork

I don’t really care if he checks it all off everyday yet. He’s learning the system and he feels big, having a checklist like his “Bubbie”.


Last Thing! Good behaviors! The most recent addition is a daily behavior point. Each kid has their behavior Everest. So we chose the thing that needs the most focus. Each day to complete the magical list, they need to show that they have made an effort to address that behavior point. Simon has “Good Listening” on his list. Cecilia is working on “Using her strong and clear voice” (no whining!!). Arthur is working on thinking about how other people feel and responding with kindness.

I’m not sure how this part will work, or if it will work. But it’s worth a shot…anything to curtail the whining voice, really.


That’s it. The system we have designed. It looks elaborate. It is elaborate. But it was put together piece by piece in a way that works for us, and when it is in place it fades to simple. It is all written down, the elaborate reduced to a laminated piece of card stock. It seems to work really well for the kids. A couple times a month they are ON IT. They knock that list out by 2:00 and fry their brains with whatever Wii game all afternoon. But more days than that, they get involved and busy with life and just don’t get to everything. And that can be a disappointment, but they can’t blame me (I do make a good-faith effort every day to help them stay on track).

What about your family? What ways do you limit or un-limit screens in your house?



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We are back. I didn’t mean to take a sabbatical. It just happened. Things got crazy. The computer for slower. Inspiration flagged. No apologies here — life happened. It’s still happening.

We still homeschool. The kids are ever bigger. The baby is 3 1/2 and won’t let me call him a baby anymore. We are done with diapers (*cheering*).


Arthur is still dancing, sill loving Scouts, still reading obsessively. He’s getting ready for the third grade assessment test we do as homeschoolers here. I’ve looked it over and he will do just fine if he keeps his cool. He delights in reminding me that he’s about to be 10 (you know… Really soon… Like in September).


Cecilia is recently 6. When I started this blog she was just newly 1 and barely walking. She’s in love with dance and sewing and crafting. She’s the most powerful person I know. She’s right on the brink of independent reading. The change between 5 and 6 for here has been amazing.


Simon…oh Simon. He’s not a baby anymore. He’s equally comfortable playing Star Wars and battling his brother with a light saber, or he can put on his favorite blue velvet dress and be a princess with his sister. He’s just comfortable being him. He gets really frustrated when he is smaller, shorter, and slower than his siblings. But I’m okay with that. He gets to be my baby for just a little while longer (even if he rejects the word “baby”).

We moved to a bigger house and we have an entire, wonderful, huge room just for toys and chaos and learning. We are calling it The Lab. Having all my school stuff in one place is amazing and inspires me to new learning adventures with the kids. I also have a proper sewing room – the room at the last house was a glorified closet. It’s been a welcome change, this bigger house. So many good things.


So here we are. All happy. All growing. All learning a lot. All the time.

Welcome back to me and I will see you around the interwebs.

Poisson d’Avril

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I don't like April Fools' Day. Since I'm not a huge fan of practical jokes, it's not really a holiday I have ever gotten into. I've played a prank or two, but I never felt good afterward. But I want to enjoy fun things with my kids so I started looking for practical joke options.

Here's the thing. Practical Jokes involve violating someone's right to consent.

That sounds harsh, but think about these jokes we play, the classic pranks of summer camp and sleep overs. They involve humiliation, confusion, sometimes fear, or general use of someone's body without their okay (drawing on the first person to fall asleep at the slumber party?) Even something that seems totally silly and safe – freezing a bowl of cereal and milk – results in the prankee being confused, and likely being laughed at. If you just take a peek at the language, we play a prank ON someone or do a practical joke TO someone. Never WITH**. Stuff like that matters.

As a parent trying hard to teach respect and consent, I don't feel like a holiday devoted to ignoring consent is really something I can get on board with.

Happily, there is a better way, a gentler alternative full of silliness.

In France they celebrate Poisson d'Avril – the April Fish.

The goal is to tape a paper fish on someone's back, or hold some sort of a fish behind someone without their noticing. When they do notice, the joker says “Poisson d'Avril!” and everyone laughs. It's simple, it's expected. It's easy to say “I don't want to play that this year.” and easy to respect that person's right not to consent to this game. An a parent I can play along, not noticing as my minions “sneak” behind me with their fish.

I made a batch of small felt fish with a little glitter paint and googly eyes. I'm putting them on the table with some tape. And I'm letting Poisson d'Avril rule the day. Already there has been a lot of giggling.


**Side Note: It is, of course, possible to have a prank relationship with someone else. Everyone in the relationship understands that pranks are possible and not done out of malice. Everyone has agreed to play. This kind of relationship is awesome and develops over time, with respect and listening coming from all parties. I'm into that kind of prank. As long as there is mutual consent involved.


Teaching Consent

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With two boys and one girl growing up in this culture, I think about teaching my kids good lifestyle practices. I think about it a lot. I was reading this article (which is hilarious and you should read when you are done here) about a very simple metaphor to explain consent.

But here’s the thing. I feel like I shouldn’t have to explain consent to adults. Sadly, we still do, and part of the problem is that we don’t do a good job of explaining consent to kids. We don’t and we should. Consent and its surrounding concepts should be part of the language/concept soup that we raise our kids in. Also, it’s a parenting super-tool. Allow me to elaborate.

We (adults) do a lot of things that push kids’ consent realities. It’s often unavoidable. We hold our toddlers down while they flatly deny consent so that we can baby wipe their filthy little butts. Those things are necessary and part of the job. But other things – like tickle games until kids melt down and we all feel bad…those are something we (adults) get to do because we are bigger and stronger. And tickling, wrestling, and chasing are all super fun when everyone is consenting. I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater here — I still want to tickle my kids breathless and enjoy them saying “No! Stop Mommy Monster!” while I chase them. But I don’t want to abuse my size and strength and ability if it gets out of control. Then there is the forced affection issue. It’s been written about a lot in many places, so I’ll just sum up: it’s not okay to force a kid to show or receive physical affection. Not to grandparents, aunts, uncles, people who buy Girl Scout cookies… Not to anyone. Ever.

Teach Consent

*Use the Word consent* with your kids. Get it in the language. Make it a familiar word and concept. Explain it a million times. This is a parenting super-tool. Instead of saying “Brother-Bug, don’t snatch that toy! Play nice!” Instead I can ask “Brother-Bug, did you have Sister’s consent to take that toy? Sister-Bug, did you have Brother’s consent to hit him in the face?” Nope? Well, then it wasn’t a good choice. Let’s change it. Let’s do it differently. There’s not a lot of blame or finger pointing here. In sibling spats it’s often both people who are ignoring consent. Go back and do it over again. Kid climbing all over you after a long day? Adults have consent too! “Hey, I need you to get my consent before I am your jungle gym.”

*Make it the rule in your house* and help other kids understand it. This means you get to explain consent a lot more, often in front of your kids. And again, it makes dispute resolution easier. Once everyone knows what consent means, then they can go back and do over.

*Expand the phrase to Enthusiastic Consent* when appropriate. We need to know the difference between consent and enthusiastic consent. The difference between my daughter kind of shrugging her shoulders and mumbling yes to her someday-date versus a big smile and leaning in for a kiss with yes! on her lips is vast, and I know which one I want her to feel good using. (Yes, it is hard to think about my child in these types of scenarios, but they are coming along someday and I can’t get my kids ready for them if I don’t think about them. They aren’t going to be little and adorable forever.) In the here and now, with little kids, we use Enthusiastic Consent particularly in the area of weapon and fighting games. You may not, under any circumstances, use a weapon with/on/at a person in this house/yard without their Enthusiastic Consent. Again, this leads to me doing a fair amount of explaining to other kids.

*Explain when you violate their consent* and use consent language. I’ll stick with the toddler and poopy butt scenario from earlier because that’s where the Toddler-Bug and I find ourselves these days. “I know you don’t want me to wipe your butt and you are doing everything you can to show and tell me that I don’t have your consent. I’d love for you to put your poop in the potty and then I wouldn’t have to wipe your butt like this. But until we get there, my job is to keep you healthy and part of that is cleaning the poop off you. You can say yes and consent to this and I’d love that. Or you can poop in the potty. But my job means I have to ignore your consent for this moment, even if you don’t like what I am doing.” Yes, I have this little discussion with my toddler on the daily right now. Do this with car seats, bedtime, diapers, and whatever else you can. Stop and respect their space and consent if possible – at least for a minute. Give them the opportunity to decide to consent to something they can’t control anyway.

*Stand up for your kids’ right to consent* with everyone. I was stunned and a little outraged  at Brother-Bug’s last check-up. He was doing great, everything was lovely. And then the doctor went to manually examine my son’s genitals without telling him what she was doing!! Brother-Bug did exactly right. He jumped and hit the doctor’s hands away and said something like “What the heck!?” I explained to the doctor that my kids had been taught that no one should touch their genitals without their permission once they were able to keep them clean on their own time. Ever. Anyone. And she should ask. The doctor looked chagrined and talked to Brother-Bug about what she was going to do and why. It’s one of those places where we don’t think to look for consent, but we must.

And don’t force your child to kiss, hug, talk to, high five, or interact with anyone just because they *should*. That’s just…swear words. Kids will learn how to use good manners because we show them good manners. They will learn to hug people they want to hug when they see us hug people we want to hug.


*Give your kids a safe word*. Nope. I’m not joking. Remember the tickle games I mentioned early on? They are super fun and everyone feels good in our house because we have a safe word. It’s a funny one. One that won’t be said in the craziness of the moment like No or Stop. Ours is FishPepper. If someone in a game says FishPepper, all game play stops. Sometimes just for a moment while everyone catches their breath. Sometimes for good. We are careful about using our safe word; the big kids know that it is a powerful word and they must use it only ever For Real or it will lose it’s power. Just in the last week or so, Toddler-Bug started using it of his own free will when Papa-Bug was tickling him! It was a proud moment. Our two-year old knows how to use consent concepts!

I’m going to digress for a moment. I assumed that we just know that No Means No. And we teach that too. But sometimes we are playing games and No is confusingly fun. Sometimes it’s hard to hear. No should always mean no with kids and their games. But if we get carried away (kids or adults) it’s really good to have a fallback safe word. You can play harder. I promise.

This means more explaining. To kids friends: “Oh! Sister-Bug just said FishPepper. In our house that means she needs everything to stop for a minute until she feels safe.” To their care-people: “Thanks for watching our kids…their safe word is FishPepper…just in case you are playing. That means they need to stop until they feel safe.” To parents of other kids: “My kids taught your kid the concept of a safe word…{how we use safe words with kids}…so if you hear your child using the idea of a safe word, you know where she got it.”

I always try to do the explaining in front of kids. I want them to hear me explain and support consent over and over and over and over.

If we all did this, as parents and people who love the kids we are around, eventually…someday…we would have to explain consent to adults a lot less. And maybe our kids could do it lovingly for us!!

So go out in the world and give your kids a safe word.