Monday, 25 May 2015

Elevator Pitches: Unschooling and Faith

I did a lot of the household chores this morning, but before you feel sorry for me, I’ll confess I hardly noticed what my hands were doing because my mind was busy.  I was listening to The Catholics Next Door podcast as I vacuumed floors, sorted washing, dried dishes... I am weeks behind with the episodes, not that it matters. I quite liked finding myself back at Easter Sunday, instead of in ordinary time.

Anyway, this morning Greg and Jennifer were talking about why we are Catholic. What would we say if we only had a very short period of time to tell someone what draws us to the Catholic faith? What would our 'elevator pitch' be?

I’ve been thinking about this. What would I say if the person next to me in the elevator suddenly said, "You're wearing a crucifix... Why on earth would you want to be a Catholic?" Now hopefully we are at the ground floor of a very tall building when he asks me this question. I hope we are both travelling to the very top because it's going to be hard to explain in a few words...

I never meant to become a Catholic. In fact when my Catholic fiance proposed to me, I immediately said, “Andy, I’ll marry you, but I will never be a Catholic.” But despite those words, after the birth of our first child, I began thinking about faith matters. Should we get our daughter baptised, and if so, baptised into which faith? I’m not the sort of person who does something just because it's expected. I don't like being told what to do. I need to go looking for information and then make up my own mind about things. By the time I’d done all that, I was hooked. God gave me such a longing to belong to the very Church I hadn't wanted to consider. Two baptisms (we had two children by this time), one wedding renewal, one First Holy Communion and confirmation later, we were a Catholic family.

What keeps me here? I know I couldn’t get through life’s difficult times without God. I did try to be self-sufficient even though I was a Christian, right up to the point of our son Thomas' death. Then for the very first time ever, I realised I couldn't help myself. I was stuck at the bottom of a pit of grief unable to get out, but God reached out and saved me. I gave in. He is now in charge of my life. So that explains the God bit. But why Catholic? There are lots of reasons but here's a big one: Where else can I receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord? That's an act of love I cannot get my mind around. (Of course there are other churches such as the Orthodox Churches which also have the Real Presence but that would take far too long to discuss!)

I wonder if I'm standing in the elevator talking to myself by now. Even two paragraphs contain quite a few words. (Years ago I would never have imagined I’d become the kind of person who could write such words.) But faith wasn’t what I intended to talk about. It was the chore part of my morning, I wanted to share.

Chores have been on my mind because I spent most of yesterday playing around with a video clip in which Sophie talks about doing chores. (I stole it from my video: An Interview with an Unschooling Teenager.) I have this idea for making a video series about unschooling. I could call it Unschooling Bites. Small snippets of information about unschooling presented in very short videos. Unschooling elevator pitches, perhaps! 

I started my experiments at Powtoon where I made a slideshow presentation which I liked. But then I discovered I couldn’t convert my slideshow into a video. (Do you think videos are better than slideshows?)

Next, I used PowerPoint to make a similar slideshow presentation, and then I exported it as a Youtube video. 

And this morning I tried a third way of sharing the clip. I published some Powtoon slides as videos and then added them to my chore video, using the Corel video software program on my computer. 

I’m not sure which method I like best, but I do know I need to do more experimenting with design and perhaps re-record segments of video to get better sound quality. Podcasting has tuned my ear into every unwanted hesitation and um!

Now all I need are some simple unschooling ideas to make videos about. If you were standing next to someone in an elevator, and had only a short time to say something about unschooling, what would it be? (Or what would you like to hear?)

PS: In Australia we usually use the word 'lift' instead of elevator, at least we do where we live!

Photos: They haven't got much to do with my story. I just needed something to make my post look pretty! 

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Saturday, 23 May 2015

When Excitement for Learning Appears to Disappear

It's very exciting watching a child who is gripped by a passion. But what about those times when interest in learning seems to disappear?

I like to get up early. I leave my bed while everyone else is sleeping, feel my way out of our darkened bedroom, fall over the three hungry cats gathered hopefully at my door, and head to the kitchen to fill the kettle. Animals fed, a mug of tea in my hand, I settle on the family room sofa to read or pray or just check the mail.

That's what I did this morning. Half an hour into my quiet time, my daughter Sophie appeared. We sat side-by-side, rubbing cats’ chins, as we chatted.

“You seemed a bit out of sorts this week,” I observed. “Not your usual cheery self.”

“I feel like I’m drifting.”

I know how Sophie feels. I’ve been feeling the same way. I move from one unsatisfying thing to the other. I wonder what I’m supposed to be doing. Where’s all my excitement gone?

I could worry about being stuck in this stagnant state, but I've come to the conclusion that quiet times are a normal part of life. It's probably unrealistic to expect to fly through every day in a constant state of excitement. Think how tiring that would be. And maybe important work is going on during these seemingly unproductive times, subconsciously, of course. Who knows what is brewing deep within us while all seems quiet on the surface?

I have noticed that quiet times never last forever. One day I wake up and instantly know things have changed. A wonderful new idea will be floating through my mind. I feel full of energy. Before I know it, I’ll be chasing knowledge, working on a new project, feeling excited about life once more.

“What do you feel like doing?” I asked Sophie.

“I can't think of anything I really want to do.”

I could have said, “There’s plenty of interesting things you could be doing. Choose something! Don’t waste your time.” But is that necessary? I think Sophie will find her own way to her next interesting thing without me pressuring her. She probably needs space to rest and read and do nothing in particular. Of course, I could still make a suggestion or two, do some strewing, offer her some new ideas to think about. Something might spark her imagination, set her flying off again on new adventures.

“Now the weather is cool we could go for some more bush walks,” I said.  “I’ve been meaning to get the wildflower identification book out. I’d like to know the names of a few more flowers. What do you think?”

We agreed that an outing would be very enjoyable. Get outside and enjoy nature, take our cameras and capture some photos, have a picnic. It sounds just what we need.

Perhaps children, like mothers, need quiet times. Life doesn't always have to be full on. School schedules might suggest learning happens at a constant rate, but I bet it doesn't. I’m talking about the visible kind of learning because, of course, we never quite know what’s going on inside a person. We can never measure all that is being processed unobserved.

Do you know what I’m going to do now? I’m off to find that wildflower book. And perhaps I'll take a game or two down from the shelf. We have some CDs we haven't played for a while. And maybe I could strew a painting on the wall...

PS: I've just remembered it wasn't so long ago that my 17-year-old daughter Charlotte was drifting through her days, feeling uninspired. I spoke about that in my podcast, Exciting Times, Slow Times and Unschool Holidays. But today Charlotte's eyes are alight with excitement as she thinks about starting her first university unit. She has found a Bachelor of Arts degree she wants to do. I might write or speak about that in another post!

Photos: The red flower above is definitely a honey flower, also known as a mountain devil, but I'm not sure about the flower to the left. It could be an old man Banksia (Banksia serrata) When I've done some research, using our identification book, I'll know for sure!

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Friday, 22 May 2015

Ashamed of Being Ashamed of Looking Older

The other day, while I was browsing the shelves in our local library, a book title jumped out at me: Why Time Goes Faster as We Get Older.

Yes, time is definitely speeding up as I age. When I was a child, a day felt like a week, a week lasted a month and a year was forever. Now a week disappears in an instant. Every Friday, I wonder, “Where did this week go? How can it be over already?” 

I want to slow time down, grab hold of it and hold on tight. I want to savour each moment. I don’t want to get any older.

I remember when I first realised I was ageing. One day I looked in the mirror and I saw them: the first tell-tale lines around my eyes. How had they snuck past me? I felt a little ashamed. How could I have let myself slip into a visible old age? I should have done something. But what? By the time we notice we’re ageing, it’s too late.

Sometimes I wonder how I can go out in public with all these lines and wrinkles. What will people say? I suppose they could say, “Hey, Sue, you’re looking old!” (But would they?) Is getting old really something to be ashamed of?

After I’d borrowed my library books, I had one more job to do while I was in town: I needed to renew my driver’s license. While I was filling out the renewal form, I noticed something interesting: There is now such a thing as a ten year license, as well as the usual one and five year ones. I was thinking how good it would be to have one of these longer licenses when I noticed something else: I’m too old to apply for one. And I’m not just slightly too old. I’m 10 years too old.

As I waited in the queue with my form, my mind was busy doing some rather alarming maths: How many more five year licenses can I apply for? How long have I got before I have to have an annual checkup and driving test, to make sure I'm not too feeble to be in charge of a car? Oh my! I reckon the way time is marching on, that day will arrive very soon, like maybe in a year or two.

By the time I arrived at the front of the queue, I felt like a very old woman. I hobbled up to the desk and, with a quivering hand, passed over my form saying, “I’m too old for a 10 year license.”

“So am I,” laughed the woman serving me. (She didn’t look that old.)  “I do have some good news for you though,” she added. “Your license will be half price because you haven’t lost any demerit points.”

That cheered me up. I have a perfect driving record. Not bad for someone who’s racing towards extreme old age.

It was my birthday a couple of weeks or so ago. My daughter Sophie took lots of photos of my special day, and I accidently managed to get into a few of them. Later, when we were looking at them, my youngest daughter Gemma-Rose said, “You look beautiful, Mum!”

“But what about all the lines around my eyes?” I asked. “They make me look very old.”

“No, they don’t. They’re only smile lines. You smile more often than most people. That’s why you have lines.”

Just a moment ago, I was feeling ashamed because I’m looking old. Now I’m ashamed I was feeling ashamed. Perhaps I should now feel ashamed about wasting so much time writing a post on such trivial matters as my ageing appearance. 

Gemma-Rose is right.  I’m always smiling because I have lots to smile about. Aren't I blessed? 

I think I'll stop right here and go do something more important (like hug a daughter), before today turns into the day after tomorrow... before any more time races away.

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Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Evernote for Homeschool Records: Which Version?

Last year, I made a series of videos showing how I use Evernote to record all our unschool learning experiences. These records are needed so we can be legally registered as homeschoolers. Occasionally someone stops by, after watching one of my videos, to ask a question. I thought I'd share the answers to some of these questions here on my blog.

So today's question: Which version of Evernote should I use? The answer could depend on the features you require, the appearance which appeals to you, and how much you want to spend...

Price: Evernote offers 3 levels of pricing: Basic (free), Plus and Premium.

My children all have free Basic Evernote accounts. I chose to pay for a Premium one.

Advantages of paid versions:
The Plus and Premium versions have higher monthly upload allowances compared to the Basic version. Premium has unlimited uploads so I can add whatever I like, including full sized photos, to my notes without thinking about it. 

The Plus and Premium versions are available both online and offline. The Basic version is only available online. I like knowing my notebooks are available regardless of whether I am connected to the Internet or not.

There are other advantages to having a paid account, but these are the most relevant ones.

Appearance: Once a decision about price has been made, we have another choice: Do we want to use the new beta version or the older version?

I'm using the older version. When I open Evernote for Windows desktop, it looks like this:

If I switch to the online version, it looks very similar:

If I want to, I can swap my older version for the newer beta version. If I click on 'Help' and then go to my account page, I end up here...

... where I can 'get the beta' version and change the look of my notebooks...

The beta version has lots of white space because once a notebook has been chosen, the other ones 'disappear'.

Although I like the uncluttered look of the beta version, I prefer the older version for registration purposes. I like how our Authorised Person can see all our notebooks at one glance. It also seems easier to navigate, but that's probably only because I'm more familiar with this version.

It is possible to swap back and forth between versions, so you could experiment and see what suits you best. Just go to 'account settings' to make the changes...

I haven't shown you what the beta desktop version looks like because I haven't downloaded it. I imagine it will look very much like the web version!

If you want to try Evernote, you could start with the free Basic version, do some experimenting, and if you like it, and want more upload allowance, you could then upgrade. That's what I did. 

When I first saw Evernote, I liked it very much. I got very excited about the possibilities. I wrote a few blog posts, and made a few videos... And for the first time ever, I began to enjoy keeping homeschool records. (Unbelievable but true!)

PS: If you haven't seen my other Evernote posts, and want to know more, you could read A Perfect Method for Keeping Unschooling Records.

This photo of Gemma-Rose was taken by Sophie.

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Monday, 18 May 2015

Creativity: Why Classical Music Isn't Enough

I had an idea: "Hey, Imogen, would you like to record a podcast with me? We could discuss all those wild unschooling thoughts that keep bubbling up inside of us."

My 20-year-old daughter nodded, and asked, "What shall we talk about for our first episode?"

"How about creativity?"


So I made a list of questions we could explore. We set up our microphone. I pressed the 'record' button, and Imogen said, "You're listening to the Wild Inside podcast!" 

Amongst other things, we explored the following questions:

  • Why are some people more creative than others?
  • Can you be an artist and not be creative?
  • Can everything be approached creatively? What about maths?
  • Will there ever be another Mozart?
  • Why is a diet of classical music not enough?
  • Are all classic novels good?
  • How can we encourage our children to be creative?

After we'd finished recording, I saved the audio file, deciding to edit it another day. But when I returned, I couldn't find our podcast. I couldn't remember what I'd called it. So for several weeks, our podcast was lost somewhere on my computer. But today I found it! 

So here's our first episode of our Wild Inside podcast. We hope you'll listen!

The Angels of Abbey Creek
You can find Imogen on her blog Gossiping with Dragons.

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Thursday, 7 May 2015

What I Think Unschooling is All About: the Podcast

I've been having trouble finding the right words to express the ideas swirling around inside my head. But instead of worrying about it, I've been heading out the door to run along the sandstone tracks that weave their way through our local bush. I've also been reading my library books, and knitting some of Gemma-Rose's hooded cape. I've even watched a movie with my girls. 

Yes, I've been doing some different things instead of thinking about words, even though I needed to record something for this week's podcast.  And then, in the middle of last night, when I was trying to sleep, I had an idea. Why not use some old words?

So for this week's episode, I tell a story that lies hidden in my archive. It's about labels and definitions and what I think unschooling is all about. If you haven't already read my story, I hope you'll listen!

Here's the original post in case you'd rather read than listen: What I Think Unschooling is All About

After writing my post, Taking Time Out, I googled the words 'losing your writing mojo' and discovered the best thing to do, when the ability to write deserts us, is to head outside for some exercise, get plenty of rest, do some different things for a change, write purely for pleasure and not for a particular reason... I'm doing all that so I suppose those elusive words might reappear very soon!

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Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Taking Time Out

Yesterday I recorded a podcast, but when I played it back, I wasn’t happy with it. My words sounded flat and uninteresting. My ideas didn’t sparkle. I wondered why I thought I had anything worth saying.

So today, instead of publishing the podcast, I decided to write a blog post. I hoped writing would convey my thoughts better. But after a few sentences, it was obvious my words were still uninspiring.

I have lots of ideas, things I want to share, but my fingers are heavy. They won’t turn what’s inside my head into something worth reading.

Perhaps I’m tired. Or could I be in need of a change?

I look at the stack of books waiting in my library basket. Some are about ideas and creativity, and others are novels. There’s a book about poetry. I could open one of these books and slip away to another world for a time, gather some new ideas, relax and enjoy.

As I think about this, I gaze out the window. The beautiful autumn sun has reappeared after a long period of rain. The washing line, laden with clothes, turns slowly in the breeze. The native bush on the other side of our garden fence beckons. I imagine running along a bush track, dodging around the puddles, breathing in the damp earthy air, letting my mind go free.

But instead of running, I could walk down to the main fire trail with my camera. I’d like to take some photos of the huge brown mushrooms which have sprouted under the gum trees. I could lie on my stomach in the leaf litter, and look through the lens at the world, from a different angle.

Or I could stay home and knit a few rows of the blue hooded cape I’m making for Gemma-Rose. And while my fingers are busy, I could listen to some music or a spiritual talk, or chat with my girls.

There's lots of things I could do other than blogging and podcasting.

I want to write and speak about this amazing unschooling life, but that's impossible when all my words are dull and heavy, so I’m going to take some time out. I am going do something different. At least for a while.

There is something magical about the Australian bush. When I am running along a track, that winds its way through the bush, my normal world seems so far away. All the things that normally fill my mind, fall away, and I am free to enjoy the birds, the flowers, the pink and grey and orange sandstone rocks, the wind on my face, the challenge of a steep hill...

Do you have somewhere you like to escape to, a place where the cares of the world drop away?

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