ALF Summer 2017

We are at the end of our 8th full day of ALF Summer and will jump into Mosaic summer camp next week. It was my intention over the past week and a half to try to find a balance between helping to keep the physical space tidy, and attend and lead offerings. I have enjoyed caring for the school and our visitors. It has felt like we have invited these individuals into our home and pulled back the curtain on how our ALC community operates. I have enjoyed seeing familiar people who are currently running and working at ALC’s, and meeting new people who are somewhere on the path to investigating ALC’s or considering opening one.

I was curious to see how we would do as a staff in terms of running our own ALF Summer, but feel really good about the way everyone has risen to the challenge. I also feel good about the offerings that I have made which pertain to some of the hands on aspects of ALF’ing. I enjoy being in conversation with others who are doing this work, and found that offering conversations where I could share my experiences (both positive and negative), and hear about other’s experiences and perspectives has felt really good. We often check in with the other facilitators during the school year, but having this time to really dig in with other facilitators has been helpful.

I am in awe and admiration of the folks here at ALF Summer who have started schools, or are contemplating starting one. This is an enormous undertaking and I am sure it feels overwhelming and daunting, but I am so grateful that they have the courage to help spread the idea of self directed education to more children and families.


(Try to) Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

I like keeping Christmas small. Small tree, small number of presents, preferably homemade, and small (but none would be better!) number of trips to the mall, but big on love, good food, and memories with dear family and friends.

My childhood Christmases were over the top with a giant tree, presents spilling out of the room, and after all the anticipation, it was over in less than ten minutes… What I didn’t see as a child, was all the work, stress and debt these extravagant Christmases likely caused my parents.  I truly appreciate all the effort, thought and love that went into making my childhood Christmases magical.

Now as a parent myself, we have an agreement with our son that he only ask Santa for three gifts, and we don’t buy him anything else. If other family members choose to buy our son gifts, we do not try to dissuade them, because we aren’t complete buzzkill parents. However, it makes me cringe when I have to wrack my brain thinking of gift ideas for my son to share with others (the three Santa gifts are hard enough!), or what I should buy the people on my list, or feel pressure to choose gifts that will be “equal” in monetary value.  Shouldn’t this be a sign that we have more than we need? Aren’t there plenty who don’t that we could (should?) be focusing on?

Despite the best of intentions, Christmas inevitably ends of becoming more materialistic than I had hoped. Even though I want to be strong, I tend to freak out in the days leading up to the big day, wondering if so and so would be getting me a gift and do I have something (equal in thought and expense) for them?

Perhaps we’ll get better and better at remembering the true meaning of Christmas, and decide not to allow the commercialization of it to affect us at all. I do think we’ve gotten better at setting limits, and therefore changing the expectation that Christmas isn’t good unless everyone goes into debt.

I would love to hear how others have worked to keep Christmas small on stuff, but big on love in their families! Cheers to a merry little Christmas! 


Over the Thanksgiving break I accomplished a couple of goals. The first was to finally make a decision about our family vacation this spring. We know we want to go back to Europe, but weren’t sure if we should go back to Ireland, Scotland or England and really dig in, or go to some new countries. Ultimately we decided to start in Berlin and after a week there, we will take the train to Prague. We have friends who live in Berlin, and hopefully they will continue to Prague with us. I look forward to learning more about these cities in the next few months and deciding on things we want to do and see while we’re there.

The other goal was to start really in earnest only using my bike for trips within five miles. My son had a yearly cardiology appointment during the break, and even though it was a bitter cold morning, and I was worried we’d freeze, we bundled up and rode to the appointment. Everyone at the office was impressed that my son rode his bike to his cardiology appointment! It was about three and a half miles away, and once we started riding, we weren’t cold at all. Then we rode home after. The next day we rode about two and a half miles on a busier street to pick up a pain medication from the veterinarian for our thirteen year old dachshund, Rudy. The next day we rode back to the cardiology office for an appointment with my son’s nutritionist. We have consistently been riding to and from school, and so far I have put almost sixty-five miles on my Yuba bike. My car sits for multiple days in a row not being driven, and I haven’t put gas in it for almost three weeks! (And it still has half a tank!) I was looking forward to when riding my bike for errands and appointments will feel “routine”, and I feel like I’m almost there. Taking the Cycling Savvy class helped me feel confident enough to ride on the street safely, especially with my son next to me on his bike. I am grateful to Charlotte and Nancy for recommending it, my son, my mom, Liberty, Jackson and Caleb for taking it with me, and Pam for teaching it. I am also grateful for my husband for pushing me to splurge on an E-bike. It makes riding so enjoyable and effortless, and the hills I will have to climb are no longer an impediment.

The No New Clothes for a Year Challenge

This past week I started pondering how much    I could save if I challenged myself to go without clothes shopping for an entire  (year). There were a couple of events that precipitated this idea.

The first event was the election of President-Elect Trump (Oh how it hurts me to write that…).     My husband and I were talking the morning after the election about the feasibility of leaving the US for the next four years and immigrating to a country where  and universal    are plentiful. He was fairly sure that finding a position as an  in another country would be difficult. There would be many many hoops to jump through, and he has already taken (and passed) the bar exam in three states, and not one was pleasant (CA, NY, NC). This caused me to start thinking of how dependent we are, as a family, on my husband’s continued employment as an attorney. I would like to ultimately be in a financial position where we could pick and leave if need be.

I started thinking about the things I spend our family’s  on, such as clothing, eating out, entertainment, groceries and , and where I could stand to cut back. Since my husband already commutes via  to work, rarely shops for clothing or eats out on his own, it would really be up to me to cut back. Clothing purchases are a low hanging fruit. I currently have a closet full of clothes, and no one (who matters) in my life would ever judge me based on my wardrobe. I have plenty of warm clothes for the upcoming winter months.

The second event occurred this weekend as I went through the bins with my family’s winter clothes, and was shocked by the quantity of clothing there. My son probably has enough clothing for three boys and I won’t need to shop for him. (The exception is shoes, because his feet are growing.)

The most difficult thing about the challenge will be replacing my clothes shopping hobby with other activities. I’m hoping the new activities will be more active and take me outside. I will be curious to see how much    I am able to save in the next   . Something tells me it will be a lot! 

Tweaking Writer’s Workshop

After about two months into the school year I am feeling more at ease with the students at school. I would ultimately like for them to see me as more than the “nice one”, because I don’t always feel nice and want to feel comfortable sharing more of myself with them. Yes, I know there are obviously worse things, but I know that I am a complex and multidimensional person who is more than just “nice”.

I am also settling into a rhythm each week of facilitating the Monday and Wednesday Writer’s Workshop (WW) groups. I have had to really backed off of any expectations surrounding this offering, and just support the wants and needs of the student coherence holders (CH). We have WW offsite and the CH’s decide where we will go each week. This week they decided on a coffee shop on the other side of town, and I am currently biting my tongue, as they see that such a long travel time means less writing time.

We have mixed ages in WW, anywhere from 7-13. Their writing support needs vary greatly, and finding a balance has been interesting and challenging. Today I decided to reintroduce the concept of a short “mini lesson” and enlisted the help of the older students. I skimmed through the first few paragraphs of Gary Paulsen’s “Hatchet”, and removed any adjectives or dialogue. Then read it again as it was written, and invited the students to comment of the differences. Some of the students had already read “Hatchet” and were very confused during the first reading. It’s such a descriptive and exciting book, and to hear it reduced to just the facts was probably disappointing for some. I will probably tweak this mini lesson and do it again for the Wednesday group, then report about that. 😉

Here we are at Wednesday’s Writer’s Workshop, and all but one of today’s group decided to pass. Many of the students at school seem deeply affected by the results of the presidential election, and may need time to just be. The WW CH’s and one other Monday group student came along instead. It feels good to get away from school today and be in the world so I can see for myself that although we are in the midst of a “Trumpocalypse” life goes on and people can still smile. We are at a coffee shop within the Habitat for Humanity store, called “Julia’s, and it feels good to support a charitable organization that is working to provide homes for needy families.

I am sure I will continue to adapt WW, along with the CH’s, to meet the diverse needs of these writers and will endeavor to share how it’s going over the course of the next few months.

Can we talk about hypochondria?

The past few weeks I have been thinking a lot about the way my mind works. What prompted this was taking Kristin Oliver’s class, and preparing to go to her retreat this coming weekend. I have been trying to shift some patterns in my life, and have been fascinated to learn that 95% of what we do, think and feel is controlled by our unconscious mind. This makes changing patterns or “stories” in our lives incredibly challenging. It also explains why the concept of willpower is so difficult, because so much of what we do is just on autopilot and there is very little that is actually intentional.

Something I have struggled with, but do not share freely, is hypochondria. This is not a condition I have always had, but rather one that came about after a scary experience. I had just completed my third (and final) cycle of in vitro fertilization (IVF), the first of which resulted in the pregnancy, which resulted in EVAN. I had a feeling something was wrong with a vein in my calf, and had scheduled an appointment to see a specialist. Of course I did some online research to determine what might be happening with this vein that was looking so lumpy and feeling achy. Doing online research about health concerns is something I generally avoid now, because the sites will all give you the worst possible scenario, which will likely be cancer or impending death.

I had all of these worries swirling in my mind after getting the news back from the fertility specialist’s office that this IVF attempt was unsuccessful. I never considered that the hormones and medications I had been injecting into my body might be the cause of the problem with my vein. When you choose IVF, you are focusing on the dream of a baby, and not the list of possible side effects.

That evening, I was driving Evan home from the circus, after having just dropped my sister at home. I must have been worrying about my vein, and believe now I had what I now know is a panic attack. It scared me so much that I pulled over and called 911. I was sure something in my vein had shifted and must be the cause of the lightheaded feeling I was experiencing. Once the paramedics came, they checked my vitals and couldn’t find anything abnormal, and by this time my husband and sister arrived. The paramedics suggested that I might want to go to the ER to be checked out, but didn’t think it was necessary to transport me there. My sister took Evan to our house and Bryon took me to the hospital.

After we arrived, I knew that it was going to be a long wait because it was a typical Friday night in the ER. Once they took me back, things started happening really fast. I had a doppler ultrasound of the lumpy vein in my leg, which revealed a deep vein thrombosis (or DVT), which is a blood clot in the vein. Then I had a CT scan and they found a bunch of old and new blood clots in my lungs. They told  all of these were likely a side effect of the IVF cycles. I spent five days in the hospital and was not allowed to get out of bed, while they were giving me injections of a medication to get my blood clotting levels in the “therapeutic range”. During that time the doctors I spoke with were very serious, and all told me that I was lucky that I had listened to my body. In fact everyone who came to my room told me I was lucky I had listened to my body, so after that, I really started listening!

I spent the next few years going to the doctor with any ache or pain, imagined or real. (The brain apparently doesn’t even know the difference) I did not care how much money I spent in co-pays, as long as the doctor could ease my fears, which would have spiraled into panic attacks by the time of my appointment. I was especially listening to the vein in my leg, which is damaged and sometimes aches. I have had it Dopplered on Christmas eve, and the day before hosting Thanksgiving for thirteen guests. Each time knowing that if a blood clot was detected, I would be transported to the hospital where I would spend almost a week. All these tests have been negative by the way, except for the one I had hours before flying to Amsterdam last spring, which ended up being a Baker cyst, and not life-threatening, but which presents itself as a blood clot. 🙁

In the past few years I have gotten better, and am not in a state of constant fear of my health, but periodically I will feel a twinge and the fear starts again. This is the “story” I desperately want to change, for myself and my family. It will take continued work redirecting and retraining my thoughts and working with Kristin, but I am hoping with time I can have an ache or pain and know it is just that and likely nothing more.

Being a Grown Up

A few times a week the thought will occur to me that I am just pretending to be a grownup. It’s like it’s a role that I’m playing, and I wonder if other people feel this way too. It isn’t necessarily that I feel like a child or even a teenager, it’s different, like I am somehow not equipped with the proper grownup tools or skills, and am an imposter.

I keep waiting for the day when I feel like a full-fledged grownup, but shouldn’t that already have happened by forty-four? I would have expected to be basking in all the glory and righteousness of my grownupness by now, but I’m still waiting. The times when I feel this the most are when I’m with my son, and am either talking with him about something he did that upset or disappointed me, or when I’m trying to give him advice. Total imposter time.

I would have been old enough to run for president nine years ago. (Isn’t 35 the minimum age?) Can you imagine what an imposter the president must feel like everyday? The sham that level of grownuping (grownupping? I don’t even know how to SPELL it!) would require just makes me want to take a nap…


Yesterday, Bryon, my husband, and I were coming back from Asheville after being there for the 2016 Bike Summit. I knew that our home NFL team, the Carolina Panthers, would be playing their first home game of the season at one o’clock, and wanted to be home for that. This is pretty ironic because I used to capital H HATE football. Bryon loves to remind me that I even wrote a speech about not liking football for my college public speaking class.

I think my feelings about football started to shift when my son, Evan, became obsessed with all things Carolina Panthers, which happened a few years ago. I suspect for Evan it was more about the clothes and other paraphernalia, then about the actual sport of football. Evan even decided we should redecorate his room in Panther’s teal and silver, with matching bedding and all the accessories. He also insisted on only wearing Panther’s clothing. That year Santa brought Evan a toothbrush, water bottle, socks, stocking cap, hoodie, and stuffed animal, all Carolina Panthers. He even wore a Panthers tie in his picture with Santa.

In our quest to acquire additional Panthers gear, we often visited the team store outside Bank of America stadium. We met and spoke with the employees who came to recognize us over time. Slowly the Carolina Panthers snuck into my heart and I began to recognize the names of the players and actually care if they won or lost!

Which brings me to this past weekend, when I was in a hurry to get home for the football game and Bryon was like, “meh”. Luckily we made it home in plenty of time and the Panthers were victorious over the San Fransico 49ers with a score of 46-27, which is a score that has never occurred before in NFL history. It was an exciting game right up until the last few minutes, which is typical of the Panthers and has earned them the nickname the “Cardiac Cats”.  Next Sunday is another home game and I will look forward to it all week even though I used to hate football!


Yes to Churros!

This week the energy in my Spawn Point felt pretty low. It seemed like myself and the kids were sort of going though the motions. Last week was the Tone Setting camping trip, so perhaps many of the kids need to catch up on sleep, or are still getting used to their fall school and activity routines. I might be as well.

I spoke briefly with a pre-teen girl the week before the camping trip about churros. Somehow (I can’t recall exactly why or how.), but churros came up in our conversation. I told her that I also love churros, and that they sell them for $1 at Costco! Then I suggested that she make an offering to go (with the help of a facilitator/driver) to go get churros at Costco. Her face showed puzzlement, so I told her that she could really do this. Then I explained that (almost) anything she wants to do could be turned into an Offering, which would be scheduled during Set the Week on Monday mornings. I suggested that when we come back from the camping trip she make the churro Offering.

Well two weeks is a long time, so once the students were back in school this week, this student had apparently forgotten all about churros, so when I saw her I was all like, “Hey! Churros!” and she was like, “Yes!”, with a big smile. So we got a Post It note and Sharpie so she could write the Offering down and bring it to Set the Week. During Set the Week Nancy asked whose Offering this was, and I pointed to this student, and a day and time were decided upon.

This was an important moment because it demonstrated to this student that her interests, even an interest in eating churros, is valid, worthwhile, and could become an Offering and other students may also be interested! in fact (but perhaps not surprisingly) eight other students were interested! (The rest were on the school’s weekly hike, otherwise that number would likely have been almost twenty.)

When we were leaving Costco, another student saw an aquarium store across the parking lot, and told me how cool it is and that they have sharks! I said, “That could be an Offering! We could go check out the fish, then get churros!”.  I am hoping to empower these students to make Offerings that are meaningful to them, either because it’s something they are curious about, want to explore, or are just hungry! This ties into our belief that learning happens all the time, and learning opportunities are everywhere. Perhaps getting churros at Costco isn’t an obviously educational opportunity, but the children signed up to go, brought and counted their own money, ordered their churro from the cashier, etc., but were mostly empowered with the knowledge that this is their school and there is power in that.

You Say Commune, I Say Community

Last week I intended to go on the Mosaic tone-setting camping trip, but life got in the way. (sigh) The Saturday before the trip I was having lunch at a restaurant with my husband, son, mom, sister and son’s best friend. As we were catching up, I realized my mom would be having surgery on Tuesday morning, while my sister would be driving to Charleston for the closing of a beach condo she was purchasing. My husband would be leaving Wednesday for a conference in Boston, and no one would be home to take my mom to and from the hospital, or to take care of our dogs.

I resigned myself to missing the camping trip, but knew I was making the right choice. My mom’s surgery went fine, and she has fully recovered. I was also home for my friend’s birthday, and drove her children to and from school on Thursday and watched them while she had a mani/pedi and went to dinner with her husband. I was so happy to do this so she could have a relaxing birthday.

This weekend I helped that same friend move. Their family recently downsized from a 4,000 square foot house to a 3 bedroom apartment close to the city of Charlotte, in the same complex where I live. Most people are surprised that I did something similar about a year and a half ago, but it was liberating (time-wise and financially) to not be tied to a house and yard that were much larger than my family of three needed.

Initially my friend moved her family into a fourth floor apartment in the main building of our complex, which was challenging with three young kids and two dogs. Then a couple weeks later the community manager let her know that the townhouse at the end of my row had come available. This was going to be such a better solution for her family that she make the difficult decision to move again! I am hopeful they will settle in and feel more at home in the townhouse. Not coincidentally, my mom is also living in the same complex.

It has been wonderful having family and such good friends live so close. We are able to help each other daily in multiple ways, with childcare, meals, sharing resources, and just with general support. This feels so natural in terms of community, and even though it probably wouldn’t be for everybody, it feels good for us right now.