13 Miles of Awesome

Today was the kind of day that really sells homeschooling, especially the ‘unschooling’ I lean towards. Normally, Mondays are errand day. By the time we buy groceries for the week, get home and have lunch, we’re lucky to get an hour or two of mediocre school time in. The weather today is warm, not terribly sunny, but definitely sunny enough to enjoy being outdoors – a stark contrast to the colder temperatures for the rest of the week.

A picture from the first day we test drove the "Frankentrailer"

A picture from the first day we test drove the “Frankentrailer”

So we called an audible and went to the zoo. As a parent, I was unusually on top of my game today and decided to go whole hog: pack a lunch, a snack, and make a day of it. We hopped into the human-powered minivan and started biking at 1000 and didn’t get done with the zoo and home until 1445. The girls are starting to get to the point where they ask to stop and read the signs – a great sign, since the transition from learning to read and reading to learn is a critical one. All three goblins recognized animals from the Planet Earth series we’re working through, and Gia (my middle daughter) asked specifically to see the caribou after the really cool migration videos.

Biking the indirect way to avoid hills and heavy traffic resulted in a 13 mile roundtrip, but my body is getting used to the heavy weight and I’m learning how to gear for hills and such. The route stays on a MUT most of the way, so it’s scenic and relatively quiet. All around us at the zoo were families with giant strollers and other crazy things only possible to have with a car to port it around. If we have a fourth baby, it’ll be interesting to see whether I can avoid the trappings of conventional parenthood, because biking everywhere is AWESOME. It’s not free, but it’s pretty damn close.

Part of today also involved a combined ethics/environmental/personal finance lesson about why we pack our lunches (sandwiches of varying flavors and freshly popped popcorn) instead of buying overpriced junk food. Both of my girls are starting to understand the concept of being wasteful, why that’s bad, and what Mommy and Daddy are working towards (early retirement).

Between the nice bike ride, the really relaxing and educational trip to the zoo, and progress on a few high-level conceptual fronts, today was an awesome day!


Minimalism Makes Me Happy

The Alchemist is laughing right now. Me, the one with the always cluttered desk, being a minimalist?

Minimalism != organization. One of the baser reasons I like minimalism is because I’m so bad at cleaning up after myself. I allow my work spaces (the kitchen excepted) follow the law of entropy for months before I reimpose order. But if I have less stuff, there’s less stuff to get messy, and thus less stuff to get hidden! But I’ll admit that’s a pretty silly reason to like minimalism.

The deeper reason is that I don’t like owning stuff anymore. I never consciously engaged in retail therapy, but one of the reasons I stopped being an active gamer is that I felt the constant pressure to buy more games. I have SO MANY games, but “oh! The new blah-blah is out, I have to play it so I can talk about it with the ZERO people who care what I think” or “oh! Blah-Blah-Blah is on sale for only $5. I have 20 games I haven’t played yet, but only $5! Five!!” Playing games began to feel like checking things off a to-do list.

What was supposed to be a leisure activity made me angry, or at the very least agitated. So I cut it out of my life. The financial savings is just a nice side benefit.

I spent precisely zero dollars as a sports fan. I never bought team gear. Never bought cable (even when we had it) to watch sports. Never bought tickets… You get my point. But being a sports fan, I was almost always angry or agitated. Even football, a minor sport from a time commitment, is a HUGE time sink. So I cut it out of my life.

Those two decisions have done wonders for my mood.

Whenever we clean the house, we’re constantly finding gadgets we bought that we didn’t remember we had. The sunk cost (financial and environmental) in these goods is sad. Eventually we’ll prune all of the dead away. I’ve been off the hedonic consumer treadmill for a while now. Any time I’m tempted to get back on, I remind myself of the bags and bags of stuff we’ve carted to thrift stores over the years.

I want to be free. So I cut things out of my life. What’s left is simple, elegant, and happy.


A Schedule Free Life

Homeschooling is life without a schedule. There’s no rush out of house in the morning. No be at school or the bus stop in the afternoon. No silly early dismissal days.

Every day is just you and the kids. And…something. It’s up to you what the something is.

Does this excite or terrify you?

Yesterday we needed to buy some potatoes from the grocery store because the ones I thought were still good had gone moldy. It was a bright sunny day, if a little cold owing to a fresh ‘sugar snow’, so I figured we would make a bike expedition out of it. It seems a little silly to spend $3 in gas and mileage costs just to spend $2 on potatoes. On the way back, we stopped and hiked along the river running through the center of the town south of us.

We saw a decent flock of mallards contentedly quacking to each other. We watched a couple pairs of Canada geese squawk over territory. I showed the goblins the first sedges and violets coming up. Or perhaps they never quite froze back over winter. It’s hard to tell when everything else around them was brown as can be.

After lunch we watched a couple more episodes of BBC’s Planet Earth series. The girls and I decided “bird’s nest soup” sounds disgusting.

Later on, my oldest told me we’d forgotten school time. I asked her about what we learned today and she slowly realized that ALL of it had been school time. Education is so much more than learning facts. It’s about observation, learning and appreciating our place in the world. Even the simple lesson that it’s silly to spend $3 in gas and mileage to buy $2 of food will, I hope, pay dividends in the future.

None of this was on the ‘schedule’. I’m in the minority (I think) of homeschoolers in that I eschew a formal curriculum. I have goals for all three kids, but the day-to-day is all about capitalizing on opportunities presented to us. Yesterday was cold but sunny, so we combined an errand with a field trip. When warmer weather comes, I look at the weekly forecast and pick the most likely day for a longer field trip, typically to the state park pictured on the header image.

An unstructured life has great appeal to me, but I know plenty of people who it would terrify. How do you react?


Alcoholic Athleticism

I never got around to writing a follow-up post to my Drink Only Water Challenge but it went abysmally. I stuck to it for about two weeks and then was back to drinking just as much alcohol as before. Interestingly enough, it’s when I’ve not been trying to limit my consumption that my body is doing it for me.

Ever since starting to ride my bike every single day, no excuses save sickness or truly dangerous weather (e.g. tornado or blizzard) I’ve become much more mindful of the impact alcohol has on my body. To be frank, I feel like crap when I drink. I still enjoy the taste of a good beer or wine, but if I let myself have more than one (way too easy) I am sluggish and nauseous for a good 24 hours afterwards. My body is a bio-chemical machine operating at a higher peak efficiency than ever before, and introducing a toxin makes the efficiency loss that much more apparent.

Or something like that. I make no claims to be a personal fitness expert.

I’m not about to become a teetotaler but I crave alcohol far less now that I’m aware of just how much it effects me. We’ll see how it goes long-term, but I’m really enjoying my bike routine, so anything that gets in the way of my body’s physical performance becomes that much easier to discard from my life.


Beta readers wanted

I’m looking for a few people to read and critique my work in progress, a novel titled The Thirteenth Orbit.

For those interested, I’d share a chapter at a time via Google Docs. I’m looking for feedback deeper than “hey this sucks/hey this is awesome” but the detail beyond that is entirely up to you. Any and all feedback is appreciated 🙂

A synopsis*:

Amelie is thirteen orbits old, and the only daughter of Xainu’s premier terraforming scientists. She loves living on her parent’s farm in the remote high country, but her fencing skill has brought fame beyond her age. In the midst of the most recent tournament, she discovers the dark past of her parents, and is given an offer to go down the same path they did.

The war between magic and technology tore the Grey Empire apart thousands of orbits ago. As a colony, Xainu has freedoms the homeworld doesn’t have, but will Amelie’s interest in forbidden magic bring the ancient war to their new world?

If interested, please contact me at davidhughes117 [at] gmail [dot] com. Thanks!

*Writing a good synopsis is hard. This is my best version yet, but I’m sure this will see more iterations than most of the book itself. It’s so hard to boil thousands of words down into a handful of sentences!


Little Lessons on the Prairie

My girls are currently reading through the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. My oldest is just about to start The Long Winter while my middle daughter is a couple books behind. I’m not sure how much is soaking in their little heads (outside of wolf howls, scary locust hordes, and Indian war-cries), but it’s been an interesting learning experience for me as a 21st century parent.

Some of the personal finance bloggers I read describe their lifestyles as roughly akin to 1950s standard of living, but with modern computing technology. Smaller house/apartment, one car if any, etc. But traveling further back in time, it is amazing to see just how far the normal standard of living has come.

The sheer amount of daily labor needed for basic survival was incredible, and yet the Ingalls and Wilder families both had enough leisure time to socialize in the evenings, play music, and let the kids have (some) free play time. Children were happy to receive a few pieces of candy as a Christmas present and little else. Compared to that, I feel silly with the sheer amount of stuff my kids are showered with at holidays, and what they have available from day to day – and I don’t think they’re ‘spoiled’ by any means. More and more research supports the unsustainability of the typical Western lifestyle, especially if we hope to expand more of the world’s population to ‘developed’ status. It’s humbling to think what people lived on – and flourished on – less than 150 years ago.

I also had to chuckle when my oldest was reading Farmer Boy during the first deep cold snap. Here we are, worried about the ‘polar vortex’ when Almanzo and his siblings walked to school in -40F weather. They didn’t have high-tech fabrics or safety gear. They had wool clothes and (non-insulated) moccasins and boots. I’ll admit we haven’t done much outdoor stuff this winter, but I feel a little silly being so cautious about it when I read things like this.

I’m not about to advocate being a Luddite, but the series is worth reading even as an adult, because it acts as a reality check concerning lifestyle inflation.


Your time isn’t worth what you think it is

My time is worth more than this.

Consider how many times you’ve heard this justification. Consider how many times you’ve used it yourself. I know I’ve used it many times myself.

By outsourcing activities, we purchase two things in addition to the actual work done: we purchase skill (in theory) time. I make no claims to being a DIY king. I am constantly in awe of the skills others have managed to acquire. Attempting to acquire certain skills has left me humbled, and has often ended up costing me more money in the end. You should never be ashamed to purchase skill but consider whether you can acquire said skill yourself first. Know your limits, but many projects are inexpensive to bash your head against for a while, especially if you have a learned acquaintance to lean on. Professionals are super-human, they are normal folks just like you, and at one time did have their skillset either.

The purchase you should always question is the purchase of time. Outsourcing advocates will say “my time is worth $100/hour”. Maybe it’s true. But I highly doubt they can earn this hourly wage every conceivable free minute of every day. Even if they could, it wouldn’t be healthy.

Menial tasks aren’t beneath anyone. Line-drying laundry and washing dishes by hand takes more time than the modern appliance-assisted equivalents. We’ve always washed dished by hand, lacking a functional dishwasher, but even when we rebuild (‘remodel’ has a weirdly negative connotation for me) I’m not getting one. I started line-drying our laundry for the cost savings and extra life it lends clothes, but even when we have more money, I’m not going to “get” time back by spending money running a clothes dryer. These tasks are simple, ‘mindless’ tasks, but they’re the very sort of task that helps you practice mindfulness. I focus on the task at hand. My mind is emptied of thoughts. It’s meditative and refreshing. It’s a welcome part of my day, not a chore to get past.

Approach every task in your day like this. It’s not something you have to do to get to the real part of your day. It’s only something that cuts into your relaxation time if you let yourself think of it that way.

Doing things yourself doesn’t cost you any money in lost income, and purchasing time by paying someone else to do it is a false economy.