Christmas, Simplified

When Agent E was about three and a half we watched a children’s Christmas special {I do not recall which one} that really pushed the whole “be good, Santa’s watching you, yay presents, reindeer fly around the world in one night” narrative. When it was over, she turned to me and scoffed, “That doesn’t really happen, does it? It’s all pretend, right? That can’t happen.” 

A skeptic from the get-go, that one.

So needless to say, we never did the Santa thing with the Agents. It just seemed like a lot of unnecessary work to be honest. We treat Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, etc. the same as any other myths. They know they’re just stories that some people have fun with—but we choose not to. It’s not really a big deal to them.

Small craft project snowman sitting against a background of blurred snow.

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From the beginning we have chosen to simplify Christmas with our kids and it has worked out fine. I am here to tell you that you, too, can simplify Christmas. And it will turn out fine.

Truthfully I think the whole idea of “the holidays” has taken on a life of its own—and not in a good way. Social media in particular has drawn us into a vortex of blog posts and advertisements and Pinterest projects. We have forgotten that not participating is an option. 

But here’s the thing: You can forget about many of the extras you usually stress about this time of year and nothing bad will happen. The world will keep spinning and your kids will still be in awe and excited and joyful.

If you have been overwhelmed by many a holiday season, don’t try to change everything all at once. Think about the areas where you usually overindulge, and pick one or two to cut back on. Maybe this year you commit to a more reined in budget for gifts. Maybe you don’t have to make all homemade cookies. Maybe you leave a few decorations in storage. Start small and I guarantee you will not miss the excess.

So You Just Have No Christmas Cheer At All?

Ha, no. We just don’t get riled up about making things perfect or pleasing other people and we are totally chill with that.

It’s not that I personally grew up with no traditions; I did. We always had lots of gifts—from “Santa” of course—and tons of cookies and relatives visiting. On Christmas day we went to both grandmothers’ houses {one died when I was six, but I still remember that being our first stop}. Over the course of the week between Christmas and New Year’s we would have visitors almost every evening. They would ooh and aah at our presents and eat and chat. 

I guess I just never felt the need or the pressure to make this time of year “magical” for my own kids, because to them Christmas is just a fun celebration not worth getting too jazzy over. If they want magic, we go to Disney, LOL. 

Our nonchalance is probably also affected by the fact that we have rarely been living near family since the kids were born, so we cannot be sucked in to the holiday spiral of doing all the things because of preconceived expectations.

Truthfully, we do not really do anything special this time of year, and we are okay with that. Even when I still considered myself to be a Christian we did little more than attend a simple Christmas eve service and add a small nativity scene to our meager decorations.

We still like Christmas. We still celebrate Christmas. We just don’t let Christmas rule our lives for the last quarter of the year. 

{Don’t even get me started on Thanksgiving.}

But What DO You Do This Time of Year?

We put up a tree, sometimes two {a “regular” tree and a small tabletop one in the front room or one of the bedrooms}. The rest of our decor is pretty minimal. We might make cookies at some point. Oh, and stop at Bath and Body Works to pick up fancy soaps so the sinks smell like peppermint or vanilla. We still buy presents for the Agents. But they know they are all from us. And they often pick them out themselves. 

It probably goes without saying that no creepy elves grace our home.

During December we often read about various mythologies, both religious and non-religious. A Solstice Tree for Jenny is one of our favorite books that approaches the holiday season from a secular perspective. We also enjoy The Winter Solstice by Ellen Jackson. 

Of course, we’ll re-read the story of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus as well. Agent J has never been impressed with the wise men and their choice of gifts. {She suggested they could have brought something useful, like some diapers or a nice meatloaf.}

We like to look into the history of the celebrations as well, and how they have changed over time. Two videos we enjoy watching are Adam Ruins Everything: The Drunken, Pagan History of Christmas and this one put together by Seth Andrews  {aka, The Thinking Atheist}.

Christmas eve we go to the movies and then get donuts. Then come home and open presents. And eat more donuts.

Are we doing it right?

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Homeschooling Update {October}

We usually do not take an official “fall break” in our homeschool for the same reasons we do not take summer break—it is just easier to chug along more or less continuously unless we have a specific reason for scheduling time off. 

The month of October, however, has been sort of a whirlwind of travel and organizing and moving plans, so we will likely take probably one full week off soon—possibly two—while we prepare to sell the house and relocate. 

Autumn leaves still on the branches with a sunny sky as the background.

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We started the month with a trip to Hawaii—a first for Momma and the Agents, although hubby has been several times for work. Last week we took a cruise {Disney, of course} to Mexico as our final big travel on the west coast. 

Now we are pretty much in crunch mode for cleaning and planning and packing. School is still happening every day, but we are going through a bit of a slower period and mostly trying to get to a good stopping point in all of our subjects. Our library bookshelves look very empty compared to their usual. 

This is just how homeschooling looks for us right now. We have made it through many transitions and I do not stress about what we are getting done {or not getting done} because I know it will all balance out. Homeschooling year round means less pressure when life happens.

We plan to travel with a minimized collection of materials, and spend a lot of time checking out our new town. {Which is not technically new to all of us; hubby and I lived there from when we married until the Senior Agents were toddlers.} 

While getting a new library card will be high on our agenda, we will also travel with a few books. Since we will be in transition for most of November, we plan to include two favorites for this time of year: Mayflower 1620: A New Look At Pilgrim Voyage and 1621: A New Look At Thanksgiving

By next month’s update post, we should be in our new home and somewhat settled and back into our groove. 

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.

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Disney Cruise Tips For First Time Cruisers

We are fortunate to be able to travel frequently, and one of our favorite ways to explore the world is via Disney cruise ship. Soon we will embark on our fifth such cruise, and I would like draw from our experience to offer some Disney cruise tips for first time cruisers.

Our very first Disney cruise was in 2011, with a five-year-old, three-year-old, and eight-month-old. We were definitely in a different place then. We cruised again in 2012, 2015, and 2018. This time around we will be traveling with a teen, a tween, and a big kid {a few days shy of nine}. So, I am writing this from the perspective of parent of older, more independent kids. Vacation planning for the days of diapers and strollers and breastfeeding toddlers is officially a distant memory. 

Following are a few suggestions for both before and during the cruise. I hope you will find this advice useful when planning, and that you will benefit from my experience of what to do {as well as what not to do} when you prepare for your first Disney cruise.

Line of deck chairs on a Disney cruise ship with skyline of city in the background

Pack by Activity {Not by Day}

We pack for a cruise a bit differently than usual, but we still follow most of the same general packing tips. The difference with cruise packing, however, is you need to pack for what you are actually going to be doing, not necessarily the number of days you are going to be gone. 

Clearly you will want sufficient undergarments and socks, a swimsuit, pajamas, and toiletries. But as far as clothing, you want to think more about the activities you will participate in each day. Unless you have a particularly active port adventure planned, you will be able to hang up clothes and wear them again, so don’t feel like you need to have every single activity accounted for. 

For instance, I know we will be at the pool at least a couple of times, and so I will pack my “dress I wear over my swimsuit and easy to remove sandals” for that time. I often go up to the deck by myself right at sunrise to get a cup of coffee and some good photos, so I will need my “outfit I can throw on quickly without waking anyone up” so I can slip out the door. 

I really enjoy fancy night and so I need my “look at me being spiffy” dress. Dinner can be relatively formal or cruise casual, but I like to dress up at least a little, so I’ll pack probably three dresses {for a 7-night cruise} I can alternate wearing to the main dining rooms.

Less rarely will I be hanging around the ship in “regular” clothes {i.e., not on the way to coffee or the pool or dinner} so I can pack just two or three outfits {for a 7-night cruise} and re-wear. It gets chilly in the evenings {and in the restaurants} so I always pack a neutral-color sweater that goes with everything. Also, I take a pair of jeans in case I want to change after dinner. 

This particular cruise we’ll also be packing Halloween costumes and of course pirate gear. We don’t really go all out for either of these, but we do like to participate.

If all else fails and I woefully under-pack, there are washers and dryers on board. Really, as long as you can do laundry and have several pieces that work together, you will be fine. Bringing too little is a better problem to have than bringing too much. That may seem counterintuitive, but trust me: 

You will never wish you’d brought more things to deal with.

Shower Before Dinner {Even If It’s Mid-Afternoon}

The first seating for dinner is at 5:45. {We always request the earlier seating; the other option is 8:15 and way too late for our party.} So at around 4:30 we all head back to the room to shower/change. This means that we go to dinner feeling refreshed, and it also makes our evenings more relaxed, since there’s not late-night rush to get all the kids {and me, and Hubby} ready for bed. We can just brush our teeth and throw on our jammies and we’re set.

The hour or so before dinner also tends to be sort of a lull in activities and characters, so we don’t feel like we’re missing much. It’s also the perfect time for an in-room break so we can recharge for the rest of the night.

Enjoy The Characters {But Prioritize Your Time}

Character meet and greets on the ships are the best. The lines are {usually} not ridiculously long, they take plenty of time with each group, and there is almost always a photographer with them. Depending on the cruise and time of year, you can see the same characters multiple times in different costumes. Some will require tickets {free, but you need timed tickets nonetheless}. Usually this is just the classic princesses and Anna/Elsa. 

While on board you can find out when and where the characters will be appearing via the free Disney Cruise Line Navigator App. You can connect to the ship’s wifi for free to use the app, and even text other members of your party.

As a first-timer, you will be drawn to and excited for the sail away party {recently re-branded as the sail-a-wave party}. I am here to give you a huge spoiler alert: It is not that interesting. The characters only come out briefly, and they are on a stage and not close enough to really interact with. I want to love this part of every cruise, I do. But every time we try to go and get a good view of it, I end up realizing I could have used that time to walk around taking photos of the cool architectural details or gone back to the stateroom to unpack.

Skip any event in the lobby atrium involving characters. Truthfully, these are basically the parades of the cruise ship. We always skip parades in the park because they are not worth the time investment. Essentially you try to get a “good” spot and then stand around while the crew members talk and try to be funny and then you maybe get to see the characters for five minutes {from a distance} and then it’s over. Use this time to explore the ship or get a snack or claim a good deck chair. I think once we got a decent video of Agent A from a lobby “dance party” but we had to stand around for 20 minutes doing nothing just to catch it at the right moment. 

The only exception to this rule is the Till We Meet Again gathering on the last night. Definitely go {in your pajamas if you must} and see all the characters one last time. Last trip, the kids and I saw 8 or 9 different characters {long enough to get a hug/photo} in 20-25 minutes. Then one by one they disappear up the steps “until we meet again” and I totally did not cry typing this sentence.

Captain Mickey in the atrium of the Disney Wonder cruise ship with a male and female passenger
Captain Mickey is the best

Follow the Best Schedule for You {It’s Your Vacation}

On our last cruise, I felt very frazzled every evening. Dinner wasn’t over until about 7:30, and then the show started at 8:30, which of course we wanted to be a little early for to get good seats, and I felt like we wasted that time in between. Then by the time it was over and we made our way out of the theater it was 9:40 or later and I was done. It honestly never occurred to me that we could just simply not go to the nightly show. 

For some folks, especially first-timers, the shows are a must-do. I mean, they really are pretty good and certainly worth a view. However, because we’re frequent cruisers, we ended up going to one show we had seen before and one we had actually seen twice before, and I just feel in hindsight we would have enjoyed that time more elsewhere.

Others may feel this way about the sit-down rotational dining dinners; they’d rather grab a quick dinner on the deck or order room service rather than spending a lot of time getting ready for and eating a formal dinner. The point is, you can do whatever works for your party and not stress either way.

I think this next trip, instead of repeating the shows we’ve already seen, the kids would gladly spend an extra hour or two in the kid/tween clubs while Hubby and I catch a movie or grab a drink or simply sit up on the deck and relax. 

Account for “Extra” Costs {Don’t Let Them Surprise You}

One great thing about cruising is that {almost} everything is included once you are paid in full and you don’t have to worry about budgeting day to day. However, there are a few things you’ll want to be aware of. 

You can access the Internet, but it is pricey. If you sign up on day one, you can get a teeny tiny amount of online time for free. A second teeny tiny amount will cost you about $20. This might be enough to post a few photos or check e-mail two or three times. Splurge if you must, but also take advantage of the free wifi at the ports. The aforementioned Navigator app, however, will work anywhere you can access the ship’s wifi with no additional charges. 

Use the recommended tipping schedule for your servers. They really do go above and beyond and should be compensated accordingly. {We loved ours from our last cruise so much we put in a special request to have them again.} Even if you don’t eat all {or any} of your meals in the dining rooms, these folks are working hard all around the ship {in the quick-service restaurants and behind the scenes} all day. Gratuities are included when you purchase a drink at the bar, and with all spa treatments, but not included with room service or the adult-only restaurants. 

Pre-order the photo package before sailing. You can always cancel it on board if you change your mind, but you save money by ordering ahead of time. The ship photographers have never disappointed us. Especially if you do a lot of character photos, it is totally worth the money. We had well over 200 photos from our last five-night sailing. This time I’m not even going to bother pulling out my phone to take our own shots if a photographer is present. Instead I’ll take some more artistic/random shots around the ship just for fun.

Also keep in mind that while there is often an “assistant” on hand to take photos with your camera/phone, they will not turn out as well as the professional shot. The lighting/angle is just not the same, and they will not look as good. In addition, no personal camera/phone photos are taken on formal night; the lines for these shots are long and they need to keep things moving.

Shop for souvenirs on the first sea day, not the last. The selection is better and you won’t feel rushed to decide. Pick something you will actually use/love just as much at home. Last trip I picked up a Captain Mickey coffee mug, and trust me, it gets used frequently. Note that the gift shops are only open while the ship is at sea; they are closed during port visits. The only exception is the photography shop, which is open a few hours on the final morning for order pick-ups. 

I hope these tips and tricks will assist you in planning your first Disney cruise. Feel free to leave any questions in the comments. 

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.

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How To Homeschool: Teaching Multiple Grade Levels Together

Welcome back to How To Homeschool—a series addressing all aspects of secular homeschooling. You can view all the posts in the series so far here.

For the 2019-2020 homeschool year we have students in 8th, 6th, and 3rd grade. So, one preparing to wrap up middle school, one just beginning middle school, and the youngest right about the grade we start kicking expectations up a notch

In traditional public or private school, they would obviously be in different classes, and the older two would likely be in an entirely separate school. Here at The Oscar Darwin Homeschool for Happy Humans {yes; that is our official name}, however, we have no choice but to make a mixed-age “classroom” work.

Following are a few tips for teaching multiple grade levels together. I realize our students are not that far apart in age {currently 13, 11, and almost 9} so this may not work as well if you have, say, a 6-year-old and a 16-year-old. But we have used these ideas and you may find them helpful as well.

Sharpened colored pencils in order from light to dark form a semi-circle.

This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission—at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase. I only recommend products and services I have personally used and enjoyed. For more information read my complete disclaimer here.

Work Together, But Independently

I find it useful to have everyone doing the same kinds of things together, even if they work at different levels. For instance, all three students sit at the table and work on math and language arts simultaneously, using student-appropriate material at their own pace. 

This will give your homeschool more of an old-fashioned one-room schoolhouse feel, which can greatly benefit everyone. It makes it easier to switch gears if everyone is doing written work as opposed to one student completing a reading assignment, one working on science experiment, and one solving math problems on the whiteboard. Often I sit with them and do my own “work” {blogging drafts and planning} at the same time. 

Here you can also enlist the help of your older students; they can help the younger ones if a problem arises while you offer one-on-one help to another sibling.

You Do Not Need To Stay At Grade Level

For the most part, it is totally fine if what you study does not follow typical grade level expectations. If chemistry fascinates your second grader, go for it. If your middle schooler wants to cover algebra and geometry in the same year, great. 

I used to be a huge fan of checking those “what do second graders need to know” and “which subjects are typically covered in sixth grade” kinds of websites and books. And, truth be told, sometimes I still do. 

However, these are all just suggestions and averages. While certain concepts do build on each other, there is no reason why you can’t mix it up. 

You probably remember from your own school experience there were specific subjects you learned in certain grades and that was just the way it was. But why? Obviously some areas need more order than others {I would not ask my third grader to factor polynomials} but most of it can be pretty arbitrary. 

Do we need to explore the life cycle of a butterfly in first grade? Do all fourth graders need to know their state history just exactly then? Did it matter what year you took biology versus physics? 

When you consider possibilities beyond “do this because you’re in this grade” teaching multiple grade levels together based on interest becomes much easier. 

Choose Excellent Resources Regardless of Reading Level

When teaching multiple grade levels sometimes your book choices won’t be a perfect fit for everyone. It is okay if what you are reading is “too simple” for your oldest and “too much” for your youngest. if you read a variety of books—and a lot of them—it will balance out.

I touched on this a bit when I discussed exposure over mastery in 3 Things That Might Surprise You. I strongly believe sharing good ideas from quality resources is more important than translating everything into a teachable, testable moment.

For example, during  the Senior Agents’ 3rd and 5th grade years, we read Evolution: The Human Story by Dr. Alice Roberts. This is a great book, but it is not geared toward kids at all. It is extremely dense with information and graphics, and we had to take it very slow. We even skimmed parts. But, they loved it, and wanted to re-read parts of it a few years later, when more of it began to click for them.

As another example, since Agent E {now 8th grade} started 1st grade or so we have been reading the Words are Categorical series of books by Brian Cleary every year. This collection covers parts of speech and grammar in a whimsical way with lots of examples. It is definitely geared toward younger students and can be kind of silly and even cheesy. But, we can read them very quickly and they provide a great overview each year when we begin our grammar studies. 

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.

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Homeschooling Update {Weeks 13 and 14}

Hope everyone is enjoying the final days of September. Starting in October I am going to move to monthly homeschooling updates, posting a summary at the end of the month instead of every Sunday. Because—as evidenced by the title of this post—weekly updates are apparently too much for me to keep track of.

We did have a couple of lovely homeschooling weeks, though. I feel that we have accomplished a lot in the first three months of the school year, and we have settled into a content groove. Of course, we will be uprooting all of that soon with yet another move. But more on that later. 

Sharpened colored pencils in order from light to dark form a semi-circle.

In the meantime we will be doing some traveling. If you follow along on Instagram you can {temporarily} expect to see more photos of humans and beaches and landmarks and fewer photos of cats.

As I was thinking about our upcoming plans, I realized I have not made any attempt to tie our trip to our homeschooling. We went to two libraries this week, and I did not search for a single book on our destination. We plan to make a trip to a very significant historical landmark, and I did not incorporate it into our history studies. There are numerous books and movies I can think of just off the top of my head that we could have read and watched just for fun and I did not even consider them.

Am I even a homeschool parent at this point?

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.

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The Beginning of My Journey To Non-Belief

When I first began to doubt that Christianity—or any religious dogma—needed to be a part of my life, I had an overwhelming desire to throw myself back into it once more, to give it one last wholehearted chance. I really wanted to make absolutely sure whether this path I had already begun to head down was my new truth, or if I should just try harder to recapture what I always thought to be true. Was this the beginning of my journey to non-belief? Or would I feel led back to the God I thought I knew?

Stone path through the grass leading to a grove of trees with fog-covered mountains in the background.

I had attended large, non-denominational Christian churches in the past, but never what could be described as a mega church. For some reason, I convinced myself this would be the way to go if I were going to re-commit myself to this worldview. Strength in numbers, perhaps? Anyway, I chose one nearby, dropped the kids off at their respective age-appropriate classes, and found a nice, anonymous spot in the back of the ginormous auditorium.

The catchy, contemporary, Jesus-praising music swelled up to start the service. People sang. swayed. waved their arms overhead. called out. The room transformed into something powerful and surreal. And I began to cry. 

Well, “cry” doesn’t really convey the incredible, visceral response I had to being there. I had zero control over my emotions. I felt lost and at home at the same time. I could not understand why it all affected me so strongly. Could it be that I still yearned for this? 

The short answer is no. While it took considerable reflection, visits to several additional churches, and a few more years {yes, years} of untangling, I eventually realized my deep-seated reaction was not a plea to nor a sign from Jesus, or the Christian God, or any god for that matter. It was a final release of a part of myself, which for too long I denied was a facade. My journey to non-belief had been set in motion. I wasn’t distraught because I wanted to turn back, I was relieved because I was finally free.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.

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Dealing With Death As a Non-Religious Person

Do you spend much time thinking about death? What do you think happens after we die? Do you believe in an afterlife? What about angels or ancestors watching out for you?

The presumed existence of “heaven” and “hell” {or some equivalent places of reward or punishment} is very prominent in our culture. To question their legitimacy is to mark yourself as an outsider—in some ways even more so than divulging you are an atheist. The idea that an afterlife must exist is so ingrained in people’s minds that to even suggest this life on earth as we know it is all there is can seem incomprehensible to many.

As far as the myriad ideas on what life beyond death might be like, I personally do not believe any of them to be feasible. Nor do I believe in reincarnation. Or that our ancestors are guiding us. Or that dead relatives can come back to visit once a year like in the movie Coco. {Although, if an afterlife did exist, that seems like a decent setup.}

However, I understand what it is like to want so strongly to assume one of those scenarios must be true. If you previously believed in the mythology and rituals of a particular religion, you may have difficulty wrapping your brain around finality of death. Especially when all your life you have been sold false promises of “eternity” and claims of death not being the end.

While I certainly hope to live a long, healthy life—I am definitely in no hurry to check out—I do contemplate these things. I also talk about them openly with my children {currently 13, 11, and 8}. Dying is not something I want my children to fear. 

Instead of insisting it is not something they need to worry about right now, I want to prepare them to navigate their own grief as non-believers. When the world gives them unhelpful platitudes, I want to help them find a way to process their emotions in a way that respects their true selves and prioritizes their own well-being.

While I can’t give you an easy method to follow—there is simply no one way of handling grief—I can let you know some personal things that have helped me along the way, and share a bit about how I discuss this issue with my own kids. 

Grief is an intimate and personal timeline. I cannot promise anything you read here will assist your own process. I can only hope the knowledge that dealing with death as a non-religious person is something others have struggled with will help you feel less alone.

Single tree with changing leaves reflected in a body of water against an evening sky.

This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission—at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase. I only recommend products and services I have personally used and enjoyed. For more information read my complete disclaimer here.

Talk About Death {and Answer Any Questions Honestly}

About five years ago, shortly before my dad died, I had a dream in which I talked to him on the phone. {This in and of itself was surreal, as he had been very ill for almost a year and essentially non-communicative.} 

He asked about the kids and said how much he would miss them. He said that I should be sure to tell Agent A {three at the time} about him someday, because he knew he was too young to remember. In the dream I asked him, are you going to die? and he answered yes very matter-of-factly. Then he told me not to worry, and that it would be okay.

Within a few weeks he was gone. I was 42 years old, and it was the first time in my life I had to seriously confront my own feelings about death. For what it’s worth, I don’t think the dream was a sign. It was simply my subconscious helping me process a very difficult time.

Most people struggle with how to deal with death and dying because as a culture we have been conditioned to not talk about it. Or, if we do discuss it, it is in broad terms and meaningless memes about better places and everything having a reason.

I still considered myself a Christian when my father passed. Oh, I had doubts for years by then, but the big moment when I officially broke things off with Jesus wouldn’t happen for another six months. 

At the time the kids and I had not talked a lot about dying, or heaven, or hell, or any aspect of life after death. The emphasis here being on heaven, because no one likes to ponder what their dearly departed is doing in hell. Heaven as an end result is much more palatable. 

I had tried to prepare them {they were 8, 6, and 4} for the inevitable given the situation with my dad, but I was unprepared myself and just repeated much of the same religious dogma I had learned. I probably passed along some ramblings to the Agents about Grandpap going to heaven—without putting too much thought into it. I mean, that’s what people say, right? 

Of course being the way they are, they did not just accept the idea of heaven being a “better place” where dead people go, and many questions arose:

  • Do you look the way you did when you died? Or are you a younger version of yourself? Do you get to choose? What if folks don’t recognize you?
  • How do you find people? Is there a directory of everybody there?
  • Is it literally everyone—or almost everyone, minus those poor folks in hell—who has ever lived? Are our early ancestors there, in whatever hominid form they passed in? How do we communicate with them?
  • If animals go to heaven, too, does that mean every ant I’ve ever stepped on and every cockroach I’ve ever sprayed with Raid is waiting for me? Or is just cute animals, like dogs and cats? What about dinosaurs? Are they there? {That would be pretty cool, actually.}
  • Who are you reunited with first? If you were widowed and had more than one spouse, is there some sort of protocol? 
  • Do you need to sleep? eat? work? Or are you just floating around in a state of bliss?

I quickly realized I had no good answers to these inquiries. However, even if your views on religion and death and the afterlife are fuzzy, you should not fear talking to your kids {even very young kids} about your own thoughts. They might even give you more clarity though their processing and questions.

In hindsight I wish I had broached this subject with my children sooner. Although I would have approached things from the perspective of Christianity, any conversation would have been better than none. Perhaps it would have been handled differently if I were already a non-believer when my father died, but it was what it was.

When You Need Encouraging Words {and You Don’t Want To Turn To Religion}

I have a couple of favorite quotes about death. {What; you don’t?} Because I do not rely on scriptures of any kind or prayers or rituals, I find solace in the words of scientists and fellow non-believers. These particular words are just two examples of thoughts that give me all the feels, and I hope they help you, too. 

{In addition—if you don’t mind physics making you cry—you might also want to check out The Physicist’s Eulogy by Aaron Freeman.}

My parents died years ago. I was very close to them. I still miss them terribly. I know I always will. I long to believe that their essence, their personalities, what I loved so much about them, are—really and truly—still in existence somewhere. I wouldn’t ask very much, just five or ten minutes a year, say, to tell them about their grandchildren, to catch them up on the latest news, to remind them that I love them. There’s a part of me—no matter how childish it sounds—that wonders how they are. “Is everything all right?” I want to ask. The last words I found myself saying to my father, at the moment of his death, were “Take care.”
—Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark

I love what Sagan has to say, because it conveys exactly how I feel about my own father’s passing. Intellectually, I know he is just gone. He’s not looking down on me, he’s not waiting for some grand heavenly reunion—he simply no longer exists. Yet some tiny, visceral part of my being wishes the afterlife were real, and wherever he is, he is okay. I would love to have those ten minutes to let him know I missed him, and to show him how the Agents have changed. 

Sagan’s words make me feel less alone with my grief, and validate my {admittedly irrational} feelings of wishing intermittent communication were possible. 

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?
Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow

This Dawkins quote gives me a sense of gratitude about our ephemeral existence. 

Honestly, just accepting the finality of it all provides consolation. You might think, isn’t that kind of depressing? No, not really. I think accepting dying as simply a part of the circle of living makes the whole experience more comforting, not less.

I am not afraid of death, for I believe it will be much like it was before I was born—which is to say, I will have no comprehension of my nonexistence. Of course, those I leave behind will comprehend it, and will need to come to terms with it. That is why communication now is so important.

We Might Have This Figured Out All Wrong {and That Is Okay}

Of course, I don’t know what happens upon death—no one does. That’s not to say that I think any scenario other than complete obliteration of your thoughts is likely. And I truly believe that is the better alternative. 

While some look at the idea of an an eternal life after death as a way to alleviate the pain of losing a loved one {so-and-so is in a better place, they are with God, they are re-united with whomever} to me it seems like the worst possible idea. 

It is bad enough that we need to spend the rest of our natural lives grieving those who have left us; do we want to spend our eternity grieving for those left behind until they die, too?

{Please don’t tell me this magically doesn’t happen, that somehow time in your conceived heaven has different rules, and that it wouldn’t be like that. Because, God. If you can invent a narrative to fit your version of death, so can I.}

In all likelihood—whether my end comes tomorrow or fifty years from now—my kids will outlive me. Do I want to burden them with the false hope that we will be reunited one day? Do I want them to bear the pain for the rest of their lives that I’m waiting for them, longing for them somewhere? Of course not.

I think a common misconception about atheists is that death affects us differently. That somehow—because we know life to be finite and we do not believe we were specially created—dealing with death as a non-religious person hurts less or does not produce the same void in our lives. 

This is simply not true. If anything, I would argue the death of a loved one affects us even more strongly, because we know it is just game over. There is no holding out hope for a tear-filled future meet-up. There is no sense of longing to re-unite with the person again someday. It is just done. 

Still, I would rather have that closure—however painful—than any choice of mythological afterlife, with its delusions of eternity in a much better {or much worse} place than earth. To me it offers more peace this way.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.

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Homeschooling Update {Week 12}

One of the many things I love about homeschooling is the scheduling freedom it provides. We do not have to choose between going to school and worrying about what is going on at home, or staying at home and worrying about what we might be missing at school. 

This week our adorable kitty needed some intense work done by a veterinary dental specialist. The Agents, of course, are very attached to this feline and just had to be there in the waiting room the entire time. Then after we returned home, they wanted to be close by and make sure he was okay. 

Luckily we were able to decide to forgo school for the day, knowing we can make it up later. Instead we focused all our energy on making sure our sweet cat principal stayed safe and healthy. Not like they would have been able to concentrate on anything else, anyway.

I am happy to report that Oscar {Agent O} is doing great. He is down to just six teeth now. Adult cats typically have 30 teeth. He came to us two years ago with about half already missing. They removed some remaining ones that were causing him issues, but I don’t think he will even notice. He is very capable of compensating and has adjusted well to life with minimal teeth.

Sharpened colored pencils in order from light to dark form a semi-circle.

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This week we added a new art book to our loop schedule: Rachel Ignotofsky’s Women in Art. It just came out this week {we had pre-ordered it} so we haven’t really gotten a chance to take a careful look at it, but I think it will be a welcome addition. 

She also authored another of our favorites, Women in Science, which we read last year and will probably add into this year’s loop schedule at some point as well.

We are very close to wrapping up our review of the first 20 lessons of Coffee Break Spanish, although I am a bit torn on how to proceed. I feel that we are mostly ready to move on to lessons 21-40, yet as I pointed out in last week’s update we could always use more frequent practice, especially with conversation. For now, though, it seems to be our most successful attempt at foreign language learning so far.

Agent E {grade 8} has been working through the series Practice Makes Perfect Spanish, which is very thorough and will give her a great foundation for high school or even college level Spanish. Of all of us, she would definitely be the most prepared if we ever had to rely on our Spanish writing or speaking skills. 

Should be business as usual here the next few weeks, then a bit of travel planned for October. How was your week? Any exciting plans coming up?

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.

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Yes; We Still Need Feminism

Just off the top of my head {I am sure there are more} these scenarios have happened in the past year or so:

  • Leaving Starbucks and I held the door open for the man behind me. He asked me if I also wanted to accompany him to his car and help him with anything else.
  • Visiting Hollywood and trying to take a picture of one of the stars on the walk of fame. I asked a man to move and he refused and called me a bitch.
  • Walking back to our hotel {just me and my oldest daughter} on one of our many Disneyland visits. Random man at a bus stop cat-called some things I won’t repeat here.
  • Told a photographer {at Walt Disney World, no less} we weren’t interested in a particular pose he suggested. He said we were difficult and “accidentally” misplaced several of our already paid for photos.
  • Someone going door-to-door trying to get us to switch to their cable/Internet package. I told him we weren’t interested in hearing his spiel; we were quite happy with our current choices. He yelled at me that I “owed” him to listen to what he had to say, then swore at me under his breath as he walked away.
  • Being on vacation and consciously choosing not leave the hotel room in the morning to pick up coffee {even though I am an early bird and craving some alone time}. Why? Because I would have to walk outside through a secluded walkway and across a parking lot in the pre-dawn darkness alone.
  • Being told I should smile more, ad infinitum. Because apparently that is what good girls do.

And people wonder why we lose our shit when it happens again and again—and yet again. 

Pink flowers against a pink background.

What exactly is feminism anyway?

When my now eleven-year-old daughter first asked me what feminism meant, I found that as with most things in life, the simplest explanation was the best. I told her that feminism is the belief that women deserve to be viewed as fully human and not treated as inferior to men in any capacity {socially, politically, economically, or personally}.

She was confused. Not that she did not understand the words I said, but legit perplexed that people don’t already accept this as fact and there needs to be a word for it.

Of course, she understands history. We’ve talked about what things were {are} like in this country and around the world, specifically regarding the rights of women and girls, both in the past and present. She’s mature enough that we can have a serious conversation about inequities. It’s not that she truly doesn’t get that the world treats some people better than others for reasons that are not reasons; she does.

But still, her gut reaction was how is this not just recognized as normal?

This is what I would like to tell her {and you}

Her humanity—her life—is just as important and valued as any other person on this earth. That all people deserve equal rights. That everyone—regardless of what gender they identify as—is worthy of dignity and respect. And we need to continue to strive to treat all humans decently and fairly because it’s the right thing to do.

You should never be made to feel bad by responding negatively to any query. If no is not an option, it was a demand not a question.

You are not responsible for another person’s feelings or reaction. You do not need to appease someone else at your own expense because it is “nicer” to do so. 

No is a perfectly acceptable answer to any question. Say yes if you want, no if not, and don’t feel bad about it.

Just because someone is trying to engage you does not mean you need to respond.

If you thought feminism was about burning bras and working versus staying at home, I would like to welcome you to reality.

Here’s the problem, though

Women and girls are culturally conditioned to be nice, to not ruffle feathers, to make things comfortable for those around them. It can be nearly impossible to rid yourself of this ingrained feeling. It becomes an automatic reply.

When we do speak up, often the reaction can be less than positive, or in some cases downright dangerous. 

What if the person cat-calling you is not just an asshat, but an asshat with a gun? What if the guy on the elevator gets grabby when you don’t politely laugh at his pathetic attempts at humor? Maybe the man walking quickly behind you is just trying to get to his car; maybe he’s trying to catch up to you.

So I remain torn between wanting to stand up for myself {and my girls} and give the person in question a big old STFU—and worrying that they are going to wind up being some freaking nut job that follows us or threatens violence. 

It is not a victim mentality or simply a matter of not having courage or being paranoid. We are not asking to have some special bubble of protection. We still need feminism so we can simply live out our lives without a constant internal debate of potential consequences.

Because those consequences are what women and girls in our society have to balance every. single. fucking. day. 

If you have never had to consider any of these options, you are probably a man. {And probably a straight, cisgender, white man at that, but that is a whole other post.}

So how do we fix this?

We hope like hell that we can raise our children differently. Talk to your daughters and your sons about it. Do not let another generation come to pass that thinks this it normal to treat people this way. It. is. not. normal.

Take the women and girls in your life seriously when they say no. Don’t second-guess their choices or view their rejection of your ideas as some sort of character flaw.

Stop misogynistic behavior  in its tracks when you are able and it is safe to do so. Defend other women and girls when you see it happening. Even if you don’t confront the perpetrator. Even if “all” you do is express a small sign of recognition and solidarity. It means something.

Most importantly, recognize that we still need feminism. It is not a thing of the past or an idea to be mocked. It is still an every day battle we need to wage. 

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.

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Homeschooling Update {Week 11}

Another blogging lesson I have learned: If you plan to post something on Sunday, and you are going to be gone the whole weekend, you might want to have it composed in advance.

We spent the weekend at Disneyland—probably our last visit for a while—and I should know better than to think I am going to accomplish anything other than laundry and maybe feeding people the evening we come home from any Disney trip.

This was the first time we stayed “on property” at one of the resort hotels, and it definitely cut down on the amount of travel time. However, unlike at Walt Disney World, I wouldn’t consider it a necessity, because everything is much more contained to start.

The Grand Californian is a pretty sweet hotel {and expensive; we used DVC points for our room}. Unfortunately with just a two-night stay we did not have the opportunity to check it out as much we would have liked. The Agents have already requested a return visit so we can spend more time taking advantage of the amenities. 

Sharpened colored pencils in order from light to dark form a semi-circle.

We had a four-day week {we did school on Labor day, but left for Disneyland on Friday}. I like that with our loop scheduling this year we do not feel behind when we miss a day. 

One tweak I might make to our loop, however, is to rotate Spanish in twice. I feel that we need to bump up our lessons to every other or every third day. Especially if we are going to have any chance of practicing our conversation skills with an acquaintance we will see next month. 

Because we start the school year so early the Agents have already finished up a few workbooks and projects. So now I am back to my continual mission to find the best way to organize and store completed work. 

We have eight years for Agent E, six years for Agent J, and four years for Agent A. Right now it resides in a combination of boxes and plastic bins, which is not optimal. What kind of storage solutions have you come up with for keeping your students’ work? 

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.

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