Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Story (non-fiction): Science in Action a.k.a. Reptilian Rapture

Imagine a beautiful fall day-- it's not hard of course, for we've all been experiencing them lately. The air is crisp and cool but sunny following the previous days rainstorms. A family heads out on an autumn adventure. None is more excited than than the 5 year old boy, June Bug, for he is the herpetology expert and this trip is a search for reptiles.

It is a lovely day for driving (and a bit easier on the budget since gas prices dropped a bit) and it is not long before the family arrives at LaRue Pine Hills-- a protected natural area that lies up against the Mississippi River flood plain. The upper area features trails, picnic areas, and a magnificent lookout point. At the bottom of the massive cliff faces is dense forest and swamps. Here, along the cliffs, is the Snake Road. Twice a year it is closed to motor vehicles so as not to disturb the unusually large population of snakes that migrate from the wetlands up to the cliffs for the winter.

The family begins by walking up next to the cliff face, peering in all the cracks with a flashlight hoping to glimpse a snake. June Bug finds something; it is not as moist-skinned as a salamander so they think it may be a newt. Not too far ahead they make another small discovery, a salamander this time. These are exciting discoveries, but still no there are no signs of snakes.

They hike on and on, for nearly an hour without any snake success. Mama and June Bug are getting very tired, but Na encourages them to walk down the road at least to the marsh before turning back. Wearily they trudge on. The marsh embodies some sort of wild primal beauty with it's trunks of long-drowned trees and murky waters-- looking on, one cannot help but feel that inside it's boundaries is no place for humans.

Suddenly Mama stops in her tracks, for less than 3 feet away is a large cottonmouth. He is well-camouflaged among the fallen leaves and dark green plants which grew from the middle of the old gravel road. The cotton mouth (agkistrodon piscivorus), sometimes known as a water moccasin, is a venomous species, taking it's name from the whiteness inside it's mouth when giving a warning. A rush of excitement filled Mama as she took a step back exclaiming "Sweet!" Her reaction is strange, since she usually avoids such slang, but it is indeed a sweet moment as they have found finally found what they had come for.

They stood for a while, frozen with awe but not fear, while the snake lay equally motionless showing off his mouth just to let us know what he is capable of if he needed to defend himself. But he did not need defend himself. Although the cottonmouth gets a bad rap, and most people are very afraid of them, they are not really aggressive creatures and will not strike unless they are absolutely in danger. So they watch spell-bound until finally, with a bit of gentle prodding from a long stick, he slithers toward the waters which support such a large number of these creatures.

Mama takes a few steps, her heart still filled with excitement, and exclaims "There's another one!" And sure enough, looking out from the vegetation along the water's edge was another cottonmouth, slightly bigger than the first, his mouth open wide. He didn't stay long and so neither did the family. They walked a bit further a found 2 ribbon snakes. Mama tried to catch them, but the tiny juvenile ribbon snakes, with their long yellow stripes down the back, were far too quick for her.

Exhausted, and happy with their findings, the family heads back toward the car, thereby ending a memorable day at Snake Road.

Wishing You Exciting Adventures,
Randa the Mama with a Newfound Interest in Snakes

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cool Places . . . Castle Park

This park is simply the most astounding work of art/construction I have seen (second, however, to The City Museum of St. Louis). I remember driving by the site several times in high school and watching with wonder and awe at the scene that was being created within that iron fence. I never thought I'd have a child who was old enough to enjoy it by the time it was finished!
The park was built (and is still being maintained and added to regularly) by a father in memorial to his son "Boo" who died as a teenager (leukemia I think?). The boy loved Dungeons and Dragons and all things mystical. Construction continued for 5 years before finally opening it's gates a couple summers ago.

Here's June Bug riding his dragon to the castle

And here's the oh so fun HUGE dragon (great for climbing on)

Yet another dragon (there are also at least a dozen wizard statues, none of which I took pictures of this time)

Each and every element of this park is an exquisitely details work of art. Like these gorgeous mosaic benches. . .Look up and you might catch a glimpse of these creepy guys

The bell tower-- it must drive the neighbors crazy

And here are some glimpses of the castle itself-- a labyrinth of connecting paths, bridges, ladders, and secret passageways all held together with a pinch (or a heap really) of magic!

Wishing You The Heart of a Knight Brave and True,
Mama Randa the Queen

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Books.... Excerpts from The Unschooling Handbook

This little gem is full of anecdotes and short essays written by unschooling families about their experiences. I found this book at the thrift store almost 2 years, and having never heard of 'unschooling', found it very intriguing. I found alot of inspiration from these pages, however it would still be a long time before I really started to apply the concepts to my own life. I lent the book out soon after reading it once and then lost track of it. Well, this summer my mom by chance found this book (knowing nothing about unschooling herself), not knowing it's signficance.

I would like to share some of the excerpts from the book;

when asked 'How can you tell they're learning'?

"For those of us who've been at it for years, the answer seems obvious-- hardly worth thinking about. We see our kids every day, talk to them, answer their questions, help them with their projects, watch them help us with our own projects. We see how much more they understand and do than they could the month before or the year before.
How do I know he's learning? I can never help but be stunned by the question. It's so obvious, day in and day out, that he's learning about a lot of things, and that already knows more than an awful lot of well-educated adults about many subjects. It would be ridiculous to question it. I see how much he reads, how much he discusses ideas and knowledge he's pick up in one way or another. I'd be a darn fool to question whether he's learning." -Lillian, California

on unschooling in general and it's effect on their family;

"I hope with all my soul that my children will be different from conventionally educated people. I hope that they will know freedom rather than bondage; creativity rather than conformity; courage rather than blind obedience; intelligence rather than rote learning. I believe that conventional school damage--perhaps irrevocable-- the ability to explre, discover, and imagine. I believe that schools force us to set aside the ability to think for ourselves, to be motivated by joy and interest, to be open and honest. We hope to reap values of intelligence, honesty, caring, and self-confidence." -Amy, Idaho

Wishing You Books that Challenge You,
Mama Randa the Inspired

Monday, October 13, 2008

Learning to Let Go ......or How To Kill A Child's Enthusiasm for Learning

One of the challenges of unschooling is learning to let go of preconceptions about how particular learning experiences "should" be conducted. I'm re-learning this all the time and had another lesson today!

Okay, so June Bug likes for me to give him "drawing assignments" to do while I'm in the shower. Understand that the conventional meaning of the word "assignment" is unknown to him. He has never been in a position where he is required to do specific work whether he wants to or not. As a 'teacher', I do not give "assignments". Rather, when he asks me for a drawing assignment, he is really asking for a suggestion of something to try drawing (he draws so often that he sometimes runs out of ideas but wants to keep going anyway!)

So I draw lines to section a paper off into 12 squares. I tell him to draw a letter of the alphabet in each box and something that begins with that letter. I set him up with a clipboard and a step stool in the bathroom and he happily begins drawing while I begin my shower.

Partway through, I peek out, assumedly to 'admire' his progress. But what do I do instead? I end up criticizing instead! The pictures are really good, but I notice that half way down he began writing two letters and drawings in each box. "Why did you put two in one box, you were supposed to do only one per box!" His logic was sound-- he knew that there wouldn't be enough room for all the letters without combining them. Why did it matter if he put two letters in one box? Why did I feel frustrated at his wonderful ability to take my own suggestions and make the project his own? I realized right away that I was effectively killing the project and chided myself for my interference.

Often it is hard to be trusting enough to follow our children's lead. But each day I find myself more conscious of my actions/words and more able to look closely at their consequences. The more we trust in our children's innate desire to learn, the more confident we become in the fact that our children are indeed learning/ In fact, when we stand back and look at what they are doing in their lives, we realize that their rate of growth is simply astounding.
Wishing You New Moments of Clarity,
Mama Randa the Unschooling Mother

Thursday, October 9, 2008

My First Doll

Though small and simple, this is my first attempt at dollmaking and I am proud of the result! She now reside in one of several autumnal displays in our home.

Wishing You the Motivation to Create Your Own Seasonal Crafts,
Mama Randa the Amateur Dollmaker

Monday, October 6, 2008

Baby, oh Baby!

See this leotard? I found it last spring at a thrift shop. Sadly, it ended up being just too big, particularly around the chest and hips. Well guess what? It fits perfectly now! And why is that? It's pretty easy to tell. . .

Yup, that's right, there is a tiny little baby cookin' in my oven! 18 weeks old now and expected to move out of my womb in March-- it only has a ninth months lease on the place.

Wishing You the Happiness that Comes from Holding Babies,
Mama Randa the Expectant

What Can Be Learned From?. . . Wildcraft!

activity: Wildcraft! board game

ages: pre-school through adult

story line: Grandma needs you to gather huckleberries from the mountain. Along the way, you get scrapes, bruises, bee stings, and other ailments-- but good thing you've been gathering medicinal plants as you hike up the trail!

description: A cooperative board game in which players work together to gather huckleberries and return them to grandmas while learning about medicinal plants along the way

what can be learned: Identification of medicinal plants, develop an appreciation for plants, foster understanding that plants are medicine, cooperation, counting, following directions, matching, circular movement, clockwise and counter-clockwise directions, sunrise/sunset patterns
This game just arrived in the mail for us last week and it has already become a favorite. The board is beautiful, the gameplay is pleasurable, and the knowledge imparted is priceless! As someone who does not know much about medicinal plants, I am savoring this unique opportunity to learn more. And I love the sense of respect for the Earth that playing this game instills. The game pieces are plastic, but we've been using little wooden autumn peg people instead. This board game is HIGHLY recommended! We ordered ours through For Small Hands (a great Montessori-based catalogue with alot of good, affordable supplies and toys) or it can be ordered directly from the creators at

Wishing you Evenings of Family Board Gaming,
Mama Randa the Player

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hermie and Secrets of the Ocean Realm

Here's our newest family member. Low maintenance, low investment (June Bug paid for it himself), and absolutely wonderful to a boy who is fascinated by ocean life.
Here's a superb ocean documentary series that we found at our library. We have watched half of them now and they are simply fantastic.
Here's one of our new favorite creatures-- the pikeblenny. They live in small holes or discarded worm tubes, but if they are near other blennys they swim around 'fighting' (which is nothing more than opening their mouths at each other) and stealing each others' homes.

Here's another favorite, the Sarcastic Fringehead (the one in the back). Yup, that's really it's name. they open their mouths to be HUGE. Biggest mouth wins a fight. The words "Sarcastic Fringehead" also makes a good insult if you ever need a clever one!
Wishing You the Desire to Follow your Children's Interests,
Mama the Randa Who Sometimes Feels Like a Zookeeper

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sticker Making

I always have to remember not to go to Hobby Lobby when there is nothing in particular I need and I don't have extra money for spontaneous shopping. Well, I broke the rule, and after hearing alot about Xyron sticker makers, I bought one. It's so much fun!

I spent the morning clipping small squares from a magic cabin catalog. Such a cute pleasing result!I asked Dudo to draw a scene for some of the little fairy stickers.

I'm still brainstorming other ideas of ways to incorporate our homemade stickers into our school time. Any ideas?

Wishing You Fun Lessons with Your Children,
Mama Randa the Sticker Maker

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Returning to the Online Community

Well, here I am again, hopping back into blogland after a long sojourn. I'm easing back in, so no lengthy, thoughtful, or meaningful posts today. Just something simple and non-commital. Like a picture of Dudo in his soccer uniform- he just started playing this week. It's the first organized group activity he's ever been involved in.He's actually really good at soccer, and even more surprising is that he stays fairly focused and listens well to the coaches (!) Of course, the first practice/game turned into a lesson in sportsmanship-- "We DONT throw grass at the other team" and "We don't insist to the other team that OUR team is the best". All good lessons for a five year old.

Wishing you New Activities for this Season,
Mama Randa the Soccer Mom

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I'm Back!

I have returned from the land of broken computers! My computer was down for an entire month, and I am happy to fianlly get back. I listed my first new items on my shop-- the first new ones since May.

Kittens are one of the most joyful wonders of the world! Here is our bunch-- nearly 5 weeks old now-- they were born just as my computer crashed. a basket of sweetness, ready for their first foray into the yard

From left to right; Chauncy, Mauna Loa, Sauleio, and Oakland (bearly seen at far right). In the back is Dudo petting the mother, Nuk-Nuk, who is very worried about her babies being outside.

Cauncy, the biggest, and the one that we want to keep. He has beautiful blue eyes, thick long gray fur, and at birth was twice as big as the smallest kitten. He is going to be a big beautiful cat!

Sauleio (pronounced saw-LAY-oh), our other favorite. She's a sweet tiny little girl with creamy blonde fur and the same blue eyes that they all have.

Dudo cuddling Oakland.

Wishing You the Joys of Watching Babies,
Mama Randa the Cat Lover

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Wow, spring is really here and things are busier than ever, but in the very best way. I am no longer doing full-time child care (though I still watch two little girls a couple times a week) which is a HUGE relief and has freed me to be able to do more woodworking. Many projects have been going on here, and many more will be completeled for sure now that I have a brand new work table!

Well, maybe not BRAND new. Take an old, worn, wobbly table, add for sturdy legs, attach a heavy layer of plywood to the work surface, provide two little shelves for storing tools when not in use, bolt on a new vice... a Ari has his own little work table too, and the two of them together out in the yard makes for the ideal work zone. So much better than the dark cramped workshop that I have worked out of until now. It's amazing how much of a difference it has made already in the past two days.
Bathed in light on the table, sits the Bunkbed that I made today for Dudo's stuffies. It looks alot like his own bunk beds. Both Dudo and stuffies were happy with it.

Anyway, I'm trying to settle into a new routine now that I am no longer a home-child care provider. The plan is to set aside computer time every day for my etsy shop and blogging. So I hope to be 'hearing' from everyone again soon!

Wishing You the Best of Changes that Come With Spring,
Mama Randa the Relieved One

Monday, April 21, 2008


LaRue Pine Hills; a natural area of great biological diversity along the flood plains of the Mississippi river in Southern Illinois. Twice a year, hundreds of snakes migrate from the high cliffs to the swampy wetlands of the floodplain. The "snake road" is closed to vehicular traffic for a period of a couple weeks.

I have been to LaRue Pine Hills a couple of times, but never for the snake migration. Saturday my friend, who is a zoology student nearing graduation, called to ask if we wanted to go with her to look for snakes. The plan was to have a yard sale that day, but the dark clouds and off-and-on drizzles allowed to abandon that plan in favor of a rainy day adventure.
Snakes like sun and warmth, so we had trouble finding any. We peeked into rock cracks with our flashlight (which was not nearly bright enough) and saw a couple of cave salamanders, but no snakes. On a May-Apple (I love those plants! They cluster together in tiny villages of leafy umbrellas) sat a green tree frog who sat completely still no matter how close we came ("I'm a leaf! You don't see me!"), but no snakes.

The last leg of our adventure involved climbing a BIG hill for the lovely view of the floodplain from the top. Our leg muscles burned (or at least mine did) as we hiked up, and suddenly Lauren stopped in her tracks with a "woah--" The head of cottonmouth (one of four venemous species in the region) stuck out from under a rock warning us to take a different path.

Most people would not think it fun to find a venomous snake in their path, however we were quite happy. All my life I was afraid of snakes until a few years ago. I remember I was hiking and a black rat snake (really big, long, docile snakes which are abundant in our region) slithered up into a little pine tree to watch me. At that moment I suddenly knew that he was not curled in those branches to wait for me to pass so that he may strike-- it was more like he was curious about me and scared enough to get out of the way so that I may pass without harming him. Ever since then, I have gotten some excitement out of seeing snakes. It's always excitement mixed with a tiny bit of fear since I am usually taken by surprise.

Dudo has been really interested in snakes lately; studying our Illinois Snakes poster, drawing pictures of each species, and expressing great interest in wanting to see snakes while out in the woods (Dudo was not with us on the snake expedition and so has not seen any yet this season). Yesterday he was telling Na and I about which species were endangered and other snake info that he soaked up from casual conversation with Lauren the zoologist.

I'll leave you today with some picture of snake-related creations and projects.

Wishing You Adventures Beyond Your Comfort Zone,
mama randa the snake hunter

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Very Good Day

Why are these tulips (tulips with two lips!!) and this mushroom so happy? Well, first of all, today is an absolutely gorgeous day which was MUCH needed after many days of cloudy gloominess.

But mostly this happiness is in relation to the return of our dear friend, my partner, Tim, after a separation of five months.

Tim and I's Story

Tim and I first met while I was living in Wyoming in 2004. Ari was just over a year old and I was a small, young, lonely, unknowledgable single mother in the center of the least populated state in the country. Although I was living on a college campus in the second biggest city in Wyoming, I did not make any friends. My second semester at Casper College, I met a guy named Phil. He was kind to me and was the first person that I considered a 'friend' in the entire 9 months that I had lived there to that point. In April, there was a Keller Williams concert that I wanted to go to in Fort Collins, Colorado. I asked Phil if he wanted to go. He said he couldn't but that his brother might want to. I met his brother, Tim, for the very first time when I picked him up and, along with my brother, drove to Fort Collins for the concert. Well, it turns out that none of us thought to get tickets ahead of time, and after the four hour drive, the show was sold out. So isntead we went to a party at one of TIm's old friends' houses in Cheyenne where I felt quite uncomfortable. Several weeks went by before I talked to Tim again. I was plannign on moving back to Illinois, but I didn't want to (and my mommy wouldn't let me) drive my big van all the way across the country by myself. So I asked Phil, "Hey, would you like to take a free trip to Illinois and help me drive?" And again his answer was "No, but my brother might". So I began hanging out with Tim and a relationship quickly developed. Ari loved him from the very beginning. Tim would show up at my apartment door and Ari would happily cry out "Na!!" (pronounced like 'nah'). We never knew why he called him Na, since he was already very articulate at that age (about 16 months) and had no trouble with "T"'s. But the name stuck, and to this day, he is still "Na" or "Nanni" (pronounced "nah-nee) to us. Anyway, Na decided he move to Illinois with us.

And there begins the next chapter in our story. We lived together in Illinois, upgrading houses a couple times, for about a year and a half before deciding to go our separate ways. Ari and I moved to a new house by ourselves just as he was turning 3 in 2006. Things went okay; I was lonely, but also liberated in so many ways. I had convinced myself that it was best for me to be on my own for a while, until IT happened. It was the summer of 2006, and something quite serious and frightening happened. I'm not going to go into the details here, but we were living way out of town, sort of secluded when it occurred---- a stalker incident of sorts. It was getting pretty scary, and it got to the point that we were not safe. The final, scariest occurance happened the very day before we were to go on vacation to my mom's in Wyoming. So I packed
what I could, we went to Wyoming and stayed for over a month. When we finally came back to Illinois, we lived at a friend's house for almost two months while waiting for a decent house to open up. We finally found what we thought was a good home, and Na came back to help us out. He came on the pretense that we were just going to be friends and that he would stay until I got licensed as a Home Child Care Provider and could support myself financially. Our friendship developed again into a relationship, and the house that we thought was nice, turned out not to be and the landlady lived a thousand miles away and refused to do any necessary work to the house. We asked her to check for mold under the house (I'm sure it was there) and she said she would not and asked us to move out. It was around Christmas time, and in A University town, where most leaves begin and end in August, there were very few rental homes open. I was very upset and overwhelmed, but things worked out,as they always do, and we found a nice big home (bigger and nicer than any other we'd lived in-- and for not too much more $$ than the previous house). There were more than half a dozen families wanting this house. We had many things working against us. I had dreadlocks (a major stigma unfortunately). We were a three person family; the house had 4 bedrooms and 2 big living areas and several of the familys had 3 or more children, so theoretically they were in need of the space more than us. And then there was the liability issue of me running a home child care in the house. Despite all this, we connected with the owners and they chose us to be the house's tenants. They are such wonderful people. So kind and supportive. I am so thankful for them after having several landlord nightmares. Anyway, eventually the child care business was going well and Tim and I began making plans to go our separate ways again. He moved back to Wyoming last November. During that time, neither of us were happy, and I was not making enough money to support Ari and I. After a few months, we began theortically talking about what would happen if he were to move back in with us. After weeks of contemplation, we both decided that did want to be together and give our relationship another try. It was about 6 weeks from the time of that decision until he was actually able to come back. So after much anticipation and excitement, he arrived last night around 10:00. Ari tried so hard to stay up and wait, but he just couldn't make it. This is the third incarnation of our relationship and it really seems like we can make it work this time. It feels great to have him around again, and so strange to be a single mother one day, and not the next day.

So anyway, that's the story, and believe it or not, that's the SHORT version!

I'll end this post with one of my favorite pictures of Na and Dudo. (circa 2005)

Wishing You New Beginnings,
mama randa the pseudo-wife

Sunday, April 13, 2008

6 Unimportant Things and a Series of Silly Pictures

I've been tagged by woodmouse to post 6 unimportant bits of information about myself. Well, I've been racking my brain , but really, it ALL seems important. The smallest details, all put together, make us who we are. We cannot be separated from our little quirks. We ARE our little quirks! Well, anyway, here are some of the most trivial things I could think of about myself.

1. When I have paint or glue on my hands I often wipe them off on my pants or even the rug in the art room. You can imagine how not-clean the rug is. If my landlords happen to be reading this, then don't worry, I don't do it to the new carpet in the livingroom!

2. I am currently addicted to these all-natural miniature peanut butter cups that our local foods co-op just started carrying in bulk.

3. My body tends to need lots of sleep. Often 10 or more hours.

4. I sing in the shower-- who doesn't?!

5. I'm really really bad about taking library books and movie rentals back on time. At the moment, I think I have about a $40 fine at the library. Therefore, it tends to be binge-and-purge with the library: check out a whole bunch of books and movies and cds at one time, then forget to bring them in on time, rack up a big fine, then wait several weeks or months, finally pay off the fine, check out a bunch of materials again, and start the whole things all over.

6. I like to swing.

See, all those little 'unimportant' details really tell alot about me, don't they? Just think of the picture you would get of me if I told the really important stuff!

So I'll leave you with a funny series of pictures that Dudo and I took of ourselves yesterday.

I can't believe I'm posting that^ for everyone to see!

Here's me with the new mermaid tail I made, and there's Dudo, the Prince of Underwater World with a 'broken knee'. Playing this reminded me of how I used to thoroughly enjoy wrapping up my leg and pretending it was a cast.

Wishing You Days of Dramatic Play,
mama randa mermaid glory