Measuring Intent

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We’re just now feeling our regular, joyful familial groove return from our time spent gorging on connection, freedom of mind and space, and the annual quintessential family reunion we call The Rethinking Everything Conference.  There are a great many ideas, situations, and conversations on which to reflect and I will continue to analyze and integrate for a great (great!) while.

‘Intent’ has come up several times in the last week in several different ways.  During the very first regular session of the conference, Barb Lundgren, Dayna Martin, myself, and Mark Hegener conducted a panel discussion entitled, “Immerse Me in Unschooling.”  It was a rousing couple of hours with lots of inquiries, debate, and revelation.  During a discussion about a mother feeling overburdened by her child not bringing his dishes to the kitchen after eating, Dayna brought up ‘intent.’  Do we assume positive or negative intent when a child does not live up to an expectation that we hold for whatever reason? 

When holding a freedom-based conference for hundreds of families in a fancy, mainstream hotel, obvious issues arise.  Hotel staff, unaccustomed to the din of children at play, stiffen, raise eyebrows, and increase the security presence.  Some found themselves more relaxed and joyfully aware by the end of the weekend.  I imagine the others just took more ibuprofen for their aching heads and feet and were grateful that their children went to school.  The difference in these two camps is their assumption of intent.  Do they assume children are inherently good and the play is honest and joyful?  Or do they assume that children are destructive, malicious, or simply unaware?

At a recent park day, one of the toddlers in our group decided she would be most comfortable playing naked in the sandbox.  At almost 100 degrees, the rest of us were thinking she had the right idea.  One of the mothers at the park, however, did not.  Ten minutes after she inquired as to whom this child belonged and asked if we were aware that she was not wearing clothing, a police officer arrived indicating that the little girl was indecently exposed and (adding his personal bias) ‘nobody else needs to see that.’  Interestingly enough, Texas penal code section 21.08 defines ‘indecent exposure’ as :  A person commits an offense if he exposes his anus or any part of his genitals with intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.  Gosh, I wish I’d had my pocket copy of the penal code with me at the park.

The short of it is that we can argue intent all day.  There is only one person in any situation that is actually justified in dictating the intent and that’s the subject.  We could then make judgments as to whether their stated intent is their actual intent.  But one thing is certain: perception is not intent.  Perception is based on personal bias and our own subjective history. 

Now, I haven’t liked the word ‘assume’ since my 8th grade teacher broke it out on the blackboard.  You may have heard this one: “When you assume, you make an ass– out of –u– and –me.  And, after reading The Four Agreements, I feel incredibly free never assuming anything again because generally an assumption is something we take as a personal affront without any basis in truth.

But that is when we assume negative intent.  There can never be harm when we assume the best for and about people.  We maintain our personal integrity and it completely changes how we interact with others such that the energy is always going in a positive direction. 

So what I’m about to say is a challenge but it will change your life.  Assume positive intent and act accordingly.

Go Ahead- Change your mind

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We all want what’s best for our children, don’t we?  The answer is ‘yes‘.  Even parents whose short-term motives and tactics I question have the same long-term goal – healthy, well-adjusted, caring, ‘successful’ adults (we can debate the qualities of this last one some other time). 

When we were transitioning our suburban life to one on the road as an RV traveling family, I received two specific messages from acquaintances who expressed their concern for our children’s well-being and long-term happiness.  At first I took them as the routine concerns of observers that have cropped up whenever we’ve made a choice that is not along the lines of what ‘regular mainstream’ families do – of which there have been many.  Further discussion revealed that these people had, themselves, lived a traveling life during periods of their own childhood.  This got me to thinking.  I could not reconcile how a decision that we had made enthusiastically as a family would result in our adult children looking back with anger or regret.  I needed to process.

What makes someone wish in retrospect that they’d had a different experience? 

One thing:  Choice.

When we feel empowered in our own experiences and that we have control over the decisionmaking process, there can be no regret.  The outcome may not be what we had anticipated but, in the long run, we’ll not lay blame on others for what we’ve experienced or what has become of us.

The key? We can always make another choice.

This applies to everything.  If a child chooses a food and doesn’t like it, do we scold him and force him to eat it anyway?  This takes out the empowerment of the choice.  Next time there is no choice- opt for something he knows he’ll like.  And then we wonder why our children aren’t more adventurous in their food intake?

If a child decides to take ski lessons and opts out after a few sessions because it’s just not her cup of tea?  Do we shuttle a miserable child to and fro until the end of the season because it’s been paid for and committed to?  Again, a child who is not allowed to change their mind is disempowered from the beginning.  Learning at every bend, they fear then that their next ‘choice’ may result in extended misery and/or disappointment from their parents and opt out of trying a new activity.

Think on this: if a friend asked you to come and try Tai Chi but you knew you’d have to go to every single session for six weeks whether or not you ended up hating it, would you try at all?

 Choice.

Children are always learning.  Some are adventurous in their choices and are trying new things all the time.  Others exercise just as many choice muscles but in a more reserved way (saying ‘no’ is a choice).  How many foods your child eats or activities and experiences your child participates in is not indicative of their level of comfort and independence in making the choice.  It’s our unwavered support of their decisionmaking that results in confident, fulfilled children and adults. 

When a group decision needs to be made, children are capable of seeing the broader perspective with the help of supportive adults who can share objective wisdom gleaned from more life experience.  Children are naturally caring and do not wish for their choices to negatively impact others.  (Impulsivity for younger children is just that- there is no intention to harm or offend those around them.)  Even infants can communicate their needs and desires effectively when their parents are tuned in. 

Choice doesn’t mean always getting what we want.  Compromising is a choice when it’s done rationally and independently.  Children do this all the time during play.  Yes, sometimes assistance is helpful.  And that’s our job!  Not to judge but to facilitate when we’re needed.

So ARE we screwing up our kids by traveling?  As long as it continues to be the choice of everyone involved, no.  They will always feel that their input matters and that they have control over how and where their personal journey takes them.  We CHOOSE to be together.  We CHOOSE to travel and see the world.  We CHOOSE to listen to, accept, and communicate with each other whenever situations are difficult and reevaluate as needed.

Love it…. till you don’t.  Then choose something else.

Spare the rod. Save the child.

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Yesterday I re-posted a link on my Facebook page to The Center for Effective Discipline’s Spank Out Day.  Honestly, I almost didn’t re-post it because I thought it rather unnecessary to tell people not to spank for two reasons.  1) Most people don’t spank anymore anyway.  2) People that do spank know there are better options but are sometimes too angry to control themselves.  I thought it would be silly to even bring it up.  We’re all working on doing better everyday, right?  Wrong.

I’m glad I did.  Because I was wrong on both counts.  Apparently spanking is still considered an appropriate means of dealing with what parents deem as behavioral issues with children.
no-spanking

I’m feeling pretty judgmental on this issue today and, after careful consideration, feel absolutely certain that there is no grey area here.  I’ve trotted around it in my head trying to think of a kinder, gentler way to help people to understand why it’s unnecessary and positively damaging to spank children.  There isn’t one.  Because people who spank feel absolutely entitled, if not obligated, to do so in order to raise obedient little soldiers.  So I’m going to say it really loud- STOP HITTING YOUR KIDS!

We could go on about peoples considered as lesser throughout our history being subjugated to the will of the dominant sector- yes, as recently as women who were punished routinely by their husbands (completely within their rights) for any manner of ‘wrong’ doing.  But parents who spank don’t hear this because of their determination to raise an obedient child.  Children do not have the same rights as other groups in the eyes of these parents and, indeed, in the eyes of the law.

We could talk about issues of perpetual violence and detrimental associations between love and violent behaviors.  But parents who spank will say that this was how they were raised and they love their parents and turned out well.

We can talk about linguistics and the fact that spanking is a soft word that parents use to alleviate the guilt associated with the words ‘hitting’, ‘abuse’, ‘violence’, ‘control’ which are all more appropriate words to describe the actual act being committed.  But parents who spank will say that the motivation behind spanking is different.  They are not hitting their child out of anger, they are hitting them out of love.  (Now say that last part again in your head.  Do you hope to be loved that way?)

We can even cite literature that shows that physical punishment is completely ineffective in creating the behavioral change the parent seeks.  What it incites is fear and any manner of deceit in order not to get caught again.  Spankers say it works because they see less of the behavior.  Might we be hopeful that this is because the child has sought out a more supportive environment and is spending less time with the abusive parent?  We can hope but given that children of ‘spanking age’ are usually in their very physically dependent early years, I doubt it.  But it’s not because the desired lesson was learned.  What is internalized by the child in these encounters is to live in fear because those who love them also inflict physical, psychological, and emotional harm on them.

Hitting is only one of many (a few more: time out, isolation, humiliation, withdrawal of affection, taking away personal items/’priveledges’) overt and damaging methods of controlling a child.  Simply replacing hitting with another method of control is not the solution.

The hard part here is NOT learning a new skill to use in these situations but changing the way in which we view them and our children.  It is changing the way we view the traditional hierarchical family dynamic to one of trust, appreciation, support, and true love (not this wacky, power struggle, abusive cycle kind).  And guess what?  You will never need discipline or punishment because what you have created is a respectful home community in which your wisdom, care, and love are appreciated because they are communicated in ways that are clear to the child’s heart and mind. This article- Why we don’t punish our son. Ever. – nailed it in my opinion. Thank you, Jillian Lauren, for rocking me to sleep last night with the pull I needed back to MY reality- the one in which my children communicate openly with their parents and each other and difficult situations are met with compassion and problem-solving not violence, guilt, and shame.

Having support in parenting is monumental and generally people parent the way their parents did so the support for change is definitely not coming from there.  When we know better, we do better.  Here’s some great literature for reconsidering and healing the parent-child relationship:

Connection Parenting by Pam Leo
connection parenting
Parenting for Social Change by Teresa Graham Brett
parenting for social change

In Support of Nothing

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My kids love to watch PBS.  Fetch with Ruff Ruffman and Cyberchase are two of their favorite shows.  And they learn alot from them.  I must admit, so do I!  For the most part, we find the minimal advertising that PBS presents innocuous.  There’s a newish ad that they are running that burns my kids every time.  It’s a promotion for Chuck E. Cheese.  The catch phrase is something like, “We’re showing kids that doing something is way better than doing nothing.”  The aim of the ad is to show that this pizza/arcade establishment is ‘partnering’ (I’m not sure how other than running this ad) with PBS (a television network) to encourage children to get out and get physical exercise.  I’m not sure how these two can do anything more than lip service in this arena given their primary goals- making money on pizza and arcade games and having viewers for television programming.  This aside, my kids question the insinuation of the message- that children opt to or ever really do “nothing”. 

Activities that constitute “nothing”
Why do the kids find this offensive?  Well, they do not understand how anyone could assume that kids are EVER doing “nothing”.  I’ve given this much thought.  What DOES doing “nothing” mean?  I used to know.  At least I thought I did.  Before I had kids and spent all day every day with them, I thought I knew.  Doing “nothing” meant spending time being “idle” or not participating in an activity that seemed “appropriate” at the time.  It meant that the objective observer could not measure a product from the time spent.  Sitting around?  Watching television on a sunny day?  Playing video games?  Listening to music?  Talking on the phone? 

Standards of measurement

This is an old story for unschoolers but in a new context.  It’s a tremendous process of growth to recognize that learning is happening without putting the burden of proof on the learner.  Testing aptitude does not truly measure learning just as intangible or inobvious outcome does not indicate a lack of productively spent time.

These are completely subjective judgments on the part of the observer and, after bearing witness to the true nature of unadulterated people, I understand that there truly is no such thing as doing “nothing”.  The kids point out that they are doing at least three things in every moment – (heart) beating, thinking, and breathing.

This leads me to one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite movies- Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium:

Molly Mahoney: [after they have set all the clocks forward in a shop to strike noon at the same time] Now we wait.
Mr. Edward Magorium: No. We Breathe. We Pulse. We Regenerate. Our hearts beat. Our minds create. Our souls ingest. Thirty-seven seconds, well used, is a lifetime.

Time well spent, indeed.  How often do America’s over-scheduled children have time to regenerate, create, or ingest?  And how often are those who do considered to be lazy, unproductive, or… bored – leading to overscheduling?

The importance of doing ‘nothing’

Doing ‘nothing’ has a bad rap.  It is also often confused with being idle, bored, loiterous, or other such words bearing the negative connotation of being unproductive and potentially spinning backward into troublesome behavior or activities.  I find the complete lack of obvious productivity to be glorious to witness.  It is mystifying to watch a child as they ponder, stare, wonder, and process internally.  These are the moments when their true nature dissects the world’s input, fills in gaps of previously held knowledge, and moves forward with new assumptions and questions.  These are the quiet moments when passions are spun round and round to revel in the excitement of information held and wonder at that which is yet to be discovered.

Boredom as communication

Let this not be (necessarily) confused with declarations of, “I’m bored!”  which can often mean a number of things given any variety of family dynamics.  Sometimes, “I’m bored!” means, “I’d love for you to engage with me.”  Sometimes it means, “I’d love to learn something new or engage in a new and exciting activity.”  The boredom to which I am referring is what we often call ‘downtime’ around here but is really some of the most ‘up’ time their growing brains have to process all that is coming to them and at them in this world full of stimulation.

How does this translate to the schooled child?

No matter what we think of how school time is spent and whether it is worthy of the time taken from the lives of our children, there is no question that school takes up a tremendous amount of a child’s lifetime.  Getting to school, being at school, after school activities, getting home from school, doing homework, and preparing for school all over again.  So much adult discussion is devoted to how exhausting this life of taxi driver and schedule keeper is and yet there continue to be more and more ways to squeeze in more ways to squeeze out more productivity from the child.  When advertisements say, “we’re showing kids that doing something is way better than doing nothing,” I come at this from two angles:

1) Doing ‘nothing’ is some of the most valuable time we spend in our lives.  These are the moments of meditation, deep thought, and connection with ourselves.  We should not rob our children of the chance to make this connection while they are still young and not in need of a class series or a self-help book to do it.

2) How many children have a chance to actually do ‘nothing’?  To sit with their own thoughts, process, and feel who they really are?  Are we talking about encouraging physical activity?  I assure you that a free child wants to move their body because it feels good.  A child who is over-scheduled and under-empowered will default to ‘zone out’ mode when given the opportunity because they have to.  A full day spent in an institution without free thought or choice and with governed instruction and assignment is physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting.  It doesn’t burn the calories or work the muscles that free play does but it sure does use up the time and energy needed to participate. 

If the public access goal is to have physically healthier kids, we may want to make mental health the priority.  The more time and energy we take from our kids, the less they have.  It just makes sense.

Rethink Everything!

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I co-publish Rethinking Everything Magazine with my bosom buddy Barb Lundgren of the Rethinking Everything Conference.  Let me tell you a little about our magazine and a special price we’re offering to celebrate the release of Issue Three on July 1st!

Why is this magazine different?

Where do I even start?  This is an online magazine like you have never seen before.  The pages turn!  There’s audio and video from our writers and links to expand your knowledge and toolbox for your own personal enlightenment process.  Don’t like to read online?  Download, save, and view whenever as a full color, gorgeous .pdf file.  OR print your copy to read anywhere you like!  No other magazine gives you such rich content in any format to fit your reading style.

Who are these writers?  They are artists of change and inspiration in their own lives- people who have found it within themselves and outside societal lines to inspire transformational change in their lifestyle and mindset.  We’re talking everything from birth, parenting, and education to healthcare, finances, sustainability, and MORE!  Barb and I work with every writer and handpick the stories to fill each quarterly issue with tellings of change that will move, inspire, push, and empower you- the reader.

As you may know from the Humans Being podcasts, part of my rethinking process has been evaluating my own passions as I seek to support my children in their authentic lives.  Who am I?  What do I love?  Rethinking Everything Magazine is an integral part of this process.  I have experienced so much change in every avenue of my life and continue to proceed down the roads less traveled even as we venture out onto them (yes, we’re moving into an RV to travel North America!).  In subscribing to this magazine, you are supporting entrepreneurship, freedom, and growth in your own life as well as ours.  This is why we love this so much. 

Attracting and reading empowering stories of people jumping out of institutional thinking and boxes to find new and emboldened paths for their authentic lives continues to be transformational for us.  We hope you will join in the process- to think deeply about your engrained beliefs, to feel supported in your change process, and to LOVE yourself enough to feel the discomfort and empowerment of growth.

How do I subscribe?  I’m so glad you asked!  You can always subscribe from our website  and right now we’re offering a great deal- $15 off the regular subscription price. 

Subscribe now for just $35 for a a FULL year!

You’ll receive your first issue on July 1st– that’s SOON!

 

Finding Personal Connections

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“We are the only unschoolers in the greater _____ area.”  I hear this all the time from unschooling parents feeling isolated and seeking like-minded community.  My first question to them is whether they have actually looked… and where.  There are many ways to locate unschoolers and connected/respectful parents but, being that this is not traditional educational/parenting methodology, we need to think outside the box.  We probably won’t find these traits in our neighbors, the other parents on the soccer sidelines, or in our workplace cohort.  There is definitely a need to come out of our shells to an extent and seek the support and connection we desire.  The life of an unschooler can be extremely isolating for introverted parents and even more so for their children who may not share this personality trait and are left wanting more social interaction than is made available or comfortable for their parents.

Many of us find a reliable friend in the internet and support in the faceless names and personas portrayed on-screen in chat rooms and on groups.  Don’t get me wrong, the internet is a fabulous tool.  I have connected with loads of interesting people and garnered much in the way of support and food for thought through groups, essays, blogs, and websites.  However, nothing can replace the camaraderie of regular face-to-face interaction with families living and learning similarly.

I never said it was easy.  How bad do you want it?  I can tell you from personal experience that local connections are worth every moment of the trials and tribulations of the search.

Where do I start?

Internet search– Open your favorite search engine and type in your area with ‘unschooling’ or ‘unschool’ and see what comes up.  You may need to enter your county, metro area, nearby city, or state.  The first step toward making connections may be as easy as this.

Yahoogroups– This is a great resource for groups of all varieties of interest and support.  There are a great many unschooling groups- both international and local- to be found here.  You can once again search for your area or begin joining international groups for a start in internet-based support. Setting up an account or starting your own group are both free.

Meet-Up–  Finding unschool groups here will be a bit more rare (there is a fee for starting a group) but worth a shot since I happen to know there is a Dallas/Ft. Worth Whole-Life Unschoolers Meet-Up that began almost a year ago. 🙂  Setting up an account is free and your search results will reflect your locale.

International groups and lists– There are many groups (see especially unschooling Yahoogroups or local homeschooling info groups) and lists (like Radical Unschoolers Network) on which you may be talking to people who live right near you!  Generally, it’s very acceptable to post an inquiry about unschoolers/radical unschoolers from your area.  You may want to include a request for them to contact you offline so as not to bog down the group.

Start your own group- If you build it, they will come.  I am on my third time at this and it has been successful each and every time.  In southern NH, myself and 4 comrades- meeting through perfect serendipity (and a post on a national unschooling yahoogroup :))- began a larger area unschooling group called LEAP which continues to grow exponentially.  Upon moving to Texas, I began a small, local yahoogroup of similarly aged children and like-minded parents of the same name.  This group has since dissolved but those of us who bonded through that experience have gone on to other things and remained close.  Last year, myself and 4 other DFW unschooling mothers got together to form the DFW Whole-Life Unschooling Meet-Up to fill a need for growth, discussion, and networking in the area.  It continues to be a tremendous success and we look forward to each and every get together for play and focused discussion.

A Few Notes

You may not feel it.  As with anything, it is entirely possible and even likely that you will meet many people with whom you do not connect deeply before you find one with whom you do.  Just because they’re radical unschoolers or (insert common descriptor here), doesn’t mean that you will have other things in common.  Many times it has felt worth it to continue to find common ground with people if only because it has been important for me that my children have friends who are used to their parents being kind to them.  There is a difference in those children and the friendships and play have always been stronger and more joyous as a result.

Be willing to travel.  Getting together with other unschoolers/respectful parents often requires us to drive greater distances.  It has always been worth it.

Be open.  My first meeting of unschooling friends was (as I said) completely serendipitous.  The story can be heard in HB #2- Finding the Real World.  We connected because we were all very open about our beliefs and goals when we met and were talking.  The more open you are about unschooling and respecting your children, the more apt you are to find others who do the same.

You’re Not Alone

Recently, I noticed a thread on one of the national boards of someone asking for good areas to which to relocate as they were searching for unschool community.  I was pleasantly surprised to see members from all areas of the country piping up to throw their area in the running.  There were dozens of areas represented- both rural and urban- by people who deemed their locale to be supportive and socially connected for unschoolers.

So when people come to me and say that they are the ‘only’ unschoolers in their local area, I have to believe that there is a pretty good chance they’re wrong.  I’m not being an optimist.  I speak from experience.  Southern New Hampshire now has a group of 255 members as I write this post.  Yup- southern New Hampshire.  I quickly and easily formed a group of 13 families (there were more who wanted to join and I was of the mind to keep the group small at the time) within a 1-hour radius all with children around the same age as mine when we moved to Texas.  Our Meet-Up group (granted, it is the entire DFW metroplex) now boasts 128 members- some of whom travel an hour or two happily to make these connections. 

Granted, it is certainly possible that, even after exhausting all of these possible avenues for finding like minds, you will come up dry.  I have come across many lately who are considering relocating for this purpose.  While this may seem drastic, to know deep, personal connections with others who strive to live a positive, connected life may be worth it for you. 

As we make the transition to a life on the road, we’ll be seeking whole-life unschooling families and groups with whom to connect as we explore North America.  We’re looking forward to meeting you!

Trust and Pixie Dust

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“I am youth!  I am joy!  I am freedom!” sang Peter Pan, as he flew through the air across the stage avoiding Captain Hook’s grasp with each pass.

As I sat this morning in Casa Manana Children’s Theatre enjoying another spectacular play, I noted once again with interest how often undertones and flat-out overtones of freedom, choice, pure joy, and fulfillment fill our entertainment but not our lives.  Why, Peter Pan is about an island filled with boys who run away from home so they “never have to grow up and learn solemn things”!  In a recent Humans Being podcast, I talked with Tara and Justin Wagner about encouraging our unschooled children to preserve and nurture this lust for knowledge, passion, and independent growth in a household in which the financial support is derived from a parent in an occupation or routine in which they are unfulfilled.  These are the homes of the lost boys- our boys, the ones who see their futures in the glazed over eyes and hectic routines of their fathers.

Where did this notion come from- that we, along the way, must scrap our impulsiveness, passion, sense of fun, and eager desire for adventure?  Or that it must be sacrificed in exchange for financial stability and social status? And why is it continually perpetuated despite awareness to the contrary?  Most parents feel so much pressure for their children to ‘succeed’ that the pressures of this contrived and miserable adulthood existence are imposed earlier and earlier in children’s lives so that they’re ‘prepared’ and can ‘function highly’.   We escape to entertainment to once again feel the possibility of freedom, fulfillment, and consciousness that was encouraged and then left behind in the innocence of youth.Magical Fairy Dust

To truly support a generation of joyful, conscious, passion-driven people, we must, ourselves, strip away the ideas and beliefs that joy is just beyond the next bend or that we work now to live later.  Reconsidering the lives we have made and the goals we have set can be very difficult.  How do we de-program ourselves while still being able to provide for our children?  There is no set recipe for this because each of us has a different flame, passion, dream to pursue.  I can say that there are a few general steps:

1. Consider financial expenditures.  Money (or lack thereof) is the biggest factor keeping people in unfulfilling situations.  The things you thought you needed pale in comparison to the joy of living in the now.  Shedding things (sell, consign, donate) and bills (downsize, go to one car or no car (!)) is incredibly liberating.

2. Consider your dreams.  We all have them.  They seem unrealistic or are shelved for ‘someday’ while we continue to live the day-to-day routine hoping that one day the stars will align and a green light will flash telling us it is time.

3. Someday is right now.  Start working quickly and earnestly in the direction of the dream(s) you have identified.  Make a vision board.  Don’t wait.  No more excuses.  Today is the day you will feel full because you have chosen to live. 

Peter Pan renewed my awareness of, intention and attention to feeling the joy of life and analyzing what is truly necessary.  Learn from your kids!  And watch this video of Adora Svitak: What Adults Can Learn From Kids.

If I keep thinking these good thoughts, I may even take flight.  Will you fly today?

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