Unschooling: Our annual wrapup and December 2017 adventures

Welcome to the end of 2017! This year was… different. Also it seemed to start approximately a decade ago, and included some really heartbreaking times – but some great ones too. And as far as unschooling goes, it was also a mixed bag. We had a bunch of amazing conversations and dug deep into a few topics, but we also had less time together as a family than would have been ideal.

So this is my chance to both wrap up our December as well as our year for you. I’m hoping to find a different format for “wrapups” in 2018, as this style is both incredibly time-consuming (for me) and incredibly long to read through (for you). If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments, as I admit I’m kind of drawing a blank.

Unschooling in December 2017 on Unschool Rules: All the Conciliottomans, Christmas Eve 2017.

All the Conciliottomans, Christmas Eve 2017.

(And as always, if you want a more frequent peek at what we do, you can always find me on Instagram and Facebook. I’m specifically trying to share more on Facebook, both from our lives and from other homeschooling blogs I’m reading, so make sure you’re following along there!)

Unschooling in Central Pennsylvania on Unschool Rules: A month in the life of radical unschoolers.

If you’re new to seeing our days recapped in this format, check out our archive of previous wrapups here for some more info on why we take this approach and some other highlights of our adventures. And if you haven’t checked out our unschooling “curriculum plan” for Sarah’s 12th-grade year, I definitely encourage you to take a look at that too!

Unschooling in December 2017 on Unschool Rules:  Sarah knew what she wanted to give her Mommom for Christmas: A set of photos from her trip to Walker-Stalker New Jersey.

Sarah knew what she wanted to give her Mommom for Christmas: A set of photos from her trip to Walker-Stalker New Jersey.

Mom’s broken hip

So, the big news for December was that, on Dec. 9, my mom (also Joan), fell at home and broke her hip. Thankfully Sarah and Chris were home with her; Sarah called me, and then Chris called the ambulance and my sister Linda, who lives locally, since Dan and I were an hour away at work.

Disclosure: This post has some affiliate links. I only link to things we legitimately use and recommend, so if you see such a link, it's because we really do believe in the book or item!
She went immediately to the hospital, had surgery two days later, spent some time in critical care afterward due to some heart complications, and then four days after that, headed to rehab for two weeks, where she basically had to regain the ability to walk, dress and bathe.

How long she’d be in rehab was a huge question – but we found out just a few days before Christmas that she could come home on Christmas Eve, and it was the best possible gift.

(Side note: Her fall happened the day before Sarah, Chris, Dan and I were supposed to leave for Walker-Stalker Con New Jersey, and thankfully Sarah and Chris were still able to go and have a blast!)

Anyway, Mom still has a long road ahead of her, but she has worked AMAZINGLY hard and is making great progress. She and I are “homebound” together for most of January, thanks to the very generous folks at my job who are letting me work from home for all but a few days. We’re learning about all sorts of cool devices, like transfer benches and sock aids and walker slides, that are helping make it doable for her to be at home.

To top it off, the whole experience was a bit rough on Sarah, who is terrified of all things doctor/hospital. But we got to talk about a lot of stuff, and she amazed us all by being willing to go visit Mom regularly. She also helped Dan and I by taking over making dinners during the time when we were working in the office and Mom was at rehab, which was a huge help.

Unschooling in December 2017 on Unschool Rules: A scene from our Christmas dinner with Chris' sister, Adriane, her son, Jacob, and her boyfriend, Roy. They were silly.

A scene from our Christmas dinner with Chris’ sister, Adriane, her son, Jacob, and her boyfriend, Roy. They were silly.

Christmas

Given all that was going on, Christmas had to be more flexible and low-key than usual. When we found out Mom was coming home, Chris pointed out that we’d need to come up with a holiday meal – and then offered to make it for us. We had an amazing turkey, macaroni and cheese and salmon. Side note: Chris is vegetarian but cooks THE BEST turkeys. It’s kind of mind-blowing.

One of Mom’s favorite things to do is attend Christmas Eve service at her church, and I hated for her to miss it – so I worked with a friend who attends the same church to Facetime it to her! She even used a little battery-powered candle to do the “candlelight” part, which was Dan’s great idea. And a couple of days later, some carolers from her church came by and serenaded us.

We tried to keep a lot of our traditions intact – such as cookie-baking. Sarah made Gingerdead cookies and homemade fortune cookies with me, and she and Chris baked 8 dozen cookies for his cookie swap at work and then made a giant gingerdude filled with four kinds of chips – chocolate, mini chocolate, salted caramel and white chocolate.

My sister Carol came from New Jersey for a few days after Christmas to hang out and help Mom, so while she was here, we had our December Universal Yums snack party, which featured holiday snacks from around the world.

Oh, and Sarah and Chris made a great holiday photo.

Unschooling in December 2017 on Unschool Rules: Chris and Sarah made this great holiday card, Die Hard and pun-style.

Chris and Sarah made this great holiday card, Die Hard and pun-style.

Wrapping up 2017

Our family tradition to wrap up the year is to get out all the slips from our Good Things jar and read them. Since Dan and Sarah were leaving Dec. 29 to drive to Arizona to visit his parents for the holiday, we read them Dec. 28, and since my sister Carol was still here, she joined us! That’s easily one of my favorite family traditions.

(A note: Apparently I write a LOT of good things, and many of them are about food, especially our Universal Yums boxes. Also, every time I went kayaking with my friend Kara, I apparently put it in the jar, so she was the Good Things Featured Star this year.)

To wrap up the year on Unschool Rules, I thought I’d share some of the most-read posts of the year:

I’m not yet sure what 2018 will bring on Unschool Rules. In addition to looking for a new wrapup format, Sarah will finish her mandatory reporting and “graduate” under PA law in a couple of months. Our lives are not likely to change much, and I’d love to keep sharing how we live and learn together, but I worry our day-to-day experiences may be less and less relevant even to unschooling families.

So if there’s something you’d like me to write about… please comment and let me know. I’d love to spend more time doing things like addressing specific topics or questions around unschooling, so if you have one, holler at me!

Unschooling in December 2017 on Unschool Rules: While on her road trip with Dan to Arizona, Sarah got a new Daryl Dixon beanie.

While on her road trip with Dan to Arizona, Sarah got a new Daryl Dixon beanie.

Road trip kickoff

I mentioned that Dan and Sarah are heading to Arizona. As I finish this post on New Year’s Day, they’re on the last leg. So far, their days were:

  • Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky
  • Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri (including the St. Louis arch), Oklahoma
  • Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico

In one cool story from their travels, while in Lexington, Kentucky, they found a bag of clothes and a blanket, probably left out for someone homeless. But no one was around, and the weather was bad, and they didn’t want it all to get wet. So they put it in the car, and then, when they made it to St. Louis, Missouri, they found a man asking for help on a median near a Starbucks and were able to give it all to him. So, if you’re reading this and you left such a gift in Lexington, know that it still helped, many miles away!

Unschooling in December 2017 on Unschool Rules: This is my new owl, Timber. His hat matched the background of the penguin on my shirt!

This is my new owl, Timber. His hat matched the background of the penguin on my shirt!

Books

  • Plato’s Euthyphro – We went on a four-bookstore adventure one day and this was the book Sarah went around looking for. We’d read part of it during a Coursera philosophy class a couple years ago and it really stuck with her, I guess.
  • Uncle Wiggily’s Woodland Games by Howard Garis – So, I was a HUGE Uncle Wiggily fan as a kid, and as an adult I’ve started collecting the hard-to-find books of those stories. Chris got me some for Christmas, so I read this one aloud to the whole family.
  • The Sun’s Coming Up Like a Big Bald Head by Norman Reedus – Ah, a Norman Reedus photo book. That was one of Sarah’s Christmas presents (perhaps one of her favorites).
  • The Walking Dead: The Rise of the Governor – Sarah has owned this book for a while but never got around to reading it; so she and Dan listened to the audiobook version on the first couple of days of their drive.

Chris also read us The Christmas Crab Apples, adapted by Ruth-Manning Sanders, on Christmas. It’s a wonderful story, and you can read the whole thing on his blog.

Unschooling in December 2017 on Unschool Rules:  Dan got a neat Star Wars Lego figure from Sarah for Christmas. (I, meanwhile, got a Lego Baymax!)

Dan got a neat Star Wars Lego figure from Sarah for Christmas. (I, meanwhile, got a Lego Baymax!)

Movies and TV

Unschooling in December 2018 on Unschool Rules: Gingerdead cookies, aka gingerbread zombies!

Gingerdead cookies, aka gingerbread zombies!

This month in rabbit trails

I mentioned in September’s post on our unschooling planner system that our “rabbit trails” are the most fun we have in unschooling.

This month’s included a bunch of neat stuff, most notably a conversation that spanned a few days that started with how the “value” of cell phones worked and expanded to include how mortgages and taxes and pensions work, casino regulations to avoid money-laundering, marginal utility, alimony, and somehow veered into genetics, sports performance, generational identity, racial identity and human physical and mental capacity. I wish I had recorded it, because it was amazing.

Dan and Sarah also got to talk about property taxes and the morality of Freddy Krueger on their drive.

All of these are just things that come up through our day-to-day life but lead us down a path of talking and looking stuff up and asking more questions.

Unschooling in December 2017 on Unschool Rules:  Carolers came to serenade Mom a few days after Christmas!

Carolers came to serenade Mom a few days after Christmas!

Games

This month, Sarah played a good bit of FIFA 17 and Grand Theft Auto V.

For Christmas, she got the new Assassins Creed: Origins game and MLB 17 The Show – and an extra PS4 controller so the more video-game-savvy among us (Dan and Chris) can play with her.

In physical-gaming time, we played Monty Python Fluxx and Rummy. And Mom, my friends Amanda and Amanda and I played Rummikub to ring in the new year.

Unschooling in December 2017 on Unschool Rules: Sarah and Chris used up some of our many chocolate bits with this ridiculous cookie (the size of a full cookie sheet, just about).

Sarah and Chris used up some of our many chocolate bits with this ridiculous cookie (the size of a full cookie sheet, just about).

Updates from around the family

Since our “curriculum plan” for this year featured not just Sarah but the other house adults, I figure I should start giving monthly updates on our progress too. So here’s a look at what’s new with the rest of us (though I already updated you on Mom’s month, so this is just the others of us.)

Me, Joan: Well, my big news is I finished my semester of grad school with As in both classes and registered for two more that start next week. I also somehow read a whopping 17 books, which was pretty amazing even considering a few were graphic novels. The best was by far Tales of Falling and Flying by Ben Loory (whose other book of short stories, Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day, you should also check out). I also got wrapped up in Mental: Lithium, Love and Losing My Mind by Jaime Lowe, an amazing and very personally relevant memoir of life with bipolar disorder. (Personally relevant because I started new medications this month for my bipolar after having to go without meds for several months, and BOY are they helping.)

Unschooling in December 2017 on Unschool Rules: ISN'T THIS CAT CUTE?

ISN’T THIS CAT CUTE?

Dan: Dan checks in with this update: “I have been devouring Rainbow Rowell books, only stopping myself from reading all of them because I don’t want to end up with having none left to look forward to. This month was Attachments and Fangirl. I finished Blood, Sweat and Pixels, an OK book by Jason Schreier about videogame development, but it was already done better in Masters of Doom by David Kushner. Similarly, The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak is a poor-man’s Ready Player One — in both cases fine books to read, but only after you’ve read the better one. Sarah and I listened to The Walking Dead: The Rise of the Governor, which was a decent story but heavily weighed by down by a writer who got paid extra for every adjective and metaphor crammed in, and an editor who forgot that a book is a coherent miniseries, not a 10-episode season with a dozen different story arcs.

Unschooling in December 2017 on Unschool Rules: Sarah got this great Walking Dead setup from Mom and loved it!

Sarah got this great Walking Dead setup from Mom and loved it!

Chris: Chris says, “I recently finished Poppies of Iraq by Brigitte Findakly, a wonderful graphic-novel memoir of growing up in Iraq in the middle of the 20th century, and Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books by Paul Collins, a non-fiction book about Hay-on-Wye that ended up not being my cup of tea, despite its subject matter.

Unschooling in December 2017 on Unschool Rules: Having Mom home for Christmas was amazing.

Having Mom home for Christmas was amazing.

So what’s new with your family this month? How did your 2017 turn out? Drop me a comment! I love hearing from all my “blog friends!”

Our scrapbook: Walker-Stalker Con New Jersey

Have you caught on by now that Sarah is a pretty huge fan of The Walking Dead??

Back in October, she got to meet Norman Reedus, her hero and absolute favorite person ever, aka zombie-killer Daryl Dixon on the show.

But there was another Walking Dead event she’d been looking forward to for the better part of a year: Walker-Stalker Con New Jersey, which took place Dec. 9 and 10, 2017. That’s actually where she was supposed to meet Norman, but he had to cancel his appearance there because he was the best man in a friend’s wedding during the same time.

Unschool Rules: The whole haul of goodies from Walker-Stalker Con! New blanket, signed Pop figure, new Pop figure from The Shining, photos, VIP lanyard, posters, art prints and more!

The whole haul of goodies from Walker-Stalker Con! New blanket, signed Pop figure, new Pop figure from The Shining, photos, VIP lanyard, posters, art prints and more!

She’d saved up almost $700 to buy a VIP pass and contribute toward hotel rooms for her, Dan, Chris and me to go to northern New Jersey for a family vacation. So even without Norman, we were definitely still going, and she was still super-excited.

Well, plans changed again when, the Thursday before the con, my mom fell and broke her hip. We’d planned to be away Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and with her surgery – somewhat risky at her age and with health problems – scheduled for Saturday, I knew I’d be needed at home.

So Dan stayed with me, and Chris and Sarah headed out Friday afternoon for a Daddy-Daughter Road Trip Extravaganza. (Bonus: Sarah got to stay in her very own hotel room, since we’d booked two!)

Unschool Rules at Walker-Stalker Con: Sarah's selfie with Sean Patrick Flanery, who played Connor MacManus in Boondock Saints.

Sarah’s selfie with Sean Patrick Flanery, who played Connor MacManus in Boondock Saints.

Sarah reports that they listened to Christmas music on the radio during the drive. Once they arrived Friday evening, they went to the convention center for pass pickup. Her VIP pass came on a special lanyard, which she loved (she’s almost as big of a fan of lanyards as she is of The Walking Dead).

Having the VIP experience was neat, she said, because they got early admission, so it was much calmer than it was later when the general admission people came in. Sarah went back Saturday morning during that time to check out where the celebrities were, and Cooper Andrews, who plays Jerry on the show, walked right past her. (Later that weekend, she got a photo with him, and even cooler, once she posted that photo on Instagram after the trip, he commented on it!)

The gold Walker-Stalker VIP pass included two photo opportunities and two autographs. Sarah used her first autograph for Sean Patrick Flanery, who she also got to take a selfie with. (He’s not from The Walking Dead, but he was in Boondock Saints with Norman Reedus.) She had a Pop figure of his Boondock Saints character, Connor MacManus, in the box, and that’s what she got him to sign.

Unschool Rules at Walker-Stalker Con: An autograph from Sean Patrick Flanery, who plays Connor MacManus in Boondock Saints.

An autograph from Sean Patrick Flanery, who plays Connor MacManus in Boondock Saints.

Next up was a photo with Jeffrey D. Morgan, who plays bad guy Negan on the show. “I had to get there pretty early to get a good spot in line,” was her description. (He’s pretty popular.) When it was her turn for a photo, Jeffrey gave her a huge hug, which was awesome.

On Sunday, she went straight back to the VIP line at Jeffrey’s table to get his autograph on their photo. She was SUPER excited when he saw her in line and said, “Hey, didn’t I meet you yesterday?” She showed him the picture and said he did!

Unschool Rules at Walker-Stalker Con: Sarah with Jeffrey D. Morgan, who plays Negan on The Walking Dead.

Sarah with Jeffrey D. Morgan, who plays Negan on The Walking Dead.

By this point, Chris (who had general admission for both days of Walker-Stalker) was able to join her, and they did some shopping, then they went for a photo with Cooper Andrews, who I mentioned earlier.

Before they left, they both had their photos taken with some amazing cosplayers portraying Andrew Lincoln’s character Rick Grimes as well as Norman’s Daryl Dixon (and a zombie)!

Besides all the autographs and photos, the VIP pass-holders at Walker-Stalker got prime seats for all the celebrity panels. She saw Jeffrey D. Morgan, Cooper Andrews and Khary Payton, and even show producer and makeup artist Greg Nicotero.

My favorite photo from the weekend had nothing to do with TWD. It was a Stranger Things-inspired Christmas picture that was set up as a free photo op by the conference organizers, and probably the one thing I am SUPER jealous to have missed out on a chance to do!

Unschool Rules: Sarah gets ready to go to the Upside-Down at Walker-Stalker Con's Stranger Things setup.

Sarah gets ready to go to the Upside-Down at Walker-Stalker Con’s Stranger Things setup.

I’m excited that Sarah still got to go and have a blast. And she brought home our next project – a bunch of art and her new photos, which need to be framed and added to the Walking Dead wall above her bed!

(Side note: In a few weeks, I’m going to share some “house tour” photos of our house, including Sarah’s room, so if you like TWD, stay tuned for a room that’s heavily decorated with it!)

All in all, Sarah says she had a great time – and can’t wait to go to another Walker-Stalker event!