Friday, July 30, 2010

Not-Back-To School

It has started.

My facebook friends who are teachers are posting that their kids arrive exactly a week from today which starts a flurry of replies about when kids go back. Some in a month, others in three weeks. Some parents are happy, others are sad.

I was always the sad one. I would go through summer detox every September. My girls would go into the school building and I would walk myself home unable to fill the very lonely six and a half hours. By October the worst of it would be over and I would only then be able to make productive use of this time.

I was the parent that was incensed when the Board of Ed lengthened the school day for this upcoming school year. I was the parent who recoiled in horror every time I heard a parent on the playground wish the school day lasted until 5 so they could go back to work full time. I was the parent who looked into never sending my daughter to school but chose to anyway.

I am now the parent who does not have to go through summer detox! I don’t have to get teary hugging my girls goodbye and watching them walk away from me. I don’t have to complain about a longer school day and how short the afternoon is! I don’t have anxiety about counting down the last days of summer or feeling put out by school supply lists that cost $50 and come home at the end of the year unused. I don’t have to worry about the teacher I did not want Grace to have. I don’t have to worry about pulling her out of school the week of Nature’s Classroom. I don’t have to worry about pulling her out of any program I don’t want her to participate in this year. I don’t have to run dragging Lilah behind me late as usual coming from a homeschool activity to pick up Grace at dismissal time. I don’t have to answer questions why Lilah is constantly with me and Grace is not. I feel so liberated.

I will have other worries of course. Is the curriculum I picked the best fit for my girls? Will they adjust for a full morning of lessons followed by a full afternoon of play? Will Grace miss her friends? Will I find the perfect balance of scheduled activities and free time? Will we all coexist in peace?

I have heard that mainstream families feel homeschooling is a way to retain ultimate control over your children. In terms of their education that is true. But in terms of their social growth the opposite it true. I have been able to let me girls go free in ways they never could in school. Every Tuesday for 6 hours, Lilah would trek through the woods, discovering nature led by a teacher other than me. Brownies took her to places she has never been, lead by a woman who cares for each girl as if she were her own. Should Grace participate in Destination Imagination, the practices will involve carpooling, travel and lengthy time spent away from me. I have the ability to listen to each girl’s wishes and desires, match them to appropriate activities, and then let them go to discover and learn without me. School does neither of these. It does not take personal learning preferences into consideration and certainly does not let them lead their own learning.

Now that we are in the dog-days of summer, my mind is not on what day we will start lessons (although I know when we will). I am not thinking of the latest K-Mart or Target commercials advertising the latest and greatest school supplies. I am thinking of who can come swimming in our pool with my girls. I am not comparing who got which teacher for the fall. I am comparing new gluten free recipes. I am not dreading the first day of school, I am welcoming our first day of lessons.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Responsibility Pledge

I’m implementing another change to our family: the introduction of responsibilities. When the girls were in school, I used the time to do all my errands and housework. You don’t need me to list out what those responsibilities are, we all have them, and they are numerous. I don’t have much help with them. Not a complaint, just a fact. With a husband gone 15 hours out of the 24, I can’t expect any help during the week. There are however, two other able bodied persons that reside in this house with me.

Yesterday we had a talk about responsibilities when it comes to cohabitation. Now that both girls are being homeschooled, I can no longer be expected to teach, maintain a clean home, cook healthy meals, run the household, and provide for social enrichment. Something has to give. Enter the responsibility pledge. I pledge to do the above for my children and then in turn pledge to give me as much help as they are capable of.

Our first change is to increase independence. No longer will I do for them what they can do for themselves. Last night my girls cut up their chicken for themselves. I don’t know why I did this for so long. They can get their own breakfast (within reason), snacks and drinks. They can place their utensils in the dishwasher. This is not too much to ask. Most families I am sure, have their children do this already. When they were in school I did not mind doing more for them. I guess it was my way of showing them love and nurturing since they were not with me all day. Now that we are together 24/7 I can nurture them in other ways.

Homeschooling needs to have a component of home “schooling”. My girls need to become independent homemakers. I want them to learn money skills, cooking skills, cleaning skills, organizing skills, many things I did not acquire until I was grown. I need to teach them how to be independent. I have not done this yet and I feel bad about it.

We are going to take baby steps beginning with their morning routine. I put a sticker on the bathroom mirror: Did you make your bed today? (again, this goes for me too!) Next will be, Is your laundry in the basket? My goal is to increase their awareness of what needs to be done and help them get to a place where it is habitual.

To balance off the “chores” feeling that this may create, I am allowing them to experience independence in other ways as well. The girls can now walk, or bike, around the block. Today they mailed a stack of invitations at the corner mailbox. They are able to run back and forth to their friends house without me watching. They help make dinner by cutting up the veggies to make salad and I have taught Grace how to make coffee (yes, I have a hidden agenda.....).

I am beginning to see my family in a new light. This will take time, but we have time. This will take patience and I can run low on that at times but I promise to count to ten and remind them of what needs to be done. This will take perseverance but that I can handle. Like I told Greg, we have changed so many things lately, this is just one more step in the overall re-construction of our family.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Diggin Pandora

I thought this was just jewelry. Everyone I know has a Pandora bracelet with charms dangling representing all our life moments. I can tell you a story about every one of my charms, from the heart I bought myself the day my Grandmother died, to the sister charm my brother and his wife gave me for my birthday.

I am not referring to this Pandora. I had no idea there was a world of internet radio out there playing all this time while I was completely ignorant to it. All you do is type in your favorite artist ( for me that is Coldplay) and then it customizes a playlist of songs that are similar in style. So now I can sit here, browse my blogs while listening to Chris Martin sing just to me. Oh I wonder what song will be next!

How does this station know me so well? Kinda scary in fact. So far I have listened to Over the Rainbow by Israel Ka’Anoi and Snow Patrol’s Run. Last song was Somewhere Only We Know by Keane. These three songs will be purchased and put on my ipod. Oh! Now it is another of my favorite bands, The Killers! So what if you have to listen to a short thirty second commercial now and then. I will take that for minute after minute of my favorite music free, unlike my monthly subscription satellite radio.....

I wonder what else lays out there undiscovered in internet-land. This month I have stumbled upon Twitter, and now Pandora. Diggin it!

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Family Under Construction

My blog is really just my online journal. I have stacks of journals that I have kept over the years....some on paper, others on my computer. They capture who I was at different stages of my life. One of my favorite journals is the one I kept starting the day I quit teaching. It was a hard year for me, adjusting to being a full time mother, facing my fear of losing my identity by walking away from my career, coping with loneliness and feelings of isolation, and finally discovering joy as a caregiver and nurturer. Someday I will share this journal with my daughters when they are thinking of becoming mothers. It is an honest look at the joys, the frustrations, and the social expectations of “having it all”... and how hard that can sometimes be.

This journal, my blog, is another favorite. This period of my life feels much like the one I just mentioned. It is a time of growth, discovery and fulfillment. The only difference is I chose to share this with strangers. Only the thing is, I don’t feel like the people who read my blog are strangers. I don’t have many followers yet, but I feel like I know the ones who take time to peek into my world. I communicate daily with Our Life in Words. I am learning from Home Is Where You Start From, I often find pictures of my girls at Frog Creek and I have added to my homeschool curriculum from Sergeant Major Mom. These are not just bloggers, they are women I connect with.

Reading Home Is Where You Start from made me think about the purpose of my blog. I began it intending to share my reflections on our family’s first year of homeschooling. But that is not all that I am doing. Homeschooling was the catalyst that started a series of changes in our lives. I find myself writing about the changes most often. Thrown in are our family adventures, the girl’s escapades and my reflections on all of it.

I am changing the tag line of my blog from reflections on our first year of homeschooling to Teachable Moments.....a family under construction!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

10 Ways it is Working

Since beginning to homeschool almost 8 months ago, our family has grown in so many ways. We have made more changes in this short amount of time then at any other period in our family’s 13 years. Our changes are working.

relaxing our routine - homeschooling requires flexibility. Just because we start our lessons at 9am every day with a checklist laid out in front of me, does not mean that every thing on that checklist will get done. Since we are not locked into a school-like structure, we can spend two hours on history if we choose or if it is a bad day, break out the art supplies and lift everyone’s spirits. This has also extended to relaxing my super strict adherence to a 8:00 bedtime. Now it is 8:30ish, with Lilah staying up until at least 9:00pm writing or reading or crafting in the learning room. It is working.

rediscovering the joy in my children - how I despised sending my children elsewhere for eight hours where they would spend the best part of their day with other adults! My time with them was rushing to get homework done, rushing to get to lessons, rushing to get dinner on the table, rushing to get to bed by 8:30. It reminds me of when I was working and Grace was an infant. I would come home from school at 4:30, feed her dinner and put her to bed at 6:00. She slept from 6:00pm to 6:00am for three years. Two and a half hours with my daughter simply was not enough so I quit my job. I love having this time with my daughters to spend the best part of their day with them. It is working.

new friends - homeschooling requires a support group. I am blessed to have found one so easily. We certainly do not all teach the same, or approach education in the same way but they are always there to lend an ear, a book, a resource or a shoulder to cry on. I am thankful every day for my new friends. It is working.

farm fresh eggs - through my new friends I have discovered many areas in myself that I would like to develop. One friend raises chickens. She has the most delicious eggs I have ever tasted. Having her eggs makes it impossible for me to eat store bought eggs. I have searched out all the local farms in my area that sell eggs. My fridge is always stocked with beautiful tri-colored eggs. It is working.

worm composting- I have a desire to reduce our waste. Some things I just cannot see throwing away. We recycle of course, but what about food scraps? Why was I dumping all the carrot tops, potato peels and lettuce cores into the trash to rot when they could rot and turn into something useful? I have always wanted a compost but living in a busy neighborhood have been afraid of unwelcome nightly visitors to our pile. Now I worm compost in my basement. It has only been a few weeks but I love my little worm garden and tend to it faithfully. It is working.

organic gardening - the compost will be used to fertilize our organic garden that is part of a larger community garden in town. This was our first year and so far has been successful. We have tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, basil, cilantro, beans, peas, turnip, corn, brussel sprouts, pumpkin, carrots, and eggplant. Together we have learned how to fertilize, combat pests and pollenate. We love the spirit of community working next to our friends and neighbors. It has been a wonderful experience for Lilah. It is working.

books on tape - how much time have we spent over 10 years listening to silly songs on the radio? It pains me to think about it. Since beginning homeschooling, we rarely listen to the radio, preferring to listen to books on tape instead. Rather than listen to Miley sing about the Britney song, we have listened to Little House in The Big Woods. Rather than listen to Justin sing about no more lonely girls, we have listened to Main Street by Ann Martin. It is most certainly working!

spontaneity - so many more yes’s. Since homeschooling, I have consciously decided to become more spontaneous. So many opportunities have passed me by in the past because a) it was too late or b) it did not fit into our schedule or c) the girls would not like it. Now I find myself saying yes much more often. To see a play, to visit a new friend, to try a new project, to take a new class, to have a picnic in a park, to stay up late to watch a show on Food Network, to help make dinner, to take a walk. I put down my knitting, reading or inhibitions, and just say yes. It is working.

raw veggies- right now we are dealing with a possible gluten intolerance and a child who has not been the most healthy while in school. Since homeschooling, Lilah is now eating three meals a day rather than just one. She is expanding her repertoire of foods that she will eat, which now include broccoli, peas, and green beans....all eaten raw. She likes them best raw, where they have the most nutritional value. I love it. It is working.

gluten free- had I not made all the changes above, I would have approached this latest change in my life with fear and apprehension. I was always the mom who said nope, we don’t have any food allergies! Bring on the peanut butter cookies, the pizza, the strawberry tart, and the ice cream. It seems our luck has run out. Since being off gluten for over a week, she has had no stomach aches. She has had no joint pain. She is eating better, not that she was a picky eater, but her food choices are now better. Her nightly snack of graham crackers ( the main culprit of the bedtime stomach ache) has been replaced by rice cakes. Being off bread is good for many reasons, especially since we are a family that likes carbs....and we are finding our way through this. My friends are gluten free and I was watched them and learned. Grace is not suffering from being gluten free. Between the gluten free department at our grocery store and a willingness on my part to learn everything I have to about this, we will only grow from this latest family change. And so far, it is working.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A fine balance

It is always a fine balance between wanting to help your child achieve their dreams and knowing when to back off and let go. Yesterday I did both.

Grace has been attending a basketball camp every morning this week. She has worked with this coach in the past. He has previous experience in the NBA, has coached college level basketball and now works teaching children. I say teaching because this is not a camp where the focus is on competitive games. She is not on a team and rarely plays games at this camp. This is about skill building with a hefty dose of self-esteem building thrown in for extra measure. She has a goal of playing on a high school team. In order to achieve this, she must learn, develop, and mature.

Yesterday she woke up to stiff muscles, sore joints and a weary spirit. She really did not want to go. I reminded her of her goal. I told her my brother, who played college basketball, used to complain the same way. When his body would give out, he would soak in my parent’s jacuzzi tub melting away the pain. I coaxed her into the car and when we arrived at the high school where the camp is located she was ready and eager for another day of learning. Last night, she was beyond consolable. She was in pain. Motrin pain. She soaked in our non-jacuzzi tub and I treated her to a salon style shampoo and conditioner. My plan was some quiet reading in my bed in front of the air conditioner and a early bedtime.

Lilah had a different experience yesterday. She has been studying piano off and on since she was four years old. She chose piano because when I asked her if she wanted to skate like Grace, she scoffed at me and said what she really wanted to do was play piano. I think she intentionally picked something as far from Grace’s interests as possible. She played for awhile, practicing here and there and picking up a fair amount. Her teacher has the patience of a saint and would wait out the ebbs and flows in her practicing and desire to learn. For awhile she stopped altogether, returning with a new vigor in her playing. Little did we know that as her sister was waiting for Lilah, playing her game boy or doing her homework, she was internalizing the lesson. At home on her piano, she would successfully keep up with Lilah, through hard work and dedication, she began to teach herself the piano. It was time for Grace to have lessons also. Now we are back to the point where Lilah is reluctant to continue. She would like a break, time to pursue her other interests and talents. I am going to honor this request. Unlike Grace, whom I pushed to attend camp today, I am going to let Lilah walk away from piano, and give my support to her other interests of cooking and art, where her passions lie.

Knowing what is best for each child is not easy. It comes down to listening to the voice deep within. We can’t tell where the path will lead our children. Will they make the sports team? Will they regret walking away from an instrument? Only time will tell. But I want my child to enjoy the journey and find pleasure while going the distance.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Monday, July 19, 2010

What's the big deal Mommy????

“What’s the big deal Mommy.....why are you taking my picture?”

Call me a dork but I think your child’s first visit to a college library is a big deal. Lilah did in fact refer to me as a dork, but that is okay with me.

Grace was off to basketball camp at a local high school. Unlike the previous workshops she has attended with this coach, this camp is not open to parents. Bleachers were not pulled out and the sign in sheet was located in the lobby of the gymnasium. She was escorted to the locker room to put her belongings and I was told when to pick her up. Ugh. My girls are growing up.

Armed with the laptop, cursive writing workbook and Lilah’s insect fact book, we set off for the SHU library. To alleviate her fears of being allowed into a college “with no reason” I explained that allumni are always welcome back to their universities and we are welcome to use their resources. She picked her table and spread out her material. Exhausting what she brought, she asked me to look up what insect books the library has in the stacks. We wandered upstairs and found the IMC (Informational Materials Center), a room dedicated to the Education Department that holds all kinds of treasures, from every EyeWitness Junior and regular EyeWitness books to math text books and teaching periodicals.

Settling down on the couch next to a window where we could watch the raging thunderstorm outside, she proceeded to dig into her book while I watched her and journaled. She bombarded me with questions:

  • When did you come here Mommy?
  • Can we come here every week?
  • Can we bring our lessons here and learn in this library?
  • This is cool Mommy, being in this library and being here during a storm!
  • Mom do you think you are allowed to check books out?

So Lilah.....after having your first visit to a University.......wouldn’t you agree with me that it is a pretty big deal?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Heartache Headed Our Way

I am going to get my heart broken. Not only will my heart break, two little hearts will be joining me. You see, today we found a little dog and took her in while we search for her owners. We love her already.

As we were pulling into our driveway we noticed a tiny cream and tan shih-tzu sniffing around the telephone pole. We jumped out of the car and she came trotting over to say hello. There was no one accompanying her, no one walking in the neighborhood calling her name, no cars driving by searching for a lost dog. She seemed friendly enough, all ten pounds of her, so we brought her into our kenneled area while I called the number on her tag. The number is not in service. This dog is cared for. I don’t think someone dumped her, or is not worrying tonight about her whereabouts. She is well groomed. She is healthy. She is clean. She has not been on her own for long. Since the animal hospital that has a record of her rabies vaccination was closed, I called the police. I told them I would be keeping the dog until an owner is found and gave them my number in case someone calls looking for her. That was four hours ago. No call has come in yet. This little love has immediately attached herself to me and in return I gave a little bit of my heart to her. But like I keep telling my girls, someone will call for this dog. She is not a stray.

Grace talked to me about our dog Jake. She wonders what she would do if it were she who lost her dog. She said she just could not bear the thought of Jake being gone, not knowing where he is. He is her best friend. It pained me to have her talk like this. She has such strong empathy for the person or family that could be in that very situation, worrying, agonizing over a lost family member while all this time we have had her, holding on to her, caring for her, keeping her safe.

Tomorrow I will begin to look again for her owners, calling both the animal hospital and the police department. We will keep this dog until its owners are located. But when that happens, get the kleenex ready......I am going to be wiping away many tears.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

You Can't Water a Garden with a Can of Paint

I have taken advantage of this rainy, dreary, day allowing my children rot their brains watching tv, while I concentrated on getting some things done. Mostly I have been thinking of what I have to do. Regarding their learning I have to:

  • place my orders for their material
  • have Grace take the Singapore Placement Test so I can purchase the appropriate level for her.
  • complete the learning lounge by removing the rest of Lilah’s things and putting up some educational material like large graph paper, quotes to think about and organize the bookshelf by adding labels.
  • finalize their schedule.

The dreaded schedule. I have been making myself a little nuts over the schedule. To help keep things in balance I made a web for each girl with everything they are doing or want to do. There is no way to keep our sanity and do all they want to do. I never want to become a family that sacrifices our family for activities. This was the reason Grace quit skating. Her schedule for training was keeping her away from her father. That is not good for us. Because we get so little time as a complete family unit, we take that into consideration when we plan. Rarely do things happen on the weekend. So I had to think hard about what activities are wants and which are needs. In order to do that, I thought about their goals.

Since Grace was four she has wanted to be two things: a vet and a meteorologist. As her world opens up she is seeing the many many opportunities that are available to her. Her visit to ESPN prompted a new interest in journalism and her recent blogging supports this desire. While I want to expose her to as many new opportunities as possible, I need to keep our learning connected. I do not believe we should just throw material at children thinking maybe they will like it, or maybe it will spark an interest. There is a place for this through family trips, day trips, reading and television. I believe our daily lessons should be about making connections, forming foundations and constantly building on that foundation. For example, I am purchasing my art curriculum at a recommended age level lower than my children because it focuses on ancient art. Lilah’s field trip to the Peabody Museum was so that she could experience Egyptian art first hand. But while visiting the museum she fed her passion of nature by viewing the insect exhibit and the rocks and minerals. My teaching is very planned and my philosophy has always been Constructivist, children construct their own meaning through experiences, but they need to be given the proper tools. You cannot fix a car with a fork and you cannot water a garden with a can of paint. To do a job properly you need the proper tools. To build on learning, you need the proper experiences.

For Grace this may mean we do not participate in Destination Imagination. While I would LOVE to give her this experience, it does not tie in to her goals and it is very time consuming. But she will be able to join an ensemble to play her music with a group of other children with similar interests.

Lilah has goals of pursuing art and baking. About six months ago she desired to open an internet based etsy site where she could sell her baked goods to order. So as I plan for her, I keep this in mind. I am searching for cooking programs to give her options. For now she will alternate a cooking class with an art class so that we can stay balanced.

Today I made a schedule placing in activities where I think they will be. I have every morning blocked off from 8:30-1:00 for lessons. Then come the outside activities and I also need to plan free time for play with friends. In order to complete this, I need to get more information on flute lessons and finalize where and when Lilah will take cooking class. I plan on creating a beautiful calendar similar to the one at Childhood Magic.

I am amazed at how much thinking goes into the planning of a homeschool schedule. It is a fluid thing, constantly being tweaked and shifted to keep balance. That is my keyword this year -- BALANCE. If we remain balanced, we have a happy home.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Make It Work

Do you ever look at your children and wonder how this amazing, creative soul came from you?

As I sat and watched Grace have her her first private flute lesson today, I marveled at how good she is. Yes, I am prejudiced because she is my child, but she is truly talented. The instructor would like to take her on as a student and suggested she join an ensemble of children age 10-12. She corrected some bad habits Grace has, like constantly shifting her feet while she plays, and holding her thumb in the wrong position. She recommended some repair work be done to her flute to increase the quality of the sound. We left with a book to purchase, her number to schedule another lesson, and a sense of pride in Grace’s accomplishments.

Grace looked at me and told me this is her school. This is where she wants to learn. I truly believe this teacher can take Grace’s talent and mold her into a great flutist. I don’t know how we are going to fund this. I had visions of dollar signs dancing in my head as each (the lessons and the ensemble) are separate fees, but to quote Tim Gunn, we will “make it work”.

It sometimes humbles me that these are my children. They are born into the world with gifts and talents that may have something to do with genetics, something to do with experiences, something to do with nurturing, and something to do with divinity. How is Lilah able to sit and create such amazing art? How can Grace be playing the flute just ten months and make the music she makes? How can I continue to nurture and develop, challenge and support these amazing girls?

Christine over at The Thinking Mother wrote about the positives and negatives of homeschooled children. I took from her article that being home gives us the opportunity to focus in on the positives. Since Grace wants to be a meteorologist, I have found her a comprehensive weather text. She enjoys math, and I will offer her challenging material through Singapore Math. Lilah loves cooking and baking and may wants to open an etsy shop. I will offer her a cooking course through Ms. Cindy. She loves art and I am stocking our shelves with art books and will give her the chance for an independent study through Artistic Pursuits. Christine feels that some homeschool parents focus too strongly on the positives and gloss over the negatives. If we focus on their strengths while ignoring their weaknesses it is akin to educational neglect. I recognize their areas that they struggle in. Grace needs to grow as a reader and I will closely follow her and monitor her book selections. Lilah does not enjoy math and we sometimes struggle through our lessons. Both girls need cursive practice. Both need to develop this writing skills.

So when I focus on their positives, marvel at their accomplishments, offer them pathways to achieve their goals, and support their individual passions, I do it with the awareness that their weaknesses will also be attended to, mindfully thought about, carefully planned for and consciously monitored.

And when my mind gets a moment free from all this thought......I find myself marveling and appreciating the two gifts that God gave me.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Weekend Wrap Up

Our girls are growing up right before our very eyes. When the girls were little people would tell me to appreciate the moments and honestly, I did not feel the moments were flying by. Now is a different story. There are times I wish I could stop the clock and just have this moment last a little longer. This age is so much fun. Busy, but fun! Friday was Lilah’s visiting day at her baking camp. We were served homemade macaroni and cheese made with tri-color pasta, warm salad with goat cheese and for dessert, cheesecake, bread pudding and coconut pineapple cake. Yum! She loved it so much she is considering taking a weekly class this fall which will focus on cooking and taping their class as if they were performing a show on Food Network. We have to make this choice soon before the spots are filled.

A good friend had her first sleepover at our house. They swam, put on a fashion show, built a blanket fort, stayed up way late, swam some more, played board games, and made beautiful jewelry.

The girls artwork was featured in a summer art show at their art school. In addition to the show, there was a tag sale of used art materials.

Lilah purchased 12 paint brushes, Grace got some erasers and I was able to get a sketchbook, a calligraphy book, an art textbook, and two coffee mugs for $4! I loved seeing how proud they were to show us their art. The teachers at the school were talking to them and asking questions about their class. I love that CAW has sparked their interest in art and developed their skills.

This is a time I want to hold on to. The little girl giggles, the hushed whispers, the proud first moments, the newfound independence, and yes....the bickering and tattling, the rolling of the eyes and the "whatever"s. I will take all these moments and treasure them.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Flat Stanley

Last month we participated in a homeschool pen pal project. A family from Texas mailed us their Flat Stanley. I asked Lilah where we should take him and without hesitation she said to our garden! So off we went. Our garden is a plot in a larger community garden. We surrounded our plot with American Flags. It is beautiful. Our family is patriotic. My Grandfather is a WWII vet. My Uncle served in the Navy. My cousin, a Vietnam Vet. Next month my brother is set to lead a platoon of young Marines to war. My family knows that freedom is not free.

Check out other L.E.N.S Challenge Entries at Home Is Where You Start From

Back to School Shopping

Target is beginning to display back to school supplies. When Greg told me this, I could foresee two very unhappy girls. While the end of summer has been distressing, the opportunity to buy new, pointy crayons, to sharpen pencils for the very first time, to pick out the coolest notebook and folder ever and to stock up on rulers, pens and fat pink erasers is something we look forward to every year. Equipped with two supply lists, we used to hit Target, Staples and Walmart looking for what the teacher has requested.

Why should this year be any different? I am working on a supply list which I will mail home to the girls as a surprise. It will include our supplies for writing (new rulers, pencils, pens), science (I will look ahead at the next three months worth of labs), art (no more RoseArt crayons.....we are going to get Prismacolor markers, charcoal pencils and real clay), folders for when we are out and about, and new lunchboxes for Audubon days and car trips. I am so excited to write up their list and see their faces when I tell them they have mail from their teacher!

** will post a picture of the letter when finished.....

Friday, July 9, 2010


I love blogs. They give me a little glimpse into the daily goings on of other homeschool families. Back when I was “just a mom” I used to drop my girls off at school and hang out on the corner with the other moms who had some time to kill before rushing off to part time jobs, housework, or errands. We would talk about teachers, homework assignments, extra curricular activites. It was how I stayed connected, not only to my friends but to the school community. Sometimes I would find out early what classes were being offered after school or through the town rec department. Other times we would chat about playground incidents, which teacher was retiring and who our child’s new best friend was. Now that I am a homeschooling mom, I have lost that connection to the larger school community. I rely on word of mouth from friends, yahoo groups and facebook pages to stay connected to new material, classes and learning opportunities.

Enter the blog. I connect with others who share my teaching style and through their attempts to share what works in their home environment I am able to find new things to try in mine. For example, today Sergeant Major Mom, posted her fall curriculum order. I noticed she is buying Artistic Pursuits for her children. This intrigues me as I have struggled to provide adequate instruction even though I feel I am naturally artistic. I have relied on outside classes at Creative Arts Workshop to give my girls proper art instruction. I googled it and viola! Instant information. This program looks a-mazing. An independent art study that combines instruction with art appreciation. I think my girls would love it! Even though they would fall in the grades 4-6, I like the K-3 series because it teaches more of ancient art, which we are studying in history. I may not have heard of this had I not read this blog tonight. Thank you Sergeant Major Mom!

So how do you know when you have just the right material? I feel pretty good right now that I have the girls curriculum worked out for the fall. Every time I think I am ready to place an order I hesitate because my friend (who has the most amazing materials) might share something new with me. Or I might stumble upon something a bloggy friend is using that would be great to try. There are so many wonderful resources available to homeschooling children that there is no way to cover them all in just one year. So I have to choose carefully in case one year is all I get with Grace.

Maybe I should place my order and stop reading blogs for awhile....Nahh!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


I can’t fit into my favorite Paige jeans. Part of me does not care. The other part cares a whole lot. I have always been the person who puts on weight in the summer and loses it in the fall. Nothing much, a few pounds here, a few pounds there. Nothing a few weeks of calorie monitoring can’t fix. I think I need to put on the jeans to give myself a reality check.

Summer. Burgers, pizza, ice cream. Pies, cobblers, s’mores. Guacamole. Oh, how I love guacamole. And chips and salsa and sour cream.....Jeans. Back to the jeans. So I have gained a little weight. I don’t own a scale so I can’t say how much for sure but I am guessing ten pounds. My other favorites, my Seven jeans, still fit, snugly, but I just wore them to the fireworks this weekend. The Paige jeans are not so forgiving. So why have I gained this weight? Is it a good excuse to say that I am happy? I think it is.

For the first time in my life I am not overly self-conscious. I am finally starting to feel comfortable in my own skin. On the beach I would notice women in bikinis, much older than I am, and wonder how they do it. I have not ventured out in public in a bikini since before Grace was born. But I did this summer, in my own pool, string bikini and all and could not care less.

I want to be a woman who does not obsess over how I look, or rather how I think others see me. I don’t want that for my two daughters. But I have been that person. I have had countless “clothing crisis” trying to find just the right outfit to wear to a dinner party or to a play in the city. My bed and floor lined with my cast-offs that didn’t look just right. Now I am in a place where if the shoes don’t fit - they are listed on Freecycle. Friday I gave away a beautiful pair of Coach sandals in the original box with soles that were practically unmarked. I can’t wear them. But someone else can. If the pants don’t look right or I don’t like the way they feel, they are being sent to Goodwill. I want to be left with a closet of clothes that look good and feel good.

I feel I am at this place with my summer wardrobe. Since I am feeling a little bohemian with this new lifestyle of homeschooling, organic gardening, CSA joining and worm composting, I have purchased long flowy skirts that I love in bright vibrant colors. They feel good against my bare legs. I am moving away from tight tank tops and towards looser tunic tops with bangle bracelets. They not only feel great, but they hide the ten pounds nicely!

Greg does not mind the new curves. Like a perfect husband he said I was too “skinny” before. Oh how I love him. Oh, but the jeans. I love them too. I don’t want to banish them to the back of the closet. I adore them. But I think I love this feeling of self-acceptance and my husband more.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Catching Up

The girls and I have been super busy this week. We have gone marsh mucking looking for critters that hang out in the reeds.....

Made pinkalicious play dough and gave it a squeeze......

In this hot weather we swim 'round the clock......

And stayed up late to watch fireworks down by the dock!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Thoughts on Education.....

I became a teacher fifteen years ago so that someday I would have the confidence to be able to teach my own children at home. Of course I did not know this at the time. I only knew I wanted out of corporate America, having had one bad experience after another at each company I was employed by. At the time I was a mentor with the I Have A Dream Foundation, mentoring a third grade girl who I utterly adored. I thought I would be a good teacher, and I was. Every ounce of my energy, my efforts and my intellect was poured into my classroom. How was I to know that my long held plan to be a working parent would dissolve the moment I thought of placing my six month old daughter in day care? I finished out the school year, nine years ago, and have never really thought of going back into a public school classroom. Not because I lost my love of teaching, but because I felt that I gave the best of myself to other people’s children and have very little of me left to give to my own. Time passed, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly but really just ticking away at the same pace every second, every minute, every hour for the next nine years and here I am today, cleaning out my attic, discarding four oversized file boxes full of teaching material.

As I went through file folder after file folder, I was not taken by the memories of seeing my old student’s photographs, poems and artwork but rather with the amount of material I had accumulated for the annual CMT review. I taught third grade at a very avant-garde school district. There was a curriculum guide to follow but no mandated resources to use. It was at the discretion of each teacher to pick and choose what he or she thought would work best for her teaching style, and the cumulative learning styles in the classroom. I remember using Marilyn Burns for math, Awakening the Heart for poetry, Mosaic of Thought and Junior Great Books for reading and a hodgepodge of materials for science and social studies. I taught cursive through copywork and we often had art projects intermixed in our daily learning. When I reflect back upon it, it was much like homeschooling, but with twenty children instead of two.

Somehow into this wonderful world of eclectic education, the CMT started to intrude. It came slowly to this district, who was known for high performing students and for whom the CMTs were never given much thought to, other than as a prep at the end of third grade so the children knew what the test looked like. It was the feeling at the time, that the new push for No Child Left Behind may raise up low performing schools, but it would also bring down high performing schools, where the uniqueness and creativity of the teachers would be traded for routine, mundane drills and skills teaching. It was at this time that I left teaching and came home to be with my daughter.

Today as I was sorting through the files, I quietly questioned if I had made the right choice by homeschooling. My children are not getting a drills and skills education. They are not doing monthly writing prompts scored by two teachers and logged for future reference. They are not doing DRP tests and meeting with tutors to work on higher ordered thinking questions. They are not chanting the song they learned last year called “test me, test me, I am ready!”. Instead they are learning about ancient history, chronicling their learning in a book of centuries and visiting museums with wonderful exhibits on Egypt. They are attending nature classes, studying at the Audubon centers, tagging horsehoe crabs and building salamander habitats. They are keeping nature journals recording their observations, noting the details of the weather and temperature of each outing. My girls are memorizing poems by noted poets such as Langston Hughes and Charlotte Zolotow. They are pursuing their passions in cooking and weather. They breathe fresh air daily and wake when their bodies are ready. They eat when they are hungry and rest when they are tired. It is a wonderful life.

Yet, as I poured through the CMT information a fear was gnawing inside of me. Will they be able to compete for scholarships to the schools they wish to attend without yearly testing? Will their homemade transcript and portfolio look as good next to a public school transcript? Will their experiences, so vastly different than those of their peers get them to Yale or Harvard or Juliard or The New York Culinary Institute or Parsons School of Design, if that is where they desperately want to study?

I believe it will. I believe that the very definition of education,the knowledge or skills obtained or developed by a learning process, are not by nature contained within the four walls of a classroom. The knowledge and skills my children are aquiring come from inside our home, as well as our surrounding community. The course of study may be different, the pedagogy of teaching may be different, the proof of learning certainly will be different but it will be as valid, even more so because they had a say in developing their course of study. Their interests, passions and talents are taken into consideration when I plan and develop our curriculum. They exhibit learning every single day.

I am glad I had the opportunity to sort through my old things. For they are old. They no longer represent who I am as an educator and as a learner. The pathway of education we have chosen may not be conventional, but it is natural. It may not be traditional, but it is holistic. It may not be standard, but it is transformational.

I am my children’s teacher.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Do you have a best friend? Growing up I had a few good friends. In elementary school I had friends in my class but my best memories are playing with my friends in the neighborhood. We would ride bikes through the park, plan elaborate water balloon fights, walk, talk, build forts, ice skate and sled in the winter and run through sprinklers in the summer. Some I have reconnected with on Facebook. Our lives have taken us in very different directions, and while I can no longer call us “friends” the pull of our shared memories is still very strong.

I went to middle and high school in a different state, having moved for my father’s job. It was hard. Very hard. But kids adjust and I found a new group of friends. The friends I made in middle school became my friends in high school. Again, just a few close relationships. I will never be the person with 400 Facebook friends. I have never felt the need to cultivate that many friendships in my life. The bonds with these friends never seemed as strong as my Massachusetts friends. After graduation I moved again, this time to Pennsylvania and I only kept in touch with one of my friends. We are friends on Facebook, but we don’t talk on the phone or get together in real life.

I really won’t address college, where everyone knows you find you friends for life and most of the people I know also found their husbands. Not so much for me. I had friends. I had roomates. It was the hardest four years of my life. I feel that that time of your life, finding out who you are, making decisions about what you want to be, determining if the values you were raised with apply to your newfound freedoms, should be spent with more of an anchor to your family. I was too far from home. I have never looked back on college.

I found my real friends as an adult. They are the wives of my husband’s friends. They are former co-workers. They are neighbors. They are other homeschooling mothers. I feel like I have waited my whole life for the kinds of friends I have now. I have new friends, who I am relaxed and comfortable with. I can let them into my house knowing they will look past the piles of laundry in front of the washer, the dishes in the sink and look instead at the artwork on the walls, the love notes scattered on tables and the piles of unfinished knitting projects on coffee tables. These women are special to me. They are helping me to become the woman I want to be. And I have a true “best” friend, a woman I have been friends with for 15 years, ever since we met the first day working at Prudential. She knows me. She gets me. She makes me laugh. Distance, children, family hardships and job changes have not affected our friendship. Our husbands are friends. Our children were when we lived close and although they do not have the opportunity to see each other often enough, they still remember the times they did.

Yesterday I was able to have the very rare chance to spend time with many of my friends: my new friends in the morning, and my very best friend last night.

My mother always told me it is not the number of friends you have, it is the quality of your friendships. I grew up living this. I love this time in my life. I feel the most blessed, the most fulfilled, the most content that I have ever been. I may not have the most friends.....but the ones I have, I plan on keeping for a very long time!

Don't You Just Stay Home All Day?

It’s funny because last night at youth group some of the kids friends were discussing homeschooling and really truly felt that we stay home...