Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The World Did Not Stop Spinning Because We Skipped Math!

Today I thought it would be a good idea for my children to reflect on how they feel about being home.  We have had many discussions lately about sharing, caring, respect and friendship.  Some days my girls are doing great things like working together on their version of an iCarly show called the Abby and Madeline Show.  Other days they fight like cats and dogs.  It is the days that they fight with me that leave me emotionally exhausted.  Typically the fights stem from not wanting to do something that I want them to do.  Like math.  Math is the thorn in my side.  My nemesis. 
It should not be this way.
I like Life of Fred.  I think it is challenging, educational and fun.  Grace does not like it because it is challenging. She does not see it as educational or fun.  She is so used to worksheets of straight computation where she can get one problem wrong, move on the the next and since there are 50 problems, she will still score an A.  I am sure at some point in school she did higher level thinking problems.  They are on the mastery tests so I know she has seen them before.  She does not want to try anything that is “hard” because she fears she may fail.  She is afraid to try.  I don’t know where this attitude came from. I hate it.  I keep telling her she excelled in school because the math was easy.  Even she admits that the teachers spent very little time with her since she was independent.  She was never challenged.  I want her to be able to apply her knowledge, which she can do, when she is focused and determined.  I am thinking of some way to help her understand that computation without application is useless.  I am thinking of asking people in her life to share how math is used in their jobs.  Her dad uses numbers all the time, her aunt is an accountant, her friend’s Dad owns Veterinary clinics, my mom is an executive assistant, and her uncle is a bank auditor for the Federal Reserve.  I just need to somehow make it “cool”.  Her two career interests are heavy in math/science (vet and meteorologist).  I don’t want her to hate math because of her experience at home.
So I have decided (with the help of my friends) to chillax on math.  I have to let go of the teacher in me that says I have to do the book just the way the book says because that is the book.  If I am working with her every day and I know she solve the questions, yet she digs her heels in over the bridge (assessment) then I CAN skip the bridge.  It is okay.  I am not going to get in trouble.  We can skip the bridge.  Really, we can.   If I see she is struggling with a concept, I can reinforce it with other things until I feel comfortable she has mastery.  No biggie right?  Then why does it feel like a big deal?
To take our mind off the negatives and focus on the positives, I asked the girls to list in their journals all the positives they feel about homeschooling.  At first there was some reluctance to do this.  But after I told them I would make my own list and we would go around the dining room table and share one positive each, they bought into it.  What a great list we created!  Here are just a few of our positives:
  • We get to skate on Tuesdays.  
  • We ride our bikes outside almost every day!
  • No homework, no tests.
  • We can work in out pajamas by the fire with our dogs.
  • We can have a real job.
  • We blog, use youtube, and the internet to learn.
  • You don’t have to ask to go to the bathroom, get a drink or a snack.
  • We listen to great books on tape.
  • We joined homeschool Girl Scouts.
  • We get to learn history and poetry.
  • Our classes are about what we like: cooking, Audubon, sewing.
  • We can have dinner for lunch and playdates for breakfast!
  • We get to swim at the YMCA when no one else is there.  
  • We get fun field trips.
  • No mean teachers.

It was a great exercise.  The positives were coming fast and furious.  As something was said that they did not think of, they quickly added it to their list.  Fingers were flying across keyboards.  The best part is that I shared in this making it a bonding experience.  My biggest positive is that our learning is all connected.  I shared with them how we are at the period of ancient Greece in our history book.  We are reading Percy Jackson aloud to each other, the book on tape we listen to in the car (Juliet Dove, The Queen of Love) is about the Greek Myths come to life in modern times.  I did not even plan that!  It just happened!  During dinner Saturday night Lilah was talking about a getting lost and said it was just like a labyrinth.  When we are immersed in learning, learning is everywhere.  They still do not find this a cool as I do.
In addition to our list making exercise, today we read a chapter in Percy Jackson and I complimented my girls on how their oral reading is improving.  We went skating with our friends.    Lilah did an art lesson and made a very cool crayon batik picture while Grace worked on a lapbook about Hurricane Gracie.  We listened to a chapter of our audiobook and....we....skipped....math....today.  And guess what?  The world did not stop spinning.  And my daughter did not have a meltdown.  
It was a good day.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Holiday Hopes

There are so many things I want to do with my girls this holiday season.  I feel like having them home is a gift.  I can obsess over completing the stories they have in progress, finishing up Lilah’s math workbook, moving ahead in our Greek mythology study or I can stop and breathe.  When I breathe deeply I know that while these things and the other subjects we are working on are important, taking this month to stop and reflect on the meaning of Christmas is also important.  If this is my only year with both girls home, I will regret not savoring the holidays with them.  
  1. Paper Chains.  We always did this December 1st.  24 brightly colored strips of paper linked together.  For some reason we fell away from this tradition.  I plan on reinstating it.
  2. Jesse Tree.  I don’t know much about this Christmas tradition.  I have signed up for a free e-book and hope to take a deep look at the meaning of the holiday that means so much to us.  We know the advent story, we have read books and watched movies.  We have learned in church and religious education classes.  We have kept advent calendars and wreaths.  I am looking for something more.  This may be my answer.
  3. Skating.  We will skate with our friends and drink hot chocolate and smile and laugh and play.
  4. Movie night.  I would like to try for another friend movie night, like the one we had for Grace’s birthday.  Gather together and watch Elf.  How fun!
  5. Wintuk.  I am so, so excited for this.  Madison Square Garden, last season of the show.  I have never been to a Cirque Du Soleil performance and I am glad this will be our first.  My hope is Greg will get off work early to join us for the show, then meet up with my Mother for dinner before taking the train home.
  6. Concert at Yale.  We will be attending a holiday concert at Yale University.   Lunch after and perhaps a trip to a bookstore I want to check out.
  7. Christmas Eve Mass....our tradition.  There is a chance my girls will be singing in the choir.  This combined with the Christmas Pageant at church are much looked forward to traditions.  Last year my girls had the great fortune to be Mary (Grace) and the angel Gabriel (Lilah).  I wonder what roles Sister will assign them this year?
  8. Holiday Recital.  Grace will be performing in her music school’s holiday recital.  This will be her second December piano recital.  I hope to record her performance and blog it so her family who cannot attend can see how much she loves to play.  Her flute ensemble is also performing in January!
  9.  Free Fridays.  I have kept every Friday in December free and unscheduled.  Provided the girls get enough lessons done during the week, we can have these days for craft projects, movie days, playdates, basically whatever we desire.  I am still struggling to slow down during our week.  The girls want to participate in all the opportunities that are available to them but it leaves us running, stressing, getting home late, and feeling like we are not having fun, even though we are.  
  10. The reason for the season.  This one is more for me.  This year is hard for me to shop, write Christmas cards, decorate and remain calm.  I know that Christmas is not about Santa and the gifts.  I want the gifts I give to be meaningful but I feel that as my nieces and nephews get older the more they want big ticket items or money.  I feel like the gift giving is less special somehow.  With so many gifts for me to buy and very little time to shop, I am hoping I can pull it all together soon. 
Balance is the key to this holiday season.  Keep the lessons, free time, play time and holiday events in balance.

December is right around the corner.  Hours away really.  I think we will start tomorrow with paper chains.......

Sunday, November 28, 2010

39 Things They Love About Me

Today is my birthday.  I have been thinking of doing a 40 before 40 post for some time.  The problem is I am so content in my life that I can’t find 40 things that I want to do or learn in the next year!  Sure there are some, like become a better knitter and pierce my nose but trying to list 40 things.....that is hard!  
Today my family gave me a beautiful hand made card that listed the 39 things they like about me!  I love my card.  It is probably my favorite card of all time.  I thought I would share it with you.
  1. the way you drive (I hardly let Greg drive -- we both know I am much better!)
  2. your smile
  3. your banana bread
  4. your blog
  5. your love of the fire (I am obsessed with my fireplace and the need for a constant supply of firewood)
  6. your clothing crisis (This surprised me. He finds joy when I can’t find anything to wear???)
  7. your creativity
  8. your patience (I was not aware I had any)
  9. your cinnamon rolls (I have to admit, they are pretty good.....)
  10. your artistic ability
  11. your ability to talk to neighbors who are filming a movie and bothering you (this is sarcasm.....I am the bold one.  The one who will get up at 2:00 and confront my teenage neighbors in my pajamas when I am 9 months pregnant and demand that they shut down movie production before I get really annoyed and ask the police to shut it down-- this was 10 years ago!)
  12. the pictures you take
  13. your random duck noises.  (I choose not to explain.....)
  14. your love of your Mac
  15. the way you crack your fingers
  16. your hair
  17. your love of Henri Bendel 
  18. your love of shoes (Lilah must have added this one.  She probably added the Henri Bendel one too!)
  19. your love of pjs (I can’t have too many)
  20. you love of coffee (this is not a love, it is a need, a necessity, a lifeline!)
  21. your trust
  22. your butt dance (I prefer to call it my happy dance)
  23. your love for your brother
  24. your love of teaching
  25. your love for animals
  26. your faith
  27. your kindness to neighbors
  28. your writing ability
  29. the way you burp when you drink seltzer (embarrassing but true)
  30. your tuck-ins every night (Grace shared this one)
  31. when you read with me (Lilah) 
  32. when you play board games (even though I hate board games)
  33. your hugs
  34. your ability to schedule things and bring us everywhere
  35. you buy us the things we need
  36. you believe (Lilah added this.  Probably since I just put on my BELIEVE sparkly pin that I wear every Christmas season)
  37. you care about us
  38. you work with us everyday
  39. that you love us, no matter what we do!

Thank you family for a wonderful day.
  It is an amazing life we are building with each other.  
I am thankful for 
every single day we spend together.  

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Not now, not yet.

Sometimes I struggle with what is best for my girls when it comes to their lessons.  I always have.  In 2006 Grace had the flu.  She spent two weeks on the couch watching the Winter Olympics - watching figure skating at the Olympics.  She looked at me and said,  “I want to do that.”  She wanted to be in the Olympics.  She wanted lessons.  She wanted them NOW!  I took her to a local rink and signed her up for their learn to skate program.  Basic levels were passed at a rapid rate.  She could not get enough of the ice.  I used to say she was the happiest in skates.  Because she seemed to have a talent and because we were just close enough, and because she talked about the Olympics all the time, we decided to take her to Simsbury for lessons.  She completed all 8 Basic Levels.  She completed several of the Freestyle levels, all before she was 8!  She won her first competition and she placed in her second.  Most of all she loved the sport and she loved her coach.  But ultimately, she loved her father more.  Unfortunately to compete in this sport, or any sport really, much time has to be devoted, much energy invested in practicing and figure skating is not a sport a child can do in any gym or any track.  Ice time must be bought, skates sharpened, coaches paid, music selected, dresses fitted and siblings dragged along.  We were traveling to Simsbury three to four times a week.  Grace was taken out of school early.  Homework was done on bleachers.  Her little sister unwillingly went along for the ride.  Weekends were spent rising at 6am, to be on the road at 7 and we did not return until at least 2 or 3.  Sundays were spent at Church and family dinners.  The four of us were never together alone, for extended periods of time.  Grace decided to try skating closer to home.  The problem with this was once you train at an Olympic-caliber facility where you are sharing the ice with Olympians and the children of Olympians, it is hard to find another program at a local rink that compares.  Her next coach was not as inspiring.  Her lessons were not as long or as demanding.  She lost some of the love for the sport and chose to walk away from it and skate only for recreation.  In effect, she chose her family over her sport.  When I wonder if she misses it, I ask.  She always says no.  She enjoys skating weekly with her friends and for now that is enough.  But tonight I was trying to find my old video of her first competition and she was watching over my shoulder.  She said to me “Mom, was I really that good?” 

For a while we thought Grace’s passion was athletics. She has taken many basketball clinics, workshops and camps.  She can sink three pointers during games.  UCONN tee shirts and sweatshirts were part of her daily attire.  But it was not her passion. 

Along came music.  While Grace was skating, Lilah was taking piano lessons.  Grace would sit and watch and absorb.  When she ended skating, she immediately asked for piano lessons with Lilah’s teacher.  Grace forms strong bonds with her teachers, whether it is her coach, school teacher or Sunday School teacher.   She immediately connected with her teacher and now two years later she asked to increase her weekly lesson to an hour.  Her teacher is wonderful but the school she teaches at has limited opportunities for the students.  There are no ensembles and few  performance opportunities for the children.

When it came time for flute lessons, we found a school in New Haven.  Her teacher is also a music professor at Yale University.  Grace has a very different relationship with her than with her piano teacher.  Her lessons may not be as “fun” as piano, but she sure does love her ensemble group!  She has been expressing interest in leaving the flute to try violin.  Ugh. What to do, what to do!  We have been talking about it.  If flute was just a passing interest, that is okay, she is after all only 10.  If she is not connecting with her teacher, I understand that too.  I know she is not practicing enough to justify the cost of tuition. 

Grace and I had a great chat after her lessons.  I told her about my first piano teacher, an elderly blind man who somehow knew every single time I cheated and looked at my fingers.  He was not warm and fuzzy but I really enjoyed my lessons with him.  While I was still his student he fell and broke a hip.  He died from his injury.  I cried.  It was my first experience with death.  I was about Grace’s age.  I told her that not all teachers are the same.  We all have differerent styles.  Sometimes those that are hard or hard to connect with become the teachers we remember mot of all.  
Next week I am going to record her ensemble group.  When she is focused on her piece, she does not get to enjoy the music being made by the group.  She has no idea how good they are.  She has only been playing for three months (I don’t count her time in 4th grade band, as she taught herself how to play).  I asked her to give it more time before walking away from the flute.  Give time to form a bond with her teacher.  Let the ensemble group grow and develop and enjoy their first performace in January.  I would hate for her to walk away from this experience and look back with regret.
This is when I wish for my crystal ball to help me guide her.  She can be intense and driven.  She can be aloof and carefree.   Her talents are obvious but her path towards realizing her dreams is still unclear.  She is only 10!  But she did say she would still like to be a vet or a meteriologist, which have not chaged as carreer choices in years but now she is adding muscian to her list of possibilities.  I want to give her every opportunity to make her dreams come true.
For now that means sticking with something that is hard.  Getting our behinds to New Haven every week.  Making more time for flute practice.  Accepting that there is a larger goal behind a weekly lesson.  Staying with a school that has turned out Juliard applicants and acceptants.  For if that is truly her goal, how awful would it be to not have it realized simply because a lesson is not fun?  I have a strong gut-feeling that in the spring when relationships are solidified and time has been invested she will be having a much different experience.  If we are not, then it will be time to talk about moving on.  But not now, not yet.  

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Weekly Accomplishments

So much for my plan of slowing down!  Last week was wonderfully hectic. We packed it all in, knowing that starting tomorrow our “official” slow down begins with days being posted on the calendar just for us.
Math - Grace passed her first bridge for Life of Fred.  She completed chapters six and seven.  Some other important lessons were learned though.... Life of Fred is good for her in that answers are dependent on one another.  Get the first one wrong, most likely you got the next three wrong also.  Grace is not used to this.  In school her work was mostly worksheets.  Get one wrong, no problem, just move on to the next.  She pitched quite a fit when I made her go back and redo the entire chapter.  Even though her mistake was simple, caused my incorrect addition, I would not let it slide.  I told her that her father is immersed in numbers all day.  He has made many spreadsheets, only to toss them aside, and begin all over again when the numbers did not add up to what they expected.  If you are off on your checkbook, you can’t just accept it and work with bad numbers.  When she went back, she saw her mistake, corrected it and was able to move to the next chapter.
Life of Fred is also wonderful for us because it introduces concepts but leaves it to us to teach it in detail and supplement other materials if we feel it is needed.  One question asked her to divide a circle into six pieces.  To do this correctly she had a lesson in geometry.  I taught her how many degrees are in a circle, how to divide it by the pieces you wish to have and how to use a protractor to correctly measure the degrees and draw the angles.  It was my favorite lesson of the week.  
I think we are moving past her reluctance towards math but it can still be hard at times.  Lilah is almost done with her Singapore math workbook, I hope to finish it this week!
Owl Pellets at The Audubon

History - Oh how I love history.  We are still stuck on the the Greeks.  I don’t want to move ahead from this time period in our Story of the World Text until we have finished our study of Greek mythology.  We have three copies of The Lightning Thief and we take turns reading aloud.  We finished chapter 1 and 2 this week.  We also have a stack of picture books from the library.  When we come across a mythical creature or God, we stop and research it.  The girls are also having fun reading the picture books as part of our reading time.  They summarize their myth in their journal then use the Wii microphone and pretend to give a lecture teaching us about the myth they learned.  We then take a post-it note and add the story to our wall under God, Cosmic Myth or Hero.  We have read about Zeus, Apollo, Daphne, Cupid, Minotaur, Theseus and Medusa.  I also Netflixed History Channel’s Battle of the Gods.  Unfortunately I think many of the episodes will be too mature for my girls.  Lilah wanted to watch the Minotaur but the graphics were frightening so we switched over to Zeus.  I also purchased a lapbook guide from CurrClick but we have not begun it yet.  I am not sure my girls are lapbooking girls....I may have wasted some money on that purchase.  For art, the girls made a photocopy of an illustration in a picture book they read.  They traced the picture into their sketchbook then went over it with a Sharpie Marker.  Lilah chose a simple illustration and was finished quickly.  Grace chose a detailed illustration and is taking her time adding her own designs.
Grace's Medusa

Lilah's Minotaur

Writing - the girls finished and published their stories.  Lilah blogged hers here.  Grace chose not to blog hers, which I respect.  I was thrilled that each girl has been inspired by books we are are reading.  Lilah’s main character reminds me of Zoey in A Crooked Kind of Perfect.  Her main character Scarlett, is quirky, a bit of a misfit and learns that one should never change for others but stay true to one’s self.  Grace is almost done with Ninth Ward, a book I highly recommend and will blog about at a later date.  Her plot is a girl’s (Annie) experience during Hurricane Katrina.  She researched the timeline of Katrina, wind speeds, damage records, dates and flood levels.  Her writing is a piece of historical fiction.  Her next story has the same character.  After her home is damaged from flood waters, her family relocates to be with grandparents in Kansas.  Grace has already found a tornado, the fujita scale rating, town of impact and destruction reports.  Poor Annie!
Nature Studies - We had awesome field trips this week.  One to the Audubon for owl pellets.  The other was to a local form for a lesson on Native American life in Connecticut.  Our week ended Friday with a trip to a local nature center for Lilah for a talk about bats.  Grace had her monthly astronomy class through Girl Scouts.  We have lots of writing to do this week in our nature journal!
Lilah's entry after Audubon....

Our poetry journals are filling up with our favorite poems.  This week they both chose a Jack Prelutsky poem to copy in cursive and illustrate.  I wonder which poem they will choose next.  I keep offering my Langston Hughes books and my favorite anthologies.
Saturday the girls had choir practice followed by a community service day at church.  We decorated place mats and made dessert for a local substance abuse shelter.  Our church provides dinner there once a month.  We were happy to help make the dessert.  This was a nice connection for my girls because two years ago our community service project for my religious ed class was baking desserts with family and decorating place mats in class for this same shelter.  Grace was in my class then and this project has been talked about much.  

Socially the girls were very busy this week.  Tuesday we had dinner at a friend’s house.  There is nothing better than a chilly late fall evening having a glass of wine with a friend watching our girls lounge in a hot tub at night!  The girls went skating this week with their friends.  They love having the ice to themselves and not competing for space with other people.  Wednesday was Lilah’s last cooking class of the semester.   Until the holidays are over we are not picking up any more lessons.  Friday the girls and I went to play with some dogs that arrived at a local kennel from a puppy mill in the south.  Having only been here for a week and hoping to be adopted, they need as much time with people as possible.  We were only to happy to offer our laps.  Unfortunately most were too timid and distrustful to venture very close to us.  The girls realized that the time they spent helps make the dogs more adoptable.  Hopefully they will find homes for the holidays.
we really wanted to take her home....

wouldn't you???

I am very much looking forward to this week.  A slower week.  Thanksgiving week.  A week of family, friends and fun!

our Christmas Village has never gone up before Thanksgiving!

but we had so much fun!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Field Trips

When you chaperone as many public school field trips as I have you notice a few things.  There are some children who are genuinely excited to attend the trip.  They may have an interest in the subject, have some prior knowledge of the subject matter or truly wish to learn more.  They are few in number.  Many of the children are happy about having a “day off” from school and a chance to leave the school building.  They may race from exhibit to exhibit, barely taking in the basic information, and at times are an annoyance to those students who are there to learn.  For the most part they are disengaged, but peaceful.  Then there are the few that you need to pair up with a chaperone one on one because they will disrupt the entire trip once the built in structures of the classroom are removed.  This is just one class of 25 students.  Rarely do field trips include just one class of 25.  For cost containment, usually an entire grade level attends.  Multiply that 25 by three at least.  Wonder what your child actually learns at a field trip?  Ask them.  My daughters could usually state about one thing they learned.  But they will tell you they sure had fun!
original dug out canoe

My homeschool friends do not have the perspective on field trips that I do since I am the only one in our group who has had older children attend school.  Today I was simply blown away by our girls scout troop’s field trip.  We attended a local farm for lessons about Native American life in the woodlands of Connecticut.  Our girls numbered around 20.  We ranged in age from the Daisy’s who are five and six, to the Jr. Girl Scouts who are 9 and 10.  Siblings also attended but they were given their own tour separate from the Troop.  Our girls had knowledge of every single topic covered.  How were fish traps used?  My daughter knew.  How do you tan a deer hide?  Our girls knew.   How was maple syrup made?  Our girls knew.  What are the three sisters?  Simple!  When we discussed why the dugout canoe floated, we explained that it is less dense than water.  Our expectations are not dummed down simply because some of the children are young.  
Native American game playing

Information that seemed new to some girls were the uses of pelts from skunk, beaver, bear, deer and rabbit.  We were able to hold and wear these.    I would have liked to have heard the instructor rise to the level of our girl’s knowledge, especially for the older girls.  I would like to extend this with a trip to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, one of the finest museums I have visited.  
stunning in skunk

I tried to explain to my friend how amazed I am at the difference between a homeschool field trip and those I have attended as a teacher and a chaperoning parent.  Perhaps it is that we can tailor our trips to integrate seamlessly into our curriculum.  Or perhaps it is that we can find the perfect place given our child’s unique talents or interests to further their interest or deepen their knowledge.  But the difference is palpable.  I know it is due to the size of the group, being one third the average size.  But it is also a different level of expectations.  We expect our children to learn something, not just to have a day off from lessons.  Our planning is purposeful and deliberate.  Follow up conversations, reading and research often a natural outcome, not assigned homework.       
Unfortunately all my stunning photos have pictures of other Troop members.  I do not have permission to post.  Sorry!

How lucky I am to be part of this group?  Fate clearly guided me a year ago this time when I was first introduced to these amazing children and their equally amazing parents.
How very lucky my girls and I are!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Owl Pellets

Sometimes I get frustrated with outside activities.  Monday we have flute and flute ensemble plus the girls’ job to take care of a neighbors dog.  Tuesdays are for piano and a tutoring position I have.  Wednesday = sewing and cooking.  Thursdays means it is girl scout day.  Friday is usually our free day.  It can get overwhelming, especially when the girls are in the middle of something really great.  This week has been mostly about the Greek Gods.  We began The Lightning Thief and we have a bunch of books from the library.  When we come across a myth in the book, like the story of Kronos, we stop and learn about it.  The girls are also reading the picture books and teaching each other what they have learned.  I showed them how to make a copy of an illustration and use a dull pencil to trace it on their sketch journal.  They both did a great illustration of their first myth (Medusa and The Minotaur).  
Today I did not want to interrupt their learning even for one of my favorite classes, nature studies at The Audubon.  I have the nesting feeling, like burrowing down deep under covers in front of a fire with my knitting, being present to help when needed but distant enough to let learning flow free form.

In retrospect I am so very glad we got up, got dressed, and got ourselves to class.  It was owl pellet day!  The children dissected their own owl pellets.  Lilah’s pellet must have belonged to one gi-normous barn owl because she found a mole and a bird.  It was the first bird skeleton our instructor has seen in a pellet.  They separated the bones from the fur and identified their owl’s last meal.  Grace was frustrated because her pellet contained mostly small bones and no skull.  I assured her that we can order our own pellets and try this again.  The both really enjoyed the small toy-like microscope that enabled them to see the bones with a 10x magnification.  I kept hearing the words “awesome” and “too cool” over and over again.

To end our lesson and really connect their learning to life, our instructor took out Millie, the resident barn owl.  She grew up in captivity at a raptor sanctuary in New York before she made her way to the Audubon.  We usually visit her cage in their sanctuary but since the weather has turned colder, she has been moved indoors.  We learned about her eyesight, use of hearing to capture prey, 14 bones that allow her head to turn 3/4 of the way around, her fringed feathers that allow for silent flight, and her ability to regurgitate what is undigestible.  

Having this experience in a small group was exceptional.  Each child was given assistance with identifying the bones and because the setting was so intimate, we all felt a connection with Millie.   I would hate to think we could have missed this, even though the learning we left at home was equally valuable.  That is why I love homeschooling.  We can just go home and pick up where we left off.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Please don't hold it against me....

I keep getting asked when we can have a stay-at-home day.  I am trying really hard to make that happen.  A good friend recommended writing FREE DAY on my calendar once a week, blocking off an entire day just for me and the girls.  No outside appointments unless it’s an emergency, no errands, no outside lessons.  Just a day at home to learn and be.  We need that badly right now.
I feel like the holidays are rushing towards me.  Usually by now I have my Christmas cards ordered and the envelopes already written.  My shopping is mostly done and my house has been deep cleaned ready for Christmas decorations.  This weekend I was able to take all of Saturday and spend it with my Mom.  We shopped for thirteen hours before dropping from sheer exhaustion!  I was able to get many gifts and now feel like some of the stress have been lifted.  This is my first year trying to shop with children at home full time.  I don’t even have a picture for my annual Christmas post card that I usually send out to friends and family early in December.  It takes at least 10 days to get the cards from Apple, so I have to order them soon.  I have started cleaning, emptying my bookshelves, my mantle and shelves so they may be cleaned and prepared for the setup of our Christmas village.
setting up the village 2009

In addition to my stress over the regular Christmas duties, my girls wanted to throw a party.  Sure!  Let’s throw a party.  They wanted to have a “show and tell” where their friends could all bring a favorite poem, a story they wrote, play a song on our piano, or bring a collection to share.  We are also sharing a meal - potluck dinner!  I am looking forward to the afternoon but I have so much to do to prepare for it.
Then the following week Grace has her piano recital, and we will have a dinner after.  Thankfully that is the week after the show-and-tell party so my house should be clean and decorated already!
Add to this that I am tutoring a child once a week (which I love), teaching 5th grade Sunday School class (which I also love) and have offered to assist with the creation of a teen youth group room at our Parish Center.  I offered to paint chalkboard walls and murals.  I am hoping the teens will prepare the walls, prime and paint them and then I will outline the murals for them to fill in with paint.  I am looking forward to this project very much but it has left me feeling like I have taken on more than I can handle.
Today was a day where I missed the free time I enjoyed when the girls were in school.  I missed my clean house.  I missed the freedom to shop and do the daily household chores that never seemed so hard before.  It did not help that I had an argument with one of my daughters over math (not naming names....) which led to a tearful daughter and a frustrated Mom.
This is a stressful time of year.  Balancing lessons with life is harder right now.  Now it is even more important for me to honor the girls request to slow down, breathe deeply and savor the season.  It is not about the gifts, or the decorations, or the parties.  It is about the birth of a child two thousand years ago.  I need to keep that in mind and hug my two girls harder.  
Christmas card picture 2009

You won’t hold it against me if you get your card in January...will you?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Our stuff

Two blogs that I enjoy are Heart Rockin Family and Metropolitan Mama.  Both families are undergoing major changes.  One has made the decision to sell their home, most of their belongings, and travel the country in an RV doing good for others.  The other family is contemplating doing something very similar.  
Following these families has made me think in a new way about my own.  We live in a relatively small house, at least compared to the standards of most in my community.  Our house was built in 1930, before the days of shoe addictions, technology explosions and master bathroom requirements.  We have small closets, no coat closet, an unfinished basement, detached garage, tiny kitchen and uneven walls.  These may be unattractive features but there are so many positives to our house.  We have plaster walls, inlaid hardwood floors, curved archways between rooms, 9 ft ceilings, baseboard molding, radiators,  and glass doorknobs.  I love my house.  Especially when it is clean.
Being home with two girls and two dogs, trying to teach, while living very full lives makes for one cluttered home.  I took a bedroom and turned it into a learning lounge.  It is never used.  The heart of our home is the dining room.  Books find their way here.  They are stacked in corners.  Piled on radiators.  Our work in on the walls. All this I can live with gladly.  It brings me joy.  However, to borrow a phrase from flylady, our hotspots pile up quickly.  I hate looking at my Nana’s hutch cluttered with Lilah’s craft material.  It bothers me to see Wii remotes scattered on the floor.  My kitchen counter is a magnet for mail, and lose change from coat pockets.  I have tried flylady.  Her plan works, especially when the girls were in school and I had time to scrub floors, wash walls and windows.  My house sparkled this time last year.  Right now it is not sparkling.
Soooo these two women led me to start thinking about our stuff.  Do we belong to our stuff or does it belong to us?  I am looking around my home sorting things into two categories.  What do we need and what can we give away?  We do not need three decks of playing cards.  We need one.  Two can be given to Goodwill or Freecycle.  We do not need five sweatshirts when we only wear our two favorites.  Three can be donated to church.  We do not need old books that I will never re-read.  They can go to the homeless shelter.  It is time to get to a place where our house is not overwhelmed with stuff.  
Our house gets transformed for the holidays.  Our Christmas Village occupies the entire living room.  Everything must be taken out of bookshelves, off the piano, to create space for the hundred ceramic homes that make up the North Pole Village.  Our dining room gets the advent house and dozens of ornaments hanging from the lighting fixtures and curtain rods.  Our family room is adorned with the nativity.  It is the perfect time to undertake a major house overhaul.  So far we have sent at least five large  garbage bags stuffed with things to our local Goodwill.  Today I will begin to Freecycle as well.  
It feels good to purge knowing that what is no longer needed may be very useful to someone else.  I hope it teaches my girls a valuable lessons.  Like over at Heart Rocking Family, I want my girls to understand that we don’t belong to our stuff.  We belong to each other.  Our home is where we live and love.  It should be filled with what we need.  Everything else should have the purpose of bringing us joy.  It is does not, it is time to let go and let it bring joy to someone else.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

5 More Ways It Is Working

5 more ways I know it is working.......
  1. My girls never use their DSIs.  Before this adventure, the DSI was a constant companion to doctor visits, car rides, even Sunday dinners at my parent’s house.  Now it is rare to see them with their nose pressed up against the screen.  They are more likely to have their nose in a book while waiting at the orthodontist or doctor.....
  2. We hardly every listen to the radio.  I cannot say that I miss Hannah, Selena and Demi.  I love that my girls eagerly await the next audiobook choice.  So far we have enjoyed How To Eat Fried Worms, Once Upon A Marigold, A Crooked Kind of Perfect, The Monster’s Ring and others.  Our next is 100 Cupboards.
  3. Sisterly love is growing!  Two girls that had very little in common are finding things they enjoy doing together.  They have transformed our attic into a studio and love filming the Abby and Madeline Show, their version of iCarly.  They blog together.  They ride bikes together.  Just this week they completely rearranged their room.  With very little help from me!  
  4. Individual interests are shining through.  Lilah is making a quilt!  She is taking lessons with my friend and neighbor.  Grace is playing the piano daily.  After her lesson today, she was nervous because her recital is in three weeks and she was given a new piece today.  She felt she would never have enough time.  I reminded her that she has all the time she needs.  She told me she forgot that she can play whenever she wants!  She laughed at herself for not realizing this and still slipping into the school-way of thinking.  Lilah is reading, every night long after her sister has fallen asleep.  She sleeps later in the morning to make up for it but I usually have to ask her to put the book down and try to fall asleep.  Grace is discovering that there are books she enjoys reading, especially those that deal with weather.
  5. My girls have a real job.  Every Monday they take care of a dog.  This involves letting themselves into the house, taking the dog outside, walking him for a half hour, checking his food and water, playing with him, and locking up behind themselves.  Usually I wait in the car listening to Andrew Wilkow on XM radio.  If they need me, I am right there to lend a hand, but usually they do not need me.  This job gives them a sense of purpose, of independence, of responsibility and of confidence.  I love that they have this opportunity.
Even though we have some tough days, days I pray that they are getting enough, learning enough, demonstrating their learning successfully, feeding their interests and expanding their minds, I recall why we made this choice and all the ways it is working. 

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Most Wonderful Time

It is 8:00am on a Monday morning.  The world outside my window is coated in white.  Leaves blow and swirl in the gusty wind.  The freezing rain is pelting off my window panes.  Thankfully, we are warm and cozy inside.  My girls have already been outside in their pajamas documenting the first visual proof that winter is here. Soon they plan to blog about it.  As the school buses rolled by splashing slush, loaded with children wearing hats and mittens looking out at the slush, my girls were in it, appreciating it, playing in it.  Their favorite picture is of our dogs’ paw prints on the back stairs.  I wonder what they will write?  
They are back inside and I sit with my hot cup of coffee, my dogs curled at my feet, and the radiators of our old home creaking away.   This is my idea of wonderful.  The girls are now upstairs cleaning their room.  Yup....cleaning their room at 8 am on a Monday morning because THEY WANT TO!!  Most wonderful.  
I have looked forward to this season at home with my girls.  If today were a typical school day of one year ago, I would be scrambling to find hats, scarves and mittens.  I would be packing lunches and looking for misplaced folders.  Three umbrellas would be needed for the walk down the hill to school.  Recess would be cancelled for as long as anything white is on the ground, our school’s policy is that children stay indoors.  The reason -- snow and ice are too dangerous.  Really?  It is just November.  Winters can be very  long here in New England. The children will be kept inside a long time.   If my girls want to go out, the door is open for them.  When they get cold, they come back in.  How wonderful to have no restrictions on fresh air!
Now I sit listening to the patter of rain slowly melt the accumulation of ice and snow and I hear music coming from upstairs.  Grace and Lilah asked for permission to view youtube for their favorite Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift videos to listen while they clean.  Grace grinned ear to ear and told me this is the “best morning ever!”.  Yes, baby it is.  
What a wonderful start to a brand new week!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Weekly Accomplishments

If this week occurred one year ago, the outcomes would have been very different.  Monday Grace went for retainers.  I thought after having a palate expander, face crib (like headgear) and full braces, retainers would be easy peasy.  Ha!  When is anything easy?  Pain.  Tylenol, Motrin.  Tears.   She still made it to her flute lesson and we squeezed in some writing.  Not much else happened for her that day.  Monday Lilah and I had so much fun taking the pictures to illustrate her Lovely Doll story.  Her story chronicles her 4 dolls escape from her bag in our favorite coffee shop.  They visit all our favorite haunts in the arts section on New Haven before they find their way back into the bag.  She and I approached each shop keeper to ask permission to pose and photograph her dolls in their store.  The results were fantastic.  The story was published.  The Lovely Dolls are actually Henri Bendel dolls, made only for Henri Bendel stores (where her Dad happens to work).  He brought her story to work and shared it with some of his co-workers.  The Creative Director gave his input on her story!  I think that is pretty cool.
Lovely Dolls in New Haven

Tuesday brought Grace more pain.  We were supposed to participate in their Girl Scout Cookie Booth election day sale.  On our way out the door, Grace jumped off a stool, fell and sliced her finger on our baseboard heat cover.  It is a nasty cut.  I quickly made arrangements for my friend to pick Lilah up at the emergency medical center where we were going for stitches.  4 stitches later, we joined our friends at the cookie sale.  The girls sold $900 worth of cookies, with many dollars being donated to provide cookies for our soldiers.  The pain from the cut on top of the pain from the retainers overwhelmed Grace.  She was tired, cranky and sad.  But she finished her story about a girl living in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.  She is proud of her work as am I.  It is historically accurate, down to the timeline of the levee break.  She is now working on a second story featuring the same character.  Her family moves to Kansas after Katrina and this poor girl has the misfortune to encounter a tornado!  
we finished our Halloween candy graphs

By Wednesday I was in a slight panic.  If Grace were in school she would have missed three days (technically two since our public schools were off on Tuesday) but still......she would be facing loads and loads of make up work.  I was so grateful she was able to be home to recoup without the added burden of make up work.  When I voiced my distress over missing work at home, Greg  reminded me not to compare their home learning to school learning.  They were still accomplishing great things. 
Lilah wanted more typing lessons

Grace rebounded and when she felt better picked up her Life of Fred Fractions book and completed chapters 2 and 3!  She loves it and is proud of her work.  Lilah has been equally inspired in math and has completed many word problem in her Singapore word problem workbook.  During their Girl Scout meeting Thursday, the girls began a project to collect change and donate it to a charity in the spring.  This led to more graphing.  With their Dad (who surprised us with a day off) they graphed pennies, nickels and quarters.  The pennies were brought to the change machine to be cashed in.  $9 in pennies!
graphing money with Dad

Our week ended with a Harvest Party at the farm where we are CSA members.  It was held in one of their greenhouses, complete with fairy lights, delicious food and desserts.  Our friends were there and the children had a wonderful time.  The girls and their Dad are camping out right now in our living room in front of the fire for the night.  How great is that??!!  
Our accomplishments may be a bit different this week.  I am realizing how the quality of our life in growing in leaps and bounds.
  1. my daughter was able to recover from two tough days at her own pace without the worry of missing school and facing make up work.
  2. the girls were able to participate in a cookie sale that gave them a unique experience.
  3. we are transforming our living room into a pseudo-bedroom with mattresses on the floor where we do our work with our dogs in front of the fire.  Cozy!
  4. if they were in school they would not have been able to spend today with their Dad.
  5. if they were in school I would be very stressed over letting them watch a movie until 11:00 even if it was a Friday.
  6. even when I fear we are having a slow week, we are not.  We are just going at a different pace and that is okay.
what our lessons look like!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

My Biggest Fan

Who is your biggest fan?  The person who supports you no matter what?  I am blessed that my biggest fan in my husband.  No matter what idea I bring to him he reflects on it and finds a way to partner with me to make it happen.  Go to China alone to study karate?  Go.  Quit your job and go to graduate school full time?  Quit.  Buy a puppy, and then another.  Well....okay but I am not loving it.  Volunteer at a homeless shelter?  Do it, I’ll be home for the girls.  HomeschoolLet’s learn about it and do it.  
This has been a tough week for Grace.  Monday was retainer day.  Her top one is just fine but the bottom one is causing her pain.  We gave it a day to see if the problem was just adjusting to it, but it seems a trip to the orthodontist is needed for some alterations.  Then on Tuesday she slipped and fell.  While reaching out to break her fall, she cut her hand on the metal floorboard heat coil cover.  A nasty cut that required 4 stitches.  She is in more pain than I would expect and so a trip to our pediatrician is in order for that too.
Now if she were in school, she would have missed most of the week.  She is weepy, tired and hurting.  But because she is home, my mind starts to spin.  Did we do enough math this week....probably not.   Did we cover the next chapter in history?  Not yet.  Odysseus is still wandering the ocean and I will be finished pre-reading Caddie Woodlawn before Grace finishes that last 30 pages of  Zlata's Diary!
We did finish our candy graphs.  They each finished one of their stories, their amazing stories.  We went to the library.  We participated in a Girl Scout cookie booth.  We have read books by the fire.  We have had flute lessons and cooking lessons.  Sewing lessons too.  We are writing what we are thankful for daily.  
Who reminded me of this?  Greg.  When I shared my stress with him Tuesday night, he just smiled at me and told me to stop comparing it to school.  They are doing plenty.  What makes me believe him is the quality of what they are doing.  Their graphs are neat, accurate, and labeled. They are proud to display them.  Their stories are interesting, detailed and published.  I truly hope they share them on their blogs, but I totally get the reluctance to share fiction writing.  In an odd way it seems more personal than just spilling out your life to the world!
When I list what I am grateful for today, I already know what I will write.  Yesterday I wrote one word, Homeschooling.   Today I will also write one word.  Greg.

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...