Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sponsoring A Child

Today we put our family plan of sponsoring a child through Save the Children into action.  Rather than fill out an impersonal form online, I called the home office located close to our house to see if it would be possible to apply for the sponsorship in person.  The woman I spoke to encouraged us to come in and view the offices, look at the pictures of children from around the world, and complete the forms.
When I hung up the phone, I thought the woman’s name sounded familiar.  It turns out she is very good friends with my sister-in-law and works in the same department as she, Donor Services.  Before we left, the four of us pooled our money; $10 from dog walking, $10 from tutoring and $10 from Greg’s spending money, and we set out for Westport.  
Upon arriving, we asked for the woman I spoke with and we were introduced.  She then introduced us to the Director of Donor Services, who ushered us into her office and helped us pick a child.  We explained we wanted to support a child in the United States, rather than abroad.  Since Grace has an affinity for the Gulf Region from all her hurricane research, we went with the Delta Region of the USA.   Grace really wanted to sponsor a boy and Lilah would have preferred a girl.  To avoid conflict, we chose “most in need” and up came a 9 year old boy who lives in Western Tennessee with his parents.  
Through Save the Children, he participates in literacy program, athletic programs and programs about healthy living.  We were given a website address where we can learn more about the Field Office and the programs that were described.  In about 10 days we should receive an information packet and be able to begin corresponding with the boy and his family, through the field office.
This was such a treat and I am grateful to my sister-in-law for placing a quick phone call to advise her friend we were coming.  My goal was to have the girls connect to this experience in a personal way.  Rather than simply hand me $5 a month, and not be sure of where it was going and why, I wanted them to be involved in the process.  I don’t think they will forget sitting in the Dirctor’s office, watching the computer screen log our information and receiving answers to their questions in person.  Not many donors get such a personal experience from an agency!
It was a wonderful way to begin our relationship with both Save The Children and our sponsored child. I look forward to developing a relationship with both in the upcoming year!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Blizzard Reflections

A blizzard gives you time to think.  Time to reflect on what you want out of the upcoming year.  Top on my list is maximizing our homeschool experience.  I have been compiling some things that I want to accomplish provided the girls are excited about them as I am.
I want to do an awesome Nature Study combined with a in depth study of Botany.  Using Apologia Botany we will extend what we have touched upon in Audubon and outside science classes.  We will also get out more.  I took out all the books that looked interesting from our local library.  My plan for the week between Christmas and New Years is to read, read and read some more.  Right now I am reading Teaching Kids to Love the Earth.  My kids have a natural desire to explore and wander so thankfully I don’t have to spark their interest.  We are registered for a winter survival class led by Lilah’s teacher at Two Coyotes.  Every month I will plan one big “field” activity for the family.  Possible trips will include a winter nature cruise to look for seals in Long Island Sound, a nighttime hike and a outing to show Greg the beauty of the Audubon Center where we have spent so much time.  
I want to find a math program that eliminates the battles between my oldest and myself.  I am leaning towards Aleks and will try the free month in January.  If math is something that we can do without a fuss or a fight it will free up lots of time for other things.  Plus having the capability to do math on the computer will help her become as computer proficient as she would like to be.  She loves the computer and she loves what she is able to do with technology.  Unfortunately her netbook may not be the best format for Aleks, she may have to use my laptop, but I don’t think that will be much of an issue......
I want to return to weekly baking with Lilah.  We got away from this when the summer arrived and then Grace became gluten free.  It is not fair to Lilah who truly loves to bake and decorate.  She will continue to take cooking and baking workshops, like the all chocolate Valentine’s workshop in February.  But just because we can’t eat all the cookies we make anymore, we can certainly find people who can in our community, like the fire fighters, police officers, church staff and and food pantries.  Last year she began compiling her favorite recipes into a binder.  It is a shame we have let this go. 
Riding out a blizzard makes you thankful for the things you have, like a warm home, plenty of food in the refrigerator and family to call upon should you need help.  A few posts ago, I wrote about wanting to find a way to give as a family.  I know what I would like to do.  Our family is going to sponsor a child in the Appalachia Region of the USA through Save The Children, a local company for us.  We discussed this yesterday.  The cost of an individual sponsor is $28 a month.  I could simply write a check every month but that would make it my project, not a family project.  Instead the girls are going to donate one dog walk per month to the sponsor cost.  I am going to take the $5 from my tutoring money and Greg will forgo one cup of coffee a week in the morning.   Together we will sign up online for an account and pick the child in greatest need.  I am so excited about this!  Then we will learn about the region of the United States the child lives in.  My girls have not traveled extensively through different parts of our country.  They have been to Tennessee, so they have seen the beauty of a true mountain range, but they have not experienced the poverty that the Appalachian region experiences.
The beauty of a blizzard is not always evident during the storm when the wind is ripping down tree branches and whipping fallen snow into a frenzy.  The beauty of a blizzard comes when the storm has passed, the wind has calmed and the sun transforms the world into a winter wonderland.  I feel like the fall of our homeschooling has been a bit like a blizzard; a transformation of family, of children, of paradigms.  It stirred us into a frenzy at time, blurring our vision.  The power of what we were doing was felt by us all and at times was not a positive thing.  Like our own blizzard of ’10, the storm seems to have passed through our home, not leaving any damage thankfully but giving us an appreciation of what we have been through and a glimpse of the beauty of what is to come.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Budget time again.....

We are a homeschooling family yet we have a vested interest in the health of our town’s public schools.  When Greg and I were looking to purchase our home, we wanted a neighborhood that resembled the ones we grew up in, where neighbors knew each other, cared about the children and was supported by a local neighborhood school.  We found all of these in our neighborhood. 
Even though my girls no longer attend this school, my friend’s children do.  Just because our family made an alternative choice to educate our girls, we realize that at some point they may want to return to public school.  While I think this is less likely for Lilah, I have always felt that Grace’s path in education may be very different, and she may want to return for middle school, or high school.  
I fear that the system she left may be very different from the one she would return to.  Once again, it is budget time in our town.  Our town’s superintendent is infamous for threatening  layoffs and closures should her proposed budget meet resistance.  Now she is professing an estimated increase in medical costs of over 50% and a reduction in state funding necessitating in a hard look at teacher layoffs and school closings.  Rumor has it that of the 7 elementary schools in town, our 80 year old school is one of the top choices for closure.  
While this may not have a direct impact on my children's education, it certainly will on my girl’s friends, who will no longer be able to walk to the school they have attended for years.  They will have larger class sizes on top of their already longer school days.  They will not have the comfort of knowing their teachers, classmates and administrators.  There will be big adjustments.  Honestly, I am glad this will not affect me or my girls.  Selfishly, I worry about how this will affect my property values.  
Will people buy into a neighborhood with a closed school, where their children will be bussed to another school in town?  Our school was a huge draw.  Our neighborhood will still have the park and playground, the sports fields and proximity to Main Street.  It will still have neighbors that care for one another, who come out in times of need and lend helping hands.  But when we drive down the main road, past the brick building with the perennial gardens and bike rack, standing there vacant, silent, old, we will all wonder what will become of it.  Another school that was closed in 2005 became an administrative building for the Board of Education.  It is still used, just for a different function.  Hopefully an alternative use for the building could be found.  It would make a great community center.  Would it be torn down and converted to a park or playground?  It is in the heart of our community.  I fear in this time of recession, diminishing budgets, and cost cutting, it will fall into disrepair and become an eyesore.  That is my greatest fear.  
While I have no immediate plans to move, our home is our largest financial investment.   I may not attend the first meeting being held January 3rd.  The public is invited to attend, but is not welcome to speak.  I would feel awkward telling people that I chose to remove my children from the town’s education system yet for reasons other than education, I don’t want the schools to close. 

 The school system is broken.  It is not working.  Dumping money year after year into funding unproductive programs is not helping.  I will write a letter to the Board of Education voicing my opinion to keep the school open.  Not that it will matter.  I have learned first hand that fighting the system is darn near impossible and without massive strength in numbers, parents are just parents, and are unimportant in the overall planning and manipulating of finances, head counts and payroll. 

But I always say that you can’t complain if you don’t seek to change, and so I will seek not so much a change, but simply more of the same.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Top 5 Posts of 2010

Lilah's first week of homeschooling January 2010

I have been homeschooling for almost a year!  Lilah just realized this yesterday.  I feel like 2011 is going to be simply amazing.  We have been through many of the adjustment phases of withdrawing children from public school.  We have met new friends and their amazing families.  We have realized we do not want to school-at-home.  We have adjusted our philosophy on education.  We have struggled to find balance.  We have found a new peace in our home (well....most days!) and through all this we have learned.  Learned about what education is and is not.  Learned more about who we are as people, what we like, dislike, and want to learn more about.  We have been new places, places we may never have discovered before.  We have had fun times, really really fun times.  
I feel like in a way, we are just beginning.  The road ahead of us has an undetermined destination.  What fun it will be to journey along it.
Here are my top five blog posts from last year.  I think the fact they were the most popular is because they share the different phases of becoming a homeschooling family.  They were cathartic to write and I am glad they were read by so many.  In case you missed them here they are again.....

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Solstice!

When would my girls have the opportunity to view their first lunar eclipse on the Winter Solstice?  Never again if not for last night!  It was another moment where I was thankful for homeschooling.  If this had been last year I don’t think I would have set an alarm for 3:00am to wake up a house of sleeping people.  Back then, I tended to be fairly rigid with rules like bedtime because sending sleepy kids to school is no fun for anyone.
It turns out I did not need the alarm.  The storm that missed coastal Connecticut and brought snow to Cape Cod and the islands, gave us some high wind.  As fascinated as Grace is with weather, she is terrified of windy nights.  At 1:00 she crawled into bed with us.  We kicked Jake (the dog) out to make room for her long, lanky body.  At 2:00 Lilah came in to tell us she had a dream about being stuck in quicksand.  Poor baby.  Nightmares are awful.  I got her tucked back into her own bed since she declined the invitation to crawl in with us.  Upon returning to my bed I found Jake curled up in my spot!  Rather than kick him off again and listen to him pace the floor, I shoved his child-sized body over and reclaimed my spot in the bed.  It was good planning on our part to get a king-sized bed ten years ago!
My alarm went off at 3:00am.  Wide awake I searched for the moon.  The wind howled so rather than go outside, I went window to window looking for the red glow, the orange haze I was expecting.  Where was the clear night I saw when I went to bed?  Where were the stars?  Not believing that for the first time I decide to be the cool mom and let my kids get up, it would be for naught, I threw on Grace’s coat and ventured outside.  All around my house I looked for the elusive moon.   All I could see was light pollution reflecting off a solid layer of clouds.  Disappointed, I crawled back into bed.  Greg then decided he would check as well.  By now the girls were both awake, as were both dogs.  We told them there was nothing to see but at least we gave it a try!  Disappointed, they both fell back to sleep.
By the time I was able to fall back asleep, Greg’s alarm clock went off at 4:40, signaling the start of his day.  I really just should have got up.  Actually I should have just stayed up!  Think of all I could have accomplished if I was awake since 3:00am!  The laundry, the dishes, the decluttering.  But the bed beckoned me back to my warm fleece sheets and waiting dog and child.  Anyway, it is the solstice.  A perfect excuse for a sleep in!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Gift of Giving

Sometimes I dream about doing something bigger than who I am: affecting change in some small, permanent way.  I have done things in the past that I am very proud of.  Lately however, my focus has been on what is happening inside my own four walls, with the four members of my family, that it seems I have lost my way with something I love -- philanthropy.
When Grace was just a baby I organized a book drive.  I was teaching and I knew how fortunate my daughter was to have a room full of books waiting for her when she was born.  The children I taught came from one of the wealthiest districts in our state.  Books for them were like water, something just taken for granted.  But in my town and the neighboring towns, this was not always the case.  With the help of friends and family members we collected books at our places of employment.  We collected over 1,000 books.  They were given away to local children’s charities such as Birthright and The Center for Women and Families.  It felt good.  It felt very, very good.  Our book drive, called Pennies for Paperbacks lasted several years.  Then with the demands of two children barely two years apart, the drive (both literally and figuratively) dissolved.  
Should I resurrect it?
When the girls were a bit older I volunteered at a local homeless shelter.  Again, I loved it although it also  brought me much sadness.  I realized that most of the residents were there due to poor choices they had made with personal habits and finances.  But some were not.  One elderly woman was there because she lost all she had to a fire.  The waiting list for elderly subsidized housing was long and she could not get in.  She lived at the shelter.  She was not employable due to her age and health.  So she waited her days watching life pass her by.  What broke my heart was that she had a son who did not take her in due to her relationship with his wife.  So so sad.  Finally, a spot opened up in New Haven in a large housing complex.  Reluctantly, she took it.  She was sad to leave her hometown, but glad to have her own home again.  Greg and I moved her in.  We borrowed a truck, loaded it with the few belongings she had plus many that were donated to furnish her home, and drove it to New Haven.  I think of her often since we are in New Haven frequently.  Is she still alive?  Did she mend her relationship with her son?  Is she happy?
Could I find or make time to volunteer again?
Way before both of these experiences, I mentored a child with the I Have A Dream Foundation in Stamford.  This was before I was married and had children of my own.  This program promised to provide children a college education in a state college provided they stay with the program through graduation.  I looked at the resources in our community.  I realized then that my children would someday have more opportunities simply because of their birth, than this child was afforded.    

My goal was to give her as many experiences as possible.  We went to the Statue of Liberty.  We visited museums, ate at restaurants, rode the train, swam at the beach, attended Sunday dinner at my Mother’s house, went to plays and took tours of colleges, like Yale, Fairfield University and Sacred Heart.  I adored this child and her family.  I spent several years as her mentor until her family moved and she left the program.  Ultimately,  it was she who was the catalyst for my decision to become an educator.
I have thought often about becoming involved in foster care or pursuing adoption.  As a family, we are not in agreement on this, but I hope to someday fulfill this dream.  Sometimes I struggle with parenting my own children effectively, but I know in my heart that I am doing the best I can do for my girls.  I like to think that for a child with no family this could be a blessing.  
Will this dream come true?
I need to reflect on this in the upcoming year.  The past year has changed me in so many positive ways, I feel it is time to return to what I love doing most - providing goodwill for others, even in just a small way.  This is why I offered to paint the youth room at church (even though I have little time for a project of this size and scope).  It is one way I can give back to something greater than me.  
What does your family do to give back?  I would love to hear your stories of hope and inspiration.  It is time for my children to take part in organizing, planning and participating in something of their own creation that has the goal of making them realize there the gift of giving is far superior to the gifts we receive.  

Friday, December 17, 2010

Percy Jackson

When I read this book well over a year ago,  I dreamed of reading it with my girls.  It is a PERFECT read aloud book.  So far we are reading it, mostly a chapter at a time.  Sometimes we alternate reading, each taking a page.  My Aunt gave me a great suggestion for choral reading.   Sometimes I read more than they I have lately since Lilah has been so sick.  Next to us we have our D’Aulaires book of myths to refer back to.  I want to get the Usborne book of mythology as well.  We also have several books out from the library and have been using Centaurs, Sirens and Other Classical Creatures by Robin Palmer often.
On the wall I have the Zeus-Hera family tree.  As we come across a God we add a post it note with the God’s name, his or her offspring from the book and what they are the God of.  Secondary Gods like Pan and Eros, are placed under a separate category.  We have learned that Theseus and Perseus are both Heroic Myths and there are also cosmic myths.  
Today while reading, Lilah successfully guessed that Poseidon is Percy’s father.  It helped that we read The Odyssey before Percy Jackson so she was able to piece the clues together easily.  Grace commented that Camp Half Blood would be fun.  For her, it would!  She loves archery, running, boating, biking, basically anything athletic!  We decided that she and Lilah will make a list of all the components of the camp - the cabins, the forest, the lake, the ocean, the farmhouse, the strawberry fields, etc and we will make a gigantic floor map of Camp Half-Blood.  I can’t wait to get started!
Then the girls came up with the idea of a Camp Half-Blood party where they would do the things that they talk about in the book.  I recommended waiting until the spring or early summer when we can have boffer fights, races, swimming contests and other outdoor activities.  December in CT is not the best time for an outdoor party unless it is on a frozen pond with a fire pit.  Wait.....they have one of those in the book!
When we get really into something I always stop and think that this is why we homeschool.  I know that this can happen in public school too.  I know teachers who have done unit studies far superior to what I can do.  I rely heavily on my computer because unlike a school teacher who has the opportunity of trying a unit, then fine tuning it over and over again until it is just how they like it, I get one shot.  So I have to make it the best I can.  We won’t be revisiting the ancient Greeks in our history program any time soon. But we can do it in the comfort of our home, with our friends, and explore the concept in any way we choose.  Because these are their ideas, they will be very invested in the work.  The key is to capitalize on the idea quickly before they move on to something else.  Today we will begin the list of what to put on our map/mural and after our next read aloud we will begin!  
I think the other key to success is making their learning come alive in as many ways as possible.  For example, when we were walking in New York City this week, we stopped on the corner of 5th and 42nd.  This is the ever-impressive New York Public Library.  It is mentioned in Percy Jackson as an example of Greek influenced architecture.  We admired the tall white columns, similar to the ones we saw in the video we watched on Ancient Greece.    Then outside Grand Central Station we looked again.  Same similar white Grecian columns.  Huge statue of an eagle.  Didn’t Chiron say that the eagle was the sign on Zeus?  I am surprised that no Percy Jackson bus tour popped up in the City likes the ones for Seinfeld, Gossip Girl and Sex in the City.    There are so many monuments and buildings mentioned that are landmarks of New York City.
Today in the car we were driving home from church and Grace made reference to Mrs. Dodds, the fury masked as a substitute teacher.  It was funny and witty and showed her comprehension of the story.  History is the cornerstone of our curriculum.  I love it.  The girls love it too.  It pulls in our reading.  Most of the myths we have borrowed from the library are picture books.  Beautifully illustrated, complicatedly worded, retellings of ancient stories.  My girls know that picture books are not just for babies, they are an important resource for our learning.  History also pulls in writing.  They have been writing summaries of the myths they read.  The art projects we do are history based as well.  
I am looking forward to the new year.  While I have enjoyed the time we have taken this month to slow down, enjoy the season and celebrate with friends and family, I am ready to get back on track.  I want to continue Percy (we are 1/2 way through it) but I am ready to move on in SOTW, to the Romans.  I am ready to learn what new Audubon classes will be offered.  I want to explore more science resources for my girls, including taking the girls to visit my Aunt for her gifted .  I need a base for science.  Something that builds off the nature studies we have been involved with.  That is where my girl’s interests lie.  Perhaps Apologia’s Botany?  Or The Outdoor Hour: Nature Study Close to Home.  Ideally I would love to partner with another family for this.  Make it a set date/time.  Science needs to be shared, at least is does for me.  The wonder of the world around us is to great to be kept to one’s self. 
The new year is very enticing to me.  I feel like we have overcome the hurdles of adjustment.  Now we can really get into this homeschooling experience and live life fully.  But for the next two weeks, we will continue to live life slowly, focusing mainly on math and Percy Jackson as our formal lessons.  We will continue to experience the arts, practice our faith, visit with family, and count our blessings.  As this year comes to a close, I am mystified by all we have accomplished, and thankful for those who have helped me along the way.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


How I wanted to love this show....  I really really did.  But I didn’t.  Thankfully Grace and her good friend did love it.  They loved every minute of it.  Grace loved the skateboarding, inline skating, biking and trampolining.  She loved the acrobatics, the flexibility, and the creativity displayed by the performers.  I think she also loved being in New York City with just her girlfriend (and me of course!).
This was supposed to be a family holiday event.  The tickets were purchased back in August for 1/2 price through a homeschooling yahoo group.  I am hesitant to book things that far in advance, especially in the winter months because inevitably one of my girls will get sick.  This time it was Lilah.  After three days of a stomach virus, there was no way I was taking her on a train, into the close cramped mass of humanity that is NYC during the holidays.  With an already weakened immune system, there is no telling what should would catch next.......
So I offered the ticket to Grace’s friend and the three of us went.  Here are the highlights of our day.
Mad Libs on the train
Grand Central Station

waiting for a taxi
almost there

we gave the hat to Lilah

Times Square at night

Bryant Park with view of Empire State Building
The girls and I had a great day.  There is nothing like New York at Christmas.  It totally made up for me not loving the show.

I was expecting more from a Cirque de Soleil performance.  More of a story line.  The show needed something to move it along, other than just acrobatics.  Wintuk is a wintery place, a magical place of beautiful princesses who fly through the air, enormous white cranes that help fight off evil giant snow monsters and a land where there is snow.  The story begins in an urban setting that has no snow.  But there is no quest.  No movement from place to place.  The first half was urban, and when the curtain rose after intermission, we were in Wintuk.  The narrator, a resident of Wintuk announced to the boy seeking snow he completed his quest by finding true friendship, fighting monsters and seeing snow. Really?  I asked myself?  How was I to know his quest?  This really was not much of a quest after all.  
That being said, the show was entertaining.  I especially loved a ridiculously flexible woman dressed up as a rag doll who really made us question if she was alive or a puppet.  Watching the girls face as they were showered with tissue paper snowflakes at the end of the show was priceless.  I am glad Grace was able to see this show before it retires at the end of this season.  I think it was more suited to her than to Lilah who would have preferred the Radio City Show.  Hmm......maybe I can get cheap tickets for that next year!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Family in Sickness and in Health

Sickness has invaded my home at the worst possible time of the year! This is more than runny stuffy noses and wastebaskets full of Kleenex.  This is vomiting and diarrhea -- for three days!  First my baby was sick with a horrible, deep, rattling cough.  Eventually it went away.  I was glad.  But her immune system was weakened to the point of allowing another predator in.  The stomach bug.  She began throwing up Saturday night and is still throwing up here and there today.  She is weak and wobbly.  She is teeny tiny to begin with and this has just knocked her out.
Theresa over at Our Life in Words, who is also experiencing her first holiday season at home with her girls, asked how this holiday is different than last.  There are so many ways in which this year is different than last.  But the one that sticks out most in my mind right now is that Lilah would have missed about a week of school.  I could not have sent her with the cough.  Well....I could have, but I would not have.  I most certainly could not send her vomiting.  I know many parents who would load up their kids with cough and cold medicine and scurry them out the door praying for it to not wear off before three o’clock.  To be honest, I have been guilty of that before as well.  The consequence of piles and piles of make up classwork plus the homework is just not worth it, so if they can make it through the day, they go.  My rule (regardless of the school’s rule) was that for each day they missed, they had one day for make up.  If they missed three days, they had three days to make up the work.  I was never questioned about it.  But that still did not alleviate the stress on both me and my child.  Neighbors would bring home packets in thick manila envelopes from their teachers just so they could try to keep up which on the couch hacking up a lung.  Most of it was busy work.  Math facts, coloring.  Those got tossed to the side, rarely completed.  We focused on the priorities.  Math classwork, social studies, spelling words.  Tears, from my girls and me, were not uncommon.
Thankfully my girls are not often ill.  But when they are.....they are down for the count.  
Like my Lilah is  now.  She can rest on the couch or in her bed, or mine till her heart’s content.  I cleared my calendar.  We have nowhere to go.  Not that we could anyway.  She has no make up work.  No homework.  No stress to add to her already weakened system.   So I read to her.  She has listened to two chapters of Percy Jackson and illustrated how she sees the characters in her mind’s eye.  We have researched Satyrs, Furies, Chiron, and the Greek Gods Pan and Dionysus.  She has helped with Christmas Cards.  She has found a lovely Christmas poem online by Walter de la Mere and has begun to copy it in cursive.  She wrote her own silly Christmas poem.  But when she needs to rest, she can.  She can stop, put her work to the side and go to sleep. The doctor said this virus has been lingering for a week!  
This week will be spent mostly at home.  This illness did require major rethinking of a trip to New York City to see Wintuk but Lilah graciously agreed to not fuss about me and Grace going so the tickets don’t go to waste.  Just as long as she can watch the videos of the show on youtube.  Have I mentioned what a great kid she is?  She really is.
We have enjoyed more time this season to be with friends, create ornaments, bake and relax. But what I am most grateful for now, and what strikes me as the biggest gift of homeschooling through the winter, is the ability to let our children’s health dictate their learning capacity, rather than have school dictate the capacity, despite our children’s health.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Our Accomplishments

We took a break from academics this week.  The girls needed time to unwind, relax and recover from illness.
Monday was spent on the floor in front of the fire resting.  Grace came down with a horrid cold and Lilah’s cough was worse.  They listened to me read a chapter of Percy Jackson and many weather videos were watched.  Store was played with the American Girl dolls and the cash register.  Flute lessons were cancelled and bedtime was early - for all of us.
Tuesday brought piano lessons for Grace and sewing lessons for Lilah.  Her quilt is stunning.  I am so very, very proud of my little girl.  The fabrics she chose compliment one another and the colors are mature and remind me of something middle eastern.  The base colors are green, gold and purple and the designs are infused with silver and gold threads.  Susy and Lilah spent one whole lesson doing the math, laying out the squares and creating the pattern of the quilt.  They showed me the abcd pattern which they mapped out in grids.  A, b, and c squares are done.  D should be done on her next lesson.  Lilah irons the seams and prepares them for assembly.  I told Lilah that Tuesday I will bring my camera and do a blog entry on her quilt.    After sewing we had a trip to the orthodontist which resulted in the addition of elastics to Lilah’s braces.  She was not prepared for this and it hurt.  She cried.  I almost cried with her.  To sooth her feelings and her sore mouth, we headed out for ice cream milkshakes.  Lilah began a math project with me and the little girl I tutor weekly.  I wanted to do the “Your Business Math Series: Pet Shop” with her but the math is too advanced for a 7 year old.  So I created my own!  To help on time, I downloaded pets that one might find in a pet store.  My little friend chose the animals she wanted, gave each a price and began to color them in.  Each week I will use her pet store to review some of the math she is working on in school.  This week we used it for ordering numbers.  Next week we will create recepts for animals purchased and add the numbers together.  Because she wants to be a vet when she grows up, she was very excited about this project.  Lilah created hers alongside us.  She enjoys working with us during the hour.
Wednesday was our trip to New Haven for the concert. 
Thursday we spent the day with our friends over at Frog Creek.  We enjoyed hot pumpkin cake, collected ice from the creek, played dress up, and just hung out.  It felt so good.  Grace had her first basketball practice Thursday night.  Her hard work at several workshops over the past year paid off.  She enjoyed herself and woke up sore Friday morning!
Friday we spent time at church.  The girls played Life and other games in the youth room.  I began my project of painting murals on the walls of the room that was generously given to the teens to start a youth group.  This will be a multi, multi step project. The first part is to paint the entry to the room and  outline a dove and hands and the word Welcome.  The kids will paint it in and stamp their hands on the walls.  This needs to be done in one week.  I have a feeling we are going to be bringing our math and reading to the youth room during the week!  Friday afternoon we met up with many of our friends at a local library for a book talk and a craft project.  The book talk was excellent.  Grace walked away with several books she would like to read.  I was so grateful because finding just right books for Grace can be a challenge.  The librarian recommended The Talent Show by Dan Gutman (which is about the aftermath of a tornado), For This Land (of the My America Series), and Williwaw! by Tom Bodett, a survival story set in Alaska.  She is already several chapters into The Talent Show.  I cannot express how much this warms my heart.  Grace gratiously picked a book that is just right for me....Twice Upon A Marigold, since she knows how much I enjoyed Once Upon A Marigold.  My dear friend invited my girls to her house for an evening playdate.  When Greg got off the train he and I joined them for a grown up playdate.  I learned a new card game.  The first card game I really like and played well!  Needless to say we all went to bed VERY late and slept in Saturday morning.
Saturday closed out the week with the decorating of our tree.  We waited until Greg returned home from a business trip.  This is something we do together every year.  One of us cannot be missing.  This was followed by dog grooming, baking and a lovely visit from both our friends, and our Gram.  
I know many families take the whole month of December off.  Next year I will plan better.  I want to keep plugging away at our mythology study.  Having childen home full time during December, it is easy to get pulled in many different directions.  The holiday events take time out of our week and with multiple disruptions it may be better to simply resume in January rested, fresh and ready to go.  This first year is a learning experience for all of us.  To think it has been just one year.  This week last year, I sent in my letter of withdrawal for Lilah and she left school on December 23rd.  One year.  The changes have been so unexpectedly greater than I ever imagined or hoped for.  Not just in Lilah, in the four of us.  This journey has changed us, our expections, our temperments, our friendships, our philosophies, our relationships, our educations, basically our whole lives.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Holiday Expectations

My friend Theresa over at Our Life in Words wrote a post, Holiday Expectations, that stuck in my mind all day.  Her writing was filled with longing for bygone holidays when family members were still alive, when holidays were spent celebrating and when life seemed simpler.
When I married Greg, his family had a tradition of Christmas Eve dinner.  After church his brothers and sisters and their children would head on over to his parent’s house for food, drinks and fun.  It was one of those warm and fuzzy nights that Theresa wrote about from her childhood.  Except that it was not how I was used to spending Christmas Eve.  It was fine before we had children.  We could enjoy each other’s company then come home to relax in front of the fire get a good night sleep and wake up to the craziness that was Christmas.  My children have nine older cousins.  Back then with nine kids with only a ten year separation from oldest to youngest, it was madness.  Once my girls were born I wanted to have the Christmas Eve’s that I remembered from my family.  
Jake LOVES Christmas!  2009

My family would go to Christmas Eve mass and come home.  We would watch Christmas specials on tv and have hot chocolate in front of the Christmas tree.  It was calm.  Bedtime was our typical routine. Maybe slightly later, but we were nestled all snug in our beds while wishing ourselves to fall asleep fast so Christmas could come.  This was not my girl’s experience for their first few Christmas Eves.  We would rush to Mass to get a seat. Then we would either rush to his brother’s house (already way past my Gracie’s bedtime of 6:00pm that she kept until she was 3years old) or rush home to my house to prepare a dinner for 15.  I thought if I hosted then my girls could at least be in their own house on Christmas Eve.  It didn’t work for me.  I wanted my girls to come home, snuggle up in their pjs, watch a bit of television in front of the fire and the tree and go to bed with a story and a proper tuck in.  Not a quick peck on the cheek because I had to get back downstairs to a houseful of people.  Nope, it did not work.
sock aliens 2009

So I changed it.  I backed out of this tradition. I was concerned that I would be met with hostility.  I already felt like the black sheep of Greg’s family.  I was always the one that had to leave early for bedtimes, had children that would not eat everything that was offered to them, and would get easily overstimulated.  It seemed like I was the one that always had to do things differently.  But this was important to me.  I needed it to be this way.  I am not sure how his family felt about this.  Now that his parents have since retired out of state and his sister’s family moved north, the tradition dissolved anyway.   Now that my girls are older, they probably would love to go to their cousin’s house, stay up late and party.  Especially my Lilah, who at 1:00am on New Year’s Eve, is still not ready to go home!  It is my reluctance to give up on my ideal Christmas Eve that keeps this from happening.  I still want to go to Mass, order a pizza, drive around looking at lights while we wait for the pizza to bake, then relax in front of the fire, watch Elf for the hundredth time this month, sprinkle magical reindeer food on the front lawn and wait for the arrival of the most wonderful day of the year.
me with my bed head and ugly robe opening up our gift of a pool!

I think that we as mother’s place many expectations on ourselves as to what a perfect holiday is.  We want to replicate our childhood memories.  Perfection is unattainable.  Yet we keep striving to attain it.
When I think harder about my childhood Christmas memories I can recall my parents leaving one Grandparent’s house and on the short drive to the next Grandparent’s house furiously downloading about which relative pissed them off and why.  I can recall the stress to get us to church on time and dressed in our holiday finest.  I can remember my sister and I being furious on Christmas morning because we were up at 5am ready to hit the living room, our fingers itching to rip open colorful paper but my brother would sleep on, not the least bit interested in waking from his sleep, even thought it was Christmas!  We would beg and plead but my mother refused to let us wake him up.  Torture.  
Mixed in with our idyllic childhood memories are the signs that our very own parents were not so perfect after all.  They dealt with the same family issues, stresses, and concerns that we as parents do.  That is usually not what we choose to remember.  I want my girls to reflect on their childhood and look beyond the times that Mom lost her mind because the gifts for those 9, no now 10 cousins have not been purchased, the Christmas cards are late, very late for me, and not one cookie has been baked...yet.  Because the cards will get send and they will stamp every single one the way they like to.  Cookies may not have been baked yet but tomorrow we will bake all day long.  The gifts.....well, there is always Amazon for that!

Enjoy your holiday season, whichever winter holiday your family celebrates.  Try not to get bogged down in perfection.  Seek peace and tranquility.  Find your own joy and balance.  You and your children will be better for it.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Charmed Life

My girls and I live a charmed life.  Here was our day:
At nine o’clock this morning, we are picked up by our good friends to travel to New Haven for a concert at Yale’s Woolsey Hall.  We parked and bravely battled the cold windy city streets winding our way through the campus towards the hall.  We settled into our seats and waited for the concert to start.  This was a combined effort between the Yale Children’s Theater and The Saybrook College Orchestra.  The orchestral quality was supurb.  The music selection however, was too mature for elementary students.  Topping it off, the Children’s Theater wrote skits to perform in between pieces.  Two girls "interviewed"  famous composers such a Mozart, asking him to convince them why they should listen to classical music when it is “stupid” and boring”.  I was shocked that no one in charge would have questioned their skits and asked what the children in the audience would take away from this.  There were many schools in attendance.  I am sure that for some children this was their first exposure to classical music.  We left the concert early.  Grace commented she felt bad for the other children who had to stay with their classes until the busses picked them up.  As we walked to get lunch, we talked about why we left.  We talked about how classical music is beautiful and the composers are not stupid, but brilliant.  Our four children have been exposed to classical music before. My girls have studied composers through piano lessons and composer studies.  I asked what someone would have thought if this was their first introduction to classical music and they said they probably would think it was boring.  

Before lunch we popped into my favorite store for some window shopping.  Window shopping turned into buying hot chocolate mugs.  Grace was thrilled she finally has her own mug so she can be like me.  My friend bought 4 big, sweet, candycanes for the girls.  She surprised them on the ride home.
Next we had lunch.  Moe’s.  I have walked by this restaurant before many times but have never gone in because my girls claim not to like Mexican food (although they adore our friend’s authentic Mexican rice and soup) but will not try anything from a restaurant.  So they got food from the deli next door while I enjoyed black bean and chicken soup, chips and salsa, and a beef quesidilla.  Yum!
Driving home, the girls transformed their candycanes into sharpened peppermint spears, and my friend and I enjoyed our own treat of Vanilla Soy Latte from Starbucks.  Yum Yum Yum!
At 4:30 we celebrated another friend’s 7th birthday at her home in the “country”.  The girls played flashlight tag, haunted graveyard, warmed their hands by the fire pit, and zip lined fast as lightning downhill in the dark. They sipped hot chocolate, made snowglobes, and sang happy birthday.  I met new people who gave me insight into math programs and online sites similar to youtube but offer only educational videos.  I enjoyed chili with cheese and sour cream on a glider rocker in front of their pellet stove, cranked up to high.  Yum Yummy YUM!
On the way home my girls listened to classical music that they requested.  Beautiful, soothing, peaceful music.
Yes, we lived a charmed life.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Piano Recital


For those of you who came to Grace's recital yesterday, thank you.  It meant the world to her to have you share in her day.  To those of you who could not come, you were missed.  Thank you to my nephew for this video he made with his itouch.  I am very grateful since my camera battery died on her first note!



Saturday Grace and I had the amazing opportunity to attend a three hour biology at the main campus of UCONN taught by Dr. Ken Noll, Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology.  The focus was kitchen germs: health or harmful?  How clean is your kitchen?  We started our journey at 8am armed with breakfast, coffee and a used kitchen washcloth that was used to clean up the morning mess.  I hoped to use the one from the previous day but it was tossed into the wash before I could set it aside.

Using the scientific method we constructed an experiment to see which conditions affect yeast’s ability to produce CO2.  Our variable was temperature and our samples were placed in an ice bath, warm bath, close to boiling bath and room temperature.  Grace’s prediction was that the room temperature sample would produce the greatest amount of carbon dioxide.  In fact, the warm bath, 45 degrees C ended up being the most productive.

While our yeast samples were growing, we learned the proper hand washing procedure.  We swabbed our hands before and after washing and wiped the swab on a petri dish where the bacteria will grow.  Dr. Noll’s graduate students who assisted with this class will post the finished samples on their facebook site.

After our hand washing demonstration we moved into proper cooking procedures.  Dr. Noll prepared chicken and carrots disregarding hand washing, separate knives and cutting boards, while his assistant used the proper techniques.  Before they both began they sprinkled just the chicken with glow-germ, which can be seen under ultra-violet light.  As expected we would not want to eat the meal prepared by Dr. Noll.  But surprisingly, even after proper procedure and hand washing, bacterial germs were found on the assistant’s hands, around her fingernails.  

Do you adhere to the 5 second rule?  How about the 2 second rule?  I don’t think Grace will any longer!  Using the glow-germ, we tested crackers, cheese and banana on tile and carpet.  As expected the cracker picked up the fewest germs especially on the carpet.

To conclude our class we used the high magnification microscopes to view bacteria from cheese, natural vinegar, yogurt and the wash clothes we brought!  Unfortunately our washcloth has a small amount of bacteria but we were able to view the samples from others which were dirtier and had more bacteria.

Giving a ten year old a college experience is a great gift.  We talked about the difference between small schools (like the one I attended) and huge universities (like her father attended).  She wondered if UCONN has a good meteorology department.  We are going to investigate that.  We also made plans to attend the Arts Fest at Penn State next summer so she can see her Father’s alma matter.   Grace and I had some quality mother-daughter time.  I can’t wait to take her to the next class!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Our Accomplishments

It was soothing to see some free time on our calendar this week.  But it left me wondering if we accomplished as much as we usually do in a week.  Our focus this week was not on academics but on conscious living, slowing down, preparing for the Christmas season and working out some kinks in our routines.
Last week Grace was ready to walk away from her flute.  With a little encouragement, more practice and a new determination, she had a great lesson.  She is excited for her first performance in January.  I learned this week that it is okay to skip the bridges in Life of Fred and just focus on the lessons.  If I notice her struggling or becoming frustrated, I don’t need a bridge to tell me she needs review before moving on to the next lesson.  Just to confound me, Grace did do the bridge, passed and is moving ahead in her lessons.  She also finished Ninth Ward.  I asked her to write about why she liked the book. From this piece of writing I began to teach writing a 5 paragraph expository essay.  I know this is the main focus of 5th grade writing for her peers and I want her to know how to do this well.  The format was introduced and she wrote the introduction including the thesis sentence.  I would like to send this or email it to the author, since this book had such an effect on Grace and bolstered her desire to read.  
Lilah keeps plugging away at her math.  At this point she is mostly independent working her way through multiplication and division.  She wrote more of her story which continues the saga of Scarlett Hannon.  In this story she encounters fairies and an enchanted tree.  We took a deeper look at story mapping and proper use of quotations.  That girl loves her dialogue!  She published a blog entry as well.  Lilah needs art in a way that Grace does not.  When Grace was working on her hurricane project, Lilah took our one of our favorite books Kids’ Art Works! She found a cool project to make a crayon batik.  She drew the picture, soaked the paper for two minutes, crumpled it up, then painted it with watercolor paint.  When it dried the effect was a wax paper like batik style painting.

It is beautiful.   She took a break from her quilt during her sewing lesson and instead made her own tree ornament.

Together we finished Juliet Dove, Queen of Love.  I am looking for our next audiobook.  We read two more chapters in Percy Jackson.  I love this read aloud.  The girls fluency is improving, as is their stamina for reading aloud.  Right now we read one page each throughout the chapter.  Eventually I would like to get to the point where we can each read one chapter aloud.  We went ice skating with our new shiny skates.  Grace loves her weekly skate.  She is rediscovering the joy she feels on ice.  It still is one of her happiest places.  
This week saw playdates with school friends and homeschool friends.  We have school Girl Scouts and homeschool Girl Scouts.  Our homeschool troops are amazing.  Lilah’s Brownie troop is working on try-its.  This week we did art to wear.  The girls painted canvas bags to hold their sit upons, supplies and vests.  They used Lyra face crayons to draw hearts, flowers, butterflies and more on each other’s faces, arms and hands.  They then made friendship bracelets by stringing one bead and passing it on to their neighbor who put on one bead, until 12 beads were done.  One for each girl.  It was a beautiful day of friendship and caring.  Grace’s troop, Juniors, have been researching Girl Scout World Centers.  Grace had Switzerland.  She found the country map, the European map, the country flag, a ethnic recipe and other facts about Switzerland.  Each girl presented their findings to the group.  While I was not present for this, Grace was energized and excited.  Their long range goal is to start to fund raise to eventually visit one of the centers!
We began to decorate for Christmas.  The girls made their paper chains.  Elfie the Elf made his yearly appearance. 

The advent house came out and our village was set up.  

I still have much to do with wreaths, a tree and cards but that will come in time.  One day at a time is how I want to get through this season.  I don’t want to rush blindly through it.  I want to take it slow, just one day at a time.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cheating vs. Learning

Let’s assume we are working on a research project.  We keep a notebook of what we have covered and learned thus far.  Suddenly we come across something that stumps us.  We are perplexed.  It is something we remember seeing and is most likely in our notebook.  We flip back and yes!  There it is, dated and outlined.  We are able to review it and move forward.  
Now let’s change that scenario to school.  The child keeps a math notebook.  Terms and symbols such as greater than, less than, times tables and angle definitions are listed, dated, and illustrated. Suddenly the student comes across something that they are perplexed by, perhaps it is a long division problem. The answer just does not seem right.  Could it be that they made a mistake about how many times 12 goes into 72?  They could flip back to that nicely illustrated table of the 12s multiplication facts.  Could they?  Sure.  Except they would get a zero for cheating.  I forgot to mention this is a quiz.  No looking back at previous learning is allowed.  This student could use the information presented in the word problem and could even pinpoint her error in calculation.  The simple math fact alluded her.  You and I could grab a calculator.  We could flip back in our study notebook.  But alas, the student, the child, cannot.
We encountered this today in a Life of Fred Bridge (assessment).  Grace was asked to convert 777” into feet and express the answer in both feet and inches.  This was not a very complicated problem.  Another bridge required her to divide a circle into seven equal sectors. This problem involved long division, the use of a protractor and addition.  But on this simple problem Grace was stumped by a 12s fact.  She knew it looked wrong and she was distraught about an incorrect answer.  I told her to flip back through her notebook to the table she made and find the fact to complete the problem correctly.  “But that is CHEATING!” she told me.  No, I told her.  Cheating is dishonest.  Cheating is taking someone else’s work and presenting it as your own.  Flipping back through your own work is called life. 
I am working on a research project of my own.  It requires looking back over a year’s worth of work.  I never once consider that “cheating”.  Granted, my project is not a quiz or a test, but either is the Life of Fred book.  Because we have been schooled, we see the bridge as a quiz, rather than just a checkpoint to see if we have a solid understanding of what we need to know to move forward.  Clearly Grace has the concept internalized.  Not having quick recall of one fact should not prevent her from moving forward.  Not having access to the information she generated is ludicrous.    
I am constantly dismayed at the thinking I have to undo in order for homeschooling to be successful.  It takes so much time and patience.  Plus there is always the fear that all this will be for naught should she go back to school where a quiz is a quiz and looking back is cheating.

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...