Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Lucky Mom Indeed

Since we had a super busy afternoon we decided to have our main meal at lunch.  We stopped into Whole Foods and the girls decided what they would like to eat.  When we got home, Grace asked if she could make the meal.  Up until now she has made a part of the meal, maybe the salad, or helped with the burgers, but never an entire meal!  I was her guide, helping her with little tips along the way.
While she was making the salad, I explained that you can cross contaminate your food easily.  One cutting board is for veggies and another is for meats.  You can use one if you do veggies first.  After the meat is done the board goes directly into the dishwasher.

My mom always allows Grace and Lilah to help in her kitchen so she was a sous-chef many times.  She said her Gram taught her how to make burgers.  She rolled them out, flattened them and placed them on the grill.  Before she did anything else, she washed her hands with soap and hot water!

She boiled the corn on the cob and a few green beans for her sister and I who do not like them raw.

She set the table, placed the food and drinks on it, all the while beaming with pride in her accomplishment.

I have a feeling there are many more meals where I don’t have to cook in my future!  Grace’s meals combined with Lilah’s desserts makes this Mom one very lucky Mom indeed!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Lady Liberty

Five adults, twelve children in Manhattan.  Crazy?  Perhaps.  But man, did we have a good time.   Since we are fortunate enough to live 90 minutes from New York we go often.  We visit Daddy’s office, Grammy’s office, and American Girl.  We wander through Central Park, walk the Brooklyn Bridge and see the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center.  We have been to the Museum of Natural History and a children’s opera at Lincoln Center but we have never been to the Statue of Liberty.
Everyone should go to the Statue of Liberty.  Just like the Eiffel Tower and the Great Pyramid, it is America’s symbol, our work of wonder.  You cannot look at the lady without realizing her significance.  She stands for freedom, for opportunity and for independence.  You are humbled walking at her feet.  When I view her I cannot help but reflect on the principles our country was founded on and hope and pray that this great nation carries on in the way it was intended to.

Our children themselves are works of wonder.  Nine children.  All buddied up, stayed together and respected each other’s needs and feelings.  
We met at Battery Park after a train and subway ride.....

We listened to the soothing melodies of a student orchestra wafting along the waterfront....

We rode the ferry.....

admired the view.....

gazed upon Lady Liberty....




Gazed in wonder.....



Admired the view again...

Watched a street performance....

Learned what a condom is.... (thank you to the vendor standing 10 feet from the departure dock selling Obama Condoms.  What the h--- is an Obama Condom?).  At least the subject came up out of a real life opportunity which is how I like to teach the birds and the bees....

Kissed and hugged our friends, said our goodbyes, hopped on the train for home and went to sleep.
Happy early 4th of July!

This post is linked up with

Monday, June 27, 2011

Cross Post From Three Thinking Mothers

It is graduation time.  All over town there are balloons and banners and lawn placards with the little mermaid wishing Tory a Happy Graduation.  There are Congratulations Class of 2011 wishes on business signs and write ups on star athletes and class valedictorians in the local newspapers.  
This is when homeschooling can be hard.  My nieces were the valedictorians of their town’s class of 2010 and 2011.  They are both either at or off to great universities to continue their studies.  Their accomplishments are easy to see.  Their ribbons can hang on walls.  The report cards can be displayed.  The varsity jackets can be worn.  Their diploma will rest on a shelf.  
But what about the graduating homeschool seniors?  Do they consider themselves part of the class of 2011?  With all these signs, balloons and banners it the message is conveyed that something is over, or has ended, when in fact nothing is over, nothing has ended, except the fact that they left a school building.  There is always more learning to be done whether or not you find that education in the classrooms of a college, through an internship, exploring the world, or working at your first real job.
I sometimes feel bad for my girls.  I feel like their accomplishments are overlooked because the are not listed on the honor roll in the newspaper each semester.  They do not get to attend awards banquets, and they are not named Student of the Month.  They will not have a 6th grade and an 8th grade graduation.  They will not be named Homecoming Queen.
But they have so much to celebrate.  While it may be easy to focus on the accolades that come from teachers, coaches and reports, it is equally important to acknowledge the amazing things that homeschool students do.
I hope my girls do not feel overshadowed by the praise that is sometimes lavished on children in school.  I am so proud of all they have done this year.  Looking back over our year it is hard to pick just one or two things that surpass the others.  My children:
  • completed a series of classes at the Audubon Center.
  • finished Story of the World Volume 1
  • will finish Apologia Botany and we began nature journals.
  • learned advance math concepts.
  • created and maintained blogs.
  • spent a year on independent studies of nature and weather.
  • read wonderful stories.  
  • wrote wonderful stories.
  • learned cursive.
  • memorized poems.
  • wrote poems.
  • learned pottery and sewing, piano and flute.
  • participated in two art shows.  
  • visited museums, aquariums, zoos, botanical gardens, farms, factories. 
  • organized a food drive.
  • raised money for the Red Cross.
  • made new friends.
  • learned more about themselves, their interests, passions and what they are capable of.  

Our children should never for one single moment think that their accomplishments are not recognized.  They have been given a gift of understanding that learning is not something that has an graduation date.  We expect them to do great things with this gift.
We know that they are capable of doing great things with this gift for to whom much is given, of him shall much be required.

**This is also posted at Three Thinking Mothers.  There is always lively conversation there.  Please join in!  

Sunday, June 26, 2011

No going back now

Have you ever read something that scares you to your core?  Not a Stephen King kind of scary.  A what-the-hell do I do now kind of scary?  I feel that way reading Robyn O’Brien’s book The Unhealthy Truth.  
I have been trying to change our diets for some time now.  I thought slow and steady was the way to do.  First went high fructose corn syrup, then refined sugar, then Aspartame, now food coloring.  But right under my nose in my refrigerator and in my cabinets were other food items that I did not realize were as harmful as they are: soy based products and genetically modified foods.
I thought soy was good.  I have been giving Grace soy milk as an alternative to dairy.  Dumped that out.  I became aware of GMO and GM food a few months ago but I had no idea how pervasive genetic modification is in our food supply.  Recently I was talking to Greg about kicking it up on removing all processed food from our diet. He felt it could not be done.  I agreed based on our current lifestyle.  But with more time spent at home cooking real food from real ingredients, we can eliminate most processed foods and gain a sense of control over what ingredients we use.
We also discussed looking for areas in our household spending to cut.  I want to shop almost wholly at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.  At least then, if we purchase processed foods I will be reassured that my food supply does not contain foreign proteins that my children may develop an allergy to, especially given Grace’s gluten intolerance and Lilah’s food sensitivities.
I don’t want to summarize the entire book.  You should read it.  It will change the way you feed your family if you live in the United States.  It may prod you to get involved in some way to urge our elected leaders to make our children’s health and welfare paramount.  Why is it that our country feels this sorry state of affairs is acceptable?  Why have we not followed suit with other countries who have clearly placed a higher value on their citizens lives?  I know....I know...I am not completely naive.  Money talks and our government has an unholy relationship with business, especially the one (begins with an M) who has a strangle hold on farmers and consumers.
As of now, I am no longer content with slowly changing my families diet.  I am committed to the radical altering of what we eat and how we eat.  I am grateful it is summer.  I plan on getting a deep freezer to stock with frozen fresh fruits and vegetables from my garden and farmer’s markets to see us through the winter months.  Rarely have I had to use canned tomatoes thanks to two days of late summer freezing.  Our habits have to change.  Our laziness has to change.  Our ignorance has to change.  Now that I have become aware, there is no going back.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Carnivorous Lovelies

My dear friend MamaK at Frog Creek kindly let us garden-sit her carnivorous plants.  Since we studied these lovelies in chapter 3 of Apologia Botany, the girls and I are familiar with how very awesomely cool these plants are.  

love these!

pitcher plant

MamaK has inspired me to begin my own little garden!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Beginning is just a beginning...

I thought back over all the families we have met over the past 18 months and what their styles are.  I realized with the exception of one or two families, I could not say definitively that this family is a true unschooling family, or that family is positively classical.  As you become accustomed to homeschooling, inevitably you pick and choose parts of different styles that work best for you and your children.
However, defining an educational philosophy can be very helpful for a newbie homeschooling family.  In order to have a philosophy, you must first reflect on how you believe children learn best.  Specifically your children.  There is no right or wrong answer here.  Have you thought about how your children like to learn?
  • Do they like to have a defined schedule?  
  • Do they prefer no schedule and the flexibility to learn what they want, when they want for as long as they want?  
  • Do you want to give your children an understanding of traditional classics or contemporary soon-to-be classics?
  • Do you feel more comfortable piecing together a curriculum or purchasing a full curriculum that covers all the bases?
  • Do you want a curriculum or do you want to learn from the opportunities life presents us?  
In school, teachers are given a set curriculum chosen for them by the Board of Directors.  It may include Rigby Reading, Chicago Math and Columbia’s Writer’s Workshop.  As a parent, you have no say in what your children learn and how they learn.   
When you withdraw your child from public school you are suddenly  responsible for teaching  all the content areas.  Where do you begin? ....  to read more click on over to Three Thinking Mothers!  Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Dill Discovery!

We were at a local nursery picking up some vegetable plants for our garden.  I happened to spot a dill plant with a gorgeous caterpillar munching away on the dill leaves.  Upon closer inspection, there were THREE caterpillars munching happily away.  So what is any homeschool mom worth her weight in salt to do?  Purchase the dill plant of course!
I was actually given the plant for free since this is now a budding science lesson.  My girls have raised caterpillars in preschool, but there is something different about discovering them on your own, welcoming them into your home, providing them with a nutritional source they clearly love and hoping they spin a chrysalis.
day 1

day 1

After a rudimentary google search, it seems the Eastern Swallowtail caterpillar enjoys dill.  I think that is what our friends may be.  I clearly underestimated their gorging capacity and after just 24 hours, several stalks of the dill plant have disappeared.  I guess that means another trip to the nursery...
day 2

photo courtesy of above website

By the way...Lilah just informed me that the little black caterpillar also munching away looks like bird poop.  I thought she made that up until I looked at the above site and found out that they do in fact mimic bird droppings!  When I looked at her in awe, she said “What Mom???  (with great attitude), I read.” Amazing. Simply amazing.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Plain and Simple

Yesterday I was flipping through a Class of 2011 Yearbook and came across a page titled Tatoos and Piercings.  Plastered on the page were actual tatoos and piercings of the HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS!  Several thoughts flashed through my mind.  First, how are high school students even old enough to obtain tatoos and piercings (neither of which I am opposed to on ADULTS!)?  Second, was thank the lord my girls have the opportunity to opt out of this rite of passage called High School, where pop culture has clearly influenced children in such a permanent way.
I wonder if as I was interacting with the Amish in Pennsylvania last weekend that same thought was thought of me.  We are all influenced by the culture in which we live to some degree.  We call Lilah our little fashionista because she acts as my personal stylist!  Grace is my techy kid who can operate my cell phone better than I can!  We must seem as radical to the Amish, as high school students flaunting their multiple facial piercings seems to me.
While I was fresh off my trip to Pennsylvania, I read a memoir of an artist living in Berkeley and New York who took time out of her life to visit with Amish families after falling in love with their quilts.  She defines herself as an artist which is crucial to understanding this book since she seeks to learn more about the art of the Amish and they Amish do not define themselves as artists.
I had mixed feelings about this book.  It took me a week of reflecting to form an opinion.  Based on the reviews from Amazon readers, there is no way I would have picked up this book online or even at the library.  This is a memoir, just a piece of a woman’s life captured in writing.  It is not a biography or even a study of the Amish but information was shared that helped me understand the Amish better.
I know know that they go barefoot to feel a deeper connection to the Earth.  The are grounded in their faith and they are grounded in their care of the soil.  It reminded me of yoga.  You practice yoga barefoot so that you can experience a feeling of awareness in your feet. What am I grounded to?  What anchors me in my life?  Do I have enough faith to take the teachings literally, discarding all modern temptations that come through electricity (such as this laptop) and focus my entire being on living my faith?  
Also notable was the running of the Amish home.  In the Amish religion there is a clear delineation of responsibility based on gender.  Simply put, the women are homemakers and the men are farmers.    The author looked at this with disdain since she was almost proud not be a homemaker and domestic in her nature.  It is as if her profession of creating art also defined her personality as artist and with that she assumed a life of freedom, self expression and little responsibility to the house and home.  I always wonder how women can raise children and profess not to cook.  How is this possible?  The Amish value the home.  It is a place of peace but also of productivity.  Every single part of running a household is valued from canning, to cleaning, to laundry, to childcare, to cooking and even creating items that many consider breathtakingly beautiful.  But to the Amish it is no big deal because they are ordinary people, doing ordinary tasks that honor their God.  They are not exceptional in any way because to be so would be false pride and only God is perfect. I think to many of us it seems idyllic because our own culture has devalued the homemaker to the point of making her comedic.  I love the sitcom, The Middle.  But I find the mother, Frankie, to be a bit of a wreck as a mother and homemaker.  Yet, I laugh often out loud because so much of that show reflects what modern families face on a daily basis.
I found the author to be judgmental of the families she stayed with.  The first family was clearly defined by gender roles.  Through her choice of words, the author looks upon this with disdain. The second family was a bit different in that two sisters live together, one unmarried and a midwife who would have attended medical school if she could have done so without giving up her religion and her entire community.  The other sister, also a midwife, has a house full of children, and a home to run, but despite the sheer amount of work, she also has a thriving midwifery practice.  In this house the author felt more comfortable and stayed for quite some time.  Realizing that this is a memoir, not a anthropological study of an American sub-culture, I feel the author has leeway to interject her personal thoughts and feelings, even if those give the reader the impression that she is a self-absorbed person and quite judgmental and as such, probably still has much more to learn from the Amish...
I recommend this book.  It is a short read and gives us a first hand glimpse into a life that is often looked at through car windows and tourist traps.  I longed to visit an Amish homestead, understand how they are able to farm such expansive stretches of land efficiently, raise their children peacefully, garden organically, and put their faith foremost in their lives.  This book gave me the ability to do that vicariously through Ms. Bender’s experience.  

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Country Road Take Me Home To The Place I Belong

What has been the go to item on a road trip for our family?...our ipad.  We added the Trip Advisor app and its interactive map is far better than our car GPS.  It shows our location in real time and the surrounding area.  The result is that this has been a no-highway road trip!  
The back roads of Tennessee are beautiful.  Beautiful in a different way than the refined farmland of the Amish country, different than the rolling blue mountains in Virginia and certainly different from our neck of the woods in Connecticut.  Here the farmland is rough.  The Smoky Mountains line the horizon and farms can stretch across open fields, through patches of trees and pop up in unexpected places.  
We wandered today.  We wandered to The Lost Sea, the country’s largest underwater lake.  We hiked down about half a mile through caverns where Native Americans held secret meetings around a fire and where locals snuck distilleries during the age of Prohibition.  We saw graffiti created by Confederate soldiers during the Civil War.  Finally at the end of our hike we heard the tinkling sound of dripping water.  The cool, crystal clear lake was pristine.  Due to recent snow melt and severe storms, the lake has risen over 20 feet in the last three months.  Trout swam alongside our boat much the way I imagine dolphins swim alongside boats in the southern states.

Then we wandered to Mayfield Dairy.  We had to try the ice cream.  We wandered into the company store where we discovered there was a tour beginning!  A free tour!  It was quick, but we were able to see and learn about the bottling process and how milk gets from cow to consumer.

Lastly we wandered along a country road on our return trip.  Relying on our ipad, we roamed through farmland imagining which home we would like to own.  Our ipad only led us astray once, when we followed what was clearly labeled as a road, but was in fact a dirt pathway.  We were not sure our Prius was up for the task and wishing we were in a 4wheel drive Jeep, we turned around to find the next country road to take us home.

Are you humming John Denver’s lyrics?  Yeah, me too.

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...