Thursday, August 30, 2012


Looking back over the summer months the one activity that stands out has been art journaling.  We have reached a point where art and life are one.  Our back room transformation from family room to art studio was simply brilliant.  I can never thank Greg enough for always saying yes to my spontaneous ideas.  His “yes!” coupled with a small investment in furniture from IKEA, transformed my home.
When friends come over, they take out their journals.  We have worked with many different mediums this summer: gesso, Modge Podge, oil pastel, watercolor, acrylic, tempera, colored pencil and ink.  There is always a project out drying, or waiting for a new layer to be added or for words to appear.  
One of my favorite pages was from my most recent session.  Huckleberry Hill Project is on my mind.  The childrens' projects are unified by the common theme of making the world a better place.  Of course this reminds me of one of my favorite books, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.

I took a quote “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”.  The rest was up to them.  I asked them to think about the following possible writing topics:
  • What do we need...really need?  How few/many things?
  • How are you caring for our Earth?
  • What change do you want to make?
  • How do you care?  Why do you care?

We used permanent marker and oil pastel.  We blended with Q-Tips.  We referenced the book for drawing tips and color palates.  We discussed becoming a children’s book illustrator, or illustrating your own books.  The children thought that combining a talent, craft, skill and passion would be a wonderful way to live your life.  You could have the flexibility to work your own schedule, anywhere, at any time. 
Of course, this got my brain spinning.  I asked them if they would like me to try to find an author/illustrator that we could talk to.  I am working on making that happen now....

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Sugar Bakery

Just a few weeks ago Lilah was stressed that she could not come up with her very own recipe from her imagination.  Part of the reason why I believe in project based learning is that in my heart I believe that if you give a child the time to practice a skill, access to materials and a bit of guidance, the possibilities are infinite.  I have not “taught” Lilah anything new.  I have made sure that she has a stocked pantry, access to the kitchen, the baking utensils, and my opinion on what tastes, flavors and textures go well together.  

Then it happened.  A cupcake was born from her imagination and her knowledge of how to make a cupcake.  A sweet cupcake flavored with one of her favorite candies.    While I don’t love the sweetness of it, I complimented her on its texture.  It is light and springy, yet dense enough to be cake.  She was inspired.  She created another.  A peanut butter and jelly cupcake!  It is quite good.  She needs to come up with a great frosting to make it seem less of a muffin.  She now also has her own sugar cookie.  She is proud of her creations and baked a batch of cookies for Kim’s birthday.  She wants to bake for the monthly church dinner.  She wants to bake all the time.  

I want my girls to plan big plans.  I have told Lilah that she should apprentice in a bakery or get a part time job when she is 14, but her goal should be to own a bakery.  To help her conceptualize these dreams, we did not think twice about taking her to Carlo’s Bakery over an hour away.  Earlier in the week I had taken her to Sugar Bakery in East Haven, CT.

Sugar is a local bakery that won The Food Network’s Cupcake Wars.  This is a very sweet bakery.  It is bright and cheerful with beautifully displayed cupcakes lining the cases.  The flavors are unique and the size of the cupcake is perfect for quartering and sharing among a family of 4!  Grace, Lilah and I each picked out 2 cupcakes to take home and share with Greg.  We chose Chocolate Lemon, Cookie Dough, Hostess Cake, Watermelon, and Boston Creme.  My favorite was the Chocolate Lemon followed by the Boston Creme.  Yummy!  

This is a bakery I would encourage Lilah to work at, to learn as much as possible and to file away all that knowledge for use in her own bakery or home catering business.  Her future (and mine) is very sweet indeed!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Cake Boss

Carlo's Bakery is a very special place.  If you have ever watched Cake Boss on TLC you know the bakery I am talking about.  It is located in Hoboken, NJ, a little over an hour away from where we live.  

While we were there, Greg and I were amazed at the power of media.  I am sure media has always been influential in pop culture but the extent to which it drives the mass market is truly astonishing.  I first became aware of this when Oprah had her book club.  To get Oprah’s stamp of approval was the holy grail.  It guaranteed you instant best seller status.  I admit, I read most of her picks.  Some I loved,  others not so much. Regardless, I allocated a portion of my disposable income based on the recommendation of a celebrity. Hmmm.  How many of our life choices are driven by blatant commercialism?  
When we arrived in Hoboken we were not prepared to spend an hour waiting in a two block line outside the bakery!  Thank goodness it was a mild day.  I would not have been able to do it had the temperatures been soaring into the nineties.  The girls had books to keep them busy but there was no place to sit.   I offered to stay in line and Greg took the girls around the neighborhood to look at the sites.  We texted every time the line moved.  This was a wonderful way to pass time.  I wish I had a book since I can stand and read anywhere!

An hour later, we made our way to the entrance of the bakery.  Each family was given a ticket, our golden ticket, ensuring that orders were placed fairly.  However, if you are a Hoboken resident you can show your ID and skip the line.  A customer is a customer and I thought this policy was a bit unfair.   Most of the people in line were tourists, who gave up a day (or half a day) to venture over from Manhattan.  Many had subway maps and were mapping out the rest of their day after their treat-time.  

After waiting patiently, our family was called in.  We were number 05 and when we entered they were on 97.  It was a deli-like experience with the red digital number clearly visible on the wall.  Given the volume of customers, this is the only way to manage the crowd, even if it makes for an impersonal experience.  I wish that after waiting that long, there were fewer people in the bakery.  It was wall to wall people.  Looking in the display cases was challenging for me, and I am 5’8”.  Lilah's initial glee faded as she looked at me in despair and told me she was feeling overwhelmed.  Greg and I cleared a path to look at the cupcakes since she had her cake picked out the moment we walked in.  After about 15 minutes it was our turn to order.

The young girl who helped us could not have been nicer.  She wished Lilah a happy birthday and patiently waited while we sorted through all our items.  We ordered:
  • one birthday cake 
  • eclairs 
  • lobster tails (which I had never heard of but the girls saw them in a show and said we must try them!)
  • cannolis
  • a cupcake and a mouse cake
  • and of course Lilah needed to get a souvenir tee shirt.

Thankfully the wait was worth it!  The pasties are very good.  The cupcake was the best I ever had.  Not too sweet, light and fluffy with delicious frosting.  The cake was sweeter, almost too sweet, but the chocolate ganash filling was scrumptious.  Our favorite were the lobster tails.  Hands down. Think croissant, filled with the most amazing vanilla custard imaginable.  So good that I had one for breakfast with my coffee Sunday morning and did not have one ounce of guilt.  I would wait in line again for those lobster tails.  Yup.  Definitely.

While Greg and I pondered how long this 15 minutes of fame will last, it was reassuring to know that the quality of the product backed up the frenzy to get it.  This week I saw Cake Boss cookbooks and prepackaged cakes on sale in BJs.  Greg instagramed a picture of Cake Boss Cafe now open in Manhattan.  I understand the need or desire for a business to expand, but I question the logic in taking a quality product that is sold at premium prices and mass merchandising it through a bulk warehouse retailer.  It diminishes the brand.  I am curious to see where Buddy, the Cake Boss takes the direction of his company and how he adapts to meet an obvious demand.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Birth Days

August 25th we celebrated the day my life was forever changed by the birth of a daughter.  We celebrate the birthday of the person by presenting them with gifts, cards and well wishes.  The birthday of my child is interwoven with my experience of their "birth day" and while I honor the father’s experience through participation in a birth, it is the mother whose lifeblood runs through the child connecting the two bodies and souls in a way that never will be truly separate.  
When my Nana was alive, my father would send her flowers every year on his birthday.  I never understood this as a child, but now, as a mother, oh my, this is so touching.
August 25th is Lilah’s birthday.  We spent the day honoring her arrival in this world. I spend each of my daughter’s birth days not only in celebration, but in reflection.  Each time I check my watch I know exactly what I was doing at that same time all those years ago.  6:00am, calling my Mom to come over and watch Grace.  7:00am checking into the Maternity Ward.  By 10:30 I had a beautiful baby girl in my arms.  My life was forever altered with the gift of a child to love, raise, care for, teach, honor, respect, and nurture all the days of her life.

We try out best to make birthdays a memorable experience for the entire family.  Much thought is put into what each child wants to do that day.  This year Lilah had a schedule, thoughtfully presented to me on her iPad of what she would like her day to be like from the moment her eyes fluttered open with anticipation of what is to come, until the weariness brought about by a fun filled day caused them to reluctantly close.

It was a good day...a very very good day.  It was a day filled with wish fulfillment, love and laughter.  It was a day spent in the company of those who not only live within my house, but live within my heart.  There is no greater gift that can be bestowed on this Mama than seeing the face of her child light up with pure joy on her birthday.

Happy Birth Day Lilah!

Sunday, August 26, 2012


Do you ever wonder how you got to this point in your life?  Why certain relationships endure and others dissolve?  Why family ties are so strong yet so challenging?  Sometimes when I am feeling introspective I wonder about these things.  
I miss by dear friend in Chicago.  We talk at least once a week, often more.  We have been friends for something like 17 years.  There are times when I wish she was still 2 miles away and I could pop over for a cup of coffee and an understanding ear to talk to.  She always gets me.  She gets me when I was 24 and just figuring things out.  It was she after all who put me on my drinking plan so I could enjoy more than one glass of wine at my wedding.  Oh the fun that was had while I was on my alcohol plan!  She gets me now that I want backyard chickens and am mostly vegetarian.  I always start out by staying “let me tell you something....don’t laugh”.  And she never does.
Women need friends like this in their lives.  Whether that friend is a sister or sister in law, a neighbor, co-worker or someone you met pushing your toddler on the swing, we need people who get us for who we are, even though that who we are may be constantly morphing into who we want to be.
I know that I am blessed.  I have great friendships.  I have the kind of friends that if I picked up the phone and said “come I need you” I would not have to say anymore and they would be on their way, from either the next town over or hundreds of miles away.  
My girls are growing up.  As I watch their friendships grow, change, mature, deepen and sometimes fade, I am reminded of what friendship means.  Just like Michele, who has been my friend through lots of mama drama, they will find their friends who will be besties, who will be casual acquaintances, and those who they may like very much but do not return their affections.  Growing up can suck at times.  It can be hard and there can be tears.  Growing up never really ends does it?  I feel like I have grown as much over the last five years as I did in my first five.  Not everyone understands the direction I am growing in and part of my personal growth is accepting this.  Not everyone has to.  
This is true for my girls as well.  As they grow into the young women they want to be and as new interests, new passions and new connections are made, they will remain close to some friends.  Other friendships will change and become less intense.  New friendships will be made.  Tears will be shed.  Happiness will move in to replace the hurt.  Through it all I will hug and comfort.  Encourage and support them as they find their way.  Hold their hand as they reach out and offer a bit of themselves to a friends.  I will wipe away the tears if their offer is rejected.  
I have two girls.  Michele has two boys.  We always joke that we want to be in-laws some day.  Lord have mercy on our children.  Friends.  It is one of the best parts of being a woman.  It is one of the hardest parts of being a woman. 

Homegrown Learners

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Time for Greatness is Now

The Huckleberry Hill Project is officially underway! 
This project is a gathering of 8 families who are pursuing project-based learning together.  Each child is to select a project that ties into their passions and talents and will make the world a better place.  By providing time, a location that inspires creativity, and access to experts in the field, we hope to not only mentor the children, but devote time to our own project development as well.
The excitement for this Project is growing.  Over the summer some children came up with their big idea and simply could not wait until the fall to begin.  
Some of their projects include:
  • The creation of CT’s first Children’s Film Festival
  • A music event performed by talented children in which money will be raised to benefit the victims of US Natural Disasters (guess whose project this is.....)
  • The creation of a Cupcake Club in which fresh baked goods will be delivered to local organizations/persons.  The creation of a cookbook based on this Cupcake Club will be created and sold locally with a portion of proceeds going to support wildlife conservation. (and this project belongs to my other lovely child!)
  • The creation of a “green directory” in which locally sources and homemade products will be made available to residents of our county.
  • The completion of a children’s book.
  • The continuation of a 503c Animal Rescue, Lucky Tails which has already taken in 2 foster dogs! (see my button on the sidebar.)
  • A chicken business in which chickens are cared for, eggs collected, washed, package and sold.  A website may be created to educate about the care of backyard chickens.  (no this is not my project.....but I hope to learn a great deal from this amazing 9 year old!)
  • Organic dog biscuits will be made, packaged and sold at local retailers, farms, veterinary offices, pet stores.  Proceeds will benefit local animal rescue organizations.
These individual projects are only part of our Project.  The second half of our days spent together will be focused on a group project....wait for it.....creating a documentary!   The children will teach others how to have healthy habits (with a focus of preventing Type II Diabetes).  We have some amazing people who specialize in film making willing to give us technical guidance.

Among these families, we have 14 creative, talented children who are capable of doing great things if given the time, the freedom and the guidance.  Millstone Farm, a local sustainable farm, agreed to house this project!  We are thrilled.  Having a dedicated location to go to, an office for children, supports the purpose and the seriousness of the Project and the projects that are in development.  Imagine this as your office - with this as your view!

The entire building is wireless.  I imagine children finding a cozy nook on a couch with a lap desk and a laptop working away on their projects.  I envision cell phones being used to call local businesses and venues.  I can hear the hum of the printer as it spits out page after page of a book or cookbook.  I can smell coffee and herbal tea.  I can hear the laughter of children gathering outside to play and watch the pigs pass by.  I can feel my warm cozy slippers on my feet as they shuffle walk along the slate floor.  It is so tangible,  so close to becoming a reality.  

This is why we homeschool.  This is the type of educational experience I dream of providing for my children. I plan to participate in this project fully, not only as an assistant to the founder, Cath at Wholeschoolers but as an active participant with a project.  I would love to host either a pop up store on my blog or open the Etsy shop I have dreamed about with Lilah where we would sell her products as well as my organic beauty products.  Right now I have perfected my calendula infused olive oil, my deodorant, and a vodka-thyme skin care spray.  My dreams are growing as big as my children's.  No longer can I push them aside and hope that I will get to them someday.

The time for great things is now.  

Friday, August 24, 2012

Adding to the bucket list....

Now that I have crossed an item off my bucket list (bookstore hopping in NYC), I am have already replaced it with another NYC dream.  I want to spend a day wandering New York armed with my iPhone and a Metro Card.   I want to spend a day taking iPhone pictures.  

New York is a photographer’s dream.  There is so much inspiration.  From the iron fire escapes to the graffiti, from the fountains and parks to the reflections of glass pane windows, with every step there is something itching to make your finger press the shutter button.  
I want to take this day trip with Kim who has taught me much about photography.  Her Instagram pictures are stunning.  She has even been approached on Instragram to enter into photo contests.  By studying her composition, her use of enlarging and her use of the filters, iPhone photography is becoming a passion of mine.  
Here are some of my favorite pictures of the weekend:

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Merry Wives Of Windsor

Our reason for coming to New York was to see our friend Tristan perform in The Merry Wives of Windsor.  Our study of Shakespeare now includes:
  • a performance of As You Like It
  • two performances of Romeo and Juliet
  • BBC movie adaptation of As You Like It
  • Jim Weiss audio books of Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • a performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor
  • Tour of the Shakespeare Theater currently closed for renovations
  • Lilah is reading a biography of William Shakespeare

We are going to be attending a performance in the park of Macbeth next week so there is much learning that needs to be done before that!  We will be visiting the library for picture books and watching the BBC cartoon series this week.
I really enjoyed Tristan’s performance.  This was the culmination of a 6 week theater workshop.  The actors ranged from novice thespians to those with film credits.  Each was there to hone their craft and fuel their passion.  
The set had no scenery, very little staging and limited costuming.  I did no pre-teaching of the story with the girls.  This was a “test” of how well they were able to comprehend the story line and understand the language.  They did very well.  Grace’s favorite character was the french doctor in love with a much younger Anna Page.  Lilah did not have a favorite but she has a very clear understanding of how the characters were interacting throughout the play.  I was able to answer their questions and since there were approximately 40 seats in the studio, we all had a front row seat.  
Tristan played the part of a boy dressed up as a woodland fairy to tease and torment Sir John Falstaff.  What an amazing experience he had in the company of such eclectic performers.  He did not attend the 6 week workshop but was invited to the rehearsals to learn the role of the fairy/boy.  He is a natural performer and a joy to watch.
I love that my girls and I can discuss the similarities and differences among the plays.  We can compare and contrast productions and venues.  We have our favorite styles, some of us prefer contemporary productions like the Hudson Valley group and others prefer the more organic feel to a group of people just doing what they like.
Shakespeare.  In Manhattan.  With Friends.  
I count myself in nothing else so happy

As in a soul remembering my good friends.
(Richard II) 

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...