Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Where I long to Be

Do you ever have those days where you know you have to get up, get showered and get the day started but every ounce of your being just wants to crawl back into bed, pull the covers up and sleep, for hours, perhaps for the entire day?

I am having one of those mornings.  Curses that it happens to be on my busiest day of the week - Internship day.  The day I spent about 5 hours in the car.  5 hours.  I drive an hour and 15 min to my friends house where Lilah and her daughter spend the day designing and creating a fabulous garment.  I have a quick lunch, engage in a quick conversation that usually is never finished, and then drive Grace about 45 minutes to the university.  I drop her off and drive the 45 min back to my friends house where I have two glorious hours to enjoy a cup of tea, engage in more conversation where I am actually able to complete a sentence and finish a thought, pack us up, and drive the 45 min back to the university to pick up Grace.  From there we drive an hour home.  Today is the day that I love my Prius.  Even though it is 6 years old, it still averages 45 mpg in the winter.

Normally I love this day.  I don't mind the travel.  I enjoy every minute of visiting with my dear friend.  I love viewing the landscape of the windy country roads I travel.  But today it is dark and stormy.  It is windy and raining.  Not a good day for travel.  A perfect day for snuggling up with my cuddly Daphne and reading a book with an endless pot of coffee.  It is a day for baking.  It is a day for pajamas and slippers.  It is a day for self-care, not selfless giving.  

In order to make this day happen it requires three pairs of rain boots to be packed along with a cooler of food, a rolling cart for Grace, a sewing box and box of fabric for Lilah, two computers, and pillow pets for the car ride.  It require a stop at the gas station and today I will choose the full service station.  It requires the service of our dog sitter.  It requires copious amounts of patience.  

For that I have to dig deep.  For like me, my girls must be feeling the draw of their bed.  I tried to rouse Grace at 6:30am and she looked awake, but I fear that was an Oscar Worthy performance.  I know the child went back to bed, where I long to be.  

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Very Late Weekly Wrap up: Week of February 22, 2013

Better late than never...

In Our Home This Week:   This has been a challenging week.  Very little went according to plan due to Greg being home with the flu.  Thankfully he kept his germs to himself and the girls and I (knock on wood) are fine.  However piano, electronics and a get together with friends we have not seen in some time were all cancelled.  This was also school vacation week which meant basketball practice and games were cancelled.  

You would think with all this extra time on our hands we would have accomplished great things, but we did not.  It was a struggle to get through the ordinary routine of daily life.  I think sickness ran smack into winter blues this week.  I almost cried when I discovered we are going to lose some of my favorite plants from the weight of the snow.  My lilac bush is snapped in half and my holly bush may be past saving......

In Our Homeschool This Week:  Lilah finished Life of Fred Edgewood and begins the next book Monday.  Grace finished chapter 3 and is moving into chapter 4.  This is review for her to make sure each mathematical concept is solidified in her brain before moving to higher level math.  Since we do math year round, I have no worries about taking this time and feel confident she will be at pre-algebra for 8th grade.  I let her take the pre-test then she is allowed to skip the pages I feel she has mastery of and she will do pages that I feel are beneficial due to their complexity (like the word problems that require multiple steps to complete).  

We learned about Marco Polo in Story of the World.  I don’t think the pool game will ever be the same again!  Now when they are swimming I hope they are thinking about the Silk Road, his writings and how when he traveled home his own family did not recognize him and cast him out until he proved himself with offerings of jewels and treasures.  

Grace completed her Keynote Presentation on the Blizzard of 2013 and began a new one on tornadoes.  She finished reading chapter 1 of Aquatic Creatures as well.  Lilah skipped ahead to chapter 7 on sharks and made her own lapbook of what the chapter covered.

Grace published a new story to the Notebook Girlz blog and Lilah is close to finishing the story she is working on, about a girl who hates preparing for a piano competition.  We are incorporating the keeping of a writer’s notebook into our workshop.  This week we began by making an alphabetical list of things we can write about when our creativity is blocked.  These pages will take time to finish since the girls are adding doodles and sketches to each letter.  

Where We Are Going and Who We Are Seeing:  We were able to take a trip up to Massachusetts to visit with my Aunt and my cousins.  I am the oldest of 8 cousins on my mother’s side.  Many of my cousins are just beginning their families, or still growing their families.  I am in awe of my cousin and his wife who had us over where we played with five children under the age of 6 for hours.  She cooked us homemade chicken nuggets, homemade french fries and fresh fruit for lunch and never once complained of physical discomfort.  She had her baby, a girl, this morning, 18 hours after we left.  Amazing.  I could never ever have done that with either of my pregnancies.  This visit was the highlight of my week.  


Upper left to lower left:
1) Grace tried a new activity Parkour but decided it was not for her.
2) Grace working away on math.
3) I organized my art cabinet thanks to stacking containers from Target.  This has been on my to-do list for quite some time.
4) Notebook Girlz is up and running!  
5) Lilah spent hours making her own lapbook on sharks.
6) These are just a hand full of trees that are were lost during Sandy.  The sheer amount of trees that are gone is astounding. That picture used to be a forest.

What We Are Reading:  
I just finished First Darling of the Morning and am reading Sparkly Green Earrings.
Lilah just began Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Intersection of Knowledge and Passion

Last October Grace secured herself an internship position at Western Connecticut State University in the Meteorology Department. Typically these are offered to high school students who have a desire to continue their education in science.  After participating in WCSU’s Bridge Program in the spring of 2012, her level of knowledge of weather became apparent to the faculty.  The Tri-State Weather Conference was held at WCSU in October of 2012 and she was one of only a handful of students present.  Before leaving, she approached the Department Heads and asked if it would be possible to obtain an internship as a middle school student given her level of interest, her desire and her knowledge base.  They could see no reason why not, and offered her a spring internship.  Her experience began in the middle of January.

Last spring, there was one day that I recall vividly, when Grace was outraged that not one student in her group had a working knowledge of our country’s geography.  She alone knew all 50 states and their capitals.  This knowledge did not come from memorization or testing.  In no way can I claim responsibility for “teaching” my child this information.  She learned it from watching national weather reports every morning on The Weather Channel.  She learned it from reading daily national weather forecasts on sites such as and  Her outrage was repeated recently during her internship when again this topic came up and her peers could not correctly identify Vermont.  How could these children not identify Vermont?  There was no answer except that they have not been exposed to the information and they have not connected it to their lives.  It led Grace to question their participation in the program.  When it comes to weather, she can be a bit intense...

The Internship is a peer modeling opportunity.  Grace is once again participating in the Bridge Program, but she has been given the task of planning, preparing and presenting lessons for the group.  This is a great deal of responsibility on the shoulders of a 12 year old child.  She has no syllabus, no homework planner, no course outline.  She was given a tote bag full of papers, dvds, software programs, lesson plans and was told to go through it all, a daunting task indeed!

She separated her gifts like notepads, pens and bookmarks from the National Meteorological Society from the course work.  She began a to-do list in her notebook listing the dvds to watch, the lesson plans to review and the programs she must learn like Scratch and how many tutorials are in each lesson.  Then she got to work.

She presented her Director with a plan for the group.  She took the items that are recommended for emergency preparation planning, a bunch of magazines, scissors and glue sticks.  They are going to collage the items that the government recommends each family has on hand at all times.  

In addition to this she was told to create a Powerpoint Presentation of a topic of her choosing.  She choose the recent blizzard and set about breaking the storm down by hours, intensity, and closed with snowfall comparisons around our state.  She credited the sites where she obtained her information and printed a copy for her portfolio.  It looks professional and she is excited to present it.

Greg and I had a conversation about this experience so far.  Grace earned her internship.  Now she must work very hard to keep it.  She has set a bit of a precedent as a middle school student working in this capacity.  She is literally writing her own story.  She will be the child to which others may be compared to.  There is nothing we can do to prepare her for this, other than help her keep organized, and provide her the time to work on this project. 

Greg and I could not think of any other experience we could provide, or that school would provide, that would give her a blank slate and very little guidance; just a theme and a date.  
Talk about life skills.  Bam!  Here they are.  Life is not waiting for opportunities to happen.  This is not about preparing for the future.  This is about being present in this moment.  Making the most of an opportunity, not knowing where it could lead.  This is about gaining confidence in an environment outside the comfort zone.  This is about having a boss, not a teacher or a parent but a boss who will still guide and teach.  

When I look back on the many unique, interesting experiences and opportunities my children have had over the past three years, this one ranks as #1 in terms of ownership.  I did not seek this out for Grace.  I did not use any influence or pull any strings.  In my experiences with work, I have learned that getting ahead in life is often very little about what you know, and mostly about who you know.   How gratifying for Grace that she achieved this position not because of who her parents know, but because of the knowledge she has in her brain and the passion she has in her heart.  

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Notebook Girlz: The Blog!

Notebook Girlz blog is now live!  The girls are very excited about this project.  Sharing writing is something that is personal on so many levels.  It opens up the author to feedback, both positive and negative.  As an adult, I would like to think that I have a pretty thick skin but truth be told, I don’t.  It takes me time to brush off a criticism of something I chose to post on my blog.

These are children who are excited about their original thoughts.  I am getting emails asking for editing assistance, About the Author paragraphs and questions about when posts will go up.  There is a palpable energy surrounding this blog and I hope that it is sustainable.  

I also hope that through the sharing of their words, they find support in the writing/blogging community.  We have talked about authors who participate in writing groups and often they are the first people thanked in the acknowledgements page.  There is an honesty that can be found in a writing group that is unique to most forums, perhaps because good writing comes from the heart.  It has to be handled with care, yet the authors are seeking constructive feedback as well.  I have never had to moderate our group.  They just seem to know how to offer positive comments that offer suggestions.  They understand that the author is free to accept or reject the suggestions offered and that creates a certain freedom where all kinds of ideas from the zany to the spot on are offered.

As this group moves forward I am going to be searching for ways to show them the power of the group to which they belong.   I am working on a few ideas......

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Event Planning

Each one of us has something that makes them shine, that brings out a light of joy that is so bright, it can’t help but be noticed by others.  For Lilah that light shines the brightest when she is planning an event for her friends, like this year’s Valentine’s Day Party.  

It begins with planning.  She plans the old-fashioned way with a notebook and pen.  Her plans are detailed, categorized and researched.  Pinterest is a place she spends time searching for beautiful crafts, delicious desserts and fun activities.  Her findings are recorded and ingredient lists are created.

No detail is overlooked.  Decorations are hand made, rarely purchased.  Hours are spent cutting, gluing, glitterizing and displaying.  Those who are blessed to live with her are the recipients of this beauty that she brings into our home.

Menus are planned and dietary needs of her guests are taken into consideration.  She had vegan offerings, gluten free offerings, chocolate free options and even fruit (embellished with a bit of sugar!)  The food must be displayed beautifully as well, for it is part of the experience and that experience should be beautiful.  Lilah learned that not all that is on Pinterest is at it seems, a very valuable lesson for all of us.  Some of her recipes, like the Jolly Rancher lollipop, did not work and were abandoned in favor of others that did, like the chocolate dipped Glutino oreo cookie covered in sprinkles served on a bamboo stick!  

Activities are well thought out.  The tape ball (another Pinterest find) kept the kids busy for over an hour.  It was fun, challenging and the trading that took place after the game was finished reminded me of pin trading at the DI tournament.  One of her friends held the most wanted eraser and after an impressive stalemate, finally relinquished it in return for six erasers to complete his set!  

In order for this type of event to be successful time must be given to the planning and execution of the plans.  Lilah had the luxury of hours and hours to work on this project.  She went to bed late the night before since she, not I, set up tables, made place cards, organized supplies and prepared the cupcakes.  She woke up early to help clean, make the frosting, prepare the treats and organize the games (she had a minute to win it challenge as well as the tape ball, an epic gum drop tower where Minecraft skills were transferred to gum drops and toothpicks and a heart search).

In no way was this my party.  Grace was Lilah’s sous chef, helping dip the cookies in white chocolate and stuff the raspberries with white chocolate chips.  I helped clean and  made last minute runs to the grocery store for toothpicks and a balloon for the guessing jar.  But when it was time to celebrate, when the guests had all arrived, I was able to sit with my friends off to the side, away from the party and enjoy their company while sipping a hot cup of coffee!  

It was a beautiful event.  It was a display of Lilah’s gifts and talents that was shared with those she loves.  This was her 4th Valentine’s Day party and she is truly growing into a talented event planner.  Well done Lilah!  Well done.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Notebook Girlz

We want our children to have good friends.  Friends that they can laugh with, cry with, enjoy time with, and feel good about themselves with.  It is not about how many friends you have, but the quality and integrity of the friends you choose.  You may not always get along, have the same opinion, or even the same interests, but there is a bond that develops making you want to spend your time together, to open your heart to this person, risking the pain that is inherent in any relationship; when you encounter the moment when you must decide if it is worth the emotional investment to persevere or if self-preservation dictates that you must walk away with your head held high.  

Two weeks ago my little writing group comprised of five girls made the choice to become friends.  I was witness to this very special moment that was so subtle and natural it was barely detectable.  This group of girls, who gather together perhaps because they love to write, or perhaps because their mother made them, collectively flipped a switch which transformed them from just acquaintances who gather once a week to write, to friends.

It began with laughter.  Usually our group is a bit quiet.  They all have ideas and share those freely with one another but rarely did they open up about who they are as girls.  Laughter changed this.  Someone said something witty and thus began a conversation.  As I sat and listened, I knew instinctively not to redirect them back to writing.  This moment was about more than writing.  This moment had the potential to be transformational.  And it was.

Originally our group was to last 8 weeks.  The last week would be this upcoming Friday.   I enjoy this group.  I love being in their company.  Since they don’t want the group to end, especially since they are now friends, we have extended our weekly meetings indefinitely!  They have coined themselves Notebook Girlz and they began a blog to share their writing.  This blog in still in production, and the goal is to have at least one story published this week.  Emails are flying fast and furiously among us, as stories are submitted for editing and revision.  Editing guidelines are being created. Plans for a group photo are being discussed. Sparkly banners are being constructed.  Blog nicknames are being imagined and "about the author" descriptions are being written.  It is all very exciting.   

Friendship is a gift.  Sharing part of your soul with someone is an act that should never be taken lightly.  My girls know this.  They know that some friends come into your life for a reason, some just for a season and some, a select few, will stay with you and become part of you.  The hardest part of growing up is realizing who those friends will be.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Art Journaling: Valentine's Day 2013

We saw a page on Pinterest that looked beautiful and challenging.  The girls and I decided we would try a group page - sewing hearts onto our pages with embroidery floss in celebration of Valentine’s Day.  

Sewing through 140 lb paper is not an easy task.  There were many pierced fingertips and a few rumbles of frustration.  To their credit, the girls did not give up.  They used erasers as thimbles and helped one another unwind the floss.  They shared their fabric scraps and one girl’s idea of adding paint to the page became a spark and soon we had a true mixed media page with fiber, paper, paint and marker. Paper tape became the page border.

The finished pages may look simplistic through the camera lens, but they took about two hours to complete.  I wonder if any of the girls will go back once the paint is dry and add words to their page.  Words about love.  Words about holidays.  Words about Valentines and parties and candy and hearts.  Perhaps a poem?  Or lyrics to a song? 

Or perhaps the page will stand as is, a tribute to a holiday when 7 girls gathered together to share their love of art.  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Anything but typical!

In the midst of a blizzard when all my time and energy is focused on clean up and snow removal, I tend to overlook the positive things that are happening inside the house.  I tend to focus on the fact that no book learning has taken place.  Anxiety creeps in.  But then I stop, and I reflect, and I realize that I am wrong.  In fact, lots of learning has taken place, just not at our desks or at our usual times.

Saturday night Lilah asked if I would like to listen to her read some Fred to me.  I would never ever say no to that offer!  

  • There was puzzle making.

  • There was art journaling.

  • There was reading.
      There was planning and organizing and decorating.

  • There was homework and a piano playing.

  • I read a chapter of history aloud for fun with no expectations of review questions or mapwork!
     There was Little House watching and fire building       (congratulations Lilah on your first fire!).

Schools in our town are closed through Wednesday and other towns have decided to shut down the entire week.  The online forums are ablaze with heated debate over the topic of additional time out of school (schools also lost a week due to Sandy in October).  Reading the hundreds of comments makes me feel physically ill.  Some parents feel that an additional loss of 5 days will make their children lose a competitive edge in the workforce years from now.  Others feel this will negatively impact mastery test performance.  Some feel vacation is just unnecessary and schools should be in session year round.  There are a few lone voices of reason, stating the obvious, that this was an emergency, a natural disaster.  If parents are so worried that their children are falling behind by missing 5 days of school.....they offered the sage wisdom that parents can work with their children on projects and reports and reading and writing at home.  Shocking!  But true.  These anxiety ridden parents could homeschool their kids for a week and it might just be fun.

Thank goodness this debate does not affect me.  I can let Grace free range for days.  She comes in for food and water and it right back out building forts, digging tunnels and snowboarding with her neighborhood friends.  This has been such a gift for her.  Time to see friends she does not get much quality time with lately.  They are out on the hill until dusk when their stomachs rumble and they return home wet, tired, and hungry.  She is happy.  Her work will be there waiting for non-blizzard days, when life is back to "normal" and we are back to our typical routine.  

This week has been anything but typical!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Blizzard of 2013: Reflections

When I was walking out of Stop and Shop Thursday loaded up with gallons of spring water, cans of soup, pasta, and shelf stable soy milk, someone commented that I was taking this storm seriously.  Seriously?  

Have we learned nothing from the past year?  If Irene, the Halloween snowstorm of 2011 and Superstorm Sandy of 2012 did not teach us in the North East that we are not immune to the effects of severe weather, I guess nothing will. 

It is time that we stop relying on public services and prepare our homes and our families for an increased level of self-reliance.  In our current economic climate towns cannot provide us immediate relief no matter what your mill rate is.  Our infrastructure is aging.  Now a power outage is not a matter of hours, but a matter of days or even weeks.  

I don’t want to lose my “power” when we lose electricity.  I don’t want to be captive to town officials to “save” me from Mother Nature.  We used to be a nation of self-reliant people.  Why did we allow ourselves to become so weak? It is time to reclaim our power and prepare ourselves for self-sufficiency for at least a month.  

We have been doing this slowly.  

We are using our wood stove insert more efficiently.  This was a great investment in our home.  We choose a wood burning stove rather than a pellet stove because should the power go out, a wood stove still radiates heat even without a blower.  We purchased a heat induction fan which circulates the air into our dining room and we attached a small fan to our railing banister to help move the warm air up the stairs to the second floor.  We have wood stacked in the driveway and we moved some into the garage to keep it dry, although we have had an issue with termites in our garage so we will not keep the wood there long term.

We have been freezing food.  Not too much because if the electricity is cut, our deep freezer will only last so long, but we have fresh frozen corn and tomatoes.  I used of one of few packages of tomatoes left to make black bean soup this weekend after we spent hours and hours outside shoveling and snow blowing.  It was a little touch of summer in the dead of winter.

We are learning to can food.  Right now we have have canned tomato and salsa.  I bought Greg a pressure canner last year but it is not recommended for use on a glass top stove so we have added an outdoor cooker to our wish list for this summer.  

Now and then when water is on sale, we pick up a few gallons and store them in our basement.  The recommendation is two gallons per person per day, plus more for pets.  Trying to stock up on water the day before a storm when the shelves are empty is stressful and worry some.  We have city water so when we lose electricity we do not lose the ability to flush toilets and wash dishes but should the water treatment facility shut down or become contaminated, I would not want to search for water.  It is a good feeling knowing that we have what we need at any time.

All was quiet this weekend.  The roads were unplowed and we were forced to stay home.  Neighbors were seen outside, talking, laughing, sharing, assisting.  The feeling was positive and jovial.  It was really a great weekend. It was a tremendous amount of work and my body is feeling the effects of all that work but I don’t think of this storm as a hardship.  It taught me many lessons.

Be grateful for your health.
Be generous with your time.
Don’t take your resources for granted.
Be patient.
Be kind.

Storms like we have seen over the course of the last few months can bring out the best and the worst of humanity.   
It us up to you to choose.  

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...