Saturday, March 30, 2013

Our Week in Pictures

I spent the week working on a gift for a special Baptism.  Greg and I are going to be Godparents!

Grace and I did some garden planning..... Our next step is to measure our property to scale.

We read 4 chapters of SOTW this week.  We are pushing to finish this book soon!  Replacing our usual map work with Color Yourself Smart Geography.  Love it!

Lilah wrote the author of the Life of Fred books a letter!  It will be interesting to see if she gets a reply.

The girls helped to inventory paint at an art studio in preparation for a huge art festival!  They volunteered 2 hours of their time to help others.

We are very into documentaries lately.  I really enjoyed these, especially Walking on Water.

After a trip to the doctor, the sickness in my house seems to be waining.  This week was spent mostly at home cooking and baking.  

Homegrown Learners

Friday, March 29, 2013

Teachable Moments

While in Tennessee I also reflected if I wanted to keep blogging.  Usually I blog on the road.  I love writing down my feelings real time, as opposed to sorting through pictures of what we did and trying to recapture the excitement days later.  This trip however, I had no desire.  I could have left my computer at home and saved myself the little bit of cargo space.

I feel like my blog has become a photo album of our family, rather than an online journal, which is okay, it is just a change.  Recently I read through many of my old journals, some paper journals, others made on the computer but printed out and kept safe in three ring binders.  My writing is very honest.  It came from the heart of who I am.  It was not censored by the nagging realization that people will read it.  I just wrote for me.  I wrote so that my daughters would understand how hard it is to raise children and work.  Or how much I enjoyed those days of walks around my neighborhood pushing a stroller while holding a dog leash.  Or how devastating 9/11 was from my perspective, a young mother at home watching a city under attack.  A city where my mother and brother were trapped.  All these things and many many more are in the thousands of pages of my journals that sit in my closet.  Yesterday Grace asked if she could read them.  I am not sure she is ready to read them.  I told her I have to ponder that one.  I always envisioned them reading my words when they were about to enter the stage of life I was at when I wrote them.

I have considered removing comments like other bloggers have done which may allow me to write more for me, and help push the editing part of my brain to the side.  I have posts about gun control, my recent NRA class, and my commentary about some local news issues in my feed still labeled draft because I feel that if I publish them suddenly I am thrusting myself out into the area of public discourse and it is much safer to remain a homeschool/family blogger.  But there is a whole side of my writing and my life experience that is left unsaid.  

So I still struggle with what to write and the perception I have that the quality of my writing on this space has diminished over the years.  I would like to get back to the place I was at when I first started blogging, when emotions were raw and my accounts were uncensored because I did not give a care who was reading my blog.  I looked into journaling apps that would allow me to write on the laptop and still have the option of publishing my journal into a private book for my family.  I found many but none that I liked as much as blogger.  I considered just going back to a word processing format and a binder but I do love how my blog books look.  Basically I had not come to a conclusion about the future of this blog.

Over the weekend I opened up my blog gmail account and found the most beautiful email from a complete stranger who has recently made the decision to homeschool her two children.  She shared with me the fears and questions she has about withdrawing her children from public school and I was immediately taken back to that time in my life just a little over three years ago.  I have always maintained that families who withdraw their children from school (especially when they have been in school several years) have a dramatically different homeschooling experience than those families who have never sent their children to school.  There are more steps to overcome, more fears to face, more adjustments to allow for.  We all seem to have many of the same similarities in the stages we journey through.  

This email helped to put my blog in perspective.  This blog is not an account of my entire life.  I don’t want to share my entire life on the Internet.  I do want to share how this experience of homeschooling our children has transformed our lives in ways we never could have imagined.  There are families suffering through the same things we were with public education.  Our choice no longer seems radical, or strange or scary or even different.  There are as many children homeschooling now as there are enrolled in charter schools.  I keep forgetting that we are not the norm, we are still viewed as a fringe educational group.  I’ll take being on the fringe, in a sub set of the American demographic to live this lifestyle.  

Right now it is 8:15.  Lilah went to bed with a painful sore throat.  I do not have to wonder if she will stay home sick today.  I don’t have to wake her up to find out.  I don’t have to rush to catch a bus, or worry about a tardy slip.  I don’t have to worry about her going to the school nurse and being sent back to her classroom because she does not have a fever.  I don’t have to worry about her wanting to be home where her mom can make her warm soup and hold her when she feels bad.  I don’t have to worry about make up work and missed tests.  

Teachable Moments was conceived as a blog to share educational information with a public school audience.  I kept the name because it so fitted our transformation to a homeschooling family.  I keep the name because throughout my life there are little teachable moments that help me realize the path I am on it meant for me alone.  It may be similar to someone else’s but it can’t be exactly the same.  The same is said for this blog.  Love it or hate it, it is mine and I can share exactly what I want, when I want and while I hope it meets a receptive audience, it is not my guiding factor when I write.  Not every post I write will be published.  Many will live on in my word processing log, where I can print it out and share with my family if and when I choose.  

I never thought one week away could be so transformational.  The reflection and conversation I had with myself and my husband is not only necessary, it is enlightening.  Consciously deciding to make your life better is so powerful.  Our week was the epitome of a teachable moment.

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Decision

In my self reflection-vacation-mode of the past few weeks I came to another decision I have been struggling to make lately.  For some time I have debated dropping my role as 5th grade Religious Education Teacher at my church, a role I have had for 5 years.  

Can we realistically do everything we want to and do it well?  Of course not.  Something has to give.  I cannot be the sole person responsible for the health, nutrition, home care, pet care, laundry, cleaning, education of my children and spiritual education of other people’s children.  I looked at what in my life I can let go.  I can give up some of the home care, the pet care and the nutrition responsibilities by asking the girls to do more. They have been helping more with the laundry, with the dishes, and with the animals.  It helps so much.  Girls....I know you are reading this.  Thank you.

I decided to let go of religious ed.  After 5 years, I felt perhaps it was time for another parent to volunteer their time and energy to the program.  I always joke that I am the worst teacher ever because I am not that well versed in scripture.  I don’t know the answers to all the questions children can ask.  I rarely prepare for class.  I teach my class much the same way we homeschool....I let the children lead the way.  

So just as I was about to give my notice, I realized that every time we walk out of class Lilah tells me that she had a great class.  I smile back at her and I realize that I too, had a great time in class.  It is such a hassle to get to class for 8:45 on a Sunday morning when I would much rather snuggle in bed, or enjoy a hot cup of coffee with a bowl of granola while reading the Sunday paper.  Those things are pushed aside until May when our program goes on summer break.  We get up, get dressed and I grab my basket of things, half the time wondering what I am going to do with them.  

Then something magical happens.  These kids lead the way.  They come up with interesting projects to accompany every sacrament we study.  For Baptism they dressed up, took pictures and through PowerPoint, created a presentation about what they felt were the key points a new parent should know before presenting their child for baptism.  We printed the copies, bound them, and presented them to the Sister who runs the program.

For Reconciliation they created a board game.  They designed the concept that the players would choose chance cards.  If the message was positive such as “you raked your Grandparent’s yard without being asked” they move ahead.  If they get a negative card such as “you saw someone call your classmate a mean name and you didn’t do anything” you move to a space with a cross.  The player then has the opportunity to go to confession, recite the Act of Contrition, and move back to the space instructed.  They wrote the chance cards, and practiced the game before playing it with the 2nd grade class who was preparing for their Reconciliation.  

For Confirmation they created booklets to give to the 8th grade class with beautifully illustrated pictures of the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit. 

These are some of the amazing things that have happened with no planning on my part.  My goal has always been that if the children enjoy coming, I have succeeded.  When I realized that I enjoy it as much as they do, despite the bickering to get out of the house, I knew that my time to leave is not now.  I love sitting in church and seeing kids I taught 4 and 5 years ago.  It gives me a real sense of community.  One woman I know just retired from her 1st grade position after 30 years. I doubt I will be teaching this class 25 years from now.....but I am not going to make assumptions or predictions.  I am just going to do what I feel called to do right now.  One year at a time.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Step One...

I am a firm believe that God gives us signs that help guide us through life.  We have the choice to listen to him, or ignore him and carry on in our own way.  It is not often that Greg and I both see the same signs pointing us in the same direction at the same time.  

I felt an overwhelming sense of content in Tennessee.  It has been a long time since the 4 of us had quality time together away from the responsibilities that come with our “normal” weekend.  Our normal weekend includes a yoga class, food shopping at three different stores, a run to the dry cleaner, religious education, church, family dinner and cleaning the house.  I am certainly not complaining, but our lives seem to be so rushed that time together is a luxury we just don’t have right now.  

In Chattanooga we met a shopkeeper who owned a book store / yarn store / odds and ends store.  We had an interesting discussion about religion, she being a southern Baptist and we being Roman Catholics from the Northeast.....she told us many stories about her family but closed with one about her brother in law.  As she told it, he is afraid to die because he is “going to hell” (her words...not mine!).  Why?  Because he “worships money”.  Hmmmm....... This came right after we saw Mary Poppins.  The stage performance contains a sub-plot about the father’s journey to the realization that his family needs him as much as his job needs him.  When he realizes that decisions made from the heart usually lead to joy at home as well as in the workplace, he finds a degree of personal fulfillment he never experienced before.  

Are we worshipping money?  No.  We don’t.  We don’t own a large house.  We don’t drive fancy cars or take elaborate vacations.  But we do realize that with Greg’s position comes 70+ hour work weeks, travel, and occasionally work on the weekends.  His job allows me to stay home with the girls.  However, this trip made us realize there are things we can do to help find a balance so that when he is home we are focused more on our family.  

We have begun to really pull our house together in a way that makes a meaningful difference for the quality of our lives at home.  This weekend Greg and I worked together to begin a serious spring deep cleaning.  We got rid of unnecessary furniture.  We put a free sign on a coffee table that has been moved from room to room, never finding its place, and within an hour someone took it.  We Goodwilled 6 Trader Joe’s bags filled with books and clothes.  We threw out things which were broken and used up in a way they could not be repurposed or given away.  We decluttered bookshelves, found a home for my camera and camera bags that always seem to be underfoot and opened up our three season porch.

That was just the first of many projects we will be doing in the next few weeks.  It was fun to work together while the girls enjoyed time at the park playing tennis with their friend.  

I know I felt lighter in Tennessee because my in law's house is open, airy, well lit, and uncluttered.  Granted, they do not have children living in the house and they do not homeschool!   I know if I can open my house up, let light in, keep only what I love and use, and seriously reduce our household inventory, I will feel lighter and freer to enjoy the time we have at home together.  

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Young Musicians Festival

For the past few months, Grace has been preparing to participate in a local Young Musicians Festival that was held at Fairfield University.  It is a non-competitive experience where young musicians play two pieces from memory in front of a panel of experts who do not “judge”, but rather offer a critique on the playing and rate the musician.  

Grace entered as an intermediate player.  I have listened to Grace play every day for years.  The songs she works on become part of our family’s day to day life because we hear them over and over again.  In a way, her playing is how we do composer studies, since she prefers classical pieces over popular ones.  We have heard Bach, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky to name a few of the great composers. 

Having never participated in something like this, we had no expectations.  Taking vacation the week before was not ideal because it limited her ability to practice.  My mother in law contacted her friend and neighbor who is a pianist and owns a lovely Yamaha baby grand piano.  Since she was in rehab recuperating from knee replacement surgery, she graciously gave my mother in law the key to her house.  Another example of southern hospitality.  Who lets strangers into their house?  Even if they are family of friends...... I am very grateful to both these ladies who helped Grace accomplish her goal of playing to the best of her ability.

Not having immediate access to a piano may have been a blessing in disguise.  It kept the focus off the performance and on her joy of playing.  I told her she was doing this because she wanted to, not because her teacher or I was forcing her to.  If she played well, I would be proud of her and if she did not play well, I would still be proud of her.  

Sunday came and we arrived to campus 30 min early to find our assigned room.  It is was a full concert size Steinway grand piano....Grace’s dream instrument.  She played and played and played.  She had a good 20 minutes of private practice time before the other musicians began to arrive and being their warm ups.  

It was interesting for me to observe the other parents in the room.  Homeschooling has given me a different perspective on our children and how I view their accomplishments.  Their accomplishments, their failures, their efforts and their results are theirs, not mine.  I may offer them the ability to realize these things.  I shuttle them back and forth from activities.  I provide copious amounts of time for things like baking clubs, service projects and weather internships.  I pay for lessons.  But I am not the one who is calling local organizations asking to delivery freshly made baked goods.  I am not the one who is creating projects and presenting them to a class of middle school children.  I am more certainly not the one whose fingers are striking the black and ivory keys.  When parents looked over at me and said “great job”, I could not say thank you.......all I could say was that she did her best.  It was not my great was hers.  Don’t say it to me, say it to her.

There was one boy in particular that stood out in Grace’s group.  He was 11 and clearly had a gift.  It showed Grace the difference between a talent (which she has) and a gift which is given from God.  He could have performed a full length concert and I would have hung on every note.  His body channeled the energy of that piano from his head to his toes.  After the session, I went up to him and told him it was a pleasure for me to listen to him play.  Then his mother and I chatted for a bit about this experience and how in awe of our children we are, for both of us never would have put ourselves out there like that at their age.

There was another boy in her group who was also talented.  We listened to him warm up.  On his second piece, he made a mistake and froze.  He never regained his composure and struggled through the rest of the song.  But he finished.  He did not stop.  He did not quit.  I clapped just as loudly for him, as I did for Grace and for the 11 year old boy who played so well.  But his mother did not.  She buried her head in her hands, shaking from side to side, clearly embarrassed by his performance.  She would not look at her own son.  I channelled every bit of energy I had to that boy.  Be proud.  Be strong.  Have courage.  My heart broke for him as I wondered what unkind words she would say in private if that was how she behaved in public.

Like this boy, Grace too had a moment where she lost focus and made a mistake.  There was a momentary look of panic on her face and she glanced over at me, sitting in the back row, where she ordered me to sit.  I looked her in the eye, made an exaggerated movement of breathing and whispered “keep going”.  Part of me wondered what would have happened if that boy's mother had offered her son even the tiniest bit of support and encouragement. 

In the car on the way home, I told her that part of growing up is learning to keep going.  Not everything is perfect.  We cannot achieve perfection.  We can only play the best we can on that day.  The honor comes from how to keep our composure in adversity and how we persevere.  

I could not have been more proud.  For the family that wanted to come and see her perform, here is the unedited video of her performance.  She will get her critique in 3 weeks.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Seven Cool Homeschoolers Debut

The girls have been invited to join a youtube channel called 7 Cool Homeschoolers.  We  don’t use youtube to its full advantage.  We use it to find obscure educational videos like animated Shakespeare videos put out by the BBC and we watch The History Teachers’ amazing videos that bring our history to life, but there is a world out there on youtube that I never knew existed.  

Friends of ours, Theresa’s daughters, have been fans of the site Seven Super Girls and her youngest daughter Piper envisioned a channel about seven super homeschool girls.  Grace and Lilah were invited to join.  Piper posts the weekly topic and the girls work to create a video in their own style that will be uploaded to the channel on a specific day.  

My girls are not cinematographers.  It never has been their thing.  Grace has always had her weather studies and Lilah, her baking club.  This is Piper’s thing, and to support her vision and project, my girls wanted to give this a try.  
It is not exaggerating to say that their learning curve is steep.  Like 90 degree angle steep!  They have never ever used iMovie to edit.  The have no real experience in filming, in fact this was their first time using my DSLR Cannon.  They do not know how to cut clips of video, merge them, and add transitions.  Unfortunately neither do I, therefore we relied heavily on youtube tutorials to figure these things out!  

We quickly realized that the iPad app of iMovie will not be sufficient to do the cool special effect the other girls are doing, like adding sound effects, speeding up and slowing down the video speed and adding background music.  Since they began this weeks video on the iPad, they finished it out on the iPad.  For this first video they both:

  • created a vision of what their introduction would be about.
  • used the Cannon DSLR camera to record video.
  • upload the video to the iPad.
  • upload the video to iMovie.
  • created a project.
  • Learned to edit the video.
  • Learned to add transitions.
  • Linked Lilah’s video to Grace’s video so that the final product is one video containing both girls introductions.

Whew.  There were some tears of frustration. This did not come easily.  But they did it, mostly without help from me.  All I did was help them find the appropriate tutorial for what they wanted to do.  

I am interested to see where this project takes them.  Will it lead to a new interest?  Will they progress from a basic edit to adding more effects?  Will they seek out the expertise of their cousin who is proficient in both iMovie and Final Cut Pro?  We’ll see...... 

Lilah’s project, LCC, would not be as amazing as it is without the help of her two friends.  In order for then to come, their mother’s have some major coordinating to do between sibling’s sports, 1 hour drives and logistics of carpooling.  I appreciate all they do to allow their children to be a part of LCC.  I feel that I can pay it forward by supporting Piper’s project.  There is something magical about the birth of a project.  That moment when an idea comes to fruition is to be treasured.  No matter what the outcome is, the courage to reach out to friends and ask them to become part of something that is her baby, is to be applauded.  How many of us have dreams and grand plans that live only in our minds?  This 10 year old has turned her dream into a reality.

Check it out @ SevenCoolHomeschoolers! 

Apple Valley Trail Ride

Our last activity in Tennessee was horseback riding.  We returned to the place where we first went years and years ago.  The stable sits at the foothills to the Smokey Mountains.    The trails run through a valley which is blanketed with wildflowers in the summer.  Horseback riding in early spring is lovely.  You don’t have to worry about horseflies the size of small birds, or ticks in the branches you brush up against.  You can see far up the hills and watch the red tail hawks circling.  The water is crystal clear and cold when it splashes against your legs.

This was by far my favorite trail ride ever.  Last time we visited this location the girls were about 5 and 7 so our ride was shorter and we did not trot.  I think trotting was a first for Greg!  We easily could have ridden for another hour.  Maybe next time we visit we will explore that possibility.  

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

TN Aquarium / River Gorge Ride

Before we left Chattanooga, we visited the TN Aquarium.  As far as aquariums go, it was fine.  It has two separate buildings, one for oceanic life and one for river life.  The oceanic building had the most amazing butterfly greenhouse I have ever been to....and the price was included in the admission!  Watching the butterflies flit and flutter about made me long for summer......... 

Our second favorite exhibit was in the river life building.  One giant tank was devoted to River Monsters!  It was not affiliated with the show that we love, but it housed many of the same species of fish that have been featured on the show such as the South American arapaima and fresh water rays.  

After we learned about the types of species found in the Tennessee River, we headed out on their River Gorge Catamaran boat tour.  I loved it.  We have never visited Tennessee before the leaves cover much of the landscape.  The hills were bare allowing us to really see the rock formation, the skytop residences and the boulders precariously balanced on the mountainside.  We learned about the history of this river gorge, the system of dams that dissect the river into segments and the history of the peoples who traveled this river long before the dams were created.  

I wish I had realized to dress warmer.  The extended forecast called for temperatures in the 70s but those temperatures never quite materialized.  The wind whips around on the upper deck of the catamaran and our guide had on hiking boots, a wool hat, mittens and a parka.  Due to our lack of proper planning, our ride was spent underneath in the protected and heated cabin. was worth it.  If I lived close by, I would love to do this ride each season to see the gorge in the glory of summer, bedazzled by fall colors in autumn and blanketed in snow in winter.  

Walnut Street Bridge

We walked the Walnut Street Bridge, the oldest non-military highway bridge that is 100% dedicated to pedestrians!  There is so much to say about the history of this bridge but it is much easier to click here and read it!

 From the bridge you can view the Hunter Museum of Art (which sadly, we did not have time to visit) and a crazy zig-zag sidewalk.  Across the river there are eclectic boutiques, art galleries and a beautiful riverfront park to visit.  

Gorgeous views and gorgeous weather make for a very relaxing day.  It felt good to breath in some fresh air and get a bit of exercise, even if it was just a leisurely stroll.  I think the best part of this entire week were the moments like this, just the four of us enjoying something ordinary, that is actually quite extraordinary.  It has been a long time since we have been somewhere just the four of us....with no family, no friends, no obligations like tournaments and pre-planned activities.  We were totally free to do what we wanted, when we wanted.  Like the sun that shone down upon us as we crossed this bridge, that realization felt very, very good.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Rock City

Rock City on Lookout Mountain, GA had some spectacular views.  It helped that we visited on a warm crystal clear day.  This trip was not quite what I expected... but in hindsight, I did very little research so I only have my imagination on which to base my assumptions.  I told the girls we were going to a cool park where they could climb rocks.   

When I was a child growing up in Massachusetts, my parents took my brother, sister and me to a place called Purgatory Chasm State Reservation, which in fact, is an awesome park where you can climb the huge rocks created from glacial melting at the end of the Ice Age Period.  Rock City has the same types of boulders and chasms but the visitors are kept confined to the trail as it winds through the park property.  It was cool, but I could tell the girls really wanted to jump the rope boundary and climb until their heart’s were content.

All in all, it was a lovely walk and we made some lovely family memories!

Did you notice how tall Grace is?  Oh just hit me looking at this picture!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Glass Ornaments

For years Greg has wanted to visit Chattanooga.  We keep hoping that one of these trips we will be able to hook up with Karen at Homeschool Girls but it was Kei’s performance week and sadly they could not drive up.  Next time hopefully!

Like Knoxville, Chattanooga is a smallish city where many things are within walking distance from the downtown hotels.  We stayed in the new LEED Certified Hampton Inn.  It was beautiful and comfortable.  Hampton Inn is one of our favorite chains and we consistently receive excellent service and clean accommodations for a reasonable price.  

Our first adventure was to visit a glass blower at iGNiS for a lesson and a glass blowing experience.  We were able to choose the shape of our ornament (smooth or grooved), the base color and if any secondary colors would be used.  The professional glass blowing artist began the process by extracting the glass from the 2,000 degree oven.  He shaped it into an sphere thus beginning the shape.  He dipped it into the crushed class to give it its first color.  Then we were able to join in by turning the ornament in the oven until he deemed it satisfactory.  It was then dipped into a second color and returned to the oven where we turned it for about 2 more minutes.  The glass was then taken out and brought to a metal table where it was blown with a big puff of air by the glass blower.  He quickly shaped it and then gave us a mouthpiece which he attached to the hollow pole containing the glass sphere at the end.  Holding air in your cheeks, you puff it out slowly and consistently per his directions.  When it is the proper size you stop!  The glass is broken off the pole and the ornament is finished by adding a clear dollop of glass which is expertly shaped into the hanger.  The glass ornament is carefully placed into a cooling box for at least 12 hours.  The pieces can be shipped or picked up the following day.

Greg made an ornament with orange and white, the colors of the University of Tennessee, that he gave to his parents as a thank you gift for their hospitality.  I made a salmon colored smooth ornament. Lilah choose a grooved ornament in confetti colors and Grace layered two stunning shades of blue.  Lilah was able to obtain grooves by placing her unblown glass into a metal mold.  It cools just enough to hold the grooves yet still be blown into the spherical shape.

This was something I will never forget.  I hope if we ever return this studio is still there so we can make another.  They are too pretty to put out only at Christmas time.  I have plans for these beauties to hang in my kitchen window.

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...