Monday, September 30, 2013


Wednesday was set aside in our schedule as a day to go on field trips, take enrichment classes, visit with friends and travel to see family.   In September we:

In this class the girls learned the physics of flight as well as the mathematics involved in balancing the plane’s weight, determining flying altitude and flight speed vs. ground speed. They learned that angle degrees are used to set direction (N = 360 degrees) and certain degreed regulate if you fly at odd or even altitudes.  

There was hands on collaboration between students to chart a flight pattern using proper instrumentation and record it on a flight log.  Their hypothetical flight was from New London to Brainard Airport in Hartford.  They hand to find landmarks and calculate the distance between each landmark.  They then headed to the flight simulator where they used their maps and flight plans to fly the geographically accurate course on the simulator.  

We closed our day (4.5 hour class) with a tour of the historical planes that are housed in the museum.  History, math, and science, oh my!  *I am thankful my girls did not mind that I was one of only 2 parents who attended this class.  It was a drop off class but I neglected to ask this in advance.  It was too far to drive home and I foolishly brought nothing with me to occupy my time, so I sat in the back of the class and listened in.......

Our Wednesday field trip days will continue into October with some very exciting plans that tie into our history study.....stay tuned!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Where I am now

This is a weird phase for my blogging.  I look back on previous posts that are well written and filled with honest emotion and I can place myself in the very spot in my house where the post was written and remember with perfect clarity the issue/adventure/opportunity I was writing about.  

Lately my posts are a scrapbook of how we are home educating, where we are traveling, and what we are doing as a family.  More often than not, I catch grammatical or spelling errors, or Grace catches them when she is reading my posts and alerts me that I did a sloppy job with my editing.  Editing? What editing?  This is my life right now, unedited.

I am committed to keeping this blog going.  I began it years ago as a way to share our adventures with homeschooling to my family members and turned into a record of our family memories.  I am often asked if the girls will go to high school either at the public school or an arts magnet, or Catholic school.  We are planning to homeschool through high school.  I want to document how we are doing it and how it is a beautiful choice for our family.  I don’t expect everyone to understand it, nor do I ask them to take my hand and step off the ledge and join us for the enormous leap of faith that we are about to take.  However, I do encourage those who may not understand why we are making this choice, or rather, renewing our commitment to it, to ask thoughtful questions, inquire about our plan, and engage in a dialogue about how a child can take control over their own education and set out upon an education experience unlike any they would experience in a brick and mortar high school building.

I have never felt more capable of homeschooling my daughters than I do at this very moment.  Why?  I am not entirely sure.  I have prayed...hard.  I look at my girls and I look at my friend’s children and my own nieces and nephews who are doing very well in school.  They have access to sports, theater, band, orchestra, math teachers, and lab sciences. When I was told that my friend’s son is doing pre-algebra in 6th grade, I would be lying if I did not admit to myself that I had a moment of anxiety and began to compare.  But then I took a deep breath and realized that my 6th grader is also doing pre-algebra.  She writes her own games titled “guess the function” and stumps me every.single.time.  If I were to put her in a traditional classroom with a traditional text titled Pre-Algrebra she would shut down.  Her stomach ache would return almost as quickly as her “I hate math” attitude.  Her self confidence would plummet and we would be back to the place we were years ago.  

I have had many open and honest conversations with the girls about school.  I never want them to look back and feel that I kept them out of school.  I have told Grace that we can visit schools, attend open houses, shadow students for a day, and compare and contrast what schools have to offer vs. what homeschooling offers.  She does not want to go to school.  She does not want to have the hours of homework and try to fit guitar lessons, piano lessons, and gymnastics lessons into the after school hours.  She quite enjoys sleeping until 7:00 or 8:00 on the few days we don’t have an early class, and she enjoys spending quality time with her father when he gets home from work.  

Since I am using her 8th grade as a test run for high school, we are exploring how to increasingly add difficulty and challenges in her work while allowing for an interest led experience.  She is working for an average of 5-6 hours a day, which while at first glance would seem less than a schooled child, keep in mind this is one on one tutoring, not one of 25+ and a teacher.  We are watching documentaries in the evening, listening to audiobooks in the car, reading history aloud, partnering with other families for classes, attending classes outside the homeschool community, reading and discussing the Bible, visiting museums, traveling to New York for concerts and theater, and buckling down for our one true textbook led subject, math.  Our days are full and rich and rewarding.  When my head hits the pillow sleep does not allude me.  I am tired.  Right now, in this moment of our journey, just about every day is a very good day.    I have always said and I continue to hold true to my mantra that we will homeschool for as long as it works.  It is working.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Science on Saturdays

The girls and their friends are participating in a series of classes offered by Yale University.  Saturday they attended a “Science on Saturdays” free family class, which just happened to be on Grace’s favorite topic: natural disasters.  Unfortunately her two favorite disasters are hurricanes and tornadoes.  This lecture focused on the geological disasters, earthquakes and the possible resulting tsunami, and volcanoes.  Not her favorites, but still fascinating.  

There were a few things that struck me about this visit.
#1 - homeschoolers are not immune from competition in academics, sports, music and social activities.  While I hear very little competitive talk among the children, there has been a lot of chatter lately among parents about whose child is involved in music or which sport they excel at or which curriculum their are using to help place into a top tiered college.  It is everywhere... I know.  I had just hoped that we would be a bit removed from it.  It is so phony and dull. 

#2 - My girls are becoming independent teenagers.  They did not need me to find the building where this class was held.  They registered themselves and found the lecture hall.  They participated in the scientific stations that were set up in the atrium and were enthusiastic about the uv light beads that they were given.  Grace is still wearing hers.  

I offered to take the girls to lunch before heading home.  Lilah was not with us and Grace wanted this opportunity to eat at Moe’s, since Lilah is not a fan of Mexican food.  I remember being 13 and 14 and not always wanting to be around my parents.  I offered to sit and read at a separate table so the girls could have time together but they almost seemed offended that I would not sit with them!  I was touched that despite growing up, they still wanted me with them.

It was a great Saturday.  There will be several more opportunities to spend time together in New Haven as the Girls in Science program begins soon and Yale Splash will be held this fall as well.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


I love the flow of our week.  I love the thought and consideration that has gone into every program, class, activity and daily schedule.  Thursday we begin our day with “study hall” at the library.  We meet up with a friend and the girls bring their homework from outside classes.  This year, unlike others, the girls have official work to be done at home.  Grace has music theory homework, and both girls have sign language and bible study work that must be completed.  Every Thursday they have a two hour block of time in which to complete as much as possible.

The weekly visit to the library also ensures that we are checking out, reading and returning books.  I don’t have to “find” time to grab a new audiobook or rush to get to the drop box before I start accruing fines.  It is a little thing, but one less stressor to my week.

After study hall we venture to the beach for lunch.  It is a quick visit, about 20 minutes or so, but it gives us time to relax, soak up some sun, look for sea glass, turn some cartwheels, stretch, and feel alive.  

We then meet up with other friends at sign language class.  I cannot express how grateful I am that a woman I know from church offered to create a class for us.  In  just two weeks my girls have learned a great deal about signing and deaf culture.  They know the alphabet, their sign name, some animals, numbers, days, how to say thank you and a few other words.  It is serendipitous (there is that word again) that two of my sister-in-laws are taking a sign language class at a community college.  Their class is being taught by a deaf professor.  They spent time during their first class watching a documentary, Audism Unveiled.  The girls and I watched it at home on youtube.  It is a fascinating look at the discrimination faced by the deaf community and the struggles many have faced to have communication with family, friends and the hearing population.  It gives insight into the history of scientific advancements, many of which are not really so scientific, nor considered advancements.  It is a worthwhile view whether or not you are learning ASL.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Herb Fairies: Violet Leaf

One of my goals with Herb Fairies is to let the girls explore making organic, holistic self care products using the herbs they are learning about.  Since they range in age from 11-14, this curriculum needs to be modified to keep their interest and challenge them to apply their knowledge in a meaningful way.  If they simply learn about the herb’s healing properties but never incorporate them into their daily lives, then I have missed an opportunity to make this program relevant.

Violet’s healing properties include:
  • treatment of
  • eye disorders
  • constipation
  • skin ailments
  • congestion
  • regulate blood pressure
  • expectorant, cough relief
  • pain killer, anti-inflammatory
  • high in Vitamin C (one dose = 4 oranges)

Two ways to incorporate violet (in our case, dried organic violet leaf purchased from Mountain Rose Herbs) into the girls’ lives is to make violet leaf tea and violet leaf salve.

We steeped for 2 hours and sweetened with honey.

We used a macerated oil by heating organic olive oil and violet leaf in a double boiler for 2 hours.   This infused oil was combined with local beeswax, vitamin E (three capsules), and a few drops of tea tree oil and left to cool in containers which the girls decorated and listed the ingredients.

I hope if they have a scratch, a rash, a cyst, or ache, they use this salve as a remedy.  Now that cold season is fully upon us, this tea will certainly come in handy.  Even though this herb was presented as a spring herb and we were not able to use fresh violet flowers to do some of the fun activities like candying them and decorating cupcakes, this lesson was far more useful and practical.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Peter and the Starcatcher

I am falling further and further behind in my blogging.  Now I understand why there are so few middle school/high school bloggers.....the parents simply don’t have time anymore to keep up with a blog!  I have been posting more of what we do on my Instagram account, so if you are looking for real time updates on what our homeschool days look like, check there first!

Like all weeks, last one was busy.  Our Wednesday field trip day involved another trip into New York and like the previous week, this one also involved a bit of drama.  Lilah was sick.  Normally I am not one to give over the counter medication but she really wanted to go to see Peter and The Star Catcher and I really wanted her to go, so I gave her a dose of Pediacare and off we went.

I have seen many Broadway and off-Broadway plays and musicals.  Some I have  loved, like Miss Saigon, some I thought were okay, like Phantom of the Opera and some I did not care for, like Sweet Charity.  Peter and the Star Catcher is my favorite.   Hands down, favorite.  It made me laugh until I cried and it made me tear up with heartfelt emotion as well.  The connection between the two lead characters was palpable and since this theater is so small, the audience is uniquely drawn into the performance.   

We had not read the book by Dave Barry and Ridley Pierson beforehand and the first scene was a bit hard to follow but we were captivated until the very last scene.  My only wish is that Greg were with us, but since this was a 2:00 show he could not escape from his office.  We were able to meet up with him and make the journey home together.  I do hope that one day we will see this again, the four of us......

Monday, September 16, 2013

Dear America

This year a change happened in our study of history without me even realizing it.  Grace and I were talking about reading and what I could do to encourage her to do more of it.  I know she enjoys historical fiction best.  I asked her if she could read whatever she wanted, and have it count as a lesson, what would it be?  She ran upstairs into the attic where we store our books and returned with several of the Dear America books that she has wanted to read for some time.

Dear America.  Historical Fiction.  US History.  8th Grade.  The pieces just fell into place in my mind but I kept my thoughts to myself.  I asked if she would like to read to me while I knit.  Grace does not like to sit still for very long and because of this reading has always been a challenge.  She likes to read before bed and I always fall asleep trying to listen.  But during the day?  I am all ears.  She began reading So Far From Home: The Diary of Mary Driscoll, An Irish Mill Girl, Lowell, Massachusetts, 1847.  My mother’s family is of Irish descent and is from Lowell.  I know these mills but I don’t know if any of my relatives worked in them. 

As she read, Lilah joined us, curled up on the floor making something out of duct tape while listening.  Grace finished the book in just a few days.  I found a Dear America series of 30 minute movies.  This book was part of the series.  We watched it together and compared it to the book. Of course the story line was condensed and altered to fit into a half hour but despite the obvious changes, I thought it was well done.  

I ordered a DVD, Out of Ireland: The Story of Irish Emigration to America off of Amazon to provide us more information about what life was like in Ireland and how life was drastically different in America.  While at Barnes & Noble, I picked up a copy of Howard Zinn’s A Young People’s History of the United States to supplement her reading.  It contains information on the Irish, the famine and the hardships they encountered here.  I also planned a visit to Quinnipiac University’s new museum dedicated to the Irish Potato Famine.  Hopefully a visit to Lowell and a tour of the mills will take place in October.

We are building a course from the ground up.  I keep checking off hours in our binder and write down what we are doing.  Grace’s goal is to read a book for every state.  All this was for Massachusetts, and one small part of Massachusetts’ history.  As we continue with other books the learning will intertwine and overlap, just like it does in our Book of Centuries.    The learning that has unfolded from one Dear America book has been rich and rewarding and deep.  It is led by Grace’s interest and put together by her research assistant/mother/teacher.  

Her next book selection is My Face To The Wind, The Diary of Sarah Jane Price, A Prairie Teacher: Broken Bow, Nebraska 1881

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Beach Night

Mother Nature has been playing some tricks on us lately.  This week she sent us hot, humid weather.  The kind of weather that takes your breath away, wears you down, and makes you feel like you are walking through mud.  

What better time for a beach night?  A night to gather together with friends and enjoy the ocean breeze that makes it just a little bit easier to breath.  A time to see friends before our schedules scatter us in different directions across the state.  A night to count our blessings and appreciate our friendships.  

I love these nights.  I will miss them when Mother Nature showers us with falling leaves and blankets us with snow.   

Friday, September 13, 2013

World Peace Orchestra, 134 Young Musicians, One Mission

I joined this amazing discount ticket site, Goldstar  which offers us great opportunities to discover the arts in New York in ways that I either would never have heard of, or, not been able to afford.

One of these opportunities was to see the World Peace Orchestra perform at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.  This is an orchestra made up of 134 young musicians from 50 countries.  Most played instruments you would expect to see at an orchestra, like the violin, flute, drums and clarinet.  But others played lesser known instruments native to their culture, like the salamuri panduri and the kirar, angling, and dombira.

It was another one of those moments where learning intertwines with life when I discovered that one of the pieces played would be a montage of songs by Leonard Bernstein from West Side Story.  How serendipitous that we saw this musical a few months ago.

Getting to this event was not easy however.  What should have been a 90 minute train ride, turned into a ride twice as long when our train was stuck on the tracks for over an hour while we waited for a disabled train and wire damage to be cleared.  I have a daughter that does not love taking trains and this caused her great anxiety.  Fortunately we had water, and the each had their iTouch to watch movies and/or play games to pass the time.  Thankfully, we were able to meet up with Greg at Grand Central Station and have enough time to grab dinner at one of our favorite restaurants across the street from the terminal.

When we arrived at Lincoln Center we discovered it to be a hub of activity since New York Fashion Week was holding an event there as well.  The runway show for Badgley Mischka was talking place.  These events are invite only and walking into the show were very tall, very thin, very stylish young women.  I wanted to get inside my daughter’s head and see what they were thinking about it all.  I have one daughter who likes fashion and another who could care less about it.  Since Greg works in the fashion industry, though not on the creative side, I am careful to keep a balance between the creative artistic side of fashion, and the frivolity of it all.

Our concert began at 8pm and was introduced by actor Kevin Spacey.  It was an experience I am glad we had.  Grace connected with the music, the young musicians, and the theme that music transcends the issues that divide us.  The theme of the night was unity and celebration and peace.

Unfortunately our night was cut short which was very disappointing to Grace.  I wished that we drove into Manhattan for this event, not only because of our stressful ride in, but because we were tied to the train schedule for the ride home.  Trains only run once an hour after 10:30pm.  There were three pieces left in the concert at 10:00 and the transitions between songs took several minutes.  There was no way we would catch the 10:30 train if we stayed, and I was at a loss as to what to do.  Leave and disappoint one daughter (Lilah was very ready to go), or stay and get home at 1:00am?  Greg’s alarm goes off at 4:45.  We chose to leave early and we were able to catch the 10:30 train home.  I wish we could have stayed so that Grace could have listened to the last song, the World Peace Orchestra anthem.  I am trying to find it for her.

I am grateful for the opportunities we have due to our proximity to New York.  My girls have grown up in New York from stroller riding toddlers, to subway surfing children and now to concert going, play attending preteens and teens.  I hope they look back on this experience and overlook the frustrations of the night and focus on the beauty of the dresses, the warmth of the night, and the unity of the music that brought us there in the first place.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Every now and then I scan Pinterest for creative educational ideas for middle school.  Every now and then I stumble upon pure brilliance.  Like this:

I don’t want to give my girls a list of words to look up and memorize.  I want them to find joy in words and be able to do more than simply memorize and recite them or use them in a sentence to score a grade on a vocabulary test.  My goal is to make these words part of their daily vocabulary.  

Last year we began a vocabulary journal using the personification method.  The words come Word Smart, published by the Princeton Review.   

Here is a peek into Lilah’s journal:

*I am aware that there are spelling and grammatical errors in her journal.  We have addressed this and her  journal entries for 2013-2014 are error free!

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...