Thursday, October 31, 2013


As families get older and children somehow turn into adults, it can be hard to hold on to traditions.  There are 9 children on Greg’s side of the family.  Two have not lived in our area for a few years now and we miss them dearly.  Two are now in college and one is living at boarding school. My girls are the youngest cousins.  

It has been a long time since all the “children” have been together.  This weekend seven of the nine kids gathered together for our annual pumpkin carving festival.  Watching my girls handle steak knives still makes me a bit nervous, but they did a great job.    They cut, and scooped, and carved.  They laughed, and danced, and played.  And then when the night was over, they displayed.  

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Kindness....pass it on.

LCC (Lilah’s Cupcake Club) was the project that Lilah poured her heart and soul into last year.  Once or twice a month she would get together with two friends and bake, and bake and bake.  Usually vegan.  Always gluten free.  The girls would decide an local organization to be the recipient of their baked goods.  

This year Lilah's focus has shifted to her Etsy shop, LAcrafters, but she has not forgotten about LCC, and thankfully her two friends have not either!  

It just so happened that our next door neighbors, an elderly couple who are like surrogate great-grandparents to my girls, was having a hard day.  They needed assistance and had to push pride aside in order to get the help they needed.  What better pick me up for this dear couple, than a homemade, still warm, cupcake, made with love by three girls?  The girls hoped their gift of yumminess would brighten their day.

You can’t really teach children kindness.  You can demonstrate it in your everyday life and hope that they pick up on it.  We have countless opportunities for acts of kindness from day to day, or from hour to hour.  It may be a large act, like dedicating a few hours out of your day to help someone in need or it may be something as small as letting a person with fewer groceries go ahead of you in the checkout line.  It may be holding the door open for someone, or simply sharing a smile.  

These girls are kind.  They just ooze kindness.  Being part of this shared project gives them time to share their friendship, their interests, their talents and bring joy not only to each other, but to people they have never met.  Lilah’s friends may not realize that a special delivery of homemade cupcakes brought someone such joy.  In this small act of kindness, they very well may have changed the course of someone’s day.

That is powerful.  Kindness.  Pass it on....

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mapping the World with Art

Karen @ Homeschool Girls recommended Mapping the World with Art to us.  Grace has a natural interest in geography and she expressed interest in doing more mapwork.  I was given Mapping the World by Heart which is a very different program and focuses more on mapping from memory.  It has sat unopened for a year because I find it a bit overwhelming and not very user friendly.  

I adore Mapping the World with Art.  It is a beautiful blend of art, cartography, geography and history.  It is not a sole history curriculum, but it complements everything we have learned in Story of the World.  I recommend it as a supplement to any history program.  

Every Friday we work on a lesson with the girls who come for writing group.  I schedule 90 minutes for each lesson, even though some of the videos are as short as 3 minutes.  We watch the video once without our pencils to get a feel for what we will be doing.  Then we watch the video a second time, following along with the teacher as she draws her map and gives tidbits about the geography or the history or little visual clues that help you remember what the country looks like.

After we draw the maps, we add some color.  Each girl has a unique approach to how she adds details to her map.  Some block countries in bold colors.  Others add just a hint of color along the bodies of water and land.  This time is recorded under ART in Grace’s 8th grade binder.  We were looking for a change since most of our hours accumulated from art journaling and the girls wanted a new artistic pursuit for the fall.  This is a full year course if you do one lesson a week.  I am not sure if I will remove the hours from art and give her a credit for completion of the course, rather than count the hours towards her art credit.  This remains to be seen.

When we are complete each girl will have a portfolio of their work.  I am using large very heavy cardstock paper.  Each week we hold punch the map and add it chronologically and tie off with yarn.  When all 30 maps are complete, I will bind the pages together.  In an upcoming lesson we will work on constructing a cover to this portfolio, a beautiful 16 point compass rose, which will incorporate math, art, and cartography.  I adore this multidiscipline approach to education, where the lines are blurred and the lessons overlap.  

Recently, while creating a map of the Holy Land of the Crusaders, my girls began talking about the CNN Student News reports on Syria.  They wanted to know where Syria was in relation to Israel and Lebanon.  Since this was not part of the map we were creating, we pulled out the atlas and added on to our map.  We had a great discussion about the Syrian refugees now living in tent camps in Lebanon and a woman we know who immigrated to the US from Lebanon and has family members living very close to the Syrian border.  The girls noticed that Syria has not been part of any recent CNN reporting.  I told them that news is only reported on until something “bigger” comes along, which was the debt ceiling issue.  That took priority.  The story is still there.  The suffering and conflict is still present.  Just because one station is no longer reporting it, there is much information to be found through other sources.  I guess I could have filed this lesson under Current Events.........

**This is not an affiliate post.  I was not given this program to review.  This is 100% my own opinion!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Reset Button

Some days just suck.  They just do.  No matter if you are working, or working at home, if you are in school, or if you homeschool.  Sucky days pop up now and then.  If you give in to the downward spiral it can literally feel like quicksand pulling you further and further away from peace and tranquility into a state of distress.

One thing I have learned is to not get pulled under.  Even though Greg is not here physically during the daylight hours of each weekday, he has made a commitment to be the best father he can in absentia.  If I need him, I text him and 99% of the time he is able to adjust what he is doing at work to help me.  He has such a nurturing way with the girls that I have coined him my “reset button”.  He will call from work, talk with the girls, talk with me and help us to work through whatever crisis we are experiencing.  He pulls us up and out of the quicksand.  

Homeschooling Dads don’t often get credit for what they do behind the scenes.  In most families the educational responsibilities do seem to fall primarily on the mother and my hat goes off to those truly exceptional single homeschooling parents who do this on their own in addition to balancing work and household responsibilities.  I am in awe of them every day.  Greg has a vital role in our homeschool, even if he is not the parent who is doing the teaching, coordinating the schedule, driving to activities, and counting credit hours.  I try every day to be the best mother I can be and some days I do a better job than others.  On those days where I fall short, he is there to support me and step in and help me.

Every now and then I have to share my heartfelt appreciation for my partner, my husband and my best friend.  Today was one of those days where he was our reset button and we were able to take a really suckish day and turn it around.  

Saturday, October 19, 2013


Many states and many many colleges and universities recognize American Sign Language (ASL) as a foreign language. 

I do not know anyone who came out of high school, or even college, fluent in a second language unless they already had exposure to that language at home.  Despite taking two years of French in middle school, a few years of Spanish in high school and three years of Italian in college, I cannot speak any language other than English.  I do not come from a multilingual family, and found that while I could understand the languages, it took a very long time for me to formulate the words in my head.  By the time I knew what I wanted to say, I was already too far behind in the conversation.  This led to anxiety.  I skipped the oral part of my Italian final my senior year in college.  I could not stand in front of my class for 6 minutes speaking in Italian with no note cards.  I would rather take a zero and risk my GPA than have that experience.  I explained this to my professor and while this did impact my grade, thankfully it did not decimate my grade.  

In order to meet college entry requirements, it is typical that three consecutive years of a foreign language must be studied.   ASL meets this requirement in most states and is acceptable for entry to many colleges, including Ivy League Universities such as Yale.  ASL meets the needs of my tactile learner, and I just happen to know a ASL instructor who agreed to teach my girls, as well as two of their friends every week at her house!

Our class began in September and will continue all year.  After just 6 weeks of lessons, I am simply amazed at how much they are learning.  Not only have they learned the finger alphabet, they have learned many signs for colors, household objects, animals, counting, money, and how to link the signs together to express thoughts. They can sign simple sentences like "I ate eggs and toast today".  In addition to the language of signing, they are being taught about deaf culture.  We have watched two excellent documentaries:

Sound and Fury (streaming on Netflix)

We have finger alphabet signs hanging in our kitchen and both bathrooms.  The girls quiz each other in the car or on the train and do their homework during our library study hall time.  They have a friend who is fluent in ASL and practice with her. 

This has been a wonderful introduction to a beautiful language.  My hope is that their teacher will continue on past May, but should life lead us in different directions, I am grateful that we have several locations where the girls can continue lessons.  However, they will not be as cozy and inviting as learning in a house with the support and encouragement of their friends.  

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Project Based Learning: LAcrafters

Lilah naturally gravitates to project based learning.  If left undisturbed, she would be found in the back room, which once was an art/writing studio, and is now her workshop.  You would find her at her table, surrounded by duct tape, ribbons, bows, yarn, scissors, glue guns, exacto knifes, blades, her iPod playing her favorite songs, with a dog curled up at her feet.

If left undisturbed she would be there for hours.  And hours.  And hours.  

Over the summer I decided to turn over the control of my empty Etsy shop to Lilah.  She and her friend list items they have made.  So far she has made three sales.  Building a business is a slow process, especially one with a small niche market.  This project is teaching her patience and perseverance.  

Over the past few months she has learned how to incorporate social media as a form of marketing.  Her Instagram account, LAcrafters, has 550+ followers.  We allowed this account to be public.  With this decision came the understanding that I would closely monitor it.  This has been her first experience with internet negativity.  There have been a few weird interesting comments.  Some people want her products for free.  Others seem to create confusion to make it seem like they placed an order when in fact they did not.  Unlike other young crafters, Lilah does not sell over Instagram.  She does not have a kik account nor does she give our her personal email.  She only accepts credit card payments over Etsy (or personal orders from people we know).  This eliminates any confusion over orders, tax, shipping, pricing, etc.  There was also one instance when a commenter was downright nasty.  Because I can access her account on my phone, I was able to step in immediately and leave a comment that the Instagram account can remain public so long as commenters agree to leave positive, respectful, profanity free thoughts on it.  It is a place to support one another’s creative pursuits, not belittle or criticize them.  I constantly check in with Lilah to make sure she is not evaluating her success or failure by the number of “likes” she receives.  We also engage in many conversations about the Internet and how people use it to manipulate others and hurt others.  So far this has been a very positive experience for her and with the explosion of the use of social media for marketing purposes, this is real life learning.

It will be very interesting to see where this project takes her.  We are looking at craft fairs for this holiday season and she is going to be designing business cards to leave at local stores.  Aside of the business acumen she is developing (like record keeping, shipping charges, profit/loss calculations, responsibility to adhere to shipping commitments, packaging, advertising, professionalism, and product offering assortments) and polishing her skills in photography, videography and sewing, she is pursuing something that brings her joy.  

Last year was all about cupcakes and her project LCC (Lilah’s Cupcake Club), which is still in existence, just not meeting as regularly.  This year it is all about LAcrafters.  With holiday shopping season beginning, I hope that she is able to maintain her enthusiasm for this project and make some sales to grow her supply budget.  Her Etsy site is HERE!


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Another Saturday Spent at Yale

Sometimes homeschooling parents wonder how well their children would do if/when they attend school or college.  Will the be prepared?  Will be adjust to a classroom and a lecture style of learning?  

I had a little glimpse this weekend into the world of “school” and it left me both upset and reassured.  Yale University is offering a series of 4 physics classes for middle school girls.  My girls registered and I took them and their two friends to New Haven for the day.  I was quite surprised at the number of children who registered for this free event.  I am guessing at least 100.  They were broken up into 4 groups and the groups were paired up for some of the lessons.  

After some finagling, I was able to get the younger girls in the same group with their sisters.  For some reason, they were separated, off in groups alone.  It was not due to age, and Lilah was very concerned about navigating a group this size, in a strange location, on her own.  It was not until I handed in their name tags and told the coordinator that they would not be attending the class that they agreed to place them with their sisters in the same group.  

I brought some work and since my friend was staying on campus, I joined her for a bit.  We listened to the girls in class clearly enjoying the lessons that were being presented.  They had a 15 minute snack break and a 45 minute lunch.  The rest of the time (4 hours) was spend on activities that brought the concept of physics of the invisible world (protons, neutrons, atoms, etc) to life.  

When Grace attends a class, she is there to learn.  She has very little patience for distractions and other students who misbehave and fool around.  She is horrified that kids would text while teachers are presenting and talking makes her lose her focus.  I have always told her to “use her words” and just ask someone to stop doing something that is inappropriate.  

The one and only time she has felt brave enough to “use her words” it backfired.  She did ask a girl to please stop talking so she could hear.  Rather than stop, or apologize, this girl laughed and looked at her friends and said sarcastically “did she just tell me to stop?”   (No you silly little girl.  She asked you to stop.)  Then this girl used every opportunity to mock and irritate Grace and her friends.  Grace is blessed with very good friends and they quickly realized that this was not right and asked for an adult to intervene.  However the girl’s seat was not changed and the behavior did not stop. 

I did email the director of this program over the weekend to bring this to her attention.  I labeled it bullying.  I asked for more adults to be dispersed in the lecture rooms so that behavior can be monitored and children who are there to learn, can do so in a respectful environment.  All you ever hear about is a zero tolerance policy for bullying but over and over again this policy fails the victims of bullying.  I am waiting for a reply.

However, this did not crush Grace.  She was not in tears.  She was angry and upset, but not defeated.  As we exited the building, all four of the girls exclaimed how grateful they were that they did not have to deal with this on a day to day basis.  I cannot imagine how difficult and unsafe and unhealthy it must be for those children who do.  

We are raising our children in an age of disrespect and I have no idea how to help them navigate.  Drivers speed through red lights but people are afraid to even beep for fear of road rage retaliation.  Teachers have to put up with students texting in class.  Heck, kids like the ones who trashed the house of an ex-NFL player have parents who defend their behavior and worry about how any punishment will affect their college applications!  We are living in a time when no one says “I’m sorry.” and people justify or rationalize bad behavior away.  It scared me.  It is no wonder that when Grace asked for someone to stop behaving a certain way she was not met with an apology or even a simple  acknowledgment but rather with hostility and spite.  

I am thankful for her friends who supported her and helped her.  I am thankful that I have a daughter who has grace and confidence and maturity.  I am just so sad she had to experience this when she thought she would be going to a Saturday class, a voluntary class, where she mistakenly assumed students in attendance would actually be there to learn.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

History: Ireland's Great Hunger Museum

History Update: Love it! Having Grace design our program for this year has been such a great experience. Her first book was So Far From Home: The Diary of Mary Driscoll, An Irish Mill Girl, Lowell, Massachusetts, 1847. To supplement her reading, we completed the DVD, Out of Ireland, which I highly recommend.

We used our field trip day to head to Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum which is part of Quinnipiac University, located in Hamden, Connecticut. I have driven by this museum many times never noticing it before, but now that I have been, I am having a hard time forgetting the haunting works of art that it contains. Something that struck me is that pain and suffering are universal. These pieces could have been found at a holocaust museum or even one dedicated to our own country’s struggle with poverty and hunger (on a much smaller scale).

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...