Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Quilt

Once upon a time there was a little 7 year old girl who loved to sew.  Sew, sew, sew.  During this time she made a quilt top with our neighbor who was giving her sewing lessons.  She chose the fabric, rich golds, greens and yellow the color of turmeric.  Stunning and very mature.  She cut out six inch squares and sewed them together.  She was very proud of her work.  Then, like most little seven year olds, she grew up a little and discovered that she loved to bake.  Bake, bake, bake. The sewing machine was put on a shelf.  Her ten year old self loved to craft.  Craft, craft, craft.  The sewing machine was taken out now and again.  Her ten year old self made a table runner and napkins for Easter dinner, then put the machine back on its shelf.  Her eleven year old self took the machine out to make fabric hair bows, then put it back on its shelf.

Lilah registered for sewing class at our new coop.  Her teacher (a fellow mom) has 30 years of sewing experience.  I emailed her and asked if she would be willing to help Lilah finish the quilt that has been sitting neatly folded in the top drawer of my dresser for three years.  Lilah decided on a plain white backing, cotton batting and a rich green grosgrain ribbon for the edging.  Simple and beautiful.  

Her first sewing class was spent pinning each square to the cotton batting and the fabric backing.  She cut the edges and began to quilt!  Her machine sang.  It must have been so happy to be off its shelf, in a room filled with creative energy, and used by the girl who once loved her so.  Her plan is to have her quilt lay upon her bed, which may happen, if I don’t get to it first!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Layered Learning

A few weeks ago my father had posted on his Facebook account about a woman named Irena Sendler who was passed over for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize when it was awarded to Al Gore for his work on climate change.  After spending time learning about this amazing woman, I am baffled that someone who saved the lives of 2,000 Jewish children would be passed over in favor of someone who made a movie about climate change when many in the scientific community do not feel there is sufficient evidence to prove this theory and data was falsified by those pushing for its acceptance.  2,000 human lives vs. a movie.  I guess I should not be surprised since this is the same culture that places crazy penalties for destroying an eagle egg but places no value on a  human embryo or fetus.  Search bacteria on Mars as proof of life, and link after link will come up verifying that yes bacteria = life, but here on Earth, a fertilized egg is not considered life.  Nope.  No harm in destroying that.  Our priorities are clearly not where they should be.....

PBS made a documentary titled Irena Sendler: In The Name of Their Mothers.  It is available on Amazon for $12.00.  I ordered it and to be honest, it sat on my tv stand unopened for about two weeks until sickness hit our home and it seemed like the perfect time to watch it.

About half way through, Dr. Janusz Korczak was mentioned.  He was a Polish doctor who established an orphanage in 1912 and during the German occupation in 1939 moved his orphanage into the ghetto and turned down many offers to be smuggled out because he would not leave his children.  He did assist in the efforts to smuggle many children out, partnering with Irena and her network of volunteers.  On August 5, 1942 Dr. Korczak and 200 of his orphans and staff members were sent to Treblinka, where they were put to death.    

At this point Lilah asked us to pause the documentary and she ran to get our book club book, a book I did not select, a book recommended to me by my friend, a book I have never read, called Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli.  A book that happens to be about the Warsaw ghetto and a group of orphan Jewish boys trying to survive.  Coincidence? No way.  She flipped open the books and leafed through the pages until she found the character, Dr. Korczak.   Coincidence?  No way.  She is a bit ahead of Grace and I.  We have not yet met him in the story.  I do know that they boys were in a graveyard and spotted an angel statue.  Dr. Korczak will be featured in the capacity of the boys “angel”.  

Not too long ago, I was standing in the New Britain Museum of American Art looking at a Maurice Sendak exhibit blown away by his connection to Theresienstadt concentration camp, which we had learned about from the book Hannah’s Suitcase, with goosebumps running up and down my arms.  This was a similar experience.  Not planned.  Entirely coincidental, but yet not coincidental at all.  Some people call these rabbit holes.  You enter and you never know what you may find, but I have never once used this term. I don’t believe in “rabbit holes”.  I think that true education is interwoven as tightly as a piece of fabric.  It overlaps and one piece of knowledge is directly related to another, to another and to another.  Pull one string and it all unravels.  You may never get to the end.  Every question just leads to another question.  There is no chapter summary with this kind of learning.  

When this book club has met and we have moved on to our next read, I will sit down and create a web of where this study has taken us, from the very beginning, with Hannah’s Suitcase, a simple audiobook I choose primarily because it was non-fiction and it was short.  We have drawn connections to the Irish Potato famine, to Maurice Sendak, to Jerry Spinelli, Irena Sendler, to Number the Stars, to Sound of Music, to Quinnipiac University and most amazingly to our own family.

I have a relative on my fathers side that was involved in the Russian occupation of Poland in the 1800s, Jan "John" Francis Kokernak 1852-1948.

Jan was studying to become a priest but left the seminary to follow his hearts desire to help liberate his homeland.  When he was 16 he was actively participating in the resistance, was captured and sentenced to six months in a Warsaw dungeon.  Upon his release he went back to the resistance and was recaptured, tortured and sent to a work camp in Siberia for three years.  En route to Siberia he escaped and traveled back home to Poland. In 1863 he survived the Battle of Cyk, in which many of his companions died.  His family was forced to leave their homeland or face death at the hands of the Russian forces.  He and his wife Josephine split their children up, evacuated and emigrated to the United States and settled in Massachusetts.  My relative returned to Poland after WWII and showed the Polish government where war heroes were buried.  Those bodies were exhumed and given a full military burial and had a monument erected in their honor.  Sounds like a movie, but it is reality, and begs us to ask ourselves the question “What would we do?”  

Would we be brave enough?
Would we have enough conviction?
Would we risk our family to save another?
Would we say yes?
Would we walk away?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Winter in Connecticut

Snow.  We have had our share of it.  I keep reminding myself that this is winter in Connecticut.  This is normal, if not always welcome.  

For Grace the snow is a blessing.  Her friends who live in the neighborhood get a snow day and this has given her the opportunity to spend hours and hours on the hill with them.  Being out in the elements is good for her soul.  

The snow has not always been kind to us.  Lilah’s 5th Annual Valentine’s Day Party saw half the number of people we were expecting because towns to the north of us got several inches of snow the night before.  It was still a beautiful time thanks to the thoughtful organizing and planning of Lilah.  This is her day.  Planning events that bring joy to others is good for her soul.

And then there is Jake.  He loves the snow.  Every single flake.  It brings out his inner puppy.  Catching snow balls is good for his soul.  

And me?  Well, I just cross my fingers that the snow falls on a day that Greg is home so I can get some much needed help cleaning the sidewalks and entryways.  A snow day with my best friend is very, very good for my soul.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Soundwaters Week #3 Learning in Action

photo from Wikipedia

This week I was reminded of Bloom’s Taxonomy, a term I don’t use often anymore, but was quite familiar with when I was teaching.  I don’t focus much on the lower end of the scale, the labeling, matching, identifying and rewriting.  I expect that the girls are going to get these steps on their own through our reading, our conversation, through their classes and their investigations.  However, I get very excited when I see things happening that fall on the opposite end of the spectrum: invent, create, plan, construct, critique...

This class was about #5, or synthesis.  They used their prior knowledge to begin construction of a new salt water tank.  I was not in class with them (I never am) but because the frigid weather kept me inside I was able to stand silently on the sidelines and take some pictures. The girls told me that they used “live sand” or sand with bacteria in it that mimics the bacteria of the ocean sand.  The bacteria multiply and help maintain a healthy tank balance.  They had to make salt water, using tap water and salt that matches the salinity of Long Island Sound 22-23ppt.  Gallon after gallon was dumped into the tank.  The filter was attached, dechlorination chemicals added and artificial plant life added.

Now they wait.  They do not have class next week so the tank will have two weeks to sit and filter and settle.  

Then they select what marine life they want to add.

On an unrelated note: the blue lobster molted!

Thursday, February 13, 2014


I have this notion that homeschooling is about filling your mind up with really great things. It’s not about how many text books you complete or which curriculum you are using.  There are many ways to fill your mind, as long as you choose to fill it with great things.  

I am having a hard time explaining this to my girls.  This stage of “in between” is a tough one.  They are in between childhood and adulthood and  there is no road map for this mama to use as a guide.  

Lilah is capable of reading all the books that are making headlines now.  However, she is still just eleven years old.  She wanted to read Fault in Our Starts.  I pre-read it and felt that some of the relationship content was too much for an eleven year old.  There is great buzz about Divergent so I read that too and felt that the scenes of violence were just too much for someone so young to take in and process, same with Hunger Games.  Does this make me an overprotective mom?  I really don’t know.  I know that this is a popular genre and she wants to be a part of the dialogue that takes place when these books come up.  She is a reader at heart.  She is also a visual, creative, emotionally sensitive girl.  

I offered her Uglies, and we’ll see if she likes that. In the meantime, she has picked up the book club book that we will meet to discuss at the end of the month, Jerry Spinelli’s Milkweed.  I did not choose this book.  It was recommended by my friend, whose son is in the book club and has read every book I was thinking of for our first meeting.  In fact, he has listened to this book but was willing to re-read it because he said it was that good.  How fortuitous that it happens to be about WWII and the Nazi occupation of Warsaw, Poland.  How perfect that we already have an understanding of this horrible time in history.  How interesting that the girls have a deceased relative who took part in the resistance.  

To help build a total understanding of this book I am making a story board. Nothing too fancy, just a place to elaborate on some of the concepts in the book that are new to us, like the term jackboots and that it is not simply the boot but also the symbol for totalitarianism.  I put up the map of Poland to illustrate where the country is in relation to Germany and a bit of the history of the occupation. I have had a very mature discussion of the many meanings of the word ghetto with Lilah.  We are just six chapters in and I look forward to this daily reading time together with my girls.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Where are you going to high school?

Grace must get asked at least once a week where she is going for high school.  Will she go to the public high school or one of the many private or Catholic schools?  To be fair, most of the people who ask do not know we are homeschooling.  She is tall, taller than me (and I'm 5'8"), and has played basketball for the past six years for our town’s recreation department.  She is very good.  People assume she is going to play basketball for a high school team somewhere.  They are quite perplexed when she tells them she is not going to high school.

She is not going to high school.

Telling someone you are planning to homeschooling high school garners a much different reaction from people than telling them you are going to homeschool elementary school.  The stakes are higher, I guess.  What if I screw it up?  What if the kids don’t go to college?  What if they can’t compete in the global marketplace? What about prom?  What about sports? What about socialization? What about graduation?  There are so many moments associated with our high school experience that seem implausible to miss out on.  

How do I as a mother and as their primary educator give them opportunities to experience some of the rites of passage that teens should have when they are not in a traditional educational system?  I have three choices: create opportunities, expand on existing opportunities, or seek out opportunities.

Create Opportunities:

Friday Writing Group: This has become more like a little one day coop held in our home.  I have posted extensively about this, but my plan is to continue to hold writing group, Herb Fairies and Mapping the World with Art through the end of the year when hopefully both curricula will be complete.  We may have to work in some extra sessions to complete the mapwork.....  

Book Club: Our first meeting with take place the end of the month at a local university bookstore.  Our group of 7 teens will be reading and discussing Jerry Spinelli’s Milkweed.  This was easy to create.  I just sent an invitation to several of my friends with teens Grace’s age.  We are going to hold it at the bookstore since there is a cafe there and coffee and books just go hand in hand....

Teen Group Outings:  Several moms have been meeting over the past few months to talk about what our kids would like to do, learn and experience during “high school”.  We meet at my house, share coffee and conversation.  We have come up with a great list of seasonal ideas that include pizza and movies, pool parties, sailing excursions, museum outings and beach days.  Our next step is to create a calendar of events.

Expand Existing Opportunities

Volunteering: If something is working it makes sense to start there and make it more.  For example, Grace set a goal last summer of volunteering 100 hours.  We are not pursuing the President’s Award for this because I did not follow protocol to get her hours approved, but if she reached this goal and wants to match or exceed it next year, we could seek out an advisor.  Right now she has over 40 hours.  

Piano: She loves to perform and seeks out events which will allow her to share her love of the piano with others.  She has been playing at church here and there for over a year.  A few months ago we approached our church’s Music Director (whom we know outside of church as well) about giving Grace piano lessons, since his style of playing at church (chords) was new to Grace.  They work together weekly on the songs that the youth choir sings at their monthly family mass.  They are also working of the hymns sung throughout mass.  Last week Grace performed the entrance hymn, the offering hymn and the communion hymn while the Music Director enjoyed a weekend off.  This was her first time playing without him present.  She was not only responsible for the piano but also the choir and making sure they knew what to do and when to do it.  She loved this opportunity and hopes to play more of the mass as she learns it.  

Performing at Family Mass last Sunday

Seek out opportunities:
Classes: I had to find a teacher for sign language to fulfill our foreign language requirement.  Not that we have state requirements, per se, but I do want to make sure I am providing the girls with an equivalent to what students in high school receive and those students that would like to attend college need a foreign language.  I am no longer shy about asking people I know or meet if they will offer their expertise. 

Thankfully others are not shy either.  Our SoundWaters class was not offered until a mom presented them with the idea of designing middle school level programming just for homeschoolers.  We pay for these classes and some, like sign language, we can factor into our planning for the 36 week “school year” (even though we learn year round) while others like the SoundWaters class, can pop up on the yahoo group and really can not be planned for in advance.  I have become quite adept at scheduling in order to create room in our week to incorporate late additions.  Thankfully most of the people in our lives are super flexible and accommodating to my requests!

Coop: We were supposed to have our first coop meeting this week, but the snow delayed the start for a week.  This coop is new to us and we do not know anyone who attends.  It is an hour away and will take up an entire day of our week.  However, the classes offered are mostly for children age 12 and up and they are not held all in one building.  Depending on the child’s schedule, they will get themselves from place to place throughout the day.  I love the independence this fosters and know that this is something that Grace needs in her life.  Her classes include guitar, journaling, social studies and even dodgeball.  This is a large coop with over 80 children, mostly teens!  Who says homeschoolers don’t “socialize”?

Self-Directed Learning Center: Grace recently became part of a very exciting program that is happening in New Haven.  It is a tuition based center where teens gather and learn about what interests them.  She attends for six hours a week and takes classes throughout the day. Her classes are computer programming, aquaponics, history/current events, and business 101.  The center finds tutors to teach these classes.  Some tutors travel in from New York City, others come from the Yale community which neighbors this learning center.  

working with a friend on an aquaponics project involving plants and tilapia
Sports Opportunities: Homeschoolers cannot participate on their local high school sports teams in Connecticut.  Grace set a goal to be a part of a swim team next year.  She loves to swim and her frame is perfect for the sport.  She can’t swim on the high school team, but she is working with her sign language teacher (who also happens to be the high school swim team coach) to evaluate her skills and work on stamina.  She was told she could join any YMCA or private club team now, but she wants to be able to swim the required laps with ease.  She is searching apps similar to Couch to 5K but for swimming and is looking forward to joining an endurance swim club at the YMCA once basketball ends.  You don’t need a high school to participate in a team sport.

working towards a goal

Community Opportunities:  I am always on the lookout for things to do.  When my homeopath offers a workshop through my pediatrician’s office, I bring Grace with me.  I love sharing this time with her and she gets an hour’s worth of science credit!  We have attended author talks at the library, free Shakespeare in the park, bird walks, attended theater presentations thanks to discount ticket sites, attended classes at local museums, attended concerts, and more.  I grab every local publication of what’s happening in CT, like sites on Facebook, read local newspapers to find out what is taking place.  I also have amazing family members who pass me information that they think the girls would like.  

Anyone who reads my blog knows that we do not approach homeschooling as schooling-at-home.  I still hate to call it schooling.  We learn.  Everywhere.  Every day.   Without school.  But for the sake of convenience, we say we are homeschooling high school.  When I get apprehensive about the enormity of it, I break it down into its simplicity.  With good record keeping (my 8th grade binder) and vigilant searching for great opportunities, having a “high school” experience in the world rather than in a classroom is very exciting.  I am so glad I took this year as a planning year to try things, keep credit hours, make booklists, journal, reflect and prepare for the next 4 years.  

Monday, February 3, 2014


I recently read Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts.  It was one of those books that kept popping up here and there on my radar. Over my lifetime I have probably read thousands of books.  Some I remember, some I forget, and every now and then one changes my life in some tangible way.  

I found this book, or should I say, it found me, just when I needed it the most.  Homeschooling this winter has been tough.  We have had moments of sheer brilliance, but also a few tears (mostly mine) and we needed to figure things out and shift our focus and create a new path.  Parenting this winter has been tough.  My children are my joy and my life’s work and parenting an 11 and 13 year old is much different than parenting a 7 and 9 year old.  We had to figure some things out.  My relationship with my church has been strained this winter (really since the fall) due to religious education decisions that were made that I am not in agreement with and left me wondering the future of our little church by the sea.  All this left me in a state of disequilibrium, my balance was off, and I knew I needed to find a way to set it right.

One Thousand Gifts is more than just keeping a list of 1,000 blessings or gratitudes, or gifts.  It is about giving thanks to God for each and every one of those gifts.  If we incorporate Eucharisteo, being thankful for everything we have, into our every waking moment, then we are actually living in a state of Grace.  It’s hard.  But then it becomes easier.  One gift becomes two, which becomes three, and then you realize you are into the 100s, and still going.  

I carry my journal with me always and I try to sit with my journal once a day, but sometimes I don’t and I am okay with that.  I take it with me and when the girls are off in their classes and I have uninterrupted quiet time I take it out and I start writing.  With a pen.  Not on the computer, not on my phone, but on a piece of paper with a pen.  It is slower, gentler, kinder.  I love it.  I have not kept a paper journal in years and I had forgotten the joy of hearing the sound of a pen connecting with the fibers of the paper.  A paper journal seems more permanent to me.  A blog can be erased with a server malfunction.  A word processing document can be deleted by human error or computer malfunction.  The delete key wipes out thoughts and words as if they never occurred, which is not so easy to do in a journal.  

I was very inspired by a mother I follow on Instagram who spends time each and every morning with her Bible, her journal, and her coffee.  She fills her journal with words from the Bible and posts her daily copy work on Instagram.  One day I asked her what her routine was.  I like a routine, a to-do list, a set of directions.  She replied back that the Holy Spirit guides her and by listening, she finds what her soul is seeking every day.  I was using my Bible App on my phone to find Bible passages that matched up with my gifts that day.  She encouraged me to take out my Bible book, connect with the written word on the page, not the computer or phone screen, and let God lead the way.  So now, when I am done with my gifts, I randomly open the Bible and read until I find something that resonates with me, something that connects the words on the Bible page to the words on my page, and then I write.  I copy the scriptures word for word.  When I copy them, I remember them.  I may not remember them well enough to quote them verbatim, but when I get hung up in a little moment of anxiety in my day, I can recall Matthew’s words in 6:25, reminding me that life is more than food and more than clothing.  How by worrying will I add a single day to my life?  Then my worry, my anxiety does not seem like such a big deal, and perhaps I can then find the Eucharisteo in that moment rather than dwell on the hardship.

Eucharisteo.  A word I never knew before.  I word found in a book that I am so grateful I read.

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...