Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The flu

Last week Grace was struck by the flu.  It put her out of commission for an entire week.  It is very hard to keep one child on a schedule when the other child is sick in bed watching videos.  While Grace rested, Lilah took full advantage of her week to pursue her interests.

She began a letter writing project.  She made a list of her favorite products  and wrote letters to the manufacturers in support of their product.  So far letters have been sent to Duct Tape, EOS, a toy manufacturer in Singapore, and Hasbro.  Duct Tape wrote a lovely personal letter back to Lilah and included stickers of Trusty Duck, their mascot.  We are hopeful the other companies will write back as well.  

Her letters were formatted, edited and accompanied by a beautiful envelop.  She was proud of her work.  

She took time to try a new cupcake recipe.  She modified her icing recipe, a recipe that she created, and she tried her hand at piping melted chocolate.  

I took some time for myself and attended Lee Binz’s webinar on homeschooling high school and read a few of her coffee break eBooks.   I have been updating Grace’s 8th Grade Binder and have begun to write course descriptions.  Where did this year go?  I feel like I was just on my couch reading how to create a binder and now I am working on adding finishing touches to a very productive 8th grade year.  

I am glad I took this year to research high school, plan for it, test it out, see what it takes to state equivalency.  I don’t want my girls to be handed a diploma without earning it.  I want them to feel the satisfaction of knowing that they graduated with the same credit load, if not more than their peers, even if their education will look nothing like a traditional education.

I am glad Grace did not have to “miss” a week of school.  She was able to give her body the rest and care it needed to heal.  Lilah was able to take advantage of her time to dig into projects that she loves.  While I did have a little freak about about watching so much tv, I apologized, recovered and moved on.  A little marathon of 19 Kids and Counting won’t harm anyone.  

Monday, April 28, 2014

Giving Back

I have a wall decal that reads “Give yourself back to the world each day.”  It is a daily reminder that we have an obligation to share our time, our talents, our good fortune and our presence with others in some way, every day.  

The evening before Easter Sunday was the perfect time for us to visit the shelter and serve.  Together with my two sister-in-laws, and our friends, we served homemade coleslaw, homemade macaroni and cheese, corn bread, sloppy joes and dessert to about thirty residents.    

The third grade religious education class at church colored bookmarks that were given away with each meal.  

This is one of our favorite ways to give a bit of ourselves back to our local community.  It is in giving, that you truly receive.  

Friday, April 18, 2014

Plastic Paradise

We alone cannot save the world.  Sometimes it feels completely and totally overwhelming thinking that we must at least try.  How does one family or one person make a noticeable difference in solving problems that seem insurmountable, like the the amount of plastic floating in our oceans, collecting into a mass that has been labeled “Garbage Island”?

We first came to know Garbage Island two years ago when Lilah was participating in Destination Imagination (DI).  Her team project was to raise awareness of the shark finning industry in the effort to bring outrage and activism against it.  They spent countless hours researching the ocean, the marine life and the horrors of shark finning.  They held a movie screening of Sharkwater and because of this, one family we know made the decision to become vegetarian.  Through their research, they not only learned about sharks, but the plight of the sea turtle and the marine birds that feed off the ocean and its inhabitants.  One Pacific Northwest study of bird’s stomach cavities showed that 92% of birds injested plastic, often in large amounts.  The birds eat it, the fish eat it, and ultimately, we eat it.

This week we attended a screening of Plastic Paradise which examines these issues, in addition to the rise of the plastic industry, and the use of BPA.  We left with a renewed commitment to not use plastic bags when we shop and to use our glass water bottles more often.  

Watching these documentaries is educational and enlightening, but also frightening.  What is supposed to be an empowering movement for children to “change the world” often leaves them feeling powerless and very small.  My girls had a bit of a freak out over BPA, even though I reassured them that I am vigilant against allowing any plastics into our home and the few plastic items that we have do not contain BPA.  

I have come to the realization that it is virtually impossible in a typical family to live 100% clean.  Eating 100% organic is a challenge at best.  Living plastic free is an attainable goal, provided you introduce new habits and procedures into your home.  But what about toothbrushes and hair ties and summer flip flops and shampoo bottles?  Yes you could buy bamboo toothbrushes, but right now because I am involved with orthodonture treatment, I am averaging one toothbrush per week.  On Amazon a 4 pack of bamboo tooth brushes range from $12 to $20. While we use hardly any plastic, we are not plastic-free.

We can continue to do small things in our home.  We can use reusable shopping bags.  We can shop more at local markets when they are in season.  We can not pack our produce in separate plastic bags, because really, we are washing it anyway!  We can recycle, as much as our town allows.  But there are other things that we cannot change due to life’s circumstances.  Our family relies on water bottles, the big 2 gallon Poland Spring jugs.  Our town’s water is heavily chlorinated and even with a Brita or a similar filtering system, it just does not taste right.  Until we can install a full home filter, we do rely on the Poland Springs bottles, which we pour into glass water bottles and recycle when empty.  I confirmed on Poland Springs website and others that they do not use BPA in any container that is less than 3 gallons.  Shame on them for continuing to use it in the larger water cooler bottles......

I told my girls not to get anxious.  The four of us cannot solve Garbage Island.  We have to trust that the experts are working on ways to solve this problem.  Perhaps they will one day work in that field and they will put their talents, intelligence and creativity to work solving a large problem.  We can do small things with intention.  We can be aware and reflect that as consumers.  We vote with our dollars.  Our one small change may inspire someone else’s one small change and those small changes add up.  

At the movie screenings Q&A session held by a homeschooled 12 year old girl, I mentioned that over the past few years there has been an explosion of offerings that are “organic”.  Even Kraft is now offering organic mac-n-cheese.  I “” organic because I have a deep mistrust of big food getting into the organic labeling business.  On a side note, I trust Amy’s products or Annie’s far more than Kraft, but they are adapting their business to consumer trends.  Legislation only makes what we purchase more expensive.  You can force companies to change through more laws and more bureaucracy or you can simply stop purchasing.  Once bottom lines and profits are impacted, change comes relatively quick.  I have to trust that there will be change in the plastic industry as well, as consumers inform themselves and children start by taking the small steps that become part of a larger movement.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Motherhood is Sacred

Last Friday night we attended The Living Stations of the Cross at our little church by the Sound.  As always, the teens did an outstanding job, even if for many it meant putting themselves on a stage they would rather not step onto.   I looked at these children, most of who I taught in Sunday School when they were either in third or fifth grade and I realized that they are, in the eyes of the church, all grown up and capable of making their own decisions and formulating their own understandings and faith formations.  

There are a few things that Grace knows for sure.  She knows for sure that her love of music runs deep.  Being able to play in church every month as part of an adult band has taught her skills she could not attain by playing as a piano soloist.  She knows that she wants to become fluent in sign language.  She watched with awe and wonder and curiosity as a family we know signed with their children.  She still has a passion for weather, especially severe weather, and she simply adores children.  She knows without a doubt that someday she would like to become a mother.  

When she expressed her desire to become a mother openly during the reception held after the stations performance, she was met with an interesting comment from one of our church “elders”, a woman who is a mother and grandmother and who has been an educator in religious education for over thirty years.  She expressed that women “can do much more” and that she should go to school, be financially independent, and then have children after she is married.  While I agree with the going to school, having the ability to support herself and a child if need be, and being married before entering into parenthood, I was taken aback at the comment women can do much more than be a mother.  

As a society we devalue the calling of motherhood and then we wonder why our society is on a moral decline.  If we can do more, be more, have more, achieve more, what does that imply about the value of a child?  Are they less than the career, the wants, the selfish desires of the parent as an individual?  If the religiously faithful of our community express this thought, then what hope do we have of ever instilling the idea that life is sacred in future generations?  

Think about it.  We legally protect the eggs of Eagles.  We legally protect animals.  We legally protect the land that these animals gestate their young, live and raise their offspring.  Yet, we legally ended the lives of 1.06 million people in 2011 and we have legally ended the lives of over 50 million people since 1973.  Catholics have an obligation to the youth of their churches and communities to show in every breath we take that life is valued.  Life is sacred.  Motherhood is sacred.  It is to be honored, revered, just as if we were Mary.  Our role models for motherhood are not Gweneth Paltrow, Jessica Seinfeld, Angelina Jolie, or Gwen Stefani.  Our role model for motherhood is Mary.  Somehow I doubt very much Mary would have ever uttered the words that there was more in life she could do, have, or accomplish than being the mother to the Savior of the world.  

As mothers, as women, we often take on multiple roles.  We are mothers, we are wives, we are caregiviers, we are homemakers, we are healers.  We have jobs inside our homes.  We have jobs outside our homes.  These roles and responsibilities do not supersede our role as mother, they are in addition to our role as mother. Society would like to see these roles supersede the role of motherhood.  Society has done a very effective job of brainwashing women into thinking we can have it all, do it all, be it all, with no consequence.  I simply do not think this is true.

I spoke to Grace about this seemingly innocuous comment later as a family.  It was weighing heavily on my heart that she understood without a doubt, that being a mother is in itself a lofty, worthy, respectable choice for her life.  My mother always told me that motherhood if done right is the hardest job you will ever have.  I told Grace I never expected to be a mother who stayed primarily in the home and always thought I would split my time and responsibilities between the home and my career.  That is until I became a mother.  Then my world was redefined and choosing to stay home and devote my time, my energy, my years to the nurturing and development of my family was my primary responsibility.  Not every day is easy.  Not every day is fun.  But every single day of my motherhood is a blessing.  Every single day is an honor.  Every single day is a gift.  

Choosing motherhood is not something we should be fitting in when we have enough money, have enough material wealth, have enough corporate success, have enough status.  Children are not possessions to add to our home to fill it up, no different from a Persian rug or a crystal vase.  Motherhood should not be entered into casually, with indifference or disdain.  Our children will not always be perfect.  They will have messy rooms.  Should we publicly shame them?  They will not always say kind things.  Should we take over their Facebook account?  They will not always dress as we consider best.  Should we dress up like them and embarrass them?  Or should we consider that these children are gifts entrusted to us but not really ever belonging to us, as we may be their earthly parents but we all have a Father who   is waiting for our return.

Psalm 139:13-16  “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you,when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

If  motherhood calls to my daughters, I know they will answer the call with love in their hearts.  One thing I know for sure is both of my girls will be wonderful mothers someday.

Monday, April 7, 2014


“Our respect for a well read person 
is praise enough for literature.”
                                                                        T.S Eliot

At our last book club meeting the group discussed the heroine Coraline and how she compares to other contemporary heroines.  Of course the main characters from The Hunger Games and Divergent came up.  After a tremendous amount of thought, I decided to let Lilah read these books, so long as she talks about her feelings while reading with me.  I thought she would be so happy, but as is the case with parenting, our children often surprise us.  She is not overly eager to read them, she just wanted the opportunity to read them.  I told her to let me know if and when she is ready.

I have been giving lots of thought to what would be a fantastic high school book list.  I am not looking at traditional books lists because I think that some book lists are really not relatable to a 14, 15, or 16 year old.  Take for instance Animal Farm.  If the child does not have a solid understanding of pre and post WWII history, how can they truly comprehend this book?  Or 1984.  Quite frankly, this book is far to sexually graphic for any 14 or 15 year old. Or 16 year old as well.  And without a solid understanding of our Constitution and the freedoms that we as Americans have willingly given up over the last several decades, can they understand the dire warnings that Orwell was trying to express?  

On the other hand there is John Steinbeck’s The Pearl.  I may relate to this subject differently than my daughter would, as is expected, but each of us can relate to the theme of what would you do with the opportunity of unimaginable wealth?  Is is a blessing or a curse?  Even though there is the topic of rape in To Kill A Mockingbird, Grace has a background understanding of the civil rights movement, enough to understand this piece of literature and have it touch her the way it touched me.  

When you are free from required reading and able to pick the best books for your child or help your child self-select the best books, where do you begin?  There are so many choices.  

In high school I knew I was going to major in International Business and my course selection demonstrated that.  I read minimal American Literature choosing European works like Don Quixote (one of my favorites) and Kaftka’s Metamorphosis as well as Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.  I read Moliere’s Tartuffe, but since I do not remember the plot, I doubt I comprehended much of it.  But oh how I loved The Odyssey and The Iliad and Les Miserables.  

I want my girls to love the books they read over the next few years.  I’m beginning to research books read by high school age children that I want to either read or listen to as audiobooks. It will be interesting to see what books others have on their all time favorite book lists.  

Friday, April 4, 2014

Writing Group: What Spring Means to Us

Our Friday writing group continues to be an evolving group of girls who share a common interest of writing.  We have had one friend leave us for life on a farm in New York State, one friend join us via Facetime all the way from Alabama, and another friend, who was part of the original group, come back and share her writing time with us.  

Recently, Grace looked back through her journal which is close to being complete.  She has one year’s worth of journaling exercises, many with artistic representations accompanying them.  She has several complete stories and essays.  Likewise with Lilah.  

This week we used a new resource, Art For Kids, to help us draw a baby chick.  The drawing became a springboard for some of the girls to write about what spring means to them.  One girl wrote a poem, another chose to work on a story she has in progress, Lilah made a list, and Grace wrote about a spring day she shared with a friend.  I love using every opportunity possible to incorporate art and writing.   I love the gathering of creative energy that takes place.

Spring means that hopefully soon we will take this gathering outside, onto a blanket, into a park, or to the beach.   

Our senses are indeed our doors and windows on this world,
in a very real sense the key to the unlocking of meaning
and the wellspring of creativity.
- Jean Houston

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Piano Guys: Sheer Brilliance

As part of Grace’s 13th Birthday, she was given tickets to see The Piano Guys in concert at UCONN’s Jorgensen Center.  I have been to many concerts ranging from opera performances to U2, Michael Jackson to The Grateful Dead.  Some just stand out more than others.  This was one of those nights that our family will never forget. As Grace put it “It was so much more than even I was expecting...” 

Grace is their biggest fan.  She has been working on perfecting her version of Waterfall for months. It is the song she saves for all her volunteer performances.  This song is special.  It is her song.  Jon Schmidt wrote it when he was 17, and Grace will remember it as the anthem of her teen years as well.  When Jon played it, Greg and I got chills and it brought tears to my eyes.  

The Piano Guys have many of their own compositions, but they also fuse contemporary music with classical music, like Frozen’s Let It Go with Vivaldi’s Winter or One Republic’s Secrets with Beethoven.  I think it is sheer brilliance.  You don’t even need to go to their concert to have a Piano Guys experience.  Just put on their youtube channel, turn it up really, really loud and close your eyes.  They play live this good.  

Have you seen their cover of One Direction's What Makes You Beautiful?  They played it!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Enjoying the Process

The flip flops are put away.  The skirts, shorts, tee shirts, and tanks are packed away for whenever winter decides to loosen it’s vice like grip on Connecticut.  We are back to our routine, a slightly more rigorous routine as we push through to accomplish a few things before the weather improves and we would much rather be outside than inside doing mapwork...

Book Club - We had our second meeting to discuss Neil Gaiman’s Coraline.  I love that this group of kids each brings a unique perspective to the conversation and we really did not need the structure of the literacy circle to keep the group on task.  They just seem to really enjoy talking about books.  I love seeing Grace’s booklist grow and grow. Our next selection is because of mr. terupt by Rob Buyea.  We just finished a fabulous audiobook version of The Other Half of My Heart by Sundee T. Frazier.

Wordly Wise 3000 - Grace began this workbook and she loves it.  I was a bit surprised since we do not do much with workbooks, but she enjoys making her vocabulary cards, working on one lesson a day and having a “spelling test” on Friday.  

When we first began homeschooling, my Aunt, a retired 5th grade teacher gave me a bunch of her material.  She gave me the Wordly Wise workbook and another workbook that Lilah is using, Houghton Mifflin’s English.  This is a compilation of many one-page lessons covering a variety of grammar concepts from simple and complete subject and predicates, proofreading, run on sentences and verb tense.  Some of it is new, some of it is review, and some of it she likes and some it is she dislikes, which is to be expected with a workbook, but both girls enjoy the quick lessons and they like what they are learning!

Math - Lilah is on her last book in the elementary series of Life of Fred.  We just discovered Fibonacci numbers and have watched some cool videos and even discovered that the C chord is made up of the Fibonacci sequence!  We have to decide if we are going to stick with LOF or make a change for middle school math.  

Grace just switched from Holt’s Pre-Algebra to Teaching Textbooks Algebra I.  We are keeping our same structure of doing the lesson together.  I keep my algebra notebook and Grace keeps hers and when she gets an answer wrong, we go over it together, in addition to doing the review of the problem on the computer.  So far, it is working for us, better than a traditional textbook was.  

Those our our updates for now.  Everything else stays the same, except we will be pushing to finish a few things, like Herb Fairies and Mapping the World with Art.  I am going to be doing these lessons with my girls on our own, separate from the Friday group, so that we can complete the curriculum.  If I wait until all the girls are together on a Friday, I fear we will never reach the end!

It stands to reason that if you add in more structured work, you have to add in more time at home.  We have been staying put more these days, which gives us the opportunity to spend time reading, writing, researching and enjoying the process.    

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...