Thursday, July 31, 2014


Sometimes I find myself writing posts in my head and then I have to stop whatever it is that I am doing and get my thoughts out.  So I sit and write and this is why my house is always a mess.  Most people do not stop unloading the dishwasher just because a thought pops into their they? thought for today centers around a cool teachable moment that happened Monday.  It made me think again of what school meant to me.  I spent my middle school and high school years in Glastonbury, Connecticut, a suburb of Hartford, which was and still is a highly competitive academic town.  I bought into the philosophy of competitive academics wholeheartedly.  I wanted my name on the honor roll.  I wanted the academic awards at the yearly awards night.  I wanted As on my report card.  I wanted a high class rank.  I wanted all these things but I was never made by any of my teachers to examine why I wanted them.  To most of us, it was just a grade, a score, a rank, a bragging right.  It did not change who we were.  Isn’t the purpose of education to change who we are, to make us think and stretch and grow and question and dig and evaluate and mature in both age and in wisdom?  None of these thoughts ever entered into my mind.  Not in middle school. Not in high school.  Not even in college.  Perhaps a bit in grad school but even then, I learned the mainstream educational philosophies never even wondering if there were alternatives or refuting arguments against public institutionalized education.  
One of my girls has been out of school longer than she was ever in school.  The other will reach that milestone the end of this year.  It changes everything.  Not being in school.  There is no reason to learn other than to grown, mature, develop, analyze, critique and connect.  They are not striving for a class rank, a report card, a honor roll report, or an award.  They are learning what they want because they want to learn. Every now and then this concept completely overwhelms me.  
I have yet to write about our family choice to add a puppy to our home, but we are at the end of September.  Right now Grace has immersed herself in all things dogs.  She is volunteering at the kennel once or twice a week and she is doing an independent study on the care and keeping of canines for her fall semester.  She is reading books (like Marley: A dog like no other and how to books, like My Pet Dog), she is watching documentaries like Shelter Me, and she is watching movies about dogs like Hachi: A dog’s tale.  
Hachi is not for the faint of heart.  Despite a G rating, it is one of the most emotional movies I have ever seen, perhaps because I can draw so many connections to it.  Like the family in the movie we have had a faithful pet who looked forward to the arrival of Greg each evening from his daily commute via train to the city.  Like the wife, I have a husband who commutes daily and like her I send him off every day thinking that he is going to return home on his 6:29 train to his family.  One day that does not happen and the course of the family and the dog’s lives are forever altered.  Tears.  Oh my, how many tears were shed watching this movie.  
Hatchi is an modern era adaptation of the true life story of Hachi, a dog who lost his master in Japan in the 1930s and who waited every day for over 10 years for his master to get off the train at the Shibuya Station.  It is streaming instantly on Netflix.  
As the movie ended and the information about the real Hachi was presented I immediately had a memory of seeing the statue in Shibuya Station on a past season of The Amazing Race.  A few minutes on Google and we found it!  Season 9, episode 12.  We went back and watched that part of the episode again.

These are the moment that I have to record.  There are always gaps in education.  No child or person can know all there is to know.  But when you begin to think of education and knowledge as a blanket, woven, interlocking, overlapping, it looks so different that a series of grades on a piece of paper.  There is trust involved that there is something to be learned in each experience, whether it is watching an episode of The Amazing Race or a movie about a dog.  And the true learning occurs when you find the connections, the overlapping between the two.  

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Piano Binder Project

Now that the decision about piano has been made, it once again fills my house.  Grace has been working diligently on her church music.  She will be performing at our new priest’s installation mass the end of August and this means learning a new piece of music, He Has Anointed Me.  It is beautiful and challenging.  When Grace practices, we find ourselves humming the hymns all day long.  
Working with three different teachers this summer left her a bit disorganized.  We put away the sheet music and scales books that she no longer needs right now.  She took her two binders (one for each teacher) and consolidated them into one beautiful three ring binder.  She used tabs to separate the parts of the mass (opening song, offertory song, communion song, closing song) and has a pocket for keep special songs for holy days and holidays.

This project involved a trip to Target with Greg and about 2 hours of work time.  Now that her binder is complete, it is much easier for her to practice.  I did not realize that her disorganization was impeding her playing.  Because I am not involved at all in her piano instruction, I did not realize that this would be beneficial for her.  I am so glad that she took the steps necessary to find her own solution and that her music is once again filling our house.  

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Silver Sands State Park

I have had my iPhone for 2 1/2 years.  It has gone everywhere with me.  The day I discovered Instagram, my poor Canon Rebel was packed away and dust began to collect on the camera case.  Recently I discovered that my beloved iPhone camera does not seem up to the challenge of capturing the special moment in our daily lives.  The sharpness is gone.  The pictures seem a bit flat.
I am rediscovering the joy of my dslr camera.  It is harder to upload pictures to Instagram.  They first must be transferred to my laptop, then emailed to myself, opened on my phone, then saved to my phone camera roll. This cannot be done on the go.  Pictures make their way to IG hours later which spoils some of the fun.  It makes me dream of the new Samsung 16 megapixel cameras with wifi/3G access but really....that is so unnecessary.  I do wish that Apple would upgrade their camera from 8mp to 16 like the other phones have.....

Sunday we took at walk to one of our favorite spots for sea glass searching, Silver Sands State Park in Milford, CT.  I don’t know what it is about this stretch of the sound that collects more beautiful pieces than other beaches.  Grace found a lovely teal piece and Lilah made her first wire wrapped necklace charm from a crytstal-like piece of lavender glass.  

Monday, July 21, 2014


The girl's music teacher recently told me that many students drop their instrument once they reach high school.  They compared it to sports.  The lower level sports are fun.  They are social activities.  Once they make the high school team, time in the summer is devoted to their sport, practice occurs every day while in season, the competition is fiercer, the coaches may be tougher.  Many kids lose the love of the sport and they stop.
I can somewhat understand this.  After all, how many kids actually go on to play their sport in college?  And after college what options are their for a person who likes to play soccer, or football or basketball?  Yes, there are pick up teams and adult teams but so few adults participate in these after college.  Unlike some sports, music is an art that can be practiced for a lifetime.  I suppose it is natural to phase in and out of musical interests, certain genres of music, intensity of practice and so on but if you have access to your instrument, you can play whether you are 10, 20, 40 or 80, as long as you don’t put that instrument down.  Walking away from an instrument is like walking away from a foreign language.  If you don’t use it, you lose it.
We have having growing pains with music right now.  I signed Grace up at a prestigious music school thinking it would give her access to teachers who have traveled the world playing piano, ensemble groups with other teens, master classes, monthly recitals, and to a network of kids who share her interests.  The reality is that she does not want to dedicate herself to mastering a 40 page piece by Hayden.  Bach, who was once her favorite composer, is not not looking so friendly now that she made the leap to a harder piece of his music.  She shared her feelings.  We had a conference.  We made a plan.  The plan did not work because I cannot force her fingers to play a piece of music she does not want to play.  I can threaten.  I can offer rewards and consequences.  I can set up practice charts.  I can withhold fun activities until the “work” is done.  In doing so, I will drive the love of her instrument out of her.  
I spoke to a musician I highly respect who is working with Grace and he told me that classical music is necessary.  It is the underlying foundation to all music, and its influences are seen in artists from The Beatles to The Piano Guys.  However, he said classical music should not be presented in a way that the student no longer likes it.  
Grace has grown up playing classical music.  We had to beg her to find and incorporate other genres of music into her playlist.  The love is there.  It is just being overshadowed by a strong desire to sit and play The Piano Guys and Doug Hammer.  She wants to explore Jim Brickman and find other artist/composers who make her heart sing.  
She wants to continue to work with the Music Director from church who is teaching her all parts of the Mass as well as beautiful Christian music.  Learning chords is quite different than learning the notes, and learning this in addition to a strict classical regiment was just too much for her.  It overwhelmed her and lessened her desire to tackle hard classical pieces.  Her focus can’t be on three teachers, with three sets of music, three different styles, and three heavy practice-loads.  
So we move on.  We give up the classical lessons that took 4 hours of our day with travel time and we go back to the two primary teachers she has always had.  Her growth in classical may suffer a bit this year, but she will learn chords and she will learn the Mass.  She will perform at Church every month and she will perform in her other teacher’s recitals and visits to assisted living centers.  She will play a classical piece here and there to keep her fingers fresh.  They will be harder pieces, but not 40 page pieces.

Her teacher and I had a lovely conversation about creating opportunities for her pre-teen and teen students to get together and play.  I am very, very excited about the possibilities we discussed and I hope they can come to fruition.  If I can fulfill her need to be around other musical teens, then I feel that I have accomplished my goal.  If she keeps playing and fills my home with music, I will be very happy.  When she plays her church music in the morning and I quietly sing the hymns, I feel like I start every day with God.  And that is what music is all about.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A few extras

A few extra photos that I really like from our trip to NYC but that did not make the Instagram cut!

Friday, July 18, 2014


One of the benefits of homeschooling my girls is that despite their age difference, they both join together for reading.  When I conceived the idea of A Literary Tour of New York, it was for Grace’s 9th grade fall semester, but it also serves as Lilah’s 7th grade fall semester reading.  Harriet the Spy is not going to be found on any high school reading list, but it sparked the idea for this course and we are not discounting it since the themes the book explores pertain to teenagers (bullying, exploring individuality, strong female characters, income disparities, cultural issues, mother/daughter relationships and more).  
To extend our reading we explored the practice of book banning, censorship, and used technology to create an educational brochure about banned children’s books.  We created a hashtag #instabookclubharriet on Instagram and joined together with families across the country who were interested in reading this classic and posting pictures of their activities online.  Several children (Lilah included) spent hours creating elaborate maps of fictional towns and playing town, like Harriet did in the opening of the book.  We loved seeing our friends sharing in the same experience we were having in real time.  In this way Instagram truly can create community.  
We traveled to Manhattan on July 17th as virtual tour guides.  I had an itinerary of where we wanted to go based on research online as to where the address that served as the inspiration for Harriet’s home, her school, the park she played it and where her journal was taken, her friend Janie’s house, and the neighborhood she spied in.  It is all right there in the Yorkville Neighborhood on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.  

Here are my Instagram pictures of our trip:
Grand Central Station at noon.  Not too busy!

The Grand Hyatt Hotel....our favorite stop for organic snacks and clean bathrooms.

Taking the subway uptown to the East 80s.

A movie theater...perhaps similar to the one Harriet visited. 3rd Ave and East 87th St.

Harriet's Brownstone 558 East 87th Street from the park.  

Looking down Harriet's Street towards the park.

The park that Harriet always wrote in and where her journal was taken after school during a game of tag.  This is one of the most beautiful parks I have been to.

I would spend all my time writing here too!

or walking...

or watching the boats go by.  The girls were Instagramming their day too.

Gracie Mansion.  The Mayor's House.

A splash park.

A very cool independent bookstore Logos Bookstore, 1575 York Avenue.

Janie lived somewhere on this street...East 84th.

My research told me to stop here for an egg cream, like the one Harriet enjoys in the book.  Egg creams no longer have a raw egg.  Half and half + seltzer water + vanilla or chocolate syrup and blend.  That's all!  This is a great restaurant.  The pancakes and coffee were worth the trip alone.

Not the best picture but this is our vanilla egg cream.  We ate at the lunch counter.  It was very cool.

The 6:30 train took us home.  We met up with Greg and my mother who both work in midtown.  It was a very good day and the best kick off to our Literary Tour of New York City.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Riding Camp

Life is not perfect.  It has ups and downs.  Not every activity is perfect.  There are always positives and negatives to every situation.  Riding camp was no exception.  

There were positives: the beautiful setting, the calm dynamic of this group of girls, Grace was able to ride bareback and loved it, Lilah discovered that she did not hate yoga. Both girls adored the older teen staff members.  
There were also negatives: not as much riding time as anticipated, not being entirely comfortable with your horse, the extreme heat during the week of camp, the biting insects.

I am proud of my girls for sticking this week out.  They desperately wanted to walk away from this experience.  After a long conversation, Greg and I decided they needed to persevere through it because they were learning something new each day (dressage rather than hunt seat, the anatomy and care and keeping of a horse, yoga).  It may not have been their favorite week ever.  It may not be something they ever do again.  That is okay.  Knowing that you can overcome a difficult experience or situation, class, teacher, boss, is an important life skill.  Walking away is easy.  Sticking it out takes courage, perseverance, confidence, determination, resolve, and adaptability.

This may have “just” been a camp about horses and horseback riding, but the life lessons they learned were far more important.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Mini Golf

We have made the decision that we are comfortable having fewer friends and more freedoms.  This is not an easy decision to make when someone in your family is an extrovert.  Often I have wondered if she would like to have kids around her all day, moving about from class to class, spending time in sports or after school activities...but she assured me that is not what she wants.  She wants time to sleep, to be able to eat a full home cooked meal at noon, to play the piano all day long, to learn with her dogs, to ride her bike, to take classes that interest her, to be sick without worrying about make up work, to not have testing pressure, to take vacations not according to a school schedule and to not have to sit so still.  All valid points.  But so are the points for friends, sports, student council, pep rallies, school sweatshirts, and yearbooks.  
In choosing to homeschool highschool, we accept a small base of friends.  The friends we have are good friends and there is always the possibility of discovering new friendships in the classes and activities we will participate in.  Another homeschooling mother has spent the last year preparing for her daughter to homeschool highschool.  She is actively seeking teens to join in on activities throughout our county.  There have been a few activites that we could not attend for various reasons.  Activities like bowling and tubing on the Farmington River.  We attended our first meet up with 5 other teen girls for mini golf at the beach.  It was wonderful to spend time with girls we have not seen since SoundWaters in the fall and to make a connection with a new friend Grace’s age.  
These activities are going to be vital to maintaining a healthy work/life balance.  Teens need other teens.  As homeschoolers they will each do their own thing with some taking structured classes three days a week, others doing the bulk of the work at home, some attending hybrid schools, others completely unschooling.  Some teens will attend the same classes and for some, these social activities provide the opportunity necessary to see some friends that they would not otherwise see.

We are looking forward to more of these events over the summer and hopefully deepening these budding friendships!

Saturday, July 12, 2014


The first named storm of the 2014 season occurred and Tropical Storm Arthur became Hurricane Arthur and our 4Th of July was affected by the passing glance at the Connecticut shoreline.  
Blank Atlantic Basin Hurricane Tracking Maps can be found as a pdf through the National Hurricane Center @  .  For storms generated off the western coast of Africa, Grace plots the points once a day.  However, this storm traveled quickly up the Eastern Seaboard, therefore, she had to research additional coordinates. 

We keep the map hung on our wall for the duration of the storm.  It reminds her to periodically plot coordinates. She used colored pencils to differentiate between the levels of tropical storm, category 1 and category 2 hurricanes.  Hurricane Arthur is now off our wall and in her binder where I am sure it will be joined by other storms.  Grace plans to map every named Atlantic storm this season.  

Thursday, July 10, 2014

"Working" at the Dog Kennel

Years ago we used to board our dogs at a local kennel.  The owner,  a Veteran, built his dream retirement facility where he can breed dogs, take in dogs for the day, offer training classes, grooming and boarding.  Grace has always loved dogs and was desperate to work there.  He told her she could...when she was older.  
Now she is older and perfectly capable of doing manual labor.  Most animal organizations here would never let a 13 year old volunteer because of liability issues.  When she was 7 or 8, I had the hardest time finding a rescue to let her work even though I accompanied her.  The shelter won’t let kids under 18 volunteer and honestly, with her empathy for animals, I am afraid the shelter would just break her heart.  This is a private facility and each of these dogs is loved and owned.  They are just visiting, not residents looking for a new home.
Grace bravely asked if she could work and the owner said yes and so began Grace’s next adventure in volunteering.  This one is tuckering her out.  With a rise time of 5:45am she is beginning to understand what her peers feel like every day.  We are out the door at 6:45 and arrive at the kennel by 7:00am.  She can only work on the weekends because there is no way on earth I would wake Miss Lilah up that early and drag her out with us.  No way!  Unlike Grace, she is not an early riser.  Grace willingly gave up 6 hours over 4th of July weekend and really enjoyed her time.
From what I gather she:
  • relocated the dogs from the inside kennels to the outside kennels careful to maintain proper order.
  • Bleached and hosed and wiped down the inside kennels.  In the future Grace will not be working with bleach, but will use the hose and participate in the wiping down.  I felt she was just too young to be working with such a toxic substance.  We do not keep bleach in the house and she has no experience in its proper usage.
  • Walked dogs
  • Moved dogs back indoors

She interacted with adorable little balls of fluff, had her heart tugged on by a golden retriever, was a bit intimidated with the pitt bulls and thinks she wants her next dog to be a giant schnauzer.  
I want my girls to understand work.  Grace gets mad that I call it work and we have a little white board battle going on between labeling her time work vs. volunteering.  What she is doing is manual labor.  She would be paid minimum wage if she were old enough.  So many kids are graduating high school, college even, without ever having held a job.  They do not understand how pushing a mop taxes one back or how carrying buckets of water is very very heavy.  Grace is beginning to explore a future separate from meteorology.  She would like to possibly take the dog grooming certification course when she is an older teen and she admires what her “boss” has done with his life.  He turned his dream into a reality.  If Grace stays with this, I hope she gets experience with the other aspects of this business.  
When asked if this was a reward system for a new pet, I laughed and said it most certainly is not.  This is a life experience and something she wants to learn more about as a possible career choice.  I could definitely see Grace working with children, using her love and talent for sign language, and owning a therapy dog.  I always tell her I think she would be a wonderful music teacher for children with special needs.  Or a musical therapist.   There are so many possibilities.  I am happy to help her explore this avenue and am excited where it could lead her....

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Literary Tour of New York City: Harriet the Spy

This is when I start thinking about next year in detail.  I have spent a year preparing to homeschool a highschooler, but now it is time to put my plan into motion.  While we were listening to our current audio book, Harriet the Spy it occurred to me that we could have a lot of fun creating a course: A Literary Tour of New York City.   

Harriet the Spy is set on the upper East Side of Manhattan and many of the places she travels in her daily routine can be walked.  The girls and I have never had an egg cream and I believe you can still get these at Junior’s Restaurant, hopefully at the Grand Central location.  We could walk the same route she used to spy on her neighbors, see the school her school is modeled after and the home that was used as the model for her brownstone.  We can imagine where Ol’ Golly had her German Dinner and the movie theater she visited.  We can walk and see if there is a park along the East River where the fateful journal stealing scene took place.  To take this one step further, why not make this an interactive course?

We love Instagram and the ability is has to connect us with families that are homeschooling teens all over the country.   I created an Instagram Book Club #instabookclubharriet and as we do activities, we post them online.  Other families have joined in and posted pictures reading and doing activities such as playing “town”.  We too have played town, created an ABC list of New York City, created some notebooking pages, had friends over to learn about the practice of book banning, and created a brochure to educate others about popular children’s books that have been banned over the years.  We enjoyed delving into this book and we love that others have been inspired to share this book and these activities in their home.

The culmination of this book club will be when we travel into Manhattan and spend the day walking in Harriet’s footsteps taking pictures and uploading them real time to Instagram.  We will be the “virtual tour guides” for the families who are following along from AL, AK, CA, and other far away states!

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...