Friday, December 26, 2014


Last year I took a huge step back from our church.  We still went, but we were not involved.  Change was in the air.  The DRE was making decisions that I felt were not in keeping with our traditions and did not suit the children or the parents.  The Priest was becoming more and more distant, retired Priests were taking on more and more masses.  I did not leave, but I took that huge step back.  

This year we have a new dynamic Priest, no DRE, and a philosophy of teaching children that mirrors my own perfectly.  It has been like a dance.  Step back, step in, lead.  Of course, these changes have caused other people, friends, who were active during the time I was not, to step back, and sit this dance out.  I get it, but it makes me sad because they were the heart and soul of our church for so long.  

For now I lead my own dance to this new beat.  The group of catechists are mostly new, this year being their first year teaching and they have undergone huge changes in a short period of time.  Teach to the book.  Testing.  Drills.  Sticker charts for prayer memorization, etc.  Now there are no text books, just curriculum guides, projects, collaboration, no classrooms, no tests and certainly no sticker charts.  This is hard.  Much harder than teaching from a book, with key words, chapter summaries and unit tests.  It is hard to find such focus that you block out the five other classes that are taking place simultaneously in the church hall, rather than in classrooms with doors.  It is especially hard when you have church members, who no longer participate in religious education, passing judgement quite vocally on why the old way works so much better.  

We have so much rebuilding to do.  I feel called to help.  I don’t particularly have the time for it, but it makes me happy, so I make the time for it.  I am teaching 6th grade.  I took over from one of my friends who took that dance step back and stopped teaching abruptly.  I also took on a role of assisting the office manager and the Priest, who has the title of DRE as well as Priest.  I love projects and I love to see them completed.  

Project based learning in a religious education setting is a bit different than projects we may do at home because the children can’t self select the project.  A class of 12 students that meet once a week for an hour is quite different than kids who have hours and hours to explore their interests through projects.  But the process is the same.  Demonstrate your understanding of the material presented in a creative way.  

Our class completed a beautiful mosaic rainbow collage canvas to illustrate their knowledge of the covenant God make with Noah after the flood.  We read from the Bible.  We pulled from their prior knowledge.  I knew they knew the story of the flood, but the did not know why it mattered; what the promise was.  Now that they did, they ripped up pieces of paper from catalogs.  One girl drew the rainbow.  They all filled it in.  One boy volunteered to write the text.  They all took turns copying his words onto the canvas in the white space.  I framed it.  It is stunning.  I know that whenever these children see a rainbow they will stop and stare and think it is beautiful, but also think of that Covenant made so long ago.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Art Journaling: Snowflakes and Sheet Music

I love love love that we are back to art journaling.  We have been able to squeeze in some time that we previously carved out for pottery class.  It is a simple journaling session.  Two of our friends come over and we work on a page.  This week we combined our love of Christmas music with our love of Doodle Draw Art tutorials on YouTube.  

This is a very simple page.
Create a boarder with Sharpie Markers.

Rip the edges of the sheet music and glue to the sketchbook page.

Draw the snowflake and outline in black Sharpie.

Mod Podge over the page.
Color in the snowflake using Sharpie.  

We used the oil based Sharpies which are very opaque.  Regular Sharpies over Mod Podge will allow the background to show through.
Write a favorite quote using Sharpie.

When we pick back up in January, we will take a trip to our favorite art supply store to stock up on some supplies.  It has been so long since we have had friends over for journaling that we need to replenish some of our key journaling supplies.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Completed! 6 week Puppy Obedience Class

Years ago I was a long term substitute teacher for Kindergarten.  Over the years of teaching there have been many students who have stayed in my memory for a variety of reasons, but there is one that I talk about the most, even now, 6 years later.  

This child was a very young kindergartener, a boy of just 4 years old who would not turn 5 until late in December.  Our town had December 31st as the age requirement to be 5 to enroll.  Due to this, most boys start kindergarten a whole year later, when they are much closer to turning 6.  This little boy could not sit still.  He climbed the bookshelves rather than take out a book to read.  He turned somersaults during circle time.  He was also a runner.  Given the chance, he was out the door like a shot.  And guess where he was headed?  To the playground.  We would walk down the hall in a single file line and he would fly like an airplane.  His smile was infectious and numerous times teachers and older students would walk by and say “Oh he is so cute!  He is like a baby!” and over and over again I would tell them not to say that.  He was not a baby.  He had to learn how to "do school" if he was ever going to succeed in school. But there was that time after bolting to the playground when I had to call the office to put out an APB on my little runner, that he came back to me with huge puppy dog eyes, pulled on my skirt and said, “Misses Cider (he could not pronounce my name), I just wanna play.........”  Broke my heart then.  Breaks my heart still.

Crosby is like that little boy.  Teaching four puppies in a big room with lots of smells, playthings, treats, barking, and strangers is like trying to get a 4 year old to sit still at circle time.  The first day he excelled.  We were astonished.  We took pictures.  We were so proud.  But then they had playtime.  And that is all Crosby wanted to do.  Play.  Romp.  Run.  Jump.  Bark.  Learn sit, stay, down, spot?  Who needs that?  Not him!  His behavior was quite wretched.  He jumped for treats rather than sit still.  He really saw no need to literally run through hoops to please us.  He peed on the floor for goodness sakes.  I was thoroughly convinced he would be retained and all his puppy dog friends would accept their certificates and his would be delivered with a big red F.  

But guess what, just like my little student is now a 5th grader, Crosby is now a graduate of Puppy Obedience Training and Grace and Lilah get the credit.  Although I paid for this class, I basically drove the girls and they did all the work.  Since this is part of Grace’s Internship/Independent Study I wanted her to learn and practice and perform.  And on the last day, graduation day, Crosby, Grace and Lilah performed well.  Crosby won the puppy push up competition (how many sit/downs can be done in 20 seconds).  He won the Come! competition - run to your owner and sit when called.  He ran through hoops and tunnels and sat on a very weird slippery table even when he did not want to.  And then when it was all over, he received what he really wanted all time.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Completed! 6 week ASL course.

Since we are using American Sign Language as our foreign language credit, it is important that we make it the equivalent of a high school or middle school class even though this is a content based course, and not based on credit hours.

From September to November the girls worked in a class setting every Thursday evening for 2 hours and completed American Sign Language I.  Last year was also ASL I but this year was a challenge, being immersed in a language and into a class with adult learners.  For the purpose of simplicity, I am calling this ASL I rather than II.

by Barbara Bernstein Fant and Lou Fant.

The class went on hiatus until the first week of January which is pretty typical for us.  Take December off, remember?  But I did not want a six week gap even though it will not show on their transcript.  Their teacher, who is also the mother of one of Grace’s best friends, agreed to teach the girls in a fun, informal class during the break.

They completed another book, Signing Fun by Penny Warner.  

Their next adventure, ASL II will begin in January and they have been placed in the adult class due to their knowledge of the language.  It will again meet 2 hours every week for 10 weeks and they will work through the text: Learning American Sign Language Levels I & II by Tom Humphries and Carol Padden.  Interestingly, my niece is taking ASL in college.  This is the text book she will be using for her spring semester. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Natural Science Illustration Class

My last post talked about how this is the first year that our classes have extended far into December.  Despite being busy, traveling to New Haven and Hamden and Seymour, dinners on the go, early mornings, and traffic stress, there is a payoff that I was not expecting -- the joy of completion!  

Natural Science Illustration 
at The Peabody Museum at Yale University
5 weeks - 7.5 hours.  Does not count travel time (some homeschoolers do, but we do not because this is when we listen to audiobooks and file that time under language arts)

Imagine having an entire museum at your fingertips.  Imagine having a fantastic instructor who is head of art at this fine museum. 

The focus of this class is natural science illustration: line, shape, shading, perspective, form.    Each week the kids gather in the auditorium for a lecture.  One week it was on how to draw an eye.  Another is was how to capture space.  The instructor obviously loves what he does because he is able to connect with each child on his or her level and while I did not hang around to watch the class, I did overhear his critiques with my daughters at the end of the class and they were positive yet constructive.  His guidance immediately improved their technique.  

As this was only a 5 week course, there was no way to capture items in every museum collection.  They limited themselves to the Great Hall

the birds

and the North American mammals.

I love that this class showed Lilah that there are times when taking a class and having an expert guide you and instruct you is valuable.  

I love that this class showed Grace that she is an artist.  She may not love to draw and she may not draw for pleasure, but she can no longer say that she can’t draw.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

I need to Slow Down

Somewhere along the way I forgot to slow down for December.  This is the first year that we have had scheduled lessons that do not take break for the holidays.  It is a cardinal rule that homeschooling classes take December off.  However, we are marching along with ASL private lessons (they end this week until the second week of January), horseback riding (you pay for your spot every week), piano (I was going to cancel it, but we have a new piano that the girls are dying to show their teacher), art class (it ended this week), and dog training (it too ends this week).  

The problem with classes running so late into the month is that while we got art, language arts (we finished The Best Christmas Carol), sign language, music, and life skills taken care of, there is virtually no time for the other subjects that we do at home like history, science and math.  The time we have at home is spent preparing for Christmas, shopping for gifts that can’t be ordered online, finishing up Christmas Cards, picking up gifts at the UPS center, finishing the Jesse Tree project for church, oh and making sure we have food to eat and clean clothes to wear.  This is why classes generally do not meet in December.  Note to self.  Never sign up for December classes again.

When life is this busy during the holidays it is hard to find peace.  Right now I am desperately seeking peace.  I have friends that I wish were closer so I could help them handle sickness and injury.  I have friends who have divorced and family who are divorcing.  I have the world’s events weighing heavily on my heart.  As I get older I can see why the holidays are hard for some.  I swear our books this year have come to us for a reason.  My Aunt gave me a copy of the Best Christmas Pageant years ago and I started it and never finished it.  But this year we picked it up and we adored it.  Through this book I looked at the nativity story from the perspective of Mary and Joseph.  Their journey to Bethlehem was not easy.  They had no where to stay.  No one offered them assistance.  Mary was about to give birth without the comfort of home.  They were treated no better than farm animals.  How difficult it must have been for her.  How brave she was.  How helpless Joseph must have felt not being able to give his family the basic needs at a moment when they needed it most.  And yet, they persevered.  The found peace in the angel’s comfort.  They found peace in the Wise Men’s visit.  They found peace in spite of their surroundings.  If ever there was an example of family, this one is it.

I don’t want to look back on this holiday season and see myself missing from pictures because I was too busy to remember the reason we are preparing.  I don’t want to make school work and lessons my focus and the cause of my stress.  

week of December 8th (last week)

Language Arts
We finished  A Tale of Two Cities!
Lilah added two pages to her Crosby journal.
They both worked on their piece from writing group, each adding several pages to their stories.  

Began The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson.  Lilah has read this book ages ago but Grace and I never have!  It is the perfect short fun Christmas read coming off of Dickens.
Week #13 Life Science: Plants
Class #5 again in the bird section.  Grace chose a seagull and Lilah chose a duck.  They also attended an art exhibit featuring pieces by their instructor on the Yale campus.

We attended the local high school’s holiday concert to see Grace’s friend Victoria sing with the choir.

Both girls spent three hours redesigning a card game that Lilah made up years ago to make it more professional looking and harder to play.  

Piano Guys Christmas Concert at The Oakdale Theater in Wallingford!!

Art Journaling with three friends this week.  
Lesson #5
Dog Training
Class #5 - one more to go before graduation.  I don’t think he’s ready.  He’ll probably be held back.  All he wants to do is play.  At home he is doing great, which is what really matters...
More ground pole work.  More cantering.  I thought this was the week when Grace would end up on her backside.  Lilly was not much in the mood for riding.  Perhaps the Nor’Easter we were having or the fact that she obviously had a stomach ache contributed to her gloomy mood.
weekly lesson with Jennie
Grace is preparing for a performance with the Music Director at Church this weekend; a Christmas Pageant sing along.  She and Lilah both performed at an assisted living center.

Piano Guys Concert!
Grace took Crosby to work with her Monday.  He did not love being kenneled, even though it was a large pen but he loved playing outdoors with loads of room to run!  

Piano Guys concert was spectacular.

First dusting of snow!

Art Journaling

A beautiful evening at our little church by the sea.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Art Journaling:

We have carved out a little time each week to open our sketchbooks and resume art journaling.  Unfortunately I don’t have the time between preparing things for the girls’ lessons, home projects we have going on right now and a large religious ed project I am coordinating, to be super artistic.  With I don’t have to create a whole concept for a journal page.  

Last week we used the adorable Santa tutorial and each girl put her own unique spin on it.  Grace likes hers to look as close to the model as possible.  Lilah always changes hers to make it unique.  We used the white space around Santa’s head to write anything that came to mind.  With Santa, the possibilities are endless.  Grace wrote about Christmas Eve.  Lilah ripped up scrap book paper and make a simple mosaic on the white space.  On the larger pieces she wrote Christmas memories and traditions.  We had two friends join us this week which made the experience even more fun!

While squeezing this time in between dog training class and our weekly 2:00 visit from Grace’s friend is hard, it is worth it.  The girls love to look back through their old sketchbooks and read through their thoughts from years past and look at how their writing has developed and matured.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Weekly Wrap Up: A Christmas Carol

I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.
Charles Dickens

When I reflect back on the past few months, I am in awe of how reading has become a shared experience in my family.  Last night our family gathered together with Aunt Kris and a cousin and through the laughter and the barks of a puppy and the chaos of Christmas preparations, there were references to books we have read this fall.  

For example, the kids were watching an Episode of The Big Bang Theory and from the dining room I heard Sheldon mutter the words,  “Curiouser and curiouser”.  Immediately I piped in, “Name the book!” and Lilah immediately quipped back, “Alice in Wonderland!” 

Then later, as I was going up to bed, leaving the children and Greg at the dining room table playing and intense game of Clue, he mentioned to be not to be alarmed if I hear him in the attic, getting the sleep over mattress down.  I told him I would never be alarmed, for it is not as if the ghost of Jacob Marley would be appearing at the foot of my bed.  

Over and over again book quotes, references and characters pop up in our daily conversations.  I believe this would not happen as much if we were not all experiencing the same book, at the same time, and following it up with very cool literary experiences, like completing projects, going to plays, viewing movie adaptations and attending staged readings.

Yesterday the four of us and Aunt Kris had the true pleasure of attending a staged reading of Dickens A Christmas Carol performed in a gorgeous old room at the Plumb Library.  Seven actors and a handful of props brought this story to life.  There was no set, no lighting, no sound system, no intermission, no concession stand, just readers, and brilliant words to be read and interpreted.

I first read Dickens in high school when I read A Tale of Two Cities.  I may not remember the entire story line, but I do remember loving the book.  Listening to A Christmas Carol made me remember why.  This was the hardest book we have read to date.  There were times I had to pause, reflect, replay and then explain.  I researched The Ghost of Christmas Present and I still don’t have a clear understanding of the symbolism behind his character.  But oh man can Dickens set a scene, and evoke emotion, and show character development, and use language that will bring tears to your eyes.  

Having these words brought to life through a reading was a perfect way to celebrate reading this book.  Far better than a theatrical performance where artistic license is given to the director to alter the story or lines as he or she sees fit.  The very best part of all is when my twelve year old leans into me and whispers softly in my ear, “Mom, this is very cool.”  And all I could so is smile.

Lilah #20 - long division
#21 - remainders
Grace Chapter 3 test - 94 but received some assistance.
#28 - multiple coefficients
#29 - don’t remember title of this lesson
Language Arts
Continuing on with A Christmas Carol.  Attended staged reading of A Christmas Carol performed by Valley Shakespeare Festival.  Watched the George C. Scott version of the movie and loved it. (4 hours)

Grace and I began our book club book, Wendy Mass’ Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life.  Lilah is almost done.

Added quotes to their quote journal.
Lilah added a two page entry in her Crosby Journal.

art journaling with 2 friends (1 1/2 hours)

Final writing group gathering before taking a 5 week winter break.  Group will resume January 9th with the possible addition of two of our previous members who moved to Florida! It was a wonderful session where we worked on memoir, shared several of our pieces and designed our next unit study - fairy tales! (1 1/2hrs)

Week 11: Life Science - Plants.
Week 12: Life Sciecne - Plants

Grace was glued to the tv, getting up early to watch the rocket launch from Cape Canaveral.  She is also very concerned about the typhoon in The Philippines and has been following that closely.
Grace is really getting the hang of tacking and untacking Lilly.  They both worked on ground poles.  Lilah is working on proper body position and Grace is working on cantering with 8 strides with ground poles.
#3 at The Peabody Museum.  Ornithology.  Lilah focused on an owl and Grace focused on a hawk.  I have seen their drawing progress in just 3 weeks.  This class has sparked a flurry of drawing in our house and I hope that it is offered again this winter.  
lesson #4
Dog Training
Crosby did well this week.  A walk beforehand and some playing outside before we left helped focus his energy.  We worked on sit, down, walking on a leash, taking a treat gently, walking through hoops.  He is doing well.  It can be frustrating trying to teach a dog in a group setting. He acts very differently than he does at home.  I will be glad when this class is over in 2 weeks.  I know Grace has dreams of agility with him and that will require a great deal of training so we’ll see....
There has been lots of window shopping for a new piano.  The hammers on our current 1930s Ivers & Pond cannot keep up with the level of Grace’s playing.  We are very sentimentally attached to our piano (it was my Grandmother’s).  It will stay with us with the possibility of being moved to my mothers.  During these store visits, the girls were given mini lessons by the store manager, a very accomplished concert pianist. 

Both girls are preparing Christmas Carols to play at an assisted living center December 14th.  Grace is also practicing songs to play the same day at our church’s annual Christmas Pageant.

Grace also had a lesson with the music director from church to rehearse the songs she will play at mass on Sunday.
Grace volunteered at the kennel Monday.  She made arrangements for Crosby to attend doggie daycare next week while she works.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


I feel connected to our church in a way that I have not felt in years.  It is amazing what a dynamic, energetic, confident, capable Priest can do to bring life and energy and exuberance to a group of people who gather together in shared faith.

With any change, it is impossible to make everyone happy.  My commitment to our church was tested two years ago when the Sister who was the Director of Religious Education was let go and a new DRE was brought on whose every decision brought me frustration.  Each email I received from her was like rubbing sandpaper on an open wound.  I pulled back from my involvement with our church but I did not let go.  Eventually the tide turned and we were given a new Priest this summer and with him came sweeping changes to religious education, now called Faith Formation, and he took it upon himself to be the sole “director” of the program.

It has been a breath of fresh air (for me).  I have returned to teaching, stepping in for the 6th grade teacher who left because the changes did not match her desired way to teach.  I know you cannot make everyone happy and my heart hurts for those who do not like these changes, because I do know how hard it is to go to a church and hear the word of God when around you so many things are being decided that you do not agree with.  

This weekend was the start of Advent and I signed our family up to participate in the Advent Wreath Workshop.  This workshop has been held before in years past but we never went.  Silly us.  It was beautiful.  We brought lots of greens and the foam wreath, wires and some decorations were provided.  It was not so much a “workshop” as a gathering of families preparing to celebrate.  Grace and Lilah ran down to the beach while Greg and I worked and gathered some shells and seaglass.  Perfect decorations for our wreath.

After the workshop we attended our first group absolution, which is like a mass reconciliation.  The church was filled.  Lights were low.  Music played softly.  There are some times when you can actually feel lighter and happier and blessed from being in church and this was clearly one of those times.  The 4:30 mass followed and we walked out of church three hours after we walked in, fully ready to begin the Advent season.

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...