Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Blizzard 2015

Mainstream media really should be ashamed of themselves.  We could not watch the news leading up to “Blizzard 2015”,  for we were bombarded with language that should only be reserved for the most deadliest of situations.  This was not a historical event.  A historical event was Katrina.  This was a snowstorm in New England.  Upstate New Yorkers must be laughing at us.  This storm had wind.  It had snow.  It was not historic, nor was it catastrophic.  However, it did prompt travel bans.  At the threat of mass transportation shutting down, husbands come home from work early!  

Family dinners are rare in our house.  The girls and I always eat together but Greg does not get home until just before 8pm so his dinner is reheated from a few hours earlier.  I roasted a chicken, mashed some potatoes and we all sat down to dinner together at 6pm and said a prayer of thanksgiving.  

Because Greg works such long hours, he is not actively involved in the learning that takes place in our house.  Before dinner he read the first chapter of the course guidebook for our newest exploration: Geographic Wonders of the World by Professor Michael Wysession offered by Great Courses.  The girls read the chapter earlier in the day.  Together we watched the first lecture about the history and the geology of the islands of Santorini.  After dinner we followed up our learning with an old episode of Passport to Europe with Samantha Brown.  Her episode on Santorini left us with the desire to hop on the next available plane!  

There was game playing and Gilmore Girl watching and snuggling into bed while the wind picked up outside.  It was a beautiful night.  It was a gift.  The blizzard gave us some snow, but no where near the 24-36” predicted and it gave us some wind but only once did it cause this 85 year old home to shudder.  I am most thankful for the family time it gave us and will give us again on Tuesday for the roads and trains are still shut down to let the cleanup begin.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Loved and Appreciated

For years, my Nana’s piano lived in our family room.  It is a beast of a piano, an Ivers & Pond manufactured in the early 1930s.  I will never forget the day my Dad, my brother and Greg moved it into our house.  It was all they could do to move it up the three steps of our front walkway.  We settled on the living room because it was just feet from the front door!  

This piano was lovingly played by my Nana for years and years.  I have memories of it, but sadly, not so many of her playing.  I even have a great picture of me with my brother, sister and my cousins all lined up on the bench banging away.  Over the years we have been known to say “if Nan could see this....” or “Nan would be so happy....” and I believe in my heart that my Nana can see her piano being played and that she is so happy up in heaven to see that this is her legacy for my children.  

It was not easy when the time came to consider a replacement piano.  We visited Steinway, not so much to purchase but to research and educate ourselves on what to consider when piano shopping.  The girls played a wide range of baby grands and ultimately their favorite was an upright very similar to ours with a very similar soundboard.  Greg and I left wondering why we would replace our piano, which has a lovely deep, rich, tone, for another that cost $30,000 on SALE!  

After our visit to Steinway the girls were inspired.  Sometimes a little trip like this gets their creative juices flowing and Grace wanted to play her favorite piece, Waterfall, the same way she could play it on a Steinway.  Only she couldn’t.  Not really anyway.  Our early 1900s piano can no longer keep up with the quick touch and repeats that the more complex pieces require.  Her fingers kept getting “stuck”.  Even Lilah noticed it with her songs, but her love of our old piano and her preference for slower, quieter songs, made this not as big an issue for her.

We were once again back to this issue of what to do for a replacement piano.....  We really wanted to try a Yamaha as this is the piano the girls play for their recital and The Piano Guys play a Yamaha, so they must be good!  After visiting a piano showroom three times for a total of 6 hours, we decided on a piano that not only would allow the girls to play the music to their ability, but a piano they could fall in love with and love just as deeply and richly as they love my Nana’s piano.  

I made a promise to Lilah that we would not get rid of the old piano, not that we ever would.  My mother would take it and although she does not play, it is a family heirloom and she has the space for it.  For now we moved the piano back into its original space, by the front door, in front of the staircase.  It is not played often, but every now and then, when the girls walk by, one of them will sit and play, just to let it know it is loved and appreciated.  

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Magical and The Mundane

Diane at Cabin In The Woods wrote that blogging about high school is hard because “every day is like the day before”.  This is true for me in many ways.  There are only so many photos I can post of the girls in front of the computer plugging away at Teaching Textbooks, or curled up on the couch in front of the fire reading, or practicing piano.  Our days have a predictable routine and of course, there is room for deviation, but our days are not all that exciting.

Last night I posted a photo on IG of us in front of the fire ending our day.  In a few words I summarized what was our Monday: Lilah wrote down all the notes to her Muzio Clementi Sonatina, then read a short biography about his life, completed a notebook page for her Book of Centuries and practiced the sonatina after listening to it on YouTube.  Grace learned the back story to Hey Jude and Yesterday, watched The Beatles old footage on YouTube, figured out where the lyrics to Yesterday went on her sheet music, and dissected the dynamics of this piece.  They both fought their way through math. Lilah read. Grace created an IG account for the kennel she volunteers at. We all previewed 6 history lessons to determine if we want to add the curriculum to our line up.  We ran to Staples to get new binders for their new music. I walked the dog, made lunch and dinner, and cleaned up lunch and dinner.  The girls fed the rabbit and the frogs and the dogs, and we ended the day as we usually do, with Gilmore Girls.  

All good stuff... but it won’t leave you on the edge of your seat.  This blog is about homeschooling, it always has been, and recently I have had readers that I did not even know I have email me asking about writing group, or art journaling, or record keeping, and that motivates me to keep writing about homeschooling middle and high school.  However, what really motivates me to keep recording our lives, is my girls.  My blog books have bent spines from all the times they have been taken off the shelves and opened.  The fun times are all there in between the covers.  The adventures, the playdates, the vacations, field trips, holidays, sports, activities, pets, family, and yes, our lessons, books and projects.  

Homeschooling does not define us, it is just a piece of who we are as a family.  I am not driven by college applications, although college is a goal for my girls.  I am not driven my income generation from sponsors of a blog.  I am not driven by a particular educational philosophy or even a parenting philosophy.  This is just us, as I have said before, the good, the not so good, the magical, and the mundane.  Ultimately, this is a blog written to my girls, to Grace and to Lilah, for them to recount all the ups and downs of our family and smile or laugh or cry at all the day to day moments that comprise our very full lives.  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Working on a Deadline

Working on a deadline is something that my girls have a bit different experience with than other kids their grade level.   They don’t have midterms, like most other kids have right now.  There are no tests to cram for and worry about.  Recently Grace asked me about testing and noticed how much anxiety it creates in her friends who attend school.  Part of me wondered if the process was somehow valuable?  Is the stress and anxiety, the worry and ultimately the outcome, whether it be positive or negative, a true life lesson?  Is she missing a developmental milestone by opting out of this experience?    These are the things I sometimes think about.

"Cramming" to finish her first half of the story by writing group on Friday.

No.  They are not missing out by cramming and regurgitating.  They are not missing out on late nights worrying, stomach aches, and the anticipation of awaiting a grade.  They are not missing out on the elation of an A or the stomach dropping despair of a D or F.  That is not what their deadlines are about.

My girls still have the opportunity to experience deadlines, only they are intrinsic to our life.  Book club meets once a month.  If they don’t finish the book, they do not participate in book club.  This is not a problem for Lilah, she always finishes but there have been a few late, well, late-er nights for Grace, getting the reading done the night before or sometimes even in the hours before the club meeting. 

They both study piano seriously.  They have performances frequently.  Pieces must be mastered.  The “grade” is the quality of their playing.  They never settle for anything less than an A.  

Always practicing!

Writing group has also provided natural deadlines with our restructured class.  If they want to keep up with the pace of the class, they have to work hard during the week to polish and edit their pieces.  There is no grade but they share and they naturally see areas that can be strengthened by what their peers are writing and sharing.  A grade is not really necessary.  They motivate each other to do better.

Our hybrid class - 2 girls are joining online.  Working on writing fairy tales.

A case may be made that these are not the same as a midterm or a final.  I counter that these deadlines are more in line with what they will experience in life.  My deadlines are not test driven.  I need to have my lessons prepared every Sunday for my religious education class.  I need to prepare for writing group, art journaling and the layout of our weeks in terms of meal planning and travel outside of the home.  Greg’s job is extremely deadline driven with reports due on certain days, presentations that must be prepared, meetings that must be attended.  It is very rare that he crams for his meetings or is up late preparing reports.  He manages his time and knows what is due when.  

This is the experience my girls will have with deadlines either for a class, for me, for their employer, or for those they set themselves.  The older the girls get, the more likely people are to compare their homeschooling experience to a traditional high school or middle school experience.  They are almost incomparable at this point.  

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

What Is Working

I thought it fitting to kick off 2015 with a 
What I Know For Sure post.

I know for sure that when I work in my Bible, I am closer to God.  When I search #biblejournaling or #documentedfaith on Instagram I marvel at the works of art people have created out of scripture.  Reading my Bible is not the same as working IN my Bible.  I like to highlight the passages that speak to my soul.  When I was in my Catholic Bible Study class my Priest made a comment that making little notations in the Bible is okay.  My artwork is not little notations.  I asked an online friend about her feelings whether or not it is a sacrilege to mark up your Bible.  In other Christian denominations this is quite common but not so much in the Catholic  community.  My favorite quote is “A Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.”  2015 is the year I learn more about where my Catholic faith originated.  This is the year I learn more about the Bible.  I am currently working in my weekly class at church and SheReadsTruth.com 21 day study of The Gospel of John.

I know for sure that slowing down is best for right now.  We made some changes to our schedule.  Our only outside classes right now are those that we have made a priority: piano, ASL, and horseback riding.  We knew the time had come to invest in a new piano.  Our piano is a vintage Ivers & Pond; a beautiful large upright with rich tones.  It is old, built in the early 1930s.  The keys are no longer responsive to the quick touch needed for songs like Waterfall.  We researched and finally decided on a Yamaha.  My Nana’s piano is still here.  It is a family heirloom and the girls still play on it when they walk by.   There are some changes in store for the girls but I am not at liberty to say just yet.    ASL II is underway and although it did not quite work out the way I planned (because rarely does anything work out quite like I planned) it is good.  The girls are the only 2 students in the adult class.  They can’t switch to the younger class, which has adults who are beginners because the day conflicts with riding and they have already mastered the material.  So for now they are receiving a private lesson.  I am coordinating the time of their lesson to coincide with my volunteer work at church. Riding is still ongoing weekly.  Grace loves it.  Lilah likes it.  Lilah hates extreme temperatures.  She dislikes riding in the heat and in the frigid cold.  Even though they ride in a barn, it is still very cold.  Last week I took Lilah’s lesson and I loved it.  It was a bit hard on my back, but I can cross something off my bucket list.  I think Lilah and I may alternate weeks.  It is a blessing being the same size as my girls.  I wore Lilah’s boots and Grace’s old breeches and Lilah’s helmet.  No extra cost!

Math is working.  I know the girls do not love it, but they are doing well with Teaching Textbooks and both have an A average.  When they work I usually sit with them and knit but last week I had much work to do at church so I left them alone with their lessons and told them to skip over anything that confused or frustrated them and we would review it when I returned.  They flew through their lessons, no arguing, no frustration.  Perhaps hovering is not the best thing to do since it gives the girls an outlet for their complaints.  We printed off a hundreds chart and made a countdown to when they will complete their math for this “year”.  I am encouraging them to work on the weekends to finish sooner but they now have a visual of what lessons are remaining in their programs.  At the end of Algebra I, Grace will take the AccuPlacer test for Community College.  Passing the math portion will allow her to take classes that have a math prerequisite.  

Writing Group is working.  I have always loved this “class” but it has grown and developed into something really wonderful.  Before our holiday break the girls decided they wanted to explore Fairy Tales.  They wanted to construct, deconstruct, analyze, read, and watch fairy tales.  We are all reading fairy tales for certain literary elements and sharing with each other.  We are all working through writing exercises from the text From The Beanstalk and Beyond and for the first time reading and writing is “homework” outside of class.  In fact, this has moved from a creative writing workshop, to more of a class and the girls responded by writing for a solid 90 minutes and working for hours on their own during the week.  I am so excited to see where this study leads us and I just can’t wait to hear how this week’s stories (quests) develop.
*Our book club's read last month was Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life.  Not a fairy tale, but still a quest.  Hours and hours of work went into their book end projects.

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...