Monday, November 30, 2015

Civil Rights Tour: Selma, Montgomery, Birmingham

Travel is one way to gain an appreciation of what you have and what you don’t have.  I don’t think you have to travel to foreign lands to discover new parts of the world and most importantly, new parts of yourself.   We are blessed to live in a diverse, expansive, beautiful country and even though I do not have wanderlust and do not yearn to travel internationally, I do want to see our country and expose myself and my children to as much of it as possible.

When I look back over our past travels, the places we go are remembered in our photo albums and travel journals, but it is the people we meet that stay with us in our hearts.  There was the bookstore owner in Chattanooga, the shell store owner in Sanibel, the restauranteur in Huntsville, the bellhop and the taxi driver in Puerto Rico, our teachers at Marine Science Consortium, and most recently, the woman who at 15 snuck out of her house and marched over the Selma bridge in 1964 and the homeless man who educated us in the park about the history of the Montgomery neighborhood he grew up in and the true stories of some of the monuments we viewed.  Every trip has meaning and every trip teaches us something about ourselves and our unique country.  The people we take the time to chat with give us a new point of view to ponder, a bit of history to view from a different perspective, teachings about a place, thing or event to learn and most importantly they give us questions to answer.  History is his or her story.  Simple.  And not so simple.

Would my 13 and 15 year old daughters sneak out and march?  
Would I be brave enough to say no?
Would we put ourselves in harm’s way to change our lives?
Would we sit in?
Would we share in the dream?

When Grace began to show an interest in civil rights and black culture, I never imagined that this interest would lead us to one day walk over the Edmund Pettus Bridge.  I could not have known that we would sit in the 16th Avenue Baptist Church and pray.  I would never have believed that we would stand at the very bus stop where Rosa Parks took her last ride on a segregated bus.  How could I?  We read stories, made time lines, watched videos, listened to Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have A Dream Speech, but we truly learned when we walked in his footsteps, wrote down our experiences, talked to those who marched, spoke with those who lived in the neighborhood where the protests took place, prayed in the church where a bomb took the lives of children, and realized the enormity of the events that took place fifty years ago.  

There is one moment that I will never ever forget, as we walked through the Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham, Alabama that Lilah looked at me and said, “Mom, this is such a sad place.  Why did you bring us here?”  The empathy she felt for the girls who died at the church tugged on the strings of my heart and we both realized that just outside the window next to us, just a few feet from where we stood the world was changing and children were participating in the struggle for their freedoms.  At this moment I thanked God for my amazing daughters and the experience we had to learn at the source and feel what we were feeling, not from a textbook but from a truly sacred space.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Equine Affaire

2015-2016 Physical Education Course Description:

Bi-Weekly Equestrian lessons at XX Farm, XX Connecticut.                                                                         Volunteer for their summer camp program (20 hours)                                   Volunteer for Fall at the Farm Fundraiser (6 hours)                                Attended Draft Horse Exhibition at Wright’s Farm, Orange, CT (1 hour)                                                                                                                               Attended Equine Affaire: Equine Affaire’s legendary educational programs form the cornerstones of the events.  Attended clinics, seminars, and demonstrations on a wide variety of equestrian sports and horse training, and health. Equine Affaire’s rosters of presenters include Olympians; World and National Champion riders; Pan Am Games, WEG, and NFR competitors; popular equestrian TV personalities; authors; course designers; judges; veterinarians; professors, and other top industry professionals from throughout the United States and beyond. (13 hours)

This is how I write up our course descriptions.  This year is more comprehensive than last year.  When we have the opportunity to attend something related to an area we are interested in, currently studying, or have studied in the past, we do our very best to go!  

This was our first visit to the Equine Affaire.  It is a four day event full of lessons, workshops, demonstrations and seminars, not to mention buildings full of vendors, colleges, rescues, and artists.  I printed the schedule of events and asked the girls to pick their top choice events.  We attended a seminar on the use of essential oils in the barn, a demonstration on liberty training, a seminar on photography, a workshop on trotting/loping, and a workshop on problem behaviors.  

We spoke to some local rescues, like the Connecticut Draft Horse Rescue and some not so local, like one based out of North Dakota, The Nokota Horse Conservancy, which works tirelessly to preserve the Nokota breed, decedents of the horses taken from Sitting Bull’s Lakota people by the US Army in 1881.

We met the biggest horse we have ever seen who weighs in at a whopping 2,300 lbs.  

And we giggled like little kids when we rode on toy horses that were much more of a workout then we were expecting!

It was so nice to be able to do this with the girls.  We have to plan carefully for days like this now.  The two days prior were spend at home resting to conserve energy for the amount of walking required.  Energy levels are beginning to rebound, but are still not where they were prior to pneumonia.  We came home with another event to add to our academic resume and our class description but we came home with so much more; information, interests, new knowledge, and a shared memory.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Time is finite.  We can’t make more of it no matter how hard we try.  We have a set number of hours and minutes in one day.  What we do with them, how we allocate them,   and how we fill them are up to us.  We can say we wish we had more time, or that there are just not enough hours in the day but how many times does an hour simply slip by while searching Pinterest or getting caught up in political drama on Facebook or by watching someone else’s life on YouTube.

One thing that has always been important to me is family.  If we have this amazing opportunity to be home, not confined to a schedule, and did not take time to visit with family and bond with younger cousins and visit with Aunts and Uncles, then I would think that was a tragedy.

The concept of family has been on my mind lately.  How family has changed from eras of the past where the nucleus did not break apart and scatter, how the elders were cared for at home and families cohabited for life.  Now we view it is lazy, unmotivated, and irresponsible for a person in their 20s to live at home even if their “rent” may be helping aging parents pay increasing taxes and utilities and provide maintenance to the home that may someday be passed down to them.  The concept of family home is gone.  When you send kids away at 18 to college with the expectation that they will not come back, that does not foster a strong home environment.  It is almost part of our American culture to leave home.  The early immigrants left home for unknown shores.  The pioneers left home for the west.  Independence, liberty, freedom are our founding concepts as a country, but also as a country made up of what were once very strong individuals.  I also wonder lately why some members of a family are friends and some truly dislike one another.  I reflect on how the actions of the adults create this toxicity.  And yet, we are family, joined by blood, laughter, and tears.  

I am so fortunate to have family close by, at least close enough for planned visits.  This month we watched a Patriot’s game with my cousin’s family in Massachusetts.  We rushed up right after church arriving just a few minutes after kick off.  We spend the day together eating, playing, laughing, and enjoying our time together.

This past weekend our two nieces and a boyfriend came to visit for the weekend.  I love that our home has become their getaway place; their break from school, homework, and jobs.  We eat lots of food, play games, watch movies, and talk.  Lots of talking.  When they are here my heart is full.  When they leave, we start to look forward to when they will return.

Family is a funny thing.  It can make us laugh and it can make us cry.  It can heal us and it can hurt us.  It can bring us joy or it can bring us pain.  I hope my girls do their best to choose the positive in family and work their way through the rest.

What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.

-Mother Theresa

Monday, November 9, 2015

Seeking Silence

How awesome is it that NaNoWriMo falls at the same time the bulk of our novel writing with OYAN is beginning?!  In our last lesson, the instructor, Daniel, commented that inspiration is not always a given.  Authors do not always have the luxury of waiting to write until they feel inspired to write.  Often then have to push through it.   It’s not always easy and it’s not always fun.  

I think it is my “job” to try to make it fun.  One of my most favorite writing memories was working at Yale University while Grace attended a Splash.  I wrote at a coffee shop and I wrote at the library and I loved it, every moment of it.  I can’t tell you what I was writing about, although I think it was my still unpublished art journaling eBook.  What I can tell you is that I felt like a writer.  That feeling was what I wanted the girls to experience so we packed our laptops in backpacks and headed to New Haven.

Our first stop was Foundry Music, our favorite music store.  We are in desperate need for advanced level sheet music for all things Christmas.  Grace is going to play the piano for our Christmas Pageant at church and I am hoping she will be able to play at the local community dinner once a week during the month of December.  She needs more challenging material and material that is fun to play. 

We walked to Yale on a sunny, 70 degree fall day.  It could not have been more perfect.  I do not know the entire layout of the library, but I know two rooms that I have worked in and they envelope the writer in glorious silence.  The girls actually felt the silence to be strange, which is such as sad commentary on the state of our culture.  I explained that there are so few places where you can go for silence now.  Silence has been stolen from us with the placement of televisions in our line of vision everywhere from at the bank to at the gas station, even in New York City taxicabs.  When silence becomes strange, it is a clear sign that we need to seek it out more often.  

My goal for the girls was to finish chapter 1.  Grace finished.  Lilah worked on revising what she already wrote and then added several more pages. She is not done but she is close, close enough that moving on to chapter 2 will not be too much for her.  Our friend Victoria had a goal to write up to 150 pages in her journal and she met that goal.  

I know that if we sat at home and I asked the girls to write, they may write, but it would be reluctantly.  We have always taken writing outside, to the beach, or to the park.  We have 11 more chapters to write.  That gives us the opportunity to explore many more magical writing locations. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Wright's Farm Draft Horse Exhibition

One aspect to my record keeping is to continually search out opportunities that fit our areas of study.  Last year Grace earned one credit in horseback riding for Physical Activity.  Lee Binz states that if a child plays a high school sport it is automatically a credit.  In Connecticut, homeschoolers do not have the option to play on their local school teams, so we have sought out individual opportunities.  Last year her time was spent at lessons and at two horse shows where she competed.  

I have read threads on homeschooling Facebook pages questioning if a child should earn multiple credits in the same subject, for example Equestrian I, II, III and IV or just one credit.  I refuse to discredit my girls and not count what they are doing each year, especially if each year is more strenuous than the last.  I have also read that colleges are impressed by students who show dedication and determination in one area.  Ultimately it comes down to keeping a transcript that you as the educator, feel honors your child’s work and demonstrates their commitment, and accurately reflects their achievements.   I have to provide the opportunities to make each year more comprehensive than the previous year, which is why being a homeeducator is in itself, a full time job.  

This year the girls increased their riding time from one lesson to two lessons a week.  They are now completely independent in fetching their horse, grooming, tacking and untacking.  They have volunteered their time assisting with the Festival at the Farm in October and on November 1st, we attended a local draft horse exhibition.  This was not a huge event, but a gathering of draft horse enthusiasts, who held demonstrations and showed their animals.  We fell a bit more in love with draft horses.  

We are really looking forward to a large show next week where we will have the opportunity to attend workshops tailored to what we are most interested in.  I list these events in the course description of their “class”.  Equestrian Studies II, 2015-2016 will be filled with some pretty interesting, educational, as well as f-u-n opportunities.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Finding Joy and Wonder in Biology

October was hard.  Sickness slowed us down, way down.  At times my only goal was to get math done.  Now that we are back on track, we have some catching up to do but not at the expense of joy and wonder.  

We are using Apologia Biology for Grace’s studies.  It covers each of the Kingdoms as a unit beginning with Kingdom Monera, or bacteria.  While she was interested, she was not enthralled.   Imagine my joy when I realized that overnight our yard had sprouted mushrooms!  One of the beauties of home education is that you do not have to go in order.  The way Apologia is structured allows the student to skip modules and connect their reading to real life understanding.  Grace however, is orderly and linear.  She felt strange skipping ahead to module 4 but I assured her it would be worth it.  
She began reading about fungi and we began making our first ever spore print from the mushrooms in our yard.  Spore prints are ridiculously easy.  Remove stem, place mushroom gill side down on a piece of paper and cover with a glass bowl or cup and let sit overnight.  When the mushroom is removed, the spores leave behind a copy of the mushroom, almost like a natural photocopy.

I realized that for each mushroom we should use light and dark paper and I would use a heavier weight paper than copier paper next time.  I used my Krylon spray as a fixative to hold the spores permanently and it dried clear and seems to have worked.  

One other change we made was with the Apologia Biology Notebook.  It is a wonderful resource but it leaves no room for creativity, none.  I told Grace to skip a question and use the space for a drawing of a mushroom diagram using one of my favorite resources, Julia Rothman’s Natural Anatomy and I used a piece a cardstock to block out half a page to free up room to put her mushroom spore print in her journal, adhering it with packing tape.  I love the effort that Apologia requires but it must be coupled with joy and wonder.  Always.

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...