Friday, February 19, 2016

Kent Falls

Valentine's has never been a huge day for us.  My philosophy is that if you need a special day to celebrate your love, you’re not loving right.  This year Valentine’s Day fell on a Sunday and we were able to sleep in a bit, go to church, and then tackle photography homework, as a family.  

Grace asked if we could take a ride to Kent Falls to photograph the frozen waterfall.  She had an idea in her head of what she wanted to capture and felt compelled to try to match the picture in her head to the picture on her camera.  Mind you, it was 8 degrees with a windchill of well below zero.  Normally this kind of weather will keep me on the couch in front of the fire with a book or a good movie, not hiking up a hill, breathing in air so cold, it hurts your lungs.  But that is just what we did.  We hiked half way up, stopping for pictures at each landing.  

Sadly, the captures were not quite what she wanted.  This week’s theme is black and white and she was hoping for just a bit more unfrozen water to capture the moment with a long exposure.  The ice came out a bit grainy and she fears this is not going to impress her instructor. 

Lilah found a cool “cake house” which may have been some kind of pumping station along the Housatonic River.  She is going to turn it into her black and white abstract photo.  

All in all, it was a beautiful Valentine’s Day.  There may not have been flowers or candy or cards, but there was love, so much love.  

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Lilah’s snowboarding season has come to an end.  A simple fall with an outstretched hand resulted in two broken bones in her left wrist.  For the next 6 weeks she gets to wear a snazzy green cast.  Thankfully this cast is waterproof and below the elbow, so while it is a pain in the wrist, it could have been so much worse.  

The truly hard part will come when we return to the hill next week for our scheduled snowboarding lesson and she has to join me in the lodge when she would much rather be out on the hill with her sister.  It’s a good thing this girl loves her books.  A new one might be the only way to soothe her disappointment.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Personal Responsibility and Accountability

Some days I get too caught up inside my own head, dealing with my own what ifs?  What if we don’t finish history?  What if the new math program we bought for geometry stinks?  What if we don’t find time this week to work on our stories?  I then realize that Grace is half way through 10th grade and I have another mini-panic attack.  What if this was a mistake? What if she changes her mind and wants to go to a 4 year university away from home?  What will we do to assign grades and create a GPA?  And ugh, I can’t stand grades and GPAs, but colleges love them.  I may not be a “working”mom, but the homeschool mom has a full time job, and often another full time or part time paying job on top of that.  

My days are spent shuttling the girls to the hill for snowboarding, to the barn for riding, to New York City for sign language, to Westchester county for the wolf class, to Darien for piano, to church for youth group, to photography class, and this is all before we add in the “life” issues like dentist, naturopath appointments, eye exams, hanging out with friends and the home responsibilities like food shopping, picking up dry cleaning, cleaning the house and trying desperately to keep up with laundry.  Not to mention taking care of two dogs, one who is elderly and senile who has taken to peeing and pooping all over the house.  Add in a rabbit and two frogs and its a full life.  

It occurred to me that I am not teaching time management skills.  We are half way through the year (we tend to do some schooling year round) and while we are doing well, we have fallen a bit off course in history (due to our civil rights detour) and in science.  I want to rectify this now, rather than face a huge panic attack in April after our next trip.  I spoke with the girls, explained how I was feeling and explained that kids in school are better with time management because they have to be.  Our friends are in the middle of mid-terms right now, balancing studies with their sports and other responsibilities.  They know what is due each day, how much it counts for their grade and where to go to find their grades, their GPA and how to go about seeking extra credit to pull up a grade if necessary.  If I don’t address some of these topics, my girls will have a large learning curve once they hit college age and no matter how smart you are, if you cannot manage time and keep current with workloads, you will fail college level classes.  

Enter the planner.  We have been down this road before.  We plan, we detour, we stray off course and eventually everything gets done but up until now it has always been on a relaxed schedule.  If we plan to finish in May but actually finish in July, it has always been okay.  I have often said “it always gets done.” and it does but a college class will finish in May and students do not have the option to continue on past the end date and work until they are done.  With Grace planning to duel-enroll this summer, it is now time to develop some new habits.  

We sat down one on one with a planner and listed out all the subjects and the time it takes to complete them each week.  Then we filled in the calendar with the lessons that are away from home, youth group, babysitting commitments, and time with friends.  In the time that is left, we put together a schedule of when work can be done.  This will be done on a weekly basis as our weeks can change with babysitting, riding, and friends.  Most of our core lessons stay the same.  

This means getting up earlier, doing math daily before our out of the home routine starts, and making a commitment to excellence rather than mediocrity.  It will be interesting to see how Grace does with this new system.  My hope is that by May it will be second hand so she can head into her first summer class at community college understanding how to account for time and manage workloads.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Breaking the Cycle at The Peabody Museum

Back in the fall an email came through about a Teen Summit at Yale’s Peabody Museum focusing on social justice and celebrating Martin Luther King Day.  I love when opportunities arise that tie in perfectly to what we are studying.  I signed both girls up, as well as their friend, and planned to add this to our Civil Rights half credit.    

About 100 teens gathered together in a small auditorium on Sunday, January 17th where they were welcomes and encouraged to talk and interact through a multicultural ice breaker in which they had to find other teens who met certain criteria like, can speak more than one language, has lived in another country, knows sign language, etc.  The girls mingled and collected signatures and enjoyed this activity.  

The main speaker for this event was Hashim Garrett, with the organization Breaking the Cycle, Breaking the Cycle of Violence Through Forgiveness. This presentation gave me chills as he described what went through his mind as a 15 year old child laying in a pool of his own blood abandoned by his friends who played a role in his attempted assignation, wondering if he was literally left to die alone.  I teared up as he spoke of a white EMS worked who transported him and a Jewish female doctor who saved him through a many month hospitalization but also through intervention with his parents in finding a safe home to accommodate him through his extensive recovery.  He spoke of laying in bed hatred filling his heart that almost stopped beating and the desire for revenge consuming his soul.  

Hashim spoke his opinion that crowds can gather and march and protest in the spirit and legacy of Mr. King, but our culture seems to have forgotten one key element, the forgiveness.  He spoke of his anger and also of others who have been involved in tragedies like mass shooting, or who have been the children of abusive parents, or the victims of random acts of violence and the one thing they have in common was that they could not live until they learned to forgive.  The act, the physical act and conscious choice of forgiveness set them free.  Its not always easy and at times it is a daily practice but it is so necessary.

Truthfully the concept of forgiveness has eluded me.  I wondered how parents can forgive their children’s killers, how spouses can overcome anger when their life partner was taken from them by a drunk driver or how students can forgive their peers who torment them mercilessly.  A book was given away at this summit, Why Forgive, by Johann Christoph Arnold.  This book is filled with personal accounts of forgiveness and now I have a much better understanding that forgiveness does not just wash over you magically erasing the pain and hurt, but it is a conscious decision to let go of the pain and hurt so that the living can live.  I highly recommend it.  I read it in little doses every day.  I think it is more powerful that way rather than reading it in one sitting.

Bravo to The Peabody for organizing this and thank you to Mr. Garrett who affected me more than he will ever know.  

On a side note, there was a teen art contest and Grace enlarged her photo of The Edward Pettus Bridge from our trip to Selma and entered it.  She placed top 10.  

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Snowboarding with Tyler

My blogging is horribly out of date.  I now blog when I have time rather than several times a week and I go through my camera roll to jog my memory of what we have done and where we have gone.  So much of their learning right now happens away from me.  I have to beg them to remember to snap a picture here or there so I have a record of the moment for them to look back in our blog books.

Snowboarding in the snow, February 8, 2016

Two weeks ago Tyler joined us on the mountain.  He is truly an incredible snowboarder.  When I saw his first run, I literally gasped at the speed he accumulated and for a moment I wasn’t sure watching would be a good idea.  He joined up with one of the girls’ instructors who was not teaching and the two of them were pure grace on snow.

Tyler and Grace are fearless and they enticed Lilah to step out of her comfort zone and try the chair lift.  Having him there gave her confidence and a feeling of safety and after that first run, they went again and again and again for hours and hours.  We were blessed to have a mostly empty mountain which quickly filled up when school let out and ski teams came for practice and local teens came to hang out and ski.  That was our cue to head home.  After we dropped Tyler off Lilah sighed and said she was so disappointed that this magical day had to come to an end.  It was like the eve of Christmas Day.  The letdown was intense and the desire to do it again was immediate.

Next year we are going to look into a multi family ski rental in Vermont.  With a few more lessons the girls (who jumped from level 1 to levels 2 and 3 after their second lesson) will be ready.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Digital Photography II

There is a mom I know who is skilled at seeking out experts in the field and asking them to create educational opportunities for homeschooled children.  She organized Soundwaters, one of our all time favorite classes, and she has done it again with Digital Photography I and II with a professional photographer working in New York City. We opted to pass on level I because Grace had covered all the topics through her online class and her class at Milford Photo, however, in hindsight I wish she took it simply because Gus is a great teacher and he has fanned the flame of her interest and has taken her photography to a whole new level.  

This class meets weekly for 90 minutes.  In addition to the class there is at least 90 minutes of homework each week and the assignments are challenging.  This is not a point and shoot class.  Grace purchased herself a good quality tripod with Christmas money as it is necessary in order to capture quality photos when using long exposures, otherwise every little shake will affect the outcome.  

We subscribed to a 90 day trial of Adobe Photoshop which they love.  It had a large learning curve but now that they understand it, they want to extend the subscription so they don't lose access when class ends.

We are a third of the way through the class.  Lilah has felt in over her head at times and we came to an understanding that for her course of study, this class is not required for high school or middle school credit.  It is a learning opportunity and what she takes away is more than what she took into the class.  She is trying so hard, but photography is like a foreign language.  The talk of f-stops, aperture and ISO settings, depth of field, panning, and noise can be overwhelming and this week an email was sent asking for clarification of the difference between light painting and light trails, because after all can’t a light trail also be a painting or a cool painting can create a light trail?......this was a huge point of contention in our house this week!  

The results speak for themselves but the most amazing thing I realized is that because Gus sets such high standards for his students, his students meet them.  Grace puts hours of effort into planning her photos knowing that when she uploads them to the group Flickr account, she wants to match the quality of her peers.  Her competitive nature runs deep and in this case it is propelling her forward.  Lilah is focused more on beauty and cares not about her class standing.  During a recent photo shoot in our home that was not for class, she spoke at length about the quality of her photos and how quality is affected by the age of my dslr camera and I just smiled because she is battling through frustration and she is learning.

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...