Thursday, September 29, 2016

Plimouth Plantation

I have a tendency to stress the small stuff and it is always Greg who centers me and brings me back to balance.  I want all homeschooling has to offer.  I want the classes for my girls, the new friendships, the social time hanging out after coop, the yearbook and next year I will want the graduation. They want these things too.  So we have to find a way to keep balanced in a crazy life.  I do not want to celebrate busy or make busy our idol.  I'm sure it is the same everywhere, but here in this cramped corner of New England busy is normal and busy is seen as productive.  Busy is celebrated.  Busy is a badge on honor.  So how do you live a busy life while still finding time for quiet?  You honor the moments of quiet and calm and give thanks to God for the opportunity to be busy.  

Busy brought us a great field trip to Plimouth Plantantion, Mayflower II and Plymouth Rock.  It brought us 6 hours in the car to catch up on sleep and get some reading done.  It brought us a blustery day with the smell of salt air and the screech of seagulls.  It brought us time with classmates and teachers.  It brought us time to hear our history book (Notgrass Exploring America 1) come to life.  Literally come to life.  I wish Grace took a picture of the man portraying one of the original voyagers with his crystal blue eyes, aged face and craggy beard and perfect accent.  He brought lessons 8, 9 and 10 to life by retelling exactly what they had read in preparation for this trip!  It was awesome and I loved listening to him share his story with us.

This was our second trip to Plimouth, the first one happening three years ago before they had knowledge of our history and before they had an understanding of the implications of this voyage.  One thing that came resonated with me as we ran into character after character perfectly portrayed as if we truly had stepped back in time, was the values of resiliency, self determination, self reliance, entrepreneurial spirit, community, and faith that each person held to be true.  I wonder how these settlers of Plymouth would feel if they could spend a day in this day and age, 2016, and see how far we have strayed from these beliefs that they held to be self evident.  I wonder...

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

September 2016

Like most months, this one has flown by.  I swear they are going by faster and faster and I just want to reach out and hold on and make one slow down just a bit.  September was a good month filled with birthday love, friendships both new and old, family time around my mother's dining room table, and the start of new educational programs.  

We are still adjusting to the work load increase that our coop brought us.  The addition of two classes, The Hero's Journey and History, has made for a home that looks just a little bit more traditional and less like it has looked for the previous eight years and some of us are deciding if that is a good thing or not.  For the record, I think it is a good thing.  The girls wanted more' more challenge, more opportunities, more friends, more time to be with friends and I was struggling to provide this to two very different girls with different learning styles, different personalities, and different interests.  I'm only one Mama and my hat goes off to those who homeschool large families.  

If you join an educational program, there is work that comes with that and time must be allowed to transition from a more unschooled way of life where we worked at our own pace, followed rabbit trails wherever they led, had few deadlines, and created our own schedule.  Now we are up every day early (still not as early as the kids on the school bus who goes by my house at 6:30am), but early for us.  Now we are packing backpacks.  Now we are creating schedules in planners and making sure that every single piece of work is listed so nothing is forgotten.  Now we are using what we once considered "free" time to work.  Work: activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.  We don't do "school", but we do do work.  What are we doing?

Current reading: The Odyssey.  What I thought would kill us has truly made us stronger.  Lilah detests Odysseus and has valid reasons for this.  Grace is keeping up and she will skim over the violent scenes like when Odysseus spears the Cyclops because she is Grace and violence does not enter her world in any way.  They are writing essays -- the assignment this week was to write about an epic failure and what you learned from it.  The essays had to be run through a grammar check and sent via Google drive by Monday night.   They were.  Six books (chapters) had to be read this week and Lilah completed her reading but Grace did not.  The two unfinished books will be added to this week's workload.  That's okay.  That's life learning.  Learning to work smarter.  She sure is working harder.

History:  Unit 4 out of 15 already!  By the end of the first semester the entire book will be finished.  For each unit, they must answer and hand in 5 questions which is totally reasonable.  This week we are headed to Plimouth Plantation for a guided tour.  There are more trips to follow.

Photography 102: yes there is homework and it often involves driving to locations but this is fun work and I love it as much as they do!

Piano/worship band/cello/music theory:  We upped our music game this year adding music theory (taught by Lilah's cello teacher) for Grace and Lilah is now playing with the worship band at coop and Grace is playing with worship band at youth group.  This brings significantly more practice time during the week.


Math: we have to make the time to work through a lesson a week

Science: same here.  We have 4 hours of video for Biology 101 left.

Driver's Ed: 40 hours must be logged and an 8 hour drug and alcohol class must be taken along with a 2 hour parent education class.  This is challenging because Lilah cannot be in the car while I give Grace a lesson.  While I feel this rule is ridiculous, it is the law, and we fit in driving lessons at the end of the day when the work is done and Lilah can stay home.

Then there are the little things that are not so little, like going to Manhattan on Saturdays for ASL which takes all afternoon, and church which is not a burden but occupies most of our Sunday.  Throw in a Doctor appointment, dentist or chiropractor and that adds stress AND it is important to have friend time too.  

We are still figuring it out.  It is going to take some time, perhaps all semester, but we are growing and striving for excellence, and discovering. Day to day and week to week we are learning.

Monday, September 26, 2016


I remember 5 year old Grace staring up at Rockefeller Center, neck craned, tree glistening in front of her like it was yesterday.  We were in the city to see the lights, window displays and of course, the tree.  She always loved the city, loved the noises, the bright lights, the energy.  For the longest time her deepest desire was to live in a brownstone and have 100 cats.  When I kneeled next to her on that cold winter night, I told her there was a restaurant at the very top of Rockefeller Center and that I was lucky enough to to go there once, for a company Christmas Party.  I told her we would go when she turned sixteen.

Sixteen.  It seemed so far away back then.  In the trenches of motherhood with two kids in cribs, two kids in diapers, bottles, dogs, toys, blankets, stuffed animals, car seats, soppy cups, high chairs, and binkies, having a teenager seemed so far away.  The teen years snuck up on me and I've gone from having two babies in diapers to two teenagers sharing clothes, going away with friends on retreats, joining challenging educational programs, and picking careers.  Blink.  We were at the tree.  Blink.  She is 16. 

We talked about that promise I made her all those years ago and we looked into dinner at the Rainbow Room but Grace does not like getting fancied up and we are not really fancy eaters.  Greg and I are, but as a family, we are more back yard barbecue than fine cuisine.  So instead we are going to New York soon, to Carnegie Hall, because we are music people.  That will culminate what has been a pretty fantastic sixteenth birthday for Grace.

On her actual birthday, the 13th, she had her first day of her educational cooperative where she is taking American History (Notgrass Exploring America 1 and American Voices), English (The Hero's Journey, essay writing and literature), study period, and painting.  She had a good time.  She made a new friend to have lunch with and she enjoyed her classes, even the English one!  From coop she ran to her first worship band practice and then to youth group.  She got home around 10pm and we had cake, ice cream and opened presents.   Our gift to her was a camera lens she has wanted for ages, an Olympus zoom lens.  

Her birthday celebration went on and on.  At 10am Wednesday she passed her permit test and is now driving!

Thursday she drove to see her friend Victoria which was pretty cool.  She is confident and capable.  We have lots of work to do but bit by bit she will get there and will soon be as independent as she feels.

Friday was another stellar day. We picked up her friend and she came with us to Grace's first piano lesson of the new year.  They share the same teacher and having a lesson together was fun for them.  After piano we ate at Maggie McFly's and indulged in yummy gluten free cupcakes before viewing Hillsong's new movie, Let Hope Rise.  It was awesome and the best part was coming out of the movie and running into a bunch of people we know and love from church!

Saturday was tough.  Getting bed late did not make for an easy rise and commute to New York for her sign language class.  ASL is a bit tough this semester.  She is torn between wanting to take the class and grow in her second language, but she also wants  to be home with Greg running errands, playing with Crosby and having family time.  Little did she know that for about a month her sister and friends were planning a surprise party at our house for when she returned.  They were there, hiding under our breakfast bar and jumped out and scared poor Grace to death!  She was completely shocked and touched beyond words.  She just hugged them and this is no small thing because Grace is not a hugger.  This was prayer answered.  We prayed so hard for a larger group of friends for Grace because she needs more peer interaction than what she had last year.  She needed to feel included in a group, loved on and appreciated for all her gifts and quirks.  This group gets her, gets her in a way that makes you think they have known each other a long time instead of just 9 months.  They had dinner, cake, and watched a movie, Once I Was A Beehive.  I hid away upstairs and smiled every time I heard them laugh.

Sunday concluded birthday week with dinner at my parent's house where gifts were given to both Lilah and Grace.   Grace is now the proud owner of a ukulele and has learned all of Grace Van der Walde's songs.  We love her but she might be driving us a bit nuts......

And like the blink of an eye my babies are now taller than me.  They are lovely young ladies.  They are my everything.  Sixteen, the start to what I hope will be a very, very good year._

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Fair Warrior 24 Hour Retreat: Ender's Island, Mystic, Connecticut

24 hours to retreat, to withdraw from the normal schedule of life and focus all your energy on the bolstering of your faith is a gift and one I deeply appreciate.  Many people worked together for my benefit to make these 24 hours possible. 

To sit in silence by the shore and reflect on welcoming Jesus into your physical body is incredibly powerful when done in this setting, where God is in every detail, every flower petal, every rock formation, every grapevine, and every blade of grass.  God is in the hands that prepare the food to eat, the rooms to sleep and the spaces to gather.  He is in the breeze that blows through the windows.  He is there among the friends that gather in His name.  He is there.   While I retreated, over and over the song Abide With Me by Matt Maher played in my mind.

"Abide With Me"

I have a home, eternal home
But for now I walk this broken world
You walked it first, You know our pain
But You show hope can rise again up from the grave

Abide with me, abide with me
Don’t let me fall, and don’t let go
Walk with me and never leave
Ever close, God abide with me

There in the night, Gethsemane
Before the cross, before the nails
Overwhelmed, alone You prayed
You met us in our suffering and bore our shame

Abide with me, abide with me
Don’t let me fall, and don’t let go
Walk with me and never leave
Ever close, God abide with me

Oh love that will not ever let me go
Love that will not ever let me go
You never let me go
Love that will not ever let me go
Oh You never let us go

And up ahead, eternity
We’ll weep no more, we’ll sing for joy, abide with me

~Matt Maher

Photography 102: Beyond the Basics

It's a new semester of photography and my girls are thrilled.  We contracted with the friend of their last photography teacher, who moved to Colorado.  He is teaching Photography 102: Beyond the Basics which will meet at his studio and on location at local areas of interest.

Two of their friends wanted to take this class but did not have the prerequisite 101 skills.  The beauty of homeschooling is if there is a willingness, there is a solution.  The kids completed the online course Photography Starter Kit available on for under $40.  Then Grace held a photography boot camp at our house one afternoon.  The kids brought their cameras and their newfound knowledge and Grace showed them how to put the two together.  

Even Lilah joined this because her camera does not allow raw photography which is a requirement for this class.  Sharing Grace's camera does not work (learned that last semester) so she is using my Canon DSLR and while she understands the terminology, she needed assistance in learning to use my camera.  

For three hours they explored photography.  They went to the park and worked on aperture, shutter speed, ISO and more.  They took some fun pictures and had a good time together.  

Decision America: Hartford

Sometimes themes in our homeschool/family just happen without any intention on my part.  I don't plan for them and I don't create opportunities to develop them, the opportunities come to me.  I always follow these themes.

A while back I wrote about my feelings of uncertainty surrounding the upcoming presidential election.  I fear that no matter which candidate is elected, our country is in for some hard times.  I came across a quote by Andy Stanley that basically said, stop.  Just stop because our children are watching us and what we project, they internalize.  There is an election.  There are two candidates (major ones), and we have a choice.  The candidate may or may not reflect our values, our morals, our philosophies, our ideologies.  We have to choose the one that most closely aligns to our standards (or God's) and vote.  We vote for a President-elect, however, if we are seeking real, lasting change, we are looking in the wrong place.  Instead of looking at the horizon, worrying, wondering, hoping, fearing, championing a person, we should be looking up and praying, worshiping, and seeking God.  

This message has been presented over and over in our family.  First at Chris Tomlin's Worship Night in America, at our local event, Revive, and once again at Franklin Graham's Decision America tour which came to Hartford September 2.  Grace and I attended. Lilah went off to help Gram watch Jake for the day.  I'm so glad we took this opportunity and drove to Hartford to hear his message.  I know I cannot vote for one candidate.  No way, no how.  Never. So I do have a choice.  I can abstain my vote, or I can "hold my nose" and vote which is what I will do.  There is one candidate who will bring a conservative ideology back to the Supreme Court.  There is one candidate who has a Christian running mate (the other claims to be but supports abortion).  There is one candidate who has surrounded himself with men and women of character.  

This was an interesting day filled with prayer, patriotism and pride.  Grace is still a bit young to understand the implications of this election but I think she will always remember this day and the message that was preached.

On the way home we stopped at The Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford and then went out for bubble tea in West Hartford.  

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Port Jefferson, Long Island

I don't get a day to myself often and when I do, I struggle not to feel guilty about taking it.  On a beautiful late August day, I ventured to Long Island with the members of my community group at church.  Our church is quite large, with approximately 3,000 people attending the three services every Sunday.  To find your place in such a large group there are community groups.  Some churches call them small groups or life groups.  I love the term life group because in a very short amount of time, you open your life up to the people in your group.  These are the people I asked to pray for Lilah before and during her surgery.  These are the people I carve out time for every Wednesday night to pray with, talk with, and learn from.  

Before our group resumes meeting weekly, we ended the summer, or depending on how you look at it, began our fall, by sharing time together at one of our member's homes on Long Island. We walked around Port Jefferson, ate lunch at a burger bistro, sat by the pool and sipped lemonade, enjoyed a delicious grilled dinner, prayed together and then took the magical nighttime ferry ride home.

Yale Art Museum, John Trumbull and History Homework

Two weeks ago we had another class at the Yale Art Museum.  This month the focus was American Art.  It would have been easy to skip this class.  It was h-o-t, Grace just returned from Lead Week the night before, Greg was home, we don't have any friends in this class, etc.  It would have been so easy to stay home, relax and get Grace unpacked.

However, it is a rare occasion when Greg is able to join in on our homeschool adventures, so we went.  We toured a temporary exhibit of 19th century furniture made in Rhode Island.  The docent had a great scavenger hunt that kept the kids engaged in what could be considered a less than captivating exhibit.  

We studied the works of Edward Hopper, which Greg loved because he is a big fan.  Then we went upstairs to the hall of Presidents which is where things got interesting (for me).  We learned about John Trumbull, the painter, as well as the person the town next to us is named after.  We discussed historical portraits and how often the artist improvised some of the details, because the painting was often created after the event occurred.  We discussed George Washington's "costume" which still bothers me to my toes.  It is not a costume, it is a uniform.  Then we ate lunch at our favorite noodle house and we went home and filed Edward Hopper and John Trumbull away in the part of our brain that is designated for history and moved on.

Until yesterday when our history homework had us reading the speech Knowing History and Knowing Who We Are by David McCullough given at Hillsdale College in 2005 and there in the middle of his speech he references John Trumbull.

 "You look at the great paintings by John Trumbull or Charles Willson Peale or Copley or Gilbert Stuart of those remarkable people who were present at the creation of our nation, the Founders as we call them. Those aren’t just likenesses. They are delineations of character and were intended to be. And we need to understand them, and we need to understand that they knew that what they had created was no more perfect than they were." - David McCullough.

If you have time, read his words.  We found them very interesting and informative.  But back to my point, here is a reference to what we just learned two weeks earlier.  How can that happen over and over and over again?  I know it happens because we are on the path that is right for us.  We are off to a strong start this year and my prayer is that we can maintain it.  We love our new history program by Notgrass.  We would not have chosen this program if it were not for coop and we would not have read this speech from Notgrass American Voices if it were not assigned as homework.  

Our coop begins tomorrow, the enrichment part, the fun classes of photography, drawing, pottery, worship band, and guitar and the academic classed begin Tuesday.  I am hopeful that the work we have done in preparation for these classes is indicative of the work that will be done in class and our time spent with these groups will be challenging, productive, enriching, joyful, and fruitful.  At the intersection of life and learning, greatness can be found.  Here's to a new year, a new coop, a new curriculum, a new peer group, new challenges, new friendships, new opportunities, and new learning adventures!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016


Grace's 11th Grace year

Finishing up Math-U-See Geometry in fall.  Spring TBD.
New Member of youth group's worship band
Music Theory (taught by Lilah's cello teacher)
Portrait Photography (coop)
Studio Photography (professional photographer hired to teach class)
Horseback riding
Trampoline lessons
American History (Notgrass American History 1 and 2 and American Voices with literature component)
Hero's Adventure (English - fall semester)
Painting (fall semester)
Dave Ramsey's financial literacy with Generation BE (fall semester)
Biology 101 series, Chemistry 101 series
Driver's Education
ASL 4 at The Sign Language Center in Manhattan

Lilah's 9th Grade Year

Writer's Workshop with Gail Carson Levine (completed summer 2016) 
*She already has one credit for English from One Year Adventure Novel.  She completed curriculum with word count of 20,000+ which is more than anticipated freshman word count.  
Hero's Adventure (English - fall semester)
Science: Biology 101 series
Cello lessons
Worship band at coop
Pottery (coop)
Drawing (coop)
Painting (coop)
Studio photography (professional photographer)
Horseback riding lessons
French 1
American History (Notgrass American History 1 and 2, American Voices and literature component)
Math U See PreAlgebra
Youth Group
Continued work as classroom assistant in Student Ministry

Our fall will be busy, busy, busy.  There are four field trips with history, on site photo shoots with studio photography, retreats with youth group, and thankfully there is also time to relax.  We are out of the house 3 of the 5 week days and Grace will be busy on Saturdays also (her choice).  The days we are not at outside classes or coop, we will sleep in and work at the library.  I hope that I have balanced their needs and met some of their wants. I hope that they are happy with the social opportunities coop provides and that Lilah meets wonderful friends at youth group.  I hope that I can maintain the energy needed to keep up with two teens.  

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...