Sunday, August 01, 2010

Closing the Circle

It's been awhile, a long while. This evening, in an email to a friend, I mentioned homeschool and this blog. Then I came to the blog and poked around a bit. It seemed so unfinished. As if we'd all just vanished. Poof.

That's not true - we're still here, alive and kicking. And I felt I wanted a little closure and that the blog needed it. So here's the final post and a short history of our past two years. I'll try to keep it short.

The main news is that we are no longer homeschooling. We did a third year after moving to our new home and what we did that year was amazing. Trickster tales, and Jakata and Tibetan Buddhism, and multiplication and division and natural science and art. It was a grand year. We even put on a fabulous play with the homeschooling group in town and it was wonderful. But I didn't blog about any of it. I found that being in a new house, which sustained lots of damage in a flood about a month after we moved in, and chasing my EXTREMELY active 3 year-old combined with the loss of my best homeschooling blogger buddy (she moved away - sniff) and the loss of most of my part-time income that the blog fell to the wayside. But it was a glorious homeschool year. I'd like to promise to put everything up but it's a promise I know I won't keep.

At the end of that year we got word of an amazing new charter school that was planning to open. It's a school designed by the teachers and sounded a lot like homeschooling - only in a school setting (sadly, though, it's not Waldorf). Nightowl was keen to check it out so we put her name in the hat. She got in, tried it, loved it starting day one. The switch for her was pretty easy - the open class rooms, the child led learning, no grades, the focus on art - it was all very familiar. The switch was harder for me as it felt a bit like I'd been fired from my job. Sigh. But truth be told it's a wonderful school and I'm so grateful that it opened here, mere blocks from the fabulous money pit we call home.

So where are we now? Bearcub is 5-years-old and enrolled for fall and will be starting kindergarten at the aforementioned charter school. She is big and busy - quite the amazon at nearly 48 inches and 75 pounds. She's ridiculously coordinated and has a fierce right hook. She's a natural athlete and is gearing up for all the athletics that become available at age 5 - soccer, swim team, hockey. Heaven help us. Nightowl is now 10. She had no problem transitioning to school and is doing quite well - there are no grades so I can't give you a number but trust me when I say she is thriving and completing tasks far above grade level. She is still quite devoted to violin and has begun master classes and group/quartet playing. Her love of chickens prevails and this summer we finally put up a coop and ordered chicks (they are brooding in our basement right now). She is over the moon and has plans for joining 4H next year.

And me? I miss schooling. I loved teaching and love my kids. But I also love the charter school and am so grateful for what my girls are getting. True we gave up a few things but what we are getting is so much more. Of course, should we need to, I can return to homeschooling them – Nightowl has already said that she plans to homeschool for high school – we'll see. In the meantime I'm trying to work more (no easy task in this horrible economy) and working to turn my little urban lot into a smallish farm. I keep busy.

Thanks to everyone who ever read my blog - for your support and posts. I won't be removing the blog because maybe someone will find our early lessons useful. If you're considering homeschooling let me tell you this: you can do it. It's much easier than you think and much harder than you think. But you can do it. And it will be grand.

Peace ~ Aleisha

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Nursery School for Bearcub

"Parents would do well, during this age, to make use of preschools, childcare, and babysitting."
– from Your Three-Year-Old, Friend or Enemy
Truth, we've enrolled Bearcub in nursery school. Three mornings a week. She attends with her best friend. And? It's marvelous. She hit's the ground running in the morning eager to go. It's loving, play-based, gentle, amazing. And for us? Three days a week our muscles unclench and we focus on Nightowl and each other. No bizarre crashes, screaming fits, broken glass and other such nonsense. As a homeschooler it feels like kind of a copout, but a necessary one. We're all much, much happier.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Welcome Back 2.5

Our first day went well, probably because of the plan. Even things with the Bearcub went smoothy. Honeymoon period? Maybe. Our main activities today: establishing the routine, checking out the new school supplies, making our weekly calendar, violin, and the first session of co-op. I find it is really helpful if Nightowl helps design the schedule. Then she knows what's coming!

Sunday, August 31, 2008


Well, I think I'm finally back. It's been awhile. Much happening. The run down of outside tasks taking place during our last 8 months of homeschooling is as follows:

1 - Packed
2 - Moved
3 - Unpacked
4 - Sad farewells to the Hills family
5 - Flooding
6 - Flooding
7 - Flooding
8 - Drying, construction and other fun summer activities
9 - Life, kids, planning for school etc.

So here we are. I delve into our third year of homeschooling on Tuesday. Nightowl is 8. Bearcub is 3. Things here in our new little home are fast and furious.

I've been planning, been to a conference and have some great stuff in store (fingers crossed). We're doing a sort of repeat of grade 2 topics due to Nightowl's young age. It fits. I plan to post again, regularly. And to finish my form drawing post from last year (maybe).

I'm really looking forward to our homeschooling year. The past months have been a whirlwind. Nice to get back into routine. Planning to post early - no late night computers (fingers crossed again) because sleep is good.

And we're off....

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Grade Three - Books and Lesson Plans

This is my list of materials that I'd like to use for Grade Three. I'm putting the list together as I find things and get new ideas. Hopefully, I won't lose this list - as I'd lose a scrap of paper.

An Overview of the Elementary Math Curriculum - David Darcy

Natural Speller - Kathryn Stout

Quilting for the first time - Donna Kooler, Kooler Design Studio

Natural Science
Tabletop Gardens - Rosemary McCreary

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Plus Gnome's Magic Box

To cover the concept of place value we turned, yet again, to the gnomes. Inspired by a lesson from Eric Fairman's POD I created a little story about Plus Gnome. It went something like this:
One day King Equals asked Plus Gnome if at the end of each day he could please add up all the jewels collected by all the Gnomes. Plus Gnome was honored. However near the end of the first day he was a bit overwhelmed by the large pile that needed to be counted. As he went through the pile he kept losing his place. Finally he got the idea to put each jewel into a box as he counted it. Then he wrote the number on the ground to help him remember. This worked for a little while, however his box got so full that all of the jewels spilled onto the ground. What to do?
Using the props and characters he added a second box just to the left of the first. When ever he counted 10 jewels he would bag them up. Mark the number ten on the bag and put it into the second box. Same for when the second box got full. He'd bag up ten bags, mark the new bag 100 and then put this new bag into a third box just to the left of the second.

Before the lesson I made Plus's box from an old cardboard box. We used a slate to mark his numbers, and cut old cloth and yarn to make his bags. These lessons seemed to take a long time - what with all the bagging and cutting and tying. But it really worked for Nightowl. We reviewed this for several days and each day I'd find her tugging out the box and jewels before I was ready. She was quite eager.

All this place value led naturally to column addition when King Equals asked that Plus Gnome please keep track of all the jewels collected all week. Yikes! What's a gnome to do? Well, our gnome simply put a second box on top of the first. The second box was for jewels collected the second day. Then the columns were added together. Voila! This morphed so easily into column addition on paper. Everyday Nightowl would work with her props: sometimes her gnome would race against my gnome to see who could add the fastest. Then she would draw the lesson into her math book. During the week she would do workbooks full of problems. It always made me grin when she'd see a column addition problem and mutter to herself: "Oh, that's easy."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Math Magics

After successfully revisiting the gnomes, working scads of number problems and worksheets and number facts (whew) I opted to take Nightowl in a different direction. For this I primarily used Path of Discovery, Grade 2 by Eric Fairman.

In the section on math Fairman gives a number of very detailed introductory lessons which he has dubbed Math Magics. The basics behind these lessons - equal division of shapes and symmetry. These lessons are part geometry, part times tables, part basic math concepts, part division facts and completely artistic.

We began by discussing circle. Then we worked to subdivide it into equal parts. I demonstrated this by drawing a huge chalk circle on the floor and then asking Nightowl to place markers on the edge. The markers needed to be equal distance apart. In the end we had 12 markers. Then we used yarn to connect the markers to create triangles within the circle. Every day we created a different number of triangles working to make the triangles the same. Each day we drew the large circle, did the division and then copied the image into her math book. Each day we ha a different star design made of triangles. This was very challenging for Nightowl. She was often frustrated trying again and again to create the star pattern within the circle.

Then we moved to squares within squares with the resulting subdivision of triangles. Again we started with a large shape on the floor, subdivided by yarn. I told a short story from Fairman's work to describe the subdivisions. Then we moved to the slate and then the main lesson book. This optical illusion was very intriguing. Nightowl spent an entire lesson putting together the very detailed picture on the left.

Finally, to better grasp how many squares and triangles were actually in the picture we recreated the squares within squares exercise in felt.

How many triangles to you see? How many squares?

Saturday, January 12, 2008


I like homeschool because I get to do math with my cat.
– Nightowl, age 7, 2nd Grade

Math - Number families and gnomes

When I mentioned Math to Nightowl her first response was the joyful yelp of: "Gnomes!" Ah, yes we love the gnomes here. It is abundantly clear to me that the Gnomes will be an integral part of our math for some time.

So we began with a short review of the processes. For this we used our new little felted Gnomes. If you don't have actual Gnomes to work with I highly recommend them. My girl really loved the little guys and they made math very, very fun.

After our review we began the serious work of number families - using David Darcy and Dorthy Harrer's books as inspiration. For example the number family for 3 is 0,1,2,3 as these numbers make up the variety of addition and subtraction sentences for 3 (1+2=3, 3-2=1, 0+3=3 and etc.). Nightowl really grooved into this concept. We spent lots of time challenging each other to list the family for various numbers.

Harrer's second grade lesson on the "Richest Number" was surprising to me. It seemed so esoteric that I wasn't sure Nightowl would get it. But I plowed through watching to see what would happen. She loved the story and had no problem dividing the numbers into their respective parts. If you haven't seen or used this resource check it out, it's great.

All of this flowed pretty naturally into beginning the times tables. Again we used the Gnomes. I created little stories and we wrote problems out forwards and backwards (3 x 2 = 6, 6/2=3 etc.). All of our clapping out rhythms and counting by 2s, 3s, etc. really paid off here. I plan to go back to the times tables later in the year.

One other note on the Gnomes. Using story to relate these important concepts really made me a better teacher. I haven't considered the quality of these concepts in ages. They are so integral to how I think and get through the day that they seem almost ridiculously easy and basic. If I'd had to approach these concepts just as number facts I would have become completely impatient when Nightowl struggled to understand. In short I'd have been limited by my own experience. Using the stories and the manipulatives forced my thinking into the magical and the wonderous. I know I was more patient and this made all the difference. Nightowl hardly even knew she was learning - it was a natural extension of the play/work we were doing. Very cool.

After each lesson she put a drawing/representation of what she'd learned into her main lesson book - which fulfilled her almost constant need to draw. Finally, to help solidify these concepts I gave her daily assignments in a variety of math work books that I picked up at Barnes and Nobel. She did these after we'd moved onto Geometery and it was really good daily practice.

Math Time

November/December 2007 was our first month of second grade math. From my viewpoint in mid-January I have to say that it really was an incredible month. Except for a short review the concepts we covered were all new and difficult.

I noticed a huge change in Nightowl during this block. Language arts lessons had a very dreamy quality. They were relaxed in that kick back on the couch with a cup of hot tea kind of way. Even the small bit of grammar we covered was very mellow. But math - it was almost frenetic. Whenever we embarked on a main lesson Nightowl became wired. It was impossible for her to sit still. She flipped and flopped and bounced all over the place. We got through the lessons but they were so active. I could almost hear the cogs in her mind turning. We ended every lesson with some big energy release - like dance party or running outside. It was amazing to watch her process. I was constantly glad and relieved that she was not trapped in a school classroom for this work. I'm quite sure she would have been in trouble for not sitting still or labeled ADHD or something of the sort. But at home it was not a big deal. Bouncing along she retained nearly everything, made some amazing leaps, learned tons and frequently made me laugh. If any of you have experienced a similar response from your kids please let me know. Wow! For the next few posts onto the actual math!

Thursday, December 20, 2007


I've just come back to the blog world. Back to reading others and thinking about my own. Oh, I've never forgotten this blog, ideas have been simmering, I just couldn't get here.

Bearcub is now at the half way point between two and three. I know many, many homeschooling moms with children this age and older. How do they do it? I am perpetually exhausted. It's been five years since I coexisted with a two-and-a-half old child; I'd forgotten. That and the fact that Bearcub's young life story is so different from what we experienced with Nightowl - think zestful exuberance rather than internal wanderings. With Bearcub it's so much....well, so much more. The highs are very high and lows oh so low. Last week, in the midst of some power struggle I actually stepped outside of myself and thought - "Now really, you are arguing with a two-year-old about a sippy cup!" Such am I reduced to. But I am hoping to regain a sense of calm and centeredness. Is this possible? I'm not sure. All I know is that this past month I have been tired. To all of you with multiple homeschooled children, with more chaotic lives and more balls in the air - I salute you.

I have many, many things to report. Tomorrow is our last day of school before winter break. I plan to post our lessons and adventures during this down time. But first I must to bed. In a houseful of night rhythm folks Bearcub is a morning angel. She bursts from the bed with a shout and lands on the floor at a run at 7 a.m. and the day careens forth from there. I'm finding that sleep for myself is the single most important ingredient for an easier, calmer day. I'm up too late already, and really I have nothing profound to say. Just wanted to check-in and say hello.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Spelling and Writing and Grammar - Oh my!

With all the reading and writing going on here it became very evident that Nightowl was having some trouble. Now part of this has to do with her personality - she simply loathes getting things wrong. Incorrectly spelling words, sounding them out when she reads aloud - this was causing loads of stress.

What to do?

I thought for a while and then searched my Waldorf inspired lists and my unschooling lists
and finally decided that simple is best. We don't have many more hours in the day and I want to capitalize on what we are already doing. So, I turned to McGuffy.

Nightowl loves these old-timey readers. She finished the Primer early during our first month of Grade Two. I handed her the First Reader and she brought it back two days later - finished. Wow. She's now working through the Second Reader. But in the meantime.....I have started giving her assignments. We started with recitation. Each week she picks a lesson and then reads it aloud on Fridays. I also started creating spelling packets made up of words from lessons in the First Reader. It's a simple list of 20 words with directions to write the words and use them in sentences. On Fridays we have a low stress quiz on the words. Any she can't remember are transfered to the next week's list.

For writing she has been doing weekly practice on capital and lowercase letters. She works on these projects as I'm putting the Bearcub down for a nap and when she has free time.

So far so good. Nightowl is learning to budget her time and to prepare an assignment. She likes it ok, although she needs lots of encouragement. My plan is to continue this activity at a lower intensity during our math block.

Finally, with all of the spelling and handwriting, I decided to try a little grammar. Using the first lesson from Dorothy Harrer's book: An English Manual I told Nightowl the story of the four types of words. She was completely engaged by this fairy story and copied it into her main lesson book. I feel that it laid a good foundation for further grammar work later in the year.

Whew, the end of our first language arts block. On to math!


Here they are, all ready for our first math block.
Left to right: King Equals, Plus, Times, Divide, and Minus

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Money Math

Nightowl made this little clutch purse on her weaving loom. She uses it to store her money. She now earns a weekly allowance and is saving her money to purchase a flock of chicks and chicken supplies. Occasionally, her riches seem tempting so she'll bring her purse along when we do errands. She might purchase a book, stickers, etc.

With this saving and spending has come concern about how money works. Previously, she has had little interest. Watching her it became very apparent that she had no knowledge of coins, dollars or their value. So, in true homeschooling fashion we put Nightowl in charge of her money. She must keep it, count it, and consider the value. She's working on recognizing the coins, writing amounts and making change. To this end I made up a little game. I'll pull out my pocket change, hand it to her and say: "If you can tell me how much this is worth and the names of the coins you can keep it."

We've been playing for a day or so and this morning is the first day I lost. I'm out $0.36 which Nightowl has tucked away in her Chicken Fund. Bummer for me. Guess I'll need to make the game harder!

Aesop's Fables

Our first language arts block focused on Aesop's Fables. What we did with this was really pretty basic: I told Nightowl a fable from memory (they are short) and drew a picture to illustrate. She discussed the fable, came up with a descriptive sentence about said fable and then drew the picture into her Grade 2 Language arts book. At the end of the week we'd recap sometimes acting out a favorite for the Bearcub. On Wednesdays, our water color painting day, we skipped the picture drawing and tried to come up with fable paintings - this was interesting. All in all it's been pretty mellow and has a very tidy feel - which works for us.

I was eager to see Nightowl's response to the fables and I was not let down. My second-grader is sooooo moralistic about everything. These tales really appealed to her sense of right and wrong. It was even more interesting when a fable spoke directly to one of her personal issues - such as the Fox and the Grapes. My little perfectionist has a real tendency to proclaim sour grapes if she cannot complete a task. Her sentence for that particular fable was: The fox was not successful. A true statement and interesting considering the source. We're still discussing this story and the saying.

At the end of last week I gave her the copy of Aesop's to read on her own. She was delighted - for some reason this surprised me. She really does enjoy these literature lessons and seems to get a lot out of them.

Regarding the language arts watercolors: I find we are more apt to include subjects if I can make them work within the block - they just seem to fit better. Thus the watercolor fables. Our routine has been to do two paintings per week. The first deals with something from the block. The second comes from David Darcy's watercolor painting curriculum from Inspiring Your Child's Education - which is great! I highly recommend this resource for Waldorf homeschooling.

Images: #1 - The Cock and The Pearl, #2 - The Fox and the Grapes, #3 - The Dog and the Bone, #4- Belling the Cat

Sunday, October 28, 2007

2nd Grade Form Drawing - Part 1

We're doing forms a little differently this year. Rather than doing a long form drawing block we do forms once a week, on Monday mornings. Our other difference is that I'm using an actual story (that I did not make up) to present the forms.

Truth: I borrowed with idea from Sara, yet again. Last year she did form drawing using the Clown of God, retold and illustrated by Tomie de Paola. I like this story very much, it has a nice spiritual feel and works really well with the focus of second grade. The Clown of God is the story of Giovanni, a beggar child who can juggle.

My my plan is to use this story through Christmas - as it is a Christmas story that ends on Christmas Day. Our final form will show the final scene of the story. I have a hardcover copy of the book that I plan to present to her on that day. As this story ends we will begin our second, main lesson, language arts, block focusing on stories of the Saints. I just love it when things tie in nicely.

So far it's going well. Nightowl is having no trouble with the forms, so I might adjust my plans to include more difficult forms. Until then, here's what we've done so far:

#1 - Giovanni, #2 - Juggling,

#3 - the crowd, young and old, #4 - the traveling players

#5 - Giovanni joins the traveling players, #6 - Giovanni's clown suit

I find that I'm liking this weekly version of form drawing better because it spreads out this extremely intense activity, allows us to explore more forms, and keeps Nightowl involved in the serial of the story. Its good recall for her to re-tell the story each week. Plus, she is not getting overwhelmed by the activity - which was one of our problems last year. Finally, with this schedule we have the feeling of doing many different subjects as opposed to just a single block; it keeps things interesting. I'm already considering what we'll do for the January - June forms. I'm not sure yet, but there are a number of interesting possibilities.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Give me that Old Time Schoolin'

On the Monday of my return home we had a field trip scheduled, thank heavens. Our community school corp maintains an 1800s school house out in the woods, just north of our little town. Every year there are a number of field trips and camps. This year our homeschool co-op got in on the fun and got to attend a day of old-time school.

That day Nightowl put on a calico dress, apron and sunbonnet. She carried her bread and butter lunch in a tin pale, her McGuffy First reader, and slate. I dropped her off at the school, crossed my fingers and returned home.

That sounds more dramatic than it was. I knew she'd be fine. We've been reading the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Nightowl is quite caught up in the story. We also use a set of McGuffy Readers from the 1800s as a way to practice reading. Quite recently I began asking Nightowl to recite from the readers. She was well prepared. Plus, she got to share a seat with her best pal Sunburst and saw a number of other homeschool friends from the co-op.

When I picked her up at the end of the day she was ready to go. There was no air-conditioning in the school and she was hot. She hadn't had enough water; she's an all-day sipper and modern water bottles were not allowed. But she did enjoy herself - especially the dressing up part. She let me know that while she liked the trip she did not want to attend a week-long old-time school summer camp.

What made me giggle was the fact that a bunch of homeschoolers were sending their kids to an old-time school so that they could experience the difference from modern schooling. Ha! ((Oh, I know there was more to it than that - but it made me giggle all the same.))

Photos: #1 - Inside the school. #2 - The school marm takes attendance.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


I shared my flight home from Canada with The Four Bettys, the 2007 International Queens of Harmony. They were crowned on Friday after the contest and, yes, they wore their crowns on the plane. The trip was also shared by members from at least four other choruses and a renowned director. There was singing on board and even a rousing round of applause.

It was that way all week. From my flight out last Monday (I met 12 members of my chorus in the airport) to the taxi to the hotel (cued up with chorus members from New Zealand), to every restaurant we sampled (Anyone have a pitch pipe? Let's sing while we're waiting for our meal), to our day off hiking in the Canadian Rockies (Yes, we ran into Sweet Adelines in the mountains) - it was complete submersion.

We rehearsed daily, shared rooms, hotels, transport. We talked barbershop, costumes, scoring and stats. We discussed coaching and held hands. We sweated through rehearsals. My chorus ate meals together in mass and in small groups. After the contest we hung out in the bar, listened to quartets strolling by and processed our performance.

It was grand, exhilarating, distressing, stressful, joyous, rejuvenating and exhausting. In one week my phsyical and emotional state hit the following hightlights:
  • exhaustion from travel preparations
  • sick with a horrible head cold
  • teary at the spontaneous marriage of a chorus member and her partner (cause they can do that it Canada)
  • healed from the aforementioned head cold
  • well rested, ready to perform
  • excited, exhilerated, and blissful in anticipation
  • disappointed about our performance
  • bitter about our performance
  • sad about our performance
  • awed by the natural beauty of the Canadian Rockies
  • dizzy with discussion of our performance, our chorus and the state of Sweet Adelines
  • breathless at the sight of Lake Louise
  • exhausted from travels
  • peaceful from the mountains
  • resigned to our performance and the results
  • positive about our performance and the results
  • happy with the trip
  • ready to move foward.
All of this in seven days. Whew. True we were not happy with our performance, we knew we could have done better. However, we did place 12th and that's a great thing. We did get to sing, gloriously, in the Calgary Saddledome to an audience of thousands. We did get a standing ovation. Nothing to sneeze at.

I had my last dose of convention during the ride home from the airport. Our driver had recorded our performance and three of us huddled around a latop computer, watching, as we wound our way home in the dark, early morning hours. What did I notice? Simply that this hobby is quite wonderful.

I woke on Monday to a school field trip and children whiney from too much time away from Mom. It was wonderful to see them and hand out my presents. Nightowl asked me quite seriously: "Why didn't you win Mommy?" (She had watched the webcast here at home.)

After I explained that we hadn't done our best on stage she asked again - "Why not?" Nerves? Lack of focus? Insecurity? We talked about all of it. Her next question took me by surprise: "Will you give up?"

My answer was, of course not - because while it is easy to get wrapped up in the contest, the real joy is the singing. That's what it's all about - the singing. Then she made a lovely mental leap and brought up her violin playing and how the songs are getting harder, but more beautiful. There are days that she wants to give up, but she doesn't. Together we plow through with our individual struggles to learn notes and create music. It is not easy, but it is worth it.

Her last question: What did you bring me? I brought out the maple candy and quartet CDs I'd brought home. Then I showed her the picture of the mountains and Lake Louise and described my day hiking in the icy cold air near the glacier. Her last gift: a glacial rock for her nature collection. She seemed quite satisfied.

Me? I'm getting re-grounded. Re-entry is always a bit awkward. I exclaimed joyfully when a chorus member called yesterday evening - it had been a whole day since I'd seen her. And I've got the barbershop music playing constantly. And I'm still processing all of it. And I'm getting ready for our next concert and checking out our newest piece of music, the oh-so-challenging "Good-bye, World." And my job is calling. And my kids are calling. And I'm glad it is all still here. And I'm waiting for the DVD of our Calgary performance and our next rehearsal. Back to life. Back to reality. Happy sigh.

Photos: #1 - CCC Singing the Ballad in Calgary, #2 - CCC Singing the Up-tune in Calgary (check me out!) #3- Lake Louise and Victoria Glacier, Alberta Canada, Canadian Rockies, #4 - Chataeu Fairmont, Lake Louise

Monday, October 08, 2007


Tonight I am leaving.

I've packed my bags and shown Chillymama the homeschool schedule. I've got my passport and my in-flight knitting project. Friends I am leaving. For seven (S-E-V-E-N) whole, glorious days I'll be gone.


Because I belong to this cult. A large group of barbershop singing and performing women. And this week is our annual international contest. Ok, it's not really a cult but it's kinda cult-like considering the amount of personal devotion I have to this decidedly splinter group hobby.

I was thinking about it this week, as I was packing and itemizing my lists and keeping my voice warm. My chorus is my first, and longest commitment. I auditioned and joined this group in 1993. I was a mere 23-years-old, a pup! For almost 15 years rehearsals have taken place weekly, on the same night at various locations. The membership of the group has waxed and waned but the core stays steady. We sing and work and rehearse on weekends devoting money and travel time and sleep. Cult? Maybe. Chillymama sometimes calls herself a barbershop widow. She's not completely wrong.

And here's the kicker: I've been involved for 15 years minus some downtime to get kinda married and birth and nurse babies. This is longer than I've known my partner or children or cats - and I'm not considered along time member. Heavens no. That honor goes to the 50 year members. At 15, I'm just a babe in the woods with grand aspirations toward the 50 year mark. Although this goal could prove tricky as Chillymama's schedule is going to change to evenings and I'm not sure about rehearsals and childcare with my commute. Ah, yes I'm so wacky devoted that I commute for this hobby (just like about half of the other members - think: cult). But I can't think about this scheduling dilemma right now - I've got to concentrate on the upcoming singing.

Truthfully, it's all about the singing. There is nothing, nothing, like singing in harmony with 100 other women. The music gets into your body and raises the gooseflesh and just erupts from within. It is the best kind of therapy ever. It is like seeing the face of God smiling. It makes me calm, revives my soul and renews my spirit. Sure it's competitive singing but it's not really about the winning - it's about perfecting the art. Singing really well means you make it to the international level. Singing really, really well means you make it from the International Semi-Finals to the Finals. And friends, my chorus sings really, really, really well. So well, in fact that we're competing this year. It's glorious. The music, the women, the make-up, the sequins, the jazz hands - all of it.

So I'm going. Off for a week with my cult, er...chorus. And I don't regret a minute of my leaving or my preparations to leave.

If you're interested in the show you can watch the contest live, via the free webcast. Here's the direct link:

My chorus is contestant #20 in the Semi-Finals, performing at 3:44 Mountain Time. Check it out and see if you can find me. I'll be the fabulous redhead in the front row.

For now, I'm leaving - no email, no cell-phone, no day to day general stuff. Just one big musical party. I'm going.

These Days

Looking for Nightowl? Most days this is where you'll find her, with her nose buried in a book.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Watching and Doing

We've been doing a lot of natural, Natural Science. That's really the only way I can explain it. For most of this month's block we've spent time outside observing nature. We're watching. Talking about what we see. Watching some more. We've taken field trips to two orchards and a local farm to watch some sheep sheering. As a bonus, on the sheering trip, the kids discovered a great big spider and watched as it caught, trapped and wrapped a cricket. Then they all looked on as the spider moved in to taste its meal. It was pretty amazing.

In the Hand book of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock, 1911 she writes:
Nature-study cultivates the child's imagination , since there are so many wonderful and true stories that he may read with his own eyes, which affect his imagination as much as does fairy lore....bringing to him a love of the beautiful; it brings to him early a perception of color, form, and music.
This book has become my new favorite for homeschooling. Ms. Comstock was an early elementary teacher and staunch advocate for moving the classroom outside as much as possible. In this amazing tome she entreats all teachers to let their students observe freely, learn to question and revel in the joys of discovery.

Plus, this "handbook" (900 pages!) lists, by subject information on virtually everything in the observable natural world. Ok, this is probably an exaggeration, but hey it seems like a lot. If there is something we want to observe I just check the book on where to find it. The book also gives a short lesson for each subject. These are basically, open ended questions about the bug, flower, tree or mammal that you might be watching - ways to get the discussion going.

Thus far we have not created a good book for natural science. We've done no fact searching or elaborate drawing - I'm sure this might emerge, Nightowl loves to draw, but it's not part of the lesson. For now we are watching. This is a challenge for me, too, as I'm a library junkie and most inclined to use the library info center or look up a topic on Google. Following my nose is not my first inclination. Got a question? Look it up in a book. Well for now, we're trying not too.

In regard to doing - we're cooking. The kitchen has become our lab. We are working together to create meals and process food for the winter. We've been experimenting with natural fermentation (via Nourishing Traditions). We've made fermented ginger-carrot relish, yogurt, and fermented grains for breakfast and baked goods. We've learned to can, and to be careful when handling knives. We've harvested and dried our herbs.

Nightowl is itching to try natural dyeing, make our own cheese, and harvest yeast spores from the air (sourdough). And while working in our lab we discuss what we eat, what our food eats, and where food comes from.

My views on food and food production changed recently when I read Michael Pollen's: The Omnivore's Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. This amazing book has influenced our homeschooling. As a family we are trying to lower our food mileage - better for the planet and better for us. We want our food as natural as it can be - grass fed meats, local produce. We talk about how we eat what our food eats - and what do we really want to eat? Interestingly we all like our food better when we view it this way. Nightowl is taking a class on permaculture and it is influencing her choices regarding water, planting, cooking, using the car, and nature.

I have also noticed that the way she interacts with nature is quieter, more reflective and more purposeful. Recently, she mentioned that she wanted to learn more about bats. "How shall we do that?" I asked her. "I guess we'd better go out and find some." she replied. I think Ms. Comstock would be proud.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Gnoming Along

Ok, so now we're really Waldofers - we're making gnomes. This just cracks me up. For our first second grade craft we started needle felting. Nightowl really enjoys it. I'm in the process of creating the four math gnomes to use with our November math block. Nightowl, is making a large, harvesty gnome. More images of the completed project once we've finished and I have a working camera again.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Applesauce and Bandages

For second grade I've divided our year into month long blocks. We focus on a primary subject each month, plus do festivals/holidays, music, form drawing, clay work, painting, cooking and etc. Of course all the subjects seem to get covered - which is a good thing.

For the month of September we're focusing on natural science, specifically the topic of harvest. We've been reading books on harvesting and storing food, Nightowl is attending a class on Permaculture, and we're doing a bit of our own harvesting.

We started with apples. During our first visit to the orchard we got the fever and came home with a bushel of apples. Really, it didn't look like that many apples when we were in the orchard, so we also brought home peaches, plums, cider and squash. Whew. Once at home Nightowl said" "Mommy, this is a lot of apples." And how. So, we decided to learn how to can applesauce. A perfect harvest lesson. We went to our local hardware store and stocked up. Cans - check. Peeler- check. Water bath canner - check. Let's go.

At first it all went well and was very serene. Nightowl liked working the peeler. Bearcub was munching on spiral cut apples, the sauce was bubbling. Then, blam, everything changed. You know how it is with little ones, something just snaps. Suddenly Bearcub was screaming and hitting her sister, Nightowl was demanding justice, I glanced at the clock: "11:30 already! It can't be, it's time for lunch." I shooed them out of the way and tried to quickly finish paring a last batch of fruit, when it happened. My knife slipped and I cut, quite deeply into the fleshy part of my thumb.

Now either I came very close to a nerve or I'm just a big weenie cause I hollered. Blood was flowing down my arm and onto the floor. I grabbed a towel and rushed upstairs. My first thought was to clean the wound. When I did this my head started to spin and my vision began to darken. Not good. I put pressure on my thumb and put my head between my knees.

As my head cleared I could hear Nightowl crying: "Mommy what's wrong? There's blood on the floor."

I went back down to the children and was trying to keep pressure on my thumb when, again, I felt my head spin and my vision started to darken. Not good. I lay down on the floor and put my hand up all the while murmuring reassurances to the girls. I asked Nightowl to bring me the phone (which she did) but I couldn't remember a single number. I broke out in a sweat and everything was tilting; I needed help.

Calmly and firmly I asked Nightowl to please run across the street to our neighbor and tell her that I'd cut my finger and needed some help. Quickly now, Mommy's about to pass out.

She tried. She opened the door. She even went outside. But she couldn't do it. Nightowl has a big personality and lots of confidence - unless she is asked to interact with semi-strangers (for example our neighbors with whom we speak daily and attend the same church- I don't really get this) or do something that puts her in the spotlight (such as knocking on a door). She doesn't even like to knock on the doors of folks we know.

As I lay there with blood oozing out of the cloth, drenched in cold sweat Nightowl came back in, crying. "I can't Mommy. I can't do it." I think I might have asked her again - I don't really remember - but in the end I simply said: "It's ok, honey. Mommy will be alright." What else could I say? And then the adrenaline kicked in, my heart slowed down, my vision cleared and I stopped shivering. Eventually I could sit up. I bandaged my finger. I took several deep breaths. I calmed my kids. I made lunch. I finished the sauce.

Everything turned out ok. My thumb has pretty much healed (I didn't even need stitches, guess I am a weenie). The applesauce and plumb butter are quite tastey. And Nightowl and I learned that emergency plans are necessary. We now have a list of names and numbers near the phone, that she can read and is comfortable dialing. We've spoken with our neighbors and she's practicing asking for help. Eventually we'll practice ringing doorbells. All in all, we learned way more than I ever imagined.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Second Grade Begins

It's hard to believe that it's nearly October! We started our school year on September 1 and the month has just flown by. So far, the best part for me has been my lack of anxiety - I feel kinda seasoned and really happy to be back at it. Our new schedule is working great so far - we've been using it since mid-August and refining as we go. It's going to change on us as Chillymama will soon be working evenings. But hey, we're flexible - at least in theory.

For our first week we did some simple back to school activities to ease our transition. We started by reviewing Nightowl's work from Grade One. For some reason I was surprised by how much joy she took from this activity. She read her books with rapt interest, reciting details from science, reading and math. All of the things we did really made an impression and, of course, that makes me feel wonderful. It's working! Hooray!

After reviewing everything I gave Nightowl a white cardboard portfolio and explained that this is how we would store her Grade One work. I then offered her our beeswax crayons; she could decorate the portfolio if she wished.

She took this task very seriously and spent two entire main lessons working. My only instruction was that she draw in the way we had practiced last year - without outlines. The rest was up to her. To my delight she decorated the portfolio with images from all her Grade One Lessons.

You can see the Lovely Lady, Divide the Math Gnome, the sister from the Six Swans, and an illustration of the Golden Goose. She's really quite proud of this work.

We finished our Back to School week by creating a September Calendar (pictured above - I plan to repeat this exercise each month), drawing up our weekly schedule and by attending our first Coop Class - which was pretty fun. All in all a good start to a new year.

Keeping House

In early August I attended a two-day conference with Barbara Dewey. One of the things I took away from this event was the charge to put one's house in order before planning the school year. I had taken a small stab at scheduling near the end of summer and it had glorious results so I was game. I did some serious thinking about what needs to happen in our lives before schooling. The short list I came up with:
  1. Bearcub's nap,
  2. cleaning the house,
  3. one day to do my paid work (yes, I have an outside job!),
  4. family time,
  5. church,
  6. care for the pets,
  7. home cooked meals, and
  8. a general sense of calm.
Sounds good. Then I looked at our outside activities - for all family members. They are:
  1. Nightowl's Violin lessons - twice a week,
  2. Horse back riding - Nightowl - one a week,
  3. Homeschool park day,
  4. playgroup,
  5. Rehearsal night - me (I sing in a group),
  6. Bookclub - me,
  7. Bookclub - Chillymama,
  8. church committees, and
  9. Spanish class - Chillymama
Ok, things are getting full. Next I looked at our weekly homeschooling activities:
  1. Main lesson,
  2. form drawing,
  3. painting,
  4. clay work,
  5. music practice,
  6. Coop class,
  7. permaculture class,
  8. handwork/crafts, and
  9. circle time.
Alrighty, there's a lot on this list. But I took small step, started with the first list, and reflected on Nightowl's rhythm, when Bearcub naps and other items that are inflexible (lessons, rehearsals etc.). Then we plugged them into a grid and - wow - we've got time for everything.
I drew up a grid and as one of our starting second grade lesons Nightowl and I filled it in with illustrations. It now resides proudly on our fridge. We look at it every day.

As long as I don't get over zealous we can make it work. Priorities are different for me this year. For example, I don't feel that every homeschool activity needs a product for the main lesson book (more on this in future posts). I'm also coming to terms with cleaning house in bits and pieces. Plus, I now realize that activities don't need to be hours long - some just take a few minutes. And most important: as much as possible I let go of the clock. There are no times on our schedule. I can remember when the inflexible things happen but as for the rest - it fits in as it can. And you know, it's working. I'm more relaxed because there is time, planned time, for everything. That nagging worry of when it will get done is gone. What a relief.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Grade Two Books, Resources, and Lessons

This page is a record of my materials and sources used for Grade 2. I plan to keep it updated.

General Grade 2 Curriculum
Path of Discovery Grade 2 - Eric Fairman
Inspiring Your Child’s Education - David Darcy
Materials from Marsha Johnson -

Waldorf Math Grades 1-3 -
Barbara Dewey
Math Lessons for Elementary Grades - Dorothy Harrer
An Overview of the Elementary Math Curriculum - David Darcy

Form Drawing
Form Drawing for the Homeschooling Parent
- Barbara Dewey
The Clown of God - Tomi de Paola

Science as Phenomena for Homeschoolers K-8 - Barbara Dewey
The Handbook of Nature Study - Anna Botsford Comstock
Exploring the Forest with Grandforest Tree

Suzuki Violin Method Bks 2 and 3
Wolfhart Etudes for Violin, Bk 1
Rise Up Singing

Handwork for Homeschoolers
- Barbara Dewey
The Knitted Farmyard - Hannelore Wernhard
Knitted Animals - Anne Dorthe Grigaff

Language Arts
An English Handbook - Dorothy Harrer
Stories of the Saints - Siegwart Knijpenga
The Fables of Aesop - Edited by Joseph Jacobs
Indian Why Stories - Frank B Linderman
The King of Ireland's Son - Padraic Column
McGuffy Readers 2 and 3

Fly Like a Butterfly: Yoga for Children - Shakta Kaur Khalsa
Come Unto These Yellow Sands - Molly von Heider
The Dance Steps of Hairspray - Hairspray DVD

Books We've Read Together
Little House Series
Martha Years Series
Biography of Martin Luther King
The Incredible Invention of Hugo Cabret
The Wind Boy (2nd Read)
Peter Pan (15th Read)
The Adventures of King Arther and the Round Table

Books Nightowl is Reading
Magic Treehouse - series
The Lighthouse - series
Marvin Redpost - series
The A-Z Mysteries - series
All books by Dick King-Smith (Babe, Sophie's Snail etc.)
The Wizard of Oz
Rainbow Fairies - series
Pixie Hollow - series
Dinotopia - series
Peter Pan
Misty of Chincoteague
Stormy - Misty's Foal
Black Beauty