Mojave in my Heart

From a not-so childlike beginning in New York City to my child inspired world here and now


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st. michael’s

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St. Michael’s or Michaelmas is a special celebration in our home and has been for many years. I appreciate the opportunity to pause and look inward as we turn away from the wide-open summer into the inward season of fall. The festival carries with it themes of bravery, good acts and reflection. We began preparing for Michaelmas two weeks ago with a story about a small town long ago terrorized by a dragon and the simple, but very brave individual who took down the dragon. What dragons are we taking on this season? What are we afraid of? The girls are nearly 8 now  and so the challenges they face are more tangible than in years past. For example, both of the girls have been taking on the challenge (and fear) of various climbing structures and monkey bars at the playground.  We have made it a priority to try out different playgrounds each day and to take on the higher monkey bars, the curving ones, the rocks walls, the climbing ropes, jumping form high structures and to do it again and again and watch our fears slowly disappear.

After I told the story of the dragon and we did some other reading, we created some beautiful dragon drawings with new techniques. We’ve tried to focus less on outlining but starting with the whole form- aiming to capture the feel and size not its exactness. I integrated a lot of form work into this story, too. We worked on “mountain” forms, “gate” forms, and a “stream” form. We collected and dried marigold and calendula petals to make our healing salve or courage salve (beeswax, oil and the extraction from these petals). We also cooked up a few batches of elderberry syrup ( to keep us strong and healthy in the winter months ahead). These are special fall traditions for us and I like to focus these activities in the weeks leading up to St. Michael’s. The following days we made up a puppet show from our dragon story and performed it many, many times, learned two St. Michael poems and continued our main lessons in language arts. We also finished a really fun novel called The Doll People by Ann Martin and started The Dragon Boy by Donald Samson.

(Arlene’s drawing on top, Ada’s below).

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This week I continued our language arts main lesson with a trickster tale from the Lakota about Iktomi. The girls love these stories and the trickster element appeals to them through humor, silliness and a message in there questioning right and wrong.  In addition to reading and phonics work, the girls did beautiful drawings of Iktomi and worked on beeswax modeling of the main characters in the story. They had a lot of fun reenacting the story, too. Rather than question and answer in our approach to comprehension, we re-tell, act out and create props or models from the stories. I kept extra time for festival prep and handwork this week too, although one of our projects was a bit of a bust (sewing felted dragons). We do a lot of active and mental math in circle time during these LA main lessons and I’m really proud of how well they are doing with their times tables and basic math facts. I think it is still very important to keep things hands on, too. We worked out lots of problems with the apples we’ve collected on walks. Sautéing them in butter afterward  is an enjoyable treat!

Something new we added this year was making a balance. We created a balance from a piece of wood and some rocks. We talked  little about good and bad deeds and what sort of day we wished to have. One equal of good and bad deeds or a day heavy in good or bad deeds? They loved this talk and the subsequent finding of rocks and making of each of their balances. Coincidentally (and I love when things like this happen), I had a book ready for Friday called Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor that fit ever so-perfectly into this activity. She is one of my favorite authors and I’m truly over the moon that the girls appreciate her books, too. I don’t think she is for everyone! Not a lot of flash here– simple, resonating messages about simplicity and happiness and life. In it she gives rules about how to find one’s perfect rock. It is a personal matter and requires all of YOU to find that right rock. You feel, touch, look, smell, hold…think…

Throughout the day we talked about taking responsibility and doing the right thing–even when it is hard to do or when others are not doing it, but that we try to listen very hard to the spirit inside of us, leading us to our truth.

We baked our dragon bread and made a hearty soup for dinner. A & A recited our poems and then ate together by candlelight.

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Happy cleans up from dinner every night.

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second grade

dsc02145I, like many other homeschoolers I know, struggled to pin down homeschooling plans. Anthroposophy and Waldorf education have largely directed us these years — as well as our own spontaneous spirits.  I appreciate the creative emphasis in Waldorf education tremendously and what I’m learning right now is that there is room for my own creativity–especially since I do not follow a set curriculum. As I grapple with the stories for second grade (in Waldorf education typically Fables, Trickster Tales, and Saints), I keep finding myself drawn to Native American stories and ideas. One area I’m having a lot of fun planning  “out of the box” is in form drawing. What is form drawing? Form drawing is unique to Waldorf education.  According to a little summary from Steiner College: It helps improve eye-hand coordination, supports thinking in a non-intellectual way, aids in being more “flexible” as one learns the form in their body and then on paper.  The first year was mostly straight and curved lines, some running forms. This year we continue with running forms and mirror. So think Celtic art and symbols– interlocking lines and loops–that’s where we might head one day. So I’m looking at some of our favorite storybooks and pulling from them, illustrations, “forms” that we can practice. In Byrd Baylor’s Everybody Needs a Rock, there’s a simple drawing repeated throughout the book of a boulder that I’m using. Ultimately it is shaped by 6-7 arches that we will practice as part of our form drawing.

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(painting and my verse writing from age 2.5)

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I decided to start out early and slow in August– with the hope of being able to correct or alter our path since I was faced with so many questions and doubts. Rather than one traditional block per time period (as is practiced in Waldorf education), I began our main lessons with two blocks, 3 days a week (Monday, Tuesday, & Wednesday), a nature/hike day (Thursday) and a history morning followed by *circus class and our lovely homeschool playtime (Friday).  It was an intense start because my children enjoy immersing themselves DEEPLY in material, translation: it takes hours to get through material and so our days were very long and intense. Too long, in fact. Nonetheless this is what we did our first few weeks:

*Circus: How can I express my gratitude?  I have been longing for a homeschool group that fit our academic, parental-child, and emotional world and somehow, some way, by divine intervention, I have found myself in the making of a wonderful homeschool group. The kids are participating in a circus class, followed by free play at  nearby park. Last Sunday we inaugurated the year with a family potluck and a start of school/being together ceremony.

Circle: We have a lot of fun during circle! I know for a lot of my friends, circle has not been very easy. I think like anything else, you (the adult) have to be into it and open to what groove works for you as a group–however small a group that is. We play games sing songs, and recite verses. We played a lot these first few weeks! I thought:  how long are we going to lead each other around blindfolded or mirror each other’s movements as a fun game? Are they going to want to pile all of our couch cushions into a mountain so we can roll down? Or be kneaded like bread on baking day?  I decided to really be patient and provide time and space for this year’s circle time. We act like animals, recite poems, jump into yoga poses, and skip around the house. It takes time to connect and this is a  gem in our day.

Math: Review of Arabic and Roman numerals with a challenge.  I told a sweet container story about seashells from the beach which would guide our math block for the following weeks. In a creative, narrative form, I spun a tale of how seashells are made and a brief summary of their life cycle. I then re-introduced the math gnomes from last year (plus, minus, divide and multiply) as we pulled out our beach towels and bartered shells, shark teeth and special beach gems– all the while having to utilize our skills in math! They absolutely LOVED this. It was hands on, stimulating, engaging and super fun!  In subsequent weeks I introduced even/odd, counting in groups, number bonds all with an active and written component. Some days we played games with a mathematical component after our active math. Favorites: cards, mancala, and backgammon.

Language Arts: Aesops’ Fables are on tap right now. The girls get comfortable on the couch and beam at the start of story.  Storytelling is done in my own words, by candlelight.  I emphasize certain sounds which we then practice afterward by way of phonics.   Over the following days the girls re-tell the story together, often with pros we make as part of our lesson.  We follow it up with drawings and summarizing sentences in our lesson books. Learning is meaningful and creative, not rote and laborious.

Nature/Hiking: Thursdays we hike and embrace a monthly theme. August: peaches, mushrooms and crickets. September: ladybugs, fiery sumac, and the changing Aspen leaves all around the Rocky Mountains.

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History: Our history morning was the product of some serious deliberation. We started with a timeline of our own lives in hopes of beginning to understand before and after. We also outlined the continents and made our first world map. Since history is my strength, I narrated my own story about human evolution and the start of civilization in Mesopotamia.  I wanted to provide some historical foundation this year and I’m doing it by way of an ancient bird named Pee-Wee and her adventures experienced through the millennia. I hope to make our history mornings hands-on and full of stories. Epic of Gilgamesh was really a hit! A real surprise, but nonetheless a success.

Arts: one aspect of Waldorf education that I especially appreciate is how it is interdisciplinary and infused with art. We move and dance to learn through our body, we model with clay and beeswax, paint and draw, act out our learning through drama and sing often.

We’re also doing piano lessons twice weekly with Stephen and weekly German language classes. Both going very well.

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some short thoughts and shots from the summer (summer is summer is summer 2016)

I am an end of summer, into fall, into winter, under the heavy blankets sort of person. I love nesting, putting on layers. I love being cozy. I love being outside in the cold, in the snow and at the end of it all, in my own bed.  It took moving to Colorado and 6 months (or more?) of winter for me to begin to truly appreciate the, ah, warmer seasons. This past spring-summer, I was feeling so full of joy and optimism having connected with kindred souls that I was throwing myself at the expansive summer months and travel ahead.

Many thousand miles around the country we traveled, spending quality time with friends and family.  Much, much to say. I’m still digesting it all, but for now summaries and photos. Stephen and the girls kicked it off with a camping trip in the Colorado mountains. The girls hiked above the tree-line and crossed snow fields in the summer. I stayed home with Happy to do some planning and while I wasn’t planning on it, I saw the sunrise at the dog park, each morning.

1st to Texas/Visit my friend, aka “Gert” for several days:  visited with my oldest girlfriend and her family. No pictures were taken since she’s the photographer and in fact she did take some awesome family portraits.  Little girls playing all-day-long, mamas catching up, pool mornings, pool afternoons, holding/loving/smiling at/adoring/admiring (you get the picture) baby Zoe, delicious dinners, a special birthday for my friend, and an all around A wonderful time!

Atlanta/Family re-group for a night: incredible pizza, a king-size bed for all, and an inexpensive, super-deal 5 star hotel, whereby after walking through marble lobbies with piano players, the girls exclaimed: “This is niiiice, BUT the Drury Inn is a lot nicer.” Drury Inn might be a 2-star, but they have a popcorn machine in the lobby.

North Carolina/Family and Roots for a few weeks: welcomed by family and a place, that feels so, so right, so much of the time is hard to put words to exactly. Even its challenging facets were comforting, such as the heat and the humidity. Imaginative play, quality time with grandparents, aunts and uncle, visiting with Great-Grandmother. Unobstructed BIG skies. Walks to the pond, feeding the ducks, farm stand, pickling, lots of reading with Gommie, with Aunt Wendy, games with cousins (Rat a Tat Cat, anyone?), rain, sunshine, friends and more friends. 4th of July in the country. Bunko, football and blankets. Fireworks in a big old field. The BEACH for A WEEK! Sand and sun, late nights and full bellies. Spy game?! Soooooooooo much fun. Clue: carbon paper. Ballroom dancing with cousins on sandy floors. Amazing talks with our nieces and nephew. Quality time with people WE LOVE. Stephen and I enjoyed sultry, but leisure runs together and profound conversations about faith, life, and the incredible gratitude we both felt.  In the wake of so many challenging events in the world, we really struggled through some deep thoughts. We walked the streets of our old town, knowing and feeling it was no longer home. It was hard, but an important step in our journey. Connecting with June, Joe, and John on Hale Street filled my soul – I feel so at home with them as do the girls and Stephen. Praying Mantis is for June.

Massachusetts/good ole Jack, college friends & their beautiful girls AND revisiting the way back past (colonial history and all). Maybe it is because I’m from the NE, although from nothing like western MA, the air, the trees, the roads are all just so right to me. Coincidentally my sister and husband were visiting Massachusetts the same time and so we connected in Cambridge. It was great. Playing around at Harvard Yard- spending time together. Period.  Visiting Groton, the last place I lived before NC, was not as emotionally triggering as I might have predicted. My senses were ON in countless ways, but I returned as a traveler with Stephen and my girls to visit a friend whom I’m convinced I’ve known in a different life and time. With the exception of lamb hearts being doled out upon our arrival (for Happy), we sunk into Jack’s world so seamlessly, so beautifully it is hard to accept it only took hours. And within a day my entire family was smitten with him and his dog almost as much as I am. Visiting with my sweet friends from college and their BEAUTIFUL girls was so life-confirming! To re-connect with friends from ones’ past and again, for it to work out so smoothly- like we’ve all been hanging out together for years, is incredibly precious and inspiring.  I hadn’t seen Amy and Brett  since 2005 and our girls played like they’d known each other for years, we talked like we were continuing conversations from the day before.  We hiked, washed dogs, chopped wood, made dinner, smelled the flowers and celebrated another birthday on the road. Book on the blanket, blanket on the lawn, we exhaled.

Click on pictures to see some of our summer. *Background: I recently destroyed my iPhone in an unexpected jump into the creek so THOSE photos are LOST, but my camera’s photos are here to stay! I’ve been so intimidated by my camera and the volumes of photos that I have been reluctant to photograph. YET, this is coming from someone who LOVES taking photos and started spending countless hours in darkrooms IN high school. Thanks to my wonderful niece  though I’m slowly being integrated into the 21st century with photographic  “work flow” and editing…

 

 

 

 

 


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wrapped up bird block with picnic

After our egg activities, we moved into a variety of bird-related pursuits which were mostly inspired by the books we read. We ended our block with a picnic at some nearby ponds.

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From one book, Tree of Cranes, we were able to explore geography, migratory patterns, arts, and a look at specific birds, in this case cranes and other waterfowl. Since the book takes place in Japan we practiced bird origami and began drawing our own world map starting with the Pacific Ocean, the west coast of North America and Japan.  I loved shifting their perspective by placing the Pacific Ocean in the middle of the map.

A common thread throughout this block was the reading of E.B. White’s Trumpet of the Swan and working on bird identification. The latter consisted of us sitting on the couch flipping though our Audubon book of birds! Speaking of which, we read an incredible  biography picture book on John Audubon, but I’m not exactly sure of the title now. We also spent time on the Audubon’s website listening to bird calls, again mostly waterfowl as that seemed to emerge on its own, as a theme.

Another book that we really enjoyed was called The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks, a folktale picture book from Japan. Somewhat unplanned, but here we were again in Japan and waterfowl! We continued with our maps and also pulled out some of our Zen picture books by John Muth, Zen Shorts and Zen Ties.  We enjoyed reading some haikus:

an old pond
a frog jumps into
the sound of water

~and another~

Now that eyes of hawks

in dusky night

are darkened . . .

Chirping of the quails (Basho)

At Walden Ponds (here in Colorado, not Massachusetts), we spied: a dozen pelicans, a blue heron, a black cormorant, many Canadian geese, robins, red-winged black birds, sparrows, and chickadees. Ada also lost her 2nd top tooth at lunch!

I really enjoyed the flexibility of this bird block but appreciate the bit of structure. It was hard to end because we could go on and on with this type of study! Next up, sewing our first skirts and then wrapping up a couple math and language arts blocks!

A week later we went up into the mountain for a dog training class and we saw dozens of hummingbirds!

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tackling photos

I completed our first year 1 photo album last week and just finished year 2 with the girls this morning. It has been a pleasurable experience overall, but the expectations I’ve set (to deal with all the photos NOW) has been a bit much to face!

I’m trying to attach a link to the 2nd album. I thought it would be a nice way to share some of these photos with friends and family. There should be a hyper-link to click below which will bring you to my book on shutterfly’s site.  There you will see a button “view photo book.” We’ll see!

<p style=”width:425px;margin-top:0;text-align:center;”><a rel=”nofollow” href=”http://share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=0AZMm7Zs4ctmjtA&eid=118″>Click here to view this photo book larger</a>

Shutterfly photo books  offer a variety of layouts and cover options to choose from.

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misty mountain hop on the mesa trail (and the start of an ornithological odyssey )

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It can be the slightest, most faint rain shower and we are OUTSIDE immediately dancing “in the rain.” It fills me up to imagine that deep in the girls’ souls are etched the joyful memories of puddle jumping and rainy walks in North Carolina.  Arlene often talks of the time I did yoga on the front porch while it just poured buckets! Torrential southern rain coming down – heavy and long and we all gathered there on the porch. I do believe that day is etched in our souls– the scent of the rain, the sounds of it’s descent, the feel of it’s spray, the excitement of that powerful storm beside and above us, yet, on the porch together, safe and warm, full of awe and excitement.

Some people in the middle of a country yearn deeply for the ocean. It is beyond intellect. It’s limbic and emotional and deeply scored in them. They must see, smell, feel the ocean every so often. In its absence they miss it profoundly and can’t explain what its absence means. I feel that way about rain and I think the girls do as well. I didn’t expect to long for rain, but I do, so deeply and often.

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It rained last night. It continued raining into the morning. The hills and mountains around us were engulfed in mist and fog. I was thrilled when Ada and Arlene said yes to an early morning hike. We dropped Stephen off at school and hit the beautiful trail before 8. We ambled off-trail a few times, once exploring a huge boulder and several other times to examine more closely beautiful trees that loomed in the clouds. Mostly we chatted and smiled. Happy to be together in the light rain, the mist, hopping along.

 

We returned home to begin our nature block on birds (ornithological odyssey). I’m really excited about where this went and where it is going! What started out as a plan for a straightforward study of birds has turned into both a look at birds and a look at Japan, lots of geography, poetry and painting!  As I planned some of the books and crafts, Japanese culture surfaced and thus activities and ideas for our studies – origami cranes and geography from one book, history and Zen practices from another. I found several beautiful haiku poems on birds, too. Maybe we could work on some Japanese-styled paintings after reading the haikus? Might be nice to visit the nearby Japanese archery school, too.

We started our block with eggs. Eggs come first! After reading a wonderful non-fiction book on said topic and a touching fictional story, Albert, we got working on completing the following statements in a mini-book format with simple drawings and/or words: An egg is quiet…stays warm…is colorful…is clever…is different sizes, etc. Then on to our activity with some eggs! Fortunately we brought home some special eggs from both California and New Mexico so the girls each chose a couple of their favorites. We had a dozen from Joey and Tweedie, the latter, our last living hen from N.C. now living in California with Vicki. After blowing the eggs, we decopauged them with dainty pictures- butterflies, feathers, flowers.  We baked some delicious gluten-free chocolate chip muffins (uses a lot of eggs) and started a new chapter book:The Trumpet of the Swan.  So far, GREAT.

Garden work was the other outdoor bookend to our day. Stephen and the girls turned over the soil and amended it. Over dinner we discussed garden hopes and dreams. We aim to get a bunch of seeds in by Wednesday. Brace yourself. Here in our zone, May 11th is the average last frost date so there are a few plants we can get into the ground now, but much more… later!

Cold hands post-hike needed warm beverages!

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multiply, minus and museum musings

We’ve had a full few months around here and I’m hesitant to skip sharing any of it, but I also want to write what we’re up to now.

On the homeschooling front, our math and language arts blocks are going super well. Art and music are big hits around here, too. There’s a lot of art activities nestled into the LA and math blocks, but also dedicated times for their own projects and painting. Ada and Arlene both LOVE playing the piano! Spanish has taken a bit of a backseat, but was revived this last week (first week of April). We continue to focus primarily on Spanish nursery rhymes and songs. Mapping has been a favorite activity- whether creative pursuits from books we’ve read or trips we’ve travelled, they enjoy the process of learning from maps and creating them! Arlene shows a strong interest in mathematics and Ada, no surprise loves reading! We completed our math block on the four processes with multiply and minus, complete with gnome stories and hands on activities. I’ve come to appreciate this approach to mathematics more and more as it becomes a truly tangible practice in their life. I thought multiplication clicked the least as it is basically a short cut to adding. We can count by 2s, 5s, and 10s and made our “multiplication table” but really I think written equations, like 2 x 2 = 4, are a bit off and rightfully so! Often mathematics slips off from the practical realm later in school- I can just hear kids (and myself) mumbling questions of math’s purpose in one’s life. When learning is meaningful, it resonates and clicks. These creative and fanciful stories introduce mathematics’ basic concepts  while giving them a context that is tangible.

We’re using our bus passes and recently ventured to Denver sans car! Oh, what a way to travel with the girls and completely enjoy ourselves. The Denver Museum of Art is hands down, one of my favorite art museums.  Predictably we are drawn to the halls on Native Americans. Both the girls have had a deep interest in learning about Native Americans– for as long as I can remember. In fact, after reading this book many years ago their curiosity AND ability to begin to put the history of Native Americans into some perspective, took off. It is a wonderful book, has a great layout and excellent illustrations.

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However, I’ve grown uncomfortable with the fact that the only way they think about Native Americans is through an outdated and often caricatured image. How to continue the story about Native Americans, so that it isn’t just about the past, but also contains the present? How can I help it be less confusing that our neighbor, a Native American from a nearby reservation, who dresses like “us” IS in fact Native American? What if in learning about Americans they were only exposed to:

The exhibit at the Denver Art Museum got the conversation flowing on Native Americans. By showing examples of modern art, I could bridge the Native American artist from the past to the present. How did Native American art change? What does art attempt to do? Most of the examples of modern art at the museum are in fact dealing with this ever challenging and evolving issue. Who are they (Native Americans)? How can they be defined outside of caricature of tipis, hunting, and feather headdresses? These people live today!  Yes, this is their heritage. However, when a group is so exclusively defined by their past that it makes it impossible to “see” them today, there’s a huge problem.

I didn’t take a picture of the photograph that accompanies this description, but it is a self-portrait by the artist- straight forward, unaltered set of 3 photographs. I thought this was one of the most helpful pieces in beginning this conversation with the girls.

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If it wasn’t for this guy, we’d spend the entire day at the museum!

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Travels and times in Denver.