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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art fridays

A couple Fridays a month we meet with another homeschooling family and do art! It is a loose format as this is the beginning of us mothers and children working together this way. We meet, have a leisure lunch, a little playtime and then get down to art before having the rest of the afternoon for free-play. We started with Monet and Impressionism. For our first session we read about Impressionism, looked at many paintings and then focused in on Monet’s Haystacks, 1890-1891. It was my friend’s lead and it has been wonderful!

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First the children made their own haystacks from colored paper. I did not get photos! With shredded construction paper they topped the conical base to make their own haystacks. There was a lot of hot glue involved! The next time we met, the weather was gorgeous so we picnicked and brought along our haystacks to paint them  “en plein air” –outdoors!  My friend talked about shadows, light, and one’s perspective to capture our own impression. There was also some tree climbing and woods-playing before returning back to the house–for more play.

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Arlene above, Ada below.

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Last Friday when we met, I initiated the lesson time  by asking them what did the word impression mean? They had great ideas: your first thought, your feeling, an idea, what you connect with something.  Then I pulled out a stuffed bunny. I put the bunny in front of them and asked the children: what is your impression of this bunny? White, fluffy, bunny, soft, Easter, babies, were some of their responses. No right or wrong, I emphasized, just your impression! We looked at paintings again with a focus on subject matter (landscapes, slice of life moments) and technique (unfinished, quick, thick paint, bright, pure colors, lots of light). Afterward I asked them to close their eyes and I played some music. We were to allow any and all impressions from the music fill us up to then create a painting– just from those impressions. I really wanted to get at the heart of what this style of art was about. I read all these fantastic quotes from leading Impressionists and truly this was about what was inside of them. How could I lead several children in a process of discovering their own impression?

They were so sweet — sitting around listening to the music with their eyes closed.   Don’t be thrown off by the band or odd cover picture, this song is wonderful!

We then pulled out the paints and they set to work. The tone was set so beautifully by the quiet intention of capturing our impressions. Everyone seemed to have a  good sense of what they were going to paint and interestingly, everyone painted something different. There was abstract renditions, landscapes, portraits and interior scenes. They weren’t rushed, but paced and thoroughly engrossed in their paintings. They each expressed their  impressions from the music into creative artwork. It was a special afternoon.

Ada’s Music Impression

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Arlene’s Music Impression

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Sheila’s Music Impression

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These Fridays are such a highlight of our week. I am grateful to be striking this new balance: learning with another homeschool family, maintaining our own healthy rhythm, feeling rested and ready each day.  I have often felt insecure about these  types of homeschooling steps. I haven’t wanted to rush into complicated or too big commitments with homeschoolers. I’ve wanted to slowly build relationships with other families, learning along the way what other moms (& myself) are interested in and capable of in terms of offerings and teaching. Going slow and layering is truly the way to go with these and so many matters!

Us moms have tea after our focused art time, swap recipes, talk about where we are in life and in homeschooling and completely enjoy each other’s company. It is a wonderful way to spend a day!

Lunch is ready! (Heart-shaped chapati, kale, mung beans, rice and squash).

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mirabai block – 16th century hindu mystic

Following John Muir, we dove deeply into the world of India. This block surpassed my expectations,  primarily in the tangental ways we explored the subject. What did we do in addition to learning the life story of Mirabai? We:

  • visited the art museum in Denver several more times
  • listened to beautiful classical Indian music daily
  • learned parts of an Indian folk dance (dandiya raas)
  • cooked up a lot of new Indian food and therefore visited our local Indian grocer often
  • read tales of Hindu gods, learned their epics from the Mahabharata 
  • went to a dance performance in Denver that showed the merging of modern with classical Indian dance
  • drew beautiful maps of India showing cities and states, rivers and mountains as well as spectacular information such as the origin of Indian spices and indigenous animals
  • recited classical Indian poetry
  • practiced yoga together, learned about mudras, asanas, and chanting

We had a blast TOGETHER.  When you, as a teacher tap into personal interests, the possibilities are truly endless. Having incredibly open-minded children also helps! A friend of mine from Boston, who was originally from India said to me once: “You were definitely an Indian in a past life.” I smile thinking about her comment. Laugh when I think about how incredible diving into this subject was– without much planning, but an intuitive flow.  Somewhere during this epic block I glanced at the “academic calendar” & I got a little worried given that there was just SO much we wanted to do, to cover and yet, here we were leisurely bathing in the history and culture of India –without a thought of moving on.  Their level of excitement was palpable. “Can we learn Sanskrit?” Or, “I would love to learn more about other Indian people when we finish. Maybe Ghandi?”

The Mirabai block was a HUGE success. Using resources from my friend’s curriculum, I told the girls stories of Mirabai and then we a) re-inacted them together b) drew pictures c) wrote out summaries to form a book by the block’s end. I was not as satisfied with these summaries as I was with the John Muir materials. However, I can appreciate the research challenges– the biographical information is scant on this 16th century mystic who went behind her “defined destiny” in life to follow God, her own intuition, love, and joy. She broke with tradition of caste, of gender and like John Muir listened deeply, consciously to what she knew was true and right. These are the role models worthy of our time. John Muir fearlessly heard the mountains calling him and he journeyed onward. Mirabai heard Krishna’s flute and she shone like the sun– sharing with others her love and joy. As a homeschooling family, we do have a lot of influence on our children. However, peers, current day culture, media are there. The more I thoughtfully select content to enrich our learning, whether it is part of our lessons or leisure, the greater positive impact I have.

Once again, I’ve been reminded that I need to listen to my inner voice. It is always there, if I listen closely. I told the girls I could not take on Ghandi next since it will take a few weeks to research. The biographies on him are hefty. I did say though that we could stay in India, relatively speaking.

Yes, so THIS is why I homeschool. To LIVE together and to LOVE learning.

Click on the first photo to view each.

We have continued to bake sourdough bread every few days. Arlene and I had fun taking pictures of scenes from around our home and those are included below. It has taken time to call here, HOME. Like anything in life, it is about coming to a place of acceptance  and living with gratitude w/ what one has rather than what one doesn’t have. We don’t have a yard, but an incredibly enlightened city to live in! We do have a patio 🙂 Gorgeous mountains out our door, & public transportation. No large scale gardens like in NC, but we do have community gardening and somehow we were offered the largest plot! I had not ever envisioned living back in a city and while this isn’t NYC, our home is smaller and on a busy road. We live very close to our neighbors.  It is quite urban! A couple of these “scenes” have brought me immense joy and peace. This is our home. Now.

Continuing with the theme of reading fiction on the topic we are studying, I’m reading one of the most incredible books I have ever read!  It is called Sea of Poppies by  Amitav Ghosh. It is not a light read by any stretch of the imagination. It is layered and rich with varied language and history.

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john muir block

We started a block of study on John Muir way back in November and did not finish until after the holidays. It was interrupted several times and ultimately I did not want to push through since it was going SO PHENOMENALLY WELL!! I borrowed curriculum from a friend several months before that and when I finally got around to reading through it, I was pleased. It took a few weekends to get my head wrapped around all of it; the volume of materials was truly overwhelming. Nonetheless, I found much of it to be well researched and decided to try out a story and the general approach. The language arts section of these materials focuses on stories, like I’ve been telling this year, but there are many suggestions for how to expand on the stories, culturally. The stories are actually biographies of folks from around the world – from Harriet Tubman to Ghandi.  In some ways, the approach of these materials reminded me of my teaching days and this lit a fire within!  Back then, I would completely immerse myself and my high school students in as many aspects of the culture we were studying. For example, when my students and I studied Islam we read background, learned vocabulary, studied maps, and dates. I also told my students, in story format, all about Muhammed, the prophet of Islam from my own research. They were captivated by hearing a story told to them.  We drew pictures and made books. We studied Arabic, listened to recitations of the Qu’ran, and Arabic music. In that way these borrowed curricula materials encouraged me to teach in…my own style! What a gift!

I started with John Muir, Scottish-American naturalist  well-known for his efforts to protect America’s wild places.  Just as in high school teaching, I decided to absorb as much of the subject matter as possible through my own readings– the subject being John Muir– which are fantastic! He was totally accessible, so informative, and truly entertaining.  I highly recommend reading him.

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We continued with our usual daily format although this was one of our longer blocks.

Day 1: I tell the story, we draw a picture and rest on it. Day 2: The girls re-tell the story, often acting it out with props and I help fill in the narrative gaps. We first work aloud the summary of the story and I write it on a large paper or board. The girls then begin their own summary writing. This is the beginning of our books! The cycle continues in this fashion, 4 days a week for several weeks. I overlapped some of our phonics words when appropriate and kept up with spelling.

After our circle time, which includes both seasonal and cultural songs, poems, and games we work on math problems, both on paper and aloud, followed by some brief phonics work and then a more substantial focus of the block’s cultural side –working on a specific poem, a Scottish song, or a dance.  We had so much fun with “Aiken Drum” which I did not know was Scottish! We’ve been singing that song for many years. We also learned the “Wee Willie Winkie” poem which reminded me of my cousin Alistair, from Scotland. He passed away two years ago this winter. The food of a culture, too are wonderful to explore.  Scotland is not well known for culinary exports and so I struggled here.  Haggis is apparently the national dish of Scotland, but with ingredients such as a sheep’s stomach, heart, liver, AND lungs we skipped for simple stews and barley porridge.  We made maps of Scotland, learned about islands, “seas” and the vast Atlantic Ocean between the United States and Scotland. We pulled out our own photo albums of Yosemite from two summers ago were we swam in the waters beneath famous Half-Dome and walked among the giant and ancient ones, the Sequoias of Yosemite.

Honestly the block came at such an opportune time. We too needed to “listen” like John Muir, to the calls within us (I know I did!), to the calls of the outdoors.  Happily, we hit the trails often during this block. Listening to oneself, like John Muir, requires tremendous courage and I was overjoyed at bringing such a wonderful role model into our studies.

We also read a lot of picture books on John Muir.

The block cycle: storytelling, re-telling/acting it out, working on our handmade books, and then repeat! We completed the block  in about 4 weeks, not counting the “breaks” of travel, holidays, etc.  The girls’ writing has grown  beautifully during this block– from a creative and engaging approach.  Their work is meaningful. Perhaps “meaningful work” is one of the the primary reasons I homeschool! As a teacher, I saw “meaningless” busy work and the display of dejection by students. Some learn to gear up for tests only, because to them, that’s what it is really about. Sometimes folks love to learn despite their school experiences!

Ada’s book:

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Arlene’s book (bottom):

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See John on the trail above left?

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Then they wrote their own biographies for the end of the book along with a picture:

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We took a break from writing books and caught up on some chapter books, a little more math, and couple trips to the museum. In fact, the museum was very helpful as an introduction to our next block!

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sunrise hike

What is it that we always want more of? Or, less of? As we approached the holidays this year, I felt a strong desire to just BE together. Freedom to BE together. Perhaps Santa could arrange time together rather than things?  Perhaps we could remind ourselves that this time of the year is a gift to be free. To not feel the yoke of commercial obligation, but to take that moment and breath deep and remind yourself that YOU are FREE. I had an inspiring thought in the fall about the Sabbath in this regard– that truly the gift is freedom.

One of our favorite 12 Days this year was our sunrise hike day. Santa left warm undershirts, hot cocoa powder, and a map…a beguiling map that we were to follow the next morning to experience the beauty of the sunrise together as a family.

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Stephen and I were very tired during the holidays and honestly, it was challenging to gather the mental and physical, as well as emotional energy to follow through on this and some of the other 12 Days. Nonetheless, we set the alarm and went to bed early, unbeknownst to us, we were to receive an incredible gift the next day!

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Arlene and Ada? Amazingly excited to hit the trails at 6 am on a chilly, Colorado, winter morning. It was truly exhilarating to begin the hike. The mountains, black and silhouetted against a dark, but lighter background. The air was refreshing and almost nourishing. The quiet. The solitude. It was truly incredible and we were only 100 feet into the hike.

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We followed the map and landed at the star. What a spectacular spot to await the rising of the sun! We poured hot cocoa, settled in and waited. Suddenly everything was okay out there. Serenity and peace washed over me. There was no where else I’d rather be.  Within minutes it seemed everyone had found their own space and quiet, both physically and internally.

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What a miracle to experience the sunrise. Awaiting something so special, so simple was  at the heart of that morning. The season, too. It was dark, then it was slowly light.  It was just us and then there were animals. It was cold and then slowly, warm all the way through. It was quiet and then there were birds.

I did indeed get what I wanted for Christmas. A priceless experience– seemingly extravagant in how greatly it filled me up, yet completely free.


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trails of advent

 

Advent started early this year and while it seemed so soon after the girls’ birthday and Thanksgiving, I was feeling ready ! I was eager for our weeks of increasing darkness, the traditions of Advent, the girls’ choir, a joyful Christmas and our very sweet 12 Days.

We follow a theme for each week of Advent. Here is a well-known verse among Steiner schools which we loosely follow:

The first Light of Advent It is the Light of stones:
The Light that shines in seashells In crystals and our bones.

The second Light of Advent It is the Light of plants:
Plants that reach up to the sun And in the breezes dance.

The third Light of Advent, It is the light of beasts:
The Light of faith that we may see In greatest and in least.

The fourth Light of Advent It is the Light of humankind:
The Light of hope, of thoughts and deeds,
The Light of hand, heart and mind.

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I decided we would focus our first week of Advent doing what we love and found a way to work it into our main lesson block: hiking!! We explored new trails and revisited some well-loved ones all while looking at the stones that make up the corner of our world. Colorado is an incredible place for geology– from the Rocky Mountains to the high-plateau plains to the massive dunes. There are canyons that rival those in Arizona and many lovely spots in between right here in our backyard. We visited: Sanitas Mountain and Valley, Settlers’ Park, the Old Kiln Trail and a new trail (to us) in Morrison.  I focused on trails that had distinctive red sandstone of the Fountain Formation so we might notice how the “same” rock can be so different. What initially looked like only brown and tan rocks, maybe some “red” here and there, became shades of purple, pink, orange, yellow, grey, and so forth. My girls loved getting down on the ground, hugging and climbing the rocks to admire, examine, and wonder. In addition to the colors of the rainbow, we discovered beautiful new vistas, fossils, lichen and incredible rock formations (like the fins at Red Rocks). In the midst of our block on John Muir, we too found ourselves being called outside to the “school of nature.” We even rode our bikes to one of the trails! I’m grateful for the reminder, I feel at peace outside. Maybe that blanket of peace and joy was  needed not to pave the way for the weeks of Advent, but for the news of Wendy’s death.

Sanitas Valley

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Settlers Park

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Morrison Slide Trail

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Old Kiln Trail

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Shortly into December we received the tragic news that Stephen’s sister died. It took our breath away. We talked about our time at the beach with her this summer, the last time Stephen checked in with her– about a song they loved.  Our lives are constantly uncertain. We just never know. We paused and turned inward. Within a few days we were back in North Carolina to grieve and be with family. So much to say here. Wendy here in white tank top in between Scott and myself.

Pullen Park

Pullen Park


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Fall Digest – 2nd Grade

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Our Language Arts blocks in October and November were carried primarily by Native American stories of the Plains Indians, the Lakota. I’ve really struggled with the math blocks being carried by stories this year– although we had success with them in 1st grade. It has felt like a lot of extra work for me (to learn and tell a story and build into it math concepts, manipulatives, and practice) without a lot of gain for the girls.  My girls seem to thrive on the stories so throughly in language arts that it was an OK and natural step to remove it from our math lessons and hone in on math practice– on paper, through movement and song, through anecdotal stories, with objects and in real life (like sewing, baking, knitting).  Now we do math every lesson day and still a lot of active math in our circle time (times tables, word problems, math facts). Second grade math seems to be about introducing new concepts and doing a lot of practice. There are so many new concepts in this grade that I wanted to focus on us being really comfortable with practice. In fact,  when I started to reflect on my own childhood math experiences it seemed that there was never enough time to finish the practice work! I want A&A to have plenty of time with problems and to build their confidence with uncrushed learning!

For the time being it seems we have struck a nice balance with these two big subjects — when heavy on the language arts we might scale back on new concepts in math and conversely when we need more math time, I’m taking on lighter stories for LA and spelling and writing practice. What’s so incredibly beautiful and practical about the approach we have taken at home is I integrate arts, history, geography, science, seasonal projects and music into  language arts and math. Maybe it is a mapping project from a novel we have read or props for a play, sewing bean bags for active math or studying the stars when our main lesson story centered on Ursa Major, the Big Dipper.

What stories should we do? In the 2nd grade, suggestions revolve around animal fables, trickster legends and saint stories. We started with some Aesop in September and I felt they were too thin — not enough heft to work with– both in narrative and spin-off ideas. It was a light way to begin, but when that well dried, I decided to go with material  I knew, what the girls loved and what resources I had accessible. It took a long time to arrive at that conclusion! I turned to well known illustrator and re-teller of Native American stories, Paul Goble. I took books out of the library that appealed to me and learned them– in order to tell them to the girls for their lessons. I chose legends which explained natural phenomena to the Lakota’s own trickster character, Iktomi.

Iktomi and the Berries was a great story and without planning, the story dovetailed nicely into the late fall season of berries here in the foothills. Iktomi hungry and tired, notices berries in the lake– not realizing that these berries are the reflection of berries from a tree branch overhead.  After trial and error, comical and outlandish, Ikto finally sees that they are on the tree. He gets out of the lake, angry and frustrated and beats the tree! All the berries fall and scatter downstream where the ducks take great delight in the unexpected feast. There’s a final line that says this is the traditional way to harvest berries — to shake or hit the branches and collect the berries on a blanket below. Iktomi actually came up with the idea! Hawthorn and chokeberries  were ripe and around; while we didn’t harvest these berries, we did notice them a-plenty and admired Iktomi’s approach to harvesting– picking one by one would be tedious.  The drawings from this story were incredible and yet so simple. We worked on a lot of words from the story for our reading and spelling practice, too. The girls re-tell the stories after I have told them and they just LOVED acting out the Iktomi stories. So playful and silly– the humor and pitfalls so clear and humors to their hearts and minds. I’m reminded of how important it is to surround our children with age-appropriate content because they absorb it and live it. Oh and we made elderberry syrup to boost our immunity for the season ahead.

With respect to math, we loosely follow Singapore Math. There’s a lot of hesitation in taking on a standard math approach in alternative circles of education — perhaps prematurely so…There’s so much to the delivery and pacing of material– not making it a death march is the freedom we have in homeschooling, but also empowering our children with the skills they need to succeed in the years to come is our (my) responsibility.  Just because one takes on a standard curriculum does not mean one is “doing school at home.” How could that be? I have two children, not 32, creativity, hands on time, and freedom.  It is great that they get the basics through this curriculum and all the fun we make of it!

This fall we had a great time: visiting the Haven, hiking new and old trails, celebrating Stephen’s birthday! Baking sourdough bread, pizza Fridays!  Canning our garden’s harvest, singing in a choir, biking around town instead of driving! We tossed up previous year’s Halloween traditions and had one of our best ever nights–trick or treating in our neighborhood. Celebrating All Soul’s, an important anchor in our end of fall traditions was special as we added layers of my Irish family and attempted a family tree…We shared a beautiful St. Martin’s celebration with our German school, too.  In our family fall rounds out with another trip around the sun– twin birthdays– the girls turned 8. I’m so grateful that with each year they grow, our connections grows. They are my best teachers.

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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.