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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this time of waiting and wondering – advent

This year holiday preparations fell into place so easily. Of course there were some mishaps, like the first tree we brought home and had to return–it was wider than it was tall and just didn’t work in our intimate space ūüôā ¬†Ada and Arlene were thrilled to help out, as they are each year, but this year they embraced another layer of awareness and excitement. Each ornament is savored– who gave this one to us? Or, I love this one form June –these are the White House ornaments from Gommie. Ada, do you remember making this one last year? Books were taken off the shelf and the singing of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was fully fledged by the first week of December! They expressed early on that they hoped Santa would be celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas, rather than¬†just Christmas day gifts since it isn’t fun to have it all on one day. I’m totally impressed with their ability to delay gratification over nearly 2 weeks. I would have wished for the ONE day extravaganza– especially since it would have meant gifts sooner than later, too!

How do we impart the pleasure and importance¬†of giving over receiving to our children? How do we create a culture of sharing from the beginning? Once again I’m impressed with their thoughtfulness and initiative in this department; as I reflect I am a proud mama! Perhaps it started with being twins– they lacked a possessiveness from very early on; sharing was understood. The first few years of their lives we spent a significant amount of time baking and crafting for others, probably weekly! They were thrilled to give away our freshly baked muffins or a secretly carved pumpkin for a neighbor.It was just what we did and thinking back on it now, I’m so grateful for those times. Ada loves drawing portraits of Stephen and I. She often leaves them under my pillow. Arlene’s abstract art finds its way under Stephen’s pillow as a special gift. There are times they busy themselves in the basement feverishly wrapping “gifts” for us– handmade goodies or favorite books of our’s (from our shelf)!

I thought of all of this because of our first week of advent! During this time we prepared for St. Nicholas Day — stories about St. Nick, crafts and “St. Nick baskets.” We got together with friends for a cookie exchange, too. It was really sweet. We also¬†baked lots of cookies to mail out to friends and family. ¬†I had wanted to do the St. Nick baskets in years’ past, but this was our inaugural¬†year. Along with eggs, cookies, a baking mix, and a paper snowflake, we included a story about St. Nick. At the bottom of it we asked that they place their snowflake on their door and prepare a similar basket for another neighbor. How many neighbors’ doors would have a snowflake in the coming weeks? ¬†A & A were eager and full of enthusiasm to give the goodies away and were delighted to see the paper snowflakes appear on our neighbors’ doors. I find this season fitting for my own inner work, so ¬†I ditched early morning yoga for early morning reading and spiritual reflection. I am enjoying the solitude and the quiet; the sunrise and the unfolding the day. ¬†I read and journal and make the necessary space to clarify my intentions and hopes for our day.

The 2nd week of Advent ushered in decorating, crafting and gift making.  Lots of hot glue and sparkles!

The 3rd¬†Sunday of Advent we celebrated Santa Lucia, an Italian Saint from the 3rd century. Like with other saints, I prepare with stories about the saint, music, baking and a craft. Tradition in Sweden is for the children of the home to make breakfast for the parents on Santa Lucia Day. A & A ¬†drew up a plan the night before and with very little assistance from us made: scrambled eggs, cooked veggies, and toasted waffles. We sing a simple song on Santa Lucia and enjoy a special bread with our candlelight dinner. This year’s recipe was the best– even with my gluten-free status I could taste –with my nose and fingers how delicious this bread was!

They wrote and posted their letter to Santa. They’ve listed 6 things they hope to receive, along with a “pretty picture for Santa and some change- in case he wants to buy something.” A sled, ¬†electric back scratcher, sewing kit. Ada insists she really needs some new socks. Maybe we can get those, she asked? We shall see….

A gift we have received with immense gratitude this season is a piano from our friends Becky & Dave. Since the moment the piano arrived, there has been more joy! Singing and playing, growing and togetherness has multiplied in these weeks from this gift.




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time to reflect, for sure (on learning, life, and first grade)

Today marks our official start of “break” from our morning lessons until the new year. I wasn’t expecting to feel this juncture as profoundly as I am, but here it is and I’m feeling it! The sowing of a homeschooling dream started before children, before marriage, before Stephen. I was in college enjoying one of my favorite pastimes, browsing the library shelves. I came across a book by John Holt, a prominent reformer in education. Disillusioned by what he experienced as a teacher and more importantly inspired by what he saw with children, he challenged the status quo. He sought to make school classrooms places where confidence grew and learning took place in deep ways. I read two of his books sitting right on the floor of my college library and was absolutely inspired. In countless ways his ideas resonated with my own education– largely intrinsic and unfailingly personal and rewarding. Yet, much of this type of learning was at stake in American classrooms.

People are often taken aback at my background in education, years of teaching and yet… a decision to homeschool? Some are not confused, but many see it as a contradiction. ¬†I went into teaching like most, with ambition and excitement. I taught in 3 high schools, my first day on September 11th 2001 in Boston. Admittedly, the first two schools I worked at allowed me to dig deep with kids, ¬†explore material beyond the exam and grow immensely as a teacher. Both of the schools were fairly unique American schools. The last school I worked at, unfortunately, embodied many of the standard and descending elements that characterize education. AND, it was a very good school. Teachers had ZERO autonomy, students were not trusted nor respected (nor teachers), curriculum was tightly monitored, common exams were enforced and if and when teachers strayed, as I often did, I /we was/were reminded that those “extras” could be taught after school or during lunch. Like, remedial reading or 9/11. Not with the exams ahead…

I digress! I’ll say, even though my window was closing as an educator and I had fewer opportunities to teach with essential questions, I hadn’t given up on public school completely, nor have I. However, at the elementary level, ESPECIALLY, I am compelled to keep present in education that which I believe is essential– this is a time of foundation. Age appropriate material and tasks (there’s nothing like setting your students up with unrealistic goals to make them despise school), artistic endeavors, unhurried days, hands on exploration, ¬†biking, climbing, hiking, games, time to play…a sense of the whole beautiful world, a sense of worth and deep engagement.

Lastly, while there are a multitude of ways to parent, there are a multitude of ways to homeschool. Our approach is one that attempts to put into action OUR values and priorities. So while I haven’t written “my manifesto” YET, in addition to these general tenets, is the belief that HOME should be the center of my young children’s world. ¬†Family and home is the heart; it is where I think I can best achieve my goals and to hopefully establish within my children, a foundation of ¬†inspiration and engagement. ¬†This is NOT to say that this is impossible within families who send their kids to school. I do know that’s possible! I’ve met those families, worked with those kids. However, I know that I would struggle with balancing¬†it all¬†if I were working full-time and my children were at school. More profound though is I know that a certain calling deep within me would be smothered and that the ideals I’ve been brewing for decades would be stifled. I’d be disengaged from these dreams. ¬†So, again it is about lining up my values with my actions. ¬†Homeschooling truly sits atop the bedrock of vunerability¬†of taking chances to grow and living deeply and with courage.

So this IS a momentous time for us. I set out on this journey decades ago, have ridden years of doubt and maneuvered many obstacles. Stephen and I from the beginning have leapt big, risked a lot and today, continue to make it thrive. I sat down months ago and planned out half our school year. I sketched out broad objectives, listed books we would read, projects we would work on, food we’d bake and cook. I organized a calendar. I planned our festivals. I tweaked here and there.

We made beautiful drawings during our form drawing blocks, we learned many fairy and folk tales along with all our letters, painted, recited seasonal poems and songs, practiced mathematics, advanced our knitting and sewing, took on Spanish with mucho gusto, hiked new trails and old, rode horses, played with new and old friends, BIKED 8 miles one day! Spent days at museums, even tried out German! Time in the mountains. We chopped wood and made teepees. We had lazy mornings with lots of reading. Warm baths.

Today we celebrated the coming together of a dream, the end of a lot of hard work and meaningful months with: a puzzle filled leisure morning and pancakes.