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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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.


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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 🙂  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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Fall Festival Weekend

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As I was tucking Arlene into bed one night last week, she asked: when is the next holiday? Like a fun one, not like Labor Day!? I was so glad she asked! It was a good reminder to pull a few things together for our upcoming fall festival. In our family it is an annual tradition the weekend before the fall equinox – a time to celebrate the change in seasons; from the enormity of  the outdoors and hot days to cooler, more inward days.  It all begins when our neighborhood squirrels leave out a basket of apples or pumpkins, along with a seasonal book.  Such thoughtful rodents! In turn, we make applesauce and a brunch feast!

This year I really wanted to add a night of stargazing to the weekend. I wanted to take note of some of the celestial changes too. I’m more familiar with the summer skies than winter, except that Stephen talks about Orion quite a lot in the cooler seasons. So we made plans to  head up to Peaceful Valley Campground for Saturday night. Peaceful Valley is 45 minutes from our home at about 8500 feet.  It is steep valley, a product of glacial erosion.   It is just beautiful. It looked uncertain Saturday as both the girls came down with horrible colds. Poor Ada was really struggling in the morning, so we decided to just play it by ear.  However, enthusiasm won, congestion, ZERO. We headed for the mountains…

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We took on a short hike before setting up camp and cooking dinner. The late afternoon light was brilliant but softer than the rays of noon. The cool air just what we needed. Both the girls and Stephen were in some stage of a nasty virus.

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After our hike we settled down to some campfire cooking and hanging out! Dinner? Cowgirl potatoes (potatoes, onions, peas, cheese and bacon) on an open fire.  Delicious! More so by my hunger and the outdoors. Blankets covered us as the air grew cooler and the stars slowly surfaced. We ate our s’mores and watched for new stars to emerge.

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The squirrels once again came through with a basket full of apples the next morning –which we put to immediate enjoyment! We continued our celebration of fall continued with a seasonal brunch: pumpkin waffles, grits, bacon and fried apples.  The rest of the apples with make their way into next week’s apple jacks!

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st. nick, holiday happenings and joe, a former student of mine

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St. Nick came by our place in similar fashion as last year, leaving a sweet treat and a note about the weeks to come. Last year St. Nick wrote about the beauty of the 12 days of Christmas and we had a wonderful time celebrating it–  our first in Colorado, beginning on Christmas Eve and ending on the Epiphany. We enjoyed it so much it was hard to accept it just wouldn’t work out this year. St. Nick was very helpful with this conundrum. His note informed us that we would be celebrating with gifts on Christmas only, but he asked us to give to others during the 12 days. Immediately the girls were excited by the challenge, not disappointed by the change, of giving to others for “all those days!”

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Perhaps it is my Catholic background or my attraction to the organization, but we’ve embraced the Advent calendar and candle ritual these years, too. I’ve come up with themes for the weeks of Advent- this week, the second, has centered around giving to others. St. Nick kicks it off, inspiring us to give to others on the heels of his gift to us.  We started in earnest –our happy crafting time, leaving handmade gifts for neighbors, signed “mystery givers” and baking cookies for those near and far. Last night we went to a homeless shelter in Boulder where we helped give out medicine, band aids, cough drops, etc. The girls asked lots of questions which I ultimately think is healthy, although it certainly made me wonder and question my decision. The folks at the shelter were friendly and while the girls have been well aware of the homeless situation in Boulder, this was a far more intimate and realistic dose.

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Whenever there are multiple trips to the post office, things can get stressful. Yesterday, our second day to the post office in a week, was no different! We had a pretty unhappy meltdown on our way home– and it left everyone feeling unhappy. We all had a quiet time at home and then came back together for lunch. I was still feeling uncertain about our afternoon (we had a lot going on in the evening) and how to smooth things out. It was gorgeous out so I suggested we get some balls and go to the park. We were excited about heading out, but as we finished lunch they got sidetracked with a handmade figure a former student of mine named Joe made for me, many years ago. Joe was a unique, wonderful student of mine in North Carolina who also happened to be on the autism spectrum. One day, early on in my knowing Joe, I found him completely absorbed in making tiny figures with paperclips and thread. I nearly stopped him, but stopped myself instead. I gave him a smile and on we went. His “crafting” with found objects didn’t seem to distract him from the importance of the Renaissance or the Treaty of Versailles. ; ) He was prolific in his work and soon I was finding these figures on my desk after class. There were spiders, robots, animals, people and even portraits of me! I was distinguished from the others by a scarf, which he managed to incorporate with thread or pieces of yarn.

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It was one of these figures that the girls became curious about that diverted our afternoon, for so much the better. They asked lots of questions about the figures, Joe and my teaching. Can we make them? We pulled out paperclips and yarn and got to work. It was HARD and it left me with more appreciation for these tiny figures than I had before. Our fingers ached a little, but we managed to create self-portraits, paperclips only.

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Above: Joe’s figures

We staged our figures along with Joe’s and put some music on. Wednesdays, if we can get it in, we sing. With more activity and school this year, it has been harder to have a set, weekly singing time. Ah, but here we were! So we piled up on the couch and started singing! It was overwhelming in the most beautiful of ways. We were close and connected, present and soulful. We belted out our favorites– mostly gospel songs that are simple, powerful and beautiful– getting right to the truth of the matter.

We can do things, offer things, go places with our kids, but I know that times like these imprint deeply. They seem to fill the soul rather than create a specific memory. The feeling of closeness, singing these powerful words and the presence we all shared. These are the times I want more of, just sometimes they come after the stress of package making, post office tripping and low blood sugar, but I’ll take it.

One song in particular, “I’ll Fly Away” a hymn from the earlier part of the 20th century really spoke to me yesterday. With the passing of my cousin two days ago and today marking three years since my mother was diagnosed, I was left really wondering about it all…and full of gratitude that I got to wonder in the arms of these sweet little people.


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Making Meaning

Central to nourishing my children’s development, is modeling and sharing meaning in the everyday activities and rhythms as well as the big holiday celebrations. I learned early on to try not to rush the chores, the mundane, the ordinary routines I was so fortunate to experience with my babies, my toddlers, and now my young children. Taking time to get washed up, dressed, eating our meals– not rushing through the many moments we ignore so that we can get to the “real” moment–those are to be savored (too). An early, light-hearted eureka moment occurred when the girls were about 9 months old and I was trying to give them a “quick” birdbath after eating. The whole task was thrown off and set straight when I realized the goal of efficiency, control and as little water as possible were actually working against me/us! Instead I set them both on the bathroom floor with large basins of sudsy water and wash clothes. It took over an hour, the floor was soaking wet, they lead the way and we all enjoyed washing up.

Following a general rhythm to our week,  thinking of other people on baking day, experiencing value in taking care of our home, providing model-worthy activities for the girls–those are the some of the day to day ways we’ve tried to instill meaning in our lives. On the level of holidays, I’ve also tried to find ways to infuse more spirit and heart by finding our own way with the celebration, stringing it out a little more through preparations and celebrations. This is an area where Waldorf education really helps to inspire me.

Key to Waldorf education is celebrating life through holidays and festivals. I’m thrilled to say that celebrations and festivals increased in our home these years! Starting with seasonal shifts we celebrated the change through our nature table scenes, foods, songs, activities and stories. For the fall and spring we culminated the seasonal shift with a festival meal. Last fall our friendly neighborhood squirrels left a basket of apples and an apple corer to help with the apple pies and applesauce making! That same spring one of the bunny families of Durham (yup) left the girls carrots and summer nightgowns! The anticipation, the excitement and  joy that came from these festivals were encouraging, to say the least.

The memory, meaning and excitement we as adults can so easily conjure up about our childhood celebrations–whether birthdays or Christmas’ is proof of the value of celebrations.  They speak to our spiritual needs –making meaning out of life. If we can increase the joy and depth in our lives through celebrations–whether simple pauses to notice the changes of the seasons, a party to mark our lives a year older, candles lit to reflect on the memory of those passed on, and religious holidays, then why not devote more attention to recognizing them and making them our own–especially with children?

Celebrating life is really about being grateful for life and that is something I want to share with my girls more than anything.

Here are some photos of our celebrations since arriving out west: St. Michael’s, birthdays! St. Martin’s, All Soul’s Day, Advent, and recently St. Lucia’s…

~our week~
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~st. michael’s: dragon bread and stories ~IMG_0792 IMG_0808 IMG_0384 IMG_0809

~all soul’s day: photos of those passed on, food and music they enjoyed as well as many great stories ~

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~st. martin’s: stories, songs, baking and lantern bags to light us on our walk~IMG_1414 IMG_1416 IMG_1421 IMG_1423 IMG_1442 IMG_1459IMG_0362 IMG_1346 IMG_1334

~birthdays! birthday stories, partied, baked, played, and much needed birthday naps after early breakfast outing~IMG_1494 IMG_1488 IMG_1673 IMG_0816 IMG_0821 IMG_1563

~advent: homemade from cut greens in our neighborhood for our table wreath~image image image

~st. lucia: lots of stories, songs, crafts and baking this week! ada especially enjoyed the baking this week!~image image image image

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We continue this week with St. Lucia. Her name shares the root “luc” from the Latin to mean light. In addition to making up children’s stories about her life (which there are many to derive mine from), I’ve tried to emphasize the nature of hope and light in her life.

We also celebrated Saint Nicholas Day this year which has added some playfulness into the gift giving tradition. The girls left some nice treats for St. Nick and his donkey and he in turn left some sweets for them! I told stories about St. Nicholas’ life and suggested we do a “St. Nick deed.” We sent out some baked goodies as well as anonymously left a a flower arrangement for one of our new neighbors.

Hope to link some audio clips here soon. Hearing the girls sing these new songs is really special. Children just have the best voices!