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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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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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.

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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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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