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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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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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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second grade

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

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(painting and my verse writing from age 2.5)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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