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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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…

 

 

 

 

 


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12 days, exactly

12 days ago we were suppose to leave for an epic drive and visit to North Carolina.

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Our first trip back east since we moved here. It was going to be the first time seeing the new home of Stephens parent’s. We were going to hug and play with our family and friends, walk our old stomping ground, eat at Elmo’s and visit with Tweedy (our last surviving hen). 12 days ago was Christmas. We spent weeks preparing for the trip, practical considerations to emotional ones. The plan was to leave in the wee hours (4:00 am) of the 26th of December and make it to NC by the evening of the 27th– in those 34 hours, driving the necessary 24 hours.

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We planned a special, low-key morning for Christmas, followed by an afternoon at home, early fondue dinner and squeezed in there, cooking, cleaning, and packing of the car. We were greeted with happy voices that morning- excited to share that Santa indeed had left something for our dog! We did have a special, low-key, beautiful morning on the 25th. A&A admired Santa’s wrapping, choice of bows, and arrangement of gifts. We had a simple breakfast and then opened gifts together, savoring it carefully. Last year we celebrated the 12 days of Christmas (beginning on Christmas and ending on the eve of the Epiphany or King’s Day) where we found a gift each of 12 days. I loved celebrating the holiday over the nearly 2 weeks. Each day was special without the buildup (for anyone) or bust. We maintained a spirit of reverence and magic those days and while the trade-off for North Carolina was worth it, it was change.

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As Christmas day progressed, so did the snow. We were aware of it, but in full denial. Like one of the girls’ books where the child is elated over the snowflakes and everyone around him says, oh, it won’t stick, it’ll melt, just a snowflake, etc. we too were in denial. We were busy I will say to our defense, but one would think after multiple trips to the car, packing and rearranging that it would have dawned on us sooner. It didn’t though. We all went to bed at 8 and fully expected to drive east at 4 am.

It was not in the plan. While we initially made the decision rather tentatively– let’s see how the weather evolves, I think we knew in our hearts it was not going to happen. Nonetheless, we would wait it out and see. Waiting it out, however, didn’t yield a different decision. Weather and roads looked bad across Colorado and Kansas. We were so utterly torn about going, staying, flying, flying later, waiting another day, staying a shorter amount of time?!?! We felt resonance with JB’s singing:

“I don’t wanna go, I don’t wanna stay, I don’t wanna go, I don’t wanna stay, I don’t know what I wanna do now. (Widespread Panic covering The Meter’s song  “Ain’t No Use” 

It took days to rebound, find our groove again. We joked that we should have been taking a lesson from the girls’ example. While they did have some unusual emotional moments, by and large they threw themselves into the present! The present was full of snow, so that meant climbing up hills and rolling in it, making snow people, sitting on fresh snow to see one’s snow pant pattern, sledding and so on.

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Without plan nor agenda, the days provided an opportunity for us to just be. A little formless, but fully enriching.  We continued our 12 days celebration with a star of spirals and nightly readings. We knit together, girls on straight needles now and Stephen, too! We had leisure dinners and snow-filled outings. I got to yoga in the morning or out for a gorgeous run (below)!

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It was different than a vacation, different than going away…it felt “timeless” without start and end, a permeable beginning and end. Arlene even lost her first tooth!

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Our light continued to guide us, but to our center(s), as individuals and a family. We honed in on some of the inner and outer work we’ve all desired, maybe even needed, at home. I’ve been grateful for the larger life we have come to encompass this year in Colorado, but I’ve also longed for less. I’ve learned a lot this year about myself–balancing and trying to better live my priorities and this week and a half unexpectedly bestowed time to fully bask in that searching while on our journey.

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There was hiking, sledding and game playing. New Year’s Eve fun with a homemade candle holder and more games.

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We took on bills, health insurance, graduate school paperwork, etc. We reorganized parts of the house, decluttered (yes!) and began tackling the monstrosity of photos on our computer. The girls played and played — without interruption! They’re like actors on a stage– setting up a new scene and immersing themselves in its storyline 100%. We had vet clinics, thrift shops (with basically everything in the living room price tagged), courier services (lots and lots of deliveries to neighbors) and so on. There was time, too to hear what they needed and time for Stephen and I to pause and discuss how we want to proceed. There’s always change and some days it is more obvious than others. Their need to exert their will, to talk things out, to be listened to, to be guided through difficult moments. Lastly, a homeschooling issue that had been percolating within me for months came to fruition– do less. Our short morning lesson will devolve and we will take on a more meandering morning. Playing together more after circle and greater time to get into our handwork, more painting, lots of baking, more singing and so forth. I want to play with them more and and trust the rest will come in time.

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In Quakerism, one believes there is God in everyone, light within that we can attune ourselves to hearing and understanding. I didn’t understand what our time staying here in Colorado was going to be about, nor what I should make it BE about, but I did know that once we made our decision to stay, it was about being in the present.  Over the first few days past Christmas it was clear that although we faced some real obstacles, disappointments and a major change in our “direction” we were still guided and moving forward.

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Now, on the 12th day of Christmas, the eve of the Epiphany, I can’t help but laugh at the synchronicity. Our 12 days has led us to a simpler pace, clearer vision and a more grounded footing than before.


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experiencing inspiration on the solstice

 Nothing, I believe, can really teach us the nature and meaning of inspiration but personal experience of it. That we may all have such experience if we will but attend to the divine influences in our own hearts, is the cardinal doctrine of Quakerism.
~ Caroline Stephen, 1834-1909 (my italics on inspiration)

The winter solstice began beautifully and ended magically. First to the Meetinghouse for worship and lunch. While I craved more silence during the Meeting, I appreciated the words shared by fellow worshippers. Worship ended with the entrance of the children in a Christmas pageant. A & A were the two Marys– again 🙂  There were readings from Luke and singing of songs. The middle and high school children followed with their very own satirical and comical songs. We ended with an acting out /sing-along version of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” The room was fun and festive– a contrast to what the space usually offers– silent gathering.

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The potluck spread was delicious and with the mild temperatures and sunny day, we sat outside.  I was so appreciative to have Stephen and the girls at my side, wonderful friends around, mountains ahead, gorgeous sun above. I really just wanted to go around and hug people! The Quaker Meeting has brought us so much joy, direction and confirmation of what I’ve been looking for–and it just seems to continue to grow and grow…

We putzed around at home for some much needed putzing before heading out for a solstice bonfire with a new friend — whom we met at a Mountain Quaker Meeting through another wonderful friend. His place is about 40 minutes from us, 10 minutes from Lyons. As we drove between enormous boulders it felt as if we were passing towering dinosaurs and their ancient eggs. It was gorgeous. Unlike other canyons, this one stands out, at least to me, geologically – not that I can explain it very well!  The canyon ascent is a gentler climb than the other canyon roads we’re familiar with–wider with what seems like a tranquil, meandering creek, the St. Vrain, flowing beside it. The same creek that flooded and caused massive destruction to Lyons and surrounding areas in 2013. Rather than forests and steep canyons here though, you’re met with sandstone, rock and sky. All together it evokes a silence, an inspiration…

We arrived early at our friend’s place so we could get the tour while there was still light on this, the very shortest day of the year 🙂 He is a minimalist, living with the motto: “use less so you have to earn less” or something close to it.  He works a lot on his property, improving the original cabin, building fences, and a lot of inventing- a self-taught millwright. We spent time with his flock of 30 chickens, feeding them popcorn, talking lots. We eventually headed to the bonfire spot, down a steep hill to a dry creek right up to a beautiful hill. Here you’re surrounded by lodgepole and ponderosa, hills and peace. At the opposite end of our bonfire spot, where the creek (dry now) tightens, a 60ft swing beckoned us. Comfort level with the swing grew with experience – rides were more adventurous by night’s end, like from a chair atop a table! We made friends with another family and their lovely daughters. Our conversations flowed smoothly, without much effort and we were all content there, together in the dark woods with the bright fire on a special solstice night.

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We ate, we talked, we played on the swing, watched the kids and warmed ourselves by the fire while fat, beautiful snowflakes fell all around us!  A simple string of lights made for some pretty ambience by the swing and the snowflakes falling perfected it. It was magical.

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The girls, typically slow to warm to new places, were right at home in these woods. They were confident and ambitious. More than once we had to remind them to stay together (strength in numbers!) and where we could see them. They seemed to want to climb higher and deeper into the woods each time I turned my back. Then they’d return to the swing, which made me nervous too, but a little less so than bears and lions!

I reveled in the new friendships and genuine inspirations from just this single day — all emanating from our precious Quaker world. The decision to explore the Quaker path has presented us with sweet friendships, wonderful opportunities and an inspiring path with direction. At our solstice gathering, I felt no hesitation in opening myself to these friends. I felt honored to listen to others’ stories– full of twists and turns, dreams and inspirations. Sitting, standing, being in the company of kind people, amongst the snow, the trees, the mountains, the fire, I was truly inspired, deep within me to continue to walk firmly toward our dreams.

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