Monday, September 28, 2015

Giving back

I've mentioned on many occasions the fantastic experiences Elizabeth enjoyed at the arts-based charter school that she attended from kindergarten through 8th grade. She still holds a great deal of fondness for that place and appreciation for her time there. Back in the summer, when I mentioned that she should find somewhere in the community to volunteer once she started homeschooling, her thoughts naturally turned to her beloved school. After considering the opportunities there, she asked her former 2nd grade teacher if she could assist in reading time once a week. 

Now, every Wednesday afternoon, while I otherwise engage myself, often photographing for the school yearbook,  Elizabeth returns to her old classroom and listens to burgeoning 2nd grade readers. They get to know a "big kid" who encourages their developing skills, and my teenager learns to slow down and listen to and care for younger students. When people ask what we're doing for "socialization", the age-old homeschooling concern, this is one of the activities I list. Socialization isn't limited to same-age interaction. (In fact, an argument can be made that socialization with only same-age individuals isn't generally the most positive socialization.) This year has been about stepping outside of our comfort zone and embracing new experiences. And although she won't get a high school credit for this, she will become a more well-rounded individual, which is ultimately the goal of high school, right?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

a National Park obsession

Over the last couple of weeks, Finn's 3rd grade class studied various parks that are part of the National Park Service. What a timely study since we were already planning to spend the weekend in between in Shenandoah National Park! Shenandoah wasn't the particular park that Finn studied and made a poster advertising, but he was thrilled nonetheless. (He actually studied Colonial National Historic Park, a mere 4 hour drive from us. We might have something up our sleeve concerning that park.) As part of their studies, Finn's teacher brought in her National Park Passport to show the students and then the students made their own passport books to stamp as they heard about each classmate's national park. Of course, when we visited Shenandoah, Finn needed to acquire an "official" National Park Passport, complete with requisite stamp. As he devour each page and map, he made a plan to visit every park in our state and surrounding states in the coming months. I'm not sure that we'll be able to follow his plan quite to the letter, but since one of the national military parks is right down the road from us, we spent a few hours touring it this past Sunday afternoon. Finn has actually visited Guilford Courthouse National Military Park (locally known as Battleground Park) many, many times in the past. It's a common walking area, and we often stumble upon reenactments here. Needless to say, he saw this familiar park with fresh eyes and his passport book in hand. We'll be visiting other parks as we can, including a few that were already on our travel docket before this providential class study. I'm looking forward to see how many we are able to explore! I'll tag them as National Park Service as I share them here. What are your favorite National Parks, Military sights, or National Monuments that we should add to our list?

Sunday, September 13, 2015


{Robert Beatty, author of Serafina and the Black Cloak}

This past weekend, the Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors arrived downtown. The weather appeared threatening, but ultimately held off for the day. Paul, Finn, and I went down there for a few hours to buy a few books, participate in some children's activities, support Finn's teacher (who illustrated a book that was in one of the exhibition tents), and listen to a couple of author lectures. I was able to get a few books as Christmas presents, and Finn had a fantastic time visiting the children's activities and winning a free book. He was also thrilled to see his teacher, buy the book she illustrated, and have it signed by both her and the author. What a great connection for him to have as a kid. We are so fortunate to live in an area that hosts such an amazing event each year!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Shenandoah in September

We spent Labor Day weekend up in Shenandoah National Park seeking relief from the heat and connection with the mountains before the intensity of the school year sets in. As we suspected, Shenandoah was just what we needed. Big Meadows Campground is one of my favorite places to camp, and despite the Labor Day crowds, we had a marvelous time. We scrambled over the rocks at Bearfence Mountain, wandered through the Big Meadow, lounged around camp, watched the sunset from Blackrock, communed with dozens of friendly deer, and generally had a marvelous weekend. As we did last time, we camped with Cindy of Zach Aboard and her sweet family. I'm always grateful for other sweet kids who enjoy our kids so much. Every time we see them, our kids immediately fall back into their easy way of being together. The time of course went too quickly, as it ever does in Shenandoah; we clearly need to find a way to visit more frequently.

On a side note, I've started dabbling in video. The video of our weekend in Shenandoah can be found here: 

Friday, August 28, 2015

movie and mittens

One of my homeschooling goals is that Elizabeth finish her work in roughly 4 days each week which will enable us to reserve one day per week for field trips or other enrichment. In our first week of homeschooling, Elizabeth finished her week’s work by noon on Thursday. When I asked about her thoughts for Friday, she responded that she’d like to watch Boy in the Striped Pajamas since she’d recently finished the book.

When I read Boy in the Striped Pajamas over the summer, I wasn’t overly impressed. The notion that a boy in the midst of Hitler youth would be that na├»ve and innocent in his surroundings didn’t ring true for me. In addition, the use of Out-With (a combination of English words) as a pronunciation substitution for Auchwitz (a German name) drove me to distraction. I finished the book, gave it 2 stars on Goodreads, placed my copy in the Little Free Library outside, then moved on to greener pastures. I don’t think I even mentioned it to my kids.

Elizabeth discovered it in the LFL, and I found her reading it one afternoon. She seemed engrossed so I didn’t share my opinion. Of course, she became enraptured with it, finished it, and placed it on her “permanent collection” bookshelf. She wasn’t thrilled with the vagueness of the ending, but she found the child’s perspective of the Holocaust intriguing. She also recognized Bruno’s natural love and friendship toward others, regardless of heritage, as endearing. I think despite her fondness for Bruno, she appreciated the karmic payback received by his father.

Isn’t it fascinating how an adult reader and a child reader can see such different sides of the same book?

As for the movie, I found it more tolerable, without the insufferable “Out-With” references, and the mother’s and grandmother’s disapproval translating into Bruno’s naivety seemed more believable. Rarely do I appreciate a movie more than a book, but this was one of those cases.

As for the mittens, they don’t particularly tie into this post except that I finished them while we watched Boy in the Striped Pajamas today. I’m more than ready for cooler weather to allow me to test them. The pattern is Detour Mittens, available for free on Ravelry. I knit them in City Tweed, Tahitian Pearl. At first I wasn’t sure about the pointy tips on the mittens, but the elvish look has rather grown on me. I might be in love with these tweedy mitts!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

a new year

A new school year is upon us. Paulie, Philip, and Finn are back in their respective high, middle, and elementary schools in 10th, 7th, and 3rd grades this year. School is now underway, and we are settling into familiar routines. Except Elizabeth. She's feeling her way through a new routine this year as she homeschools for 9th grade.

The feedback when you decide to homeschool a highschooler is interesting. "Really?! Why?!" "What about math?" "Won't she miss the socialization?" Ok, maybe those responses aren't so different as when you announce that you intend to homeschool at other ages, but the underlying question that many seem to hedge is, "aren't you afraid of spending THAT much time with your teen?" The basic answer to all of those questions is this: I not only love her because she's my daughter; I like her too. She's witty, curious, and engaging. She's had a great educational foundation and enjoys learning. She's a motivated kid who likes to check things off lists, which means no nagging from me. She already has deep connections to many friends. She will volunteer, take art classes, take violin lessons, and find other ways to "socialize" if we find that lacking over the year. As for math...thank goodness for Sal Khan.

Since the ever-burning question from other homeschooling parents is generally curriculum related, I'll post a list of our resources below:

English: I'm making my own literature curriculum supplementing with resources online. We started with Tom SawyerBrave Writer will stand in the gap for writing.
Math II: Khan Academy (following the basic Common Core Integrated Math II)
US History: A History of US
Earth Science: CK12 Earth Science for High School, supplementing with YouTube, online activities, and projects
PE: 4-6 week units as Elizabeth chooses, right now she's doing yoga and stretches
Art: assignments that tie into her other classes as well as classes through our local art school

A few other things worth noting, I'm trying to keep a week or two ahead on planning, which will allow me to adjust as needed. Teachers Pay Teachers has fantastic resources, some free, for nearly every subject. I've already downloaded many of their resources to tie into other curricula we're using. YouTube is your friend. There are videos on EVERYTHING out there! Netflix too. I'm sure as we continue I'll find things that work better and not as well. I'll try to keep you posted as we go along!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Summers end

13 months.
That's how long it has been since I visited this space. A year full of beginnings and endings.

Among other things:
Paulie began high school.
Elizabeth finished her final year at her K-8 arts school.
Philip began middle school.
Finn began guitar lessons.
Paulie began marching band.
We each grew a year older.

Just this summer, we visited with friends at Hanging Rock,

Finn participated in music camp,

Finn and I visited family in Philadelphia (and met a new niece!),

the kids and I hiked the top of Pilot Mountain,

Finn lost a plethora of teeth and went to camp,

Elizabeth and I summited Mt. Evans outside Denver,

we fed large animals at Lazy 5 Ranch,

and we spent a week at the beach with friends.

I'm unsure how often I'll be in this space. I was relieved to let go of the pressure of blogging last summer, and I'm happy to be back now, in whatever capacity I feel works for me. Stay tuned later this week for details of new endeavors we're embarking on this year.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Yarn Along

After a fairly significant break in knitting, for me anyway, I started a new project last week, socks for Finn. I'm using leftover yarn from other projects, which necessitated mixing colors. Finn requested that I make the sock's colors reverse images of each other. The pattern is Easy Toddler Socks, which I've made many times in the past. I'm using the same number of stitches as in the pattern but using sport weight yarn and size 3 needles so that they'll better fit a 7 year old.

As for reading, I'm just starting first book in the The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series. I'm reading it for a children's lit online book club. Philip read it while we were in Costa Rica and loved it. Although I'm only a couple of chapters into it, I must say that it's proved very entertaining thus far.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Tortuga Island

Sunday morning, bright and early, we boarded a bus to the Pacific coastal edge of Costa Rica. From there, we caught a catamaran to the Nicoya Peninsula to a small natural island called Tortuga Island. It was a beautiful place, with little disruption to the natural state of the island. There weren't even permanent bathrooms or shelters there. The sand was warm and the waves were frothy as we basked in a bit of time just enjoying the sun. The kids swam, we shelled hunted, and we even rented a kayak for a while. It was nice to enjoy a simple day of relaxation in the Costa Rican sun.