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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2nd block of math, keeping it up!

During the second week of math block we met Gnome Plus, a green little fella that likes to add up more and more jewels!  I continued with our story of the two young women traveling through the Land of Numbers with Ancient One. The first day they meet the gnome and his verse. The second day they discover his “sign” in the scene we have set up on the cabinet. There’s lots of hands on activities in this block and while I make a plan for some of our practice, I’m often coming up with amusing “problems” on the fly. It is after all, all about practicing! I try to insert items of significance into our storytelling and thus our “problems.”  A few more of their wooden animals made their debut this week which made things interesting and to that I added an old favorite watercolor of an autumn tree that they have enjoyed playing with since they were toddlers.  With another story layer, this painting and new animals were a hit!  Several forest animals were trying to put together fruits, nuts and all sorts of food they’d found, thus adding it up to make a communal cache (seen in the tree hollow)!  With some simple touches, they connect more with what we are doing and appreciate the way it is being done. Learning through meaningful experiences!

After lots of adding and some sharing (dividing from last week)  with rocks, gems, food (green food since Gnome Plus is GREEN!), sticks, books, whatever we had around I introduce equations. First I draw out what we are talking about…Gnome Plus had 5 gems (I draw him and the 5 gems), then he found 4 more in his pocket ( draw 2 more). How many gems did he have all together? Beneath that I write the numerals and signs (+ and =). This block is meant to get them hands on experience and exposure to these concepts. We will come back to them a little more in-depth after our next LA block. At bedtime they will ask what our plans are for the following day and when I answer we will be doing a morning lesson, they honestly cheer!

I continued the theme of stories with numbers as a way to end main lesson. I resurrected some oldies but goodies from the past– simple counting books which they LOVED and can now read!  Five Little Monkeys,  Dots, and Freight Train. Oh the memories! I can almost hear the train’s horn as it made its way through downtown Durham some years ago. I’ve always loved the sound of the train (not too close by) and back then we would often pause to listen and pull out Freight Train!

We have also been hunkering down for more significant reading as we continue with Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House series. We are on book 3 now and there is no stopping these two girls!  Our reading inspired some gorgeous artwork, too. They made beautiful collages of Old Tallow, a wonderful character in the book, whose winter coat is patched and mended, layered year after year. They also wanted to make a map of the island where the story takes place and Omakayas lives.  It is currently taped to our coffee table,  behaving more like a huge jigsaw puzzle than map. They can stop by at it for a few minutes or settle down for more detailed additions. (Images below: Ada’s Old Tallow, followed by Arlene’s, a picture of the book with Ada, and beginning of the map.)

We had a fun Boulder day later in the week and met friends at the library. We happened upon a wonderful singing story time, too. Afterward Stephen met us since the library is just blocks from his school. We walked the downtown creek path which was deserted in the late afternoon — we enjoyed it all to ourselves!

We ended the week with a fabulous trip to Denver– by bus! I’ve been wanting to shoot for a month without a car and this was a little practice at still getting around, not changing our plans, but without the car. We invested in Eco passes (annual bus passes) for everyone and 2 days after getting them took full advantage! We got down to Denver in 50 minutes on a new route and new bus (had the new car scent and all) and I didn’t have to deal with parking nor the long drive back home.  More on our trip to Denver later…


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math block, more exciting than it sounds

The weeks leading up to Christmas were full of family times at home and lots of time exploring  our great town, Boulder. We hiked familiar trails, sledded, knitted, cooked, baked, and played! We took the bus downtown, visited the library several times, enjoyed the creek path and one day, splurged on an awesome lunch out. We shared beautiful meals at home with friends and enjoyed others’ hospitality.  Vail made the agenda with an overdue visit to P.  I thought of my mother throughout the season, now gone 4 years- recognizing that each year brings with it another layer of grief and absorption.  We celebrated the 12 days of Christmas once again, beginning on Christmas Day and ending on the eve of the Epiphany, the night before the Magi’s visit. A & A ‘s mornings started with such sweet excitement as they found a new present. Never did they rip into them– they always waited for us to come downstairs. These two enjoy taking it all in!  With our special new addition– the piano, we were able to sing and play songs throughout the holiday. The girls love “We Three Kings” which I find so interesting because it is the one song I have such a deep connection with from my own childhood. I remember singing it in church quite young. The song is beautiful, the mood, somber.

It was bittersweet getting back to morning lessons after such a wonderful holiday together.  I managed to get some substantial planning for the rest of the year done when Stephen and the girls had their own fun together. I was really excited to start the first block after the new year, an introduction to the four processes: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. I pieced together my own plans from ideas online and the general framework I’m familiar with of Waldorf education. We explore the four processes through a container story of adventure and discovery, four little gnome’s (that correspond to the four processes) guiding them along…

A gift each received during the 12 Days was a beautiful hand carved wooden Inuit woman with a baby on her back. I didn’t plan to use them in the math story, but it worked out perfectly. For the two women were lost and their chance meeting with the ancient one (wolf) led them to their meeting of Gnome Share (division). I decided to start with division since I could insert the process into the story with out their “knowing” right away. They’re familiar with the concept of sharing, but not “dividing” unlike addition and subtraction. Gnome Share lives deep in the mountains where he mines for gems and as his name would suggest, he loves to share all that he finds! When he met the two women and ancient one, he quickly hauled out a bag of gems for them to share amongst themselves.  Throughout the week the story evolved with new characters and more items to divide- gems, nuts, beans, eggs, cookies, napkins…anything we could get our hands on, we shared. By the fourth day we had worked some in our lesson book, copying illustrations of what we were doing at the table or on the floor with sharing, or division and eventually turning them into the basis of their first “equations.” They LOVED these lessons. The flow was natural, the activities fun. There was “work” for them to think through, challenges and achievements. Ada does very well with the lesson book work- she enjoys the organization and the writing. Arlene enjoys the more active parts of our lessons- getting out all the nuts and dividing them between the baskets or tossing the ball while we count.

We do a lot of active math in our circle time and throughout our lesson; we practice skip counting (by 2s, 3s and 5s) with fun verses. We toss bean bags and balls, shape numbers in the air.   At the start of the year I felt a little overwhelmed with trying to learn all the stories I’d be telling them, the verses, the poems. Now several months into this rhythm, I’m comfortable tweaking — learning the verses with the girls and keeping the focus on the fun practice of what we are doing– introduce these foundational skills in an age-appropriate and enjoyable way!! This is an approach that excites and inspires, but also works their edge.

On the last day of the week,  Gnome Share gifted them beautiful napkins with the suggestion of baking cookies and… sharing them. They appreciated these sweet paper napkins like treasures! Arlene said we should put some aside to give to our friend Becky–that “she would just love them.” I smile so big thinking back on that moment. We fleshed out the division problem first with napkins, then with ingredients and got set to bake!

Morning lesson ends with a  couple picture books (math inspired this month), closing verse, tidying up and typically some outdoor play- jump rope, hop scotch, or a walk with Happy.  We return and pile up on the couch for some chapter book reading. Our current novel is incredible. I can’t recommend enough, Louise Erdrich’s series The Birchbark House. For starters, she’s one of my top authors and I only recently discovered she authored these novels– probably geared toward 3rd-6th grade. We’re on the second in the series, The Game of Silence which continues to follow the story of Omakayas, an Ojibwe girl who lives on an island in lake Superior during the middle of the 19th century. It has brought up meaningful conversations about Native Americans and Europeans.  As with any historical fiction, I appreciate the nuances of the story, of this period in time- these events aren’t a series of marches, onward, onward…

I hope the girls and I  can make a map from the book once we finish- we can draw the island in Lake Superior and then add pieces from the story: where the family winters, the Birchbark House, willow by the pond, where Omakayas met the bears, Old Tallow’s cabin, Neewo’s grave…

The first week back to lessons was also the holiday of Three Kings’ Day. We prepared with star crafts, read lots of stories about the kings and of course completed our nativity scene. The kings arrived! We baked a cake with 3 beans hidden in the dough– the lucky recipient of one of those beans, the king or queen for the day.  In years past the beans have cooked in so much that we never discovered them. This year Ada found the first and then Arlene the second. Chickpeas did the trick! They raced for their glitzy crowns and adorned their heads…

I’m so pleased with the week! The days were comfortable, but SO full and I’m excited for the one upon us!



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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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time to reflect, for sure (on learning, life, and first grade)

Today marks our official start of “break” from our morning lessons until the new year. I wasn’t expecting to feel this juncture as profoundly as I am, but here it is and I’m feeling it! The sowing of a homeschooling dream started before children, before marriage, before Stephen. I was in college enjoying one of my favorite pastimes, browsing the library shelves. I came across a book by John Holt, a prominent reformer in education. Disillusioned by what he experienced as a teacher and more importantly inspired by what he saw with children, he challenged the status quo. He sought to make school classrooms places where confidence grew and learning took place in deep ways. I read two of his books sitting right on the floor of my college library and was absolutely inspired. In countless ways his ideas resonated with my own education– largely intrinsic and unfailingly personal and rewarding. Yet, much of this type of learning was at stake in American classrooms.

People are often taken aback at my background in education, years of teaching and yet… a decision to homeschool? Some are not confused, but many see it as a contradiction.  I went into teaching like most, with ambition and excitement. I taught in 3 high schools, my first day on September 11th 2001 in Boston. Admittedly, the first two schools I worked at allowed me to dig deep with kids,  explore material beyond the exam and grow immensely as a teacher. Both of the schools were fairly unique American schools. The last school I worked at, unfortunately, embodied many of the standard and descending elements that characterize education. AND, it was a very good school. Teachers had ZERO autonomy, students were not trusted nor respected (nor teachers), curriculum was tightly monitored, common exams were enforced and if and when teachers strayed, as I often did, I /we was/were reminded that those “extras” could be taught after school or during lunch. Like, remedial reading or 9/11. Not with the exams ahead…

I digress! I’ll say, even though my window was closing as an educator and I had fewer opportunities to teach with essential questions, I hadn’t given up on public school completely, nor have I. However, at the elementary level, ESPECIALLY, I am compelled to keep present in education that which I believe is essential– this is a time of foundation. Age appropriate material and tasks (there’s nothing like setting your students up with unrealistic goals to make them despise school), artistic endeavors, unhurried days, hands on exploration,  biking, climbing, hiking, games, time to play…a sense of the whole beautiful world, a sense of worth and deep engagement.

Lastly, while there are a multitude of ways to parent, there are a multitude of ways to homeschool. Our approach is one that attempts to put into action OUR values and priorities. So while I haven’t written “my manifesto” YET, in addition to these general tenets, is the belief that HOME should be the center of my young children’s world.  Family and home is the heart; it is where I think I can best achieve my goals and to hopefully establish within my children, a foundation of  inspiration and engagement.  This is NOT to say that this is impossible within families who send their kids to school. I do know that’s possible! I’ve met those families, worked with those kids. However, I know that I would struggle with balancing it all if I were working full-time and my children were at school. More profound though is I know that a certain calling deep within me would be smothered and that the ideals I’ve been brewing for decades would be stifled. I’d be disengaged from these dreams.  So, again it is about lining up my values with my actions.  Homeschooling truly sits atop the bedrock of vunerability of taking chances to grow and living deeply and with courage.

So this IS a momentous time for us. I set out on this journey decades ago, have ridden years of doubt and maneuvered many obstacles. Stephen and I from the beginning have leapt big, risked a lot and today, continue to make it thrive. I sat down months ago and planned out half our school year. I sketched out broad objectives, listed books we would read, projects we would work on, food we’d bake and cook. I organized a calendar. I planned our festivals. I tweaked here and there.

We made beautiful drawings during our form drawing blocks, we learned many fairy and folk tales along with all our letters, painted, recited seasonal poems and songs, practiced mathematics, advanced our knitting and sewing, took on Spanish with mucho gusto, hiked new trails and old, rode horses, played with new and old friends, BIKED 8 miles one day! Spent days at museums, even tried out German! Time in the mountains. We chopped wood and made teepees. We had lazy mornings with lots of reading. Warm baths.

Today we celebrated the coming together of a dream, the end of a lot of hard work and meaningful months with: a puzzle filled leisure morning and pancakes.




birthday time

The weeks leading up to the birthday were busy, but good ones. There was family visiting, a trip to nyc for my brother’s wedding, a week up in the mountains (which was so wonderful and  spirit-filling as it always is), first grade blocks to complete, and more visiting family!

I experienced more nostalgia leading up to their birthday than previous years- something not too far off that I had to process, but couldn’t quite capture or touch. I don’t think I was projecting some substantial change from 6 to 7; I was sincerely feeling something deeper than years prior. I’ll take it was an auspicious sign, for the weeks leading up and since I have noticed a depth to both of the girls–they are changing in profound ways– in intellect, humor, emotions.  Arlene’s lightness while still there, seems to be changing– she’s had more emotional swings, very unlike her — to me it seems like she’s aware of not always feeling giggly and easy. Ada continues to ground herself in tasks and activity. She can draw for hours, write books and read on her own.  Then there’s the times two factor. The intensity of twins where I’m always feeling a little behind because from the beginning there’s been two infants, two toddlers, two little beings that are almost like one, but are not.

This year’s birthday party was more intimate. Perhaps the smaller party allowed some of these thoughts the space they needed as I didn’t have AS MUCH distraction. We had a beautiful tea party with girlfriends the evening of their birthday. I got to take in the party, talk with girls during their meal and tea, watch my girls’ happy faces. There’s nothing like a small party with good food, tea, sweets and friends.

Keeping up with traditions! Aunt Miss + Uncle John visited for their birthday, IHOP breakfast, books from Grandma Katie in heaven, a special gift (tea set), pin the tail on sweet Kinsey (this year she was colored wearing a fancy dress for the tea party), story telling at the party…This was the first year I didn’t make a red velvet cake nor TWO cakes!! I instead went for one elaborate cake that required a kitchen torch :)


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Happy birthday Ada and Arlene!


celebrating all soul’s day

It seemed ambitious to pull together our traditional all soul’s celebration after nearly a week up in the mountains, but it was exactly the grounding focus we/I needed. All but the trip to Safeway where I made my annual pilgrimage because I’ll be honest, Whole Foods does not carry the food my departed family ate. I really do not enjoy shopping to begin with, but Safeway challenges my psychological well-being. Self-checkout?!


We had hoped to spend time making a family tree, or starting one, but it will have to wait for next year. A + A loved getting our festivals box out and unfolding our picture banner and decorating our side table. We also spent a couple hours polishing beautiful, but tarnished silver, gifts from a friend from her late cousins, Tom + Marjorie. We talked a lot about family all day. Of course the who’s who conversation and whenever I could, I’d add an anecdote like my aunt liked to make baked ziti or the story my stepmother told me about making dolls with Spanish moss and old Coke bottles when she was a girl in rural, coastal South Carolina.

The girls are so curious about their family that has passed. I’m amazed at their interest, their sense of humor and  maturity as we reminisced about their lives. Stephen shared a lot more this year — we learned about his dad’s sisters and his mother’s brothers, bits of their lives and where they lived. Interestingly we’ve passed through western states where some of them lived (New Mexico and California), so it was nice to connect to those experiences.

Having always been a person intrigued by what this is all about and what does death mean…Losing my parents definitely propelled that pondering deeper. Regardless of how great or challenging (or absent for that matter) our relationships are to close family, their death is profound. I want the girls to remember and experience the ways the dead are with us here and now. These aren’t people to put away or a process to be hidden.

As someone said in a Quaker Meeting a couple years ago about the beautiful, but dying, falling leaves during autumn: to remember how in death, we go out in glory.

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Fall Festival Weekend


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

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


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


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

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

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