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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wrapped up bird block with picnic

After our egg activities, we moved into a variety of bird-related pursuits which were mostly inspired by the books we read. We ended our block with a picnic at some nearby ponds.

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From one book, Tree of Cranes, we were able to explore geography, migratory patterns, arts, and a look at specific birds, in this case cranes and other waterfowl. Since the book takes place in Japan we practiced bird origami and began drawing our own world map starting with the Pacific Ocean, the west coast of North America and Japan.  I loved shifting their perspective by placing the Pacific Ocean in the middle of the map.

A common thread throughout this block was the reading of E.B. White’s Trumpet of the Swan and working on bird identification. The latter consisted of us sitting on the couch flipping though our Audubon book of birds! Speaking of which, we read an incredible  biography picture book on John Audubon, but I’m not exactly sure of the title now. We also spent time on the Audubon’s website listening to bird calls, again mostly waterfowl as that seemed to emerge on its own, as a theme.

Another book that we really enjoyed was called The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks, a folktale picture book from Japan. Somewhat unplanned, but here we were again in Japan and waterfowl! We continued with our maps and also pulled out some of our Zen picture books by John Muth, Zen Shorts and Zen Ties.  We enjoyed reading some haikus:

an old pond
a frog jumps into
the sound of water

~and another~

Now that eyes of hawks

in dusky night

are darkened . . .

Chirping of the quails (Basho)

At Walden Ponds (here in Colorado, not Massachusetts), we spied: a dozen pelicans, a blue heron, a black cormorant, many Canadian geese, robins, red-winged black birds, sparrows, and chickadees. Ada also lost her 2nd top tooth at lunch!

I really enjoyed the flexibility of this bird block but appreciate the bit of structure. It was hard to end because we could go on and on with this type of study! Next up, sewing our first skirts and then wrapping up a couple math and language arts blocks!

A week later we went up into the mountain for a dog training class and we saw dozens of hummingbirds!

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tackling photos

I completed our first year 1 photo album last week and just finished year 2 with the girls this morning. It has been a pleasurable experience overall, but the expectations I’ve set (to deal with all the photos NOW) has been a bit much to face!

I’m trying to attach a link to the 2nd album. I thought it would be a nice way to share some of these photos with friends and family. There should be a hyper-link to click below which will bring you to my book on shutterfly’s site.  There you will see a button “view photo book.” We’ll see!

<p style=”width:425px;margin-top:0;text-align:center;”><a rel=”nofollow” href=”http://share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=0AZMm7Zs4ctmjtA&eid=118″>Click here to view this photo book larger</a>

Shutterfly photo books  offer a variety of layouts and cover options to choose from.

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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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multiply, minus and museum musings

We’ve had a full few months around here and I’m hesitant to skip sharing any of it, but I also want to write what we’re up to now.

On the homeschooling front, our math and language arts blocks are going super well. Art and music are big hits around here, too. There’s a lot of art activities nestled into the LA and math blocks, but also dedicated times for their own projects and painting. Ada and Arlene both LOVE playing the piano! Spanish has taken a bit of a backseat, but was revived this last week (first week of April). We continue to focus primarily on Spanish nursery rhymes and songs. Mapping has been a favorite activity- whether creative pursuits from books we’ve read or trips we’ve travelled, they enjoy the process of learning from maps and creating them! Arlene shows a strong interest in mathematics and Ada, no surprise loves reading! We completed our math block on the four processes with multiply and minus, complete with gnome stories and hands on activities. I’ve come to appreciate this approach to mathematics more and more as it becomes a truly tangible practice in their life. I thought multiplication clicked the least as it is basically a short cut to adding. We can count by 2s, 5s, and 10s and made our “multiplication table” but really I think written equations, like 2 x 2 = 4, are a bit off and rightfully so! Often mathematics slips off from the practical realm later in school- I can just hear kids (and myself) mumbling questions of math’s purpose in one’s life. When learning is meaningful, it resonates and clicks. These creative and fanciful stories introduce mathematics’ basic concepts  while giving them a context that is tangible.

We’re using our bus passes and recently ventured to Denver sans car! Oh, what a way to travel with the girls and completely enjoy ourselves. The Denver Museum of Art is hands down, one of my favorite art museums.  Predictably we are drawn to the halls on Native Americans. Both the girls have had a deep interest in learning about Native Americans– for as long as I can remember. In fact, after reading this book many years ago their curiosity AND ability to begin to put the history of Native Americans into some perspective, took off. It is a wonderful book, has a great layout and excellent illustrations.

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However, I’ve grown uncomfortable with the fact that the only way they think about Native Americans is through an outdated and often caricatured image. How to continue the story about Native Americans, so that it isn’t just about the past, but also contains the present? How can I help it be less confusing that our neighbor, a Native American from a nearby reservation, who dresses like “us” IS in fact Native American? What if in learning about Americans they were only exposed to:

The exhibit at the Denver Art Museum got the conversation flowing on Native Americans. By showing examples of modern art, I could bridge the Native American artist from the past to the present. How did Native American art change? What does art attempt to do? Most of the examples of modern art at the museum are in fact dealing with this ever challenging and evolving issue. Who are they (Native Americans)? How can they be defined outside of caricature of tipis, hunting, and feather headdresses? These people live today!  Yes, this is their heritage. However, when a group is so exclusively defined by their past that it makes it impossible to “see” them today, there’s a huge problem.

I didn’t take a picture of the photograph that accompanies this description, but it is a self-portrait by the artist- straight forward, unaltered set of 3 photographs. I thought this was one of the most helpful pieces in beginning this conversation with the girls.

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If it wasn’t for this guy, we’d spend the entire day at the museum!

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Travels and times in Denver.

 

 


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Brown Bear, Brown Bear…

Ada reading the Eric Carle classic, Brown Bear, Brown Bear.  I’ve read it hundreds of times to the girls since we received it from Linda, our friend. It is well worn and bearing signs of toddler love like ripped and missing pages. This morning I pulled out the books Linda sent me when the girls were born and we enjoyed reading them so much! They were both thrilled at reading the Carle book- said many times: this book is SO much fun!

Linda passed away Saturday in a car accident in Massachusetts. My heart is heavy. My deepest sympathies go out to Jack and Lee, her husband and son. I hope to see them soon.

 

 

 


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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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