Monday, April 16, 2018

Spring starts

I hardly know where to begin, but I've been feeling a pull. This blog was an adult space for me for many years, the adult space, and now that I have other real-time adult spaces (maybe too many of them?), this has faded into the background. Back yard. Other side of town. But there have been moments in the past month or two where I've thought, huh, I should write about that. So I thought I'd give it a whirl.

buckeye baby
How about I entertain you with the ephemeral aliens of southeastern Ohio's woods, while I ramble on a bit about homeschooling teenagers? An annual homage to spring, in one of the weirdest springs on record. To point, it was 80 degrees yesterday, maybe a bit more than that the day before, and they're suggesting it might snow tomorrow. Blargh.  (update: it snowed, sleeted, and snowed some more)

 A little like homeschooling teenagers, where you think you know the season, but it keeps throwing you curveballs. Some curveballs are good - like the timing of a trip to Spain that fits your child perfectly. E's learning world has been crafted almost entirely around planning and preparing for a six week trip with Unschool Adventures. We've had this organization on our radar for years, and the possibility of going always seemed years away until "Mom! MOM!! They have room in their trip to SPAIN!!!"  

This was on the heels of retrieving her from Maine, where she had been for a month, living with her best friend and picking blueberries, and eating huge amounts of gelato.  We pretty much immediately went into the soft no, like, yeah wouldn't that be cool, but ha

That night I lay in bed thinking about everything I've read about these trips over the years, building confidence in young people, encouraging "self-directed exploration". If there was a kid who was ready for this stage of freedom, it is E. She wants what most of us want - to engage with her life in a meaningful way. So much of what we do as teens can feel like treading water, waiting, waiting, waiting...This is not what I want for her. I remember feeling like I was just waiting for my real life to start. Why do our kids need to wait?

Virginia bluebells
Rock House trail, Turtle Head cave. With Baby.
So we started talking about how we could possibly make it happen. What we finally came up with was asking her to split the cost of the tuition with us, which she has and then some, through a job at a health food store, working as a transcriber for a friend of ours, doing odd jobs here at home, selling sets of original cards and crowdfunding. She dove into learning Spanish, online and working weekly with a university student. She's been hiking every week, breaking in her new boots, for the two weeks of hiking along the Camino del Norte. This girl is motivated and inspired and ready. 

I've been referring to teenagers, plural, but actually, I only have one.  Ani will turn thirteen next month, and I celebrate where she is, but she is not anxious to turn a year older. She loves childhood. 

There is a striped salamander in here somewhere.
She is striving for independence though in her own way.  She pushes for unschooling, and we are striking a compromise with most of our days. She reads, sculpts, listens to music, and we do Life of Fred stories, logic puzzles, and riddles for math, and study French. We talk a lot, when she isn't immersed in a book or memorizing lyrics to her favorite song from Hairspray, about deep ocean creatures and applying the Bechdel test to Shakespeare's comedies.

blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides,)
I tend to get hung up on the details. It can be difficult to maintain perspective when you spend so much time with your kids. I would like to feel better equipped to help A open doors where she is, to feel some flow with her that sparks some new fires (so many metaphors...).  I'm having a harder time with the trusting and following for some reason, but when E asks what she was like at this age, I honestly have a hard time remembering because she was always older. Fifteen at thirteen. Understanding things about the world, somehow. So in some ways, this is our first cusp of thirteen. 

flying down the path
I miss the days when all we did was run through the woods and read so many books and narrate endless stories. But I love the humor and the energy and the intelligence of this time. The compassion and the insights and the curiosity.  It is really really wonderful.  

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


reading on the roof

We've been into a rhythm for about a month now - a skeleton of a schedule which we are filling with American prehistory and Van Gogh and astronomy and french and fractions - but I've been away for a couple of weekends, we've had a beloved visitor, and every activity we are involved with is up and running full steam. Dance classes, film class, choir, and activism, it is all fulfilling and overwhelming, at the same time. 

Monday morning dawned and I thought: shoot, we've got to Slow Down.  Our learning time works best with some spaciousness, a relaxed pace and some time to compost. We have really been missing that. So I met the girls on the couch after morning chores and we picked out a book to read aloud.  

Mathing at the kitchen table

Yes, at twelve and fifteen my girls can read to themselves, and do so insatiably, but they still love to be read to. A year and a half ago we read my childhood copy of Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game, and it was a blast! So funny and smart. They wanted to read it again, but I told them there was another Ellen Raskin, so now we are several chapters into The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues.

Mormor came to visit
Last year our morning was anchored by time we spent at the kitchen table after the dishes were cleared away. We would watch CNN Student News to follow current events, which often lead us down one path or another.  We would follow that with the New York Times What's Going On In This Picture? , a great jumping-off point for conversation, together and online.  Sometimes it was to Khan Academy to watch an art history video, or it was to look at a map or more photos.  This year Ani requested that we not start every day with current events. It has felt really overwhelming and depressing (don't you think???)  and to be honest, she cringes every time she hears 45's name. She has always been clear on what she can handle, so for now we are staying away from the news and having simpler conversations when there is something to know.

Mask-making for a rally
I am not always as successful limiting my own media intake these days, and it can quickly throw me off balance. I'm going to follow Ani's lead on this one, and have one-on-one conversations with Eliza, who wants to be in the know.  It also feels good to start our days with a book in hand, not with a screen.

Math on the bed, with cat.

So we're gathering on the couch, with magnetic mosaics and drawing pads, pompom makers and paints, to listen to a story.  It is exactly the right thing for Now. It takes precious time out of our mornings, but it is the heart of our days and puts us in a place where we can move into the work we find more challenging.  Tattooed Potato is an odd enough book that we are making connections all over the place: impressionism, the old song Oranges and Lemons, Humphrey Bogart...we're learning all kinds of interesting things.

Mapping the Netherlands

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Our other anchor of the week is our time with this little bean.  She's signing, talking, climbing, asking, busy!  

(I'm not sure if this is Ani's favorite way of doing math, but she's very patient with her curiosity!)

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

trusting the cloud

This is a test to see if I can truly dump all the bazillion photos from my phone because they are safe in a cloud.  Yes, I know it's The Cloud, but it resides in this part of reality steeped in science fiction, and I only just in the past year allowed my brilliant and tech-savvy brother in law to even talk about The Cloud in my presence. Really. It freaked me out in a deep way. But I've crossed over and it might be because I have exactly 9,562 photos and 206 videos on my amazing little phone.

So since we are traveling to Maine this weekend to retrieve this beautiful girl and - oh yes! attend the annual Silver Baby Cup golf tournament - I thought I might need some room for more photos. It seems that it's all true what they said. It's in the cloud. Whatever that is.

Friday, May 19, 2017

September learning notes

It's almost assessment time here in Ohio: the public school across the street has their last day tomorrow, and we're being catapulted into summer with 88 degree temperatures. I don't stop keeping track of what we're doing over the summer, but I don't shape our time quite like I do the rest of the year, mostly because we stay so darn busy! I always think life will slow down with the ending of dance classes and choir, but something else always comes to take its place. This year it's Midsummer Night's Dream, in which Eliza is Cobweb, the fairy - and which Dan is directing in his second year as Tantrum Theater's Artistic Director. 

This was also a paltry blogging year for me. I'm still figuring out why. Some of it is that we are spending more time independent from one another, and more of that time looks like reading and writing on the computer - none of which quite captures the camera like a nature walk or making mudpies (those were the days...)! But we're still here, and this is a nice way to keep track of life whirling by, so I'm launching a major catch up in the next couple of weeks, mostly for me, but maybe there is someone out there still checking in once in a while (yes - Hi, Mom!). There will be many many photos, and then some narrative and lists, not exhaustive, just keeping track of some of the ways we spent our time, including links to resources. I'll use these posts as part of our annual assessment - so they may not hold your interest all the way through! Just look at the photos and carry on!

(We finally got to see a touring production of Wicked, in the old Ohio Theater in Columbus, and it was so overwhelmingly fancy that Eliza started to cry when we sat down. This is in spite of the fact that none of us were sitting together, and Ani had just come down with a fever...)

Ani's photo

(The fever turned into a week of feeling poorly; lots of listening to stories and putting together puzzles, while Dan and Eliza traveled to Tennessee for the annual Silver Baby Golf Tournament.)

(Early work on a Halloween costume. Super cool horns)

pen and ink drawing by Eliza

In September we took on the care of a friend's almost four-month old, and it quickly became clear that Ani would be a primary caregiver during our time.  Eight months later, that still bears out, and she has competently bottle-fed, changed diapers, swaddled, and worn that baby! Now of course it's more about putting the baby down so she can run, so the skill set is changing, but Ani remains attentive, doting, and fascinated by infant and child development.

Z, Ari, Ani and an Ent. Of course.

Enjoying the Pawpaw Festival!

graphing the volcanoes that make up the ring of fire

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September was the start or resumption of many things: the picking up of a friendship that had been long-distance for a year; fiddle, dance classes, Silver Baby Golf Tournament.  We eased into math with a book called Math and Magic in Wonderland, reading it aloud. Ani declared "I want to do science that is interesting, interactive and delicious". Well, we managed the first couple of criteria when I found Mystery Science, which creates inquiry-based units for educators. Unfortunately, most of them are for younger children, but we did a couple of the units geared towards the oldest, starting with The Birth of Rocks, focusing on volcanoes, and supplemented with Crash Course and other videos about Earth Science.  We also started most days with CNN student news - which often lead to long conversations and research - and participated weekly in the New York Times "What's Going On In This Picture?" conversation.

A highlight from the month for Ani was the decision to study other countries through their food, starting with Italy. She also ended with Italy.  Turns out she just wanted to make a lot of pasta and pizza, biscotti and caprese salad! No one complained...She also read Italian folk stories, and daily mapped out a trip my dad was taking around the Mediterranean, looking up information on some of the locations. We looked at a virtual tour of Rome, she read Roman Diary: The Journal of Iliona, Starry Messenger, about Galileo, Leonardo's Horse, about Leonardo Da Vinci, and worked on learning the countries of Europe.

Other things that happened: 

Read about Amelia Earhart (This Broad Ocean and Adventure in the Sky)
Read The Half-Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows
Worked on writing and cursive
Conversation about time zones, looking at maps

Eliza started her fall in Italy too; she learned about history through Dr. Who during the fall, starting with the episode on Pompeii.  She and Dan took advantage of the fabulous National Theater Live showings at our local cinema: One Man Two Guvnors, View from the Bridge, The Audience, and Three Penny Opera.  She also attended a University production of The Library.  We attended a showing of Another Kind of Girl Collective, short films by and about young Syrian refugees, with a talk-back by the filmmaker and teacher who lead the project.  

Other things that happened:

Read short stories: Fresh, All Summer in a Day, Magic for Beginners
Wrote a CD review for Earwig, a local band, published online
Learned French on Duolingo
Worked on her novel
Hip Hop, African Dance, Dance Composition
Fiddle lessons with Liz Shaw