We celebrated Papa's birthday this weekend. He would have been 74 on Sunday.
Blessed with unbelievably beautiful weather, we spent both days at local beaches, relaxing, reading, playing ball, refereeing the kind of time-outs that don't include balls, and just generally trying to keep the screaming to a mild roar.
Papa loved these days. He loved to be out in nature and he loved, loved, loved his grandchildren. (He also loved sausage so I made sure to serve that for dinner, Nana, was our guest.) It's a very sad thing to all of us that he is no longer able to join us, to share in the joy, and to see his grandkids play on the beach.
It still pains me that he's not here.
When driving out to our West Marin beach destination on Sunday, I realized we were returning to the same exact spot we'd discover with Papa, slightly over five years ago. How fitting! That fall day was a magical one - back when there were only two kids, and they didn't yet know how to fight, before either one had any shame in running naked, when perfection could be found in a simple baguette, filled with brie and salami, and when Papa was there to share it all.
Our fifth and last full day in DC was on Friday. I had no idea how much we'd actually crunched into the day until I loaded up all our pictures. Wow. Here is a quick run through:
9AM: Ford's Theater to see the location of Lincoln's assassination. I remember coming here when I was ten years old, but the visit is so much more with the new visitor's center, as well as another one across the street at The Peterson House.
Thank gawd for my son's newfound love of American history. I doubt I knew much of Lincoln when I first came here thirty years ago, and still, I've never forgotten the experience. We've read, watched and listened to lots on our 16th president this fall, and it of course made our visit that much more meaningful - for the both of us!
A visit to The Peterson House is quick, but powerful. Once you've walked through the back room where Lincoln took his last breaths, you take an elevator upstairs and step out into April 15, 1865, the day after he was shot, and the day the manhunt for his killer began.
I read somewhere that there have been over 16,000 books written on Lincoln, and my son said this stack down the middle of a spiral staircase leading to the exit contained every single one of them. I have not confirmed either, but nevertheless, it's a pretty impressive sight. (btw - we picked up the audio book of Manhunt while in the gift shop - it came highly recommended. We started listening to it today and it's incredible - so beautifully written. There is so much more to that night of April 14th, 1865, than you could dream of.)
11 AM: Ok, ok, ok - did you know you can tour NPR's new building in DC? Neither did we, nor anyone else we spoke to! I happened to stumble on the ad one day while listening to one of their podcasts with the kid. We thought it sounded super cool and so we signed up. It's not the most exciting thing we did, but certainly worth the visit if you have the time and are a fan of public radio
Hanging out with Bob Boilen of Tiny Desk Concerts! The nice guys of NPR saw my camera and said "You need a Tiny Desk Concert photo with your son." Towards the end of our tour we got to watch some TDCs in a sound room and I absolutely fell in love with this Oregon band: Typoon
"From NPR news, this is All Things Considered." :D
After our tour concluded, we walked down to Union Station for a quick bite and look around. We never intended to spend the next two hours at The National Postal Museum next door. Uh-uh. Wasn't even on our radar.
1PM: The National Postal Museum is another one of those stops, like The Newseum, where we had no intention of stopping, but ended up dropping in for a quick peek, and staying for a long stretch. So cool and great for kids.
The kid designs his own stamp.
You don't have to be a stamp lover to get a lot of enjoyment out of this place. There really was something for everyone.
Above, the 9yo plays this game where you have to pick-up, identify, and sort the packages ASAP. A sensor, connecting box to drop, keeps track of your score.
3:30PM: The National Building Museum was one place we wanted to go under the understanding they had a Buckminster Fuller exhibit, an architect and inventor kid had just studied. Turns out the exhibit no longer exists, we did however, manage to run through some of their others before ending up in the kids building room. Next, we wrapped up our museum/tour spree with a stop at The National Portrait Gallery (5:00PM). On our way there, we caught sight of these amazing street performers:
6:30PM - Lincoln - the sister restaurant to Day 4's Teddy and the Bully Bar where the floors are tiled with pennies, and the decor plays a twist on the mid-nineteenth century. Drinks and pendent lighting are served up in mason jars, dishes pay tribute to American classics, and mama might have even picked up a t-shirt for herself. A super fun way to unwind and dine after a long, long day of site seeing in our nation's capital.
***NOT ACTUAL SIZE!!!
The first (and last) time I ever set foot in the National Air and Space Museum, I was ten years old, and we had about an hour to explore. If you've ever been to A+S, you know how ridiculous this sounds. You can literally spend days in any one of the Smithsonians, A+S is no different. Back in 1983, I barely scratched the surface of its collection, but all the incredible machinery hanging overhead left such an impact on me. My dad bought me a pouch of astronaut ice cream from the gift shop, and we dashed-out, deflated we couldn't stay longer. Flash forward thirty years, and I was so eager to get back with the big kid. I had set aside an entire day for us to roam, a full seven hours to just lap it all up. We came early, we launched ourselves in full-throttle, and then we kind of fizzled-out mid-day. Turns out neither the kid, nor I, are terribly interested in machines that fly. Birds of prey, yes, rocket ships, no.
It's not that I didn't find anything interesting, I just found myself gravitating more towards the culture and design of flying, rather than all that technical stuff. And the kid liked everything else.
There were definitely some highlights for the 9yo - an exhibit on the science of flight, which pertained to a block of study he just did and enjoyed. Through that, he had also read about the Wright brothers, so seeing their exhibit also helped to bring everything full circle.
All in all, we probably clocked about four and half hours at A+S, before walking across the mall and finishing the last hour of our museum day at Smithsonian's American History. The absolute highlight of our Thursday though, was dinner at Teddy & the Bully Bar.
Where to begin!? The recently opened sister restaurant to the popular Lincoln (where we ate the following night), Teddy was a spot I thought would be fun for the kid after the president's appearances in this book and this mini series, which we've enjoyed together. We had also heard a funny story at The White House about Teddy and his installing of animal heads in one of the rooms, and how Mrs. Taft had them promptly removed upon her arrival. Having enjoyed these stories about the former president, we were feeling well prepped for our upcoming night out.
When we were walking towards the restaurant I ask the kid to guess what we might see at the new restaurant and he said, "There'll probably be animal heads on the walls." #proudmama
When you first arrive in the Bully bar, there is a textured wall that looks vaguely familiar. You can't quite figure it out so you walk over to get a closer look...
...and then you realize - it's a giant wall filled with mini Mount Rushmores!
As soon as we ordered (Buttermilk Bully Rings, Teddy Clam Chowder and Bacon Wrapped Pork Loin), we were served a basket of warm bread and biscuits with salted butter and BACON JAM. We just about lost ourselves right then and there. The menu was a hoot to read with all its nods to our heritage.
I have to give up total control when I hand over the ordering of dessert to the kid. He's never going to order anything that sounds go to me. He's just not much of a fan of dark desserts. This cheesecake wrapped in phyllo dough had all sorts of weird sounding stuff in it, like rosemary. But it was delicious and so fun to eat with the flaky outer crust.
Last but not least, I always have to check-out what's going on in the ladies room. Sometimes the greatest details are hidden behind bathroom doors.
I can't help but feel the need to apologize when I have to post crummy iPhoto pics to my blog. I'm sorry. We had an early tour of The White House Wednesday morning and they have a no purse/backpack/camera/explosives policy. All you can bring in the gates are a wallet and cell phone. It was pretty freeing in that I lugged around four-and-a-half less pounds of camera gear that day, but of course, these pics stink.
This is the only pic we have of our visit to Barack and Michelle's pad, but it was still worth it. I loved seeing all the family photography through the various terms, and the secret service men on staff in each room were incredibly knowledgeable! I learned a bunch of fun facts, but my favorite was that Madison stood only 5'2 and weighed just 98lbs! (Taft goes down as the presidential heavyweight champion, coming in at 330lb., and 6'3.)
After our tour, we set out on foot towards the Newseum. I took the above of some construction zone posters. I love how everywhere you go in DC, you are surrounded by references to either history or politics.
PAUL on Pennsylvania. This was a FIND! I first tried a Beignet au Chocolate at a PAUL in the Paris airport last fall, while on a stop-over. I have never lost sight of what that chocolate and hazelnut donut did to me, and was always sad to think I'd have to fly back around the world if I ever wanted to indulge in one again. But Tuesday night, while heading back to our hotel on the bus, I spotted one - right here in 'merica!!! We made a point of going the next morning and it was absolute heaven to come in from the cold to a hot coffee and one of these:
The baker said the filling is their own blend of hazelnut-chocolate. Your first bite into the donut is pretty manageable. But each subsequent bite gets more and more explosive until you're groaning with pleasure while blobs of nutella-esque goodness are dropping on the table, running down your chin, and melting on your fingertips. It's a rare experience and one that every good child deserves. So when in DC (or France) get yourself to PAUL.
The Newseum - we LOVED it! I didn't have it on our original itineray but I'm so glad our DC based family recommended we go. Just incredible! My favorites were the Kennedy exhibits (there are two), one specifically on how the Kennedys were the first to use the media to their advantage, allowing the public insight to their family life.
The Newseum bathrooms are tiled a simple white with occassional glass tiles showcasing awkward newspaper headlines in our history. So fun!
There was an entire room dedicated to the ORIGINAL front pages of world papers through the centuries. Here, we have a look at one on the Salem witch trials!
Stuff interesting to boys.
My son learned about 9/11 at The Newseum. (sigh.) It was something I knew would be there, but at the same time, I wasn't really ready. We walked over to the wall of newspaper covers and in he marched to the movie room before I had a chance to think. I followed and asked him if he was ready for this and he said yes. The feature was more about reporting on the event, and how emotional it was for the reporters to remove themselves emotionally from the event. It was less about making us, the viewers, emotional. So in that sense, the video wasn't as heart-wrenching as it could have been, but there was still the imagery of the planes crashing, the buildings falling and people running for their lives. All of these things still make me very emotional, which I was. He was quiet afterwards, visibly affected, and so I pulled him to a quite corner and asked him if he was OK and if he had any questions. He said no. I asked him if he thought it a mistake for me to have let him see it and again, he said No. It was just really, really sad, Mom.
And all I could think to do was agree.
The Newseum was close enough to The Capital and The Library of Congress that we could walk over. Not that we actually did...we took a cab instead because by this point our legs ached something fierce. I think I mentioned that we are both walking 5-10 miles a day here? Lots of leg work going on this week!
Our tour at The Capital wasn't great. I think it was just the guide we got (her nervous laugh did not help matters from my end). To start the tour was a short film about the building and its history and that was great. Beyond that, our guide didn't seem to have any great little nuggets of information - like the guys over in The White House did. :)
Across the street at The Library of Congress we finally understood why everyone kept telling us to Go to The Library of Congress! It's just beautiful! We tagged along with another tour group already in motion and learned some great stuff, especiallyy about Thomas Jeffereson's prized book collection, which is on display right now. I do regret not having a complete tour of the entire building as I was told their is a lot of wonderful symbolism in the interior details. Next time.
Once again, this will be an abbreviated post of quick notes due to timing and overall exhaustion. This morning started off with an 8:45 tour at the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. Very cool experience, and quick too. The best part is tours start here long before the other museums open at ten. So if you like to maximize your time like me, this one is for you.
I estimate we walked between five and ten miles today and a lot of that was in freezing temperatures with the wind blowing, albeit lightly. We are not conditioned for any of this but whenever we start to feel sorry for our sensation-less toes, I remind us both that this is NOT a winter in Valley Forge - we do have shoes for goodness sake! Oh, and God bless all those tough, brave men who fought for our independence. Good lord! With all I've (re)learned about American history in the last several months I'm beginning to think we've grown quite soft.
Per the kid's request, Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History. Of all our planned stops this was actually the one I was least excited about. Strange to admit that now because it really was incredible in so many ways.
I know - right?!? I totally want one of each too!! You are looking at a Chinese Water Deer above, and a Pink Fairy Armadillo below!
I loved the human origins section. We had fun with an interactive photo booth that showed what we would have looked like as Neanderthal. (No, I will not be posting those.) Above I'm standing with my favorite - Homo floresiensis - and yes, her head is at actual height!
The room of bones. Clearly an older exhibit but one of my favorites! Hundreds of skeletons displayed on a gorgeous color palette made more of an artful statement to me than anything else.
Need. This. Rock.
My little birder loved the incredible collection of native DC birds we discovered while walking down a quiet hallway... looking for the elevators... after leaving the basement cafe. :-/
We visited with family tonight in DC and after cooking us a wonder dinner they toured us all around the city for a taste of DC at night. Light or dark, rain or shine, Lincoln's Memorial never disappoints.
Ted's Bulletin on 14th is the kind of breakfast joint you want to accidentally stumble upon on your way to Starbucks. Jaws on the sidewalk, we drooled over all the homemade pastries in the window, and so we invited ourselves in for a sit-down coffee and pop-tart at the counter. With the most exciting menu imaginable - yes, it does say Peanut Butter Bacon Burger - we headed back for a dinner of sloppy joe and spaghetti with meatballs.
Arlington National Cemetary. I knew it would be the ideal place to spend Veterans Day, and was eager to take my son to his great uncle's grave. What I didn't realize is that besides all the usual points of interest, we'd have a chance to see our president. We two stood on the curb while Obama drove by, waving at us, a small crowd of unsuspecting tourists. He was literally ten feet away! Here is the evidence as well as video shot immediately after of the guards leaving post.
It must be mentioned that we saw too many young women today, crying alone at headstones. I saw parents camped out in folding chairs, staring at their child's headstone. I saw a mother lying down on the lawn and grabbing at the grass her son lay beneath. A beautiful morning in a peaceful park, but I left, and took with me, a heavy, heavy heart.
Mount Vernon was just as captivating as I remember it thirty years ago. Although expanded now, so many of the details that have remained clear in my mind were still as they were even 150 years ago! The newly established visitors center was incredible and I only wished we had more than two hours to explore everything. If you go, give yourself 3-4.
When I first announced to my mom that we would begin homeschooling the big guy, I was very nervous about how she might react. Not that my mom is the least bit reactionary, because she's not. It was just that in general, because I always allow my mind to explore the worst case scenario, I had prepared myself to have any, and all family members, unload their fear on us. Of course, nothing close to that happened, and everyone was incredibly supportive and excited for the change. My mom ended up being one of our greatest supporters(!), offering to help in any way she could. At the time of announcement, she only looked a tiny bit surprised. Then she smiled, leaned into me and said - "Just take him to DC for one week a year and he'll be just fine."
(Did I mention my mom is awesome with the accidental one-liners? Hi Mom!!)
So I'm off to DC to ensure that our son is just fine this year. ;)
See, one of my mom's best friends relocated to DC several years ago and she has since been visiting her for two weeks, every year. She falls in love with our capital every time, always returning with a suitcase full of wonderful stories about free museum exhibits, a thousand things learned, incredible food, and of course, an eagerness to return.
For us, studies of Washington and America's history began our first day at home, quite by accident, really. When we first sat down to crack open the 9yo's curriculum, he immediately rejected my teaching efforts, mumbling "This is just like school". It was 9:26 and mommy needed a break. He got up and wondered around the house, I poured myself a second cup of coffee. When he came back, he was holding a magazine on world history (one I'd recently purchased for a rainy day car ride). He sat on the couch, and spend half the day reading it cover to cover.
This is what I see as self-directed learning at its best. :)
Tossing the curriculum, and embracing his new-found love of history, we dove in deep for weeks and learned so much - all of us! He read mountains of books and magazines, listened to audio books, watched programs, played games, and built models. It was so mind-blowingly exciting for me to observe from the side lines. My mom kept saying - "Get that boy to DC!"
Everyone I know who has been to Washington seems to have done so right around the age of ten, and in all of us, it left an indelible mark. I can't wait to get there and see it for the first time in thirty years, but even more so, to see it through my boy's eyes. Here were some our family's favorite resources that brought us to this point:
- The Libery's Kids series is great starter, especially for the small kids. Think Scooby Doo meets American Revolution. Good stuff if you can get past the phony English accents.
- History Channel's America The Story of Us. An incredible way to see history come to live. Some heavy parts, but nothing horrible. Lots of wonderful teaching moments.
- Discovery Channel's North America. Stunning and perfect for the whole family.
- The Green Glass Sea (book on tape) by Ellen Klages. Beautiful!
Not to mention countless books on George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, US presidents, the Revolutionary War, The Civil War, WWII, the making of the bomb, the Little House on the Prairie series, etc., etc. Our local public library has been the greatest resource in our homeschooling and we are there weekly, always checking out the maximum amount of books allowable (which is 25, btw!).
I am keeping a log and photo journal of all we do each day for homeschooling. It's recommended for a variety of reasons, one being it just helps to calm your mind on those days when you worry you are not doing enough. And it's something we all experience at one time or another. It's those days that you crack open your log, read about all the great stuff you do daily and then with new-found calm and satisfaction, continue powering on!
We spent our first six week of the school year really drilling down into American history which was so fun for all of us. My son rejected the prescribed curriculum we purchased on our first day, and instead of fighting him and having us resent each other, I instead took a lead from his interests and walked alongside him while he directed me towards what excited him most. He read a ton, specifically about America in wartime, we watched a variety of history programs on TV, we spend hours in the local library loading up on more books, videos and audio books, we played games on geography, history and war strategy. There were many highlights during this time, but my favorite was when I overheard the younger kids in imaginative play yelling "Quick, run! The Redcoats are coming, the REDCOATS ARE COMING!" The older kid's interest has spead on down to his siblings and the learning bug was contagious!
And so we changed course. That night I stayed up and ordered anatomy models, coloring books and study guides. It seemed the PERFECT subject to dive into right around Halloween! The boys loved assembling all the models. Each one came with a pamphlet explaining in simple terms the function of each individual part. So far, both have been mostly interested in the assembly aspect of anatomy, but I'm confident the big kid's interest will deepen in time and when it does, all the necessary information will be waiting for him to explore.
On a final note, we've been making these animal skeleton cookies with gingerbread for several years now. This is the first time we ever looked up the skeletal forms BEFORE piping out the icing, making these the most accurate of all our batches. (But please ignore the bunny ear *bones*, my kids are small and I had to allow them some artistic license ;)
Long before it was time to enroll our eldest in kindergarten, I questioned the move to put him in a traditional learning environment. Knowing what I knew about his capacity for learning, and his disposition, it never felt right to me to sit him down at a table under fluorescent lighting, to have him told what to learn, and then to expect him to absorb it all at the rate he did naturally… at home and in nature. Wasn’t there a school for all boys where they could go outside and learn in the woods, I wondered?
Instead, we started him late. Initially, I resisted my husband’s request, feeling he needed more stimulation than preK could offer, but the teachers we consulted assured us there is always something for a child to learn and so we gave him *an extra year of childhood*.
Kindergarten came and went, and although the first few weeks transitioning in were tough, I found myself embracing the magic of that first year of elementary school. First grade was more of the same, his teacher was beyond measure, the cuteness factor continued, and I found myself comfortable with our choice in the public school system.
Then came the second grade… and I watched the year unfold from the first few weeks, with great enthusiasm and high expectations, to a slow…train…derailment, which I witnessed in deafening silence, and in a void of school support.
What the hell is going on here? I wondered. Why is my son suddenly this way? What happened to the boy that was always that way? Why does he no longer ask for this? Why is he exhibiting signs of that?
I consulted his teacher but she wasn’t seeing it. She thought he was doing just fine.
As I write this, I cry, because I remember the feeling of despair I felt as a parent worrying if my son - this wonderful boy that I was responsible for bringing into this world - was suffering from adolescent depression. Where was he? What can I do? Can I bring him back? Will this last forever?
I eventually consulted someone very close to me about my options, someone who had experience with this kind of thing. I asked her if she thought I should have him evaluated and I’ll never forget her brave response: Sure. You can get him evaluated but I can tell you what they’ll say about him. They are going to tell you he’s depressed. And then they are going to recommend medicating him. He doesn’t need medication. He’s just bored.
And it turns out, she was right.
I do not in any way blame our school, or any teacher involved in my child’s education, for my son’s temporary fall from grace. My husband and I are 100% responsible for our children. I truly believe that our local public school and teachers are doing the absolute best they can, and we could not do better in that area. But at the end of the day, each classroom is filled with twenty very different kids, and one teacher is responsible for helping them all do their best. This works great for some kids, and quite frankly, I’m sure my son would have done just fine had we kept him in that system. But one in-class volunteer experience after the next had me cringing at all the lost opportunities for learning I witnessed. It’s not that I’m a tiger mom who needs my kid to be the world’s best, it’s just that the greatest teacher can only do so much when in charge of twenty kids. As a volunteer, I was in charge of six students at a time, and even I could only manage one well. My focus was usually spent on the squeakiest wheel - the kid who couldn’t sit still, the polite child asking for help, or the one who was so incredibly frustrated with the learning process he/she was about to explode. I would see my own child out of the corner of my eye getting no help, quietly rocking back and forth in his chair, never the squeaky wheel. I often left my volunteer spots feeling defeated and exhausted. I began to feel that the classroom learning experience was a colossal waste of time. One day, after another tough hour in the classroom, I called my husband to talk me off the ledge. Together we decided in a matter of minutes that we would not be sending our child back to school, and would instead begin homeschooling him the following year.
In the summer months leading up to this fall, I felt I walked a fine line in wanting to share our enthusiasm for our decision (I’ve been guilty of this on Facebook) while never wanting to make anyone feel judged by us for their decisions. Realize, our daughter goes off to the same school her brother did everyday. For the time being, it works great for her and she loves it. I’m not going to argue that…not this year, at least. ;-)
We are now one month into our homeschooling experience and I can not tell you who is enjoying it more – the kid or me. The experience has been nothing short of transformative for my son and for that we are all over the moon. We entered into homeschooling fully believing it would be better for our son, what we didn’t realize is how noticeably happier he would be to us and others. I have always known my son to have a beautiful mind (and believe that ALL kids do) but worried that he lacked the motivation to do great things with it. What I realized through our public school experience is that for his mind – full of thoughts and passion for science and nature and history, the set curriculum would not serve him well for this time in his life. Turns out, my son does not lack motivation, he simply lacked passion for what he was told to learn and because of this his love of learning couldn’t help but wane. In fact, it fell off a steep cliff.
We are going full-throttle these days. While we might have a tough hour here and there (usually involving a math worksheet), our days as a whole, are once again rich with enthusiasm and a passion for learning. Here are some answers to the three most commonly asked questions I receive about our experience to date:
What brought you to your decision?
See above. ☺
Do you follow a curriculum?
Er, uh - we did…for about two hours on our first day. It was a rough way to open up our school year. Let me say that I am a rule follower, so I was most comfortable investing in a set curriculum and working off of that. I never planned on following word-for-word or week-by-week, but I had to have a solid guideline to launch from. He resisted the formula and the fact that we had to sit to learn. Once again, I felt completely defeated. After struggling for the better part of a morning, I told him to take a break. He immediately found a magazine I’d just picked up at Costco and asked to read it. He spend the rest of the day reading it cover-to-cover.
When I texted Daddy at the end of that day I wrote: Today was rough. He called me back, listened to my gripes and actually found excitement in the fact that the nine year old spent the afternoon reading about Hitler. That’s great! he said. Why are you trying to teach him the same way the public schools do when we know that wasn’t working for him anymore? Quit the curriculum and go on a field trip tomorrow. Have him guide you towards what he wants to study. It will all come, just let it happen naturally, he said.
The next day we headed into the city to the new Exploratorium where my boys enjoyed all kinds of hands-on learning. Then we discovered the America’s Cup Park where we knocked-out three and a half hours of *play* learning about the sport, its history, the science of wind and currents, etc., etc. It was nothing short of amazing when I allowed myself to accept that this too was real learning! At the end of the day, the very excited 9yo said before bed, Mom, tomorrow we should probably do some worksheets since we didn’t really learn anything today.
Our days since have been totally lead by his interests, with me facilitating. Our entire first week was nothing but a string of hands-on science experiments on the lawn. His love of American History exploded and our trips to the library have us leaving with piles of books, audio and video on the subject. We started listening to historical fiction collections on audio in the car while running our errands. We finish-off days with shows and documentaries on the birth of our nation. We are constantly looking up the definitions of new words in the process and researching deeper into new subjects. Remember his first homeschool day spent reading about Hitler? Well it ended up sparking a month-plus long exploration of our country's history in wartime – WWI + II, Civil and Revolutionary.
Our mornings begin around 8AM and we are wrapping up our *school time* around noon. Every homeschool parent will tell you that you can get the set curriculum done in a 1-2 hours a day, leaving the rest of the child’s time to pursue their own interests. By the end of September, most of his selected extracurricular classes had started, and so subjects like hiking, science, Greek mythology, programming, engineering, piano, birding and soccer were also a part of his weekly studies. The word "homework" is not a part of his current vocabulary.
I still use the purchased curriculum as a reference point. I check in on where we should be on certain subjects – English and math – and then work those principles into the subjects he’s most interested in that week.
Did you ever consider private school?
Yes! I always leaned toward the idea of private school for a variety of reasons, but Daddy felt strongly that we lived in a great school district and didn't need to. We committed ourselves to homeschooling even before we thought to rethink private schooling. But once it dawned on us that the private route might work for our guy, we decided that no schooling, public or private, could do for a child what one-on-one schooling could do. If our guy wishes to return to school one day we will likely look towards a school that offers a child-led-learning philosophy.
What about socialization?
Not worried about it.
I choose to believe a wise woman who once told me that a child is who they are going to be socially by the time they enter kindergarten. I’m sure that could be argued, but besides needing a little reminding on basic manners every now and then, I feel the kid is doing just fine in that department. To suggest that being homeschooled might somehow cripple him socially is just ridiculous. First off – he spends a lot of his day with me – and am I so bad?!? Aren’t parents the best ones to help children navigate the world anyway? We all know what goes on on the school playground and I’m personally not always a fan. Besides, we all know some socially awkward people that went all through the school system and onto college but who cannot carry on a conversation at a party or get along with their neighbors. How did all that school socialization serve them? And we also know of wonderfully warm and social people that had alternative upbringings or isolated childhoods – like a lot of our ancestors! Laura Ingles Wilder comes to mind – anyone read her books?! There is not rhyme or reason on the matter. I fully understand the important role that touch/communication/socialization play on growing a healthy child. I just don’t think there is any social disservice done by homeschooling. Besides, homeschooled kids still get loads of peer interaction with supplemented classes, sports and playdates.
Is it hard to homeschool?
No. Quite the opposite. In fact, I feel like I have this incredibly, wonderful secret - homeschooling is awesome! What I lose in quite time alone in the house or working, I make up for in one-on-one time with my son and in watching him thrive and grow in a way that gives him real joy.
It’s interesting for me to scroll through the last three years of this blog and to see how much my interests and post have changed based on where we are as a family. I was so incredibly enthusiastic to write about gardening and what I was cooking up in the kitchen back when we had a great southern-facing garden and a large kitchen. Since moving to the new house, my focus has been more on the fun things we do and finding beauty in seeing how the kids are growing into their own persons. I can tell you right now that I’ll be sharing a lot on what we discover with regards to homeschooling. I can’t help but want to share – it’s been such a wonderful, life-altering experience for all of us. Jump on or jump off, but be warned, this ship is changing course once again!
A year ago this week, I had an incredible weekend-long experience on the beautiful Whidbey Island in Washington state. It was a farm-to-table photography workshop (!!!) led by a lovely food photographer from Seattle, Clare Barboza. The fact that it's taken me twelve months to post about something so wonderful should give you a little insight into how I'm keeping up in my personal life these days.
I attended the workshop with Granny A, and together we devoured every aspect of the experience. We arrived on a Thursday night to a lovely rental house at the end of long private road. All together, we were ten students, plus Clare, her husband and brother. Most of us had traveled from neighboring states, one woman had flown in from Taiwan, a professional wedding photographer had traveled down from Canada. We all shared rooms and meals, and took most of our down time together in the very open living and kitchen space. Everyone was great!
On our first day, we traveled to two different family-run farms where we were granted access to all areas and spent several hours walking around, honing our skills. At some point, in one of those fields, a light went off in my head (I light I'd been trying to throw for the better part of ten years) and I finally, (FINALLY!) I wrapped my head around *aperture* and *f-stop* and all that mind-blowingly complicated camera crap I've never seemed to grasp. (Thank you, Universe!!!) Later in the afternoon, back at the house, we set-up shop in a neighboring barn flooded with natural light. Individually, we plated packaged desserts and snacks on Clare's collection of dishes, incorporating a variety of textiles and textures for backdrops, and snapped away.
Our second day started out at the local farmer's market where we actually got to see and photograph the produce stands of the farms we'd visited the day before. Now I don't know about you, but that rates a *10* on my too-cool-for-school scale. We then returned to the house for a second session in food styling before our final presentation where we each shared and discussed our ten favorite shots from the weekend. It was nothing short of this suburban homesteader's dream weekend.
To learn more about Clare's workshops click here.
To see Clare's beautiful farm photography click here.
Pops had a great idea for keeping the peace in the car recently - he suggested we listen to books on tape when all together for longer periods of time. Ding-ding-ding!! It's been such a life saver and a welcome relief from XM Radio's Kids Place Live which has played an integral part in our car-life for the past three+ years. Right now, we are listening to a great story, The Green Glass Sea, by Ellen Klages. It's a story of a young girl during the Second World War who lives in New Mexico, on an army base, where her mathematician father and many other scientists work everyday on *a gadget* that is going to help *end the war*. The story has offered us lots and lots of teaching moments with the kids, but the best part is just that they are quiet...and not annoying each other...or us. ;) When one of the characters was said to be missing her home in Berkeley, and remembering fondly her visits to Tilden Park, I thought it a good idea to help bring it all full circle for the kids, and go to where *Suz* loved to go as a young girl in the 1940's.
So we ventured across the bridge last weekend and jumped around the park, seeing all the lovely things it has to offer. After a full afternoon of picnicking, train rides, carousals and turkey chasing, we drove into town and met friends for dinner. I just love these kinds of weekend days...
We got back-to-school this week - in more ways than one, which is mostly to blame for my absence here. While Frijoles returned to our public school for the first grade, her big brother started-up his studies here at home, with me. That's right, we are home schooling. :)
Our week did not go at all as planned, but we learned very early on that that is OK. It was a beautiful five days here with my boys (Noodle has a few more weeks of summer), and I started to see signs of the big guy's love for learning re-ignited. I can't wait to see where this year will take us - it's bound to be good.
I've actually kept up with Friday's desserts, but haven't been posting them with all our end-of-summer scrambles. This Friday's dessert, Avocado, Coconut and Lime Sorbet, (found here) was a very enticing *school lesson* that touched on mathamatics (fractions, measurements), home economics (how to turn the stove on, where we store the sugar) with a little bit of chemisty thrown in for fun. ;) It is the second time we've made this (the first while I was doing my vegan exploration) and we love it! It offered the perfect finish to our turkey taco dinner.
Have a great holiday weekend!
Another summer has come and gone. I smelled Fall last week when I cracked open a jar of last season's apple butter, and I loooved it. I can't wait for the seasons to change and would race towards winter if it promised reservoirs full of rain. Until then, we have lots of changes to keep us on our toes. More to come on those.
As to be expected, I took more pictures and loved more things than I had time to post about. Here is a final smattering of summer shots to stories I never got the chance to tell.
Mini cheesecakes in jars for a Fabulous Friday.
Kids sliding down Cardboard Hill before enjoying burgers for dinner at a friend's neighboring house. We danced until late.
A week of cousins and an afternoon in the city playing tourists on the hop-on-hop-off bus.
Lots of apples and pears from our yard!
One of the best damn desserts I can think of. I need to dedicate a post to just this mud pie.
Killed the last week of summer with some fun crafts. I think their tie-dyes turned out amazing!
...will never forget last night. After raising the most amount of money in his baseball league last spring (as in over 600 players!), he won FOUR tickets to a Giants game of his choice, seats behind first base AND field passes. The evening had all the ingredients to cook up a little boy's wildest dream!
This year was our first year camping in Yosemite's Curry Village...and I'm pretty certain it was also our last. We had high hopes for this year's experience, it came with lots of good reviews from people we know, but perhaps these people didn't have the magical experience of car camping in Yosemite to compare it to. I forgot to ask. ;)
This year's attempt to get a much coveted camping spot was no different than past years. It typically goes something like this:
1.) Get online at 6:59am on February 15th with as many friends and as many laptops as possible working for you. Try like mad to secure a camping spot in the first half of the summer within the 30 second window you have. (I'm usually trembling during this part which undoubtedly results in delayed *key pressing and screen refreshing* skills.)
2.) Get shut out by 7:01. Close down laptop, lick wounds.
3.) Get online AGAIN at 6:59am on March 15th with as many friends and as many laptops as possible working for you. Try like mad to secure a camping spot in the second half of the summer within your 30 second window you have.
4.) Success - we I get a spot!
We actually did manage to grab car camping spot this year (I have tricks/tactics which I will never reveal here!), unfortunately, to make the situation infinitely more challenging, we were trying to coordinate our adventure with friends...who did not understand my tricks/tactics in time to bag a slot for 2013 (Hi, Bob! Hi, Nicole!!).
Plan B - Curry Village tents.
So...what can I say...NOT a fan of the Curry Village experience. It's not that these 300+ tents stacked-up on each other don't serve an awesome purpose for the park and especially, I'd imagine, foreign tourists wanting to experience *camping* without all the gear. They are a great alternative. Heck, if I went abroad and took in the natural splendor of another part of the world, AND got to have a quasi-camping experience without all the fuss, I'd fancy myself pretty lucky. But they failed us in many ways, mostly just because we have car camping to compare it to. For example: we had to park far from our tent (not like car camping where you have all your gear right there with you), we were literally sleeping ten feet from strangers. (In our case, we had to listen to people up until 11:30 talking in bed. And while the park encourages you to call them so they can resolve the situation, I could never pull myself out of bed.) There are no picnic tables provided which makes gathering with friends nearly impossible, so we had to make do with the steps up to our tent and a two-seater bench that was to be shared with several tents. We could store food in a bear box but couldn't cook, so we had to walk into Curry Village every morning for coffee and food. All of it was fine and good, it just involved getting everyone dressed (did I mention we have three kids??), walking and waiting in line.
On the up side - at least we got to share Yosemite with friends this year and we did manage to make the most of it. On the last night I threw our air matresses on the ground and the kids had a clean place to play a board game before they met some other young campers and played old-fashion games until dark. For me, personally, the highlight of our Curry Village experience was the walking through camp at night and taking in all the illuminated tents before everyone went to bed. They reminded me of floating paper lanterns aglow with firelight.
Despite last year’s pinky promise to not return to Yosemite
for our annual camping trip, unless we had big winter rains to ensure strong
waterfall and river flow, we made our way back to the (now very dry) valley floor
this week. What can I say – the place has puullll. Several winters of light rains have really begun to take its toll on our state, but despite the lack of
brilliant, natural water features, there were still some great highlights – our adventure included friends (a first), we
celebrated the now nine-year-old’s birthday, and we took in a great play. We also mixed things up quite a bit by opting to camp in Curry Village, something we will not do again. More on that in my next post.
Thankfully there was still a little life left in parts of the Merced, but we had to shelf our plans to raft until next year...or the following. The whole rafting business was completely closed down. The water only went a couple feet deep which actually worked great for the little kids.
One of our greatest Yosemite memories was this day, on Mirror Lake, two years ago. We haven't seen it filled with water since. This week, the lake was nothing more than a puddle, and the lower lake, a desert. The six kids made the most of it. When all else fails, a good game of Zombie Apocalypse can keep them running for hours!
You can't go to Yosemite without stopping for a drink or meal at the Ahwahnee Hotel. We barely got our tired selves there for lunch on our last day, but once we did it was so worth the effort and cost. To accommodate our large party of ten, the restaurant's management gave us TWO tables - kids at one, adults at the other. For over an hour we had total calm, cool air, well-behaved children and delicious, warm food.
I meant to post this back in July...or was it...May?
We drive through Sacramento on our way to and from the cabin, and about once a year, we drop into Old Town. I have already forgotten why I was solo with Mr. Noodle this past time (heck I've already forgotten what month it was), but there we were having *special alone time*, just me and my silly little guy.
There are few things in this world more endearing than watching a little boy anticipate a train ride. This guy proudly waved his ticket to ride high and wide for everyone to see, and waited patiently for "All aboard!"...then the whistle...until we began to make our way forward along the river.
Sentimental moments between mother and son on merry-go-rounds, ferris wheels and train rides, often make way for twisty balloons and soft serves doused in rainbow sprinkles. I am no exception. We also took a quick run through the famed California State Railway Museum which was incredible, as promised. The three year old was too young to take much in beyond the surface, but I'm eager to get back with the big kid and open his eyes up a bit more to some great American history.
Half a lifetime ago, I had an open obsession with the history of Route 66, America's Mother Road. And for just as long, I've yeeeaaarned for a retro trailer to call our own. For years I've vacillated between visions of someday owning a new Airstream to just throwing a couple hundred bucks at a junkyard Aristocrat trailer and fixing it up myself (like this pretty pink lady). This past weekend, our friends Dave and Ann (with baby Wynne) met us up in the mountains, towing their 19' Airstream trailer stocked full of eggs from their farmlet, and something Dave likes to call "hyper-local bacon". In other words, they are living the dream living my dream.
Lil' Wynne was captivating to all, big and small, and yet gracious enough to give me a tour of her home away from home. She showed me how bouncy the trailer bed was, where she likes to take her cereal while on the road, and the secret spot under the fridge where her toys are kept.
She also mentioned that her mom and dad had done all sorts of modifications to their silver bullet, like sewing new patterned curtains for the windows, adding lights and hooks to walls, and even repainting the face of the fridge with magnetic chalk paint so they could continue their collection of magnets from all their travels as a family. I was drooling!!!
You can follow The Adventures of Dave and Ann for great stories on both farmlet living and life on the road with family and Airstream in tow. Or you can just stare for hours at the picture featured below:
It's a tough call.
Whenever I'm in the Dry Creek Valley, I always make the usual stops - Big John's Market for chicken mango burgers, The Dry Creek General Store for coffee and a bite, and The Gardener, just to have a look around. I always seem to hit it big at one (or all three) of these places, I guess that's why I keep coming back.
This past weekend, my annual visit to The Gardener proved worthwhile once again, when I discovered the newly launched Modern Farmer Magazine. (In fact, it's still on its first issue of its quarterly release.) I was seduced by the Dwell Magazine-esque feel to the publication and so I picked one up for $7.99 and looked forward to sitting down with it and diving in. I finally got the chance to tonight, and if you read about my Sunday night shenanigans with a wild boar, you'll understand why I was so entranced with its article "Wild Pigs: It's a War, and We're Losing". I was so taken with the story that I started reading it out loud to the kids, poolside, and believe me, I had their undivided attention the entire time. When I got up, and came back from doing something, this was the scene I found:
The story of the world's exploding boar population might have put Mr. Noodle to sleep, but the eight-year-old and I are hooked on it and other global farming issues like organic farming in China, incredible farm stays around the world, and how to build a house out of straw bales.
Sign. Me. Up.
Women are wonderful. The world is full of them and I've often said that I am incredibly grateful for all the great women that move in and out of my days, around my community and through my thoughts and conversations. My women are strong, loving, mature and giving. I don't get to see any one of them enough, it can be months or even years, but I always feel connected, bound by a history and/or just their radient energy.
I turned 40 last week and the best way I could think to celebrate it is with old friends who I might not otherwise get the opportunity to pull together into one place for longer than a sit-down meal, interrupted seventeen times by three handfuls of kids. I looked at it as an opportunity to give back a little to some of the women who fill my life with love, laughter and friendship. We ate and drank, talked and laughed, took an awesome bike ride together through the wine country and into town, slept in, took walks, talked and ate some more, and narrowly escaped the attack of a wild boar while cherry picking at dusk. It was all I could have hoped for.
These are my women, and these are just a few of the reasons I happen to think they rock it so hard:
I have known her since the seventh grade and for 28 years she has had a constant presence in my life. She is loyal, tough, filled with passions and always the mother hen. If ever I'm lost in the woods, this is the girl I want to be with while seeking my way out.
She is strong, unstoppable, whip smart and absolutely hilarious. This former neighbor of mine is your go-to person for any bit of information you might seek. I am so grateful she could be here and have every finger crossed she moves back sometime soon.
We met in college under dubious circumstances and became instant friends. Our friendship evolved through handwritten letters when we were too poor to use the phone. Her colorful, confetti-filled cards were the absolute best! She is creative, HILARIOUS and filled with boundless energy and a never-ending willingness to help.
She is FUN, clever, interesting, energetic and generous with compliments. Always smiling, she has a beautiful way of asking you about you and making you feel like the center of attention. She warned me there is such a thing as *too much birthday* and she was right.
Former next door neighbor and World's Most Fun Mom. This woman makes very good choices across the board, and she wants to help people succeed. Creative,
gracious, generous, and unbelievably funny! You could not exist in a
dull moment with this woman if you tried.
We met our freshman year in high school. I once watched her from afar tell a guy off who had wronged me and I knew then that she was a keeper. She is a sweetheart and has an effortless way of asking you lots about you until you come to realize you just spent the last hour talking about nothing but yourself.
Former neighbor and smartest human I know. Incredible memory for anything and everything, too many talents and interests to list, but I should mention she is also a mind reader. She was, for a time, my rock, and I am forever grateful.
College roommates. She is loyal in a way that most West Coasters can't even begin to understand. She is East Coast, Mid-West and California all rolled up into one. She will hop on a plane and fly anywhere for anyone that means something to her. She is a magnet for interesting people and adventures and has a lifetime of fascinating stories to prove it.
We met in the early days of high school and I have such great memories of crazy adventures. She is real and alive, fueled with nothing but positive energy. She will power through tough times and always show-up, no matter what. She is gracious and sweet and blessed with one of the best laughs.