Dawn, the Morning After

The morning after our beloved Mother and Grandmother left us we went for an early morning walk to settle our hearts and minds.

 The sun was just coming up over the harbor, reminding us that with each sunrise a new day dawns fresh with opportunities to make amends and to be grateful for the gift of life.

The woman we will miss was gentle and patient, the matriarch of a large and boisterous family.  Her greatest wish was for peace.  Peace amongst her numerous children and grandchildren and peace in the world as a whole.

In her honor we sing this hymn:

Let There be Peace on Earth, And let it Begin with Me

Let There be Peace on Earth, the Peace that was Meant to Be!

With God as our Father, Brothers All Are We

Let Me walk with my Brother in Perfect Harmony

Let Peace Begin with Me.  Let This be the Moment Now.

With Ev’ry Breath I Take, Let this be My Solemn Vow

To Take Each Moment, And Live Each Moment, In Peace Eternally!

Let There be Peace on Earth, And let it Begin with Me

 Bounce drew a plane to help Grammy on her travels.  Our hearts are with her everyday.  While on earth, we will make every effort to honor her memory through our peaceable actions

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is finding the lesson on the difficult days.

Snow Rise

I stood upon the hills, when heaven’s wide arch

Was glorious with the sun’s returning march,

And woods were brightened, and soft gales

Went forth to kiss the sun-clad vales.
The clouds were far beneath me; bathed in light,
They gathered midway round the wooded height,

And, in their fading glory, shone

Like hosts in battle overthrown.
As many a pinnacle, with shifting glance.
Through the gray mist thrust up its shattered lance,

And rocking on the cliff was left

The dark pine blasted, bare, and cleft.

The veil of cloud was lifted, and below
Glowed the rich valley, and the river’s flow

 Was darkened by the forest’s shade,

Or glistened in the white cascade;
Where upward, in the mellow blush of day,
The noisy bittern wheeled his spiral way. 

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

We are up at dawn and bundled into the car.  Today even our youngest racer, Bounce, will be competing in the inter-mountain ski races.  Bounce and I are amazed by the beauty of the sunrise and at Bounce’s insistence we stop frequently to take photographs.

The sun is up and the youngest group struggles over to the lifts, filled with trepidation.  Soon they will be judged by only one factor:  speed.

The young racers are happy once they have reached the finish line.  Their task is done and they can bask in the knowledge that no matter what their performance, they are cherished by their families:  the only true test they need to pass.

Scooter skis all day but he is much too young for racing, even though he likes to go faster, faster, faster…

In from the cold, the younger children continue homeschool in the ski lodge.  We try to squeeze our homeschooling into every corner available.

The older racers are not so lucky.  They are keenly aware of the pressure.  They are judged by the clock, their peers and themselves.

The first goal is to get down the mountain without falling.  After that, every millisecond is calibrated and compared.  Each racer wants to be in the cherished top 15.

The race is exhausting.  We are happy we can finally head down the mountain with our crew.

King James Bible
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:

2 Timothy 4:7

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is exploring the sunrise, racing down an icy course and studying math in the chaos of the ski lodge.

Skiing from Dawn to Dusk: A Frosty Pastime

Gravity is love and every turn a leap of faith.  ~Author Unknown

 We are deep into our winter ski and race season, rising in the pitch dark and struggling into layer after layer of poly-fabulous clothes guaranteed to keep you warm while never absorbing moisture.

Each morning the task seems near impossible and yet by the time the sun rises we are on the slopes and loving every frosty minute.  Athena, Quantum, Truth and this year even Bounce are all on the race team.  We are thus driving to new mountains, hauling equipment and stomping our ski boots as we anxiously await the Happymess Kids as they compete in Slalom, Giant Slalom and Super G races, slicing towards us in techno-colored race suits, hitting the “gates” on their way down the slopes.

It is a long cold wait at mid-mountain as a “professional” ski mom.  Hot chocolate anyone?

Our list of equipment is unending with gloves, liners, boots, goggles, helmets, etc.  Many have commented that I must be the “equipment manager.”

More accurately, as a woman I met in Turkey once stated about my family role,

“I see you are the donkey of this expedition.” 

Athena and friend after competing in downhill slalom race (Allia)

The best part is the camaraderie between the ski families.  We have made some great friends and skiing with friends is the best part of any day.

Winter-Time
by Robert Louis Stevenson

Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,
A blood-red orange, sets again.Before the stars have left the skies,
At morning in the dark I rise;
And shivering in my nakedness,
By the cold candle, bathe and dress.

Close by the jolly fire I sit
To warm my frozen bones a bit;
Or with a reindeer-sled, explore
The colder countries round the door.

When to go out, my nurse doth wrap
Me in my comforter and cap;
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.

Black are my steps on silver sod;
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;
And tree and house, and hill and lake,
Are frosted like a wedding cake.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is skiing ice-chilled slopes by daylight and reading winter poems by firelight.

 

Encouraging Reading: A Library is Born

The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read. 
 – Abraham Lincoln

In our continuing pursuit of the joy of the written word, we have embarked upon creating our own homeschool library.  The actual collection of books was started in my father’s childhood, continued in my own and has been vastly added to through the childhoods of our own eight children.  Prior to building the actual bookshelves we found that we had piles of books in every room, every corner, and on every surface.  We all knew where our favorites were so location was not a problem.  Literally  every corner of our lives was happily consumed by books.  Ultimately it was time for a bookcase. Well, actually a library.  So with this in mind we have been building a “school house” and “library.”  It has taken us over a year but we have finally done it!

Athena immediately dedicated herself to the Herculean task of unpacking the books (our close friends that we had not seen for a year!) and organizing them by subject and alphabetically by author.  This monumental activity took her 12 hours a day for more than a week.  She chose categories:  fiction, biography, travel, history, science, foreign language, religion, philosophy, poetry, reference, etc.  Within the categories she alphabetized each book by author.

I was very nervous with all this organization.  I am used to playing a mental game of Clue with my books, “I last saw this volume in the kitchen, under the table, with the candlestick.”   I honestly wasn’t sure if I could find the book I wanted by searching for it on the shelf.  Athena ignored my concerns and powered on.

Athena the Library Queen

Everyone in our family has worked hard to make our school house dream a reality and with everyone’s help we now have a fully functioning library and schoolroom with 1000’s of the greatest books a child could dream of; we have beautifully illustrated classics, enticing modern dramas, wonderful history and science books filled with paintings and maps and internet links.

Now for a great home education:  all we have to do is sit back, choose a great book and read, read, read.

It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations–something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own. 
 – Katherine Patterson

 

Quantum and Jack London share a moment together

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is learning to read and reading to learn.

(Home) School is Where the Skis Are

The Happymess kids have been on the road now for the past several weeks.  Throughout our travels we have tried to keep ourselves focused on schoolwork while enjoying our new environments.

We started our adventures by packing one laundry basket per child with all the “must have” school books.  This way we can drag the baskets into each new location and the kids can find their work, pencils, calculators, etc.  Homeschooling should always be this easy.

The basket system is working surprisingly well.  Everyone knows what they are suppose to be doing and where to find their work.  I allow them to pick their subjects, as anything in the basket is something worth doing.  They naturally choose different activities at different times as everyone thrives on variety.  Their choices are the basics:  math, reading, grammar, vocabulary, spelling, science, history.  I expect them to complete 3-4 subjects per day.  This is a slightly lighter work load than when we are at home…but then we have many other things to do…Also we have only one computer between all of us, and the internet only works occasionally so workbooks and pencils are a necessity.

No internet also means all non-electronic toys and games.  I am happy to include this engineering feat with blocks as a math exercise.

After several weeks in the mountains it was time to head to the grandparents house:  we took a very foggy ferry.  Scooter almost jumped out of his skin when he heard the fog horn for the first time.  It was very, very LOUD.  Note:  book baskets are stowed in back of car on ferry.

Grandma’s house was lots of fun, and one of the first activities was a fancy tea time.

Everyone enjoyed dressing up for tea time.  And they enjoyed the little tea cakes, sandwiches and unending individual pots of tea.

The highlight of the visit was an invitation to a very formal dinner celebrating the achievements of Happymess kids exceptionally famous scientist grandfather.  We are  so proud of our own resident scientist who is at the top of his field in almost a dozen different disciplines within the science-math-physics venue.  Quantum was chosen as the representative grandchild to attend the event because of his extreme interest in mathematics.  He was seated next to a famous statistician and enjoyed learning about the use of mathematics in the field of biology.

Bounce and Mommy (Allia)

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is loving every minute of life and learning to teach throughout the living.

Teaching the Kids to Cook: Both Happy and a Mess!

I have been busily cooking for the Happymess crew (up to 10 people daily) for, umm, could it be 25 plus years?!  Well, I have (finally!) decided that it is time to share the joy, and teach the younger 5 kids to cook.

This experiment, fraught with anxiety on my part, and great anticipation on the part of the kids (When is it my turn?!),  began this week.

Truth began the experiment.  He was “in charge” of the kitchen for the entire day and had to plan, cook and clean up each meal and snack.  He woke up early and began with Bisquik pancakes.  He chose these because he learned to cook them on a Boy Scout camping trip.

Truth was very proud of his first attempt.

Quantum struggled upstairs in his pajamas, took one look in the frying pan and said,

“What the heck are those?”

Athena helpfully looked in the pan and announced, “That looks disgusting!”

Where upon, Truth ran from the room screaming.  It was a successful first step.  After rescuing both the breakfast and Truth’s feelings everyone proclaimed that the pancakes were delicious (they actually were).

Quantum and Athena were chastised for their insensitive behavior.  They were surprised that thoughtless remarks would hurt the cook’s feelings!  First lesson learned.  Their turn would be next.

Truth had a second chance to succeed at lunchtime.  He made grilled cheese sandwiches with sliced turkey and cream of tomato soup.

Notice the improvement in grilling?  Everyone enjoyed their lunch and remembered to say only positive comments and to thank the chef!

Truth’s Menu (Monday)

Breakfast:  pancakes and orange slices

Snack:  pretzels

Lunch:  grilled cheese with turkey, tomato soup

Dinner:  left over turkey and stuffing, brownies (Truth baked these)

Quantum’s turn was next and he wasn’t taking any chances.  He chose reliable foods that he could cook and made sure no one had a chance to laugh at his efforts.

Quantum’s Menu (Tuesday)

Breakfast:  waffles and bacon

Snack:  baby carrots and chips with onion dip

Lunch:  hotdogs and soup

Dinner:  breaded chicken breasts (these were excellent!), mixed vegetables, homemade chocolate chip cookies (learned at Boy Scouts)

Athena had the next turn.  Her biggest struggle was waking up early to make breakfast before the others awoke.  She managed without a single complaint.  I think she was afraid that I would give her the breakfast shift everyday if she complained.

Athena’a Menu (Wednesday)

Breakfast: corned beef hash, eggs over easy

Snack:  fresh pineapple

Lunch:  cream of tomato soup, French bread, roast beef slices

Dinner: tacos, homemade crepes for dessert

Finally it was Bounce’s turn!  He could hardly wait!  He loves cooking and was eager to impress his big siblings.

He began with making French toast.  As you can see, he was taking his job very seriously.

His first attempts at grilling French toast were quite impressive.  Everyone loved his breakfast and by now they were humbled by the complexities of pleasing a crowd.  Big siblings, usually quite critical, admitted that the French toast was delicious.

Thrilled, Bounce could hardly wait for lunchtime.

Bounce is making French onion soup.  This is a favorite when we eat at a restaurant and everyone was amazed that you could also make it at home.  Another big sibling hit!

After dinner Bounce had the best dessert surprise:  S’MORS!  Quantum made the fire (he just learned this week) and Truth couldn’t have ben happier with the melted chocolate and marshmallows.

Bounce’s Menu (Thursday)

Breakfast:  French toast, bacon, cottage cheese

Lunch:  French onion soup

Dinner:  spaghetti and meatballs with green beans, S’mors

And guess what?  Scooter had to have a turn also!  He came to my room by 6 a.m. eager to begin his “cooking day”.

He planned his favorite foods: hard boiled eggs and jello.

Scooter’s Menu (Friday)

Breakfast:  hard boiled eggs, apple slices, oatmeal

Snack:  vanilla yoghurt with sliced bananas and granola

Lunch:  tuna fish sandwiches

Dinner: roast chicken, baked potatoes, spinach, jello

Scooter especially enjoyed cleaning the floor!

Surprisingly, the experiment was a success.  The Happymess kids enjoyed planning and preparing their meals.  They learned to be respectful of one another’s efforts and they helped clean up when they realized how much work it is for one person.  It was actually LESS work for me when they cooked, even though I had worried that it would be more difficult.

As a friend use to say,  “It is always the wrong day to teach the kids how to clean up after themselves.”  Well, after 25 years, I guess I finally got the courage to share the cooking fun!

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is letting go…the kids can actually do things!

Fifty Nifty Gifts You Create: Installment One

Happymess kids are searching their imaginations and resources in an attempt to find the creative, thoughtful gift that siblings and parents will love and that costs more in personal effort and less in cash. For the Backyard Bunch:  Athena is busy creating a backyard box set of games: a combination of Capture the Flag, Flashlight Tag, Trust and Nerf guns.  The boxes will include walkie-talkies (we have some already), flashlights, handmade belts to hold gear (black on one side for camouflage and reflector circles on the other to reflect flashlights to team members).  The boxes will be decorated with different colors for each team and can be used as bases or forts.  These backyard boxes will be perfect for her 4 younger brothers.  Maybe she should include a few cans of whip cream?

Truth and Quantum are combining their playmobile collections.  They are designing a storage box with playmobile and small town illustrations.  They plan to write “Bounce” and “Scooter” on the box.  For the first time ever, Bounce and Scooter will “own” the playmobile and can play with them as much as they like.  Sharing a favorite toy collection with a younger sibling is a top favorite for everyone.

A few years ago Athena and Truth made an alphabet book for Bounce with 26 pages. Each letter began a word that was special to Bounce.  They handcrafted each page and then had the book spiral bound with a cover at Kinkos.  They found some beautiful free alphabet printables at http://www.momswhothink.com  This year Bounce would like to create the same type of book for Scooter.

Athena is making personalized photo pillowcases for her best friends.  She recently made a pillowcase featuring a group of friends for a close friend’s birthday.

Happymess kids are designing personalized stationary and “thank you’ notes for family members.  They are taking family photos, landscape scenes, etc. and paring them with quotes and verses of poetry.  By uploading them to a stationary website they can create professional but personal stationary.  Stationary can be placed in decorated shoeboxes. Pens, markers and stamps complete the gift.

Scooter is creating muslin placemats by printing squares of fabric with leaf and vegetable prints using tempera paints.

A trip to an eclectic bookshop offered Happymess kids the opportunity to find unusual and favorite books in beautiful editions.  They created several “favorite book bags” as gifts, inexpensive yet perfect for sharing their love of learning.

Quantum, Athena and Truth, members of the USSA ski team, plan to offer personalized ski lessons to deserving family members.

Athena is considering buying some kitchen gifts, a fabulous pan for example, and including spices and spatulas and adding a collection of hand created recipe cards researched from the internet.  www.smilebox.com has free templates to create recipe cards, cookbooks and more.

Bounce plans to decorate his poems and books and share them with his family.

Are you looking for inexpensive and entertaining gifts for the kids on your list?

Check out our Quickie Thrifty Gifty List (approved as FUN by the Happymess team)

(first installment)

Yo-Yos

Slinkys

Nerf guns

Wiffle ball and bat set

Playdough

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is attempting to instill appreciation in the face of commercialism.  Wish me luck!

Gearing up for the Holidays

It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly—Thoreau

Thanksgiving is a great way to open the holiday season.  We spend time traveling to be close to our friends and family, we cook and eat and laugh and shop and plan for Christmas.  And most significantly we remember how important it is to be a cog in the wheel of our family’s lives.

Gearing Up for the Holidays (Quantum)

This year we are really making an effort to remove the materialism from the holiday season.  We are concentrating on the parts of the holiday season that are most important to all of us:  family and friends.

And no, it isn’t easy.  For children, Christmas seems to be inextricably tied to gifts.  But in addition to gifts there are so many tiny traditions and each of these small jewels creates the magic of what we think of when we think of “Christmas!”

We are singing Christmas carols, practicing our roles for the traditional church Christmas pageant, planning all our favorite foods and inviting guests from far and near to come celebrate on Christmas Eve.  Children are trying to earn last minute pennies and we are all busy trying to create “priceless” surprises for one another.

We have temporarily relocated to Vermont and are spending time enjoying one another and enjoying the unexpected.  Here we are able to touch and learn about local wild animals.

Christmas is a winter holiday and Happymess kids are building snow forts, sledding downhill and creating snow jumps so brothers, little and big, can take flying leaps into soft snow piles.

Big sister, Zuzu, from far away has come home and is busy creating balloon concoctions for smaller brothers.

After a very adult dinner we are able to step out side and watch the reflection of fireworks as they explode in the sky and are reflected in the snow.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is being Thankful for moments of family unity.

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Thankful for Nursery School

Today our nursery school hosted a Thanksgiving feast and every child was thankful for their friends and families, except for Scooter who proudly stated he was thankful for “rocket ships!”

We loved this easy class turkey made from a paper bag stuffed with leaves.  Every child contributed a “feather” attached to a small dowel.

The class also made this beautiful pumpkin bread, and they made the butter too!

Not withstanding his infatuation with rocket ships, Scooter was very happy to have Bounce join him for his feast.

My favorite fantasy moment was watching the children interacting with a painted background.  They happily ran to visit with butterflies, smell the flowers and attempt to draw water from the painted well.

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is enjoying the scent of painted flowers and the flutter of tempera butterflies.

Wordless Wednesday: Grin and Bear It?

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is loving your teenage daughter.