Destination Imagination meets the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

Our Destination Imagination (high-school level) team is hard at work preparing for their 2012 challenge.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

This year they must study the cultures of several countries and try to imagine how each would interact with one another.  Currently they have chosen to examine French Impressionism and contrast that with African art.

Truth and Manet's Haystacks

For several of the team members this is their first exposure to the original paintings of the Impressionists.

The DI team members are quickly learning that the Impressionists were a radical group of artists who abandoned the realistic style of painting in favor of creating an “impression” of light and movement within the painting.  This new style was dramatically different from previous painters who were constrained by efforts at realism.  It was difficult for our DI team to grasp that these new painters had been thoroughly schooled in realism and were adept masters of their craft.  Unlike today’s modern artists, the French Impressionists were more than capable of rendering a realistic piece.  They had come to favor a more “intuitive” approach that would capture not the physical presence but the actual or “emotive” presence of the haystack, olive trees and peopled landscapes of their new art.  The DI team was surprised to learn that many of these famous paintings began as “sketches” and in fact some paintings had as many as 25 renditions before the artist considered them “finished.”

Seurat's La Grande Jatte

The DI team carefully examined the work of Seurat.  They were delighted by the thousands of dots of color that were used to create La Grande Jatte.  The team understood these paintings better than those of Manet and Monet as they have a modern day corollary in the dot patterns that are regularly used to create digital photographs and pictures.  DI kids were almost nonplussed by pointillism because to the 21 Century student using dots to create imagery seems basic and obvious.

Van Gogh: Women Picking Olives

Van Gogh: First Steps

Van Gogh, with his thick palette knife strokes, was by far the favorite with the group.  Van Gogh clearly goes beyond technique to capture the hearts of his subjects, and thus the imagination of his viewers.  These paintings were compassionate as well as novel.

From the Impressionists room the DI team moved to the African art exhibit where most work was 3-dimensional and usually created for a specific use, either domestic or ceremonial.

The African sculptures emphasized the subjects and objects that were of greatest importance to these peoples.  They were functional while reflecting deep religious and cultural beliefs.  In this, the African art differed greatly from the European art where the main objective was personal expression and differentiating oneself from the mainstream.

 After many hours in the museum the group was relieved to “escape” into the wilds of Central Park where the Bear sculpture could be touched and climbed upon with impunity.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is studying the subject by seeing the original work.

(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.

Washington Whirlwind

This weekend was a perfect whirling dervish of art, history, science and Happymess thrills and chills.  We had our highs and lows, and now as the new week begins, we can’t quite believe it happened in just 48 hours.

Hirshhorn Waterfall, Washington DC (Allia)

Happymess kids begin their Washington, DC adventures.

 Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC. 

This is the first time that all 102 of Andy Warhol’s Shadow paintings are being presented together.  They make an impressive array along the curve of the gallery, with various shapes and colors playing off one another.

Andy Warhol Shadows Exhibit

Initially, Happymess kids were slightly surprised by the modern art offerings.

“Where are the emperor’s new clothes?”

Athena, formerly Creatress, “It’s really great seeing all these paintings together.  If you just saw one or two you would assume he (Warhol) really didn’t put anything into it, but when you see so many (of the same image in different colors) you realize that he really did work hard after all.”

Allia thinks, Hmm.  If one image doesn’t impress, why then are 102 more effective? Or, mathematically speaking, what is 102 times zero?

Bounce, “The great thing about art is you really can’t do anything wrong.  You just make it (art) whatever way you want.”

Allia, “Yes, that is exactly right.  Art is whatever you want it to be.”

Scooter, shouting indignantly from his stroller, “These paintings aren’t art.  They’re just scribbles!”

Out of the mouths of babes….

In fact, we had a great time at the Hirshhorn galleries and enjoyed many of the extremely colorful and playful ways the artists expressed themselves.  We took numerous photographs and had many novel ideas for art projects of our own, including set design ideas for some upcoming Happymess theater competitions.

Modern art offers terrific freedom of thought and expression.  The older Happymess kids felt empowered by the boldness of thought.  The younger Happymess kids were relieved to see that perfection is not a requirement for artistic creation.

National Museum of African Art

Our next stop was the Museum of African Art.  Here we were truly inspired by the variety and depth of expression throughout the exhibits.  Athena is currently writing a script that takes place in Africa.  She perused every detail looking for set and costume design ideas and studied videos of African dances.

Bounce and Scooter were thrilled with the hands-on activities.  Scooter is coloring African masks and headdresses.  Later this winter we will be creating these same masks and headdresses out of paper-mache.

Bounce was intrigued by an illuminated kaleidoscope.  He is working on a science project involving solar energy and lighting with his Destination Imagination team.

The Museum of Air and Space

These exhibits really focus on man’s determination to conquer air and space travel.

Again, Bounce and Scooter preferred creating their own aerodynamic space ships and airplanes.

Athena was busy studying the Wright brothers and their first attempts at flight.

She will use this information for her National History Day competition entry.


It was a long and exhausting day, as you can imagine.  We were delighted to finally return to our hotel so that we could relax and plan our evening activities.  Being a Happymess family, we should have known better.

Just as we were getting ready for dinner, Scooter became very ill and we had to rush him to the hospital.  I will not bore you with the long evening I spent in the emergency room.

By the next day he was feeling much better and we had the opportunity to play Chutes and Ladders together (for hours).

Ancient Indian game of Snakes and Ladders

This game is based on the ancient Indian game of Snakes and Ladders.  The intention was to teach morals and manners while entertaining tiny tots.

The beauty of this simple game is that it encourages young children to play fairly.  The desire to cheat seems to be irresistible.  Scooter tried every which way to put himself on a ladder while sending me down the chute.  We may need to introduce this game into our regular Happymess curriculum.

Johns Hopkins Study of Exceptional Talent

Meanwhile, while Scooter and I were whiling away our time at Georgetown University Hospital, the Happymess crew had move on to new adventures.

Athena received an award at the Grand Ceremony of SET at Johns Hopkins University for her outstanding SAT scores, taken at age 14.  She received First in Country and First Internationally (tied with many other children from around the world).  We are very proud of her accomplishments.

Boy Scout Wilderness Survival

During this very same weekend, Quantum and Truth were learning camping and orienteering skills in the hills of Massachusetts.

Washington Whirlwind (Allia)

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is experiencing art, history, science, camping, an international award and the local hospital in one 48-hour period!

Witch Trip to the Past: Salem, MA

We entered the small town of Salem in search of witches and real life mentions of the characters from the Henry Miller play, The Crucible.

Scooter in the rain, Salem, MA (Allia)

Truth and Scooter explore Salem Harbor (Allia)

The day was appropriately rainy and gloomy, a perfect match for the mystery we were seeking.  How did this small town, in 1692, bring itself to hang 20 innocent people?  Why did mass hysteria combine with greed and zealous righteousness to allow the “establishment” to commit unthinkable crimes against the people they were suppose to be protecting?

Creatress surveys the marsh, Salem, MA (Allia)

We began our investigation at the birthplace of Nathanial Hawthorne, author of (among other works) The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables.  The house was small and plain, like many old New England homes.  During his beginning forays into authorship, Hawthorne was a recluse within this home.  He was insecure and preferred to keep his attempts at writing a secret from his neighbors.  Local legend believes that Hawthorne, originally a Custom House official, was inspired to begin writing after an encounter with a ghost.

The House of the Seven Gables, Salem, MA (Allia)

The second home we visited was that of Nathanial Hawthorne’s cousin.  It is believed that this is the house he used as inspiration for the setting of his mystery novel, The House of the Seven Gables. This house has been restored to enhance its similarity to the Hawthorne’s novel.  It includes a secret staircase that winds around an interior chimney and allows characters (and tourists) to make surprise entrances into various rooms.

Salem graveyeard (Allia)

Hawthorne is the great-great grandson of John Hathorne, the judge who infamously presided over the Salem Witch Trials, condemning so many people to their deaths.  In his preface to The House of the Seven Gables Hawthorne asks if the evil deeds of one’s ancestors reverberate upon future generations.

Speaking in the third person, Hawthorne provides us this insight into his thinking: The author has provided himself with a moral – the truth, namely, that the wrong doing of one generation lives into the successive ones…he (Hawthorne) would feel it a singular gratification if this romance (novel) might effectually convince mankind – or, indeed, any one man – of the folly of tumbling down an avalanche of ill-gotten gold, or real estate, on the heads of an unfortunate posterity. Preface from The House of the Seven Gables

It is probable that Hawthorne is referring to himself.  Hawthorne’s themes often “center on the inherent evil and sin of humanity, and his works often have moral messages and deep psychological complexity.”  The Scarlet Letter exposes the injustice of morality as it is applied to young women during the Puritan era.  We are now eager to read The House of the Seven Gables.

The grave tour was fascinating and creepy.

Salem graveyard (Allia)

Tomb of Mayflower Pilgrim, Salem, MA (Allia)

We enjoyed seeing John Hathorne’s grave as well as the gravestone of an original Mayflower Pilgrim.

We also saw the Salem Witch Memorial of the 20 men and women that were hanged in 1692.  Here is where we found the Crucible characters come to life (or death).

Lest Terror Be Forgotten

June 10, 1692

Bridget Bishop”I am no witch.
I am innocent.
I know nothing of it.”

July 19, 1692

Sarah Wildes Elizabeth Howe”If it was the last moment I was to live,
God knows I am innocent…”
Susannah Martin”I have no hand in witchcraft.” Sarah Good
Rebecca Nurse”Oh Lord, help me! It is false. I am clear. For my life now lies in your hands….”

Salem gardens (Allia)

Happymess kids were fascinated with the idea that they could walk on the very same streets and visit the same homes where so many famous events occurred.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is visiting the past in the present.

Occupy Wall Street vs. The Tea Party: Happymess Investigates

Do Occupy Wall Street and its polar opposite, The Tea Party, share anything in common?  To answer this question, outside of the reported news, we decided to investigate both movements ourselves.

The Tea Party

On September 12th, 2009 we had the good fortune to be staying in Washington, D.C.  Our intention was to visit several museums.  We discovered that we had inadvertently arrived on the same date and time as the nationwide tour of the Tea Party was staging its final protest at the Capitol.  What could we do?  As good homeschoolers we had only one choice.  Seize the moment and drag our children off to the protest.  What we found was fascinating.

Upon emerging from the subway we were immediately surrounded by thousands (actually almost one million) shouting, mostly white, middle class Americans.  Other than their signs and the shouting, these people seemed ordinary in almost every way.  They came from across the country, although most seemed to hail from the middle of the country.  These were the consummate “average” Americans.

Tea Party Washingtonm DC 9/12/09 (Allia)

Tea Party Washingtonm DC 9/12/09 (Allia)

Tea Party Washingtonm DC 9/12/09 (Allia)

Tea Party Washingtonm DC 9/12/09 (Allia)

Tea Party Washingtonm DC 9/12/09 (Allia)

The Tea Party people had several specific messages they were intent upon communicating.

  1. They were against any sign of “socialism” in the government.
  2. They were vehemently against nationalized healthcare, and repeatedly chanted, “Read the Bill, Read the Bill…”
  3. They believed in the Constitution.
  4. Unfortunately some likened Obama to Hitler, although no clear connection was drawn.

Tea Party Washingtonm DC 9/12/09 (Allia)

Tea Party Washingtonm DC 9/12/09 (Allia)

We had a great time marching with the crowd down to the Capitol.  Many stopped to talk to our children and assure them that they were getting the “best possible history lesson.”

Occupy Wall Street

So, now that we are in 2011 and the Occupy Wall Street group is getting national attention, it seemed only fair that we should join them for their protest as well.  With this in mind, we traveled to Liberty Park in New York City and tried to join the protest.  Only there really wasn’t one.  We were quite surprised by what we actually found.

Occupy Wall Street, NYC, 10/26/11 (Allia)

In fact, there seemed to be no movement at all.  Liberty Park could more accurately be labeled, “Tent City.”

Occupy Wall St. NYC 10/26/11 (Allia)

Occupy Wall Street, NYC, 10/26/11 (Allia)

Occupy Wall Street, NYC, 10/26/11 (Allia)

Amongst the entire group, which was under 100 people, there were no two signs that reflected the same message.

Occupy Wall Street, NYC, 10/26/11 (Allia)

Occupy Wall Street, NYC, 10/26/11 (Allia)

This was a combination protest with every person representing his/her own interests.  No cohesion, no common message, no protest, no energy.

Happymess Reportage:

Happymess kids tried to be incognito under their sweatshirt hoods. (Allia)

  1. 1.     Quantum (12):  I thought it was going to be a formal protest against Wall Street (tycoons).  It turned out to be a bunch of derelicts.  They weren’t even all protesting the same thing.  Some of them were even sleeping!!  This was fun because the media was very off on their reporting (of this event).
  2. 2.      

Truth (11):  I though it was going to be something like the Tea Party.  It turned out to be just some people with tents and signs that said things like, “Eat the Rich.”  It was a really cool experience.

  1. 3.      

Creatress (14):  “Occupy Wall Street” was much less well organized than I anticipated.  I expected marching, chanting and unification.  Instead I encountered a disorganized group without energy or a common message.

  1. 4.      

Bounce (8): I thought that everybody was going to sit down while holding signs and that a mayor would stand on stage and talk.  Instead, half of the signs didn’t have anything to do with money at all and the other half (of the protestors) were asleep!

Occupy Wall St. NYC 10/26/11 (Allia)

Occupy Wall Street, NYC, 10/26/11 (Allia)

We thought we had come to see the great Class Warfare Battle.

Occupy Wall Street, NYC, 10/26/11 (Allia)

A Typical Spokesperson for the Cause (Allia)

But there were no soldiers, only human relics who were clearly living on the fringe of society.

Investigative Journalism and the Homeschooler

What did we learn?  We learned that in neither case, were the actual events reported accurately.  The Tea Party appeared more mainstream and had many more supporters than was reported.  Occupy Wall Street had few supporters and no message in person, despite their strong online and media presence.

In both cases, Happymess kids became motivated to research the issues.  What is really happening in government and in society?  Why do these people feel so strongly?  What is the history of the protest movement?  How important is Our Right to Assemble?

Placing current issues in the context of history makes both the present and the past more interesting and relevant.

Creatress found this quote from Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903), in reference to economic Socialism:

We must remove another possible subject of reproach, namely, that while looking after the advantage of the working people they should behave in such a manner as to forget the upper classes of Society; for they also are of the greatest use of preserving and perfecting the commonwealth.

Conversely, this week, October 23, 2011, The Vatican is calling for the great class equalizer by establishing global financial standards that would prohibit class diversification.

“Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of a Global Public Authority,” was at times very specific, calling, for example, for taxation measures on financial transactions. “The economic and financial crisis which the world is going through calls everyone, individuals and peoples, to examine in depth the principles and the cultural and moral values at the basis of social coexistence.”

As we know, class warfare has had a long, and mostly ugly, history.

Through experiential education (field trips) we hope Happymess kids and their friends can learn to make informed decisions and to place value in truth and justice.

Would you take your child to a political rally?  Why or why not?

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is stepping out the front door and seeing the world for yourself.

The Big E Captures the Romance of the Country Fair

A recent visit to the Big E, Eastern States Exposition, gave our 21st century urban children the opportunity to experience a good old fashioned country fair.  We visited farm stands, tasted cream puffs, rode on an elephant, saw real farm animals (I know to some that may sound mundane), rode on real farm tractors and went on as many spinning ferris wheels and roller coasters as possible.  Oh..and saw the most amazing one ring circus in which each act really was death defying and heart stopping. 

Bounce and Quantum may now believe that goats and camels reside happily side-by-side on most American farms.

Riding on an elephant is not nearly as easy as one would imagine when reading the Arabian Nights.

Watching piglets nurse and eggs hatch was endlessly fascinating to our urban-suburban group, most of whom are only familiar with cats and dogs and assume all pigs and spiders are friends, like Wilbur and Charlotte.

Of course nothing can compare with chasing one another through nets and tubes 100 feet above the ground.

Except, perhaps, riding high on a swing hundreds of feet above the earth.

Crazy Mouse at dusk: this was everyone’s favorite ride.

It was a beautiful day, made even more magical by sunset.  This was certainly a “naturally inspiring” lesson in our ongoing study of early American History.  Don’t worry, another day will be filled with proper lessons, notes and quizzes. But today will remain in all our memories as a tour of old-fashioned Americana, and of good plain fun, along the scale of Wilbur and Charlotte’s country fair.