Friday, June 29, 2012

Interesting TEDtalk

As we are planning to make a documentary about health this year, I have been scanning the internet looking for good documentaries and information on Type II Diabetes and chronic disease in general.  There is so much out there and while the numbers are depressing, there is a lot of hope about possible solutions.

I am particularly interested in how by overcoming these global health issues local communities, and therefore the people can be empowered.  Big pharmaceuticals and the food industry have too much input in how we live.

My sister-in-law sent me a link to this TEDmed talk by Dr. Mark Hyman.  I have read a few of his books over the years, my favorite being the Ultramind Solution.  The most enduring idea that has stuck with me has been the importance of eliminating sugar in the diet.  It is the hardest thing to do.  Especially as that includes anything that turns into sugar such as bread and wine.

I enjoyed the TEDtalk and wanted to share it with you.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Merwin Meadows

There is an awesome little place not far from our house.  It is a natural spring that has been turned into a town pond.  Pristine white beach sand is shipped in and the pond itself is surrounded by a  gorgeous green lawn, large trees and a river. You feel like you are in a nature cocoon.

On gorgeous early summer mornings we love to play in the river.

We enjoy walking Tuggles down the hiking trails.

We love skimming stones by the bridge, chasing each other around the playground and running through the field and under the road bridge to get ice cream at Scoops!

Most of all we like to share our special spot.

Lately we have been sneaking out in the evenings for a quick swim.  The life guards have gone home by then and there are no rules!  The kids can use their boogie boards and swim out to the middle of the pond! They feel so free!

The children have made up a list of dares.  One is to swim to the middle of the pond and touch the bottom!

Of course I am a mere spectator in the shenanigans.  But I love it all.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Huckleberry Hill Project

This fall I am launching an experiential learning project.

The Huckleberry Hill Project is going to consist of a few like-minded families who want to help their children discover more about who they are and what journey they are on in life.  We want to provide the perfect environment for children to incubate their own unique ideas about how to make the world a better place. We all as humans have inner drives and get energy from creating, inventing and sharing our dreams.  We want to provide our children with the skills and support, trust and the benefit of our experience, so that they can go out directly into the world and turn their dreams into reality.

These dreams will be a unique manifestation out of the psyche of each child.  Some of the children already have projects in mind, some of the projects are already underway and for some of the children the 'big' idea hasn't bubbled up inside them yet.  For those not ready to launch their idea, we as a community are also undertaking a project that the children will be working on.

We are planning to make a documentary about how to cure the preventable disease of Type II Diabetes, through eating home and locally grown food, children educating other children, and other initiatives the group comes up with.  Through this project, we will all be educated on health and all aspects of this very important issue. We have local technology companies that will come in and teach documentary making, we have access to film labs and we have film makers in our parent body.  We are planning to enter the documentary in the Connecticut Film Festival in Danbury, April 2013.

We are hoping to be based at a local sustainable farm in Wilton.  All of this is in the works and it is very exciting.

Claire, has already started her 'big' idea.  Her goal is to rescue ten dogs from certain euthanasia over the next year (and continue beyond).  Her company is called Lucky Tails Animal Rescue.  In order to do this she has been exceptionally busy, researching, putting together a business plan, writing letters to animal shelters, foster families, vets, interviewing her mentors (at other rescue organizations) and emailing all the people she knows to get her vision underway.  She is working on her website and today convinced an animal shelter in Hartford to work with her.  There are definitely moments when I forget she just turned 13.  Her determination leaves me in the dust.  There is no doubt in my mind that she will reach her goal.

Friday, June 22, 2012


Both of my children do martial arts.  My husband wants them to be able to protect themselves.  I thought that martial arts would be a good way to reinforce the discipline I am still trying to encourage at home.  I like that they have to remember long sequences, a skill I believe is great for their brain/memory development.

They have been doing kempo, a combination of martial arts (Shaolin monk karate and kung fu with a little bit of Brazilian jujitsu thrown in) for a couple of years now and have green belts.  They have also been on demo teams where they learn and demonstrate weapon forms.  My two have their lessons together and I like that.  We also like the people at our dojo.  It is a small group and we know everyone.

The staff all seem dedicated and invested in my children's growth.  I am hoping they will both continue with it and be able to mentor others as they get older.  I am also hoping that there are no accidents!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Beach days

It was so hot today.  Sticky hot.

And it was beach day.  It was so nice to hang with some of my favorite people.

We are trying to get together at least once a week at a particular beach.  The kids bring their boogie boards and we bring a dinner and our dreams of sitting on a beach in some exotic location with drink waiters!

We catch up on all the summer news.  We love seeing each other as much as the kids love seeing their friends.

Sadly, at some point we have to go home.

English Literature

English literature is not my thing.  To be honest I didn't do much English in high school.  I never learned to write properly or trust my written word.  I didn't know what a Newbery Medal was until my kids started school.  I have always preferred to read non-fiction and then usually only in my areas of interest (education and metaphysics). Very occasionally I read fiction novels, but not the classics.

It is not that I don't want to be well read.  When I get the Great Courses catalog I drool over the lecture series that discusses the 50 most influential books on American culture or some such series that would propel me into the realm of the intellectual elite.  I think I would even enjoy the reading.  It is just that these kinds of projects are waiting until my charges are out of the house.

With this background it would be no surprise to anyone that I feel a little anxious about making sure my daughter is prepared for an AP course in English Literature in a few years.  She is a visual learner, loves language and is good at it.  She reads with vigor and delight, even the classics.

I thought maybe I should get a Great Course series for her and we could read the books together and discuss them. That idea has been lurking around my head for a while now.

On Saturday however while I was at the conference I listened to a talk by Janice Campbell, homeschooling mother of four boys and an eclectic homeschooler, like myself.  She believes in teaching the classics and having a curriculum based around living books.  She recommended the Great Courses and has also written an English Literature curriculum for 8th-12th graders based around the classics and preparing students to write for college.  It couldn't have been put in my lap at a better time.

The curriculum is perfect for Claire.

The Introduction to Literature course starts with short stories.  In the next month, she has to read six short stories.  She will learn to write an approach paper and a compare and contract essay.  She will use MLA (Modern Language Association) format.

It is all quite exciting.

We read the first short story today: A White Heron by Sarah Orne Jewett.  It was a gripping, touching story about a nine year old girl who found herself in a dilemma.  I narrated a very condensed version of the story to Tristan over dinner.   He was riveted.

So far my girl is excited about reading and analyzing literature.  The first classic is Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne. But of course, we have to wait a month to start that one!

Monday, June 18, 2012


A year ago my sister-in-law suggested Tristan try parkour.  I googled parkour and discovered this whole sub culture of super athletic street runners who were able to do amazing jumps and moves through city streets, up walls, over rooftops and so on.  What better sport for a child who loves to innovate and throw his body through space.

Alas I couldn't find a place for children to do this nearby.  

Until now.

Fairfield Sports Complex has a new parkour gym, where kids can go everyday to practice.  They have a 30 minute skills class and then the children have 30 minutes to run wild (and that they do!) Jeremy, the American Ninja teaches there.  It is well supervised by "cool" coaches and the class is mainly young boys (7-9 year olds), who were nice.

The head coach saw what Tristan could do and put him in the advanced group.  "That boy is explosive" he said. 

It is an extremely cool place.   Tristan is in heaven.  He is the blur!

Now he is on one of the trampolines.  I am hoping that I am doing the right thing.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Love and Phonograms

Yesterday I was lucky enough to see Denise Eide at the Homeschooling Convention in Hartford.  This is a great youtube that explains her whole program (but long)  just in case you want to know more.

Close friends of mine know that I have been enjoying her book, Uncovering the Logic of English.  There are a number of reasons I like her book, and they revolve around how well the program in the book complements Montessori's language lessons.

Firstly I love the way Montessori presents language lessons from the sound games all the way through to sentence analysis.  The lessons are thorough, fun, short, focused and they address the different learning styles of children.  They are, however based on teaching a phonetic language (Italian) and not a language like English, which is a combination of a number of languages with different spelling rules.

Some children like my daughter, a visual learner spells effortlessly. My son, however prefers to spell phonetically but would like to spell correctly (in order to get what he wants using Minecraft single player commands!).

Enter Denise Eide's book.  We have now learned the phonograms.  (Good car activity)  For example, ou can be pronounced ow as in house, o as in soul, oo as in group and u as in country.  We have a little story associated with this card about a group of souls that live in a graveyard around this old house in the country.   The point of all of this is, if he asks me "How do I spell about?", all I have to say is use the "ou" as in house.  It is a lot easier than spelling out a word and it constantly reaffirms the phonograms.  It is empowering to him.

The second GREAT thing about the book is that it gives a list of 30 discreet rules that cover 98% of English words.  I have been teaching the rules also, but now I can constantly revise rules any time he asks me for a word, such as English words can not end in j, so anytime you hear j at the end of a word, write ge.

So that is a book which I highly recommend!

Seeing her in person yesterday was great.  She is young and full of vim and vigor.  She is passionate and full of ideas about helping kinesthetic learners learn to read, write and spell.  Her youngest child, a gymnast (now 9) is in the gym 4-6 hours/day.  She constantly needs to move.  Denise was adamant that these kinesthetic learners need A LOT of exercise if you would like to keep them still to do their work.

Being still is a skill you need to teach slowly.  Follow the child to work out the best active/still time ratio.  (It make me feel quite sick to think of all the children medicated to keep them still, and so very fortunate to be able to work this out with my child.)

She noticed a big difference in her child after she started spending a lot of time in the gym.  (I gave myself a pat on the back for signing Tristan up for breakdance!  Of course I should have done it years ago.)   She used Nerf guns, basketball games and all sorts of movement oriented activities to help children learn phonograms.  She had an interesting way to teach handwriting, with movement, sound rhythm and explanations on what the body is doing when it makes sounds. And she said that you have to write down phonograms as you learn them (oops!).  There is a hand/brain connection (duh!).

I have taught Tristan these phonograms in the car (just orally).  Now I am going to reinforce them and teach him cursive. Wish me luck!  Two hours on the trampoline first! And a back up Nerf gun!  And a can of whipped cream!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Lemon Pound Cake (Deoderant)

Yesterday my girlfriends and I made deodorant.

I innovated on the recipe I saw on Frugally Sustainable and tried out a few weeks ago.   That deodorant works beautifully but I am a little sick of the chocolatey smell.
So here is my new recipe.

Lemon Pound Cake (Deoderant)

1 tbsp raw coconut butter
1 tbsp beeswax
1 tbsp shea butter
1 tbsp coconut oil

(I melt those, then add)

2.5 tbsp arrowroot powder
1 tbsp baking soda

Mix in and stir until toothpasty.  I use chopsticks for this.

Add 2 capsules vitamin E oil (but I used primrose oil, just for fun this time).

When cooled down almost completely add 2 capsules of shelf-stable probiotic.  I used PB8's.

And I squeezed about 6-8 drops of lemongrass essential oil into the mix. Mix it up.

Then scoop into a nice little pot.

I ADORE the smell of this deodorant and I put it next to the sink in my bathroom with no lid on and smell it whenever I go past.

It smells just like I think the lemon pound cake would smell at Starbucks.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


My son has always loved to dance.  His first time at a wedding was an epiphany for him. He fell in love with being in the spotlight, doing crowd pleasing steps and letting the music take him into his zone.  For the last two years my husband has been asking me to get him lessons.

You see, my son is like a compressed spring, a powerhouse of potential energy.  He moves all the time but occasionally he unleashes his energy at full power and we watch him dance his heart out.  What he lacks in technique he makes up in heart and unbridled abandonment of any safety precautions as he leaps and twirls, jumps and somersaults at a ferocious speed.

So it is of great relief to my husband that we have acquired a dance teacher to instruct him in the proper techniques of hip hop and breakdance.   His dance teacher arrived (with a cool dance pal who specializes in breakdance) for his first 2 hour lesson.  We set up the basement with a boom box equivalent and Tristan put on his dancing shoes.

His teacher, Nicole is 26.
She has been teaching dance for 10 years and will be his teacher during camp week and in the fall when he will do hiphop and breakdance once (or twice) a week.  She is amazing at what she does.  She was in the movie Step Up 3, a dance movie which we watched in awe last night.  She dances at night from 9:30pm to 4am whenever she can so consequently she doesn't do mornings!  And she is available all summer.

She is also beautiful and strong, she understands and motivates children, and has Tristan absolutely captivated.  Tristan's on button has been pushed and I am anticipating a lot of growth over the summer, in his strength, motivation and discipline.

So this is what seems to turn him on: movement, challenge, different techniques thrown at him, few repetitions, challenges for his working memory (choreographed segments), freedom to express himself, music, strength training and novelty.

After class when he is beyond exhaustion, she shows him videos of breakdance battles.  He thinks it is all intensely cool.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Teaching Math

My son has issues sitting in a chair.  Math usually occurs all over the house, upside down, jumping on the bed and for rather brief moments sitting at a desk.  He grasps things quickly but hates to repeat and practice problems unless they are very easy.  The time it takes to complete his daily math lesson of 27 problems on Teaching Textbooks varies depending on how closely supervised he his and the threat/reward system in place.  It can take a long time factoring in all the distractions.

I used to teach him using the Montessori Method.  I'd give him short lessons with colorful and ingenious, game-like material abstractions of math concepts.  Then I would require him to repeat the lesson with the materials.  This he found way too boring.

You see, my son is an innovator and doesn't like to do the same thing twice.

But I have perseverance and determination.

After 3 years worth of Teaching Textbooks, we have suddenly reverted back to Montessori Math.

What changed?

A gorgeous work partner!  Making a wonderful timeline of math concepts throughout the ages, incorporating his passionate love of history and hands on ingenuity!  Extra short, yet frequent math lessons using impressive materials, cut and paste, comics and math he has never seen before....

Tristan now has a work buddy.  She is also making the timeline and doing Montessori lessons on fractions.  Tristan watches her attentively, pulling the occasionally impressive stunt as he revises fractions! all the while making half hearted attempts at his own work.  Bottom line: it is not cool to work hard in front of a beautiful girl.  He is quick to assist her in any way (getting a hammer or fetching a print out) when the need arises.

He is the quintessential knight in shining armor.

On the other hand, when not in the presence of the beautiful girl he needs to be one step ahead on his work on the timeline.

This is the timeline.  He makes matching cards with an explanation on the back.

He is quite proud of his hieroglyphic of Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky.  He learnt how to use Paintbrush on Apple to draw his hieroglyph.  Now he is making delightful pictures.

Distraction.  Distraction Distraction.

I love making timelines.  Making things to represent learned concepts is making the timeline come to life.  Today Tristan made a representation of the moon phases and the notches an early human may have carved on wood to work out how long it takes for the moon to move through its phases.

He spent a while working out how to put 29.5 notches in the space on his model.  He ended up spacing each notch 3/8 inch apart, then chiseling them out.  It was a bit messy, laborious even to carve these notches across grain but we had some interesting discussions.

We also hooked up his model of the sun rising in the East and setting in the West, that shows how people must have been reliant on shadows to work out approximate time way back when.  Here is the model...not painted yet...but the sun (lightbulb) moves across the wire.  The tree made out of Sculptey melted in the oven.  Now we have only a stick to mark shadows.

When he paints this, it will be more obvious that there are mountains on the right.

We are using a book written in 1955.  I love the illustrations and explanations.  It is outdated yet it is hard to find modern books with such clear and great illustrations.  This gem was a discard from a library in Oregon.

Tristan's job is to work out a way to make a model of this/these discoveries.

From this picture of how the ancients located the Polaris, the North Star, Tristan decided to make a light box showing the Big Dipper rotating around Polaris.

In between these little excursions into handmade models we do math on paper.

Right now we are doing a Montessori series on squaring and square root.  Montessori teaches the children to do square roots by hand into the hundred thousands.  To do this a child needs a deep knowledge of the decimal system and how it works.  The series begins with breaking the hundred square into binomials and understanding what a binomial is.  It has taken a week and 5-10 lessons for Tristan to get a firm understanding of a binomial.  I have presented the lesson in several ways, talked and played games, made up comics and constantly tried to reaffirm the basics to integrate this concept so he is prepared for the more abstract versions of this lesson to come.  I am anticipating this will take me a couple of months until he can calculate the square root of a number in the hundreds of thousands by hand.

Today he said.  "I get this math.  But, what I don't get is why I have to do it."  I am hoping he buys my explanation which is that I am developing your mind, helping you understand complicated concepts so that you increase your capacity to understand complicated things.  I said, "This will get even more complicated and you may feel your brain stretching...let me know how that feels."  So far he is staying with me.

Luckily I have the beautiful girl card, because I know that Tristan will endure anything to have this particular young lady do lessons with us!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Dusting off the Microscope!

Every now and again you walk in on your child doing something unexpected.  Today it made my heart sing.   Claire was sitting in front of our microscope engrossed in this little book of biology experiments.  

"Mum", she said.  "Are you going out?  I need a fish scale, an Elodea plant and a cork."

OK then.

Not the usual grocery store finds.  Not even Walmart.

I managed to convince the guy in the fish department at Village Market to let me pick off a scale from the head of a large red snapper that by luck the fish suppliers had left on.

I "borrowed" a cork from the "corks for charity" box at our local wine shop on the promise I'd return the cork from the bottle I bought while I was there.

The Elodea plant, an aquarium plant will be acquired tomorrow as we have to go to Petco to get methylene blue and malachite green. She wants to make her own slide stain.
You've gotta love google.

This is a favorite little book of mine.

I love the retro cover.  I love the text.  How it explains everything.

I love the English spelling of my youth!

I love the stuff you need to do this microscope work. Look at those slides. Just like a clean, organized linen closet.

I love that she has almost finished high school biology and everything she looks at has so much meaning and it makes me feel glad she is doing it now rather than four years ago when I bought the microscope.

It has been sitting in wait for four years.

...and now she is ready!