Thursday, August 30, 2012

Bits and pieces

Yesterday we picked up Romeo from the Ridgehill Animal Hospital.  Little Romeo was a little sore in his privates and was wearing a cone.  We transported him to his foster mom's house in Stamford.  He seemed very happy in his new environment and we are confident she will take good care of him while he heals.  He is such an adorable boy that we are confident that he will find a home soon.

It was a milestone for Claire, the next step in her animal rescue adventure.  She had to introduce herself to her new foster family and explain what her expectations for foster family are. There are forms to be filled out and adoption events to go to.

Afterwards we celebrated at a sandwich restaurant.  While there, we started noticing the art on the walls.  There was an artist who had made a collage of all the names of the towns in Connecticut using letters found on candy wrappers.  "Oh my gosh!  We are going to do that in our art journals!!", they said! And they did. Tristan is doing town names and Claire is doing dog breeds.

It was a joyful day.  We set up an old desktop computer and practiced routing all the cables efficiently.   We cleaned and organized our work spaces. We went to the park.

I have been reading Project-Based Learning by Lori Pickert (a recommendation from Mamak at Frog Creek).  It is so inspiring and I am already implementing some of her many excellent suggestions.  I have been doing a lot of interest led, project based homeschooling during the last couple of years.  I have been quite hands off in my approach, a product of my Montessori background.  Lori suggests that the opposite is required.  The child must maintain ownership of the project at all costs, however the parent needs to be a constant support, skill teacher, obstacle remover, especially as the child develops the ability to work independently and successfully on projects. This is especially true when you have an easily distracted child. Interest alone is not enough.

Today I have been thinking a lot about how lucky my children are to have an education designed to cater to their individual needs.  I read in our town paper that we have over 4,000 students starting school this year.  I am grateful our children aren't required to learn everything required for the standardized testing and that they can delve deeply into their interests.  Living with passion and doing purposeful work has become a way of life in our home.  Project-Based Learning is a wonderful resource for anyone who wants to create the perfect environment for independent, interest led projects to occur in their household!

The last chapter in her book is called A Way to Live. Here is a brief taste.
"Children, even when very young, have the capacity for inventive thought and decisive action.   They have worthwhile ideas. They make perceptive connections.  They're individuals from the start: a unique bundle of interests,  talents and preferences.  They have something to contribute.  They want to be part of things.  It is up to us to give them the opportunity to express their creativity, explore widely, and connect with their own meaningful work." --Lori Pickert, Project-Based Homeschooling

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hanging out in New Haven

Today Claire spent the day at Ridgehill Animal Hospital.  Our friends at Frog Creek own veterinary hospitals! and invited Claire to spend the day, preparing her latest rescue Romeo for his neuter surgery. They have an open surgery policy and Claire was allowed to observe both a cat being spayed and Romeo's surgery.  Not only was it a fantastic learning experience, but when I picked her up she was beaming and didn't want to leave.  She loved it, felt at home and already couldn't wait to go back.

She gave Romeo a pre-surgical bath and cleaned him up.  He was one heck of a dirty boy after spending 5 weeks at the shelter.  She watched his entire surgery with interest and said that she was allowed to put ice on the wound after Romeo was stitched up and then hold him in a towel until he woke up.  She described everything in detail and left me with no doubt that she is meant to be in this field.  We are very grateful to our friends at Frog Creek.

Meanwhile Tristan and I went to an exhibition about food and global obesity at the Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven.  It is a traveling exhibition titled Big Food.  When I went in, I was a little disappointed.  It lacked "wow" factor for me, however Tristan thought it was fantastic and we ended up staying two hours just in that one spot.

It was shocking and sad to see the astounding rise of obesity globally.  There was a 7 minute video explaining the problem of urban deserts and urban swamps.  I had never heard of these terms.  There are places where you can not even find healthy food.  There are towns crammed with fast food establishments and no healthy alternatives.  It is sad how quickly humans have become used to huge servings and how difficult it is to change people's behavior because they are surrounded by situations that reinforce bad eating habits.

It was a child friendly exhibit, with entertaining, interactive video games and some large 3D models that you could touch!  I was disgusted to see and pick up 5 pounds of fat.  That was a bit of a wake up call.

The interactive computer games were fun and very popular.  

I like the message of the exhibit.  You can make small personal changes, small changes in your family and small changes in your community. All of these changes have a big impact.

We were also fascinated by the dioramas made by after school students displaying environmental changes that have been taking place in the world around us.  Tristan seemed interested in making his own.

This was a great exhibit for participants in the Huckleberry Hill Project.  There was a lot of information, starting points for future research for our documentary on the rise of obesity and Type 2 Diabetes.

After the exhibition we headed to Yale University.  I wanted to discuss with Tristan what he plans to accomplish over the next 5 years, what is important to him.  Like many 9 year olds Tristan usually says he doesn't know and he definitely doesn't plan!  I started with him telling me what he likes to do right now.

We had to break it down and project into the future. I asked him about dancing, breakdancing and hip hop.  "You love it now" I said. "Do you think that you still might be doing it in 5 years?"  "Yes, yes, yes!" he said,  "I definitely want to be dancing then and acting.  I love acting" he continued, "I love being someone else." We explored what kind of plays he would like to act in.  I pushed him in this vein for a while and *right now* he thinks he wants to master acting skills, dancing, the science needed to become a recreational pilot and to do something entrepreneurial with computers.  He decided freedom was the most important thing for him.

We walked through the grounds of Yale University.  I let him know that it was very competitive to get into this particular university.  It would require a lot of hard work and perseverance to even have a shot at getting in.  He introduced himself to a Yale student and verified what I had said!  It is a beautiful campus.

It was a lovely day!  Just before he went to Parkour, I stopped and got a coffee.  A lady in the store asked him about his first day back at school.  He didn't miss a beat and told her about everything he had seen at the museum. I am so happy that we don't have to go back to school, but rather keep going on our merry way.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Art Journaling

My friend Jess at Teachable Moments is an amazing teacher.  She used to teach in a school but now devotes her time to her two beautiful daughters and luckily her fellow homeschoolers' children!  Each week she invites them into her special art journaling studio and works her magic.  I say magic because I see magical things happen in that room.  I see my son, a reluctant writer, engaged and productive, enjoying every second in her space.  Both of my children come home and want to create their own art journaling pages in their "sacred" books.  She has opened up a new world for them, a new way to express themselves and I am very grateful to her for that.

I can't wait for her e-book to come out.
Combining art with creative writing is very effective as the children are in the perfect mental space to express themselves.   I remember writing stories at school.  I would be tearing my hair out and frustrated trying to come up with an idea.  Finally when I finished my story I would be "allowed" to illustrate it with a picture.

In art journaling, words seem to form in the children as they distill what they want to express to its core, all the while creating beautiful pages on beautiful paper.  Jess is serious, quiet, gentle and very organized.  The children listen carefully to her words.  They trust her.  They know she cares about their work, every word and every detail.  Every week the children do their best work.  She really fosters a love of learning.  She has a true gift.

I love seeing my children spontaneously art journaling at home.  Claire recently made these after seeing Romeo and Juliet for the second time at Hudson Valley.  She is their biggest fan!

Saturday, August 25, 2012


I enjoyed this TEDtalk from Chris Anderson a couple of months ago.  I didn't think about it too much until I kept noticing how video is constantly popping up in our lives.  Chris  talks about how video is the new way people are educating themselves.  It is a powerful way people can share their ideas, new ways of doing things, innovation in their field.  It is a way to reach everyone all over the world and make the world a better place.

This TEDtalk has inspired me to take video learning opportunities seriously and to look at how we at home are using video to learn and share what we are doing.

Claire has been making videos of her foster dogs which are becoming increasingly innovative.  Tristan has made short stop animation movies.  We watch video tutorials and Youtubes all the time, whether to find out how bake a cake from scratch, install a Minecraft Mod or whatever we can't figure out independently in the moment.

We will be making a documentary as part of the Huckleberry Hill project and hopefully after that, our children will have the skills to go forth and make videos and documentaries on their own....or if not they will just google it and watch a video on how to do it!

Thursday, August 23, 2012


It is hard to imagine Lucky Tails has only been up and running two months.  What a ride we have been on.  Starting a company is hard work.  There is a lot of thinking to do, strategic planning and coordinating different people.  Most of the activity is done on the computer.  It is an extraordinary and magical process to see your child who has been reliant on you most of her short life just manage so well without you, especially in areas you have never ventured yourself.

I have been learning so much from her.

To start with she has used Legalzoom to incorporate and then file for non profit status.  She signed up for the business advantage plan and gets very low cost legal advice.  She has an attorney at her disposal in Stratford, CT.  She is having to fill out legal documents and can walk through this process confidently with the help of legal professionals (without me!)  She makes appointments and things just seem to get done.  She has found out that if she becomes a member of her corporation she can be given executive control by the Board of Directors and Officers of Lucky Tails. Because she is a minor, she can't be an officer but her parents can!  She has found out that wording is crucial when crafting legal documents and the attorney's advice has been very helpful.

She has managed to get her rescued dogs on various adoption sites such as Petfinder, and Paws.  She had to get letter signed by the vet care provider of Lucky Tails and have a phone interview before she was allowed to post dogs on their sites.  She now has her own accounts at Petfinder and Adopt a Pet.

Her biggest obstacle has been finding foster families.  Fostering is a big deal.  Foster families have to commit to bringing the dogs to adoption events and caring for their dog for an unknown period of time.  Sometimes the dogs have just been spayed or neutered or they are recovering from parasites or infections.  Foster families are special people. Claire has 3-4 potential foster families.  Some we know well, others she found by emailing over 700 people, a service provided on

She has organized an adoption event September 9th at Choices Pet Supply in Danbury, CT.  She has her contacts and will branch out and partner with other rescue organizations at their adoption events soon but she needs her 501c non-profit status first.  Everything takes time and effort.

This is 3 legged Lucky, an adorable Pitbull mix
Her goal is to save dogs from euthanasia.  She rescues dogs from "kill shelters" up to two hours away. Some shelters have a legal adoption day (day they get euthanized) policy.  Dogs can only be picked up on that day.  If they are not picked up, they die.  It is so sad.  Many other rescue organizations are also trying to rescue these dogs.  Dogs are available one minute and gone the next.  It is hard to plan and you don't know about the history of a lot of these dogs.  You have to check in the morning and see if any of the dogs being euthanized that day are what you are looking for, then call and go! Other shelters that have more room can keep dogs longer. 

 Shelters are loud, smelly and overwhelming places.  The dogs bark and jump when you enter.  Most of the dogs in the shelters are Pitbull mixes. They need exercise and a cooped up all day in these small enclosures.  They have large strong jaws.  I wouldn't want one near my baby.  Yet they are so sweet natured for the most part.  We are enjoying having Lucky stay with us.  She is fitting in beautifully.  But Pitbull mixes are difficult to find homes for. The sad reality is that most of them will be put down.  The City of Hartford Animal Shelter has a higher than 50% kill rate.

Claire's website is coming along nicely.  I am sure her latest rescue Romeo will be posted soon.  We picked him up this morning.  He is a cute three year old boy.  He was in such great need of a bath but such a great dog.  We walked him and he was very responsive and affectionate. He was found on Jane St, in Bridgeport.  He had been hit by a car and left.  He was found by the police and taken to the shelter.  The vet saw him but they were only allowed to give him a shot for pain. A month later he was in quarantine as a dog near him in the kennel died of what they think may have been the Parvovirus.  We thought he would be a very adoptable dog once he was cleaned up a bit, neutered and free of parasites.  We took him to Ridgehill Animal Hospital where he is currently being tested and if he is free of Parvo, he will be neutered early next week. Claire has been invited to give him a pre-surgical bath and to watch his surgery.

In the dog enclosure
In the car on the way he was so inquisitive and loving.  He loved being in the car, putting his head out the window, sitting on your lap and just getting a little love that he has been craving.  He has been in the shelter 5 weeks. We heard this afternoon that a staff member at the hospital might want to adopt him.  He is really a special little guy and made me want to keep him in the 30 minute trip to the vet!

At the shelter

At Ridgehill Animal Hospital

Meeting our vet, Adnan Cosar

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Millstone Farm

Today I went to Millstone Farm, a beautiful 75 acre property owned by Jesse and Betsy Fink that represents their vision of a better future.  It is a sustainable food farm, a showcase of how to do something well and the perfect location of my new educational experiment, the Huckleberry Hill Project.  In a beautiful restored farm house, our children are going to be making their dreams, their passions, their 'big idea' come to life.  The place is so inspirational and so are the projects that some of the children have already started working on.

I took a few photos of the farm to share with you.  It is such a special place.  I feel such peace when I walk through the grounds.
The place is filled with people, interns, farmers and families doing inspirational things. I know the children are going to be thrilled being part of this adventure and inspired to do their special projects.

Here are a few of the projects the children have started.  Caden (11) is organizing a children's film festival.  Grace (12) is organizing a music concert to raise money for victims of weather disasters.  Cormac (11) is making a green directory in which he is breaking down everything people use on a day to day basis and sourcing green alternatives to these products in our surrounding towns. Claire (13) is well underway on her animal rescue.  Marlin (10) is starting a pet care business.  Lilah (9) is delivering her handmade delicious cupcakes to people in her community who are in need.  I am very proud of these children who are tapping into their passions and reaching out into the community.

We are also very blessed to have many contacts in the documentary making business to advise us on our endeavor to make our very own documentary on making healthy food choices, growing our own food and trying to stop Type II Diabetes in our own community.  It is a very exciting project and we are thrilled that Millstone Farm is partnering with us to make our dreams come true.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Reality check

Today was difficult.  We had our teacher for technology come for a home visit to see the space he will be working in.  Tristan and I had been doing math prior to his arrival.  It had been challenging and Tristan had to sit in confusion trying to work through the problems before they became clear.  Thinking lately has become more difficult.  It was hard to stay on task.

He looked at my feet.  You know Mum, he said "Your feet look like they belong to a 200 year old man and you have hairy legs, but your face is OK.  I actually like it."  Nice.   I asked him if he could handle his work, while I had the meeting.  I went through the workbook and examples and he got to work for about 5 minutes.

As soon as the guest was seated he started rolling around, standing on his head, plugging in his computer.  I asked him to stay on task and then he said he needed help (or me to do it for him) and I asked him to try and work through it.  Then he started being a little fresh and then even worse just plain stupid.

He has just spent the last 4 days acting in this Shakespeare play in the city.  He has been immersed in Shakespeare and even spent the morning rehearsing his second Shakespeare piece for A Midsummers Nights Dream. Our guest asked him what play it was that he was just in and Tristan sat there dumbfounded and eventually said, "Oh! was it Shakespeare???"

Oh my!  His brain has totally turned to mush.  There was only one thing I could do.  I didn't ban computer games entirely.  I wanted to. I made a new law! No entertainment related computer usage before 7pm during the week or before 3pm on the weekends.  If there is any infraction, computer time will be revoked after 7pm that evening.    That I was able to negotiate with limited drama.  I think he thought he got off easy given my disgust at the state of the union.

And then I went upstairs, shaved my feminine legs and painted my toes!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Rainy Day in NYC

Our family used to live in NYC on the Upper East side.  That was 9 years ago now, a time when there wasn't a Starbucks on every corner!  We moved to Connecticut when Tristan was just a few months old.  At the time we left,  banks were moving into every available space.  Today I noticed a huge influx of frozen yoghurt stores and upmarket sandwich places.  I couldn't resist going into one. It was sooo good!

Food in NYC is so great!  Everywhere you look are delicious eateries.  We had some time to kill and caught the M train. We got out on 53rd and 5th.  Tristan wanted to say a prayer for his Papa.

Then a trip to F.A.O. Schwarz.

A good while was spent reading graphic novels.

Quite a diverse crowd at his Merry Wives rehearsal.  We were in a small meeting room with a piano.  The room came alive when the actors, with their booming voices and expressive faces took over the center of the small room and started rehearsing.  It was captivating.  The children's scene is short and a little fluffy with some pinching and poking. A bit of fun and games.

MoMA was OK.  I didn't prepare enough for the visit but luckily he still wants to go back.
And we finished off with a visit to the legendary Doughnut Plant in Chelsea.

Tristan had a peaches and cream doughnut with a pineapple and celery juice. (No sugar there...NOT!)
I had a chocolate pudding doughnut. A little rich for me but delicious and the coffee was excellent.

Time to go home. But not without presents for Claire.  A spiderman bag and a carrot cake doughnut!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Family Unit

My husband is away. Far away on business. In Australia (which is just plain wrong for many reasons). It is an uncomfortable feeling.  We are not used to it.  The children are uneasy about it. They all end up in my bed.  There is someone missing and a general feeling in the house of waiting for our unit to be whole again.

Our family life has become far more enjoyable since we started homeschooling.  This is my 5th year of homeschooling.  Prior to homeschooling were attending a well respected Montessori school.  We picked our location based on proximity to this school and I respect and admire Montessori education.

My intention was to keep the children in this particular school all the way through middle school and be part of the school community.  Tristan started this school at 14 months. (eek!) It was a beautiful school and I spent a lot of time there observing in classrooms, volunteering and fundraising.  The problem was that my children were just not thriving in it.  Claire found it difficult to find like minded peers and Tristan wasn't ready to sit for 3 hours a day, independently and alone doing close ended activities using fine motor skills.  He needed to move all the time and was extremely social.  By the end of his short school career he was miserable and only 4 and a half.

Much of our time as parents was spent trying to convince them why they had to go to school, preparing for school, going to school, organizing things for school and then talking about all the stuff that happened there that they were unhappy about.  Then when my husband came home it was all about school again.

So one of the greatest joys for me homeschooling is not having school at the center of our lives. What replaces it is the four of us talking about all the things we dream about, the activities we are doing, documentaries we are watching, recipes we want to cook, who we want to see and where we want to go.

All that negativity has been replaced with this positive energy that is directed towards the center of the family unit.  We feel much more bonded.  We really listen to each other and know each other.  We have a wonderful sense of belonging to a tight family unit which was an unexpected gift of homeschooling.  We meet with other homeschooling families that are also experiencing the close family bonding and the children really seem so nourished by the security of that.

These are the kinds of families I want my children to be surrounded by, not just by peers but whole families with children of all ages and fellow like-minded parents who my children can seek out to ask questions and get advice on their projects and life experiences. These are families who we are lucky to share our homeschooling journeys with and will hopefully be close to for the rest of our lives.

In the meantime, we are holding our breaths until our Papa safely gets home.