Friday, September 12, 2014



While visiting family this summer, my Dad planned a camp out.  Me, my brothers and all our kids spent two days and a night hanging out and enjoying the beautiful weather and scenery.  Above is my Dad's cabin.  He took two small sheds and connected them.  You wouldn't beleive how nice it looks inside.  There's a wood stove, small shower, little kitchenette and full size bed.  It's partly powered by solar and is so comfy inside. Everything is impeccably tidy and well made.  After I saw my Dad's cabin I called my husband and told him, "My Dad is living my dream!  He has a tiny house!"  If you're familiar with the tiny house movement you know what I mean!

Yes, I even have to show the outhouse!  Inside it was perfectly clean.  He's thought everything out.  It's odorless and composts naturally.  The toilet paper is housed inside coffee cans so no spider webs and I imagine it keeps it from getting damp as well.  He has even painted a moon and star on the door.  A work of outhouse art, me thinks!

My brother brought his camper and a tent for us.  Throughout the night our airbed slowly lost air, so I really got the camping experience; rocks poking into my back, sleeping under the stars and a little afraid of bears coming to visit! 

My nephew sang us a campfire song on his "Geetar".

My brother and Dad sitting around the campfire.  In the morning my brother & sister in law showed us the art of Dutch oven cooking.  They made us all want to learn. 

The cousins played in the woods the entire second day, we had a hard time getting them to take a break to eat lunch! It was a good time, with lots of sweet memories made.

Until next time...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Fresh Eyes...

We are back from our blissful stay in New York!  It was rainy and cool quite a bit during our month-long stay which was perfect weather for us sun worn, Southwest transplants. I won't say it was a vacation because there was much running around trying to see everyone, but it was really fun.

It's amazing how much your perspective can change through the years.  When I was a teen in New York it was the place to leave.  Even though I loved my family, I wanted to set off on my own and see the world a bit.  I haven't really seen the world yet but I have lived in a couple different areas of the country.  I've seen a bit and hopefully more to come.

What seemed a little dead about New York was my old, dead thinking.  It was what propelled me off to new and exciting places.  I wanted to learn and see and grow.  Now, when I go back home to New York it's alive with a whole new world of life I never noticed before. From the weather, to the wild animals, maple trees, wild flowers grape vines, Lake Erie and it's beaches, the Amish and their beautiful, simple life, it's all alive with excitement.  I see it with fresh eyes. 

It doesn't hurt that I have my little boys now and get to see it through their eyes.  Can you see the hummingbird in the picture above?  I just had to see a Ruby-throated Hummingbird after being able to so closely observe our Black-chinned mama bird here.  And yes, I remember seeing Ruby-throated hummingbirds when I was a child, but did I care then?  Not so much, no. 

My sister in law, niece, Mom & I had a great time looking around Amish country & shops.

Amish haystacks.  Note boys walking up the road, far in the distance. 

These are the scenes outdside of a beautiful, Amish toystore.

A little Amish boy we had fun watching.  He had been enjoying a horse swing inside.


An Amish, one-room schoolhouse and boys and girls outhouses.

My brother & sis in law live right in the heart of Amish country.  This is a typical scene outside their front door.


One of the many beautiful, Amish gardens we saw.  Most of them boast a row of beautiful flowers around the outside edges.

I brought back a few items!  An Amish cookbook, rug for my kitchen, clove scented heating pad, a cedar ornament for the closet, toaster tongs, a couple of cards drawn by an Amish boy, a lucet and my favorite, peach jam.  What's not featured here? The chocolates from the Candy Shop.  Yah, that was gone by picture time.

If you like images of Amish countryside, check out my sis in law's brand new etsy shop, SLPPhotographs.  This photo is one of hers.  

Until next time...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

cold & wet... heaven

We have been visiting family and enjoying the countryside of Western New York.  The first day we went for a long walk down our dirt road.  It was overcast and rainy the first week we were here, perfect weather for a few desert rats tired of the Southwest heat.  We found two salamanders and the boys were interested in how they differ from our desert lizards. 

It sounds funny but just wearing sweaters we never pull out until winter in the Southwest was super exciting for us.  Silly Owen, who is used to warm rains went out in the cold rain here to play.  Before I could get him dressed he was out in the rain in his undies.  He came back 3 minutes later saying, "Whew, it's CHILLY out there!".  We then got properly dressed and went out to play.  We laughed when Gramma came out in her nightgown to take a picture of those crazy New Mexicans who were playing on the swing set in the rain.  I said, "Who's crazy you're in your nightgown, in the rain taking pictures of us!"  We all had a good laugh.

I have many more fun things to share.  Until next time...

Friday, July 11, 2014

Leadership Education & Our Outdoor Classroom

Schoolhouses are made wrong. If they must be, they should be built in a woods pasture beside a stream, where you could wade, swim, and be comfortable in summer, and slide and skate in winter. The windows should be cut to the floor, and stand wide open, so the birds and butterflies could pass through. You ought to learn your geography by climbing a hill, walking through a valley, wading creeks, making islands in them, and promontories, capes and peninsulas along the bank. You should do your arithmetic sitting under trees adding hickory-nuts, subtracting walnuts, multiplying butternuts, and dividing hazelnuts. You could use apples for fractions, and tin cups for liquid measure...

~Laddie, A True Blue Story by Gene Stratton-Porter

This is one of the most inspiring books I've read recently.  It speaks of a young girl's love of nature, natural love of learning and exemplifies beautiful ways of mentoring children within a family.  I'll be thinking about this book for a long time and coming back to it often for inspiration.

This book and many others are assigned books in a certification for Leadership Education also called  a Thomas Jefferson Education. I'm working on this certification with a friend and it's been so much fun!  We are reading all the texts, listening to audios and discussing it each step of the way, matching each others progress and what a gift it has been! We are both inspired in many of the same ways in regards to home education. We both love literature, nature and allowing our children's inspiration to guide us.

A big part of Leadership education is mentoring, not teaching.  I found so much inspiration in Laddie, here is one example of the father in Laddie, mentoring his children.

He is always watching, observing, studying: the earth, the stars, growing things: he never comes to a meal but he has seen something that he has or will study out for all of us.  There never has been one day in our home which he did not read a new interesting article from book or paper; work out a big problem, or discuss some phase of politics, religion, or war.  Sometimes there has been a little of all of it in one day, always reading, spelling, and memory exercises at night. 

In this way, learning at home becomes less about Mom or Dad coming up with lessons for their children, (although that happens in Leadership Education too).  But it's more of providing an environment that is in itself educational.  It means that the parents are committed to their own education and work to understand the world around them and having that process be very visible to the children.  This is the part of Leadership Education that is most exciting to me right now.  It gives me the permission to continue my education at home. Those of us that have been through public school and/or college often get the idea that education is for school and when school is done "real life" begins and education is over.  In this method, the parents continuing to learn and grow is paramount.  Finally I can give myself permission, and not feel it's a luxury, to read all the classics I've always wanted to read, sharing my interests and excitement along the way and in this way being an important example to my kids.

So, in our schooling we have been reading many classic books to the boys.  My friend and I started a classic book club for homeschooling parents and children.  We read classics and then discuss them at home and then with the group at the park.  The kids, ages 4-9, discuss the books with us, then run off and play.  Sometimes we notice aspects of the book come out in their play. We don't require them to discuss the book. We try to inspire them by asking what their favorite or least favorite character is, favorite part of the story, etc. Often the parents have in depth discussion while the kids are off playing & that is ok with us.  The valuable part is in reading, enjoying and discussing it at home as a family.  My son Michael exclaimed, "Mom, Alina knows ALL the books we know!"  It's definitely a very special thing for him.

One of the books we recently read was, "Little Britches", in it there is a major tragedy within the family.  Originally I thought, no way will I read that part to my son.  Michael is so sensitive, I knew it would be hard for him to hear it and hard for me to read it to him.  After much thought I did read it to him. I cried through most of it and so did he. That book changed us. We found such empathy for "Little Britches" and his family.  Michael insisted we buy the next book right away.  I could tell he wanted to make sure the boy would be alright. At the beginning of the book the little boy is 8 years old and helps take care of his family.  This had such an effect on Michael.  He began to feel more capable of tasks around the house he previously had not felt capable of doing. So, Classic books have become our teachers.  They teach us morality, compassion and so much more. 

We've also been letting the boys lead learning with their interests.  They both love to learn about insects. We've gotten books from the library on butterflies, dragonflies, leaches, spiders, ants and more.  Owen is very interested in cacti and so we've studied them and bought him one to take care of and watch grow.

I often joke about our outdoor classroom for backyard Science.  We are always finding things to observe and study and research in our yard.  One day we had a box turtle come to our front door to visit us. We learned all about her that day. 

Another day we noticed a hummingbird who was building her nest about 8 feet above in our pine tree.  We have watched her build her nest, lay eggs, hatch them & now are watching her babies grow.  This is Lovely, the Mama, and her babies Lucy & Ruckus. 




What a fantastic learning experience it has been.  Shortly after the eggs hatched we found a hummingbird book at a going out of business sale, 45% off. We were able to identify her as a Black-chinned hummingbird. She has a beautiful greenish back in the sunlight. The males have a black chin that appears violet in the sunlight.  We are hoping one of the babies is a male, so we can see their bright colors. Then we found a book at the library all about hummingbird stories & legends.

It seems that life can and will take over teaching our kids if we let it.  It just takes an open & willing heart.  Our "Science class" is not from a textbook.  It doesn't follow a logical, by the book order.  It follows the pattern of life in our own backyard, of seasons, our own questions and circumstance.  It's real life unit study and we love it! 

Until next time...

Happy 5th Birthday & Owen Says...

Owen is 5!  This year we had a simple birthday.  We invited friends over for a playdate and made cupcakes.  The boys had a fun time playing and frosting cupcakes together. 

Both my boys seem to be growing up so fast.  Michael is almost taller than some of my friends already.  So, in effort to remember...

The other day Owen said, inquisitively.  "Daddy is a worker.  He has tools.  But he doesn't USE them!?"  (Such is the life of an academic, they have tools but they hardly use them, lol.) 

Owen has a million stories about the "centipede spider".  This is a mythical insect who is always changing & morphing into Owen's newest idea.  Sometimes he lives under the barrel cactus.  Owen is obsessed with the barrel cactus.  He loves to see them, read about them and has a toy (train) that he says is a barrel cactus that he "plants" outside and waters. This Spring because of all his talk about cacti, we bought him a little one to take care of.  He loves it and has figured out just how to touch it without getting hurt.

His favorite movies right now are all about letters. We found some at the library that he has been carrying around with him everywhere.  Today, my boys and I started reminiscing about little things that have happened in our life together.  I showed them old pictures here on the blog and realized how thrilled I am to have this space to record our family.  I haven't been blogging much lately and I want to change that, but however life twists and turns we have such a beautiful record of our love here. 

Happy 5th Birthday Owen! 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Seedlings & Sprouts, an update...

So much of the garden is volunteer this year, I'm not completely sure of some of what's growing. I love that!  I love learning to recognize seedlings.  French Marigolds & Nasturtiums are popping up everywhere and now that I've grown them from seed for the past few years I can recognize them.  This time of the year is so exciting.  I have the memory of how the garden looked last year at its peak and I want that!  But that time of the year is just a fleeting glimpse of the very hottest point of summer. It's such a reminder to stop and enjoy this moment when everything is beginning anew. 

This looks to be zucchini.  I had wondered if it was summer squash but I compared pics from last year and it appears not. This is where I had wanted to have a butterfly/ bee garden.  The Borage is
coming up beautifully and there are a few flower seedlings under the right zucchini. I wonder what they will become?  Perhaps the zucchini knew right where it would be pollinated best. 

Cherry tomatoes are popping out already, green and full of potential.  Last year I tried yellow pear & grape tomatoes and I guess I decided I didn't like them much. I did try to enjoy them but we're back to cherry this year!

My  other "sprouts" are growing well too.  Lately wherever we go Owen has been asking women, young and old, for their hand, kissing it and then telling them they are beautiful. I'm learning this boy LOVES getting a reaction.  It's pretty darn cute.  Whenever he sees me annoyed or getting stressed about something, he forms his hands and forearms into a heart and says, "Mom. Hearts & love".  It always melts my mood, how could it not?

Both of these little sprouts melt my heart and drive me crazy everyday.  If you're a Mom, you'll know exactly what I mean by that. 

In our front yard where the Spring bulbs came up, we threw shade flower seed.  I can't wait to see what these seedlings will become. I love the idea of perennial flower/veggie gardens.  I want to see this effortlessly beautiful all throughout the season. 

There are plenty of other "seedling" projects going on here, including some really exciting Homeschool developments.  More on that another time. 

Until next time...