Homeschool, Year 1: Thus Far

4 Jan

When we initially made the decision to homeschool eight-year-old Phoenix this year, I did what I always do: I researched everything I could get my hands on.  I checked out almost every how-to-homeschool book that was on the shelf at the library, I read piles of homeschooling blogs, joined a local Yahoo group, Googled curriculum choices, unschooling,  deschooling, reschooling, homeschool laws, and on, and on.

When I had reached the million word mark, I really felt more confused than confident about how to homeschool.  I was certainly more knowledgeable about all the different possibilities of method, but which one was right for me? More importantly, which method was right for my child?

As the beginning of the new school year drew closer, I enrolled her in a one-day-a-week enrichment school that is chartered in a local school district. Because they are a publicly funded school, they provide curriculum at no charge to the parents. Better yet, because the program is purely complimentary to the families’ homeschooling choices, and they serve many families with differing opinions, they provide a large variety of curriculum options to choose from. The coordinator cautioned new-comers against ordering more than the children could handle in one year, so I went to the curriculum book fair with that in mind. I came away feeling I had ordered just enough.

It all began according to plan. I planned lessons based on the books, organized days around the lessons, scheduled field trips to support learning, wrote daily assignments in Phoenix’s planner…

Two and a half months in, we had used only half the curriculum, given up on lesson plans, disorganized the days around what had been planned. We were frustrated. We were exhausted. Phoenix resisted every effort I was making to teach her.

So I stopped.

It was a convenient time to pause. Phoenix had been taking ballet for over three years, and this year, she had auditioned to be in a professional production of  “The Nutcracker”.  She got cast in two parts (exciting!), and was scheduled to rehearse/perform multiple times per week during the last part of November, and the entire month of December (crazy!). We decided that, because this was very time consuming, and took a lot of hard-work and dedication, that she would focus on ballet.  We would temporarily stop “schooling”. I figured we could call it unschooling.

It is now January, and let me tell you, it has been wonderful. We quit arguing (about school, anyway), and have been able to simply enjoy each other’s company. We have talked to one another. We have listened. We have read books to each other, just because; gone to the library to check-out books on whatever piqued her interest; watched movies next to each other on the couch, and then discussed them over tea. Unschooling is awesome.

But the nagging voices in the back of my head won’t shut-up.

So for this, the second half of the school year, I need to find a happy medium (that sweet spot that is oh so hard to find sometimes). I cannot teach her directly–we tried that, and it doesn’t work well. She is a work-at-her-own-pace kind of gal, and really loves learning (which public school seemed to crush at times). I am not worried about her skill levels in any subject, but I also would like her to continue to learn new skills that she probably won’t find in a novel, and maybe not in everyday life. I’m going to have to get sneaky–like chopped-up-kale-in-spaghetti-sauce sneaky.

Phoenix loves kale now. Perhaps if she gets enough chopped-up multiplication and division in cookie recipes, she will love math too.

(By the way, seeing Phoenix perform in “The Nutcracker” with all the pros was an amazing thing.  My big girl looked so tiny up on that stage).


Moving Onward and Upward (and Right Next Door)

28 Jul

Our ‘box city’ is not nearly as cool as this ‘box city’.

It has been a couple of weeks since I have posted anything on here. It is not for a lack of trying (or lack of things to say), but lack of down-time. I am putting many things on the back-burner right now, so that I may focus on not going completely insane. In three days, we are moving into a duplex right next door to the building we live in now, and we did not know we were moving until about two weeks ago. It’s kind of a long story, but in short, we need more room, and this place has it.

I find it very difficult to function amid the chaos of the moving process.  I feel claustrophobic in the middle of the small city of boxes  that is being constructed in our already tiny living room. My creativity is being crushed under to-do lists and stress, so I had to stop making my jewelry, my art–everything but dinner, really.  It is all a bit overwhelming.

But, however frazzled I may be right now, I have to look beyond the move. I have to think of the reasons we are moving (more space, my own space),  and remind myself that this part of the process does not last forever. Besides, moving is a perfect time to purge our home of all the superfluous things we have brought in. It is also a perfect time to organize all of the papers and possessions we are bringing into our new home.

I have much to think about and plan in the first couple of weeks after we move, including the beginning of our first year of homeschooling (Yeah!).  My favorite part to think about right now, (besides having hardwood floors instead of nasty old carpet!), is how I am going to set up my creative space in the basement. I have never had a room of my own in my adult life, and I am going to cherish it.

Any tips on organizing a creative workspace?

The Whole World Belongs to You

6 Jul

“Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.”
― Lao Tzu

Phoenix and Magpie are such different people in many ways. Magpie is generally happy, easily excitable, and practically bulletproof. She is just happy to be alive, most of the time.

Phoenix is complicated. She is very introspective. She works things over in her mind so completely that everything seems all wrong, and all right, all at the same time. She is overly susceptible to, and concerned with other people’s thoughts and feelings, which ordinarily is a good thing–she understands people, and has so much compassion and empathy–but it is often to her own detriment. I think she tries pleasing other people so much that it leaves her drained of her own happiness. Don’t get me wrong, she is a bright and cheery young lady much of the time, but it seems as if the smallest thing can strangely upset her to the point of deep sadness.

The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. I am also introspective. And, like Phoenix, I used to be highly sensitive to the feelings of those around me, until I learned to filter most of it out (and sometimes block it out completely, or so says my sensitive husband). As well, I can be a very positive person, but when the right mood strikes (or wrong mood, perhaps), I do seem to focus on the ugly.

I have been trying, for years, to figure out how to teach Phoenix to focus on the positive more than the negative; to remember what she has, and not what she lacks. But I think that, generally, I do not pay enough attention to the words that come out of my own mouth, to effectively show her the positivity and acceptance that I wish she would have. Then a couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine gave me the book Steady Days, by Jamie Martin. I was reading through it, thinking, ‘This woman is brilliant! Why didn’t I ever think to put my whole life in a three-ring binder?’, when I came across her chapter about Daily Blessings. She recommends writing down all of the things we are thankful for everyday. She has her whole family do this. I figured I could make my whole family do this too. It didn’t work quite as I had hoped–Adam was very irritated at the idea. He enjoys being a cynic.

However, the girls and I have made a (somewhat irregular) habit of asking each other what we are grateful for each day, when we are sitting at the dinner table. It is a small start, but it helps put things into perspective at the end of the day.

This morning, as I sat in a dental examination chair, under glaring florescent lights, thinking about all of my woes, I stared at a cheesy photo poster of a misty mountain cliff, with the above quote printed in the bottom corner.

the fam–this was one of two pictures I could find with both Adam and I in the frame–one of us is always behind the camera.

Times are difficult right now, but I am better off than so many. I could not ask for a better family, more amazing daughters, a more thoughtful and caring husband–and that is what I need to focus on. I lack nothing.

Top 5: Reasons Today is Better Than Yesterday

6 Jul

1.  I have the day off (from my day job, anyway).

2. Today has not been spoiled by bummer phone calls.

3. I actually got my lazy ass out of bed at 5:45 and went for a run.

4. This afternoon, I get to spend time with Phoenix at her adventure camp because it’s parent-day–we’re   going canoeing! 

5.  All of those things that happened yesterday will probably not happen today.

that's not Denver

This is not me. I am not that fit. Yet.


1 Jul


A woman recently told me that she never got over the fact that her parents had a second child. Her life was forever changed the day her baby sister entered the world. She is now an adult, and still carries resentment towards her sister, as well as her parents. I do not actually know this woman, so I cannot speak to the relationship she has with her sister, but her story saddened me.

One of my fears for my girls is that they will not have a relationship when they get older. I know it is normal for siblings to argue, fight, sometimes throw some blows, and that in the end, they can still become the best of friends. But sometimes I worry that Phoenix will end up like the woman mentioned above–resentful and bitter.

Most of the time, or maybe more like half of the time, the girls get along wonderfully. They put on plays together, take turns being each other’s audience for dance performances in their room, help each other out. But often, there is this undertone of melancholy in Phoenix when anyone gives Magpie special attention.

Like this week, for instance, Magpie started a creative dance class. Phoenix has been taking ballet for three years, and week after week, Magpie watches her big sister put on her leotard and tights, and go into the studio with all the other ballerinas. She watches and imitates her big sister’s graceful movements across the living room floor. This week, it was Magpie’s turn to go into the studio. We pulled out Phoenix’s old pink leotard and dance skirt–Magpie was beaming. Phoenix was scowling. Then she began to cry.

I sat down to listen to her thoughts. She feels as if Magpie has to do everything she does, and then Magpie steals the spotlight. I understand what she is saying, and I feel for her. I told her that, but then I also explained that Magpie thinks Phoenix is the coolest and most beautiful person in the world–she will always want to be like her big sister. I hope that someday Phoenix understands this. I think I need to read up on cultivating loving sibling relationships.

Anyway, this entire post was prompted by a photo I took of the girls on their way into their dance classes.  It captured the mood perfectly: Image

That picture says it all! I didn’t have a sister, so I think I cannot understand what Phoenix is feeling to the full extent. I had a pesky little brother, but by the time we were eight and ten, we were friends–and still are. I honestly believe the girls will end up being close when they are older, but I am a mother, and I worry the way mothers do.


25 Jun

The past couple days have been slightly frustrating in the jewelry-making department. Some new resin I tried did not cure properly, and many of the pieces that I just made, I will now have to throw away. That is very discouraging, to say the least.

But Adam is keeping my head in the right place. When I try to make “mountains out of molehills”, as he likes to say, Adam brings me back to reality–it doesn’t mean it is all for not. It is a learning curve. I am challenging myself by working with materials I have little experience with, and it is better I find out my pieces are faulty now, than after I sell them to a valued customer. 

So, I am starting a new batch (with the jewelry-grade resin I know works), and I am learning from my mistakes. Hopefully it won’t set me back too far! 

Have you ever felt discouraged to the point of almost giving up? What made you want to keep going?

I Love You Denver!

21 Jun

Denver Skyline and MountainsI grew up in a small town. We did not have museums, or zoos, or even a shopping mall. My mom didn’t plan outings or activities during the summer months–there just weren’t a lot of resources, especially for poor families. Moslty we just played out in the yard, or at the elementary school playground that was directly behind our townhome.

We took family “vacations” to Denver once every year or so. It was about a four hour drive, give or take depending on the road construction, but I absolutely loved those trips. My favorite part was that first glimpse of the skyline. My little brother and I would squeal with delight at that sight. We would usually stay a couple of nights at the Holiday Inn, and do a couple of touristy things, or go to Elich Gardens Amusement Park. I remember going to the Museum of Natural History (now the Denver Museum of Nature and Science) during a few of our stays. I loved it there–my dad always knew what everything was, and that amazed me.

When I made the decision to move to Denver, when Phoenix was a year and a half, I knew it was the right one. I wanted her to experience all that living in a city has to offer–and she has (she’s eight now). She trains for ballet at The Colorado Ballet Academy (on scholarship), there are a ton of school choices (Denver Public Schools has a “choice-in” option if your neighborhood school is not a good fit–I had one choice growing up), we frequently visit the Denver Zoo, The Children’s Museum, The Butterfly Pavilion, The Denver Botanic Gardens, and of course, the Denver Museum Of Nature and Science (DMPS). We purchase at least two different memberships to these places per year because we get much more than our money’s worth.

I love how excited the girls still get when we go to the DMNS, even though we go almost once a week. There is so much to see and learn! The photos are from our trip yesterday. The first stop was Space Odyssey where we watched an interactive digital image projection of the universe. We looked at a few of the planets, asked some questions, and gawked the amazing technology in front of us. The girls were really into it:

looking at the solar system

Listening to the volunteer in Space Odyssey.

In response to my decision to move to Denver seven years ago, one of my best friends said to me, “I could never let my child live somewhere where they can’t see the stars at night”.  To be honest, I do miss the pitch-black sky with that mind-boggling spray of stars that we can only see far from the city’s glow. But I guess we all need to make sacrifices, sometimes, in order to have those things which we feel are important.

We have traded the clear night sky for a glimpse of the sun.

Looking at solar flares through the BIG telescope

More Photos of the Naptime Rush:

20 Jun


But I Want it NOW!

20 Jun

I’m sure my neighbors really appreciate me at this moment. I was up late last night working on some new designs that involve drilling small wooden pieces repeatedly. In my small apartment kitchen.  At  eleven in the pm. On a weeknight. Whatever.

I guess I am actually only concerned with the quiet woman who lives directly below us. She deals with a lot of noise from our side (girls dancing and jumping around at 7am, or squealing on the tree-swing right outside her windows), and has never complained. But I hope it’s payback for the rest of my loud,  inconsiderate, stinky neighbors.

I was just so excited. Also, I have a slight problem with instant gratification when I have, what I think is, a good idea–I have wasted plenty of money on ideas and ventures I thought would be a good idea, and could not wait until the next week/day to think it over/seek advice. I am not alone in my crazy: I once waited with a friend for her husband to return from a quick run to the liquor store (we were supposed to leave for a night on the town as soon as he got back) as she was explaining to me about these old plastic chairs that they were planning on restoring with a coat of spray paint to brighten them up. She kept staring at one of them as she told me how the can of paint she had purchased may not be the right color, and that she and Hubby had decided to get another can before painting… As she was talking to me, I could see a familiar glow in her eyes–she was going to paint the chair, right then and there, in her pretty black dress and heals, on the porch, moments before we needed to leave for the restaurant.

I know that look. I am sure Adam sees it in my eyes often.

I am very thankful that no matter what my crazy leads me to think or do, Adam is always there to back me up–even if it does come with some eye rolls.


It’s About to Get Messy!

20 Jun

It's About to Get Messy!

It’s naptime, and I am going to make every minute count. I’m casting bees, flowers, and some botanical leaves in resin. Time to put on the gloves and open the windows!

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