Sunday, December 28, 2008

Our Christmas

We spend the whole month of December preparing and celebrating. We read and sing Christmas and winter related songs and stories every morning. We hand made gifts for the kids in our lives (a few still still have to be mailed or delivered): we made animal soaps and little stories about Jove's beans that he grew accompanied by a little bag of bean seeds. We watch all of the old Christmas specials and listen to a lot of Christmas music. We had a gingerbread playdate with our expanding homeschooling group.

We had a big snowstorm the Friday before Christmas which was perfect timing. Jupiter got a much needed snow day, we got to build a snowman and go sledding. Jove played for many hours in the backyard in the snow and has decided that in the next snowstorm he will build a snow fort.

This year we were very lucky to have my brother here with us. Jove and Miranda were very excited to get to spend a lot of time with their tio and Miranda started calling Jason tio soon after he got here. Jason brought Jove some special minerals which Jove was very happy about and they were promptly added to his magic pebble collection.

We went into Santaland at Macy's in Manhattan on Christmas Eve day. It was very hectic, but worth it of course. Jove asked Santa for a toy robot and stained glass (we have some hanging in our front window made by Heather's sister and I always tell him what a special gift it is). He got the robot in the form of Rock'em, Sock'em Robots. It is basically a two-player, mechanical boxing toy where two robots duke it out until one of their heads pop up. I had my reservations about it, but Jupiter was convinced it was a great idea and it was.

On Christmas day, two of Jup's cousins came over with their families. We both said afterward that is was so relaxed and enjoyable. I had made almost all of the food ahead of time, so I got to sit and chat and enjoy the day.

Jove and Miranda were very excited to open their presents. Santa brought Jove tinker toys and Miranda got a baby doll carriage. They got some cool art supplies in their stockings. Of course, they were completely spoiled by presents from my brother, their Grandma, Grandpa and Abuela. The big hit for Jove was a lego seaplane from his abuela and Miranda loves her farm from her tio. My brother patiently helped Jove build the lego sea plane.

Friday, December 5, 2008


I have weaned Miranda and it has been a very emotional week. Nursing her was a very special part of our life together over the last 20 months and our relationship seems different now, not less connected, but definitely changed.

I received some brilliant advice from a good friend of mine regarding weaning and it really worked. Obviously once a child is a toddler they are able to understand that they can no longer nurse and you have to make them okay with that. So, my friend says to make the child think there is something wrong with the breast by using something bitter or otherwise distasteful on them or telling them that they don't work. I did both, but Miranda definitely bought into the idea that I had a boo boo and couldn't nurse her. She hardly mentions it anymore and I am sure it will fade away all together.

So, she's fine and I am a bit of a wreck.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

photos at last

I have been a little remiss when it comes to blogging as of late, partly due to having our much loved Heather staying with us and partly because I have had no access to pictures due to computer issues. Heather has left town (insert weepy sigh) and Jupiter performed some computer
magic to allow some photos to be here. So here goes.... photos.

So, it is almost Christmas and I want to write about Halloween. Indulge me, please. Miranda was a ladybug, which made a huge impression on her and it really seems like she remembers her costume. Jove was a fireman in a firetruck for the second year in a row. We go every year to an awesome Halloween Street Parade in another town and Jove was battling the big kids for the candy that was thrown from the floats. He wanted to go after a jolly rancher in the middle of the street, but for his own safety we advised against it.

I had an awesome thirty-fourth birthday which involved time with my kids, time alone in nature, a night out with my love and a gift of many headbands and beads from Jove. We are modeling the headbands in one of the pictures. I also got a ton of chocolate from Jupiter and tickets for us to go to the Chocolate Show in Manhattan. We took Jove with us and it was so yummy and fun.

So now it is chillier and we have settled into our late fall life: trips to the Botanical Garden to see trains and gingerbread, hanging out at home reading and having dance parties in the living room and we have just started the Christmas frenzy: singing, decorating and reading all about Santa, oh and how could I forget as many cheesy Christmas specials as possible. I am kind of cheesy all of time, and very cheesy in December. I blame my mom, completely. She made Christmastime so fun and exciting for my brother and I when we were little. I want Jove and Miranda to feel that way too.

I feel like this is a shameless, scrapbook style post. I can't help it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Gustafer Yellowgold

This imaginary creature from the Sun that landed in a lake in Minnesota, has a pet eel, a brother back on the Sun that invented rocket shoes and whose favorite hobby is to smash cakes is quite charming. He's actually quite a celebrity in the NYC children performance scene.

Two days ago, Jove, Miranda and I saw a free performance at a local library. It was so entertaining and Jove has been talking about it ever since and we have been spending a little too much time on the website. Miranda thinks Gustafer is a monkey and makes monkey noises every time we talk about him.

Check it out!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

the examined life

One of the things about teaching Jove that I love is that I am able to learn myself and with a recent topic we are exploring I definitely needed to be schooled.

I recently had a huge reality check about my own biases and presumptions. Jove mentioned that he was interested in learning more about Native Americans after seeing an exhibit at a nature center and going to a local Pow Wow. Our homeschooling group decided to do it as our next set of topics. I am thinking to myself, good timing with thanksgiving coming up and all (So wrong, I know).
I find this educator's website and it really forced to reexamine how I had envisioned Native Americans in the first place. Most of what is taught gives the perception that Native Americans are no longer alive or at least misrepresents their lifestyle as the way it was at the time of colonization. A common way to teach about Native Americans is to reenact Thanksgiving (as if it was a Native American celebration). After a lot of reading I have realized that there are going to be three guiding principles to my lessons: 1) Native Americans are alive today and discuss both history and current lifeways 2) focus on particular tribes and not generalize and 3) do not devalue or caricaturize Native Americans or their practices by having the kids make dream catchers, feather headresses or dress up as Native Americans. Can you imagine a Latino culture unit where the kids dress up as Latinos? What would that even mean? But, it still happens with Native Americans. I understand the point of teaching history, but by only presenting the past it doesn't leave children with the impression that Native Americans are still alive.

I feel both enlightened and humbled.

Side note: we have no pictures uploaded because of a computer memory issue. Hopefully we'll get it fixed soon.


I have never allowed myself to completely give into cynicism about American society, but I have also felt, especially in the past few years, that I live in a little bit of a bubble of tolerance, diversity and progressive beliefs. Everyone from my parents, to my close friends and most of my students share my core beliefs.

Well, Obama's victory makes me feel like my bubble has grown tremendously and it makes me feel hopeful. Good for the American people that they value intellect, thoughtfulness and hopefulness. I know that many people voted for McCain, but then I think of Maine, a state that is overwhelmingly poor, white and rural and that they voted with a huge margin for Obama. I can't help but get emotional and think that this is the beginning of a new era. I am feeling something bordering on patriotism for the first time in a long time.

Friday, October 24, 2008

captured moments

Fall hikes and crabbing

Spooky dinner

Face painting

Sibling corn shucking

Pony rides in the Bronx (hard to believe I know!)

my friend Sara's apple cake

There are recipes you find in a book and then there are the recipes you ask someone to give you because you have tasted the results and you must try it (and eat it) for yourself. Well, my good friend Sara brought this apple cake to my house last year and I bugged her for the recipe, but my apple stash had run out. But, now I have both the recipe and apples and I cannot tell you how good this is you have to make it. It also falls squarely within my recipe requirements: simple, cheap to make and delicious.

Here goes:

Sara's Apple Cake

4 1/2 cups diced apples (any variety)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups flour
3/4 sugar
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup raisins
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

1) Mix apples and sugar together
2) Add eggs (well beaten) , nuts, oil and vanilla
3) In a separate bowl, mix remaining dry ingredients together and add to the apple mixture
4) Bake in a greased 13X9 inch pan for 60 minutes at 350 degrees

Bon appetit!

Sunday, October 12, 2008


1 We went apple picking (sunny and 80 degrees)
2) Miranda said the word apple at least 100 times that day
3) Jove started eating apples, finally!
4) Jupiter successfully located the trees that grow the apples that don't give him allergies
(all other apples do, its very strange)
5) I got to ride the cow train with the kiddies. I love the cow train.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

turning the page

I have had to completely change how I work with Jove on learning since Miranda has stopped napping as much and as regularly. Now, almost everything takes place with both of them being involved or with Miranda being adequately distracted or being allowed to chew on the materials. I have also decided that in addition to pursuing the topics that Jove is interested in (this week: Johnny Appleseed) I try to get him to count, write or draw and work on letter/word recognition a little everyday. Some days are so much more productive than others and many days we are out of the house having adventures. Every moment seems like a teachable moment and it is hard for me to separate life from academics (guess that would make me an emerging unschooler)

In my best moments I am able to relax and enjoy Jove and his learning and know that he is great, he's only four and he is learning everyday. In my worst moments I worry because Jove doesn't like to write letters ( he says its tricky). I start to feel the judgments and fear that surround academic performance for so many kids. I think it is very easy to feel like I am never doing enough and I have to keep reminding myself that we are happy and he is totally engaged in the work we do.

By far the most exciting thing that has happened in the last month in our learning is that we have started to read chapter books. I read them out loud to him at various points throughout the day and he requests multiple chapters per day. We have read Charlotte's Web, James and the Giant Peach and The Mouse and the Motorcycle. I would have never thought to read chapter books to a four-year old, but a couple of moms mentioned it to me and it seemed like a good idea. I am amazed at how much remembers from day to day and how he understands character development.
I read a book called The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease and he has a website that gives a ton of information about the art of reading aloud, its importance and an extensive annotated list of books. This book is a treasure, not because it is a page-turner but because it illuminates so much of why and what people read. I have always felt a little kooky when I would read essays aloud to my high school students and now I feel vindicated; even teenagers want to be read aloud to.

So I will leave you with this anecdote: When my parents were staying with us at the beginning of September, we were reading Charlotte's Web as part of our nightly story time. Jove filled his grandparents in on the story line and they listened in on a few chapters. They were dismayed to realize that they were going to miss the ending to the book, so my mom read the rest of the book aloud to my dad while I put the kids to bed. It just goes to show, a good story is a good story and you can read stories aloud to people that already read independently.

Friday, October 10, 2008

heather's web of love

Spending this past weekend in Portland was a much needed chance to reconnect, celebrate, talk, rest and enjoy beautiful scenery, tasty wine and an extended soak in a soaking pool. Heather was both the perfect hostess and guest of honor.

I feel so lucky to be a part of Heather's web of love.

The condo accommodations (thanks Maggie and Bruce) were so homey and appreciated by all. This photo was taken from the front porch of the Grand Lodge, unfortunately Em had already left for an early flight home, so we just have to imagine her image next to me or Nan. I had a chance to have so many good conversations with so many people and really relax.

Cheers, Heather, what a great birthday weekend!!

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Got you thinking?!? Well, I mean nuts that grow on trees. We have been collecting a lot of nuts from the forest floor and pavement on our hikes in the woods and neighborhood walks.
We have been identifying the trees they come from, playing with them and reconstructing some out of last years discarded husks and dried out nuts. We often see teeth marks from squirrels and chipmunks. So far we have collected mostly beech nuts, hickory nuts ( a couple of different species, but I don't know them apart yet) and black walnuts.
I got Jove his own tree field guide and we have been using it to identify stuff all over the place. He is also picking those little red sticky fruits off all of the Yew bushes in the neighborhood. I remember doing the same thing myself as a kid.

I am learning a lot and finding myself staying up late reading about nuts. I even stumbled across an Appalachian cooking website that described how to cook with Hickory "milk." Well... for now we are just collecting them.

But, I did come across this quote that I really have to share. Enjoy!

“Every majestic oak tree was once a nut who stood his ground.”

Monday, September 15, 2008


After months of anticipation, we finally have beans coming out of Jove's Garden. They are an heirloom variety called Good Mother Stallard that we ordered from the Seed Savers Exchange ($2.50 for 50 seeds). They are beautiful and I let you all know how they taste.

Jove got to decide what we would plant in his garden and since he is a little picky about what he eats we ended up with mostly carrots (AKA the only veggie Jove eats everyday), beans and basil, to make pesto. We also had some cilantro early on and some other "experiments" like garbanzos and some snap peas that were soon to be completely shaded out by what Jove calls the beanstalk after the starring plant in the Jack and the Beanstalk story.

Now the seed package said the plants would have a pole habit, meaning they would grow as a climbing vine. I assumed this meant the plant would get maybe 6-7 feet tall, but oh no. We used some leftover 10 ft PVC pipes to support it and the stem was still looking to climb higher. Jove told me today we should save some of the seeds to plant next year and I asked him what we are going to use to hold up the vines. I think I may have to splurge on some real bean poles and I have decided to try to make a bean tunnel that Jove can hang out in.

Jove is beside himself with excitement about his beans and wanted to count them today. We counted 52 this morning and we have since picked and shelled at least 5 times that many. The beans fit neatly on the grid of Jove's hundred number chart and we did some counting by fives and tens. At the end of it all, Jove says to me, "I think we are doing math." Yep, we are, the bean counters. Where did the expression "bean counters" come from anyway?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

playing and learning

Grandma and Grandpa

"Eye goggles"

A Volcano (pre-eruption) inspired by the
previous weeks lesson on volcanoes

We have been having a lot of fun and learning a lot in the past couple of weeks. We have been able to continue to enjoy the summer weather and the backyard, even the pool. My parents came for a visit (on their way to France... ahem.) and after a day of waiting out tropical storm Hanna, we spent a day at Wave Hill, a beautiful public garden here in the Bronx with spectacular views of the Hudson River and the New Jersey Palisades.

Two days this week we hosted our homeschooling friends: for a lesson on the senses of sight and smell and for a Charlotte's Web party to celebrate the completion of our first chapter book. All of the kids really get along well and I am surprised by how much information they are absorbing from their experiences.

So far when I plan a lesson it ends up including some explaining, a book or two, maybe a song, an activity or exploration (i.e. science lab for pre-K -grade 2) and some sort of craft. I am into it, both the planning and being a part of the learning experience. Having other moms involved means that there is more than one explanation floating around the room, extra hands and eyes to corral the kids and the ability to expand the ideas back to the home of the child.

All of the kids had read Charlotte's Web and they were able to talk about the characters and remember in what part of the book things happened. It was a party, so, of course we had a cake. All of this fun and the planning for it kind of tired me out and I am so glad that next week the planning rests on a friend's shoulders. Yay for shared responsibilities!

But, I must say that the best part of learning with other families really has little to do with the lessons. The influence of kids teaching kids, having regular playmates and the sharing of ideas amongst people of all ages are the real benefits of getting together. Jove all of sudden is very interested in math because his friend knows a lot about numbers and he is also improving the writing of his name because he sees the other children do it so well.

Saturday, September 6, 2008


I have been thinking so much about homeschooling both in practical and philosophical terms that I started to keep a journal to keep my thoughts straight and to chronicle our journey. A lot of what I write would probably bore most people that aren't directly involved. But, there are a few things that have been important realizations for me that I want to share.

I would have never made the choice to homeschool Jove or realized the scope of the homeschooling movement if it weren't for a friend of mine who is a homeschooler of her three kids. I consider her a mentor and an inspiration. She encouraged me by assuring me, providing me with materials and guiding me towards the larger homeschooling community. I have realized that many of the major shifts in my life have happened because of a person that I met or a situation presenting itself at the right moment, serendipitous encounters.

I have now met many homeschooling families and it seems like the reasons for doing it are incredibly varied: some people do it because they want their kids to be free of the pressures and negative socialization that can happen in schools, some want their kids to grow up spending a lot of time with their siblings and parents, some want more free schedules to pursue passions in non-traditional areas, some have kids who exceptionally bright or with exceptional needs that are not well serviced in schools, some have only access to inferior public schools and some have had horrible experiences in schools. I am sure there are many more reasons and that the community here is not necessarily representative of the homeschooling community nationally.

Here are the reasons we are homeschooling this year (Jove is only 4, but here almost everyone sends their kids to a pre-K program and many go full-time):

1) I want for Jove to spend as much time as possible with our family and friends.
2) I feel like I can be at least as effective as a pre-K program in teaching the basics and we can do it at our own pace.
3) I want his learning and social experiences to be positive and for him to learn about what he is interested in.
4) I want him to have plenty of time to play and have free, unstructured time in his days.
5) It is almost free (except for a few supplies) and I don't have to drive him.
6) He has expressed that he doesn't want to go to school right now that he prefers to be at home.

I am really excited about what we are doing and we already have started our little co-op with two other families. Jove will also take one class each week. We have signed up for a parent/child ceramics class at a local art center and in the winter I plan to sign him up for a gym/sports class. We also do outings to attractions or meet-up with friends at least a couple of times a week.

Just in case anyone was wondering, I think that there are a lot of great schools and teachers and I will be sending Jove to Kindergarten next year and I hope that he has a good experience. I find that I have both positive and negative thoughts about the idea of doing long-term homeschooling for our family. More on that later...

Sunday, August 31, 2008

a week in the woods

We spent last week in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts. It is beautiful country: forested hills, farms and quaint towns. We did a lot of hiking over the week and our last hike was to the top of Lenox Mountain, the first mountain that Jove has climbed. The woods were full of interesting critters, many, many mushrooms and a lot of moss: we found a pond filled with tadpoles on their way to becoming frogs (a few legs here and there), we saw trees gnawed by beavers, lots of dragonflies by rivers and streams and Jup spotted a plant I had never seen before called Indian Pipes which is completely white and lives on a fungus that sucks the sap from tree roots.

This area was as picturesque and inspring as I had imagined New England would be growing up. It makes me want a cabin in the woods with a stream and maybe some berry patches and a small orchard. Like Thoreau, but maybe with some electricity and indoor plumbing.

We explored the area and took the kids on a scenic railroad and to an outdoor amusement park at a ski resort. We also drove to Amherst to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. I loved this place- it managed to make an art museum appealing and interactive for kids, for the big kids, too.

It was a super relaxing week. The place we stayed was fully equipped, making meals and laundry easy. There was a winding lagoon with forested islands right outside our kitchen, so our time spent just relaxing at our place was beautiful and allowed the kids to explore. We also got to swim in the pool quite a bit.

Jup has become a hiking aficionado and plans to start backpacking this fall before it gets cold. Luckily, there are so many mountainous landscapes within an hour or too of where we live.

Thursday, July 31, 2008


I have been writing many blog posts lately, in my head.

There is so much stuff going on around here lately that I just have to start writing.

We had a trip planned to Michigan to visit our family and friends and we ended up staying here to nurse Miranda back to health (literally) after a crazy four day fever.

Weirdly, the morning after we were supposed to leave we found some eggs in the geckos' water dish. So, we have a lot of critters in our house and garden right now and some pretty exciting things are happening and it is bringing us all a lot of joy. Now, I am a nature lover not really a pet lover, but watching the kids with the geckos may convert me.

Critter Notes:
  • We have five geckos (loaned class pets from Jup's school) and two of them have laid three egss and we think we have more eggs to come. We are incubating the eggs. Geckos are smarter than I previously thought: they poop in one corner of the cage and the first egg layer laid her eggs in the water dish since they needed to be moist. We have since created a moist spot in the cage for subsequent egg layers.
  • A couple of weeks ago we found a caterpillar in our carrot plants. I thought it might it be a Black Swallowtail because I had seen some of the butterflies in the back yard and they could have laid their eggs. So we bring it in and feed it carrot greens, it attached itself to the side of the container, shrunk by exuding a liquid and turned into a chrysalis (pupa) while we were camping. A few days after we got home our butterfly emerged. The picture of Munchie as adult butterfly is above. It was very exciting. Today we found another caterpillar in the carrots and we are going to rear it into a butterfly. When you touch them they poke out two orange osmetria and release a stinky smell. Jove noticed this with the first one and I got a picture of it this time.
  • Look at the picture with Jove observing a green critter covered in small white pupae. I couldn't believe we found this today. The other day while watering my tomato plants I noticed some caterpillar poop on the ground. I looked at the plant and didn't see anything and then today while discussing why our tomato plants are doing so poorly: one has a fungus issue (a humungous fungus, as Jove would say) and the other one seems to be suffering from the sawdust that gathered on it, we saw a parasitized Tomato Horn Worm. I knew that wasps often lay their eggs in a caterpillar so when their larvae hatch they are surrounded by mushy food and then the pupae emerge from the skin. Adult wasps would then emerge from these little white pupae. But, this is the first time I had ever seen it. Jove was very interested and we showed the whole family and our neighbor before freezing it for posterity. By the way, the caterpillar was still alive, but not very feisty. Don't worry, wasps don't lay eggs inside humans, just Bot Flies do that and they only live in tropical America.
  • You may know that honey bees, originally from Europe, are suffering from catastrophic collapse in population and farmers are experiencing a pollination problem, both in terms of cost and effectiveness. The other day I read an article about native pollinators (bees, wasps, beetles) and how important they can be when honeybee survival rates are low and now I am noticing all of the different pollinators we have here. Miranda stands in front of our marigolds and watches the bumblebees and says "bee" over and over again.
House notes:
  • All of this talk and reading about insects and other animals has Jove using the word "attract" many times a day. If I try to coax Miranda and Jove away from some dusty spot in the kitchen, Jove blames it on Miranda, "She attracted me over here." Cracks me up.
  • The TV has been off for the kids almost completely this summer (Psst, I really want to get rid of the TV completely, but Jup won't let me yet). So now, if Jove is completely wiped out from being outside or running around all day he asks to have the fish tank light put on so he can sit and watch them. He will also watch out the window for fireflies or watch what is going on down our street. We have now been asked by two different visiting cousins if our TV is broke. For the record, I don't think all TV is bad, but I think it is a very slippery slope with kids and I feel better staying away from the edge of the cliff.
  • I have begun the homeschooling journey and it is very exciting. We had a small playdate with two other homeschooling families yesterday, a little Bronx collective of sorts. Since Jove is still young, it feels like we have the best of both worlds: a lot of his friends that do or will attend school are still pretty available since they are in pre-K or kindergarten and we are meeting some really inspiring new friends that are completely available to share time and learning with once the school year starts.