Thursday, September 30, 2010


K and friends (with some sibs watching) present a song that they composed in the Language Arts ("playing with words") part of their Thinkering Day.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Nature Day

A wonderful walk amongst magnificent redwood trees with new friends. We finally completed our fall schedule, adding a weekly nature experience - as long intended - to our repertoire of activities.

Monday, September 27, 2010


These girls love their dogs... their own, and the others in the family. Both girls shown with Ike in the first photo and G shown with Sherpani (Abuela and Grandpa's dog) in the second one).

Friday, September 24, 2010

Country Day - India

What fun! We read about India all month, then got together with about 13 families to present what we learned; topics that the kids presented ranged from the Indian economic system, their words for the solar system, food, weather (monsoons), religion/mythology, geography, and more.

K did a presentation about the work that her Abuela has done working with a team of medical workers to repair kids who needed plastic surgery (mostly cleft lip and cleft palate, with some burn repair work, too). We shared books and other resources and clever mamas painted gorgeous henna patterns on willing hands. An impressive Dad even created a Taj Mahal design for "passports" - out of a potato!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Yosemite Delight

Oh, it was the BEST trip to Yosemite! We started hiking and I hoped to get to the Vernal Falls bridge - relatively steep climb, with a mile hike there from the campground to warm us up (and wear little legs out). Or so I thought....

When we got there, all I heard was, "can we keep going?" OK... so we headed up the Mist Trail, up and up right past and then above Vernal Falls, most of the trail up steep stairs, with pretty steep drop-offs along the side in parts. This mom was a bit nervous, but none of the kids seemed to have any hesitation or complaint.

At the top, we looked for a place for lunch, down by the Emerald Pools, which flow into the water fall. Before finding the perfect spot, I saw something else... a bear! "Bear!" I shouted, loudly and firmly, but calmly, seeing it approach hikers who were eating their lunch down below. Our group stood still and watched as it came toward us, across the water. Closer and closer... K, ever the good naturalist asked, "shouldn't we scare it away?" "Just a minute," I whispered, "let me get a photo." When I did, they began shouting, and the bear meandered away, apparently nonplussed. Very cool.

Then we attempted to find our way back via an easier (longer but less steep) route. I knew we could connect to the John Muir Trail, but had forgotten that it requires another mile of uphill to do so. Not as steep as the Mist Trail, but still... by the end, these kids had hiked about seven miles over 2500' of elevation change (climbing). AWESOME! Better yet, K was skipping uphill, singing happily, "we're on the John Muir Trail!" and then the next day woke up and asked hopefully, "are we climbing another mountain today?" Music, blissful music!

K and Nature Girl friend hiking ahead; Best friends!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Questions About Homeschooling

I used to dread questions about homeschooling, but now that we are so comfortably surrounded by a group of great families in which the kids are clearly excelling in all ways, it doesn't feel radical and therefore I more freely mention it. The conversation usually starts like this:

Random mom at a class: "Where do your kids go to school?"

Me: "Our school is called Saint Agatha Lin Academy. We homeschool."

At that point, I get one of a few general reactions:

A. Extreme. Either negative, usually with a quick end to the conversation with look that says, "you must be a wacko hippy/Christian weirdo!" Or positive, a unilateral rejection of all things school related (this is more pleasant, but not exactly accurate to our philosophy or approach.)

B. Tentative: "Oh." And then, "but how are they socialized" or "but do you follow a curriculum?"

The first question is a bit of a joke among homeschoolers, since it reflects a clear ignorance about what homeschooling is, a misperception that we are isolating our children at home. In fact, everyone we know is so busy with all sorts of cool classes and activities together that if anything, the kids are OVER socialized.

Furthermore, "socialization" in a different context is a HUGE discussion amongst homeschoolers - not the amount, but the type. Many choose to homeschool to avoid the negative "socialization" that too often occurs in classrooms where children so significantly outnumber the adults who are supposed to be modeling appropriate "socialized" behavior. In our experience, groups of homeschooled children, while not perfect, are FAR better behaved and more skilled at interacting with peers and adults than are children who are traditionally educated, even in the "best" schools. We went to two birthday parties in a single weekend a few months ago and the difference was startling and clear: though they were similar in size and composition, one was full of conflicts and gender segregation and in the other the kids flowed happily from one activity to another with not a single conflict the entire time.

The curriculum question is another funny one. Depending on how it is asked and my mood, I sometimes will say, "yes, the state will provide a curriculum for you." Which is true. However, the full truth is that we don't limit ourselves to the state's decisions about what children at a certain age should learn. We look at the requirements, make sure that we've covered those, then take off to follow our own interests, supplementing wildly with fun stuff that is intended to explore and to nurture their love of learning. Last year that included (but was not limited to) chess, Mandarin, Spanish, a two-month study of the culture, language, and history of China, poetry, the Saints, tons of science, literature, and much more.

C. The final response I get is unfortunately unusual, as it is a good one. A surprised mom looked at me last week when I answered her question about schools with full disclosure and asked, "does your daughter like it?" Ah yes, to the point! They are thrilled, wake up happy and excited, and eagerly engage in all sorts of fun activities at home and at classes, in play and in our explored learning. They love us, are affectionate in word and action, and consider each other their best friend. They love God and grow in their knowledge of the meaning this brings every day. The joy that brings me makes this my favorite of the questions that get posed.

Still, in appreciating our kids' happiness, I recall the message in a Mary Pipher book that posits that happiness isn't the relevant gauge of success of any life. Instead, we should focus on whether we are doing the right thing. Remembering the exchange described in the book keeps me grounded. I am thrilled that my children are happy, that they are excelling in all things academic, social, and physical. But the key question is whether they are learning to do the right thing and to that end I can only hope and pray, knowing that we are doing our best by involving God in our decisions, keeping them close enough to lend direction on important matters of character when they arise, and trying to set an example in what we say and do.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Just Plain Funny

The kids were playing. Suddenly, he two older cousins rushed in in a panic: "G is stuck!" I knew she was in a princess costume and assumed she was on top of something, unable to get down. Well, she was stuck alright, with her dress hooked on a handle in the climbing wall, feet hanging a few inches above the ground. Completely unhurt, but completely unable to move either. Too funny! Being a princess has got to be tough, especially if you are tough as nails and like to climb mountains....

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Leaps of Joy

While K was in her theater class, G prepared for her own class. She seems to have Peter Pan in mind...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Cousins Sleep Over

Cousins are the best! And two sleepovers in five days is heavenly bliss for all. Once at our house, then over there. As princesses, magicians, or tractor drivers, they all adore each other and it is marvelous to see.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mom!

You inspire, you care, you love. I appreciate much about you, but above all, I the friendship we've shared throughout my life. I have learned so much from you, the most valuable of which has come through watching the examples that you set for me in so many areas. These range from your love of adventure and challenges in every element of life (travel, outdoor, academic learning, professional development) to your conscious decision to focus on appreciation for the greatest joys life offers.

I love our adventures, those anticipated and those remembered. The overnight train in Bolivia, our attempts to cross the Laotian border, even slipping off that cliff that cold May day in Yosemite.... These activities, and the shared friendship that deepened through them, are among the highlights of my life. There are very few people with whom I can happily travel and I'm glad that you are one of them.

I also appreciating sharing my love of motherhood with you. These days, so much "mommy literature" focuses on the difficulties of parenthood and the relief that parents feel upon separation from their children, some of which is understandable given today's significant challenges. Changing diapers, cleaning the house, picking up the very same clothes I picked up earlier in the day... all of this can seem dull and uninspiring, not worthy activities for an educated professional with both concrete accomplishments and potential for more. But all of this has deep meaning within the context of care and solicitude. More importantly, so does the time spent doing activities that defy quantification - just BEING with my kids. One homeschooling dad told me recently, "kids spell love in four letters: T-I-M-E."You provided an early model of the value of this for me, speaking of the time spent doing "nothing" but playing on the bed with your babies as the happiest time in your life. Thanks to your expressed example, I have been able to deeply appreciate my own wonderful daughters, counting moments nearly every day since I met them as the very happiest in my life.

Thanks, Mom. In ways far deeper than my words can ever sufficiently express. I love you.

Happy Birthday!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Girl Scouts Kicks Off a New Year

K is officially a brownie now; we kicked off the year with a three mile hike down to the beach, doing a scavenger hunt on the way.

A Week of Shakespeare

First, we saw As You Like It in Mill Valley. The girls loved the story of the two princesses who were cousins, but so close they were like sisters. They remained mesmerized for the full two hours.

Then, Book Club went to The Taming of the Shrew at Dominican University. Fabulous! The pirate theme was an added bonus and all the kids were great.

Afterward, the actors stayed to answer questions from the audience. This photo is of the actress who played Kate, who had a wonderful, empowering interpretation of the story.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Sugarloaf in September

Today they built fairy infrastructure - I wasn't sure exactly what they were doing, but it involved lots of digging. Then battles. LOUD battles. Then quiet play with a castle. Thanks, Laura, for hosting a mellow and fun afternoon! So mellow, in fact, that I didn't actually get too many photos (yet again; sorry!)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Thinkering Begins

A fabulous series of classes in one day in an adorable setting: a cottage next to a creek. Math play, word play, lego engineering, and clay with a group of six to twelve kids ages four to nine. Wonderful concept; we are blessed to know Jacki, who set it up!

The first photo is of Katherine in pure and enthusiastic laughter; the second shows my helper and dance partner for the day, for while K sat in class, Gabriana and I went to my school. She served water to students seeking advising, danced with me in the mansion's ballroom, and behaved with utter perfection at the Mass of the Holy Spirit, which kicked off the academic year.

Later - this is funny - Gabriana asked me, "do you think Katherine knows what a ballroom is?" Answering thoughtfully and honestly, I said, "I'm not sure." She then asked, "do you think that she knows that it is not a place for keeping your balls?" Hee, hee. She'd been excited to see it and happy to dance with me, but I hadn't realized that our actions were so misaligned with her expectations!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ranger Walk - Spiders!

Great event, as usual. Backed, coincidentally, by appropriate beginning-of-the-school year research from the National Wildlife Foundation about the importance of outdoor experiences to overall learning capacities. I can never get enough of the interested faces grouped around the rangers, learning about nature at levels of scientific detail that I am only learning for the first time myself.

In the last photo, G is perusing a book about insect identification. In the group photo, K joins other participants in learning about Western Fence Lizards.