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Snuggled in the crook of my arm with his sister cuddling his other side, Eric chose The Tale of Peter Rabbit as one of our books last night. Peter Rabbit is a favorite in our house, along with Beatrix Potter generally. Her language is delicious, and I grew up on all of her stories.

Deeply involved in the tale of the transgressive rabbit, Eric tightened with anticipation as Peter started looking for parsley to calm his sick stomach. As we turned the page to find Peter stopped cold in his tracks by the ominous Mr. McGregor planting on all fours, Eric threw his favorite blanket over his whole head. “Me scared!” My two-year-old son is absolutely empathetically terrified whenever we read, “But round the end of a cucumber frame, whom should he meet but Mr. McGregor!” I don’t think even a boogeyman under the bed could produce a greater effect on Eric than the Scottish farmer.

After reading the next page, in which Mr. McGregor chases Peter with a rake, I decided to probe into Eric’s developing world a bit: “Eric, do you think Peter will still get away? Or will Mr. McGregor catch him this time?” It was a baited question, to be sure. His whole two-year-old self, his mind testing out new words every day, seized up as he began to make several sputtering sounds at once, looking for language to explain what he already knew: Of course he gets away, mama! Books don’t change. But Eric doesn’t quite have the language for that yet. So he simply explained, “Turn the page!”

Turn the page.

As I sat with my late dinner, a crisp apple and a bit of goat cheese, and basked in that quiet hour of night when my kiddos are asleep, I let my mind wander a bit. What is the compelling nature of the classic children’s stories we read every night? To what extent do these moments of shared reading constitute a methodical training in the ways of constructing our own narratives and meaning? How do stories like The Tale of Peter Rabbit actually become instructive material on the process of reading and what it means to be a reader?

When Eric answered that I should “turn the page,” what he really expressed was an innate understanding of a book’s immutable form, a predetermined world. The book is contained, much like a garden, in a hardcover frame. Plot points cannot change, once planted and ordered by the author. At the same time, however, we have to acknowledge the power of the reader to make a difference within that world. Although plot points may not change, and although words may not change (in an untranslated text), as soon as we enter the garden leaves of a book, our interpretive powers do, in fact, give the text mutability. Through the act of interpretation, we can deepen understanding, rearrange the relative importance of events, and breathe life into figurative elements. We get our hands dirty in its soil. We choose which words to pluck for our consumption.

Eric, whether he knows that he knows it or not, has been a part of this mutability already. Last week he noticed, for the first time, the details in the illustration of Mrs. McGregor bringing a lovely pie to the table, as Mother Rabbit tells Peter, “Your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.” What did Eric notice? He saw Mr. McGregor’s pair of hands, a knife in one and a fork in the other. We don’t see any of the rest of Mr. McGregor’s body, just his hands. There is a whole body of scholarly work about the importance of hands in historical art and work, but I am going to skip over that for the moment. The importance of Eric noticing Mr. McGregor’s hands is this: Eric realized for the first time that Mr. McGregor ate Peter’s father by his hands.

Is it much of a stretch to see in this scene echoes of Hamlet?

Hamlet’s father’s ghost laments to his son:

Thus was I, sleeping, by a brother’s hand

Of life, of crown, of queen, at once dispatch’d:

Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,

Unhousel’d, disappointed, unanel’d,

No reckoning made, but sent to my account

With all my imperfections on my head:

O, horrible!

(ACT 1, Sc. V)

“Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin” suggests not just the garden imagery that is the setting for Peter’s tale, but also that, from Mr. McGregor’s perspective, Peter and his father are each nothing but a “thief”—plunderers, looters. When Peter returns to the garden (which apparently he has done once before, if we infer such from the line that “it was the second little jacket and pair of shoes he had lost in a fortnight”), he essentially performs his father’s journey, albeit with a different ending. Peter’s story—his adventure into the garden, where seeds are located with a typeset precision—has happened before. I think of the story in Genesis, of the consummate garden, of the act of thievery of a piece of fruit which set in motion all of human knowledge and sin. In that garden, that ordered world, the great transgression was the crossing of boundaries between authorship (God) and readership (Adam and Eve).

I would like to suggest that Peter represents the reader and that his journey through Mr. McGregor’s garden signifies the process of reading in a landscape determined by an author (who uses his hands as much as a farmer uses his). Although it is perhaps cliche to assert that this is merely a story about boundaries, I think it is new to offer that The Tale of Peter Rabbit is a tale of prepositions and position within those boundaries. How do we move through a text as a reader? How do we first “squeeze” (a word that appears twice in this short piece) into a text, get through it, and then out of the “gate,” the book covers? What can children learn about being readers through engaging in this story?

We notice how prominently Potter’s use of prepositions give us a sense of locus: “into the fields,” “down the lane,” “in a pie,” “though the wood.” But no word of place is used more than “underneath” in this story: “underneath the flower-pot,” “underneath the root,” “underneath bushes,” underneath the gate.” Potter’s diction constantly invites us to ponder what lies below the surface of things; and if Peter is indeed the epitome of a reader, then his mission is to locate and move within the subtext. As soon as we ask the question of what lies “underneath” The Tale of Peter Rabbit, we realize that its subtext points to its own literariness, its own didacticism. Perhaps the process of literary interpretation is the process of “wander[ing] about, going lippity—lippity—not very fast, and looking all around.”

So what else do children learn about being readers from The Tale of Peter Rabbit?Above all, to be a good reader is to engage in a sort of mischief. Mrs. Rabbit makes this plain: “Now run along, and don’t get into mischief.” Despite this, Peter runs straight for temptation, and I’ve no doubt that if he really were a reader, he would have a whole library of banned books that subvert established modes of thought.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit is the tale of a reader making it into, though, and out of a text. Peter has made it back to the big fir tree with his life, and its meaning, intact. I have no authority to know whether our lives take place in a predetermined world, or whether life’s events have more than just a little randomness to them. Inasmuch as I have been asked numerous times in my life what I think our purpose is on Earth, and whether or not I believe we have free agency, I will say that I do think our purpose (or perhaps our only choice) is to construct (or believe we construct) narrative and meaning. I have written many times on this blog about the ways in which we set about building a cohesive family narrative for our children, or about our oral tradition in our house of The Grand Adventures of Katie and Eric, or about how the crafting I love to do with my hands (quilting, cross-stitching, sewing, etc) becomes a metaphor for the making of texts and textiles that will be passed down from generation to generation.

I used to speak with my Advanced Placement students about the unreliability of narrative, not only in the texts we read but also with respect to their mode and genre essays in the 11th grade year. We always select what to take out and what to leave in—or in the language of the garden, what to weed out and what to water. It may not be that we are accurate in our retelling, some of us more or less so than others both intentionally and unintentionally, but I think it is the process of reading our history and rewriting it for the next generation that is the important part. To be a student of literature—to be a reader—is to be a student of the art of making meaning in a world and life that, absent of Platonic forms, is written purely in figurative signs and symbols.

Although I have loved literature for all of my life, never have I loved it more than now when I can share it with my two kiddos. Every day I am staggered at the ways in which literature, meaning, and narrative form layers within their “real” (whatever that means!) lives. Just today they were play-acting scenes from Peter Pan, changing them and adapting them. (Peter Pan is Eric’s absolute favorite as a text/film, and he currently dresses up as Peter every day). The fiction narrative has become a part of their childhood narrative, as inextricable as if both had equal claims to realness.  How we become who we are and how stories become part of this identity is, to me, endlessly fascinating.

And now that I have indulged this part of myself during the kiddos’ rest and nap time, it is time to do a bit more literal gardening of our own. I always imagine that it is Autumn I love best, but in this season when the chicks are peeping in their run and the soil is beneath my fingernails I find myself thinking I love all seasons best, when it is time to have them.

“I saw an angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

~ Attributed to Michelangelo

To celebrate three weeks of study in our interdisciplinary Renaissance unit, The McGaugh Academy took a field trip to The Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Irwindale today. This particular faire offers a School Day each year (a fact I stumbled upon serendipitously in early March while planning our unit). When I read that this student-friendly version of the faire welcomes homeschoolers, I contacted them and asked if they would welcome just one homeschooler from our academy. It has been my experience that sometimes a small group is required to reserve field trip space, but in this case the Renaissance Pleasure Faire was entirely accommodating and even offered two-year-old Eric a complementary ticket. My mom came as an extra chaperone.

Waiting for the School Day to begin, we talked with some of the characters outside. Cosplay is so much fun, and next time I hope to plan more in advance and sew us all costumes because I love to get into the spirit of things. Katie met a juggler, who was very much like Giovanni in Clown of God, as well as a second most intriguing man: he was a master torturer for the Queen, yet he wore a lock of hair upon his doublet that came from a friend who had loved the Renaissance Faire and who had died “of the plague.” Katie and I have been talking about how people can be dual-natured off and on since we’ve arrived back home: his sentimentality and love for his friend, combined with his chain flogger and occupation, will probably remain in Katie’s mind for quite some time as she processes how nuanced characters can be.

Once in the faire, workers and players quickly identified us as homeschoolers (what gave it away? the two chaperones for two children?) and engaged Katie in conversation about all kinds of craft and points of history. Hundreds of middle schoolers bustled about, and the faire was lively with activities for all ages, yet we found the parts that seemed right for Katie’s age and level of understanding.


We are taught how to make a doublet


I enjoyed this woman! What a interesting essence she has! She is a true spinner, shearing sheep, carding and dying the wool, and then spinning it. This particular spool will be used to make a shawl for herself. Spinning wheels have been prominent in so many of our favorite stories and books (obviously Sleeping Beauty but also Ox-Cart Man and a book about the olden days that the kiddos love). To see a working spinning wheel in person made that history so real for Katie and Eric. Of course we read one of our books that featured a spinning wheel tonight, and Eric exclaimed, “Me see that!”


Eric watches the blacksmith, and is fascinated by the huge bellows. He has seen little bellows in his books and we’ve talked about them extensively, but this was exciting in person! We saw the anvil and the hammer… Living history is magic.


Katie and Eric met a knight. Many of the players stayed in character and used Renaissance diction and syntax. Music to my English-lit-loving heart…


Katie thought this lady, Jane, was really pretty and wanted to meet her so much. Jane was so sweet, and she had even made little flower pins to carry in her basket in case she met any children today. Katie wore her flower pin all day, and it (along with the master torturer’s business card—not kidding) is now a cherished relic of the day.


Katie made a Renaissance cloth doll (pictured in its early stages here). The process was nearly identical to that for our cornhusk doll for our Amazing Maize unit back in November.


Eric discovered an Eric-sized castle, and Katie and I had a small chance to review why Medieval castles were going out of style (or at least not being used as fortresses) by the time of the Renaissance, which was a small piece we had added to her lapbook just a few days ago.


This washer woman gave us a fantastic mini-lesson. I learned so much, too. A highlight for me!


Meeting Mike the Knight.


Dancing around the maypole with my daughter. I last danced the maypole dance in 7th grade with several of my friends; now my Katie-girl danced it, too. Beautiful memory. Another highlight for me.


Katie hand-dipped her own candles. They are pretty important to her right now, and she is calling them her “harvest candles.” I think she felt like a big girl, and again, we got to a part in one of our books tonight that talks about everyone in the family making candles to sell at Portsmouth Market, and she talked about how she got to do that today. To do something that we have only read about is to have a bit of magic. One of the biggest desires on my personal bucket list is to tap maple trees back east and make my own maple sugar someday. Every time I read about someone doing that (it comes up more than one might think!!!), I just feel how cozy it is. Someday I am going to make that dream happen…


And then we went for a camel ride! This was definitely a highlight for Eric!

Fare thee well, and goodnight friends!

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”

-Leonardo da Vinci

Our Renaissance unit has been one of the more solid units the McGaugh Academy has designed, and we are looking forward to capping it off with a field trip to the Irwindale Renaissance Faire for their School Day this week. Although we have had a unit or two that never quite got off the ground the way we hoped (i.e. our Monsters and Imagination unit we attempted in Katie’s preschool year—too scary and too theoretical—was much better on paper than in practice), our Renaissance unit reminds me of the fun we had with our Apple-a-Day unit in September 2011.

Originally inspired by the setting of Tomie de Paola’s (we adore his work) updated and reworked telling of Clown of God (an optional FIAR text), I decided to spin off on our own for a little while. Truly an interdisciplinary unit, the Renaissance unit gave us the chance to study literature, visual art, music, math, science, and history.  Some elements came together almost serendipitously: because the clown is a juggler who ends up dropping his objects at a crucial moment in his life, we were able to tie together a lesson on gravity with a BrainPop online video and parachute construction based on Leonardo’s designs, for example. Last week a visit to Disneyland yielded the chance to watch a Renaissance style theater performance of Beauty and the Beast in their new Fantasy Faire. I also happened to have a CD full of Renaissance music from one of the years I coached Academic Decathlon at TVHS. We play it while we work on art projects or Renaissance-based science labs.

We have spoken at length about the Renaissance ideal of “a sound mind in a sound body” (taken from Juvenal’s pre-Renaissance writings) and Katie has journaled on this topic and drawn pictures of how she demonstrates this ideal in real life. If the McGaugh Academy were to have a credo or a vision statement, then we have often said that “a sound mind in a sound body” would be it. We were finally able to show Katie where activities like soccer and music class and choir and Friday art time and exercise and diet fit with respect to her and her father’s vision for her life and Eric’s life. We have talked about what it means to be a Renaissance Man or a Renaissance Lady, and we’re excited that our commitment to homeschooling has suddenly taken on a new meaning for Katie in light of this information: she sees where we’re going with this schooling model!

The Renaissance Faire in Irwindale has been completely accommodating to my special request to join their School Day this week (with activities geared specifically for school-aged children) with just our little academy of one student and her brother and her Amie. I think this field trip will be a perfect culminating event for Katie, and I am excited!

With Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday coming up on Monday, April 15, it has been fitting that we have spent our science time last week paying homage to many of his inventions and journals. I found the most dazzlingly helpful book in the library: Amazing Leonard da Vinci Inventions You Can Build Yourself.  In fact, it has been so crucial to this part of our unit that I found a copy on Amazon and bought our own. We’ve barely covered 1/3 of all the activities, and I know I will want it for the kiddos in the future. Part history, part crafty book, part science lab journal, this book has been our reference every day this week.


Coupling the Leonardo book with a children’s book on Renaissance art technique, Katie and I practiced drawing vanishing points and orthogonals. We’ve also talked a bit about how these techniques were different from art techniques in the Middle Ages, along with chiaroscuro and sfumato. I did not do a super great job explaining sfumato, but I do feel she could tell us about the use of light and dark in Mona Lisa and other works at this point. For years  (ever since our Abrakadoodle teacher Megan chose Make Van Gogh’s Bed for one of our lessons) we have been reading all of Julie Appel’s and Amy Guglielmo’s Touch the Art series, and so many of the works we looked at were familiar to Katie and Eric, which helped Katie to build a framework for some of these new discussions.  I swear by this series of books. Very accessible for preschoolers…


Based on a lesson in the Leonardo book, we made a hygrometer and talked about humidity, controlling variables, and balancing weights.


The hygrometer in a tree. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much humidity so for most of the week we didn’t see much change. But part of the fun is checking it, right?


Making and testing a parachute based on Leonardo’s drawings…


Hard at work


We also made our own tempura paint with materials collected from our yard. (This book is truly a find, let me just say).

There have been a few other experiments I wanted to do: making our own plastic, invisible ink (we’ve done that before, though), a perspectograph, and a camera obscura, but we might save some of those for another time and go down other routes this week with the unit.


We’ve also incorporated food a bit into our studies, with a socca made of chickpea flour, zucchini, caramelized onions, and pine nuts. Socca was a dish that developed in Italy in the late 1300s right before the Renaissance. We’ve also had our share of apples, cheese, and bread/crackers this week for lunches.

This week has been rewarding—and busy, too…although often busy and rewarding go together, yes? I finished a major editing project that was due yesterday, helped a former student by sending a rec letter to an opportunity he is hoping to land, and broke the 125.0 pound barrier at 124.6 (with clothes on). I want to work hard to take another two pounds off by June 1st, to make it an even 40 pounds lost in exactly one year. Just have to keep at it… This week has been challenging, though. I am not sure why some weeks feel more challenging than others. It may be silly, but I use some of my exercise time to bolster my resolve: on weeks that are challenging like this, I sometimes chant to myself on the last mile of my runs, “You will make no excuses. You will make no excuses.” It helps. What a journey this year has been… One day at a time: mens sana in corpore sano, right?

Our chicks seem to be happy and growing, although we have more thermometers and heating devices and pieces of pine chips around than I ever thought possible! I will be relieved when all of our girls have all of their feathers, I will say that. I do feel like the proverbial mother hen!

Speaking of chicks: time to check on them before dinner!

“Oh sweetie, you will want to sit in the middle,” a smiling and pleasant faced woman encouraged Katie yesterday afternoon as we boarded our car to ride Radiator Springs Racers at Disneyland. “It’s so much safer for you there, honey.”

The ride sits three to a row, and Katie and I were sitting together with Auntie Ashley and Uncle David paired up in the row behind us. That left two empty seats in each row for people willing to ride as single riders.

As I was in the process of guiding Katie back to the middle seat anyway, I found this lady’s remark to be supportive.

Katie looked at me and muttered with a bit of panic in her voice, “But I don’t want to sit next to a stranger!” She was trying to be the five-year-old’s version of quiet and tactful, so of course the lady heard this comment. She immediately said, “It’s okay sweetie. I won’t bother you.” Reassured, Katie was fine. We started talking about the Arizona rocks and reminiscing about our road trip last summer.

The lady joined in. She was somewhere around my mom’s age and her voice was so calming and amiable. She started pointing out things to Katie on the ride. “Ooh look, here’s where we get our car painted! What color do you want to be?”

Eventually we started zooming around the track. All of us were gasping and oohing and ah-ing. Our car “won” the heat. Katie gave her a high five. She and I gave each other high fives. In just that single moment we bonded. As we pulled into the car loading area, I asked her name. “I’m Sarah,” I said. “What’s your name?” As if we were new children meeting for the first time on life’s playground.


We pulled in and started to disembark. For most of my life I was not much of a hugger, but somewhere in high school and then certainly in college and as a teacher I began to change. As I came into my own, I have realized that I am definitely a hugger. I love the idea of touch as a way to connect with others. When we touch, we open up. A hug can be such an expression of authenticity. It can also be quite the opposite: the beautiful part about hugging is that, to do it well, both people are needed to invest. A good hug lingers just a bit but not too long. It communicates that the other person is of value to you.

That said, I try not to invade personal space if I get any sort of vibe that it might be unwelcome. There are some in my family who have described themselves as “not huggers.” I get that. No judgement. I used to feel the same way—so I do try to be cautious. A person who is not a hugger is no less than tortured when finding himself or herself in an embrace.

But there was something about Rhonda. Maybe she is a hugger, too. Maybe there was something in her voice. Sometimes people just meet and are on the same wavelength. I wish I knew more about that wavelength business. If I could quantify it, I would write a book about it. One of life’s most blindingly beautiful gifts is coming across someone on your same wavelength. Why and how does it happen? Genes? A shared essence? Something more inexplicable?

Rhonda was a stranger. But as we got off the ride, I reached to hug her and she reached to hug me. And it was meaningful. That hug said, “This was a beautiful moment with you.” We were fully in the present together. I am almost sure we will never see each other again in this life, yet somehow life put us together to share a fleeting few minutes of beauty and joy together. Why? Was it random? Was it fated? I guess it depends on what you, the reader, believe. All I know for sure is that there was a resplendent “now-ness” about it. An openness. Together we made good ripples that I hope keep going forward somehow.

I have pondered the connection we made so many times today. The childlike spirit of it. There may be no other reason than the variables of life coming together in just the right way to say, “Here is a gift for both of you: a person for each of you to enjoy for this moment.”

So Rhonda, wherever you are, I had fun in that moment with you. Thank you for your open spirit and your pleasant heart. Thank you for helping my daughter to savor her ride and building her confidence. Thank you for being childlike and showing how much you love to be alive. We generated good ripples together, and I am carrying those forward with me. What a gift to have met you in that small space of time!


May we always stay young and with an open heart. There is magic in childlike connection.

“One half of me is yours, the other half yours,
Mine own, I would say; but if mine, then yours,
And so all yours.”


One of my best friends talks often about developing “heartstrings” intentionally among her three children and connecting them through the making of narrative and personal history—I love that word, heartstrings. It reminds me so much of Emerson’s metaphorical instrument of self-reliance, “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.” Newton, too, suggested that our lives were ordered by deep physical and mathematical harmonic principles with the music of the spheres.We are all patterns, probabilities, and proportions. To what extent do we influence these patterns? How much of our lives is solely probability? What is the proportionate relationship between the extent that I remember my history objectively and the ways in which it changes as soon as I fit it into a more subjective narrative?

I am reminded also of threads and textiles—and the connection between text and textiles throughout western literature and civilization, of costumes and papyrus, of both literal and thematic threads. During my Uncle Eric’s memorial in Nana’s living room, the pastor compared my uncle’s life to a tapestry that we, the survivors, could keep weaving if only we picked up the threads that my uncle had left off when he died.

We think of the Bayeux Tapestry, telling the story of events leading up to the Norman Conquest of England. Text and textiles. We have modern references to this version of heartstrings as shared history and story: Carole King’s Tapestry album (marrying song, lyric, textile, and narrative), and more recently the role of the tapestry in Disney*Pixar’s Brave, when tearing the story asunder is the only way to advance the narrative.

So heartstrings. On my mind. In the above quote from The Merchant of Venice, Portia is talking romantically to Bassanio. As so often is the case now that I have entered my family phase, I find that romantic quotes describe most accurately the romance I feel toward my role as a wife and mother. We may be divided a thousand times a day as wives and mothers in meeting the (sometimes competing) needs of our children and of our husbands and of ourselves. We must feel those divisions (I want this, but my son needs this or Eric wants to do this, but Katie wants to do this or I’d love to sleep, but I want my husband to feel loved) in order for the narrative to advance, just as Merida in Brave must take the plot step of tearing the tapestry of her family in order to start her journey of bringing her family closer together and claiming authorship of her own narrative.

How to sit inside of those moments of push and pull is something I will explore for a long time, but I do know that our tapestry is worth making. Everyday we must work at weaving heartstrings. If someone were to ask me what I do all day, it is to weave heartstrings and to help craft the family narrative. I am a writer, exploring the way living words and actions develop stories through space and time. I journal sometimes, and blog sometimes, but what amazes me is how much we have an oral tradition and culture developed in our house. At night when the kiddos and I tell and retell episodes in The Grand Adventures of Katie and Eric, we pay tribute to the heritage of the rhapsodes of Greece. Rhapsodes: those who sing stories. A combination of song and plot; the narrative as lullaby; the instrument by which I try to weave together my children not only with themselves and with their parents, but with the family arc. Heartstrings.

Life is full this week in our house.

amie and eric chicksIMG_8971

We picked out our chicks this week and are the proud parents of six new girls: three Rhode Island Reds (Peter Pan, Athena, and Ginny Weasley), a Red Rock (Lucia), and two Americana Easter-Eggers (Iris and Winnie). I grew up with chickens, birds of gentle souls and peacefulness. I could sit and watch them for hours. When I was a girl, I’d tuck myself into their run and hold them and sing lullabies to them. Their little peeps and clucking sounds bring me such warmth and happiness. Katie and Eric are tender parents and already love their chicks deeply. On today’s warm afternoon, we let them in their coop for freer movement, though they have mostly been in the lighted brooder in the kiddos’ bathroom.

cloudy with a chance

Every once in awhile, we have a McGaugh Family Book-N-Dinner event in our house. One night we made our challah and had blackberries and milk and bread for supper, along with chamomile tea (“Peter Rabbit Dinner” we call it—the kiddos ask for it now and then). We also had our borscht and piroshki with our Russian-themed FIAR book, and bibimbop with our Bee Bim Bop book. This month it was Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.


Katie had her second spring season soccer game today, and I became Team Mom this week. Coach handed me the picture packets to pass out at practice, and it went from there. I don’t need to make a banner because spring season is such a short one, but I am learning quite a bit should this role ever come my way again. So far, I have completed the snack schedule task…which means my only other major duty is figuring out the team party.


We are continuing with our Renaissance unit. After studying a bit generally about the time period, we began to focus on some of the major artists and thinkers. We have moved onto Leonardo this weekend, but we started with Michelangelo. After reading about him, watching a Brain Pop video, and talking about his major works of painting, sculpture, and architecture, Katie and Eric had their own painting activity: The Sistine Chairs. (There is a piece of paper taped underneath). They were at it for a good half hour, and it made quite an impression on them! We are so excited about our Leonardo da Vinci lessons and are working out of a book that shows children how to make some of his inventions. I will source it when I start posting about our work. One of those library finds that I just love…

Happy Easter Weekend 2013!

easter katie

With my Easter girl on a beautiful California Sunday afternoon!

easter kd

With my Kd Horne at our aunt and uncle’s house


Kd and our cousin Beth’s daughter Chelsea—her first Easter!


Chels-Bells and Katie-Girl… next generation!


Eric decided he wanted a nap and let me know…I helped him get settled on the couch, and then he put himself to sleep! Never had a child that asked for naps before. 😉


The Easter Bunny brought the kiddos one chocolate bunny apiece, five tiny Cadbury creme eggs hidden in plastic eggs around the house, two DVDs, a Slip-N-Slide, and books galore. Oh, and plastic bunny plates for breakfast. The Easter Bunny is a nerdy health nut in our house. 😉 Katie loves her Magic Tree House chapter books. She read two chapters aloud out of one of them to Eric and me this afternoon. Big girl!

Our big experiment this year:

eggs 1

Easter eggs colored with natural dyes. I had been researching this for a couple of months, and the rustic colors are pleasing to me. I thought it might also be fun for the kiddos to experiment with the way vegetables and spices create different colors, just something different and a way to start thinking about making their own paints (a science/art activity we have scheduled in our upcoming Renaissance unit I’ve been working on putting together). The eggs came out better than I expected, and we love them so much that this might be our new tradition!

We used techniques from Eating Well magazine, though we did make some modifications (not fully straining the turmeric, covering the onion skins completely with water instead of using just two cups, etc). And although we got a later start on Saturday afternoon (I was at the store before the kiddos got up on Saturday morning, restocking after coming home from SF on Friday night, and then we had Katie’s first soccer game of the season, and then Easter presents with my parents), and although we did not quite steep the dyes for a full two hours, they seemed to work out for us. We left the eggs in the dyes for a few hours and then dried them in the fridge overnight.

natural dyes 2

The experiment begins! Yellow onion skins (orange), red cabbage (robin’s egg blue), turmeric (yellow), red onion skins (khaki), and beets (violet-reddish-pink)

natural dye 1

Our lab-meets-art playing space!

natural dyes 3

Eric helps with the onion skins


A close-up of the dyes, which were fairly vibrant in the bowl


Coloring their eggs

eggs 2

The final product on Easter morning

happy easter

Happy Easter 2013


soccer goal


One of the highlights of Katie’s weekend was meeting her new soccer coach and playing her first game of the spring season. She scored two goals during the game, and this picture shows her exuberance after the second one. I love that she has found something that strikes her passion, and I love that she has remembered so much from fall season. It was at her initiation that we signed up for this spring season, and she has been excited for it to start ever since fall. One of the best parts of being a parent is watching my children enjoy themselves as they pursue different passions and interests.

Today, Monday, we are back at school. Bill still has a week left of Spring Break, but River Springs had a whole week off in February so our two weeks were split up. I didn’t quite hit the ground running, since I was gone most of last week, have been nursing a cold, and was busy all weekend, but by 9:00 AM we actually were breaking into our Renaissance unit and turning the gears. Although I have done KWLs before as part of our “into the unit” methods, I actually used a “heard of it/never heard of it/could explain a little bit about it” self-reflection chart for Katie as read through a list of ideas/terms I want her to know really well by the end of the unit. She LOVED this. We talked a long time about how we do not ever approach learning thinking that we need to be able to explain/know everything right away. We have to take stock of what we know and what we don’t, and what we need to find out more about. I told her that our goal is to see how many of the “heard of” and “never heard of” ideas we could move over into the “could explain it” column by the end of the unit. Learning is about identifying what we want to know and then going out and collecting that information… when I said it that way, her eyes lit up. For the first time, I think, she understood at a deeper level what relationship her father and I want her to have with knowledge and with herself. Knowledge is never going to be perfect, but being interested and self-reflective is an ongoing and beautiful process. We do not have to be AFRAID of not knowing. I saw her whole mental world open up this morning. It was cool. Reflective learning is cool. Getting to witness these moments in her metacognitive life as her mother and her teacher is beyond cool.

Eric worked on counting and matching upper and lower case letters. This latter activity caused him to retire to the cozy chair with his thumb and favorite blankies: today he was definitely not liking that some upper and lower case pairs look different from one another. He kept pointing to letters like “C” and “w” and saying, “These sim-lar.” But Bs? Ns? Es? “These not sim-lar. Me not like these!” I know, Eric, English is very convoluted, sir! When he finally did get down from his chair, he went over to his math box and asked to change activities. Otherwise, he really loves all of our pre-reading sequencing work (What picture comes before in this series? Which picture would come after and complete the story?)

Now that I am (almost) over my cold, I need to get back into my/our routine tomorrow morning. My legs are itching for a run, and I want to lay out some work for tomorrow.

Hope everyone had a great Spring Break and a beautiful Easter!