Sunday, April 13, 2014


My husband is passionate about trees.

He believes that trees make the world a better place.

They produce oxygen, provide shade, prevent erosion, provide homes for animals.

At night, when we sit on our deck, my husband often talks about how not that long ago a squirrel could just jump from tree to tree and go several miles that way.

Jason likes to imagine what the world looked like before it became so developed.

Several years ago, Jason set the goal of planting 1000 trees in his lifetime.

It seemed quite lofty at the time.

I wasn't quite sure how he would pull it off.

This weekend Jason exceeded that goal of planting 1000 trees in his lifetime.

We've planted trees at our home and given trees to people as gifts.

Jason's planted trees at work and at the girls' school (when they were in school).

Jason volunteers on our town's Shade Tree Commission.

Last year, Jason procured 75 trees from a grant program and the Girl Scouts and our homeschool group planted them in a local park.

This year, Jason procured over 900 saplings from a state program to help replace trees that were lost as a result of Hurricane Sandy.

Jason, the girls and I and several members of the Shade Tree Commission handed these small saplings out events in and around our town this weekend.

Jason educated people on the importance of planting trees and how to properly plant and care for a small sapling or a larger tree.

We had several varieties of trees from silky dogwoods, which are a shrub to different kinds of oak trees that will grow quite large.

Jason and the other members of the Shade Tree Commission helped people pick which kind of tree or trees were right for their property.

Between these two projects and various other projects Jason has been involved in, plus all of the trees he has planted on our property, he has far exceeded planting 1000 trees in his lifetime.

So, now he is working on a new goal.

He would like to see more and more trees planted.

He knows it will never be wooded again, the way it was before the area became so developed, but if he can convince people to plant more trees, he will feel he has left the world a better place.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Visiting High Schools

Before we made the decision to homeschool, I had called around to local vocational schools and private/parochial high schools inquiring about whether they would admit homeschool students.  I also looked into college requirements.  Our tentative plan four years ago was that when it came time for high school, we would visit some vocational schools to see if the girls were interested in that. Over the last four years, however, I became more and more confident that between being able to take classes at the local community college,  Princeton Learning Cooperative/Princeton Learning Center, Teaching Textbooks and just having always been able to sort of find what we needed, we would be fine to homeschool high school.

While I was taking a little blogging break this winter, Allie, Piper and I toured some local Catholic high schools and vocational schools.  If Allie were in school, she would be entering high school next year (we sort of just keep going in our homeschool and don't think a lot about grade levels; it's more about learning as stepping stones that lead to more stepping stones, etc.)  Piper has two years to go, but Jason and I decided that she might as well come on the tours and come to the Open Houses so that she can be thinking about what she might want to do over the next two years--thus, giving us more time to prepare a transcript if she should want to enroll in school.  I am actually looking into having both girls take a standardized test this year--as much as I don't like them, I think we need some scores on record for their future.

I went to Catholic school for elementary school and when it came time for high school, I toured this very school with my parents. I had chosen NOT to go to this school myself as an 8th grader, but that was a choice that I was always glad my parents gave me and I felt I made the right choice for me.  I wanted to give Allie and Piper the same option.  

We decided to take a look at this school as well, it's also a Catholic high school near us.  I had not looked at as a prospective freshman, but we had the time and if nothing else, seeing the programs offered helps me to understand what we might want to cover so that the girls can be competitive in applying to colleges.

Vocational-Technical schools have come A LONG WAY since I was in high school.  I grew up in an upper middle class town, but even twenty-five years ago, not everyone went to college.  Quite a few people went to Vo-Tech, learned a trade and got a job out of school.  I know people who find this very hard to believe, but I still keep in touch with these folks and they are very happy and doing well, without ever having gone to college!  Imagine!

But now, roughly 50% of graduates of vocational schools in our area go on to a four year college and another 30% go to community college.  The employment rate 5 years after completion of vocational schools was 80% and ten years later was 93% and most of those students were employed in the field they had studied. at the vocational school.

Jason and I feel pretty strongly about the girls eventually going to college.  But we also feel strongly about paying for something that won't help them find a job.  We have been talking to them for YEARS about practical college and career choices and dreams such as being a stay-at-home mom--some careers like nursing or hair dressing are more conducive to flexible schedules and allowing mothers time with their children.  

This is the culinary arts kitchen at our local vo-tech.  My girls are not
interested, but my friends and I were VERY impressed and would love to
cook in this kitchen!

We learned about the application process, share time (homeschooling academics, going to vo-tech for a career program), jobs that can't be outsourced (you can't have your hair cut or your house wired by someone in China!) and programs that look good for colleges (if your kids know what they want to be when they grow up and some do; my girls change their minds frequently.)

Allie has taken this information and she is thinking it over.  I hope she feels empowered more than confused.  She still has a couple of weeks to make the decision to apply for next year or she can apply next year to enter as a sophomore or the year after to enter as a junior.  And should she decide not to do that but years from now regret that choice, she can always apply for the adult program and go at night for a small fee.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Omnivore's Dilemma, Food, Inc. and Self-Directed Learning

We have been embarking on a new approach to education since I last updated this blog.  Being able to let my girls lead is what I love about homeschooling.  Over the last four years (FOUR YEARS!) of doing this I have learned a lesson that took me 40 years to learn...everything will work out, I just have to go with the flow.

The girls have to do Math (we started using Teaching Textbooks this year and both of them really seem to be thriving with it!) and they have to write every week, whether it's a short story, part of a novel they are working on, an expository piece, a play, a current event that they create to look like a newspaper article, etc.  Sometimes I see them writing their stories and plays I just let them be, other times I ask them to work on a current event or expository piece and give a "due date".

Beyond Math and Writing, I follow their lead.

Allie is considering a career as a Nurse (if she decides to pursue this, her ultimate goal would be to get her master's degree in Midwifery).  We have discussed how this career choice is basically recession-proof and a good idea, how she could stay home with her kids and just work one or two shifts per week, how sometimes nurses can work per diem, etc.  We have also discussed the heavy science course load she would need to take.  Allie decided she wanted to learn more about the human body, so we went system by system.  We worked together and they worked alone, researching, writing papers, create models of various organs, complete with red and blue tubes for the arteries and veins donated by my dad.  We attended a workshop at Liberty Science Center and are signed up for a dissection workshop at an adult continuing education center.  The girls final project was to trace each other on large sheets of paper and make a life size diagram of organs.

Piper is still not really sure what she wants to do, but she spend her free time creating.  Sewing, rainbow-looming, drawing, making videos, etc.

The girls are both busy with several different co-ops and outside classes.

Piper snowboarding

We meet friends at a local YMCA weekly to swim

The girls tutor my friend's daughter once a week

The most exciting addition to our schedule has been a self-directed learning community in Princeton that Allie attends with several friends each week.  The program is for kids ages 13 and older.  Allie has been getting out of her comfort zone and learning all kinds of new things, from drama to geography with an art class that she really likes thrown in for good measure.

One of the coolest things that has come out of this community is a new teen-led book club!  The first month they read and discussed, A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the next month centered around Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption (I had not thought to expose Allie to Stephen King, but she seemed to like this book).  This month they are reading Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma (they have the option of the adult version or the Young Adult version) and watching Food, Inc. to discuss.  I know that if I had come up with these books, it would have been met with resistance of some kind, but having other teens recommend books and democratically decide to read them and then to listen to her friend's discussion on the books has lead to a deeper interest and excitement in Allie to read books she would not have chosen on her own.

I feel so fortunate to have found our little homeschool group.  The community Allie participates in each week tends to be a meeting of all of the homeschool teens in our area, so she is connecting with teens and reconnecting with teens she met along the way -- on field trips, at homeschool soccer or our old co-op or homeschool knitting - and lost touch with.  We've also become friends with a wonderful group of homeschool families--we finally found our tribe after four years--we spend weekends having poker parties and bonfires, roller skating together or just hanging out...the dads are friends, the moms are pals and the kids are all's a wonderful thing.
Allie wanted to learn to play poker--my friend's husband runs poker tournaments and was happy to teach our homeschool crew how to play poker---now it is becoming a regular winter get together kind of thing!

and of course, there are our crazy-fun-almost-family homeschool neighbors!