Wednesday, September 17, 2014

France and Interior Design

Over the years in France, I have admired many different ways of making a home beautiful, elegant, inviting and warm. I was also born to parents with a fabulous sense of style and the work ethic to make it happen. The French are so good at this art! From France, I have posted photos of places that were prepared for us with love by relatives;
A blog by a lovely, incredibly creative, French friend:

Among the many castles, modern homes and urban chic that I have visited and soaked up, there is one home that speaks to me more than the others. The reason might just be this; my friend, Elise, lives in a fairy-tale world she has created and brought into reality, just like me, except she is also good at decorating. 

The world is one where it is not insanity to be married with seven children, nor to homeschool them, nor to educate them in music, art, literature and, in her words; "l'apprentissage du beau," or "training in the recognition of beauty." We both know perfectly well that the world thinks we're nuts, and in more lucid moments, we are aware that there is some truth to that, but generally, we go along our merry way and heed not the less enlightened.

Here are shots of their country home, which, according to them, is a work in progress, and this was photographed with 12 children present and active throughout the house:

Entry hall:
Library/game room/extra guest bedroom:

    How's this for an elegant growth-chart? A row for each summer:

                           Two of many sweet little corners:

Detail of new flooring: designed to look as old as the house:

It's all in the attention to detail...and an eye for "le beau."

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Seasons: It's Autumn Because...I Said So

I woke this morning to a smell that made me smile and dig down under the down comforter for another minute...the heat came on in the night. The smell? It is the first time warm air pushes through the vents; hot dust. With the thermostat set to "automatic", this means it had to get pretty dang chilly for the house to cool down enough to under 63. Yippee. It's fall.

Through the years, we have had many discussions about when you can say it is the next season. We live in a part of the world where there are four definite seasons, and they never, according to good sense and observation, (or me), begin on the calendar date set for them. 

Some of the children (and husband) like to believe in the calendar date in, even if it is 102 degrees in the shade on June 2nd, it is NOT summer. Since daily walks have always been a part of our rhythm, I taught them to look, to listen, to feel the temperature on their skin. Seeing the first returning robin in February was a sign that spring was coming. Not needing a winter coat even in the house is spring in Iowa. (We call them sleepers or big, fat bathrobes inside, same thing.) 

Jumping over the Beltane fires, celebrating our Gaelic ancestry and the return of life, is spring:

Being able to plant outside without fear of frost means it's getting very close to summer. June 21st means summer solstice, the position of the sun and the length of the days. Summer is hot, too hot for jeans and long-sleeves. If it's hot, it's summer. If you can go to the beach and still be hot, it's summer:

And as for autumn, the one that sneaks up on you in some ways, but in others is not so subtle...autumn starts with more leaves than just the August ones falling, a nip in the wind, candles at dinner, and then, bahm! you are freezing your tushy off when you walk outside in the morning and back to t-shirts in the afternoon. The wicked, bad ragweed along the bike path has wilted over-night. Then one day, long sleeves in the afternoon too, the kids put on fleeces of their own accord, and the heat comes on. That's early fall, when the sun can shine brilliantly, but a hat feels nice:

Late fall, we all know; pumpkins and hay rides and winter coats. It's early fall that is the elusive (it can and will warm up, then cool back down again) and lovely seasonal miracle. Autumn is the season that makes me glad to live in the Midwest again.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Eagle Point Park: A History Lesson, A Family Picnic and A Fascinating Legend; thank you, Ben, my littlest brother, for the photo!

Eagle Point Park; the fish pond. This and the park's buildings were built during the Great Depression, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt initiated the WPA or Works Progress Administration, which funded projects around the United States to help create jobs for unemployed workers. The site had been chosen earlier and named for the legend of Eagle Point. Here it is; a noble story: 
According to the Encyclopedia of Dubuque, the naming of the hill has its roots in 1828-29, when an eagle's nest was found in a tree near Dryden, N.Y. The tree was cut down and the eaglets captured.
A local merchant raised one of the eaglets and gave it to a silversmith. The silversmith banded the eagle with an inscription and set it free. A Native American, hunting along a bluff overlooking the Mississippi, shot the eagle, but he was startled by the silver band, having never seen one before. As news of the eagle spread, the bluff upon which it was shot became known as Eagle Point.
The name of the park, sadly, coincided with the demise of the eagle in Iowa. A nesting pair reported in Jasper County in 1905 would be the last active nest in our state until 1977, when one was spotted in Allamakee County. Since then, eagles have thrived. Once again, eagles are a common sight in and around Eagle Point.
The architect chosen for the project was a visionary; Alfred Caldwell, who created prairie-style structures, in harmony with the land and the natural terrain. The limestone used is native to the area; all of the cliffs and bluffs surrounding the Mississippi here are of limestone. 

As a child, I suppose, picnicking at Eagle Point ruined my appreciation for any other park. The rest of them were just so...tiny and blah. I did love Swiss Valley, because we could go creek stomping...when my mother wasn't looking! 

Thank you, again, my fabulous family, for coming together and getting the next generation out to the park, at least once a year!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Man and Animal Unit: Cheetahs of the Kalahari -- National Geographic

We have begun our "Man and Animal" block, as it is known in Waldorf/Steiner schools. We learn all about animals and humans and more for the 7th grader, and visit the zoo as many times as we can. Of course, I woke up to storms and rain, so our daily dose of beautiful National Geographic photos may be our only source for the big mammals today, here it is for you to see, (you will have to click on the link below):
Pictures: Cheetahs of the Kalahari -- National Geographic

Friday, September 5, 2014

First Week Back to Lessons at Home

From the first week and our first poem of the year: "Cargoes" by John Masefield, a "quinquereme." Poem taken from A Journey in Time Through Verse and Rhyme, by Heather Thomas, our Waldorf-inspired go-to poetry book for all grade levels.

This particular illustration is from my oh-so-reluctant daughter who claimed she "can't draw". I chose hers to show how even the most reticent person can find the art inside of them. I hope she remembers the lesson as an encouraging, pleasant one, proving that no one has a license to beauty and art.

Breakfast; when you are facing a full morning of work, it is good to be well-nourished. A morning favorite for Charles; hash browns, eggs and toast:

This week's focus was a math review and getting settled into our routine again. For the three youngest, this means beginning the day together with a poem and seated work; art, math, writing, interspersed with walks or trampoline time. Cate, the college-bound, is usually at the dining room table working on her online classes or ACT prep.

For math, for my 7th-grader, I use Making Math Meaningful, by Jamie York. The Bookstore at Rudolf Steiner College, the above (non-sponsored) links, is a wonderful store with excellent service, where I can find almost anything Waldorf or Steiner. They will even look on their shelves to see if there is a slightly damaged copy they can sell for a little less when you call. Valentine, 12, and I are also reading and working through Life of Fred, Geometry, by Stanley F. Schmidt, a book we borrowed from the library, but which is available through Rainbow Resource. The younger two are reviewing skills with their Miquon pages, also available at Rainbow Resource, and having fun with lessons from Dorothy Harrer's Math Lessons for Elementary Grades and Melisa Neilson's Waldorf Math Grades 1-5. None of these links are sponsored, I am just trying to make it simple to find resources.

However, before beginning again with "school", we first had a summer, whole-family get-together. It started at my parents' house under thunder storms, but ended, as planned and hoped-for, at Eagle Point Park, overlooking the Mississippi from high above on the bluffs. (The picnic might have been rained-out, and eaten at a table inside, but s'mores were obligatory once we reached the park):

                                                          The Mighty, Muddy, Mississippi:

Friday, August 22, 2014

Homeschool to College: How To, Part 1

The time has come. Cate, 17, is ready to apply to college and figure out how it will be paid for. Daunting!

That is what I wrote when I first began this article, back in July. I had no idea. I am home now, and have been working unremittingly on lesson plans and college admissions. It is time to take a break and blog a bit about it all.

I am publishing our research here and will have a continuous input of information as we pursue our task this year...and next, as Duncan will be in the same boat next school year, and they are two very unique individuals.

May I say, that in our family, our children are encouraged to pursue what they believe is their true calling. Do I sometimes whistle a bit when they are listening? Sure. 

First of all, then, neither my husband nor I think that a four-year college immediately following high school is the only route to go. Myself, because I left the country as soon as I legally could. I put college on hold for a super fun year of staying with host families, hanging at the beach, hunting mushrooms in the forest, skiing the Pyrenees, attending formal balls and eating fabulous food, every. single. day. I have NO regrets about postponing college. I learned much about the world and the way it works in that year, and I came home psyched and ready for serious studying. My husband, because he was caught up in a system where that idea had never been in the cards for him. He had a certain high school diploma and a certain school followed that diploma. No holds, delays or breaks allowed. His family had been hosting exchange students from all over the world for ten years when we met. He also wonders what might have happened had he not gone on to the school he attended. What if he had been encouraged to choose a trade or another profession, what if he had had time to explore and think before starting another year of school?

Our children have different ideas; the eldest says that she has had a very long time to think, dream and make plans and that they now include college, pre-med even. The next one says he wants to "get through school with a degree so that he can then do what he really wants to do." So, the merry-go-round begins.

From the top: your child's dream is an Ivy League education? Here is what Harvard has to say about homeschool college admissions:

''Harvard University uses the same requirements for homeschoolers and traditional students. Harvard requires applicants to submit the results of either the SAT I or ACT standardized test and the results of three SAT II Subject Tests, which applicants may take in different subjects to demonstrate a mixture of academic interests.

"There is no single academic path we expect all students to follow," according to their Web site, "but the strongest applicants take the most rigorous secondary school curricula available to them. An ideal four-year preparatory program includes four years of English, with extensive practice in writing; four years of math; four years of science: biology, chemistry, physics, and an advanced course in one of these subjects; three years of history, including American and European history; and four years of one foreign language."

Traditional applicants can supply a letter from a teacher who knows them well and who has taught him or her in academic subjects (preferably in the final two years of secondary school.) However, McGrath Lewis says, "While we can make careful evaluations with required recommendations, we are happy to read helpful letters from people directly familiar with applicants' lives outside the classroom. Such letters are not necessary, however, and it is generally advisable to submit no more than two or three."

In addition to academic standing, Harvard is looking for well-rounded individuals who have participated in personal development outside the institution.

McGrath Lewis offers this advice: "Follow the passions you have and develop them. We are looking for non-academic criteria – maturity, social facility, and non-academic talents, which is the same range as for traditional students."

"It is not harder or easier for homeschoolers to get in. It is difficult for anyone to get in."

As a typical unschooler/homeschooler path, Cate has chosen to begin with some classes from a community college this year, while she is still completing high school. I believe, as of now, that getting her registered for a single class at the local community college will have proved itself more difficult than going to a "normal" college later. More on this option tomorrow.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Home Again...with Pending Posts on France

It is beyond good to be home, and yet, there are so many lingering thoughts, photos and events to chronicle, and so many things to do first. Sadly, the yard work, hair cuts and household organization, not to mention the extreme sport of homeschool planning with 3 weeks to go before the "start date," must come before writing. I will catch up soon, and add little bits of photos and info in the meantime.

Here is what "Country French Homes" looks like in the presence of 12 children...beyond gorgeous, despite us all visiting.

The Library...includes two window seat beds to the left:

Yeah, that's my sweetie, taking a break on the outdoor bench:

The dining room...note table covered with board games and a tiny embroidery bag on the side table:

Friday, July 25, 2014

Summer Schooling in France: Ocean

First confession: I do not love the beach. The ocean, though, is part of my very soul. I love the ocean, especially in the off-season, when I get it to myself. It is going to rip my heart out all over again to leave it. Think snow, sister, and how much you would miss that again...snow is good, and Christmas tree hunting in the snowy woods, and fires in the hearth with hot cocoa. Besides, you and sand will no longer be intimate buddies, yay, Iowa. Sorry, back to the beach.

As an educational tool; the seaside is matchless. Number one advantage; children WANT to be at the beach. No coercing, cajoling or need for promises of delicious snacks to get them there. I am practically speed-walking to keep up with them all.

We spend hours answering questions about the moon and the tides, the tide pools (massive, dangerous things along the Aquitaine coast here. At high tide, they create a whirlpool/wash-you-out-to-the-end-of-the-earth-effect,but they're wonderful to play in at low tide.) The older ones want to know about surf conditions and waves, the others about when and where to swim and why they have to dive under waves when they get too big. Sometimes the older two get distracted by beach humanology, or the study of the opposite sex clad in swimwear. (This would be an opportune time for a reminder lecture on many topics.)

My tiny niece and nephew, exploring sand architecture.

Then there are shells and rocks and smooth pieces of glass; marine biology, geology, physics...without even trying. Fish, birds; more biology...and have you ever told the beautiful story of Johnathan Seagull with your feet in the Atlantic while watching the sun set? (Well, maybe not the whole story right there; the waves make an awful rucccous at this time of year, but it was begun there, and finished later while knitting on a towel while the littles dig in the sand or make bracelets from bits of rubber.)

Last...or primary, depending on your thoughts; PE class. It is work to walk through sand, swim in waves, fly a kite, play soccer on a beach. Once again; there has never been a need for encouragement to move at the ocean. We have all kept active with the bare minimum of equipment; a bucket, a shovel, a ball, a kite. My surfer husband does not have a board here, much to the dismay of the kids, and to my relief. That did not ever spell bordom; just more questions for the adults to answer. Why are 87 people trying to surf the same wave, Dad? (sociology and group think). Was it like that when you were young? (ancient history). What was it like when you saw the ocean for the first time, Mama? (lessons in gratitude). 

If, like us in one more week, you do not have a seaside of your own, no reason to despair, one can learn anywhere, as you know. In most parts of the world, one can always take a road trip and reach the coast or a Great Lake for a blissful voyage into water and sand.

Beach in June (my nephew again):

 Beach in July (note opposition with beach earlier, in June):

It's hard to get a clear sun-set photo, but here is a hazy one:

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Boy's France

The two months here have meant different things to each of us, but I have not said much about the youngest two; Charles, 10 and Gael, 6, who just do boy stuff, like at home, but different.

Here are a few photos from their day to day here, starting with summer's favorite pastime, lucanus cervus, or stag beetles:

     Killer beetle attacks huge ship:

The beach, a favorite spot:

Charles, Gael and I learned about cow-fighting, or "la course landaise" during the town festival.+ After a class for children on this tradition (using inner tubes and balls as cow substitutes), I am longing to see it for myself. As much as I hate bull-fighting (and yes, I have actually been to 2 corridas), because it ends in torture and murder (sorry, traditionalists, but yuck!), the demonstration of how one jumps over a cow, feet together, or swings away from a charging animal at the last micro-second, was beautiful. Add the costumes and the have the soul of the town festival here; "Fete de la Madeleine." What a phenomenon to try to describe; music and tradition during the day, debauchery all night. The young bucks after the running of the bulls, um, cows,

The kids had their own "encierro" or bull run. They used to do it with very small calves, today (I think litigation has reached France) there are adults pushing wheel barrows dressed up like cows with horns:

In the arena for the class; red scarves for all:

Photos of photos of the ecarteurs (dodgers) in action:

Charles turning 10...too fast!

And the summer is not over, neither is our trip to France; but as C. said this morning; "We'll be home in our own house with our dog and our friends next week!"

+As to why no one else was at the class; first of all, it was geared to children. Second of all, we'd been out to the night time part of the town festival the day before, and even with the best of intentions, had only made it home at 1am. We danced, listened to music and wandered the streets, all together, along with hundreds of other families. It did not seem as wild as I once remembered it being, but then again, we left "early." The only ones I could drag out of bed in the morning for the cow event were the youngest.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Bordeaux...Friends Married to Frenchmen

Lucky for me, I have friends with such determination and powers of persuasion that I end up escaping for a minute (or a couple of days) to make the trip to see them all together each time I come. I met the first of them, Dede, at the grocery store when I had just moved to Bordeaux, pregnant with Duncan who is 16. I later met Janice, who introduced me to Caroline and Catherine, who ended up being my neighbor when I moved to a little town on the seaside. With each passing year, I value much more the friends who have made my life a richer, better one. They are also the ones with whom one can share, cry and howl with laughter for hours on end. I got to see this lovely gang in Bordeaux a couple of weeks ago. (We sandwiched it in between the baptism and the wedding.)

Here is a special group of women; Americans married to Frenchmen. It takes a special sort of person and makes you into another sort, to live with and raise children with someone from a whole other culture. If you don't think French is "really different" from American, that's OK. We know better. Thank you, ladies! For being there for me, for your good humor, perspective, and positive outlook, for keeping the faith. I am so grateful!

The best spot in Bordeaux for a fabulous glass of wine (Bordeaux mostly does marvelous wine only.):

New sculpture; it may be leaving soon, as it is for sale and the price was out of range of even fund-raising Bordelais.

Janice has become a tour guide in Bordeaux, so she led us to the beautiful night spots and plazas that have been renovated since I last lived here. Dede is a city girl at heart and knows how to get anywhere on tram or on foot. Between the two of them, I had a splendid outing. Caroline and Catherine knew the best off-the-beaten-track restaurants, and we ended up eating at an astounding, delicious Lebanese restaurant. This was my first foray into Middle Eastern cuisine; I felt like Toad who was on the great River for the first time with the Water Rat (Wind in the Willows); "oh my, oh my, oh MY!"

Cate came with me for this short trip. We had a quick tour of Bordeaux the next morning. We moved here when she was 10 months old and stayed in the area until she was 4. This photo is in the little regional train that put-puts back and forth between Bordeaux and the towns further south. Some major improvements have been made in these little trains! Back in the day...really, though, these were the cattle cars with seats I took every day to school in a small town from an even smaller town. Today; luxury, light-filled wonders.

The Cathedral of Bordeaux, St.Andre; I have always loved this cathedral. Not only is it a beautiful place to pray and hope, it is also nice and cool on a summer day. Cate first came here as an embryo!

So much for the perfect Madonna and baby; the expressions on the faces of these two crack me up. The Virgin looks like she is holding a mildly bothersome toddler who does not belong to her, and he looks like there might be a snake on the ground.

Thank you, for still being there, dear friends, I will miss you! I sorta even miss Bordeaux. A bientot!