2010 Holiday Newsletter

December 22nd, 2010 § 0

… is here.

Q of the Day

April 5th, 2010 § 1

“Mommy, do you know how hard it is to not know who you really are yet?”

First Essay

March 11th, 2010 § 0

Alli received an optional assignment from the philosophy class she’s taking at co-op to write an essay about 5 values that she believes in. I wish I had recorded her skipping around the place, singing to herself “I get to write an essay!”. Dork.

I’ve been super-impressed with her diligence at sticking through the writing process on this one, working both on editing and revisions, taking in suggestions that Andrew and I offered, and experimenting with some new formatting in Word.

Here’s the result:

2010.03 Philosophy Essay

Critter Crew

February 16th, 2010 § 0

Some of the animals we help care for at the Evanston Ecology Center:

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer

Our Valentine

February 14th, 2010 § 0

We were asked to present our ‘love story’ today for a Valentine’s Day service at our UU ‘church’ (I may forever need to place that term in quotes of some form). Seems appropriate to document here, in the spirit of both Valentine’s Day and being in the midst of our 20th year of marriage.  I should note that my beloved and belovedly strange husband managed to ad-lib the term ’24-hour leprosy’ into the mix.  I happily post the text here minus the ad-lib:


“Storybook Love”

We were honored, but admittedly a little daunted, upon being asked to share our story as part of a service on “the miracle of love”. Religious baggage aside, the bar of “miracle” seems unattainably high, although perhaps we, like many couples well past the honeymoon phase, have grown to take our story, and our relationship, for granted. So we’re grateful for this opportunity to honor each other and share with you a little bit of our storybook on this Valentine’s Day.

Nearly 20 years ago, we walked down the aisle to a little song actually called “Storybook Love”; some of you may know it from the movie “The Princess Bride”. Looking back, the path to the aisle was perhaps a little more miracle than storybook.

The miracle began…

When two 17-year-olds who lived 6 hours apart somewhat begrudgingly went to a college visitation overnight in Peoria, Illinois…

And happened to find each other across a room filled with a few hundred high school seniors…

And walked around outside for hours in freezing cold weather, “talking” until the wee hours of the morning…

And, after they left the following day, a young boy with phone phobia braved his fears and picked up the phone anyway…

And a young girl who already had a prom date felt compelled to invite said young boy instead…

And the young boy’s parents let him spend a summer driving back and forth across the 300+ miles of distance between them…

And they weathered the even greater 800-mile distance separating them (and the astronomical phone bills that resulted) as they embarked on their journeys to college.

And all of that was the easy part!

From this chance meeting, our 17-year old selves from very different backgrounds and bearing very different personalities, built a relationship.

If the people in the world came in 31 flavors, Andrew would be the 32nd. He was irreverent, hilarious, brilliant, volatile, and unrestrained, someone unlike anyone I had ever met – and not surprisingly the child of hippie parents.

To continue the ice cream analogy, even though it’s not very vegan, Julie was afraid to be anything but everyone’s favorite flavor. Good at everything (even things she didn’t want to do), grounded, popular, athletic, smart, with a hidden wild and silly side that was carefully managed in order to not stand out or ruffle feathers.

And yet something about the combination sparked more than tumultuous arguments (of which there were a memorable few); there was something truly miraculous about how the puzzle pieces of ‘us’ fit together and brought out the best and tamed the worst.

The recognition that this was more than fleeting young love must have extended far beyond ourselves; this is the only explanation we can find for why our friends and both sets of parents actually ENCOURAGED us to marry when we were barely 20, before our senior year of college. Even the minister we approached to marry us rallied his support, expressing no reservations about our youth or our differing (Methodist and Jewish) religious upbringings.

And somehow, despite a year of engagement that challenged us in many ways, including witnessing the unraveling of my own parents’ 20-year marriage and experiencing a life-threatening illness only weeks before the wedding, we took the leap.

Over the nearly 20 years since, we have in most senses of the word, “grown up” together.

This is the part where those of you who know Andrew can have your little chuckle about viewing him as a “grownup”.

Through everything, we are each other’s support systems and confidantes. We’ve experienced many of life’s joys and challenges together, and our shared sense of humor and trust in each other often carries us. We are best friends in every sense, sometimes to a fault, as we have to remind ourselves to include others in our world. What I find most miraculous is how different we each are today in many ways from the kids that fell in love at 17, but as we’ve traveled the path of growth together, we always seem to arrive at the same core values and life goals.

The birth of our daughter, Alli, 9 years ago yesterday, brought yet another miracle as we moved from ‘couple’ to ‘family’ after 10 years of marriage. Now we have this little (ok, not so little anymore) creature that is in all ways a product of our love and carries so many bits of each of us in her. It also gives us new perspective and new things to love about each other as we see each other in our roles of mother and father.

I am as in love today as I have always been with Andrew for his unique sense of humor, his frightening intelligence, even his irreverence – but most of all for the incredible amount of caring, kindness and generosity he gives to his family and the world around him.

And I love Julie most for her ability to understand my unique sense of humor, her ability to keep up with my frightening intelligence, and of course her tolerance of my irreverence. I love her for all the same reasons I did when I met her. She makes me a better person. I love that she is still grounded, but that her wild and silly side makes much more frequent appearances, sometimes even overshadowing mine. Who else would pierce their nose as a 40th birthday present for their spouse? I’m constantly in awe of her ability to know how to handle every situation, and watching her as a mother and teacher constantly inspires me.

So on this Valentine’s Day, a day we often let pass with little fanfare, we are grateful for this opportunity to not do so. It is our hope that you and your loved ones, who we know have your own unique stories too, will be inspired to a little fanfare as well.

January Homeschool Update

January 31st, 2010 § 0

Holy cow, is it almost February already? I know, me beating the “where did time go?” stick is getting more than a little old. And really, I think I’ve been mainly conscious for most of January, but December – that month just eluded me this past year.

By November, it felt like Alli and I had sorted out a rhythm and a balance that was working for us both in our eclectic homeschool of interest-based studies, semi-structured home learning, and outside classes. At the end of November, we took a 2-week road trip, which was wonderful, but brought us back home and plopped us smack into the beginning of the holiday season. After living life ‘on the road’, slugging suitcases and arriving at a new destination nearly daily, just getting back into any home routine, much less schooling, was a mountainous task. At the time, I kind of threw my hands up in the air and gave December to the holiday gods, and I felt a lot of guilt over that. Looking back, though, I can see that it was nice to have that period of decompression for us both, and we did more than I gave us credit for. Lots of field trips to various performances, lots of reading, and lots of crafting, including several projects that resulted in holiday gifts for others. Alli crocheted several items on her own from start to finish, which is a major development for her (sticking with a task), including the great scarf pictured above.  I even completed 3 scarves, one that had been started 3 years ago!

In early January, I started working on an electronic portfolio for this homeschool year, and doing so after the first 4 months allowed me to step back and look at at what we’ve done. I found a new sense of having made significant progress along our journey. I may share that portfolio here at some point when I’ve gotten it fully laid out and roughly up to date; we’ll see. It can be very difficult in the throws of starting homeschooling, and from the trenches of being actively involved every day to see things at the 10,000-foot level, especially on challenging days.

And here’s the point at which I confess that in a moment of doubt when January set in, I violated my own intellectual rejection of NCLB standards-based learning and succumbed to the pangs of “keeping up with the Jones'”. I started rooting around area school websites and blogs to ‘check in’ on where we were versus them. Easily comparable in math, as we (in part) share the U of C Everyday Math curriculum. And I’ll be even more embarrassingly honest – I did a little internal mental jig when I noticed that even with our December ‘break’, we were well ahead.

And then I kicked myself hard in the shin for caring, and stopped surfing. Because while I’m sure it’s perfectly normal to feel some of these things when one takes the leap to exit “the system”, when I really thought about what was important to Andrew and I about Alli’s education and this venture into home schooling, winning a race against the Jones’ was nowhere on that list.

What has been important? First and foremost, the spark of joyful learning is again visible in our child. This was absolutely the most significant goal in choosing home schooling, and I am grateful and humbled to be a part of that. I also see her really experimenting with who she is as a learner and a person, without a lot of the social and institutional pressures of school, many of which I hadn’t even noticed until they weren’t there. She seems to be on a real path to discovering and embracing who she is, and is trying a number of different hats on freely as she explores her many developing passions. I also see her making a lot of connections across her learning, synthesizing and getting real and relevant meaning from what she takes in.

I’ve been able to supplement her strong math interest and aptitude with problem-solving (in addition to the U of C Everyday Math curriculum, which suits her quite well), and have gotten her started with a hands-on algebra program that she begs to do more of daily.  We started a history curriculum inspired by The Story of the World series, beginning with ancient history, and she’s currently deeply engaged in a pit-stop in early Egypt.   I don’t think I had ever seen the young scientist in her prior to this experience (and am noticing first-hand how little science is emphasized in elementary schools these days), and I find myself presently focused on nurturing that both with classes and by providing her extra outlets for experimenting and observing phenomena (a new telescope received for Xmas and the recent acquisition of a used high school microscope are welcome contributors to that end). She’s also begun to be more willing to revisit her passion and talent for writing that was so dominant in her early years. She’s reading again too, the voracious sneak-reading under the covers at night by flashlight kind, and starting and finishing more books than she abandons (not something that was the case last year).

Socially, I think our efforts to jump with both feet into as much of the homeschool community as possible are paying off. I am starting to feel a sense of a ‘village’ of friendship and support around us. I no longer reach for the ‘newcomer’ tag at meetings, and Alli has become an active part of a peer group as well. She seems relaxed and open and well-received, and has been establishing friendships with a much wider range of kids than I’ve seen in the past. She seems to really thrive on having some of her learning in group settings and some of it on her own, where she is able to “focus better”, in her words.

In addition to the more tangible fruits, we’ve spent a lot of energy working on Alli’s commitment to following through on things and her willingness to take on tasks that can’t be learned or finished in 3 seconds, as well as her receptiveness to challenge (the latter is very much still a work in progress). She is exhibiting a greater sense of confidence in most things, and sensitivity-related meltdowns, while not gone, are diminishing in number and duration.

So what’s on the plate for the rest of the year? Well, I’ve leaned a little more heavily to Alli’s desire for getting involved in more activities than a human being really should, and we’re continuing most of the classes and activities she was in during the fall, with a few additions.

Here’s our current weekly away-from-home class/activity list:


  • Religious Education class
    (I co-teach; this year’s curriculum is Earth-centered, with a mixture of science and Native American spirituality/mythology)


  • Trivia Mania class
    (researching non-fiction texts and designing a trivia-based board game)
  • Art History class
    (studying various artists and producing pieces inspired by their style for a ‘gallery showing’)
  • Piano lesson


  • Critter Crew
    (alternate Tuesdays:  volunteer – caring for/feeding animals at our local ecology center)
  • Homeschool Science Class
  • Modern Dance class


  • Drama class


  • Homeschool Open Gym


  • Gifted homeschool group Co-op
  • Alli takes:  Animal Ethology, Hip Hop Dance, Spanish, and Philosophy
  • I co-teach Hands on Algebra and assist in US Constitution, Arabic, and Photography
  • Evanston Children’s Choir


  • Swim lessons

Also on the radar:

We’re trying to see if we can fit in a guitar class that we can take together, and soccer will be starting in another month or so, overlapping with softball by late spring.  I would love to find an additional volunteer situation for us to do together, and am in the middle of setting up an African drumming/culture workshop.  Am also looking into some kids’ science lab courses offered by Northwestern University.  There’s a major Illinois homeschooling conference coming up in the spring too, where we’ll spend a few days.

The rest of the time (insert chuckle here) I juggle to fit in our learning at home, ad-hoc workshops of interest, playdates and field trips – while continuing to squeeze in the work required for my part-time job which I’m still holding onto (the income allows us to afford all of these wonderful classes).  I’d personally prefer more time for unstructured, interdisciplinary learning and projects, but I have come to understand that that’s not where Alli’s head is at just yet.  So I’m hoping that after trying a bit of the many things that are available to us, we’ll be well-positioned to be even more selective in where we commit our time.

And where am I in all of this?  Well, exhausted on many days, if I’m honest.  I’m still working on claiming more time for some of my own needs, like getting back into an exercise routine and finding some time for photography.  Andrew’s proposed bringing in some help for the often last-priority house cleaning, which I’m slowly readying to climb onboard with.  And, yes, there are some days when I wish a magical fairy would come and whisk my child off into an educational wonderland where she can get this kind of education without me lifting a finger.  And other days when I can’t bear to spend one more minute being a parent to a whiny, strong-willed almost 9-yr-old, much less her teacher.

But, still being honest, most of the time I can’t believe I am so fortunate to be able to spend this time with my daughter, and to learn alongside her.  And how lucky I am to have finally embraced this passion for teaching and learning at a time when my own child was in need of something different, and in a community with so much support and so many resources.  Personally and professionally, it is incredibly fulfilling to be able to teach and learn freely without being confined by having to meet 30 childrens’ varying needs and interests in a classroom where I and the students are further constrained by NCLB-influenced standards and testing.

Yeah, I don’t get a paycheck, but it might just be the best job I’ll ever have.

And I’m hoping that the payoff is equally rewarding for my child.  A happy and engaged child is not a bad start.

Merry Shebazzle!

December 19th, 2009 § 0

This year’s newsletter.

My Vacation/Road Trip

November 30th, 2009 § 0

Guest post by Alli

Hello All! I loved my vacation SO much! I just came back yesterday evening. When we started off, we only had to drive about three and a half hours from Evanston to Indianapolis. We stayed in a hotel for one night. I loved the hotel a whole lot.
Mommy and I went swimming there and had a fun time. I used rings, swam, and Mommy and I played games in the pool. Rings are medium size hoops that you throw in the water, wait for them to sink to the bottom, then go swim under water and bring them back up.

Then the next day we drove to Nashville (Tennessee). It took about four and a half hours to get there. We also stayed in a hotel for one night. Mommy and I also swam there too! There were a lot of cute little shops and interesting things in Nashville. Tennessee was probably my favorite state on the trip. I got mints and a souvenir coin from a shop.
When we were done in Tennessee we went to Atlanta. (Georgia). To Georgia, it took about four hours. We stayed there for two nights. Atlanta’s weather was not bad. Mommy, Daddy, and I stayed with my great aunt Joan and uncle Dan. We went to a Martin Luther King, Jr. museum, and we saw the house that he lived in. I got a souvenir coin and purse, and a t-shirt about non-violence. I also did some work there and received a junior ranger badge. I’m supposed to get a patch in the mail, because they were out of patches. On the second night two boys came over and played and ate dinner with us. Their names are Ryan and Riley.

Next we went to Boynton Beach, Florida. We stayed with my grandpa, (Dad’s dad) for 4 nights. It took us… TEN WHOLE HOURS TO GET THERE! I got to swim, drive a Mini actual wheel and brakes car, and play with my cousin Jake at Aunt Cathie’s parents house! We also went to a drive-through SAFARI where we saw a lot of animals including LIONS! The lions were in a cage so it wasn’t dangerous. I also got to feed a giraffe. We also went to the beach with aunt Cathy, uncle Jory and Jake. It was a lot of fun.

After four nights we went to the train station in Lorton Virginia! THE TRAIN WAS ABSOLUTELY AWESOME! IT WAS THE HIGHLIGHT OF MY TRIP! It took us about three and a half hours to get to it. THE TRAIN RIDE WAS OVERNIGHT. IT WAS SO COMFORTABLE. I LOVED IT!

Then we went to D.C. to look around and BOY WAS THERE TRAFFIC! My dad even GOT LOST! My mom and I had to get soaking wet. The Lincoln memorial was pretty nice. It took about half an hour to get to D.C.

Next we drove to Richmond VA. I saw Jill, Carolyn, Tom, Judy, Jim, and Jill’s friend Ella. We stayed there for three nights. I had so much fun. We got to see some animals at a nature center (including a very cute owl) and we talked a lot and played a lot of games. Plus we had Thanksgiving dinner.

Then the most exciting…I VISITED MY FRIEND HARPER IN PENNSYLVANIA!!! WE HAD SO MUCH FUN! (six hours to get there)
I don’t want to leave out two things… Coming home was nice. But a long drive. We listened to a Harry Potter audio book along the way home, and we’re still not done with it! I really like it! And second of all… I forgot to mention Kentucky. In Kentucky we went to a cave! I got some souvenirs too. We went on a boat in the cave! We also got to sift through crushed limestone to find gems. IT WAS FUN!

Thanks for reading.

Homeschool Haiku

November 7th, 2009 § 0

once an office, now
ravaged and infiltrated
by learning supplies…

More e-mail antics

November 1st, 2009 § 0

Alli’s been sending people “forms” to fill out via e-mail ever since… well, ever since we gave her e-mail access when she was maybe 5. Yes, I know that was early but we’re a technological household, and ever since the often relayed extortion shebazzle we’ve become quite a bit more conservative in our position on parental oversight. But I digress. Anyhow, she sends out forms somewhat regularly to family and friends. We think this is mainly as a means of reminding people she has an e-mail address and filling up her otherwise rather spartan inbox, maybe also as a way to learn more about her friends and family, and in part because just it makes her feel all cool and business-like. Most people receive them in the fun and innocent spirit in which they are intended, although she does occasionally get some conspiracist theory responders demanding to know why she needs the information. These humor me almost as much as the forms themselves. The forms used to include requests for basic information, like name, where you live, favorite color, etc., and over the years they’ve expanded to solicit details ranging from job information to favorite stories; I think the latest one even had a field for “Can usually be found:______________”. I have enjoyed watching her thought process on this develop over the years through this medium.

At some point she also started giving people grades on how they did on the form. This humored me in particular because she’s yet to ever receive a grade for anything, having been at a school that didn’t do traditional testing or grade reporting, and now in homeschool. It was also humorous to get a glimpse into the mental rubric she was using to assign grades, and to watch family and friends react to their grades – especially those who got C’s and even F’s on the work. I’ve failed a few myself.

This round she’s taken it a step further and sent a followup e-mail that sheds some more light on said rubric and gave me a little chuckle to boot – never mind my gloating about my first A+…

Dear all,

Hey all! I just replied to someone who is begging for an A or A+, and that made me think you all probably want the highest grade, so I think that you might want to think about retaking the test. You all have three tries to get an A+! I am pretty sure that the only people with an A+ are Aunt Jennie and Mommy (Julie). Down below I have written some rules of why maybe you have not gotten an A+ or A. If you want some tips then read the writing below and redo the test:

1. You may have been silly! Don’t act silly! just type in real answers.

2. You may have skipped an answer on purpose! Don’t do that! It will interfere with your grade.

3. You may have put in answers that are totally not true, and I know that they aren’t. Do NOT do that!

Thank you for reading those clues. I hope this helps you! Now the people who have succeeded and the prizes they won are below:

1. Mommy (Julie) has won: 1 coupon for a free hug! Congrats!

2. Aunt Jennie has won: A cool card! It will show up in her email. Congrats!

I hope you two are both very happy of your prizes! If you want to get one please try once again! I will be happy to award you with a prize! Thanks to all of you who are participating! Thank you, and have a nice rest of the day!