String Camp

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My children attended String Camp for the first time this year. Organized by the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestras, this five-day camp happened at Hardin Valley Academy in Knoxville. About 256 string players showed up and they were organized in five orchestras according to their skills and experience.

KSYO String Camp

On the last day of camp, they wore “concert attire” – as you can see, very relaxed atmosphere.

Since my children had no orchestra experience, they were placed in the entry-level orchestra called Prelude. Erin Archer is the conductor of Preludium, the equivalent of this entry-level for the regular youth orchestra, and so she directed Prelude during String Camp. They played Over the Rainbow and the main theme from Pirates of the Caribbean. The theme of the camp was “That’s Entertainment!” and so all the repertoire was from movies and musicals. Continue reading »

This string camp is highly recommended for players who want to audition for youth orchestras at the end of August. I did not think I would want to start driving weekly to Knoxville again, but we signed up for the camp for a fun and educational summer activity. I also thought this would help the kids with their morale. They have been a little down about their violin experience and have been telling me how much more they enjoy the piano.

Boy and girl with music T-shirts

Wednesday is music T-shirt day. It was fun shopping for these shirts for them.

I figured a bit of ensemble playing and seeing other kids their age play would help. What do you know? It did. Not only do they want to audition for and hopefully join the orchestra in the fall, my son actually got inspired to appreciate the sound of cellos. On the last day of camp, he came to me and said, “I think I would like to learn how to play the cello.” I told him I was not opposed to it and we can talk to several people in Knoxville about finding the right teacher and instrument.

KSYO string camp costume day

Thursday is costume day. So I took Princess Elsa and Master Ninja to String Camp that day.

The string camp consists of two hours, Monday-Thursday: rehearsals, activities, snacks, music appreciation, workshops. On Friday, they stay there from 9am through 3:45pm. After rehearsals and team-building exercises, they get a pizza lunch and a movie (a musical). Then, it’s time for tuning and for joining all the other orchestra levels to rehearse Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 – a camp tradition. The little kids just play open string G half notes if they get lost in that piece. Nobody is worried about it. The bigger kids usually carry the melody as first violins.

At 2:30pm, the concert begins. It is such a glorious celebration of music and children. We parents of course are busy filming and blinking back tears of pride and joy. String Camp was a great experience for us and I highly recommend it. If you live near a city with an orchestra, you might want to inquire if they offer youth symphony opportunities.

Here’s hoping that my children will get into KSYO this Fall!

Tuesday Tome Week 25 – Vegan Lunch Box

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A few years ago, I found this book at the library. I took it home and found quite a few recipes that were delicious. When I saw it again the other week, I took it home again. I went through it all over again and discovered other things I would like to make from it.

Vegan Lunch Box

So you are thinking, “We are not vegan. We homeschool. We don’t need a lunch box cookbook.” Well, do you sometimes think about implementing a meatless day in your week, in order to encourage the kids to eat more fruits and vegetables? You know, like Meatless Monday? This would be just the cookbook to get you started.  Continue reading »

Do you sometimes have a picnic to pack for? A day camp you take the kids to and you need to bring your own lunch along? These ideas would help make it a nutritious picnic.

The first half of the book shares several menus. The second part contains the recipes. There is a small chapter on pantry essentials for the vegan chef. Also, the author shares some ideas on why veganism is a humane and healthy alternative to today’s meat-laden meals.

My absolute favorite recipe in this book is the coconut rice pudding. I grew up on rice pudding and so I am attached to this dish emotionally. By using coconut milk instead of cow’s milk, you eliminate cholesterol intake, in addition to having that wonderful tropical taste. They also add shredded carrots and raisins. They act not only as sweeteners, but also nutrition and fiber. What’s not to like?

Most recipes are easy and fast to make and there are also two other sections of foods that need to be made ahead of time. Somewhere in between these two extremes sits a third category of dishes that can be make in the early hours of the morning, if you are an early bird.

As an early riser myself, I have discovered that if I get to fix breakfast and lunch for my children before they wake up, then my homeschool morning is not as stressful. I know I can focus on school without wondering, “What am I making for lunch? Are they getting too hungry for me to fix this or that by now? It’s already 11:30!!!”

This cookbook has given me permission to use my insomnia (I can’t sleep between 3am-5am) for cooking. So while the whole family is asleep, I do my thing in the kitchen instead of counting sheep and getting into the four digits. I come back to bed and get a couple more hours of sleep, knowing our homeschool cafeteria is ready for another day in paradise.

Story of the World, Vol. 2, Chapter 26

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Chapter 26 or France and England At War was a great chapter about the Hundred Years’ War. The kids loved the idea that a baby became a king. A king in diapers was such a funny and silly concept, they brought it up over and over.

Joan of Arc paper dolls

Joan of Arc paper dolls

There were lots of crafts we could have done. I chose the Joan of Arc paper dolls and skipped the coloring page. There was a lot of coloring for the paper dolls. I was impressed that, for some reason, my kids did not shy away from cutting and pasting. They used to avoid glue projects like the plague. I guess we are growing and changing ever so steadily.  Continue reading »

The questions were answered quite well, though not perfect and not without help. And then, I dared ask my son to narrate the stories to me. There were two of them. He did a good job, actually. I think my hesitation in asking for narration is more in my head than in his.

I need to start narration consistently. Susan Wise Bauer even recommends that the parent write down the child’s narration unless the child is a strong writer. At this point, I would prefer to write it down myself, just to encourage him to narrate. Also, again, I am the impatient one. I don’t want to make him sit through a 15-minute writing session. But maybe I should.

Hmmm…. First things first. Maybe next year he can write down the narrations for himself. Note to self.

At this point we have 16 chapters left in the textbook. I am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. With summer camp season starting, at least for us, I will only focus on history for the next five weeks. We should be able to get it done before August rolls around.

I told them we are taking a summer break from school and they were very happy. But what that means is that we still read a lot, do our devotional, play our instruments, even take a few violin and piano lessons here and there, finish up the history curriculum, and attend these summer camps: string camp, soccer camp, princess camp (my daughter only) and Adventure Camp (my son only).

Story of the World, Vol. 2, Chapter 25

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The End of the World or Chapter 25 shocked the kids, especially my six-year-old. After the first page, she started talking over me, saying things like, “I don’t like this story…” I told her that it gets better and she listened quietly, but still making comments at the end about how sad this chapter is.

Europe at the time of the Black Plague.

Europe at the time of the Great Plague.

There are two different stories in this chapter, one about the plague itself and one about how the Black Death changed the feudal system. We answered the questions and worked on the map. Then, we did a craft which is a spinning wheel showing the progress of the plague, i.e. its spread from rats and fleas to humans.  Continue reading »

I think it blew them away to find out that Ring Around the Rosy might actually be talking about the Great Plague. My daughter was especially interested in the fate of the Scandinavian girl who survived the plague and ended up living with animals for years. When she was finally discovered by people, the girl had no idea who and what they were. But they took her in, taught her to be human again, and gave her all the land of the villagers where she lived. There was nobody left to claim it.

Bubonic plague craft

Rotating wheel about the process of getting infected with the plague.

She and her family became gentry and it all impressed my children very much. I like it when I expand their horizons. I can’t think of anything better to do with my time than to read to my children and to teach them history, math, languages and everything else under the sun.

Story of the World, Vol. 2, Chapter 24

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The Ottoman Empire or Chapter 24 hit home with me, as I grew up in Romania, and our medieval history was riddled with battles against the Turks. In fact, as late as 1878, Romania was fighting the Ottoman Empire or what had remained of it. It’s always interesting to read history from an English source, a source that would not be as biased as a Romanian historian, for instance.

Dancing bear crafts

Dancing bear crafts

My children did not appreciate the fact that Muslims took over Constantinople and called it Istanbul. My daughter, who loves art and would color anything, refused to color the page I had printed out from our history curriculum – a page depicting the fall of Constantinople. I then offered the portrait of Suleiman. She took one glance at him and said, “No, I don’t want to color him either.”  Continue reading »

When it comes to coloring, I think it falls in the category of “busy work” unless the child takes great delight in it. So I don’t make my children color unless they really want to. Instead, we worked on a craft with dancing bears. We made the puppets and then we recorded a short clip of the kids working them as puppeteers, the way an itinerant Turkish entertainer might have.

I tried reading to them from a Romanian history book for children, “Mircea cel Mare si luptele lui cu turcii” by Nicolae Djuvara. We bought this book in the gift shop at Bran Castle (also known as Dracula’s Castle) when we were in Romania in April. My son wanted it. It has beautiful full-color illustrations, but I am afraid the level it is written on may be for higher grades than my children’s Romanian level. I got through the first chapter and then they started with all sorts of questions which revealed it was way over their heads. I put it back on the shelf for a later time.

This is a fairly long lesson, with four different story lines, so we had plenty to discuss as it is. I have given up on trying to read the recommended texts, whether fiction or nonfiction. Our goal at this stage is to introduce children to names, places, historical facts, and lots of vocabulary. I think we certainly accomplish that goal with the text of our history book.

Tuesday Tome Week 24 – Helping Parents Practice

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If you are a Suzuki parent, or any parent who needs to enforce daily instrument practice in your home, you need this book. Even if your children do not take music lessons, as a homeschooling parent, you can benefit from Helping Parents Practice. The author, Edmund Sprunger, has put a lot of psychology into this book and it’s only the first volume.

Helping Parents Practice

To be honest, I am not sure I can handle volume 2. Yet. I am still digesting this one. It’s not another book to make parents feel guilty, OK? The subtitle is “Ideas for Making It Easier.” And I tell you, I did not get the subtitle until about page 50.  Continue reading »

But that is the whole premise of the book. In short, succint sections, Sprunger shares with parents what is going on in the mind of children, how to communicate, how not to say anything, how to separate feelings from behavior and much, much more.

So I will sit with this book for quite awhile. I will need to. It has taught me so much, my children’s violin teacher says she can tell the difference in me. I have changed, apparently, and this is why she recommends this book to all the parents in her studio.

I started this book thinking that I knew some things about music and practicing. After all, I took eight years of violin lessons and four years of piano. I just needed to know how to motivate my kids to practice so we stay calm and productive.

After reading this book, I now know that I have no idea what musicality is. Here are some other things I have learned:

  • I have made some big mistakes in my practices with the kids,
  • it is better to acknowledge their feelings than to not allow them to feel scared or nervous,
  • bad behavior should not be allowed,
  • I should look for one good thing they did and mention it after they finish the piece,
  • I should not mention anything bad they did, especially if they fixed the other thing we were working on,
  • I am the most important person in my children’s life, so when I get angry they get REALLY scared,
  • when I am upset, children think I will not take care of them anymore – it does not make sense to an adult, but children do not think like an adult,
  • don’t do anything, just sit there
  • it’s better to be quiet than to try to fix too many things at once
  • look for progress, not perfection.

I could go on and on. But it would not help you. You need this book, trust me. It will change your practice time from the most stressful time of the day to this special moment in the day you have with your child where you make music and art together. And it will teach you a lot of things.

Story of the World, Vol. 2, Chapter 23

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Chapter 23 deals with The First Russians. I was tempted to work on a kokoshnik craft, but I only have one daughter and I usually include both children in our projects. I did not want to make different crafts. So I decided to cook a big pot of borscht, according to the recipe provided.

Borscht with vegan sour cream

Borscht with vegan sour cream – despite its beautiful color, the children refused to even try it.

Since we make a similar soup in Romania, I knew the taste I was trying to achieve. It always helps to know what your goal is when you are cooking foreign recipes, right? Well, I still changed a few things around because for instance I did not have tomato paste and used tomato sauce instead. But it came out nice and mouth-watering and, apparently, it’s all for me, because my kids will not touch it. My husband is not a red beet fan, so he is not interested either. Oh well, more for me.  Continue reading »

We have dear friends who are Russian, so this has been a good chapter to read and find some elements we can share with them. The stories of Ivan the Great and Ivan the Terrible were, of course, daunting, but it’s history. Things happen.

We worked on the map and the coloring page. They ran to the world map we have on the wall to find Kiev and Moscow there. I don’t know why. Usually, they are content with the SOTW map. Maybe because I told them it’s close to Romania? Or because our closest friends come from Russia?

I grew up in an Eastern Orthodox Christian family in Romania, so I was very interested in the details about how the Rus became Christian. I would have to disagree with Susan Wise Bauer when she says the Orthodox do not worship the images (or paintings) of saints and Mary or Jesus. Maybe that’s what the official catechism says, but that is not what happens in real life. When we attended church, blessing oneself in front of these icons, bowing before them, kissing them and worshiping them was very much a part of the ritual one was expected to perform.

Narration is still not easy for my oldest. I don’t even attempt it with my youngest. The comprehension questions receive good answers, in full sentences, but the narration exercise just seems a bit too difficult. So I read it to them to give them an idea of what to look for and how to put it together themselves.

All in all, a good chapter. I enjoyed learning some things I did not know and they liked listening to the stories.


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On June 25, 10am-3pm, Smoky Mountains Home Education Association will present its second annual Homeschool EXPO in Knoxville, TN at West Towne Christian Church, 9300 Middlebrook Pike.

This is a free event. There will be an exhibit hall and several workshops on how to homeschool. Before the break out sessions, homeschooling families are invited to participate in a general session.


June 25, 2016

Last year, this event drew about 200 families and they expect just as many if not more this year. Come be encouraged, make local connections, and pick up a tip or two or more for the next school year.

The vendors will have drawings and lots of cute mascots will be on hand for pictures with small children and children at heart. Last year, the Zoo brought several animals and had a seminar where the kids could pet a snake or a rat. Glad I was not there. Daddy took ours to that seminar while I was presenting in another room.

This year I will be speaking on two topics:

  1. 10 Foundational Principles for Preschool and Kindergarten – Laying a Solid Foundation: if you follow these principles, I guarantee your children will be read for first grade. Also, you will learn how these principles can be taken into the older grades.
  2. 10 Ways to Homeschool: you will learn more than one way to skin the homeschooling cat and how to choose the right one for your family.

So I hope to see you there. Please walk up to me and introduce yourself. I really enjoy meeting new homeschooling families.

Our Trip to Romania

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More than a month after our return, I finally have the chance to write about it. I have had so much other homeschooling matter to deal with on the blog, it has been hard to squeeze the trip about Romania in here.

Hunedoara Castle in Romania

The four of us at Hunedoara Castle, on a cold and rainy April day. Universal was filming Dragonheart 4 there, but most of the castle was open.

We had so much fun and covered so much territory, literally and symbolically, that it has been hard to express it all in one post. A series of posts will do, but for now, just an overall post should take care of business. Continue reading »

We spent 15 days in Romania and nobody got ill. Last time we were in Romania, my husband got really sick and this is a major reason why I refused to go there with small children. So this was our first time in Romania with the children. They loved it, we loved it.

Our daughter asked if we could go back and spend three weeks instead of two next time. Our son asked if we could go to the beach next time. We were in the mountains and the plains for most of the time. They loved every minute of it. Our son said “Romania is another dimension; just like the US, but better.”

During our trip, we visited 10 cities, 3 castles, 2 fortresses, and 8 out of my 12 cousins plus numerous aunts, uncles, and several friends from school. I also recorded three broadcasts at Speranta TV, a Christian Romanian TV station. The topics were 1) homeschooling, 2) raising children in two cultures and 3) my life story.

Speranta TV studio

At Speranta TV with one of the moderators, recording a program about homeschooling.

My mom also flew in from Madrid, where she lives, so it really was like a family reunion. We rented a Mercedes van with automatic transmission, which seated 9 people. My sister and my nephew plus my mom and then the four of us and lots of luggage – we had plenty of room.

We used Rent Expres (only one s in Romanian) at the Henri Coanda (Otopeni) airport in Bucharest, in case you might want a rental car suggestion. We booked over the email and they called us to confirm a few weeks before the rental dates. They did not need a credit card or any other form of payment until we got there. They were professional and courteous and spoke very good English. I did not have to translate much for my husband.

It was lovely to catch up with everybody and to be in Romania again. The country has changed a lot in the 10 years since my last visit. I can tell the EU has poured a lot of funds into the infrastructure.

We flew Lufthansa and enjoyed it very, very much. The kids received wonderful coloring books and tangrams for the flights. The food was very good – we ordered veggie meals and they were delicious. Our itinerary was Charlotte-Munich, Munich-Bucharest, then back in the reverse order.

Children drawing in Munich airport

Layover in Munich

They also have lots of audio and video options, as every passenger gets their own screen with hundreds of movies, audio books, meditation and relaxation seminars, news, sports, and music. I am afraid we let the kids watch movies until they crashed, but hey, we did not want to hear “Are we there yet?” on a plane. Since we limit movies so much at home, they were glued to the screens and we did not hear a peep out of them until meal time.

I will definitely write other posts about our stay in Romania, as we found it extremely fun and educational.

Tuesday Tome Week 23 – Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

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Warning! This New York Times best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, will change your life. It has changed mine. Even though I am more organized than most people, or so I am told, I needed a book on decluttering to kick into a higher gear about my house.


It was good to read some nonfiction for a change, after all the drama of my latest fiction adventures. Marie Kondo grew up tidying up and experimenting with different storage methods. She made all the mistakes in the book and learned from each one. As a result, she has put together a method of de-cluttering which helps many people in affluent countries like Japan and USA.

And even though her Japanese background (homes are very small in Japan compared to the US or Australia, for example) and her stay in Shinto shrines have influenced her much toward a minimalist style, you can tell she also genuinely loves to help you transform your house into a space where you feel joyous and at peace. Stuff does not bring joy or peace. We needed a Japanese young lady to teach us about it and more power to her and those who listen to her.  Continue reading »

Most of her clients are women in their 50s who have been homemakers for most of their lives – supposedly the “experts” of keeping house and making a happy, enjoyable home environment. With a waiting list of three months, you know Ms. Kondo is fulfilling a huge need in first world countries – the need to stop hoarding and start focusing on things that give you joy.

There is a method to discard, apparently. First clothes, then books, then miscellaneous, then memorabilia. In each category, there are sub-categories. So don’t clean by room, but by category. Take clothes. Do you have clothes only in your closet? Or do you have a sweater on the back of a chair in the living room? As well as in the coat closet? As well as in storage bins under the beds in the kids’ rooms? So when you look for clothes, think of all the places in the house where your clothes are and then bring them all in one spot, put them on the floor and start picking them up one by one. Touch, feel, and ask yourself, “Does it spark joy?”

I have been doing this for the past week. She says to do it all fast and I am trying, but I also have a life and homeschooling to do. I think this might take me a couple more weeks. But I can already tell you that I have donated five big bags of clothes and gently used kitchen items to an inner city ministry. The transformation in the house is palpable. Even though most items were tucked away behind cabinet doors or in the walk-in closets, some were hanging on the outside as well. The before and after pictures would not be as dramatic as in a reality TV show about hoarders, but I feel the clearing of myself inwardly.

And yet, you can feel the difference in the house, too. Maybe because I knew in the back of my mind that we just had a lot of things that we did not need or want, things that did not spark joy. By thanking them for their service to our home and releasing them into the world, I am allowing other people to find joy in these items. And we are free to enjoy the ones we truly love.

My adventures continue in de-cluttering according to the KonMari method continue. I am not finished. I cannot wait to get into our poor garage and then into the kids’ rooms. That will be a delicate mission. Not to mention my husband’s stuff.