First Family Hike After Fire

Posted on

It has taken us more than eight months to get back on the Gatlinburg trail for a family hike after the November wildfires. It was therapeutic to be out in nature again.

Family hike and bike in the Smokies

Family hike and bike in the Smokies

So many things have kept us from hiking. In the winter right after the fire, the last place we wanted to visit was the park – even though not much actual burning actually happened on this particular trail. The sheer nature of a busy spring schedule precluded us from going there while school was in session. Then summer rolled around with its whirlwind of camps and tourist traffic. Continue reading »

We have also had some health challenges for the past six months. My husband had a mowing accident last month and he has had to be in bed with his leg propped up for weeks. I have had an upper respiratory infection for weeks. Our daughter has been struggling with a mild form of asthma. It seems that only our son has been healthy and fully operational lately, but even he struggles with the occasional growing pain in his legs or wrists.

Dad and son looking at the river gage on Gatlinburg Trail.

Dad and son looking at the river gage on Gatlinburg Trail.

The humidity here in the South can be forbidding to outdoor exercise, not to mention the mosquitoes and ticks. So yes, plenty of reasons to avoid hiking. Until today. All of the sudden, I found myself proposing to the family that we go on a hike. The children protested, but we ignored them. We know what they said after every hike: “That was fun!”

Gatlinburg Trail wooden bridge

Gatlinburg Trail wooden bridge

And off we went. I took some random pictures of a few burned trees – for those of you who want to see some of the damage. I know it’s in the back of everybody’s mind: “What actually burned?”

Burned trees on the Gatlinburg Trail

Burned trees on the Gatlinburg Trail

I have mixed feelings on the subject. On the one hand, I want to show non-residents the devastation, on the other hand, well, this is our hometown. People died. People lost their homes. This was a national disaster. Can we please stop treating it like it is a tourist attraction?

It has been sad to hear people ask for directions to the burned down cabins. “We just want to show our kids. Can you direct us to the streets where the most devastation happened?” Seriously, folks. Is there any sensitivity left in the world?


Math Camp At Home

Posted on

The other day I found an announcement about a math camp for homeschoolers taking place in Knoxville. I was ready to take my kids there and then reality set in: driving daily for two hours both ways, trying to entertain one while the other is taking the class, and for what? “Fun math activities.” I think we can do that at home.

Grape geometry - edible math craft

Grape geometry – edible math craft

So… I did what everybody does in such a situation – I Googled “math camp at home.” Thank God for generous bloggers who share their ideas with us… I found some wonderful ideas for math games and crafts and unleashed Operation Stealthy Learning.  Continue reading »

My children loved the concept of Math Camp at Home. In fact, they started adding their own touch on everything we did and then asked me if we could organize this for other children. My daughter wants to be a Junior Assistant. My son just wants to be “one of the kids.” Are you smiling like I am? Their personalities shine through in everything, including this.

Subtracting game

Subtracting game – they learned quickly how to avoid being stuck with the last yellow tile

I started a Word Document with five days of camp and copied and pasted different ideas and links from the web. I came up with at least one link to a short but fun math video, a math craft (preferably edible), one game and one activity on paper. They love snacks at camp time – probably because we do not snack around my house, so that is one compromise I have had to make in order to make Math Camp at Home more palatable (get it?).

Shake and add with pom poms

Pom poms are a hit, especially when used as counters in a shake and add game

In all honesty, I have begun to think and pray about organizing a Math Camp or STEM Camp or STEAM Camp here in Gatlinburg. I will open it up to all students, homeschoolers or not. As such, it will have to happen during the summer, which gives me an entire year to plan and organize. My husband has given me some interesting ideas of linking with some of the business owners around Zoder’s Inn so that we could take the campers to an alpine coaster or mini-golf courses. There, we can calculate angles and the speed of the river and the length of the coaster course etc besides having fun playing on the rides.

My husband’s hotel has a conference room and a pavilion with picnic tables so we could do all sorts of activities regardless of the weather and there is plenty of parking. Plus I have several friends who put their children in public school and who have shown a lot of interest in this idea. They will be my marketing team in that sector of the population.

Anyhow, until then, we have been playing with math concepts to ease them into the new school year and my children love it. They ask for more every day. More math camp. Isn’t that a breath of fresh air as opposed to frowns and groaning at the mention of math on paper?


App Attack Camp

Posted on

The University of Tennessee in Knoxville organizes a summer program for children called Kids U. I suppose “U” stands for university. This program is comprised of many different individual classes which can be taken separately or together, depending on your goals, budget, and schedule. The youngest children involved are rising third graders. A rising third grader is a child who just finished second grade and who will attend third grade when school starts again.

Boy attending App Attack

Our son on Day 1 of App Attack, at the UT Conference Center

Our son chose a class called App Attack. As a rising fourth grader, he qualified for this class. As a rising second grader, our daughter was too young to attend Kids U, so I took her to different other places while we waited for him to be finished with his class every day. Continue reading »

App Attack seemed like a great fit for our budding computer programmer. He was very happy every time I picked him up, because he was learning new things on the computer. He worked with a partner but midway through the class his partner quit the class altogether, and so they gave him a new partner – a young lady. Apparently, she called the shots, which is funny, because this is how the real world works. Girls call the shots, right?

They built an app together and he suggested a couple of ninjas in there. She did not even want one. He also suggested some other things related to war and fighting and she would have none of that. It is funny to me to see how he had to work with this girl to please her. He is learning teamwork.

Girl feeds giraffe at the zoo

Our daughter fed the giraffe at Zoo Knoxville

One other good thing that came out of it is that he saw children who mocked the teacher and messed with the teacher by intentionally acting stupid. Our son said one particular boy kept asking the same question, claiming he did not get the answer. Finally, our son asked the boy, “Are you trying to create trouble?” The boy nonchalantly replied, “Yes, that is exactly what I am trying to do.”

Oh, and on day 2, the teacher gave them a lecture, a stern lecture, about their behavior. Apparently, too many of them were horsing around and not paying attention. I listened to his description of this situations and I emphasized to him that this is what regular school would be like. There would be 25 other kids in the class, each with their personalities and issues and the learning would be very slow because of discipline issues.

He understands. He knows homeschooling gives him more time for the things he really likes. I don’t think I have to worry about him asking to go to regular school any time soon, if ever.


Update on Our Garden

Posted on

This year, we planted a small garden rather late in the season. Better late than never, right? We looked at it every day and plucked little weeds out before they ate up precious nutrients from the soil. We watered it and rejoiced when we got rain, because that meant we did not have to haul out the hose.

Small garden

Our harvested lettuce has almost gone to seed.

Then, the greatest moment came: harvesting lettuce leaves. For the first time, we had lettuce to harvest. Such a treat! We just walked out onto the patio with a bowl and plucked some leaves. We were having company, so we needed a lot of it. I read somewhere that you can actually harvest lettuce three times before it goes to seed, but I do not know if I am that lucky. We did plant a little late in the season. Continue reading »

For sure, we will be able to harvest one more time. It’s just a neat experience to be able to harvest lettuce from the patio pots and I thought I would share it with you. I do not have a green thumb and do not find gardening relaxing. A lot of people do and they do it for pleasure. I do it because I know it is good for us.

We just have so many mosquitoes, they make it really tough for us to be outside for long periods of time. No matter how much I hide under long pants, long-sleeved shirts and a hat, I still get bitten at least once while I am out gardening. Not fun.

But here’s the connection with homeschooling. Somebody once said that gardening is the ABC of education. Just think about the parallels between gardening and bringing knowledge to children. Let’s start with the soil preparation. The mind of children is a ready ground for learning. But if you crowd it with rapidly moving TV programs or video games, they will not be able to slow down and pick up new information from a book or a workbook.

Then, weeds are always at the ready. In the same way, worthless information, shows, and books abound. They crowd out the precious plants of true knowledge, realistic scenarios, and worthwhile lessons. I am still learning how to weed out certain activities which do not align with the overall goals of our homeschool.

Just as you can never say you are done weeding, you can never put your vigilance aside about your children’s education and recreational choices. Personally, I know I have to come up higher in our choices and am constantly praying for wisdom.


2017 Adventure Camp

Posted on

This year, we sent both children to Adventure Camp in Georgia, at Cohutta Springs Conference Center. It was strange to be without children for five days and five nights, but we were so busy that we almost did not miss them. Almost.

Cohutta Springs Youth Camp

Our daughter (second from the left) with some of her new friends

Adventure Camp is for boys and girls who are 7-9. Our daughter is seven and our son is nine, so this was the first year they were together at camp. He has been there twice before. This was her first time. They missed us and got homesick, but they did not cry. Continue reading »

They had a blast. This camp is on the side of a lake and they have a lot of water activities. Also, they have a gym for rainy days, where they play dodgeball and other games. There is an indoor climbing wall, too. They have horses to ride and a swimming pool. They do archery, BMX, and arts and crafts. Lots and lots of fun.

Boys doing crafts

Our son (in the foreground) working on a craft at camp

With four activities in a day, three vegetarian meals, one hour of afternoon quiet time, morning roll call and evening camp fire, it was a full schedule. They really enjoyed it. Although my heart broke thinking about how independent my children have become, I was glad to hear they missed us and looked forward to coming home.

In fact, the night before their departure, my daughter cried a bit thinking about being without me for five days. I told her missing home is a great thing. It means you have a loving home, which many people do not. She is a blessed little girl for having a loving home to miss. I am not sure she got it, but at least I left that thought with her.

While at camp, she made a friend who was interested in becoming a pen pal. They exchanged mailing addresses with the help of their counselor, who has access to their files. And they look forward to seeing each other again next year. This is the kind of pen pal friendships with which I grew up and I like it.

Which brings me to socialization. The only reason I was OK with sending my children away for five days so others can take care of them and entertain and nurture them is because I know they screen their staff carefully. Also, this camp is through our church conference. Their social interactions are monitored carefully and no bad languages is allowed. They are to keep their hands to themselves at all times. There are rules about boys and girls interacting with each other. Especially for homeschooled children, camp is a great opportunity to flex the socialization muscle and learn how to be in a group setting.

Our children are growing fast and we are growing with them. Hopefully.


2017 String Camp

Posted on

For the second year in a row, I took the kids to String Camp in Knoxville. The youth symphony has four levels of orchestras during camp time and it is a wonderful time for the kids to grow, learn, and have fun while making friends and enjoying themselves.

Boy and girl at String Camp

My kids on day 2 of camp

This year, they were in two separate orchestras, as opposed to last summer, when they were both in the beginning orchestra. My son has gone to the next level, called Overture, while my daughter is still in the beginning orchestra, called Prelude. She has only studied violin for two years now and will need another year before she could go to the next level.  Continue reading »

Her orchestra learned two songs and my son’s orchestra learned four songs. Here’s a YouTube link to the Overture concert and here’s another link to the Prelude orchestra. At the end, all orchestras came together for Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto no. 3 – a camp tradition.

String Camp is this magical time of the year, when we drive to Knoxville early in the morning, rehearse, do a workshop, then drive back. After lunch, I let them play and do whatever they want, but they still have to practice one hour before dinner.

We listen to the recordings during meals so they get used to the new music faster. It is so strange to know nothing about this music the week before, only to fall in love with it in seven short days.

It is a week of exponential growth for the kids. They also have fun because of the workshops which include some stretches and light physical activity, music theory, and sight reading. Then, there are the snacks. On Friday, they have a pizza lunch and a movie right before the concert. Since we don’t watch a full movie at one time at home, this is a special treat for them. This year, they watched “Happy Feet 2.”

We already look forward to next year’s camp. Until then, we will be preparing to audition for the 2017-2018 youth orchestra season, which starts in September.


SMHEA Homeschool Expo

Posted on

Every June, my local homeschool support organization, the Smoky Mountain Home Educators Association, puts on a free mini-convention. There are vendors and local organizations who cater to homeschoolers, like the Knoxville Zoo, the Titanic Museum, and Ripley’s Aquarium. There are seminars, too. I am one of the speakers.

Adriana Zoder, Claiborne and Lana Thornton

With THEA President, Claiborne Thornton, and his wife Lana

This year, I spoke about Preschool and Kindergarten in one seminar. The other one was about different homeschool approaches. Education can be done in a myriad of ways. By the way, you can find the slides of my PowerPoint presentations under the tab called Workshops on this blog. Continue reading »

Every homeschooling family should attend a homeschool convention at least once a year. It is a time to come together with like-minded parents and to connect. No man is an island. I know many of us are fiercely independent. If you are like me, you do not want to get involved with a co-op. I get it. But there is something to be said about renewing your strength as you gather together with other homeschooling parents.

Your vision may get a bit blurry and a convention will help you wipe your homeschooling lens so you can see clearly again. Or you may be so happy with your homeschooling effort, you just burst to share your enthusiasm and help those who are struggling. You don’t have to wait until you are in crisis mode or burned out to attend. Just put it on your calendar ahead of time and make it a priority.

SMHEA EXPO Sign

This year’s Expo happened in a Methodist church in Powell.

SMHEA makes an effort to have the event free. You may not be as blessed where you live. Whatever the price of your convention, I promise you it will be worth it. And you don’t have to buy anything in the vendor hall – though their special convention sales may be worth a second thought. Just gather information and look at the books and products they have. I got my questions answered about Saxon math, for instance.

SMHEA Expo Vendor Hall

My husband and children looking around in the vendor hall.

The internet can help a lot with research, but there is nothing like thumbing through a book and talking to a mom who has actually used a certain curriculum. You can fill in the informational gaps that way and make a more intelligent decision.

Rich Melton, Todd Sparrow

Former SMHEA President speaks and current president Todd Sparrow looks on

One neat feature this year was a scavenger hunt for the children. They loved it as they walked around the building, picking up different odds and ends from the list provided. It was also a chance to listen to the previous SMHEA director, Rich Melton, and to THEA president, Claiborne Thornton and his wife. THEA is the Tennessee Home Educators Association and the parent organization of SMHEA, which only covers 18 counties in East Tennessee.

Their stories of how homeschooling became legal in Tennessee in the 80s brought tears to my eyes. We have forgotten how precious this privilege is and how much others sacrificed to pave the way for our freedom to educate our own children. For that alone, the $28 SMHEA annual membership fee is totally worth it, especially as some of the money goes to THEA to help with lobbying.


Planting A Garden

Posted on

We try to plant a small garden every year so the children can spend time outside in the fresh air and sunshine. Also, so that they may receive the wonderful benefits of useful manual labor. Apparently, the frontal lobe improves as we use our hands to do something productive, as we manipulate tools and build things or rake, hoe and weed etc. It’s been documented by brain researchers.

Boy and girl planting a garden

The kids planted a garden the other day

Gardening teaches many skills. Children are naturally impatient and growing a garden takes some patience. Caring for something outside of yourself also teaches children responsibility. Having to water even when you don’t feel like it helps children mature and build habits of usefulness, of choosing duty over moods. Continue reading »

As they learn to protect their garden from rabbits and other animals or insects, they see the entitlement mentality at work. “Oh, the humans have planted juicy lettuce! Let’s go eat it!” We have fun putting words into the mouths of animals and insects, but I also show them how it is not fair for people who do not work to claim what does not belong to them. If you do not work, you should not eat, says the Bible.

Last but not least, gardening teaches children about how hard food gets produced in the real world. Farmers are heroes in my book. My mother grew up on a farm and this was in Communist Romania in the 50s and 60s – not much in the way of mechanized tools. She has always told me stories about how difficult it was to hoe an entire row in the vineyard or to harvest corn by hand. I do not take food for granted because of her stories.

My children love working outside in the garden – for now. The day will come when they will be bored by it – about three weeks from now, if not sooner. When that day comes, I will have to remind them of the fruit of their labor, which we will consume in another three weeks after that. They need to work and look forward to their glorious results.

Gardening for me is more about teaching character than about saving money by raising our own crops. We do not plant enough to save money on groceries. We plant just enough to let the kids play in the dirt and get some veggies they can be proud of – that’s about it.

This year, they have their own garden. Besides some random pots, where I grow things like basil, cilantro, and mint for the kitchen, we have a 4’x12′ plot which we have divided in two. The left side belongs to my daughter, because she is left handed. The right side belongs to my son, because he is right handed. They came up with this division themselves.

We went to Lowe’s and picked up some plants – whatever they wanted, plus flowers to help with pollination. Then we planted them and watered them. It was fun and the fun will continue through the summer and fall months.


Asian Trek at Zoo Knoxville

Posted on

Zoo Knoxville has a new exhibit called “Asian Trek”. There are two male tigers and one female tiger, plenty of Asian decor, and a family of white-naped cranes (with a baby!). They kids saw the billboards on I-40 several months ago, advertising the tiger exhibit, so they have wanted to go for some time.

My son high fived the tiger at Zoo Knoxville

My son high fived the tiger at Zoo Knoxville

We finally made it there last week. It was better than I expected. They have a pagoda and Chinese lanterns and music as you go through the Asian trek. Continue reading »

There are lots of facts about how few tigers remain the world (400 of them of this one species) and about tigers in general.

Asian Trek at Zoo Knoxville

China or Knoxville?

Through the thick glass, we can look at a tiger up close. If you remember, the tigers used to be in their own enclosure, pretty far away from the public. Now you can practically high five the tiger through the glass. My son did that.

The female tiger was brought in from California three months ago and she is still recovering from the stress of her journey. I think it is cute how much care they receive. All these animal activists who managed to close down the circus are now working on closing down zoos. Their arguments do not make sense. Animals are taken care of so well in American zoos.

Boy and girl look at a tiger in the zoo

Spending quality time with the tiger

Our children love animals and they learn about them at the zoo more than from a book – though I am all for reading about animals. We are vegetarian for several reasons and one of them is the humane side of things. We do not want to eat animals. Zoos provides such wonderful lessons in zoology and even botany as we see what kind of plants would grow in a certain area where a particular species lives, for instance.

Tiger at Knoxville Zoo

Big cat stretching like a little cat

They are building yet another exhibit at Zoo Knoxville, but I am afraid I did not see a lot of patrons walking around. Are zoos dying? Is our zoo dying? We will have to go there more consistently to really draw a definitive conclusion.

Walkway inside the Asian Trek

Walkway inside the Asian Trek

We have had an annual pass for several years now and we renew it faithfully, but this year it almost doubled in price. Yikes! No wonder people don’t want to come to the zoo anymore.

We, annual zoo members, are made to pay for the drop in ticket sales, is my guess. Here’s hoping this is not a downward spiral for our zoo or for zoos in general.


Royal Conservatory Music Development Program

Posted on

The Royal Conservatory put together a Music Development Program which is followed by music teachers all over the world. Many famous American music schools are proud to call themselves “founding schools” of this program which began twenty years ago.

Mom and children at Milligan College

The kids and I after their violin assessments at Milligan College in Elizabethton, TN

Our children’s violin teacher recommended that we take the assessments this year, in Level 1 and Level 3 respectively. It is a different curriculum than the Suzuki books and it was fun to step outside of those books and into a different repertoire. Continue reading »

So we had to invest in a new curriculum. The kids got challenged but we made sure that we stayed at a comfortable pace. The toughest part by far was to learn scales and arpeggios.

In all honesty, my children were missing some foundational blocks in their techniques. For the past year, since we started Skype lessons with the wonderful Mary-Beth Brown, they have made tremendous progress.

Please do not think that my children are little prodigies. They play as children do. I have uploaded some of their videos to YouTube and you can hear it for yourself. The thing is, it’s a work in progress. And we started with a bit of a handicap, as their previous teachers allowed them to develop some bad habits. No disrespect, as they worked hard with our kids, but that is just the truth.

As such, our last year has been stressful on the violin. But we persevered. It has truly tested me to the max. The violin is an emotional subject for me, as it was my main instrument growing up and I really want the kids to excel. It turns out, they like it. But somehow they sense my strong feelings about it and practice time gets tricky.

Overall, we have made tremendous progress and I can only attribute it to this new teacher, who has told me which books to read to get my mind in the right place. Also, she has worked with the kids’ skills and their frustrations. There is no replacement for a great teacher.

The assessments happened in Elizabethton, on the campus of Milligan College, about two hours from where we live. It was a fun trip and we celebrated with a nice meal at Cracker Barrel afterwards. We will receive the results within 2-4 weeks.