Art Field Trips

Posted on

Now that the standardized test is behind us, we can have some fun with subjects like foreign languages and art, which I tend to de-emphasize in the months leading up to the test. We visited two art museums recently, to get our art juices flowing: Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg and the Knoxville Museum of Art.

Girl looking at digital art

My daughter looking at digital art, in Knoxville, at the Museum of Art

At Arrowmont, we caught the tail end of the juried exhibition from Sevier County residents. We live in a community full of talented artists. It was inspiring to see all the different pieces and media.  Continue reading »

Arrowmont displays their permanent collection and then temporary exhibitions. The museum is free and they also have a library filled with art books and magazines. On Wednesdays, volunteers come to cull through their collection and discard what is not needed anymore in the school. They fill up a bookshelf with giveaways or heavily discounted art books.

Boy and girl at Arrowmont

My children at Arrowmont

I picked up several free beautiful art books and a $1 large coffee table book on London. How would you like to travel to London for $1 and not worry about terrorism, flight inconveniences and jet lag? With such a book, one can.

The children enjoyed the art and got a lesson in art marketing. They were shocked at the prices of some of the pieces. The most expensive one was $16,000 and most of them were in the $300 range.

In Knoxville, the Museum of Art is also free. They have a Children’s Corner filled with art books for children, a Brite Lite wall, two art easels for drawing, and many craft opportunities. While their gift shop offers pricey items, I have also found some of their offerings to be the same price as Amazon or Walmart. If you are watching your budget, the gift shop is not a bad option for some of the art products they carry.

Girl at KMA Lite Brite Wall

My daughter at the Lite Brite Wall

Play sticks are available in the Children’s Corner

The permanent collection upstairs houses, among other things, Catherine Wiley’s beautiful Impressionist paintings – my favorite part of going to KMA. I discovered Catherine Wiley’s paintings of motherhood and women six years ago, when my children were in diapers. Wiley’s depiction of motherhood helped me transcend Pampers and Huggies.

One of the temporary exhibits is an interactive, digital art display on loan from the Thoma Foundation and the other one is a beautiful collection of abstract art by Jered Sprecher, a UT art professor. His “Respiro” and “Calling” spoke to me in a personal way. The first one reminded me of Ramazzotti’s “Respiro nel blu” and the latter reminded me of homeschooling, because I feel called to do it.

"Respiro" by Jered Sprecher

“Respiro” by Jered Sprecher, at KMA

"Calling" by Jered Sprecher, at KMA

“Calling” by Jered Sprecher, at KMA

Art museums, for me, represent these spaces where I get in touch with parts of myself I do not usually see or feel. I talk about “art therapy” and that is because I feel more complete or aware or healed when I come away from these places. On a more specific note, I think that we are still healing from the shock we suffered in November with the wildfires, so yes, we need some art therapy.

The children love everything about the visits: the art books, the art corner with its manipulatives, and the exhibits. At KMA, the Thorne Rooms offer a collection of miniatures that delight them. I enjoy looking at them as well and they came in handy, after all the history lessons we had recently. These dioramas show actual living rooms from medieval Spain or Victorian England or the American Frontier.


Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 6

Posted on

The last time I blogged about Story of the World and our adventures in history was in October. That does not mean we have done done history. In fact, today we covered chapter 34. I suppose you can say I’m a bit behind in blogging about SOTW. My apologies. I will do my best to recount our efforts and catch up in the next couple of months.

Chapter 6 dealt with new colonies in the new world: Plymouth Plantation and New Amsterdam. For our craft, we made cornbread based on the recipe provided in the Activity Book – an original Wampanoag recipe with modern ingredients.

Wampanoag Cornbread

Wampanoag Cornbread

I modified the recipe a bit: soy milk instead of “milk,” vegetarian margarine (we like Smart Balance) instead of “margarine,” and honey instead of sugar. The one egg needed in the recipe can be replaced with Egg Replacer, of course. Even with all the substitutions, the cornbread came out well and everybody enjoyed it. I made some vegetarian chili and a cabbage salad and that was our lunch.

The kids loved to hear the story of The Mayflower all over again. We have covered it every year around Thanksgiving and they remembered some bits. The thing is, I don’t harp so much on dates and details. Maybe I should. The way I learned history was dry and fact-oriented and I want them to get into history through the avenue of a story.

Continue reading »

I had good history teachers, but the way they taught us was via a textbook. Here are the five reasons why the peasant revolts happened in 1907; memorize the years when King Stephen the Great reigned; now list the seven outcomes of World War II. I never understood why people got interested in history. What was the big deal?

Cornbread in pan

Cornbread in pan

Well, now that I am older, I look at history differently – as a story. I think that Susan Wise Bauer inspired me in that way, but I grew into this experience organically, through my fascination with royalty and by watching period dramas like ‘Downton Abbey’ and, more recently, ‘Victoria.’

You get the story and then you start asking questions about the people, the times, the inventions, and the government of the era. You get answers by Googling, by looking things up in a history encyclopedia, by listening to music from that time, by buying a history magazine etc. And then you know more about what happened and why. You discover you love history because it is so fascinating to hang on to the story.

That’s my strategy with the kids and I think it works because my son declares he loves history. My daughter – not so much, but she is still young. When my son was my daughter’s age, he was OK with history, but he would not declare his love for it.


Adventure Science Center in Nashville

Posted on

When we went to Nashville recently for TeenPact One Day, we also spent some time at the Adventure Science Center. That place is so big, your child could spend hours in there and not get bored. In the process, your child would be learning all sorts of science concepts hands-on.

Boy and girl play at Adventure Science Center

Sending parachutes up to be released

One can, for instance, lift a car with the help of a lever and fulcrum. The famous Aristotelian quote is written right on the lever: “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” Continue reading »

There is a piano you can play with your feet and an organ you play by covering holes with large cylinders. If your children are over 45 lbs, they can experience Moon’s gravity in a harness and try to moon walk. My son kept talking about the experience weeks after he did it, even though he did not master the squatting. Apparently, one must squat as soon as your feet touch the ground.

Upstairs, there is a large hall about the human body. You learn about the different parts of the brain by actually walking into a brain. They have a grossology game which is exactly what it sounds like. They ask you questions on a screen about the excretory function and you get to answer by pushing buttons, against three other contestants, or alone, if you prefer. Children love the topic, of course.

Adventure Science Center in Nashville

Body heat screen reacts to their movements

They also have a large water table to demonstrate the flow of blood in and out of the heart. Children can manipulate small gates to close and open different paths for the water. Of course, they make up their own games and forget all about the circulatory system. They are having fun and moving about and learning a little bit about the four chambers of the heart though.

In the planetarium, we were able to catch a documentary about solar eclipses, produced right there in Nashville. It was so fascinating, I was sorry I fell asleep ten minutes into it, but I suppose I am more tired than I think I am. At least I know the children enjoyed it very much.

If you are a teacher, you get into the Adventure Science Center for free. Just make sure you bring your homeschool educator ID if you have one from your local support group.


Cloudy With A Chance of Music

Posted on

The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra (KSO) regularly schedules concerts for school children. Cloudy with a chance of music was geared toward children in PK-2nd grade. As such, it was very interactive. The conductor guided the children through the program and had a special guest who contributed to the whole program.

The beautiful Tennessee Theater in Knoxville

The beautiful Tennessee Theater in Knoxville

You cannot beat actually being in the audience at the Tennessee Theater, of course, but should you not be able to attend, you can make your own concert by following the Teacher’s Guide provided on the KSO website and by picking out the songs from YouTube – any orchestra will do. Continue reading »

Of course, you will not get the interactive part of the concert, the dialogue between the conductor and the special guest, or between him and the audience. When you stay home, you have limitations. But you can still come pretty close to educating your children as if you had been in a concert hall.

We had a lot of fun and it was worth our time. I must confess, I get too comfortable to drive to Knoxville sometimes, but I remember how much we enjoy these concerts and get into gear, no pun intended. Plus, it is always great to see my last name on the seating chart. I don’t think it is vanity. I think it is simply the excitement of a mom who loves homeschooling.

Maybe my next book should be called “I Am School” and should detail all the ways in which a loving parent can offer her children the stimulation and opportunities very few brick and mortar schools offer these days, for a fraction of the price and time investment. Hmmm….


My Word for 2017

Posted on

“Onward” is my word for 2017. It came to me in an email from a friend who was inquiring about housing for a friend of hers, who lost her home in the Gatlinburg wildfires. When I told her we had already rented out the condo once we moved back into our home, she thanked me, added a few niceties, and ended the email with “Onward!”

Pioneers in Romania, 1986

Pioneers in Romania, 1986; source: Wikimedia Commons

It totally took me back to my childhood. In Communist Romania, school children were “Pioneers” – a scouting organization of sorts. Our motto was “Onward!” We used to have regular assemblies and the Pioneers’ Leader would say, “Pentru gloria poporului și înflorirea României socialiste, pentru cauza partidului, înainte!” (“For people’s glory and Socialist Romania’s flourishing, for the Party’s cause, onward!”) and we would answer, in a chorus, “Tot înainte!” (“Onward still!”)

Continue reading »

So silly. It sounds both silly and surreal looking back on it, not to mention that it gives me chills to think that I went through such a regime. For this reason, “Onward, Christian Soldiers” has never been one of my favorite hymns.

However, once that friend put it in an email after we went through a national disaster and historic fire, the word changed its meaning. It became a good slogan, a positive slogan, something survivors mutter under their breath, after having thought they would lose their lives together, in the fire. So onward we go.

This new year starts with several challenges for us on the home front, as we still need to do some remodeling at our house after the wildfires. But our routine has been so drastically interrupted, we need to get into a better routine before we get disrupted again by spring break.

We are still waiting for our insurance to settle our claim satisfactorily. The same is going on at my husband’s hotel, Zoder’s Inn and Suites. It’s a long story, one that is still unfolding. Maybe I will tell it when it is over.

Homeschooling is going well. The children are growing and I have learned the yearly routine by now: testing in March means that we focus in January and February (with some breaks for sanity if needed) and then in April and May we are home free or, at least, we are in the home stretch. Spring break will happen after testing, during the last two weeks of March.

Then summer will be upon us, with camps and leisure and library visits. And, hard though it seems, August will roll around before we know it and this time I will have a fourth grader and a second grader. My, my. I am coming up in the world.

Hopefully, through it all, we can continue all the routine of extracurricular activities: orchestra, violin, piano, tae kwon do and soccer. The kids have asked for tennis and swimming but we have no time. Period. I told them something has to give and they don’t know what.

And then it will be Christmas all over again, and a new year, 2018. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Here’s to a studious, prosperous, and happy new year, 2017! Onward, onward still!

 

Full credit for the picture: By G.B. – Personal files. The copyright holder granted me permission to upload the photograph to Wikimedia Commons and release it under the following Creative Commons License., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5252771


Tuesday Tome Week 52 – The Talent Code

Posted on

We had to read The Talent Code during the month of October at the Anna Porter Public Library Group Book. The author, Daniel Coyle, traveled all over the world to talent hotbeds: Russia for tennis, upstate New York for violin and other instruments, Brazil for soccer, Costa Rica for baseball.

The Talent Code

The subtitle says, “Greatness is not born. It is grown. Here’s how.” So the whole book details how a small tennis club in Moscow can produce more Top 20 female tennis players than all the American tennis academies combined in the last decade. And how all these other places can produce the best violinists etc in the world. It turns out, they have similarities, the talent hotbeds.  Continue reading »

The coach or teacher is usually somebody older than 60 years old. Somebody who has seen a lot, who does not have small children to tend to at their own home, somebody with a lot of patience, but also somebody who will not let you off the hook if you make mistakes – somebody who does what Coyle calls “master teaching.”

The Russian kids will not even touch a tennis ball for the first six months or so of training. They only work with their rackets, learning the motion of service and others. That’s right. They swing in the air hundreds of times a day, hours upon hours.

The violin players – that’s a different ball game altogether, but you can recognize the principle of deep practice there, too – the second principle of building greatness and cultivating talent, according to Coyle. These are Suzuki players, and in the beginning they don’t even have an instrument. They listen to the songs they will eventually play over and over again, until every sound has been ingrained in every fiber of their being. Then, they start holding a cardboard violin. After six months, maybe they will graduate to an actual violin and a bow.

The other principle is ignition or intrinsic motivation or passion. A lot of children will not persevere through music lessons or tennis practice unless their parents make them. But then comes the moment – and many children can identify that moment – when something came up on the inside, like a light that got turned on. They started liking their instrument, their sport, their hobby. They started more then liking it. They started loving it. And the more they love it, the more they practice, the better they get, and the more they practice, because they see the results of their hard work.

Brain research has shown how talent is just a very thick layer of myelin, wrapped around the neurons. Practice makes perfect, but practice has to be deep practice – perfect practice builds myelin. For instance, if you can recognize the song a violin player is playing, he is playing it too fast. And there are other things which I will not detail here.

It’s a fascinating book and I loved it, but most people at my book club did not, for various reasons. To each his own. This book inspired me to be even more careful with the habits I am allowing the children to develop in their practice whether it be violin, piano, spelling or math.


Merry Christmas!

Posted on

We are home for Christmas, which was our contractor’s goal after the wildfires and the damage at our house. But our house is not completely fixed yet. The wood flooring has to be replaced all over the house due to water damage after a tree fell and punctured the roof in several places, followed by rain that night.

Christmas at Downton Abbey

Christmas at Downton Abbey is a 2-CD collection of traditional Christmas melodies sung by some of the cast members from the iconic TV series and others

We are thankful and counting our blessings though. The children opened presents earlier in the morning and were very excited to receive new things to build and play with. We draw strength from their enthusiasm and childlike excitement.  Continue reading »

We had dinner at home and my husband’s mom came over with her husband. I cooked a simpler meal than at Thanksgiving: vegetarian turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes, walnut gravy, salad with Olive Garden dressing, steamed corn, sweet potato casserole, and pumpkin pie. We drank different Martinelli sparkling non-alcoholic ciders. Christmas at Downton Abbey played in the background – my favorite Christmas collection for two years now.

In other words, we had a good Christmas dinner, like many of you, I am sure. I really enjoy being at home, in my kitchen, laying a nice tablecloth on the dining room table, and seeing my family eat. It’s the simple things in life that bring us the most satisfaction.

As far as homeschooling, we started a Christmas break last Wednesday. For the next two weeks, we will only cover Bible, violin and piano. The children have received lots of new toys and books to engage with and I need to decompress after a very busy year. Don’t we all.


Tuesday Tome Week 51 – Joy in the Morning

Posted on

We had to read Joy in the Morning by P. G. Wodehouse during the month of November at the local group book I attend. I did not enjoy the book, but I read it anyway. I made the most of it, let’s put it this way.

Joy in the Morning

My conscience would prick me if I did not, because when I commit to something, I follow through. Plus I think it is a good challenge to put up with a book until you finish it. It’s like dealing with a relative you don’t like but whom you must see around now and then. It’s good for your character. Continue reading »

In short, the book was too silly for my taste. Sure, I enjoy jokes a lot, but the overall message of the book ranked on a silliness level I do not find appealing.

This is just one of many books, which stand alone, but they feature the same characters: Jeeves and Bernie Wooster. So if you like this one, have at it, there are several more to enjoy in the same vein.

In retrospect, the title of this book came in handy toward the end of the month of November, when my family had to evacuate Gatlinburg due to wildfires. Ironically, a silly book which I dismissed became a source of encouragement and its title a mantra I had to repeat to myself whenever I got discouraged and worried during the process of fixing our home and business.

A few things I did enjoy about the book:

  1. Biblical references – the title itself comes from several verses in the Bible which say something along the line of “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” – a reminder to all of us that temporary crises are just that, temporary, and good times are sure to come; our test will become our testimony.
  2. Wodehouse’s writing style – the sentences were well-written and the self-deprecating humor, British par excellence, gave me a chuckle here and there.
  3. Shakespeare does not teach you anything, but it sounds good – that’s what Wodehouse says and I happen to agree. Glad to hear it from somebody else’s mouth.
  4. Like an Old Testament minor prophet who was having a bilious morning – what a great phrase! Wodehouse got me laughing out loud with this description.
  5. Steeple Bumpleigh is the name of the small village where the action takes place – it sort of reminds me of Downton Abbey.
  6. Lord Worplesdon cracked me up during the twists and turns of the plot, as he got shock after shock. His reaction every time was, “What? What? What? What? What? What? What?” Don’t you feel that way when you homeschool sometimes?
  7. Jeeves, the butler, is an intellectual who knows Latin, Greek, the Bible, Shakespeare and many ways to get out of trouble. Very impressive.

Gingerbread House Decorating

Posted on

We spent two weeks and two days in our “life boat,” as my husband calls it – the condo where we had to live after the wildfire from Chimney Tops engulfed our city of Gatlinburg. Even though our home has not been completely renovated after the wind and water damage, we felt it was important to move back in, so that a family who lost their home to the fire could move into our condo.

Boy and girl decorating a gingerbread house

Our children decorating a gingerbread house at the condo.

This evacuation may have been a life-altering event, but we have made many great memories at this condo. One of them was decorating a gingerbread house with the kids. Continue reading »

A couple of years ago we got a kit which had to be assembled first, then decorated. It was – uhm – challenging and not exactly Pinterest worthy. We had fun alright, but frustration, too, as the walls of the house would not stand. That experience cured us from wanting to decorate another gingerbread house for two years.

Boy and girl decorating a gingerbread house

One of the things we brought from home was our daughter’s blue stool.

Last week, we were at Walmart to pick up electrical tape for our violins (that’s another story for another time) and we saw this gingerbread house decorating kit in which the house has already been put together. All we have to do is decorate with the enclosed icing, marzipan, gum balls, and gum drops.

Boy pipes icing onto gingerbread house roof

My son tried to pipe some icicles onto the roof of the gingerbread house. A for effort.

The kids had fun decorating and I let them do most of the work, unless they asked for help. Specifically, they asked me to show them how to pipe the icing on the roof to make it look like icicles. Well, I am no icing diva, but I read the instructions and followed them carefully and we got some icicles.

Gingerbread house decorated by children

The almost final result – they kept adding details even after we declared it finished.

The result is still not Pinterest worthy, but the kids were excited and it gave us a bit of normalcy in this time of evacuations, fires, and high winds. We were displaced, but we found a way to make our temporary home feel more like a home through gingerbread house decorating, among other things. We are thankful.


Tuesday Tome Week 49 – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Posted on

One of the 32 classic novels in Western literature recommended by Susan Wise Bauer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was written by Mark Twain, the father of all good things in American belles lettres. I was surprised Huck Finn was picked over Tom Sawyer, but I guess I am still learning the subtleties of why one novel is considered more important than another.

Huckleberry Finn

Huck Finn is on the run – that’s the main theme of the novel. The quintessential American quest for freedom is exemplified in his running away from his alcoholic, abusive father, from the religious lady who tried to adopt him and make him into a Christian, and from the rest of the people who mean well, but are doing him more harm than good.

Continue reading »

When Jim, a Negro slave, runs away and meets Huck by accident in the woods, the two band together and run into adventure after adventure. It is hard to read Jim’s language. Twain spelled the words phonetically, the way a Negro slave spoke back then. That really slowed down my reading as words did not make any sense. I ran into the same problem with Uncle Tom’s Cabin, of course.

I know some people refuse to read these books because of that language barrier. I confess that was tough even for me, and I love a linguistic challenge.

The value of any book starts when you find yourself in the story. I found myself in Huck in some ways. Even though my father was an honest man and held a job, he did have a drinking problem. I remember being a child and wanting to disappear from the picture of our not-so-happy family. The scenes with his father were hard to read from that point of view.

Maybe that’s why I found it easy to go overseas for college. It was my own quest for freedom, for wanting to put some distance between me and the domestic abuse I witnessed. In that sense, Huck Finn’s story spoke to my heart.