Happy Birthday, Big 6 Year Old!!

We had a nice quiet day. A playdate with a friend. Meridian chose breakfast for dinner, so Uncle Chris made homemade bread which became scruptious french toast, along with hashbrowns, eggs, and bacon. Then we opened some packages that came in the mail, and headed out to the toy store so Meridian could pick out her new bike. A solid happy birthday.

House Swarming Party


Yesterday evening, we transfered the bees to the hive. We were abuzz with excitement, and had a great time working as a team to pull off the transfer. Chris manned the video camera, I took the stills, Meridian gathered equipment, and Dave did the dirty work. I must say, the whole operation was totally impressive, and I was really shocked bby the complete lack of fear. David went barefoot and without headgear. Meridian begged to be able to leave her hat off, which I totally vetoed. Chris and Meridian were both eager to allow the bees to crawl on them. Frankly, I was the only sissy; and though I was proud of myself for getting much closer than I thought I'd be comfortable getting, in the end, I was the only one who had a (minor) freakout and swatted at a bee. David was the picture of calm and concentration, not even flinching when one of the bees crawled into his ear. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Allow me to take you on a photo tour. You can click any of the pictures below to enlarge.

Meridian inspects one of the hive frames. The bees will walk between these, building honeycomb which will then be filled with honey.

And she slides it back in place. There are ten frames in the hive, leaving just the right amount of space between them to make the bees feel comfortable and safe.

Uncle Chris and Meridian all dudded up in their beekeeping gear. Bees prefer light colors and attack dark colors, since their natural predators are dark. (Think bears.) We weren't quite ready to invest in the real beekeeper suits, so we got these tyvek coveralls from the hardware store.

Meridian inspects the box of bees before we begin.

And then poses for a photo op for Mommy. I just adore this kid!

David holds a frame as Meridian sprays it with sugar water. This will entice the bees into the hive.

David slides that frame back in place, as Meridian watches, and Chris videotapes.

David takes a turn spraying one of the frames.

The hive: The rack on the left is just a tool to hold the frames, giving you more room to maneuver in the hive. The box the frames are being placed into is called a deep. This bottom deep will be filled with frames for building honeycomb. Beneath the deep is the hole the honeybees will use to enter and exit the hive. And the whole thing sits on a bottom board, which is raised on a stand (made in our case from cinder blocks and pallets).

Uncle Chris in his beekeeping helmet and screen.

David uses the hive too1 here to pry the lid off the case of bees. The hive tool will be used later in the season to lift the frames out, breaking through the propolis (bee glue) that the bees use to cement them in place.

Chris and Meridian look on, eagerly awaiting the emergence of the bees.

David removes the can of sugar water that has been feeding the bees during their transport. The first bees make their way out of the box.

With the can removed, the bees are now free to come out, but their instinct is to protect their queen, who is still in the box.

David removes the box holding the queen. She is in her own package so that you can safely get her into the hive, ensuring that she does not escape, causing the hive to swarm and depart. With the queen out, the bees now start to emerge.

A better look at the queen's cage. In addition to wanting to be near their queen, this little cage also holds candy, which is feeding the queen and blocking her exit from the cage, so the bees would like a bit of that too.

David removes the cork which covers a hole that will grant access to the worker bees. The worker bees will crawl into the hole and begin eating the candy that is blocking the queen in so that she can proceed into the hive. This will take a day or two.

Meridian pokes her hand in, excitedly hoping that some of the bees will want to walk on her!

Here you can see in the center of the cage, the little round hole that allows the queen to breathe. On the end, you can just barely see a bit of the hole behind the paper flap, which is where the bees will crawl and eat to free the queen.

Meridian holds a few bees and watches them studiously as they crawl about on her hand.

David lowers the queen's cage down into the center of the hive, where it will dangle for several days until the queen is freed, and the colony decides this is home.

One of the frames has been removed to make enough room to put the queen's cage into the hive. It will be restored later, and the cage removed.

Here you can see the queen's cage suspended between the frames of the hive, and you have a good view of the hole the bees will use to free her. The white substance blocking the hole is the candy they must eat through to gain access to her.

The majority of the hive is still in the bee box, and Meridian gets up close and personal.

David brings the bee box over to the hive and prepares to dump it in.

David take a moment to explain what to expect, and how to react, while Chris videotapes, and Meridian looks inquisitively into the hive.

He sets the lid aside.

David dumps the bees into the hive. You can see a big clump of them fall out here. While swarming the bees cling to each other and the entire mass moves kind of like jello. So, imagining a big lump of jello falling from an inverted jello-mold, and you'll pretty much have an idea of the movement as they fell.

After the large clump falls out, more single bees begin to fall or fly out.

David is shaking pretty hard at this point to dislodge the remaining bees.

The bees sit atop the frames and begin to make their way down into the hive, enticed by the presence of their queen and the sugar water that's been sprayed on to the frames.

David is perfectly calm and goes about his work, even as bees crawl through his hair and into his ear!

David covers the lower deep with a feeding tray, which will be filled with sugar water to feed the bees until they are able to feed themselves.

David has added an additional deep, which will hold the feeding tray in place in the hive, and protect is from other insects wanting a sweet treat. He pours in the sugar water (made from 5lbs of sugar to 2.5 quarts of water!) as the bees buzz around him.

A lone bee finds the entry hole to the hive. Word will spread quickly.

Meridian studies a bee which has landed on the screen of her headgear.

David fits the cover in place, trying not to squish any bees.

More and more bees have found the entry to the hive and explore.

I realize at the last moment that I'm not represented at all in these photos (so often the case), so Meridian and I pose for a picture.

The Birds and the Bees


Our bees arrived this morning, and we received an 8am phone call from the post office asking us to come and get them. The looks of excitement from Meridian and David were downright contagious - think Christmas morning excitement! So, I grabbed the camera, and we all jumped in the car to go greet our new little honey-makers!

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Fortuitously, Meridian and I were scheduled to attend a homeschooling co-op this morning for a lesson on bees and beekeeping. Meridian was pleased as punch, and wore her beekeeping hat. A representative from our local beekeeper's guild came and gave a wonderful talk to the kids, showing off loads of equipment, and answering questions. She and the co-op host then had the kids work together to become a hive; each child was assigned a role for the upkeep and operation of the hive (from queen bee to drone to scout). The activity was super cute with the kids using props to perform their jobs. Meridian was a housekeeper, which meant she was responsible for keeping the hive clean. And then the kids got to make beeswax candles and take home two straws of honey.

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This evening we will empty the container of bees into the hive, and their work will begin! Cross your fingers for a successful transition and a healthy hive!

Funky Nests in Funky Places


As an opportunity to participate in a citizen science project, and to practice writing, I had Meridian choose one of our robin pictures to submit to Cornell University's Funky Nests in Funky Places Contest. Hers is entry number 26. If you click it, you can see the paragraph she submitted. They corrected her spelling errors and capitalization for their site (no doubt to prevent confusion for their readers), but I wanted to post her original here to save it for looking back on:

my name is meridian. i am five years old. i am home scooled. i am lerning about birds. i have a reeth near my door with a brid nest. two robin eggs are in it and they are bloo. there are two teeny tiny hatchlings. a hatchlling is a new baby bird. the babys are cute and pinc. they have fuzzzzzzzzy down.

We're really enjoying Cornell's Lab of Ornithology, which has so many way for citizens to share their birding observations with the scientific community. In addition to the funky nests contest, (which you can enter here), they run various concurrent challenges. This is the first one we've participated in, but we hope to continue to participate as new ones are posted. Also, through their Celebrate Urban Birds program, you can dedicate ten minutes a day to bird watching and then enter your data, helping scientists track movement of 16 urban bird species. Cornell also offers a host of other citizen science projects available for browsing through here. We've just began tracking our bird observations in eBird and hope to participate in Project Feederwatch next fall, both from that list.

And since we're on the topic of birds, we had a Mama Duck take up residence in our iris bed out front. She showed up about four days ago, and didn't budge from the nest after she made her appearance. This morning, all that was left were hatched remnants of the shells, and two unhatched eggs. Mama made off with the ducklings before I could capture them on "film".

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Tastebud Adventures


It's always been very important to David and me that Meridian have a broad pallet. David will eat anything! I, on the other hand, have to reallyreallyreally work to get myself to try something new. To that end, we've always tried to give her encounters with lots of different kinds of foods. Recently, we began to shopping at the international market, and were blown away by the vast scope of foods we were unfamiliar with. We decided to begin what we're calling weekly "tastebud adventures," wherein Meridian chooses an unfamiliar vegetable and an unfamiliar fruit for us to try.

This week's fruit adventure: Papaya

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So, papaya was Uncle Chris' idea. He saw them and wanted one, and we went along for the ride. Meridian's never had papaya before because our grocer rarely carries them, and I'm not real familiar with them, so I've never sought them out or jumped at the chance to get one. She was thrilled with the size of the fruit, and intrigued by it's different shape.

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The seeds were neat because they were soft and squishy. They reminded Meridian of tiny olives, me of capers, and Chris of shotgun pellets. The rich orange color of the fruit was promising, and Meridian had no hesitation at all about trying it.

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Origin: Mexico, but now grown in all tropical countries.
Nutrition: Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Folate
Verdict: Delicious
Thumbs: Up!

This week's vegetable adventure: Tindora Squash

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The appeal of these were definitely their thumb-sized stature. Meridian fell in love with them the instant she laid eyes on them. They look like miniature watermelon cucumbers. Meridian collected 25 of them in a bag, which weighed in at about 12 ounces.

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We steamed them, and tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper. They had a flavor very much like zucchini, if a tiny bit greener and heartier. Their texture held up a little better than zucchini in the steamer, which goes mushy very quickly if you look away. The skins were a bit thicker and crunchier than zucchini, more like a cucumber. We all enjoyed them, and wouldn't mind adding them to our regular diet. Perhaps next time we'll try them with some Indian spices for a more authentic flavor.

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Origin: India
Nutrition: Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Iron
Verdict: Good, familiar.
Thumbs: Up!


Under Exposed


I was already overdue for a gallery update when I went on hiatus from this blog back in November. Well, I've finally gotten around to the enormous task of sorting, filing, and posting our images for the last half year. Some of these you may have seen on facebook, but there are many new ones in the new 5½ Year Gallery. Take a peek.

A Natural Tree-t!


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We spent most of the fall doing history, and this spring seems to be all about science! We're learning about trees at the moment, prompted by Meridian's newfound love for weeping willows. At one of our homeschool play groups, we meet at a park that has a waterway lined with weeping willows. The kids have decided to convert these willows into a clubhouse. They've used large sticks and vines from the willows to create ladders, which one after another have been deemed as failures for their inability to support their weight. They took a break from ladders for a while, and decided instead to construct a swing from the willow's vines with a large stick serving as the seat. This was successful, and happy that their clubhouse was progressing, they returned again to the concept of constructing a ladder to gain access to the branches of the tree. Their strategy has currently moved toward rope ladders, and they tried this first from vines, and then in a subsequent week from a roll of ribbon. The ribbon they found successful, but noted that they didn't have enough of it. This is the current state of affairs, with Meridian pledging to bring more ribbon next week.

So, with her current interest in trees, it seemed a natural topic to explore, and we've checked out a few books and begun to learn more about them. It dawned at me at yesterday's playdate that it won't be long before they achieve their goal and make it into the branches of the tree. And I realized another kind of tree lesson was in order. So, we packed a bag full of snacks this morning, along with our tree books, and our current novel. We headed for a local campground which I know has a host of magnolia trees, and Meridian had her very first tree-climbing lesson. I LOVED climbing trees as a child. Truth be told, if we had a good one in our yard, I'd still climb as an adult. There's something peaceful and connected about sitting in the high branches of a tree. It's a kind of balm for all the soul's scratches and bruises. Meridian's excitement comingled with her apprehension as she took her first tentative steps from the lower branches, but as she reached difficult points in the climb, and had to manipulate her body around branches more and more, her confidence grew.

I marked the point at which we would have been "looking out her bedroom window," and she insisted we keep going, settling finally around what I think would have been our roofline. She settled on a smaller forked branch that had another smaller branch at her eye level that she could hold onto. As I read to her from our books, nestled up there in the trees branches, I could see her becoming more and more self-assured. Letting go with her hands. Letting her feet dangle. Inching further and further from the trunk of the tree. Enjoying the bounce of the branch. It took me right back to a peaceful place in my childhood, and I knew I was sharing something really special with Meridian.

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Our robins left the nest this morning, and so I thought it a fitting time to document their progress here on the blog. The whole family has had a great time watching them grow, and hope they'll be back again next year. Many of you have followed along with our robins growth on facebook, so forgive the repitition, but I wanted this here for posterity.

April 28th - (10am) - Here's the zoomed out view to give you an idea of where they are nestled. Ironically, they're nesting in a FALL wreath, which I left out for too long LAST Spring (2009). After they built the nest there last year, we took the wreath in when the nesting season was complete, and then we put it back out again this year and they came back.

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April 28th - (10am) - Two chicks hatched this morning. They're not strong enough to lift their necks yet.

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April 28th - (7pm) - Ready to eat! Little brother on the left hasn't quite gotten his head up yet.

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April 28th - (7pm) - There we go! Now they're both able to get their heads up a little better. What a snuggle!

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April 28th - (7pm) - Feed us! So, the next two eggs should hatch in the next few days. They were laid a few days apart as well.

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April 29th - And we're up to three hatchlings (with one more egg still hidden in the back there)!

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May 1st - This is Mama Bird. She is much more comfortable with me than Papa Bird is, and will let me watch from about this distance, going and coming from the nest. Papa is far less trusting and yells at me if I'm in the front yard at all. You can tell them apart because Papa Bird has a much darker head and a redder breast. He also raises the feathers on his head

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May 1st - Three of them are now ready for food, and Mama bird has left for some more worms. They make fast work of it, Mama and Papa feeding the babes together, both foraging for worms and visiting the nest. (Although, Papa won't feed while I'm out front, but he watches me and chirps messages to Mama as she continues the job.)

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May 1st - We're up to four hatchlings now. Coincidentally, they are arranged here according to age. The one in the lower left positioned at about "8 o'clock" is the oldest at 3 days old (hatched 4/28). Going clockwise, the next one is just a few hours younger (hatched 4/28). The next one is 2 days old (hatched 4/29). And the newest one hatched yesterday (4/30). You can really see the difference between the 3 day old and the one day old, which shows just how rapidly they develop. Check out the little wings starting to form on the oldest one, and then go back and compare to the very first picture where he had his little featherless wing thrown over the unhatched egg. So neat!

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May 3rd - Amazing how quickly they age. Here we see the wings developing, the feather quills starting to emerge, the bill hardening.

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May 3rd - Only two days since the last photographs, and already they start to become indistinguishable.

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May 5th - All four looking like little birdies, and less like the worms they looked like when just born! They are 7 days old now, and will leave the nest in another week's time.

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May 5th - if you look at the tip of the wing quills, you can see here the feathers erupting. Both of those are part of the feather: its quill (the hard plastic-like tube) and its barbs (the soft feather fibers). You can also see the quills beginning to emerge on the faces of the older birds. The youngest of the four is at the very top, and easily missed because he is still so pale gray.

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May 6th - This guy is the oldest. You can see his face nearly fully filled out with feather quills. But I love his little bits of Dillbert down poking up here!

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May 6th - This is the little guy who hatched third. Still not as good as distinguishing between his parents arriving with food and me arriving with the camera. The sound of the shutter produces this response.

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May 6th - Nestling back down. You can see in the closeup here that his facial quills are only just beginning to show, like 5 o'clock shadow. By tomorrow he'll already look much more like his big brother (shown two photos back).

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May 6th - and again, the shutter has him pop right up. I love this shot because you can really see the skin that's still unfeathered, the growth of the wing quills, and the matted down that's deteriorating on his head.

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May 7th - 9 days old, and just look at the difference from yesterday where you could just see the barbs of their feathers beginning to poke out of the edges of the quills, to today: feathers!

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May 7th - This little guy spotted me, and I couldn't resist at a shot of his open beak.

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May 7th - Mama Bird with a worm in her mouth, looking out to make sure she has the all clear before flying to the nest.

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May 7th - Mama Bird on the nest feeding the little ones. I love this shot because you can see their exposed bellies and underbeaks, which still haven't grown feathers.

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May 7th - I got too excited and had some camera shake here, so it's not as sharp as it could be, but I love the shot anyway!

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May 7th - Mama's just left the nest, and they haven't yet accepted that there are no more worms, so they "beg" a little while longer.

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May 7th - I didn't dare waste a moment trying to close my aperture to get the whole shot in focus, so I just clicked away, and love how you can see the extended wing here. This is the youngest bird (7 days old), and not all of his feathers have emerged from the quills.

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May 7th - So much bigger and stronger now than even yesterday, but a thousand miles from the little pink worms they started as!

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May 9th - 11 days old. All feathered and alert, and nearly ready to leave the nest!

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May 9th - Papa was just flying in with a worm, not knowing how close by I was. I grabbed this quick shot showing off their red belly feathers coming in, and then left them in peace for their meal.

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May 11th - 13 days old. Two of our birds have fledged! Here's a cute little fledgling that just left the nest, and is balanced on a neighbor's porch chair.

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May 11th - 13 days old. Same fledgling, different angle.

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May 11th - 13 days old. They're still learning to fly, and they seem to think that the lines in the siding are ledges, so they attempt over and over again to fly up and land on these "ledges". You can really see the extended wing here, and appreciate how grown up our little guys are!

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May 11th - The younger two were still in the nest when I took this shot, but when I came home several hours later, they were gone. The older two fledged at 13 days old, and these two fledged at 11 and 12 days old. Amazing!

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May 12th - The fledglings are still hanging around the front yard, and it's fun to yard them hop around in the grass and try to get off the ground.

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May 12th - We're officially empty-nesters now.

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Let the Good Times Roll


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Back in October, I took Meridian roller-skating for a fun afternoon. It was quite possibly the worst experience she ever had. But having paid something like $25 for the two of us between admission and skate rental, I was not ready to bail so quickly. So, I did something that I rarely do: I forced her to stay. Despite her protestations and her pleading. Despite her tears. Despite the two or three falls on her bottom, or the fact that she moved so slowly that whether or not she was actually in motion is up for debate. I made her stay for the whole session. I felt that she'd given up without really making any effort, that she'd refused to face her fears, and that she would feel a real sense of accomplishment if she'd just stick it out. I questioned my decision the whole time, wondering whether I was prioritizing $25 over Meridian's feelings and preferences. But I'd committed to the decision, and so it stood. And like Meridian, by the end of it, I was glad for my perserverence. At the end of the two hour session, when Meridian beamed at me, impressed with her ability to stand on the skates without falling, I knew I'd done the right thing.

A few mornings later, she asked me when we could go roller-skating again. And just about that time, I became aware of our local rink's monthly homeschooling session ($2.50 for admission with skate rental included). So, we've attended with that group monthly since November, and it's just amazing to see Meridian's progress in what really amounts to six roller-skating sessions, she's gone from afraid to stand on the skates at all to able to skate around the middle of the floor without holding hands. At the last session of the school year last Wednesday, she joined eight other children, aged 5-13, in a hip-holding train that circled the rink several times. She couldn't be more proud of herself, and all she needed was that initial push!

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An Interview with a Five Year Old


Today, I took Meridian out for a mommy-and-me dinner date, and what started out as fun dinner conversation developed into a full-fledged interview, complete with me taking notes on a napkin.

Mommy: If you could invent anything at all, what would you invent?
Meridian: I'd invent a machine that you step into and as soon as you step in, you're instantly where you want to be. But I'd make it so that time is frozen in the place where you were so that no one knows you're missing. That way I could visit Aunt Ryan's house any time I want.
Mommy: If you could solve any of the world's problem, which would you solve?
Meridian: I would make it so that people could eat as much sugar as they wanted. Yeah, and sugar wouldn't make cavities in your teeth, and it would be healthy for your body. Then I'd eat it all the time.
Mommy: If you could travel anywhere in the world that you wanted to, where would you go, and what would you see?
Meridian: Well, could you go back in time?
Mommy: Okay, hear the answer you'd give if you couldn't go back in time,a nd then the answer if you could.
Meridian: Not going back in time, I'd go to Santa Claus' house. But if I could go back in time, I'd go to South Dakota during pioneer times so I could see Laura's house. [That would be Laura Ingalls Wilder.]
Mommy: If you could become a book character from any story you've read, and live out their adventures, who would you become?
Meridian: That's too hard for only choosing one. Okay? How about three?
Mommy: Okay, then. Three.
Meridian: Nim, from Nim's Island, so that I could live on an island. Annie from Jack and Annie [the Magic Treehouse series] because they get to go to many different and magical places. And Laura, from Little House on the Prairie because I would like to do everything she does.
Mommy: And what if you could only be those characters for one hour, which specific experience from each of their lives would you like to have?
Meridian: In Laura times, I would want to live in a dugout house, where the house was dug out from a big hill and actually is underground. In Jack and Annie, I would do the adventure where they search for a unicorn and free her from an evil sorcerer. And if I was Nim for only a little, I would want to feed coconut to an iguana.
Mommy: If any of the characters from any of the books you've read could come to life and live with you at your house, who would you pick?
Meridian: Laura, because she'd be my sister, and she'd live in my room, but I'd be older than her because I'd be Mary. But not blind.
Mommy: If you could have any super power, what would you choose?
Meridian: Turning things into chocolate. And then I'd eat them. But first I have to invent making sugar healthy.
Mommy: What's the most exciting thing you've ever done?
Meridian: When I got Barbies for Christmas! And when I first got my rats, that was a really exciting day because they were so cute and fluffy.
Mommy: What accomplishment are you most proud of - something in your life that you haven't always been able to do, but now you can, and that makes you feel good...
Meridian: That I cannot yet answer because it's coming up soon and it's a surprise, so I can't tell you.
Mommy: But what about so far, from things you've already accomplished?
Meridian: Riding a rollercoaster!
Mommy: What are you most afraid of?
Meridian: Nothing. Fire. I'm scared our house will once catch fire and burn us up, and the rats will be stuck in it too.
Mommy: What was the happiest moment of your life?
Meridian: Being with you and Papi.
Mommy: What do you hope you'll be able to do one day that you can't do now?
Meridian: Ride the biggest roller coaster in the world, learn to play hockey correctly, and be a real famous baker.
Mommy: At what age will you become a grown-up?
Meridian: Twenty.
Mommy: At what age will you marry?
Meridian: I won't. I will adopt though, but not marry. I will adopt as soon as I get my bakery. Kaitlynn said she will not be my helper in my bakery because she plans to be a farmer's wife.
Mommy: How many children will you adopt?
Meridian: 29,000. [maniacal laughter, then:] Nah, nine probably. Yeah. Nine girls.
Mommy: Will you ever have a baby grow inside your body?
Meridian: No, because I will not marry!
Mommy: Why will you not marry?
Meridian: Because I don't even know what kind of man I'll want. I don't know if I'll want a curly hair man, a straight hair man, a tall man, a short man, a man who likes pets... I'm definitely having pets. I'm having two baby gerbils, a boy and a girl. Oh, and also a cat and a dog.
Mommy: Where will you live when you grown up and have your bakery and all your nine girls and all those pets?
Meridian: In a car-house RV thing that I can drive places.

And the bill came, and our interview came to an abrupt end. It was interesting for me. Many things I knew already: desire to eat sugar, ambition as a baker. Some things I didn't know: no desire to marry, fear of fire. I played the objective interviewer, and didn't let on that I hope she will one day marry, that nine kids might be a bit much, or that life in a trailer might not be as glamorous as she currently envisions. It will be fun to look back on these answers one day and giggle.



To celebrate Arbor Day, we joined a local homeschooling group to create bonsai trees from junipers. Meridian was adamant that I not assist in the pruning at all. She plans to repot it and add moss soon.

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Five Months


All manner of missed notations. A mommy wracked with guilt at this lost documentation. Friends and family, whose excitement at seeing the Leonids photo has thoroughly dulled. There's nothing to do but to recap the last five months to the best of my ability and begin again with renewed vigor!

  • Homeschooling. Continuing in our own eclectic unschooling sort of way has been really just wonderful! Meridian is a student of the world, and I love that about her. She gets her own notions about things, sets up experiments to test her theories, and soaks up information like a sponge. Over the last several months, she has learned to read, with the help of a few the Bob Books, Dr. Seuss, and our libraries wide selection of readers. Her primary sources of motivation have been 1) reading to the library's theraputic dogs, and 2) working ot meet the requirements of a program offered through our local baseball team which offers free tickets to kids who meet their reading goals. Excited by her success, I have sometimes found myself trying to insert my own motivators, or enforce a set amount of reading time to urge on her growing fluency. As the year has progressed, I find myself excited by structured learning that other homeschooling families talk about - for instance, spelling tests to reinforce their word recognition and writing fluency. Here and there, I've added these types of activities to our homeschooling experience, and the answer is immediate, resounding, and long-lasting: it seems to kill her love of learning.
    To hear the girl who writes letters to her friends daily, writes out shopping lists and menus, and writes her own invented stories start saying things like "I don't want to write in my journal. I hate writing!" has forced some reflection and soul searching. As a result, I'm trying to suppress my own inner desire to organize and implement any manner of daily activities. I'm shoving the "classroom" teacher in me back into her box. I've scrapped the spelling tests, given her a long break from her journal, eliminated mandatory reading times, etc. Essentially, gone back to the way we were doing things to begin with. I've given control of her education back to her, and while she's not necessarily doing things according to my sense of style, no one can fault what she's accomplished all on her own. She's taught herself to read, to write, to skip-count, addition and subtraction with sums and differences up to about 15 and down to about -15, to bake, to play every game in our vast game collection. She invents poems and stories, listens to hours on end of audio books and read-aloud novels, she hosts classes for her dolls, builds houses for fairies from moss and twigs, identifies dozens of birds on sight, has her own separate garden that she is solely responsible for, and on and on. I'm not the teacher, so much as the facilitator, and the results speak for themselves.

  • Canada.In January, we were fortunate enough to get to take a family vacation to Central Canada to visit David's childhood stomping ground. How wonderful it was to get to spend time with so many kind and generous families, who were happy to welcome David back after all these years. It was such an oddity (but so very wonderful) that we were able to sit down and enjoy meals with people he went to elementary school with. I know if I ran into someone from elementary school, I'd feel a moment of delightful nostalgia and then just awkward! But here things were so real and lacked pretention. It was fabulously refreshing! It was also a delight to experience Canadian winter (and by all accounts, we were lucky in that it was the mildest winter in years!) We were able to go sledding (toboganning, as I'm corrected), curling, ice-skating, snow-shoeing, snow-mobiling, animal tracking, and much more. We built a snow fort on the frozen river, and dug our own foxhole to snuggle down into during a blizzard! We ate more perogies than we should admit and dessert after nearly every meal (which, the scale still betrays, three months later). We played cards with Aunt Elaine and Uncle Alvin, and birdwatched from the kitchen window. We caught up with so many friends, and re-established old connections. We visited two working farms, collected chicken eggs, fed the horses, and pet the donkeys and llamas. We heard that Virginia had a slew of snow while we were gone, which seemed ironic, but we just took credit for blowing it down from Canada. :)

  • Uncle Chris. The biggest change for us has coincided with the lack of updating here. I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions. We made the decision (with little planning and in a very short time) to bring my brother Chris from SD to live with us. We have worked hard over the last five months and continue to work to help him get on his own two feet. In the long run, it will be better for him to be here, where we can help him regularly with his living needs. But in the short run, it's been a big adjustment for all of us. Chris struggles with some untreated mental health issues, something Meridian's never been exposed to, and doesn't quite know how to react to. It's been a challenge to model and teach compassion and forbearance, while also wanting her to carve out her own boundaries and communicate those clearly. It's been difficult for Chris as well, who has had to make a lot of lifestyle changes to live here (giving up smoking, for instance). Chris doesn't quite know what to make of us sometimes, with our rejection of the notion that kids should resolutely respect, obey, and be subservient to all adults. Likewise, Meridian doesn't know what to make of Chris sometimes, with his antagonism as a way of showing affection, his mood-swings that come without apparent reason, and his child-like behavior despite his grown-up body. Ironically, the complaints from each of them are remarkably similar. They each want more respect from the other, they each want their personal space and time with me less impeded upon, they each want affection on their own terms and communicated using their own methods. It's not ironic so much as confounding that the neither of them has a developed enough sense of empathy to recognize these similarities, and modify their behavior accordingly. In one case that's developmentally expected; in the other, it's a product of the special circumstances we're dealing with. Neither can truely be faulted, which makes the balancing act all the trickier.

And that has been the nutshell version of our last five months. Hopefully, I can revert back to life as normal around the blog. Facebook has sadly provided an outlet for those quick little one-liners that kids so often say to the amusement of those around them, and while it's great to be able to share there, I lament the fact that I've lost so many of them from the written memory that this blog is. I will try harder.

Star Light, Star Bright


The Leonid Meteor Shower was last night. We saw 35 shooting stars all, cuddled up in sleeping bags on reclining chairs at the edge of a soybean field out in the country. Meridian thought it was magical, and marveled not only at the sight, but at the sheer delight of being woken up at 3:30am. We drove out to Pungo to get away from the lights, and I had a spot picked out in advance based on how rural the area was. It was surprising to arrive and learn that it was on a road that had its share of street lights. Even so, it was amazing how many more stars we could see than where we live. We layed there for an hour in the middle of the night, eyes upward taking in the beauty and talking about the phenomenon we were seeing, and about space in general. Homeschooling at 4am - see that's my kinda schedule!



First a note of housekeeping, and that is that I found the SOL references at the bottom of each entry were not only boring me (and I'm sure you) to tears, but they were making me feel like each entry had to be a report card of how well we're doing and how much we're covering. I miss the anecdotal feel of the blog before I started with that, so I've decided to put an end to it.

So then, poetry. I recently listened to this fantastic lecture from the director of the Institute for Excellence in Writing. The summarized version is that kids are not growing up in an adequately rich linguistic environment - that the main sources of children's receptive language pattern acquisition (the media, peers, adults, and independent reading) each fail to provide such an environment. The conclusion was that reading aloud to your children, long after they have begun to read themselves, is the best way to allow them to procure reliably correct and sophisticated language patterns. Further, that reading novels and poetry is superior in many way to picture books because they rely on sophisticated patterns of speech and vocabulary not often present in every day life. The speaker talks, too, about the benefit of memorization and recitation in helping to lay the neural pathways for more mature language and speech organization.

To that end, we've decided to introduce poetry memorization and recitation using the Suzuki method described in the lecture. Each week, Meridian will learn and memorize one new poem. As she does so, we will continue to recite all of the previous poems that have been memorized. So that week one, she'd recite one poem. Week two, two poems. Week 21, 21 poems. We started today. She wanted to choose the poem, and chose one she'd already committed to memory. So, I'm counting us at week two, and I added another poem to her repretoire tonight, which we'll continue to practice this week. Our poems so far:

  • One, Two, Buckle My Shoe
    One, two,
    Buckle my shoe;
         Three, four,
         Shut the door;
            Five, six,
            Pick up sticks;
               Seven, eight,
               Lay them straight;
                  Nine, ten,
                  A big fat hen.
  • My Opinion
    by Monica Shannon
    Is a caterpillar ticklish?
    Well, it's always my belief
    That he giggles
    As he wiggles
    Across a hairy leaf!

Happy Halloween!


We hope everyone had a Happy Halloween yesterday, and that the day was as exciting for all of you as it was for us! Marisa and Ryan invited us over to trick or treat, and Meridian had a great time TOTing with Landon, Cai, and Matt. After about an hour, we came home with the loot, ate some, and then headed over to the "Not So Haunted Maze" a neighbor had set up. All of the kids were too scared at first to enter, but by and by decided to give it a go, first with parents' hands tightly clenched, later with parents in tow but not holding on, and then finally without supervision. They were so proud of themselves when they mustered the courage to go it alone, and came out pronouncing it "easy-peasy", and then proceeded to go through together about 100 times. While the kids ran through the maze over and over, armed with flashlight and glow sticks, the parents got a bon fire going in the culdesac, where we sat with the remainder of our wine and grown-up cider. The kids played happily into the night, and Meridian still wasn't ready to go when we packed her into the car at 10:30! She didn't go to bed until 11pm, but that didn't stop her waking up at 6:45 this morning. Daylight savings days meant something in the days before kids. :P

My pretty little pixie.

A fairy romp through the garden.

All it takes it faith and trust, and just a little pinch of pixie dust!

And a delicate landing.

Posing with friends before setting off for the evening's fun!



Meridian keeps a morning journal that she writes in several times a week. It's aimed at promoting fluency in creative thought and confidence in writing. I don't correct it. I just help her with ideas when she's stuck for what to write. At the end, she reads it to me, and I transcribe what she's written at the bottom. Her most recent entry is a fitting entry to get us in the spirit for tomorrow's festivities:

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I am being for Halloween Tinkerbell. And her dress, my oh my, that is ripped. I am, though, happy. But I am glad, so glad. Glad, Glad that I love her. On Saturday, it's Halloween. I am going to Cai's house for candy. I love candy so much. Landon is gonna be Flash. Cai is going to be Superman.

Comfy while she journals.

October's Bounty


October's been a fun month full of activity and enrichment. Meridian has made lots of new homeschooling friends through weekly play groups, book club, and field trips. We've gone to the Air and Space Museum where Meridian got to freeze a penny in liquid nitrogen and then smash it into pieces with a hammer. We went to Brookdale farm for a tour of their fields, where she learned about multiple uses for corn and soybeans: from foods to plastics to fuels! We've taken a pottery class, where she got to let her creativity go wild while learning a whole new skill set, (and creating Christmas presents galore!) We've been rollerskating twice, and WOW what progress. The first time she didn't enjoy herself much at all, and I pushed her to stay and to continue trying, praising her effort. The second time, she didn't even want to hold my hand, just skating around hugging the wall on her own, and even playing limbo on the skate floor at the end of it!

At home, we continue to read The Little House on the Prairie series. We've finished the first two books, and are now reading Farmer Boy. There are loads of enrichment opportunities in these books, and we are grabbing on with two hands and letting it pull us into the pioneer world. Meridian has taken up needlepoint, like Eliza Jane. She's currently embroidering a butterfly onto a handkerchief for her cousin.

We've also continued our studies into Black History with the Addy, An American Girl collection. Meridian has listened to these on tape as we've done our household chores, and just loves the story. I think we're strengthening her knowledge of the history of the time by giving her characters to empathize with and to experience the period with.

She and David continue to read in German every night before bed. David reads to her, that is. We've decided to work on decoding and phonics in English and get a firm foundation before we try to introduce the German rules. Pronunciation and spelling in German is especially easy because the language is not riddled with the "exceptions to the rule" that English is, so we feel confident that once she has a firm footing in English, we'll be able to get her on track with written German. David just finished reading her The Chronicles of Prydain series, which they both thoroughly enjoyed. It's a series that neither of us read as children, and David has been pleased again and again by the good moral character of the stories and the characters. They moved from those directly into The Chronicles of Narnia, and are currently on book two of that series. At the rate they read together, and considering that we have to actually buy every book they read since the library doesn't carry many German translations, we're going to have quite a hefty library of young adult material for her to read in German when she's ready!

And speaking of reading, she's really beginning to take off. We've been playing bananagrams at dinner every evening in October, and it's been such a great tool for helping her WANT to decode and sound out. She races us to use up all her letters making words. David and I help her when she needs it by looking over at her letters and listing possible words she could spell with what she has and then letting her put them together, correcting her and guiding her as necessary. She started the month making about two or three words per evening, and just the other night had 21 words, so phonics is starting to click. Interestingly, she's just on the verge of mastering skipping, which I've read is a reading readiness sign. She reads to me from the Bob Books, from Cricket Magazine, and from the Magic Castle Reader books, and gets more and more excited the more she finds herself capable of.

We've spent a bit of time each day working on basic arithmatic, and she does quite well there. She's still counting to add and not yet considered committing certain facts to memory, but that will come in time. We need to spend some time correcting penmanship, and working on the correct orientation for numbers, as most are still written backwards. I'm torn over whether or not to insist these be written correctly, or just give more time for her to figure it out and sythesize it, so I haven't taken a hard line yet.

We haven't done much in the way of science this month, beyond the life cycle of plants which comes naturally of gardening together and visiting the farm. We've talked a bit about the types of clouds, and the water cycle, and we try to identify clouds by type as we drive. And we've talked a bit more about the planets and the solar system, but only in very rudimentary terms. I think the main portion of our studies at the moment are history and language arts, and we'll likely move more into science and math as we finish those up in the Spring.

The Case Mate Museum


We had the opportunity recently to take a cruise tour to Fort Wool, but one of the things you cope with in this area is closed tunnels, and so we sat in traffic watching 25 minutes tick by, less than a mile from our destination. We made it to the cruiseline exactly as the ship was departing. Luckily for us, the staff of Miss Cruises was able to provide us with another itenerary that would suit our curriculum needs. We were interested particularly in the part of their tour that would have spoken about how Fort Wool was used during the Civil War. We've touched only briefly on the Civil War as is necessary when discussing slavery, and this opportunity presented itself, so I thought "Why not?" The staff at Miss Cruise pointed us to the Casemate Museum on Fort Monroe, and so we spent several hours there instead.

A window overlooking the moat.

A gun display.

A display of the union forces who would have lived and worked within the fort.

A model of the railroad coming to to the area.

Meridian's key takeaway points were these:

  • Fort Monroe was the landing site of the first slave ship to arrive in the American colonies in 1619.
  • Fort Monroe was a Union fort, despite being located in a state that seceded from the Union.
  • Fort Monroe became a safe-haven for runaway slaves during the Civil War after the acting general decided he could "confiscate them" as "contraband of war," and then declare them free. This predated Lincoln's emancipation Proclamation, and is thought by historians to have been the first step toward systematic freedom of American slaves. By the end of the war some 10,000 slaves had been set free in this manner, and Fort Monroe had earned the nickname "Freedom Fort".
  • A portion of the fort that is now operated as the museum was used to imprison Jefferson Davis after the Civil War. We got to walk through his cell, and it was interesting for me because it gave me a unique view into Meridian's thoughts on justice. She was confused and a bit annoyed to see that he had quite a large room, complete with writing desk, porcelain water pitcher, and twin bed. She thought he ought to sleep on the floor like the slaves had been made to do. (We haven't really gone in to great detail on the Civil War, and have touched on it only as it applies to slavery, so her conclusions aren't so out there when viewed in that light, though they are simplistic when you start to evaluate some of the other issues at stake in the Civil War, like states rights.) She also got a big kick out of the fact that they hung a glass encased union flag in his room. That satisfied her five-year-old sense of rubbing it in.

Jefferson Davis' cell.

Jefferson Davis' cell.

The Union flag in Jefferson Davis' cell.

Beyond that, Meridian has been curious as to exactly how a cannon works, having seen several in Charleston. The Casemate Museum has a terrific display of cannon and mannequins (not the one shown below), which explains exactly how the team worked to fire the cannon.

Another cannon display.

(VA SOL, History USI.9b/c/d)

Under the Sea


I'm just now getting around to processing all the photos from our long roadtrip this summer. Be sure to check the 5 year gallery for loads of new pics.

One of our adventures down in Florida was to go to the Weeki Wachee Springs underwater mermaid show, a famous roadside attraction, and one perfectly suited for my little audience of one. Grandmommy came with us, and we had a really great day. For starters, it was the first week of school, so we had the whole place nearly to ourselves! We went on an eco tour of the Weeki Wachee River with a boat guide, learning about Spanish moss, the Florida oaks, the golden orb spider, the snowy egret, turtles, wild turkeys, river otters, and panthers. We walked through the nature trail, which highlighted natural Florida vegetation (and more spiders!). We went to their wildlife show and got to pet a toad, an alligator, a tortoise, and a snake. But most impressively, we got to see two underwater mermaid shows!

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I wondered whether Meridian would believe the magic, but she promptly announced at the beginning of the show that they were not real. Not that mermaids aren't real, mind you, but that THESE mermaids were just wearing costumes. She pointed out the shape of their heels, outlined in the costume, as all the proof she needed. Nevertheless, she really enjoyed the show. When I mentioned later how hard some of those underwater moves are to do, she brushed me off with the sophomoric attitiude of a five year old who knows everything, telling me that she could certainly do that.

Basket Weaving


Our first bastket weaving adventure, a story in pictures:

Gathering the materials.

Laying out the spokes.

Laying out the spokes.

Beginning to weave the reeds around the spokes.

Weaving the bottom of the basket.

Turning the corner.

Weaving up the sides.

Weaving up the sides.

Sides complete.

Check out the inside!

Mommy folded the spokes over and tucked them in.

Lacing the top rim in place.

Pulling the lace through.

Pulling it tiiiiight!

And now it's complete!!



I've put off blogging out our study into slavery and black history since it is the most comprehensive unit we've done to date. We've learned so much and experienced so much that it seems hard to encapsulate here.

We've done an amazingly thorough (considering her age) investigation of slavery, beginning with antebellum slavery, and including discussion of the emancipation proclamation, the civil war, sharecropping, the civil rights movement, and even current day existence of racism. We've toured a few plantations, gotten to see actual slave quarters first-hand, talked with ancestors of slaves who still work for the slave-owners descendants, watched artisans make handicrafts of the time (and in one case be taught by an artisan to duplicate that handicraft), role-played the underground railroad, picked and ginned cotton to understand what a slave's work would have been like, listened to negro spirituals from the period, visited the Civil Rights Museum in Savannah to learn more about what "freedom" was like during the civil rights movement, visited a marketplace in Savannah where slaves were sold and cotton was brought to sell after being harvested by slaves, eaten regional foods, etc. I never would have dreamed of designing a curriculum for a kindergartner that would include this stuff and certainly not to the extent that we've studied it! But this was a natural outgrowth of concepts and ideas she's been exposed to (slavery in the Prince of Egypt movie and our family's continued boycott because of slavery in the manufacture of chocolate). And really, that's the beauty of homeschooling: follow the interest, and get as in depth as suits that particular child. It's been great, and I want to share as much of it here as I'm able to - both to share our experiences with you, and to save the memories for ourselves!


On our roadtrip from Virginia to Florida, we stopped in cities that were along the way and key to our theme: Charleston, Savannah, and Jacksonville. Outside of Charleston, we spent a day touring Magnolia Plantation. There was such a wealth of learning opportunities there that we spent the whole day. This was the beginning of our study into the topic. Before arriving at the plantation, we read a number of chilren's books about slavery; from this, Meridian knew what it meant to be a slave in terms of lack of freedom, lack of control over one's own life choices, separation from family, and being forced to work to provide someone else's fortune. We came to the plantation hoping to ground those concepts in a real world environment, to separate them from picture-book fiction to tangible reality.

Magnolia Plantation has restored a row of slave houses dating back to the antebellum period for their Slavery to Freedom Tour. Rather than keeping all four in the same condition, they have worked hard to have each one showcase a different period in black history. To that end, the first one is a two room house, divided down the center, and inhabited by two slave families. We were able to walk into the house and observe how small a space it is, how hard it would have been for a family of 4-6 people to share that space for everything from cooking to sleeping to spending time together. We were able to see the spaces between the wooden boards that made the home, able to imagine how wind would have blown through in winter and mosquitos come through all summer. We opened the wooden shutters to look through the glassless windows, and talked about what it would have been like to live there on a rainy day.

Row of slave houses. Click to enlarge.

House A in background. Click to enlarge.

Inside house A. Click to enlarge.

Furnishings of house A. Click to enlarge.

Glassless window of house A. Click to enlarge.

House D was restored to the 1870's period and would have been a freedman’s home following the Civil War during the period of reconstruction. During this time, most African-Americans worked as share-croppers or tenant farmers. Walking through this house left us reflecting on what little impact "being free" had on the daily lives of former slaves, who still lived in virtually the same quarters and worked virtually the same jobs.

The next house (chronologically) is House B, restored to the period just after the turn of the century. The original two-family, two-room home from the antebellum period is now converted into a two-room, single family home. Walking through it, Meridian and I were able to compare and contrast. This home had newspaper glued to the inside walls as a means of insulation. It had a separate room for sleeping than for cooking and eating. It had glass windows. And we reflected on the ways in which African-Americans at the time were able to reclaim sone dignity in their own homes. This would have been the home of the plantation's gardener during the 1930's. We compared the two homes, inhabited nearly a hundred years apart from each other, and lamented that so few changes happened in that long period of time, but we both agreed we'd rather live in the second home.

Inside house B. Click to enlarge.

Newspapered walls of house B. Click to enlarge.

House B was was the Leech family home, and is restored to the 1969 timeframe. In 1969, Johnny Leech was living in this cabin with his wife and three children. The cabin still had no running water and cooking as well as heating was done over wood burning stoves. In 1969 Charleston also experienced racial strife with the hospital workers strike, giving this location the opportunity to discuss the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and compare it to the Civil Rights movement of the 1860s. Members of the Leech family still work to this day for Magnolia Plantation, and were able to contribute from memory what the house would have been like at that time in order to assist in the reconstruction efforts.

House C exterior. Click to enlarge.

House C kitchen and dining. Click to enlarge.

House C kitchen and dining. Click to enlarge.

House C bedroom. Click to enlarge.

After touring the slave quarters, we toured the plantation house, or "the big house" as it would have been called in the day. So far removed in mood and atmosphere, I actually had to rack my brain while writing this up to determine if the beautiful grounds and home that are Magnolia Plantation were in fact the same place we saw those slave houses. Though you could go through this plantation home with any number od specific emphases, Meridian and I were especially looking to contrast the standard of living with that of the slaves. Obviously, we didn't need to look far - the sweeping home with its expected wraparound porch was indicator enough before we ever set foot in the house. The tour showed family treasures from the period: collectible porcelain, paintings by Audubon, museum-quality quilts, fine furniture and china, etc. Everything you'd expect for a well-to-do family of the time, and night and day from what we'd seen in the slave quarters, where 100 years after slavery was made illegal the signs of "moving forward" was visible in the mere presence of a bed and dining room table. Meridian and I took the tour, and then sat for a while in the gardens talking about what we'd seen. Discussing fairness. Discussing iniquity. Trying to fathom why anyone ever found a way to justify the establishment of slavery.

Magnolia Plantation. Click to enlarge.

Magnolia Plantation. Click to enlarge.

Magnolia Plantation. Click to enlarge.

Magnolia Plantation. Click to enlarge.

Magnolia Plantation. Click to enlarge.

Magnolia Plantation. Click to enlarge.

Magnolia Plantation. Click to enlarge.

We then took a boat tour through a marsh that was once a rice paddy. The plantation grew "Carolina Gold," a yellow rice which required an enormous amount of man-power. During the boat tour, we learned that slaveships were specific in the areas of Africa they targeted: they were looking for areas of similar climate. The plantation owners not only needed man-power to work the farm, but they needed people from a specific climate so that they would bring with them the know-how needed to harvest rice, which had not to date ever been a crop in America. Meridian and I spent some time discussing how slaves were viewed at the time as stupid, ignorant, and incapable of learning. We talked about how little sense that made when the people who enslaved them particularly sought them out for their expertise. We talked some more about fairness. We talked about greed.

Magnolia Plantation Boat Tour. Click to enlarge.

Carolina Gold crop. Click to enlarge.

Magnolia Plantation. Click to enlarge.

Magnolia Plantation. Click to enlarge.

In Florida, we stopped in Jacksonville to visit Kingsley Plantation. Kingsley Plantation was primarily a cotton plantation, and while there we were able to view their remaining slave quarters in varying degrees of preservation and restoration. Most notable to us immediately was the different building materials used to make these structures. They were not made of wood as the slave cabins had been in South Carolina, but rather from tabby - a kind of concrete made from oyster shells. Oyster shells were plentiful and could be burned to release their lime and produce a hard surface construction material. The slave quarters were made completely from this material, right down to the floor. Meridian and I layed down on the floor to judge how comfortable that would have been to sleep on, considering that beds were not often owned by slaves. We compared and contrasted to what we'd seen on the SC plantation. We noted that these houses also were two room houses, only one of which contained a fireplace. So, we concluded that one family must have lived in each home. Though we first thought this was an improvement, upon further observation, we estimated that the rough size of the two rooms in these tabby houses was about the equivalent of the one room slaves had at Magnolia Plantation. We noted that there were also glassless windows here, but that they lacked shutters as well. We concluded that between the two plantations, the slaves at Kingsley Plantation had a rougher go of things.

Kingsley Plantation. Click to enlarge.

Like Magnolia Plantation, we learned that Kingsley Plantation utilized the Task System, whereby each slave was given a daily task and had to work from sunrise until that task was completed. At first that sounds like an improvement upon the gang system, wherein slaves had to work from sun-up to sun-down. But we learned from the staff there that the tasks were such that it most often took that much time anyway. The staff was very attentive and worked with Meridian to help her understand what all that meant. They told her that the job of a child her age would probably have been ginning cotton (removing the seeds from the cotton). They gave her some fresh cotton bolls to pick and gin. Meridian spent five minutes trying to get the seeds out of her first boll of cotton, freeing three seeds before deciding that "this is too hard". We talked about how slave children would not have been permitted to give up, and would likely have been whipped if they didn't work hard enough. Meridian asked how many seeds she'd have to collect before her "task" would be done, and learned that children were expected to gin their weight in cotton each day. That was unfathomable to Meridian (and to me too, in fact)! After we'd ginned some cotton, we went outside to the fields. The plantation staff have marked off 1/4 acre, the average plot size that each slave was expected to clear in a day. We walked up one row and down the next until we had walked the entire crop. It took us 22 minutes, just walking (and we were hurrying). We discussed how long it would take to stop every few inches and remove all the cotton from all the plants as we went, how tired we would be carrying all that cotton on our backs throughout those long hours.

When we finished at Kingsley Plantation, the staff awarded Meridian with a badge of completion, which she was completely taken with. They also gave us instructions for making our own corn husk doll, which would have been the kind of doll owned by a slave child. We bought a hand-held cotton spindle, and took our Sea Island Cotton with us to practice spinning into thread as slaves would have to create their own clothes. We haven't done either of those activities yet, but we have them handy for the next rainy day. Homeschooling families who are reading this can find some really good activities and curriculum materials here.

Kingsley Plantation. Click to enlarge.


At Magnolia Plantation, we watched for a long time as a woman made sweetgrass baskets. She was such a nice lady. We just sat there for probably forty minutes watching her, and asking questions, and making conversation. Meridian was taken withthe whole basket-weaving idea. She paid close attention, knowing already that she wanted to try it herself. There was a sweet old man who came and sat for a while talking to the basket-maker. He tried real hard to make conversation with Meridian, but his accent was so thick, I had to work hard to understand him; Meridian actually thought he was speaking a foreign language. He'd lived there since he was born and talked to us about his own boys and his life tending ground on the plantation. It was really fantastic to listen to a first person account of how life had changed for him over the decades. I didn't ask how old he was, but he looked about 200 years old, and he had lots of stories. Meridian was more interested in watching the basket weaver. We considered buying one of her baskets, but they were very expensive, and we had to pass. Later, we saw other basketmakers at the public market in Charleston (including the woman pictured below), and decided to buy a basket as a souvenir after all.

Making a sweetgrass basket.

Walking through the market, we also saw roses made of palm fronds, which we learned are called Confederate Love Roses. As the tale goes, women would make them for confederate soldiers, and they were supposed to give them back to the woman when they returned from the war. I'm not sure how true that legend is, given that our roses had already begun to unwind a few days after we bought them, but its a romantic notion, and neat to see a local artisan making something right in front of us. We didn't buy any roses while we were in Charleston, thinking we'd get palm fronds down in Florida and figure out how to make them ourselves as an enrichment activity. Well, we did try that, and we did fail. So, on our trip back north, we made a point to buy some while we were in Savannah.

Making a Confederate Love Rose.

Making a Confederate Love Rose.

A bunch of Confederate Love Roses.

Meridian paid close attention, and as with all handicrafts was taken with the idea of doing it herself. She noticed as we walked down by the river in Savannah, that there was a certain stringy part of the palm (a different kind of palm altogether than what I'd tried using) that the rose-makers threw away. So, she began to collect those parts as we walked and unable to reproduce their rose, she fashioned them into her own flower which she decided was a tulip. Late in the evening as we were headed home, we stopped for some post cards and I noticed a basket of the palm fronds in the corner and asked if they were for sale. The clerk pointed us to a rosemaker to whom they belonged, and we asked him. When he learned we wanted to try to make them as an enrichment activity for our studies, he insisted on giving us a bunch of fronds and sitting down outside to teach us how to do them. We watched and made mental notes, and then after listening for a time, Meridian decided to show him "how to make tulips". What a sweet ol' grampa he was, giving her his undivided attention and allowing her to teach him.

Making a Confederate Love Rose.

Making a Confederate Love Rose.


While in Savannah, we took the opportunity to visit the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum. What a fantastic place! Visiting Magnolia Plantation and seeing slave quarters restored to the civil rights period began our discussion into that timeframe, into how freedom didn't come overnight to African Americans, but rather has slowly happened over the last 150 years. That left the door open for more thorough investigation, and the museum was perfect. It's set up according to a timeline, taking you from slavery through current day. It was chock full of photographs and interactive displays. We learned about the separations of the races, the limitations placed on African Americans in terms of education, occupation, and interaction in the community. I offered Meridian a jellybean for each fact she learned that she could still tell me after we left the museum. She earned 11 jellybeans, which she then traded for marshmallows on a stick from a Savannah candy shop.

Civil Rights Timeline

Lunch counter demonstration

(VA SOL, History, K.1-2; 1.1/10; 2.11; 3.11; VS.7-9; USI.9-10; USII.3) Obviously a study into these matters in kindergarten is not comprehensive, nor have we exhaustively met any of the curriculum objectives noted, but we have touched on each of them in this unit study and laid the groundwork for further investigation and analysis as it becomes developmentally appropriate. In this way, we will continue a spiral curriculum, revisiting the history over time and building on Meridian's growing bank of knowledge. In the process, we have the opportunity to impart our values and cultivate Meridian's moral character.



We're reading the Little House on the Prairie series, and learning a good bit about pioneer life, and enjoying so many enrichment activities that would have been par for the course in Laura's every day life. Lately, David has been seeking a kind of back-to-basics lifestyle - a life full of activities that revolve around the home, the garden, and the kitchen. And in that way, as a matter of coincidence, David had begun to explore a number of experiences that overlap certain areas of pioneer life. So, it was neat for Meridian when we came to the cheese-making chapter in The Little House in the Big Woods because she was completely familiar with the process. She could connect with the characters in a concrete way because she'd had the same experience. In the same way, when she came to the chapter on gardening, it was a reinforcement of what she's already learned in our own garden with David.(VA SOL, Kindergarten, Science K.6/8/9, Health K.1a)

Many of the activities that Laura and Mary experience, we're able to pull out as enrichment activities that we can perform at home - like freezing maple syrup in snow to create maple candy (during our one you-could-almost-call-it-snow last winter :P). David had been talking about exploring an interest in beekeeping in our yard, and by coincidence there was a chapter in the first book where Pa encounters bees and harvests honey from their hive. He and Meridian are looking forward to putting their own hive together in the backyard, and hopefully soon harvesting their own honey, which will create wonderful opportunities for lessons on life-cycle and the interdependencies between the plant and animal kingdoms. Well, not to mention just being yummy! (VA SOL, Kindergarten, Science K.1a-c/2/4/6/8/9/10)

Reading this series has been a great experience so far, and will continue to be. It is like skipping a rock across the curriculum as we can use this one source to draw on opportunities to explore history (pioneer experience), health (nutrition and original sources of food ), folk music (with emphasis on fiddle), social studies (community planning and inter-dependencies), art (folk-crafting) and more. Currently, we're able to tie together two of our "unit studies" (both our study into slavery and our continued study of pioneer life) with two craft projects:

  1. Basket Weaving - our interest in this was peaked when we visited several plantations in the south and were able to watch artisans making baskets from local sweet grasses. Meridian was captivated. We looked online to find a source for basket making materials, and began our weaving today. Only after our trip, did we come to the part of the Little House on the Prarie book where mom makes her own hats and baskets from sweet grasses using much the same method. The overlap has provided the opportunity to discuss timeline, and how much of what we're learning about in our study of slavery and the civil war would have happened during the same time that the Little House stories are told. We have the materials for five baskets, and though they are not actual sweetgrass baskets, we hope that creating them will connect us all the more to the characters in both units of study. (VA SOL, Kindergarten, Science K.10, Visual Art K.1-4/8-13, Grade 1.7/10/16, Social Studies K.7a, 1.8)
  2. Quilting - in both the Little House books and in our encounters with the history of slaves, we have learned about quilting as a means of reusing materials and meeting a need. Laura and Mary continue to work on their nine-patch quilts, reusing bits of calico from old dresses or the ocassional fresh new square given as a gift. Meridian and I have begun to plan out her own nine square quilt, looking through old clothes for pretty patterns and learning some basic stitching. This will be a project that comes together slowly and will hopefully bring the kind of satisfaction that only comes from something wrought of hard work and patience. (VA SOL, Kindergarten, Science K.10, Visual Art K.1-4/8-13, Grade 1.7/10/16, Social Studies K.7a, 1.8)



Over the last several months, we've been doing simple addition and subtraction as it crops up in daily life here and there. For instance, while putting away a marble game, "There are ten marbles, but we only found eight of them; how many are still missing?" And then when she figures out the answer, I switch it up some, "How many would be missing if I hid three more?" And in this way, over the course of the last few months, Meridian has become comfortable with simple addition and subtraction with sums up to fifteen or so. We still work them into daily activities as a means of commiting the sums to memory. (VA SOL, Kindergarten, Math K.2a, K.6)

More recently, I've started to introduce vertical math notation so that she is familiar and comfortable with that notation. When vertical math notation takes root, we will move on to horizontal math sentences. As we work through the worksheets, we identify patterns (such as the reciprocity of addition) and shortcuts (like starting with the larger number when adding). (VA SOL, Grade 1, Math 1.18)



Meridian continues to show an interest in learning to read, and has begun to show the basic skills for decoding words. She is practicing reading with the Bob Books, as well as Dr. Suess. She also enjoys writing and gets plenty of practice decoding words in her own efforts to write letters, lists, signs, etc. I'm always finding letters she writes to her friends around the house. Earlier today, I found this cute little note to David on our fridge:

Click to enlarge.

Translation: "If you would hear our knock would you let my little pet know that you're here so that he can unlock the door. <3 Meridian"

Her memory for phonics rules is becoming stronger, as is her personal dictionary of sight words. We're also keeping a journal together, based on the Flat Stanley book. Meridian made a Flat Ruby, and journals about Ruby's many adventures (really Meridian's own personal adventures) using a form I made where she completes sentences about what Ruby did, how it made her feel, and what she learned.
(English K.2bd/5ac/6d/9/10/11, 1.6a-h/1.11ab)

Click to enlarge.

"Piggy-Banking" Off the Last Post


We spent the past week organizing for our garage sale, which involved lots of sorting and classifying. Meridian was remarkably level-headed considering how many of her toys were hitting the sale pile. She did raise several objections. On a few occasions, she made her case strongly enough, and had the final word. The remainder of the time, the items hit the pile, and I told her that on sale day she could have one "rescue," and that seemed to placate her. Aside from prepping our materials for the garage sale, we also spent a fair amount of time learning more about money. We read lots of picture books that teach about money, and lots of time practicing counting by coin denominations and using coins to make various sums.

Meridian's favorite way to practice this is by playing petshop. She sets the animals up in her little vet center, and prices each animal. Then she plays either the customer or the shop keeper. In that way, she got lots of opportunity to practice combining coins to reach a certain value. We haven't reached concept mastery, but I see the wheels turning and the gears cranking and I know this is going to all fall into place fairly soon. She's got counting and multiplying by dimes down pat, and she's got adding and subtracting pennies down. Nickels are almost there. She can almost consistently count by 5's, but sometimes she reverses the order: 20, 25, 35, 30, 45, 40, etc. Quarters are still tough for her. But she's moving along nicely, and we continue to look for opportunities for her to practice in a real world setting. The garage sale was another such opportunity. I'd originally envisioned her helping tally actual sales (this whole sale was her idea, after all, so she wanted to be a key part of it). But in the end, it proved more practical to to have her and her friend man the lemonade stand. They did pretty well, and were super proud of themselves (and a little indignant at any yard-saler who didn't elect to buy from them).

And now, deep sigh of relief with the yard sale behind us. Aaaah! A clean garage, a full piggy bank, and that fresh after-purge glow! Meridian helped tally the earnings, graph the value by denomination, and then decide upon how much should go into savings, how much to spend, and how much to donate to charity. She chose her charity after we happened upon another lemonade stand YouTube video made by a little girl who died from neuroblastoma. She thought it would be appropriate if her lemonade money went to the scientists who are trying to find a cure.
(VA SOL, Math K.1/2/4/7/13/14, 1.3/10, 2.23)
Science K.1abd/10a, 1.1acd/10;

Click to enlarge.

Future Business Leaders of America


Meridian has something of an entrepreneurial spirit. For months and months now, she's wanted us to allow her to set up shop on the corner of our culdesac so that she could sell things. Her ideas have ranged from allowing passersby to commission drawings, to making pipe-cleaner animals, to selling her stuffed animals, to today's idea: hand-sewing socks and hats for people passing by. We love her spirit, and we want to encourage her endeavors, but we don't want to put her out on the corner of the block doomed to fail. Because, let's be real here: making a hat from fabric socks isn't likely to be extremely successful, desireable, or efficient.

Today, David smoothly paved the way from hand-made clothing to a lemonade stand. And to that end, she and David spent the morning baking fresh banana bread. Then she and I made a sign (I did the words; she made the felt fruit). We all three pitched in to make the lemonade, Papi and Meridian squeezing the lemons while I made a sugary lemon flavored syrup. Before we headed out, we spent a little bit of time going over coin values, and the different possiblities for forming 25¢. We went through a few workbook pages on coins, and until she declared herself ready. We hung the sign on her puppet theater, and set up shop on the corner. She was as cute as could be in her little Lucy-syled lemonade stand. It was a good homeschooling opportunity for her to practice with money and coin values. After the sale, we did a little more work with the coins. She separated the coins into $1 incrememnts, counting the nickels by 5s, the dimes by 10s, and the quarters by 25s. We made a bar graph showing how many of each type of coin she'd gotten, and I asked her questions about the chart. In the end, she came away $6.81 richer, the majority of which came in the form of tips! She can't wait to head to the bank tomorrow to deposit her earnings.
(VA SOL, Kindergarten, Math K.1/2/4/7/13/14)



As all of the vestiges of babyhood fall away, and I'm left with this grown-up five year old, there are special moments I savor and cherish more dearly than others. Every time she asks me to snuggle. Whenever she comes running toward me, holding out a bruised body part to be kissed and cured. When her whole face shows her emotion, tears brimming under her lashes, not yet needing privacy for her emotions.

Such a moment came this morning. I was processing photos on the computer, and she was playing with her dolls while David built a paper model of the Empire State Building. She came running in, a beloved stuffed toy held out ahead of her. "Mommy, Gelbebär has a hole in him," she exclaimed. And all of a sudden her wall of composure crumbled to bits, tears leaped from her eyes, and she bawled. I took Gelbebär carefully, and searched for the hole (an infinitessimal parting in the seam, so small my pinky didn't fit through it, but there nonetheless). I told her she'd brought him to the right surgeon and that I'd get him fixed up in no time.

She's had Gelbebär since birth; for a time he was the animal she'd slept with at night. So, I understood as she bawled while I sewed him up, remembering all too well how I'd felt when the threads that made Cabby's (my cabbage patch's) toes came apart, leaving her toeless. My mom was able to resew her toes, and give her back to me fully restored. I shared the story with Meridian, and felt connected to her - both of us having now lived through the same childhood rite of passage. As I type this now, I feel strangely connected to my own mom - connected by an act of motherhood we both lovingly bestowed on our own daughters. I guess every once in a while, she got it just right.



We explored the ecology of many of the areas we've visited, particularly Florida and South Carolina: frogs, alligators, lizards, fire ants, spiders, horseflies, herons, egrets, etc. We visited the garden where John Audubon spent a good deal of time drawing birds native to the swamp there, and were able to see many of those birds in their natural landscape. We captured a squirrel frog when we found it on the porch to examine it up close, and then researched it on the internet to hear its call; later we released it and were able to identify its call on subsequent nights. We had cause to learn about fire ants when we were bitten by them in NC, SC, and FL. Florida and South Carolina were rife with spiders (which we later learned were Golden Orb Spinners) and dozens of species of lizards. And having heard much of the lore about alligators in FL, we went to seek them out as well, though this time we were happy NOT to meet with one in its natural habitat.
(VA SOL, Kindergarten/1st Grade, Science K.6, 1.5)

Map Skills


Each time we got in the car, I gave Meridian our road atlas with our route highlighted. She'd locate our current city (sounding out the word, and asking for help when she needed it), and then trace our route as we went. From the front seat, I'd ask questions about the direction we were traveling, which direction we'd have to turn to reach other destinations, etc. In this way she got pretty comfortable with cardinal directions (North, East, South, and West), and would tell me when our route was veering from our general north/south route. I feel this was a really solid beginning towards mastery of cardinal directions, but I know that she hasn't reached mastery yet because we began a new segment of our trip, she would often ask, "Which way is west?" or a similar question which shows she's not yet mastered this topic.
(VA SOL, Grade 1, SS 1.4b/c)

As we drove, she would ask questions about the map, and I would explain what the various symbols were for, and then point them out as we came to them physically. (RR tracks, junctions, airports, exits, state borders, etc) She kept the map nearby, consulting it when it seemed interesting to her (usually for about 20 minutes at the outset of a new trip) and then setting it aside to refer back to if she developed further interest.
(VA SOL, Grade 1, SS 1.4a/c)

We also played the license plate game on our trip, keeping a pad with a list of the plates we'd already found, and adding new ones as we encountered them. In this way, Meridian began to be able to remember the names of many of the states as well as to place many of them on a map. We were able to find 43 of the 50 states. By the end of our trip, Meridian could confidently identify the east coast states we'd driven through on a blank map, along with a handful of others that are interesting to her for her own reasons (interesting shapes, settings in books she's read, etc.) We used a wipe-off map to dot the states. Since I was driving and couldn't point out the state to her, I'd give her clues pertaining to the shape of the state and use cardinal directions to help her navigate to that state from one that she could already easily identify. She could also flip the map over to find the written name of the state and some identifying picture (a main crop, landmark, or industry).
(VA SOL, Grade 1, SS 1.4a-d, 1.6)

Click to enlarge.

Un-schooling Adventures


Boy! Do we have loads to catch up on?! What a ride we've been on. So first, the big news, which most of you know by now anyway: After much back and forth and fickleness, WE ARE HOMESCHOOLING! The decision was really made for us when the school we wanted turned our application down because of over-enrollment. If I weren't so very far behind on this blog, I'd use this space to reflect on where we are and how we got here, but since I am that far behind, I'll jump right into the meat of things.

Our brand of homeschooling most closely aligns with the un-schooling movement. That is, we aren't following a prescribed curriculum, we aren't enrolling in a full day of co-op classes, we aren't enrolling at an online academy, we aren't dedicating a certain amount of time per day to schooling in any formal fashion. Rather, we are grabbing the natural learning opportunities that present themselves in the normal course of life, exploring them with interest, and delving as deeply as we feel moved to. I know that to people unfamiliar with this type of education that this seems wholely radical and incomplete, but I suspect that this method will be more natural and thorough than most formal studies made through text-books and required by state curriculum. Because our studies will be a natural outgrowth of our experiences and interests, the child will naturally want to satiate her own curiosity. To that end, we began un-schooling on August 1st, and kicked off our homeschooling adventure with a tour of the East Coast.

We spent a month on the road, first travelling north to New York, and then back south all the way down to Florida with stops along the way in New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The vast amount of material we covered really stunned me when I recently typed it all out to a friend. My hope is to use this site to journal our experiences and to hopefully give readers a more complete picture of how unschooling can be managed and can provide a complete education.

Learning about what homeschooling and unschooling are has been something of an education for Meridian as well, and we recently had a conversation which helped support the case that learning which is a natural extention of experience and interest is embraced by the student much more than the typical classroom experience which is contrived to simulate a real experience.

Mommy: We're going to have a homeschooling day today!
Meridian: Aww, man! Not a homeschooling day. Why can't we do something fun?
Mommy: Homeschooling IS doing fun things!
Meridian: No, it's not, I want to do something really fun.
Mommy: Okay then, instead of homeschooling, why don't we drive to a real plantation today, and we can see how they used to grow the crops, we can see the houses the slaves lived in, and the kinds of clothes they wore and toys they played with. We can visit the big plantation house too where the plantation owner lived, and see what that house was like. Would that be more fun?
Meridian: Oooh! Yes yes! Let's do that instead! Yippeeeee!
Mommy: Well, alright. We can do that then. We can bring our library books and read a few of the books about slavery while we're there. And you can hold the map in the car to help us navigate there, okay?
Meridian: Yippeeeee!

And in that way, over the course of our month long vacation, we've investigated a great many things without Meridian even being aware that we're learning. My plan is to come back later and delve into those things in detail, and my hope is that this demonstration will answer for many of you the questions: What in the world is un-schooling?


Uploaded a bunch of videos into the video gallery. Loving my Flip Camcorder.


Meridian took ballet lessons through Little People Creative Workshop, which came to her preschool weekly to teach the classes. She's been asking to be in ballet since she was two, and I wasn't terribly excited ove rthe prospect. At that age, she didn't want to separate from me, and that was reason enough to postpone the classes, but when the interest didn't wane, I decided this was a nice compromise. It it a movement/pre-ballet type class. The kids mostly play with the instructor in a series of games, which cultivate proper poise and positioning and teach them some basic ballet without them knowing their being taught something. No recitals, no crazy costumes, no hair and make-up, no strict dress code. It alleviated all of my worries.

While Meridian greatly enjoyed the class, and really liked Miss Elizabeth, this compromise did not satisfy the desire to learn ballet. She began asking after several weeks when they were going to start working on some hard stuff. That question was persistent throughout the year, and so, I've realized that I'm going to have to put her into a real ballet school in order to satisfy this craving. To that end, I've found one that I like for the fall. (No more commitments this summer!) But for now, here's the video of her participating in the Little People Creative Workshop's parent observation day.


We've been having a full and busy summer. We're so very proud of Meridian for her participation this year on the swim team. I was a little trepidatious about signing her up - she was so newly five and I wasn't sure she was quite ready. She's gone round for round to prove me wrong. She has grown so much, not only in the strength of her swimming (although there too), but in her confidence in herself and in her interpersonal skills. My quiet little hide-behind-mommy's-leg munchkin - the same one who needed the entire year before she was willing to claim her classmates as friends - has in six short weeks blossomed. She's made ten or twelve friends on her team, and she stands on the side of the pool shouting encouraging words at them through her little megaphone while they swim their events. There are still the coy "No mommy, you come with" when I try to send her off as her own ambassador into a group of kids, ...but I am far less worried about kindergarten after this experience.

The swimming itself has been great. She improved her freestyle by 49 seconds, finishing her final race at 50:83; she improved her backstroke by over a minute, finishing her final race at 55:66. The backstroke accomplishment was especially rewarding because Meridian had been disqualified in each backstroke race she swam before the final one because she found herself too tempted to see how close she was and turned around in the water for a peek (resulting in instant disqualification). So, her finish on that one was an especially happy event for her. She has set and met so many goals this summer on the team, and as a result has gotten to sample a new ice cream shop each time. The Meridian Choice Award goes to Skinny Dip Yogurt Bar, where she can sample ice cream flavors, serve herself, and choose as many toppings as she wants. Okay, video footage for posterity:


Watching the videos again, I have to comment on her swim cap. When we went to pick one out, there were all manner of cute girl-centric caps in the shape of fish with fins on top, with flowers all over them, with any number of cute animals on the sides. She bypassed them all in favor of this basic black one with a skull and crossbones on each side, grinning to reveal missing teeth and even a golden one. It's a touch intimidating. As the weeks progressed, the other swim team moms (and kids alike) really got a kick out of her cap, on the one hand such a funny juxtaposition on this tiny little golden-haired curly girl, but strangely on the other hand well-suited to her serious all-business approach to practice and meets. She's there to get it done! Or as one mom noted, "She's fierce!"

We've had lots of opportunity this summer to visit with Ryan and her family, and Meridian is so glad to have her cousins back in the states. They picked up right where they left off: the rivalries, the competitions, the great games, the good times. Aren't cousins great?! Together we've gotten to visit the waterpark, Busch Gardens, the Virginia Living museum, the beach, and so much more.

Now with our commitment to swim team fulfilled, we are looking forward to a trip up to New York to visit Aunt Jeanie and Aunt Deana, a trip to North Carolina to finally see Aunt Ryan and Uncle Danny's new house, and a trip to Florida to visit Grandmommy and Großvati and finally meet Meridian's cousin Ashton! August promises to be a whirlwind, but full of fun. Too bad Papi won't be joining us on our adventures.


Meridian is swimming for swim team this year. It's amazing to me how much she's grown! She has to be able to swim 25 meters to swim for the team. Last Thursday was the end of the try-out period, and they kept her on the team! I'm so excited because I know she's going to become a much stronger swimmer as a result of the daily practices.

Today were time trials, and the first time they were asked to swim the 25m without a coach in the pool with them. I was so surprised to see what she could do! She swam 25 meters freestyle in 1:39:05, and 25 meters back stroke in 1:59:11. We're so proud of her!

I'm surprised that her freesyle time was slower than her backstroke too - she's generally much more comfortable with backstroke. Then again, they did do the swims back to back, so exhaustion might play a role. I'm curious to see at a meet if she'll swim faster freestyle or backstroke. First meet: this weekend!


We went to Busch Gardens yesterday for the first time this season. As we pulled in, Meridian spotted Apollo's Chariot and said "Am I big enough to go on a roller coaster?" I said I wasn't sure but that we could measure her to find out when we got inside. We learned that she was big enough to go on The Big Bad Wolf. She was ALL about it. She wanted to head dtraight there. Since it's clear across the park from the entrance, I thought she'd want to stop as we passed rides along the way, but she was fixed on her goal, and determined not to be distracted.

As we neared the front of the line, we asked which row she wanted to be in: front, middle, or back. Her answer: "absolute front". We told her the line was a little longer for that seat because lots of people want to sit in the front. Undeterred, she led us over to wait in that row. The whole time I was surprised by her continued determination and apparent lack of fear. Even sitting in the seat, she was smiling and full of anticipation.

She loved the first leg of the coaster, intense though it was. As we geared up for the second leg, she was chipper and ready for action. That second leg! Boy! The video shows her moving from excitement to terror to tolerance to uncertainty, and then as the side comes to an end, she sort of whines out a groans and I think she's about to say "NOT GOOD!" but instead, she says "I wanna do that again!" You can see that she even surprises herself as she discovers that that's what she's feeling. Here's the video, sure to become a family classic!


It's been nine months since we first visited the Cape Henry Lighthouse and tried to climb, only to learn Meridian was a fraction of an inch too short. After many tears, and with the help of the lighhouse keeper, we came up with a plan for growth: eat our proteins and our veggies, and grow, grow, grow! She's been tall enough for a little while now, but we haven't taken an afternoon to head out that way yet. So, what better way to celebrate her actual birthday, celebrating growth in years and growth in inches.

We picked up Meridian's friend, Cai, and headed to Fort Story. The adventure began immediately, as we underwent the standard vehicle search after entering the military base. The kids remained in their carseats while I stood with the officer. The kids were curious and alert as the military police searched the vehicle using long-handled mirrors to check for weapons and drugs. After the inspection, one of the policemen tried to get the kids to speak into his walkie-talkie, which Cai did after much resistance. Meridian was having no part of that.

With the inspection behind us, we set off toward the lighhouse, stopping for a picnic lunch on the boardwalk before we were ready to climb. It was a lunch full of discovery, as the kids experimented with combining bites: carrots with strawberries, turkey-wrapped carrots, strawberries and kiwi, and the one we all voted best combo, brownie with strawberry! Fueled and ready for action, we headed over.

The kids were instantly delighted upon entering the lighthouse. The age and cave-like atmosphere really tickled them. Meridian said, "This is like the West Wing in an enchanted castle." (Can anyone tell what movie we watched recently?) Both held on carefully to one railing, and took very slow steps up (which proved interesting when a bus of retired tourists arrived right behind us.) They gained confidence as we went. After a fairly lengthy climb (which we later counted as 85 steps), we came to a small landing where we learned that we'd need to climb a steep ten step steel ladder to get to the next set of steps.

Once we gather our nerves, we headed up that ladder. Meridian felt like Jack and Annie climbing into the magic treehouse. A short flight of 18 steps waited. The kids were pros by now, and flew up those steps, excited to see what would greet them at the top. They were rewarded with the 360º panoramic view of the ocean, the bay, and Virginia Beach. Cai said, "I can see the whole world from here!" We spent about 30 minutes up there identifying local landmarks (while we waited for the other tourists to get a good distance back down the staircase ahead of us - we were avoiding a domino effect at all costs.) I was surprised by just how interested the two of them were in everything we talked about.

Going down was a little scarier for me with the two of them in tow than going up had been. Once they fell into a comfortable rythym and had their balance about them, I loosened up, and relaxed. After the climb down, we admired the grounds and read a bit of the history of the lighthouse. We learned that the Old Cape Henry Lighthouse is actually the first federal building every built in the United States, approved by Washington in 1789. In 1881, it was taken out of commission, too damaged by civil war fighting to be used. For a period of a few months, a lighthouse ship trolled the shored from Cape Henry to Cape Charles, while the new one was built.

After we'd explored the surrounding scenery and learned about the history of the lighthouse, the kids asked to climb back to the top again. We did, to their delight, stopping along the way to tuck ourselves into the lighthouse's deep window nooks. Meridian and Cai couldn't have had a better time. The New Cape Henry Lighthouse opens only once or twice a year to the public, so we're excited to try that one when the opportunity presents itself.

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