Open House

It’s Open House!  But, probably not the kind of open house you are thinking!

Its intimate and only about 8 people attend.

Sometimes we serve lemonade and cookies, sometimes we don’t.

It takes about two hours to set up and just 15 minutes to see.

It’s  that time in the summer when we pull out all the workbooks, notebooks, projects and art from the just finished school year and display it for Dad and anyone else who wants to view what’s been happening in our home school.

We call this Open House.  And, we have actually, in the past, made invitations and invited neighbors over to have refreshments and browse our school work.  Elderly neighbors and relatives have come bearing cards and congratulations on a school year successfully completed.  A couple of times, we’ve had curious neighbors come by to see what this homeschooling thing is all about.  But, these days, we just pull it all out and show the family or whoever happens to be at the house.

Here’s what comes out:  All the books that have been read, all the projects that have been finished, all the papers that have been written… and all the notebooks, math workbooks and the art and the maps, everything comes out for display.

Then, it has to get displayed on the dining room table.

“I make a display of all the books I’ve read and the things I’ve done. I like making it look good by stacking the books in certain ways,” says my rising 6th grader.  And, of course, it has to be  neat and colorful and stacked and vast.

My 21 year old daughter, a former student of this household loves to come to the open house table and peruse the books.  “I loved that book! she said this year about By the Great Horn Spoon. “I remember the weird characters in there.”

Other family members stop by the table, and occasionally a friend or neighbor.

Then, Dad comes to the table!  When he comes, he brings questions and comments.  Here are a few of our favorites:

What was your favorite book you read this year?

What assignment here are you most proud of completing this year?

Read me a little bit of your best story.

Why did you make a 52 on that test?

Who was your favorite teacher?

Who’s the most popular kid in your school?

After Dad has seen all the hard work, we pack it up into a box and label the year.  In this case, its 2017 – 2018.  I keep these boxes back at least five years in case anybody comes asking what we’re doing around here every day.

Now, we are ready for the new school year.



My Kids Aren’t Perfect and I’m Okay With That

Recently, I had a mom email to say, “My son will not be re-enrolling in your course next year. Thank you very much.”  Now, this was a terse and shocking email to receive from a parent that I had just spoken with a couple of days before.  This mom couldn’t say enough nice things about the writing her child was doing in my class.   After investigating, I discovered that during a peer review session the son had received both positive and negative comments about his fiction writing.

“My child was just so discouraged by the comments he received,” she explained. “I hope you will understand that he cannot continue in your class.”

I did not understand and this was not consistent with what I saw in the classroom that day.  I poured carefully through all the comment papers, looking specifically at the ones directed to this student.  I was expecting to find hate speech toward this child’s work.  Instead, the comments he received looked something like, “you might try adding a comma in the 3rd line” or “this is really good, but could be better with more descriptive adjectives.”

So, here we go…a discrepancy between what actually happened and what the parent perceived as a threat to her child’s ability.  This was a parent that wanted to protect her child from the pain of  negative criticism.  To me, this situation is demonstrative of a larger problem I see happening in our culture: People have it all figured out.  They’ve got paper writing, parenting, relationships, God, their life…. all figured out.  They don’t need any help.  “I’m good,” they will say.  Or, “My child is a fine writer or test taker or history student.”  Suggesting otherwise is an insult to the parent and the family.   “What do you mean my child made a 67 on her paper?  She followed every check point on the rubric.”  My response:  “If you would have looked at your child’s paper, you would have seen 5 misspelled words, 3 grammatical errors, 4 punctuation errors, two formatting errors and one content error.  This child has room for growth!”

What happened to the idea of everyone having “room for improvement”?  Or, what about the idea that mistakes are “opportunities to learn”?  As I was telling my youngest this week, “Did you think  you could just roll out of the crib and write an algebraic expression without any consultation?”  As humanity, most of us were not born with talent chips in our heads.  We must struggle and practice and perfect, even if imperfectly.   How can we grow if we are not willing to admit that we need help?   How can we become more like Christ if we have no hardships to test our character?

The first step, it would seem, is to admit that we don’t have it all figured out.

I struggle with how to gently combat these attitudes around me.  I’ve been reading about growth mindset and how it affects our approach to learning and receiving criticism from others.  The idea of a growth mindset was developed by Carol Dweck, a psychologist and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck has been researching the concepts of  fixed vs. growth mindset.  In a fixed mindset, people believe their talents or intelligence is a fixed trait and that talent alone creates success, without effort.   In contrast, “in a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — brains and talent are just the starting point.” (  The outcome of a growth mindset is a love of learning and a resilience, to accept and use constructive criticism.

As a parent, I must resist the urge to butt in, “My kid needs to make an A on this assignment.”  Rather, I need to promote the notion that “You need to know this material,” and “it will help you to learn this concept.”  Making an A on an assignment is vastly different today than knowing the material.  Really knowing something, internalizing a concept means that you’ve spent time with it; you’ve chewed on it, like the end of a pencil and made it yours.  That kind of knowledge comes with risk taking and set backs.

As a teacher, I must find a way to show students that criticism is just the beginning.  Criticism and feedback force us to grapple with our choices.  Knowing that our work will be challenged, forces us to examine our choices along the way.

When I was in college, I gathered up enough courage to show a piece of writing to one of my professors.  “What do you think about this poem,” I asked?

“It isn’t very good,” he said.

A lump formed in my throat. This was not easy news to hear and at that point, I had to make a decision:  Am I going to throw my hands up in the air and say, “That’s it!  I’m a writing idiot. I quit.” Or am I going to use this as a motivation to work harder?  Thankfully, I chose the latter.  I’m telling my kids the same thing:   Be thankful when you get negative feedback.  Mistakes are opportunities to learn. Take the opportunity and grow with it.

Romans 5: 3 – 4

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;






Slice of Life: Day 28

Poetry and Water World

After battling almost an hour of traffic, we made it to Metro Academic Studies down in Atlanta.  There is a weird thing where the closer you get to spring break, the worse the traffic gets down in the city.  Folks are either passing through or coming to town in the spring.  That definitely means longer commutes and earlier wake ups.

Thankfully, after coming off the hectic highway, I had my creative writing class to look forward to.  Each writing student had three poetry pieces due today.  On deadline days, we host a read-a-round where every piece goes into a pile at the front of the room.  Each student picks up a piece of writing (not their own), reads it and gives feedback.  I designed a form that requires the peer reader to offer one positive and one constructive comment per piece.  Once the peer reader finishes reading the piece and commenting, he or she then picks up another piece and comments until everyone has read every piece of writing.  This works well because we only have 10 students in the class!  Everybody enjoys the feedback on their papers and they like seeing what their classmates have been up to during workshop time.  It is my favorite activity as well.  I recognize little bits of my students’ lives showing up in their writing: a trip to Florida, a sibling who has left for college, a new family member.  A real time saver for me,  I am usually able to read every student piece during the read-a-round activity.


It is no secret that kids are fairly wound up the last day of school before a break.  Well, sometime after noon, a giant water main broke next to the school and we could all see the geyser spewing right out the class window!  Funny, I never see anyone look out those windows, except today!  Then, the power went out and the water pressure quit in the building, so many of my students just hung at the windows, admiring and chatting about the watery spectacle.  It was a sight for winter weary eyes.  And, being so close to school getting out and break, it was all fine with me.

Slice of Life: Day 22

16 Sweet Scoops

In honor of my team being one of the 16 teams in the NCAA Basketball Tournament today, I’m writing a list of 16 fun facts about me.

  1. Florida State University is my alma mater and I love watching Seminoles football and basketball, especially with my husband and sons.  FSU is playing Gonzaga in the tournament right now and there’s a boy sitting next to me in a pair of slippers.
  2. I love pizza, but I had to give it up when I went Paleo a couple of years ago.  The cheesier, meatier, crispier the better.  Dang! It is hard to talk about this one, because I really do miss pizza!
  3. I also love spaghetti, but had to give that up too.  Now I eat spaghetti squash and not only does it make me feel better, but it also is better nutritionally.  Zucchini squash noodles rock too.
  4. I am not a perfectionist.  I wish I could tell you that I’ve ever done a single thing perfectly, but I can’t.  I think this would be a nice trait to have.
  5. I didn’t start reading until I was 23.  Not literally, of course, but reading for pleasure and learning.  My husband introduced me to reading when we started dating.  He always had a book or two he was reading and encouraged me to give it a try.  The rest is history.
  6. At 15, I started running.  I ran my first race in a pair of canvas sneakers.
  7. We don’t eat our chickens when they quit laying.  We retire them to greener pastures.
  8. I’m a southern rock ‘n roll girl.  There’s nothing better than listening to Lynard Skynard, the Allman Brothers or the Marshall Tucker Band on a road trip.
  9. My favorite place to write is at a coffee shop with a cup of green tea.  Getting out of the house and away from all the piles of work I have here, clears my mind and enables me to focus.
  10. I head up the bookstore at my church.  On a Sunday after Divine Liturgy, you’ll find me in the bookstore talking with people about books, God and Orthodoxy.
  11. My oldest son is a techno wizard and he’s my go-to whenever I have a problem with my phone.  I have a gene that makes technological devices go haywire when I’m nearby.  So, he adjusts all my screen problems, which are many.
  12. I started this blog in the summer of 2014, so I’ve been blogging and photo blogging for 4 years.
  13. I met my husband while we were students at Florida State.
  14. My first car was a 1973 blue 2-door Mavrick, with three on the tree.  When I was a senior, it started smoking and caught on fire at a football game. Then the fire department came!! There is something profoundly weird about the spontaneous combustion of your vehicle, especially when you are 17.
  15. I would describe my teaching style as hands-on and energetic.  I like to keep the pace going so that the students aren’t bored.  I  change up our activities every week so that I keep the students guessing. On any given day, we may be debating, discussing, work shopping, pair-sharing, reading, writing, conferencing, quizzing, acting, drawing, presenting, researching or competing.
  16. I have never seen the Pacific Ocean, but I’m hoping to this summer!

Slice of Life: Day 16

Word Hoard for Daily Slicers

laundry in the washer

laundry on the floor

dishes in the sink

dishes at the door

papers ungraded

dinner’s not bought

but the slicing keeps on going

written well or written squat

kids are talking ’round me

someone’s ringing the bell

but, I’m clicking at my laptop

come high water or come knell

there’s places to go

and people to see

but at table and keyboard

is where I’ll be

commenting and liking

and posting oft too late

I’m growing as a writer

and developing my traits

I’m meeting other bloggers

and noting all their skills

I’m reading all announcements

and charging up the hill

slicing and dicing and responding

dusk to dawn

I greet my sleeping husband

each night with weary yawn

it’s is a daily grind

heavy wedges on my plate

but I’m doing SOL March challenge

and I’m doing it first rate