Tuesday, October 11, 2016


It was another beautiful sunny day, today. I wanted to get out for a walk and decided I would go for a hike. For a long time I've wanted to explore all of the Lancaster County Conservancy preserves. In fact it was just over two years ago that I blogged about another Conservancy hike and challenged myself to try to get to them all. I'm not much closer to that goal now than I was two years ago but it's still part of the bucket list.

Today I determined to go to Reed Run Nature Preserve. It is toward the southern end of Lancaster County so it was a little bit of a drive but a beautiful one. Once I got to the site I realized I had been there before with Mike and the boys. The hike is a loop which you would think would be very easy to follow.

Oh no, think again.

The trail is marked with blue tree markers which are very visible (once you see them). The trail, however is VERY overgrown. I was very glad to be wearing long sleeves, long pants and my hiking boots. It was great fun trying to follow the trail, crossing the stream a few times, and generally NOT following the loop. I didn't get to see the overlook since I ended up going back and forth on the eastern side of the loop and the overlook is on the western side. 

All in all it was a really good hike. I felt a little bit like an explorer (ok, a pathetic explorer) and used my amazing sense of direction (the sun rises in the east and goes down in the west) to make sure I was headed back in the right direction. It really was challenging to find the trail at times both in the woods and on the edge of the woods. It was also a really good little workout without being overwhelmingly steep.

If you want to try this hike (let me know if you get the whole way around!) be sure to wear bright clothing since hunting is allowed in this preserve. I also recommend sturdy shoes, jeans and long sleeves. Oh, and a GPS might come in handy.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Autumn Nature Walk

It has been a beautiful week here in Lancaster, PA. Yesterday afternoon after I finished cleaning  the classroom and writing up my notes for the day I felt the draw of nature. I wanted to take a hike because I craved solitude and wanted to take some photos. It was a little late to drive to one of the hikes I enjoy so I decided to go to a nearby community park that is large and has some lovely natural areas. 

I just learned about Michaelmas Daisies and was excited to see so many of them blooming. They are really asters that bloom around Michaelmas which was at the end of September. I've always loved daisies (my wedding bouquet was made from them) in every form and so loved seeing all the butterflies and bees enjoying them, too!

Today's weather isn't going to be so lovely so I've set myself the task of cleaning the sunroom and exchanging the screens for the windows. I've been doing some purging lately (this week I went through my recipe folders. Yikes! What a lot of printouts I had.) and may continue that some more this weekend. I am always surprised at how much I accumulate that is unnecessary and never used. 

The garden also needs cleaned up for the fall. I still have green beans growing and should be able to harvest them soon. Every year I tell myself I will plant bulbs and every year I don't do it. Maybe this will be my year! 

I hope you have a lovely weekend. Take time to enjoy something about nature, tidy that area you've been complaining about and spend some quality time with those you love.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Frugal Friday

It's June and I've been done with school for about a week. Nolan graduated from Lancaster Catholic and the Lancaster Career and Technology Center. The parties are over. I deep cleaned the kitchen floor. The new school I'm starting (more on this later) is set up and the paperwork sent to the state.  What does all this mean? I'm a little bored. So yesterday it occurred to me that I used to love to blog. I think one of the reasons I stopped blogging was that I no longer had the time to do it. Well, this new found boredom has given me time to blog again!  So I went back to my blog and found this post that never got posted. I think it's a good one so I'm sharing it with you today. It is over a year old but still relevant. Enjoy this one and look for more this summer.
We're still eating the sauce we made from these tomatoes.

Here it is (from 2015. And, no, it's not Friday. Please don't expect me to post a Frugal Friday post each week this summer. This was the 2015 me, not the new and improved 2016 me who knows better.):

This is the first in what I hope will be a weekly Friday posting. Hope being the operative word here.

I've been contemplating voluntary poverty for the last few weeks. I'm not going to get into that topic right now because it would require more time than I want to give to my computer at the moment. We all know that there are people who live in terrible poverty all over the world, including the town you live in. 

I'm prone to a guilty conscience and so I have to be careful about my motives. I don't want to do something because it seems romantic at the time but is unsustainable.

What I have felt convicted about for a long time is to live more simply. To honor the beauty of the natural world that has been entrusted to us by our creator. What does this mean exactly?

Well, first off: waste not.

I guess that is my basic definition of frugality. So on this and (I hope) subsequent Fridays I'll post something about being frugal. We all know that when one can make a posting alliterative it has universal appeal. Right???

So, my first Frugal Friday post topic is PATIENCE. "Patience,"you may ask? What does that have to do with being frugal and eliminating waste?

1. Impulse buying. It is so easy, isn't it? Let me give you a current example. Yesterday a friend recommended the book 7:An experimental mutiny against excess. I was cleaning out my closet and lamenting the number of skirts in there that almost never get worn. My gut instinct after looking at the book was, "Hey, this is right up my alley. I'll buy it right now. I'm just one click away on Amazon!" Fortunately, the angel sitting on my other shoulder reminded me that purchasing a book immediately because I REALLY wanted to read it was just as bad as those 13 skirts sitting in my closet. Worse, actually, because I still had the option of NOT buying it. So, my friend offered to loan me the book when she was finished with it and my dilemma was over. I'll still get to read the book and glean the knowledge written inside while saving some cash and possibly having a moment to chat with a friend during the exchange. 

2. Savings. I think we all know the cost of buying on credit or buying more than we have income to sustain. Just take a look at the housing crisis in America. How many people were approved for loans that they could not sustain. My parents taught us that if you want something, save for it first. Chances are you may not even want the item you were saving for once you have the money in hand. Being patient about fixing up the house, upgrading the computer, or even that new pair of shoes pays off in the end.

3. Eat real food and cook it yourself. Yup. Cooking takes time. Cooking real food takes extra time. It takes patience to learn to make something from scratch, to use the oven instead of the microwave. No, dinner isn't usually ready in 10 minutes or less. To be honest, the cost of real food isn't always less than processed. Unless you look at the big picture. Most commercially available foods are subsidized by the government along the path from giant farm to your table. Where do the subsidy monies come from? Yup, taxpayer pocketbooks. How about your health? What is the cost in medicine, doctor visits and hospital stays that are directly linked to the poor quality of food that we eat? High. The cost isn't just in money but in time and quality of life. 

4. You. We are all human. We all have our faults. We all need to strive to improve our lives in some way. Be patient with yourself. Nothing changes overnight except the date on the calendar. Every experience in your life is forming you and often those around you. Waste not. Examen yourself but be patient with yourself. If you find you have blessings then give thanks! If you find you have faults, make a plan. If you have faulted your husband, your children, your friend, your coworker: ask forgiveness. Take the time to improve yourself. Give thanks for the many blessings you have in your life and find one area that you can improve upon. Continue practicing patience with it all.

I'm sure there are more areas where patience and frugality meet. If you've got an idea, comment or facebook or post! Send me your links. Have a great weekend, everyone.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Then and Now

Nathan as a preschooler
Nathan at Graduation
I've been pondering time this weekend. I had some time on Friday night (it was rainy and cold and I was happy to be stuck in the house). I took out my old song notebook and sat down on the piano bench with my guitar.

Just the act of taking out my notebook (from 1988), my guitar (built in 1963 and purchased by us in 1995ish) and sitting at my piano (built 1950s or 60s, bought by my parents in 1978) is a study in time.

What really got me thinking was looking through my notebook. In there are songs I had written, was trying to write or had been written by other artists of the 1980's and 1990's. It was clear from my lyrics (cringe) that I was longing to find a soulmate; someone to spend my life with. It was also pretty clear that I didn't think I was soulmate material. 

I paged through the book and played through songs I haven't thought about for a long time. The songs that I remember best speak of a longing for family, for children. All the things I've had for more than 20 years now.

I'm getting to the point of looking back instead of looking forward.

Today I went to see my parents. It is my mom's 76th birthday. My dad is 79. We talked about our children (my brothers and I are their children and my children and nieces and nephews are their grandchildren - obviously). My mom said, "People don't think they need children when they're young. When you really need them is when you are old."

Nolan as a preschooler
Nolan as a Senior
Singing all those old songs and thinking about all those longings I had for a partner and then all the conversations Mike and I had (once I had him as a partner) about our future and our family made me somewhat nostalgic. We are past all of that. Our children are young men embarking on their own futures. 

It made me wonder about my now. Is my now the future I had envisioned? Of course we can never envision exactly how life will turn out. There are always bumps (or mountains) in our paths that make us steer in directions we could never envision.

But all in all, I'm happy with the choices we've made. We don't have a large house, a large income, new cars or fancy furniture. What we do have is well adjusted children (young men, really), careers we adore and a place to live that we love.

If I was still writing songs (which I am not), I do wonder what I would write about.
Mike and I when we were first dating
Mike and I a few years ago at his sister's wedding
I still have ambitions and dreams. I am still working to fulfill them. I remember my friend, my priest, Fr. Leo telling me a long time ago, "There is a time in life for everything." How true that is. 

I find myself in a time of life of change again. But now I know that change is slow. I enjoy each day in a way I didn't when I was young. I enjoy each moment with my boys. These moments don't come around in the same way they did when they were children. But they still come. My aim is to make sure I embrace them all.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Montessori Bootcamp Review

My classroom set up for the beginning of the school year.
Hello everyone! Many of you may have already started school and many are looking forward to starting in a week or so. I can't wait to get back into the swing of things. We had our meet the teacher/camp carnival evening last week and it really made me realize how much I miss my students. This is the first year one of my own children will NOT be returning to school. My eldest graduated in June and has secured a full time job. It is wonderful to see what an amazing young man he has become but also strange to be the mother of an adult. My youngest son returns to his last year of high school. He will be attending a culinary program full time for his senior year. In many ways I think this kind of program is similar to what he might have gotten in a Montessori high school. 

I haven't been on the blog for a while but wanted to give a little review of the 21 Day Classroom Setup Bootcamp in which I participated for three weeks this summer. You can find my other blog posts about this 'camp' here, here and here. The bootcamp was created by Seemi Abdullah from Trillium Montessori. Seemi is a great Montessori resource and a wonderful person. I was able to meet her at the American Montessori Society conference in Philadelphia this year.

So what did I think about the bootcamp? Wow. I'm not sure how to keep all of my thoughts to one blog post but I will try. The bootcamp encompassed so many aspects of classroom setup it's hard to relay. I have to admit I did not participate everyday nor with all of the assignments. I have a feeling it was that way for most of the participants. I think what I'll report on were the items I found most helpful.

First, I did appreciate the organizational component of the course. Sometimes there are things we know are important but aren't as fun as material making or setting up shelves and we relegate them to the end of our list when they need to be at the beginning. Things like the teacher and assistant manual, parent relations plan and record keeping. It was good to get some organization in those areas and clean off my shelf full of papers at the same time!

The thing I found most helpful was shelf mapping and the floor plan. My co-teacher and I spent a huge amount of time working out the floor plan of the classroom last summer. I took over from another teacher in the middle of the previous year and was not happy with the floor plan (just personal opinion, nothing against the previous teacher). After living with it for a year we remained happy with the setup. Of course, it isn't perfect but it is as perfect as can be with the shelves and tables we have.

Learning how to shelf map was definitely the most rewarding learning I've done in a LONG time. I wrote a blog post about it so I won't go into detail but I thought I'd post some before and after photos to show how I've changed things to make them more in line with the progression of materials and developmental needs of the child. I'm showing only two areas of the classroom: Practical Life and Language. These were the two areas that I changed the most and with which I was most unhappy in years past.

Practical Life art and sewing before the shelf map.
Practical Life art shelf after the shelf map
In the two photos above you can see how I changed the art shelf. Excuse the fact that the materials are incomplete. I won't have markers, crayons, pencils, etc. until the first week of school. One big change I made in practical life was to add more sewing to my shelves. I also combined my wet and dry fine motor shelf. I have found that there is much less misuse of the sewing materials than the fine motor materials in general and the children love the work and gain so much more concentration from it than most other practical life works. I don't know if this is because of some fault of mine with the pouring, scooping and tonging works (not giving proper lessons, etc.) but I'm giving this new set up a try this year and will reflect on it after we've been using it. The top shelf of art now includes plants and animals to care for.
fine and gross motor wet works before mapping

care of environment shelf (sewing sequence and wet works) after mapping
Above you can see how I changed things. By mapping the shelves, I was able to see that I should have things combined more by area (care of environment, art, fine motor, etc.) than I did in the past. I bought the book Sewing in the Montessori Classroom by Aimee Fagen and am using her sequence this year on our shelf. I highly recommend this resource. The sewing sequence for the beginning of the year is on the top two shelves and the care of environment wet works (table scrubbing, shell washing, plant care and glasses polishing) are on the bottom shelf.
fine motor shelf before mapping

fine motor shelf after mapping
Above is my fine motor shelf before and after. I now have things arranged in this way:
  • top shelf - whole hand
  • second shelf - three finger
  • third shelf - wrist, arm
This arrangement will really help me as I am changing out the shelves each month. I now know exactly what should be where!

sound cabinet before
sound cabinet after
language shelf before
oral language and writing shelf after
advanced language shelf after
The above photos show my language shelves before and after. I had always felt I did not have enough oral language materials and this arrangement has really made me think we are better prepared for the upcoming year. I have a number of students with language delay or disorder as well as some who could use additional conversational skills and I think this new arrangement will really help us to provide more practice.  Instead of adding to this VERY LONG post, I am going to add my shelf maps for download so you can see just how I have things set up now. Click to view: Language, Math, Sensorial.
Storage before bootcamp
storage after bootcamp
close up of storage
Finally, one of the easiest but one of the most dramatic (visually anyway) changes you can see above. I use clear plastic containers for storage. You can see just how messy they looked before Seemi suggested putting craft paper on the sides of the containers. I also took down the extra materials that were in the classroom before I took over. I went through everything and decided that I could combine the materials that belonged to the school into one box instead of the large plastic tubs. I also combined my musical instruments and stored a few other things in other areas of the classroom. What a difference!

So, all in all, I have to say I am so glad that I participated in this bootcamp. It was well worth every penny and I would highly recommend it to both new and experienced teachers. Seemi allows us to continue to have access to all the videos and downloads so that if there were parts of the bootcamp I didn't have time or energy to complete, I can go back and work on them at another time. 

Now I really can't wait for the school year to start!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Montessori Bootcamp Day 3: Shelf Mapping

I absolutely was not going to blog today. In fact, I was fairly certain I wasn't going to work on my day three bootcamp today, either. I spent most of my day working with my younger son on scraping, sanding and priming our shutters. It is not a fun job but it was nice to spend the day with my 17 year old. We talked about his thoughts about the future. He's spending his senior year at a full day Culinary program and hopes to work in (or own) a restaurant some day.

Our assignment for today was to create shelf maps for the main areas of our classroom (Practical Life, Sensorial, Math and Language). To summarize, we were to take our Montessori albums and organize the topics into grids and then take those grids and figure out how each material should fit on the shelf.

For instance, in Math I tend to break things down into 1-10, 11-20, decimal system, operations and other (fractions, money, measurement, etc.). So in a classroom you may decide to have one shelf with works that teach 1-10, one shelf for 11-20, one for the decimal system, etc. Of course, we are not all lucky enough to have shelves perfectly matched to our materials break down and often have to modify. 

Thus, the shelf map. 

To be honest, for the most part I don't have too much trouble deciding how to arrange my shelves and how to order them. However, I have struggled with the arrangement of my Practical Life materials and so I thought I'd use today's assignment to work on that one area of the classroom since I was going to rearrange it before school starts anyway.

I did not have my Practical Life album at home and so I went to Montessori Research and Development and looked at the table of contents for their album. Frankly, I think I like how it is ordered better than my own.

Here's my sunroom workstation
Seemi recommended we outline using a table method (which ends up looking like a shelf cabinet!). I had a hard time using that method and went back to my old favorite: the list.

The above photo shows my list. I broke down the areas as they were presented in the table of contents. For those of you not familiar with Practical Life in Montessori, this is not an all inclusive list. These are the materials that would be put on the shelf. There are lots of other Practical Life lessons that we practice like grace and courtesy, how to carry a tray, how to roll a rug, etc. So this list just includes things that I will be creating for the shelf throughout the year. 

  • control of movement
    • whole hand
    • 3 finger
    • wrist
    • arm movement
  • care of environment
    • plant care
    • washing
    • polishing
    • dusting and sweeping
  • care of self
    • hand washing
    • dressing frames 
  • food preparation
    • snack
    • table setting
  • sewing
  • art

Above you can see my "final" map. Each rectangle represents a shelf cabinet or area. Here they are in list format:

  • Easel
  • sculpting table (play doh)
  • art shelf (with plants on top)
  • control of movement shelf
  • sewing and care of environment shelf
  • hand washing
  • dish washing
  • care of environment hanging - dusting, dust pan, broom
  • care of environment shelf 2 - spill tray, crumbers, floor cloths, window washing
  • food prep (I forgot to add it on the map, oops!)
I'm quite happy with the change. This will also really help when I'm changing out the classroom once per month.

Finally, a word about why I really wanted to change this area of the classroom. The exercises of Practical Life are to assist the child in four ways: order, concentration, coordination and independence. 

The Practical Life area of the classroom is a vital gateway to all the other areas of the classroom. Without concentration and coordination it is difficult for children to go on to the more advanced math and language activities like addition and handwriting. 

I have found that often Practical Life exercises are not used properly in the classroom. Some children hide away in this area when they are really ready for more advanced work. There are times when the materials are used in fantasy play in such a way that the materials have lost their original purpose. In other words, they are not assisting the children to integrate order or to help them concentrate. The children are not acting in a normalized way in this area of the classroom.

I believe one of the reasons is that I had not had Practical Life set up in such a way as to best serve the children. With my new map in hand, I am hoping to see some changes this coming school year.

I wonder if I have time to tackle my Language shelves now?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Montessori Bootcamp Day 2 when I almost fell down the rabbit hole.

Today's assignment in the 21 Day Montessori Classroom Setup Bootcamp was to create an Assistant Manual. I have a tremendous co-teacher (the term we use in my school) and so she doesn't necessarily need this kind of manual. Of course I would be fooling myself to think that I will never have anyone else working with me! So I took on the challenge to create the manual.

But first, I almost fell down the Montessori rabbit hole.

In our email about today's adventure, Seemi pointed us in the direction of a few Montessori blogs and websites that had information about assistants. I've scoured the web for years looking for materials and information about Montessori and thought I knew pretty much most of them.

Not so.

When I clicked on the link for Beautiful Sun Montessori I had to take a deep breath. She has tons of FREE materials. Yup. Tons. Yup. Free. Of course I immediately began reading through her blog and planning on which materials I NEEDED to make for my classroom and how I just wanted to keep reading.

Then I gave myself a little kick.

I reminded myself that I was doing this little bootcamp for just this very reason....to give myself a little structure, especially when working on the parts of the classroom I find less interesting (making assistant binders, for example). So I took another deep breath, reminded myself that I had full days to work on each area of the classroom within the bootcamp and that I could use those days to make materials. 

Today was to complete the assistant manual and finish up yesterday's teacher binder.

Yesterday I showed you my classroom and the areas I use to store my office type supplies. I referred to the fact that I also use my sewing room at home to make materials and to stay organized. After I narrowly escaped the rabbit hole, I took a look around my sewing room and realized I needed to do some organizing of my Montessori shelf. I had been just throwing papers on it for a while. I took a trip to Walmart and purchased my yearly planner, classroom calendar and a few other things (including more card stock for that rabbit hole project). I got all my binders and papers out so I could begin organizing. You can see what resulted in the photo above. 

It has been a really hot and humid day today. We do not have air conditioning in our house so after I got my papers organized and finished up my teacher binder, I printed out the necessary papers that I wanted to check out and took everything for my assistant binder to our cooler sunroom. I spent quite a while down there this afternoon working on the assistant binder. I see you can also follow my eating for the day in these photos!

Above, is the final photo. My binders are quite plain because I tend to reuse things I already have. The blue is for my co-teacher and the white is mine. I tweaked things a little from the way Seemi has the bootcamp organized but I'm sure everyone has it that way. The biggest changes are with the teacher binder. I added a tab for assistant training and put some of the training papers and a few articles there for my future reference. I also added a tab for behavioral observations. I want a place to write in specific observations and instances of behavior that we are following in certain children so that when I am talking with parents I have very specific information to follow up my concerns.

In the assistant manual I also wrote up our snack preparation procedure on its own sheet because I find that most adults give way too much help to the children who are preparing snack. 

All in all it has been a hot and sweaty day but I am feeling very good about all that I accomplished. Thanks for being a great commander, Seemi!
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