Handmade Christmas

What’s the best present you have ever received?  I bet it wasn’t something from a big box store?  Homemade, handmade gifts are always the ones I remember.  They are keepsakes. Our family has always made presents and cards: it is part of our identity as a family. This Christmas my daughter Liv, out did herself.  She created a series of gifts for her parents and in laws. Each package was collaboration with her husband, Rolf and daughter Vera.

The theme for this Christmas was “Family Dinner”. I am sure her Montessori training was responsible for the developmental pattern to the presents. Each gift fulfilled a step in enjoying a healthy, happy and holy dinner. We received a shopping bag, thanks to Cathedral Hill Montessori School; napkins decorated with sparkly Vera hand prints, a rosy decoupage box with 10 prayer cards put together by Rolf and Liv, and of course a cook book of Liv’s favourite recipe’s.

My husband & I will treasure these gifts forever. I plan on using them too.  Tonight I am making squash soup, setting the table with my Vera napkins and we will recite a prayer or two. This is my Family Dinner kit.  What more does one need in life but a bag full of great memories? Thanks Liv for the heartfelt Christmas presents. You are a creative, thoughtful & talented daughter, good mother & true friend too.

Vera’s First Year

This post is purely for friends and family!  Vera’s birthday coincides nicely with the traditional time to reflect on the past year.  Enjoy a-year-in-the-life of Vera!

The next generation of lefse makers….

Dad, Grandma, and son

As a small child, one of my favorite holiday traditions was going to my grandma and grandpa’s house to make lefse. I feel so thankful that I had this time with my grandpa, who has since passed on, and my grandma. In all the Christmases I can remember, I only missed one year of lefse making. I was so sad about it, but the 60 miles between our houses were snow covered, I had a cold, was pregnant and had a broken ankle therefore being unable to drive myself…. my grandfather was also battling cancer at the time and I didn’t want to expose him to the germs I was having a hard time fighting myself. This was my grandpa’s last lefse making and it makes my eyes well up to know that he had to sample lefse without his partner in crime by his side.

My mom (after moving several states away from her mom) missed out on quite a few years of lefse rolling so my brother thought he would get her a grill, pin and accessories a few years back for Christmas. We kept telling her she had been naughty and was getting nothing but a sack of potatoes for a present. She laughed, until she opened her sack of potatoes….

It was quite hilarious. Her gift continued with the lefse making utensils.

Last weekend Ari helped the lefse tradition spread through the generations of our family. He rolled, he flipped, he ate. I enjoyed seeing his gleaming smile as he shared in this joyous tradition my family has participated in for well over 20 years.

We brought some lefse to school on Monday and he shared it with his friends. I already am looking forward to next years lefse making extravaganza and hope that Quentin will join in as well…. After all, he did get a potato masher for Christmas from grandma this year!

If lefse is new to you, here is a video as well as the site that my brother purchased my mom’s grill.

Saturday Night

Last Saturday we had some good friends over for dinner.  They arrived at 5.  We chatted, ate some apps, and played with Vera’s blocks.  Dinner was served around 5:30.  We enjoyed juicy burgers and a healthy salad, while encouraging Vera to try her carrots.  Once we were pretty well stuffed we gathered around our friends ukulele and sang songs.  Rolf even brought out his guitar.  I even sang along.  Vera listened and bounced, loving every minute of it.

Around 7, Rolf got Vera in her PJs and I put her to bed while our company moved to the “parlor”, the room furthest away from Vera’s (Vera essentially sleeps in the middle of the house.  Not very ideal for late night parties.).  Dessert was served and good conversation continued.  By 9:45, Rolf and I were sinking further and further into the couch, and respectfully our guests got the reminder that we’re still sleep deprived parents, gave us each a hug goodbye, and headed home.  It was a simple, lovely night.

Now that we have a baby, dinner parties aren’t as easy to throw as they once were.  Cleaning the house and prepping for a meal take much longer and become much simpler.  Since Vera sleeps immediately next to the dinning room, having and early dinner together works best for us.  Then there’s the obvious fact that we have an adorable attention getting princess for a daughter, who likes to be included in all conversation and enjoys having 2 + playmates, joining us at the table.  And lastly, but certainly not least, we’re tired.  We don’t stay up late – a kind of panic sets in if we’re up past 11 (or sometimes 10), knowing that Vera’s first awakening is only a few hours away.

Friends who don’t mind eating early, enjoy children, are comfortable with vocal babies at the table, and understand when it’s time to leave are invaluable.  I know there wont always be so many stipulations when it comes to having friends over, but I’ve accepted that right now there are and we can still have fun.  Most of all, I’m very thankful for our “big night” last Saturday and our friends that helped make it happen.

Up and Running!

Cathedral Hill Montessori School is open for business!

So exciting to be a part of a new school, new Children’s House, new team, and new community.

Below are some pictures of our pioneer children in the Children’s House!

B washing her hands

Don’t worry, we have real sinks too.  But the hand washing stand is a place to give hard-working fingers some special attention.

G practicing her letters

We teach cursive first for a few reasons:

1. Cursive writing is a more natural way of writing. The pencil flows along the paper without frequent stops within words.

2. There is less confusion and reversal between the cursive forms of the letters ‘b’, ‘d’, ‘p’, and ‘q’ as there is in the print form.

3. Words written in cursive are clearly separated from each other. Run-on words are not as common in cursive.

4. The child who can read cursive can also read manuscript, but the reverse is not true.

5. Cursive is a better exercise for strengthening fine motor skills. The connecting letters help the child to produce smooth, rather than choppy, strokes with the pencil.

A the artist

A friend of mine was given a power point presentation by a professor of hers that said: Montessori does not allow for creativity in the arts. SO NOT TRUE!!  We have a whole shelf for art work, along with many opportunities to write books, illustrate, and embellish work.

binomial and trinomial cubes

The binomial and trinomial cubes help with visual discrimination, along with indirect preparation for  algebra!  I remember working with these when I was just 4 years old!


We have open snack all morning, but children can also prep their own food.  A is peeling and cutting a banana.

Group lunch

As soon as children enter the Children’s House, at 2.5 or 3 years old, they learn to set their own place, serve themselves lunch, and wash their dishes.  And, of course, have good conversation!

Come visit soon!

Tired Moms

Who is missing in this bed?

  • 3 in 10 America women admit to using some kind of sleep aid at least a few nights a week.
  • 80% of women reported being too stressed or worried to turn out the proverbial lights  at bedtime.
  •  The use of prescription sleep aids amongst women peaks between the ages of 40 to 59.  Last year, 15,473,000 American women between those ages got a prescription to help them sleep. Nearly twice the number of men in that age group. (According to IMS Health, a health care consulting firm in Danbury, Conn)
  • 84 % of women suffer from insomnia while having an infant.

 According to “Women and Sleep”, a 2007 study by the National Sleep Foundation and IMS Health, a health care consulting firm in Danbury, Connecticut.

I recently read all this in the New York Times.  Coincidentally, I also recently bought myself a container of the homeopathic remedy for mind-racing, called Coffea Cruda.  Am I one of these women?!? (I may be younger than 40, but definitely live with an infant.)

Since having a baby and becoming a mother, I’ve had many conversations with friends (with and without children) about what it’s like to be a mom in this day and age.  I was blessed to have been able to take 8 and 1/2 months off to be home with my daughter, and am now working only part-time.  Many women are not so lucky, and I don’t know how they do it.  Working part-time has forced me to drastically change my expectations of myself and what I’m capable of.  I just don’t have as much time or energy as I used to.  But even then, I still lie awake at night, listing the things I have to do around the house and for work, projects that need to be finished, and errands that need to be run.  Of course, only to be woken up an hour or two later by a crying baby (and then again, 3 hours after that. And then maybe one more time for good measure.).

This is not to say that Rolf doesn’t have those nights too.  But clearly, as this article suggest, racing minds, insomnia, and sleep deprivation are all maladies greatly suffered by todays working mothers.

In the article, they even mentioned  a mom who occasionally takes Xanax to sleep, but limits herself to avoid addiction and then endures sleepless nights, “…she saw the irony in not sleeping because she was anxious about taking an anti-anxiety medicine in order to sleep.”  Is there a cure, besides the popular sleeping pill (if that), for this new epidemic?

I sure hope so, for my sake.  I used to be an 8 hr/night minimum sleeper.  Now 5 hours (broken up, of course) leads to a good day.  Besides the occasional homeopathic remedy, my plan is to make my life more manageable.  If I take on less, there’ll be less to keep me up at night and more time to spend relaxing with my family.  Prioritizing, setting personal boundaries, and limiting the number of projects and jobs I sign up for should help.  And I look forward to the nights that Vera sleeps all the way till morning.  All these changes should guarantee me more, and sounder, sleep.  But first, I just have to get through Thanksgiving. Print out those Christmas cards. Shop for presents. Plan Vera’s first birthday party. Book our hotel room for our trip to L.A.  Find someone to watch Vera next Tuesday afternoon.  Grocery shop.  Rake the yard……..

Montessori and Happiness

Lillard in Action

Last night I went to The Montessori Training Center of Minnesota to hear Paula Polk Lillard, author of many important and influential books on Montessori Education, speak about the genius of Dr. Montessori and her Method.

Montessori is not a crazy far-out way of teaching.  Lillard emphasized the strong connection Montessori has to relatively new discoveries in neuroscience.  And this is not by chance.  Dr. Montessori was the first female doctor in Italy, and she based her education practices on countless hours of careful observation, hypotheses, and research.  Without today’s fancy CAT scans, and MRIs, she saw how the child’s mind developed, and she worked hard to come up with materials and a method that support the different stages of early childhood brain development (and beyond!).  I’m no neuroscience, so I’ll stop there.  To find out more on this subject, click here.

Lillard also referred to the work of Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who spent years studying happiness.  What is it? What does it really feel like? How can we get it?  After tracking many people and asking them to describe what it felt like when they were truly happy, he found these similar qualities: they were deeply concentrated in an activity which they had freely chosen for themselves.  They were comfortably challenged.  They were given the time needed to become immersed in their work, and often felt as if there was not time at all.  And when they were finished with whatever task it was that made them happy, they felt great satisfaction and pride.

Coincidentally (or maybe not coincidentally at all!) a Montessori environment offers just that to children!  Montessori teachers are thoroughly trained to connect children to materials that inspire and challenge them.  Once shown how to use a material, the child may choose that work independently of an adult.  Children are given the freedom to explore, repeat, and make their own discoveries.  And their time is protected by maintaining a three-hour uninterrupted work-cycle.  Without hesitation, I can say that I’ve witnessed children deep within those moments of happiness and emerge out of them with a new-found skill and beaming with pride.

This is not to say that a 3-year-old simply walks into a Montessori classroom and instantly becomes sublimely happy (though it can happen when they see a room full of materials just for them!)  A beautifully prepared environment, a well trained adult, and support in the development of the child’s will, are all essential supporting factors for the child to be able find true happiness in her work.  As the environment is perfected, the child adjusts to her new surroundings and freedoms, and the adult observes and offers the right work to stimulate her, a possibility  for true happiness is around every corner.

If you haven’t observed a Montessori environment, I encourage you to do so.  Especially if you’re having a rough week, a hard month, or a tough year.  Some of that happiness might rub off!

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