New York City

The chronology of my summer posts is a little backwards.  Before our pastor moved, before Thomas was confirmed, and while I was still throwing rocks, Thomas, Jack, and David went to New York City.  They had a great time so I want to give their summer “field trip” a little mention on this space before the calendar and the weather officially turn to autumn.


Tom’s favorite picture from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

We had a few reasons for sending just the two older boys with David on a trip like this.  First, I am at a stage in my life where I really do not like to travel.  Perhaps this is just a temporary stage.  I don’t know.  I do know that I am currently a homebody. That does not mean, however, that I want our children to grow up to be homebodies too.  David and I thought it would be good for Thomas and Jack to see and experience something outside of western New York.  What better way to do this than to hop a train with Dad and travel across our Empire State to New York City?

Our second line of reasoning was that Walter is just too young for a trip like this.  He would neither appreciate it nor remember it; and even if I did like to travel, the logistics of taking a toddler on an eight hour trip to New York City are complicated at best.  Clearly the older boys would be less encumbered and would have more fun without their anxious mother and their little brother in tow.

Finally, with just bit of homeschool math, one can figure out that a trip for three people will cost less than a trip for five people.  Our limited travel budget was able to stretch a little further with Walter and me staying home.

After we thought through all this quite logically, David bought tickets for the train and booked an Airbnb for two nights in Times Square.  I helped the boys pack their bags, and they were off!

In Times Square.

In Times Square

The trip was a huge success!  My three travelers are already planning a return trip next summer.  Upon their return, I asked the boys to write blog posts about their experiences, which they did gladly.  Thomas is the photographer of the pair.  You can see his post at Thomas Duke 2003.  Jack is our young writer in residence.  If New York City from a ten-year-old’s perspective sounds interesting, you can read about it on his site, EpicJetMan 1780.

What about Walter and me, you might ask?  We enjoyed the quiet.  We enjoyed the not cooking for five people.  We enjoyed walking at the river in the morning and napping in the afternoon.  We enjoyed playing the piano and getting some house projects done.  It was wonderful.  I’m looking forward to next summer’s return trip too!

Not New York City

Not New York City




Present vs. Efficient

From toddler to teen, my children are teaching me what it means to be present.


Toddlers, especially, are good at teaching this lesson. For the past few nights, Walter has been overtired, and his bedtime routine has looked rather like a crash and burn event. We have been necessarily efficient, but that is usually not the case. Ordinarily bedtime looks more like a gradual unwinding of the day.  We put all the lids away, and then I go with him to his bedroom. We close the door, and he plays for a bit while I watch. Only after this playtime do we get to putting on pajamas, nursing, reading books, singing lullabies, and saying our prayers. It’s a long process, as anyone with a toddler knows. During this process, it’s my job not to rush, but to be present for each step before Walter finally puts his head on his pillow, ready to sleep. It’s not very efficient.



It’s also not very efficient to linger on the river bank for a half an hour looking for what may or may not be “sea glass.” (It looked a little more like regular glass to me, but again, this was a lesson in presence, not correct terminology, so I let it be sea glass.) A brisk walk without pause would have been much more efficient, and I probably would have gotten more exercise. But what we would have missed! I love the river, and I love these two boys.  There was no better way for us to spend that time than by being present together.

With teenagers, being present sometimes looks more like holding a space. A few weeks ago, Thomas had to make a rather large decision.  At least five adults were waiting on his answer so that we could move on with our plans, and it was tempting to rush the process. It would have been more efficient just to make the decision for him, but instead, we gave him counsel, and then let him alone for a whole day. We let him putter around in his workshop, giving him space while he processed, and by the next morning he had made a mature decision suited to his needs.

Our family lifestyle lends itself to this kind of presence. We have time to put Walter to bed slowly, we have time to spend down by the river, and we have time to let our kids putter and process and decide for themselves. Homeschooling plays a large part in affording us this time. We have whole days to spend together. We don’t have to rush, and we don’t have to structure our time to meet an institutional agenda. I think it would be more efficient to put my school age children on a big yellow bus and have them sit in class with their same age peers, but efficiency is not one of my goals for their childhood or for their education.

There are plenty of parents who do send their children to school and are still present for them when class is dismissed. Some might even find that being present is easier this way. The theory of quality versus quantity comes into play here. Perhaps it is actually easier to be present for your children if you haven’t been dealing with their noise and their messes all day long. As someone who sometimes checks out or at least takes a break, I can understand how this might be the case. It is also possible to not be present even if you are homeschooling. Pushing through curricula, scheduling too many activities, and parental burnout all come to mind here.

Presence is ultimately a state of being. Homeschooling parents can be present, or not. Parents who send their kids to school can be present, or not. Presence is also a bit of a balancing act, because efficiency is not essentially bad. Indeed, there are times when efficiency is helpful and even necessary.  If we want to get to a scheduled activity on time, we may have to be efficient in our preparations.  If the toddler is whining because he is hungry, we may want to be efficient in getting food on the table. A degree of efficiency is a good thing, and how much of a degree depends largely on the situation and the people involved. There are some people who would be driven crazy by the degree of inefficiency in my household. In fact, I think I am sometimes driven crazy by the degree of inefficiency in my household! It’s all about finding the right balance.


I am learning to hold the balance between presence and efficiency. My particular balance leans more towards presence because this is what works for me and my family. I am taking my cues from my children. They are good teachers.



Too Boring for a Bullet Journal?

Have you seen all the posts and pins about bullet journals? These journals are the newest system for planning and reflecting all in one, and they are everywhere I look on the internet. Some of them are colorful and well-organized, while others are even quite artistic, and I must admit they have caught my eye. For months I have been on the sidelines, merely looking at other people’s journals but not really keeping one of my own. I mean really, do I need a lovely decorated page in a notebook to tell me that on Monday I’m going to roast two chickens, do a load of laundry, and pay the bills? The simple answer is, no I do not. All of these things are foregone conclusions, and I will probably get them done whether I write them down or not. I guess I’m just not much of a planner, and there’s really not that much going on in my life that I need to plan. I think that really, I am just too boring to keep a bullet journal.

I may or may not be boring, but regardless, the siren call of the internet is too hard to resist, and so I have started a new journal.  I don’t think what I have started can truly be called a bullet journal because I am terrible at following anyone else’s directions for doing pretty much anything. (I rarely follow lesson plans when I teach or recipes when I cook.) I prefer to think of my new notebook as “bullet journal inspired.” It’s basically a place to keep anything I need to record, complete with a handy index.


I’ve been using my journal as a calendar and a place for things like the boys’ spelling lists since January, but this month I’m adding another element that I call my “Daily Pages.”  I have a place to list tasks (like roasting the chickens), a place to keep track of my anxiety triggers, a place to keep track of joys and thanksgivings, and a place for general reflection.  These four items cover a two-page spread each day.  In the end, I don’t think the question will be whether I need to remind myself in writing to roast the chickens, but rather whether writing about my day helps me to be more intentional and fulfilled, or whether it instead makes me hopelessly narcissistic.

It’s too soon to answer that question, but I do know what is helpful: making the “Daily Pages” my habit for April is helping me to actually get them done.  Thomas and Jack are completing the “Daily Pages” habit with me.  This is the second month we have worked on a habit together.  There are numerous books on habit out there, but I read (most of) this short little volume from Charlotte Mason and decided to give it at try.  During the month of March we worked on the habit of cleaning up after ourselves.  Our efforts made me wonder if Charlotte Mason ever encountered boys like mine, but in the end I think we did get a little neater!  The April “Daily Pages” habit has been somewhat easier to enforce.

The boys’ pages are different from mine.  On one side of their two page spread they have a task/assignment list written by me that they need to follow.  On the other side, they are to write a paragraph about the events of their day.   I am hoping this will help us incorporate a little more structure and accountability in our home school days.  My inspiration for their “Daily Pages” came from this post on spiral notebooks, and also from this article about Montessori journals for elementary students.  I have long aspired to follow the Montessori principle of “freedom with responsibility,”  but this is not always easy to do.  We did try to follow the Montessori idea of recording times and activities completed in list fashion, but it did not work for us because our loosely structured home school day does not really have a definite beginning or end.  If my kids are “learning all the time,” it would follow that they would be listing activities all day long, and that gets a bit tedious.  Instead, we’re just catching the highlights with a paragraph at the end of the day.  So far, our combination of task list and summary paragraph seems to be working well.

Flowers from Trader Joe's. Another internet idea I couldn't resist!

Flowers from Trader Joe’s. Another internet idea I couldn’t resist!

We’ll keep up our “Daily Pages” habit for the month of April and see how it goes.  If we really like it, I may report back with an update.  For now, I can check “blog post” off my daily task list.  The next thing on my list is the laundry….





Fourteen Days and Delaware Park: 10/31-11/13



  • Scored his first hockey goal of the season.
  • Backed-up my old, dying laptop and set up my new one.  Thanks, Thomas!
  • Was not too old to enjoy our afternoon with friends at the park.




  • Went trick-or-treating dressed up as “Everything Man.”
  • Finished watching Liberty’s Kids, and immediately incorporated what he learned in his dramatic play.
  • Was the only child at the playground wearing a blue cape.




  • Spent a lot of time hanging out on the kitchen table.
  • Seemed to gain more control of his hands.  His movements may be unconscious, but even so, he bats at his toys and moves his pacifier in the general direction of his mouth.
  • Marked the one month anniversary of his birth.
  • Weighed in at the pediatrician’s office at seven pounds, twelve ounces.
  • Went on his first outing to Delaware Park.



While I Was Nesting

Between David’s work schedule and my late pregnancy doctor’s appointments and nesting tendencies, September was a pretty crazy month for us.  We did not, however, completely neglect our older children.  To prove we were paying attention, allow me to share their September highlights:


Jack turned nine.  This was a two-day event.  On the fifteenth we had friends over for hamburgers and cupcakes.  The sixteenth, Jack’s actual birthday, was just a family affair.  I made Jack pancakes for lunch, and then he waited for Dad to get home from work before opening his cards and gifts.  His main gift was a pair of roller blades because there are a few months of the year here in Western New York when it is not cold enough to ice skate outside.


Upon seeing his brother in action, Thomas decided that he needed some roller blades too.  He used some of his saved money and earned the rest by painting the outside trim around our porch.  Now both Jack and Tom can use their roller blades to practice hockey in our driveway.

Aside from painting and buying roller blades, the highlight of Tom’s September was his participation at the Springwater Fiddlers’ Fair.  He attended this with the other members of the BSS Fiddle Club, and he was all smiles when he got home. The BSS group played two sets, and in between I think they ate a lot of sugar and generally had a good time.  This was one of Tom’s first trips without either David or myself, and I think it’s safe to say he enjoyed himself thoroughly.


David may have been busy, and I may have been nesting, but it is evident that, no, we did not forget our older children.  It is also evident that, yes, they really are getting older: having birthdays, earning money, going off without Mom or Dad.  It’s a privilege to observe and enjoy these older years while also cherishing the younger ones.


Seven Days: 10/10-10/16

As we work on settling into a new normal here, I am attempting to bring back my “Young Duke Days” series (complete with a new Duke!).  Here’s what the young noblemen have been up to:



  • Found an old video camera, fixed it, and started using it.
  • Played chess and went geocaching with Grandpa G.
  • Acquired his first tube of hair gel to keep all that long hair under control.
  • Was extremely helpful around the house.
  • Enjoyed his new baby brother.



  • Enjoyed his time with Grandma and Grandpa G.
  • Continued his current reading interest, the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary.
  • Enjoyed watching Liberty’s Kids and learning about the Revolutionary War.
  • Loved on his new baby brother, saying things like, “If he never grew up, and I never grew up, I would hold him forever.”



  • Was baptized into God’s family.
  • Met Grandma and Grandpa G.
  • Had his first at-home bath.
  • Spent time on his back, just looking.  (When he’s particularly focused, he sticks one leg out.)
  • Had a little bit of “tummy time.”
  • Weighed in at the doctor’s office at 6 pounds, 10 ounces.
  • Marked the two week anniversary of his birth.



Fourteen Days: 6/6-6/20



  • Took the lead in getting ready for KidBiz.  (See photo, above.)  On the day of the market, he did a great job playing his violin and talking with customers.
  • Played solo and with Jack for the Twin Cities Community Outreach 25th Anniversary Dinner.  He took charge of the performance, and exuded a lot of confidence, both for this event and for KidBiz.
  • Had a great hockey game with two assists and one shot on goal.
  • Continued to work on electronics projects.  In fact, this seemed to be a higher priority for him than computer time.



  • Partnered with Thomas for a successful day at KidBiz.  He helped with crayon production and selling, and he played his cello.
  • Acquired a new-to-him stuffed animal at KidBiz.  We think it is an Alaskan husky.  He named it Pouncer (because it pounces on people), and dramatic play ensued.
  • Played solo and with Thomas for the TCCO Anniversary Dinner.  It’s not everyday they get to play in front of the mayor of North Tonawanda.
  • Had three hockey games and scored his first goal of the season.
  • Stood in front of the computer listening to the music when Pandora brought up a song played by Yo-Yo Ma.  He also told the librarian, that yes, he would recommend that her nephew learn to play the cello.  (This from a boy who claims that cello is one of his least favorite things.)
  • Decided that “Mr. Aker” would be the good name for a character in a story.  We are encouraging him to pursue his writing ideas.

Nachmu Crayons

KidBiz 2013

KidBiz 2013

KidBiz is back!  The following is a re-post by Thomas:

My brother and I are starting a business called Nachmu Crayons.  Nachmu crayonsNachmu Crayons will be part of the KidBiz program.  KidBiz is a program where kids can sell things such as artwork, crafts, old toys, and stuff like that.  It is sponsored by Buffalo State College.  KidBiz will be on Saturday, June 14, from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM at the corner of Elmwood and Bidwell by the farmers’ market in Buffalo, New York.  Other kids will be selling things there too.

We will be selling recycled crayons shaped to be butterflies, ladybugs, frogs, hearts, and stars.  The prices are 3 for $2 or 75¢ each.  We will not only be selling crayons of different shapes, but we will also bring our musical instruments.  My brother, Jack, will play the cello, and I will play the violin.

a portion of our inventory

a portion of our inventory

We call the business Nachmu Crayons because my dad uses Nachmu (Nock-Moo) as a family nickname.  Nachmu means comfort in Hebrew.  You can read more about that here.

We would like to recycle more crayons!  If you have unwanted crayons, please think of recycling them with us.  Any crayons are fine even if they are broken.  We will melt the crayons and pour them into candy molds to give them their new shape.  We will give you a Nachmu Crayons coupon for your donation.  Future dates for Kidbiz are July 5 and August 2.  We hope to be selling crayons on those dates too!

melting the crayons

melting the crayons

Please send our mom an email if you would like to recycle crayons with us.  Her email address is deborah@nachmu.com.  Write “recycled crayons” in the subject header, and we will get back to you.  Thank you!


Fourteen Days: 5/9-5/22

tomplatform Thomas:

  • Cleaned out the backyard pond and got his pump up and running.
  • Voluntarily learned to cut the grass and has been doing a good job.
  • Played well in the first games of the spring hockey league, including two assists.
  • Programmed his Arduino board to play “Lightly Row.”
  • Began reading Getting Started in Electronics with Dad.  Then he and Dad worked on some projects together.
  • Spent a lot of time working on electronics independently.  This involved many lights, beeps, and buzzes.
  • Nailed down the platform for the tree house in the Pokey Woods.




  • Voluntarily gave Thomas one of his gluten free cookies.
  • Hummed “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” while illustrating his Easter story.
  • Was a sweetheart on Mother’s Day and gave the baby (and Mom) a hug.
  • Played “Minuet I” by Bach beautifully at the BSS spring recital.
  • Picked up some books on tsunamis at the library.  He started reading I Survived the Japanese Tsunami, 2011, in the car and finished it by the end of the night.
  • Passed his breathing test at the allergist with flying colors.  He also found out that he is officially 48 inches tall.  No more booster / car seats for him!
  • Went through a bit of PS3 Hockey withdrawal.  (Nicer weather means less screen time.)
  • Played well in the first games of the spring hockey league, including one assist.  He is a bit dismayed about the Memorial Day break.  He prayed for patience to wait until his next game on June 4th!

jackeasterillustration 001






Seven Days: 5/3-5/8



  • Did more work in the Pokey Woods.
  • Played with Miss Klansee’s orchestra in the last rep class concert of the year.
  • Had a good conversation with Miss Klansee about the different sections of “Gavotte” by Martini.
  • Was his regular helpful self.



  • Helped clear sticks in the Pokey Woods.
  • Played “Minuet III” by Bach with all the correct bowings and shifts.  (It’s a tricky piece!)
  • Had two hockey practices in one day and worked hard for both of them.
  • Probably watched too many hockey videos.
  • Had a discussion about natural disasters and was relieved to learn that a tsunami cannot reach western New York.