Stand By Me

Mom calls them God winks. Sometimes I nod my head in agreement and other times I roll my eyes in my lack of understanding. But if I take the time to reflect, doesn’t He have a hand in it all?

God wink

We were in her favorite thrift spot, a little place in Lakeside called Aggie’s Attic. I was holding Mon Amour captive in my arms, surrounded by breakables and looking for kitchenware to cross off my wishlist.

Mon Cœur was with Mooma (Mom) and had found a musical figurine. Mooma came to me and showed me her turkey and other fall decor she found. She was so excited.

And then she put on her serious face and showed me the figurine and told me the story. At first I had a stern face because, “I’ll be damned if one more item to dust comes in the house.” Especially a breakable. And then I melted. I teared up and I gave in.

MC had pointed to the figurine, a little angel sleeping on a cloud with another, older angel standing watch above. She told Mooma, “That’s my sister, and that’s me,” as she pointed to the sleeping angel and then the standing one.

My sister and me

MC got it home and wanted it to be on the pie chest with Millie’s ashes. So I put it there. She asked to hear it, so I wound it up.

MA would hear it from the other room and come and just sit and watch it turn and play. And then he’d sign “more.” A more serene MA I haven’t seen. He listened, then he twirled, then he signed more. More. More. And when my heart strings couldn’t take it any more, we moved on.

The tune was unfamiliar, and a little haunting. I had no idea where to look. Finally I turned the figurine over and spun it looking for a sticker.

Stand by me

The sticker read “stand by me.” My mind immediately went to a beloved oldie by Ben E. King:

…If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
Or the mountains should crumble to the sea
I won’t cry, I won’t cry, no, I won’t shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me…

I knew this familiar song was not the same tune as the music box on the figurine so I dug a little deeper. I found on the lyrics to a hymn of the same title by Charles Albert Tindley.

When the storms of life are raging,
stand by me;
when the storms of life are raging,
stand by me.
When the world is tossing me
like a ship upon the sea,
thou who rulest wind and water,
stand by me.

Stand By Me by Charles Albert Tindley
Stand By Me Hymn sung by Melissa Schworer

The melody plays from the music box and as the chords play, I’m not sure what it is. I feel all these complex and conflicting emotions come over me. Sadness. Calm. Regret. Peace. Wonder. Gratefulness.

October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month. I am grateful to have this blog to keep Millie alive in our hearts and to let others know “you are not alone.”

To all who are missing a part of their family, who have a little one in Heaven – I stand by you and see you. Sending you hugs.



This year, instead of being tied to a curriculum, I am focusing on the five essential literacy activities: RRWWT.

Side note: A lot of the early literacy and word study work ideas that I use come from Words Their Way. They have a solid, research backed approach to reading, writing, and spelling. I’ve used it with my ELLs in secondary schools, the beginning sound and concept sorts with my preschoolers, and I’ve tapped into the idea of concept sorts and word sorts with my French students in the classroom.)

Just what the heck is RRWWT, though? The acronym stands for Read to, Read with, Write with, Word Study, and Talk with.

Read to

This is exactly what it sounds like – I read to Mon Coeur (and Mon Amour). I read new and themed books and stories. This month we are exploring apples and animal migration. Over the course of the month, I’ll probably reread our favorites between 3-5 times. We read all the time. At the breakfast table, during bath time, in the morning lull, at lunchtime, at bath time, at bed time…Today we started about three stories on apples, although we didn’t finish them – they were a little long. We’ll get back around to them later. It’s nice to have a no pressure, informal way to discover these books and then get back around to them later when we have more time.

Resources I’ve found and like to reference when choosing books by author or theme: Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt, and The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. Both have excellent book lists with classic authors. Gladys’ book lists are organized by age and listed out by author. Jim’s book has compelling data to prove just how powerful it is to read books to children – of any age! His treasury of read-aloud books notes books that are related, so you could compile a themes list together easily.

Read with

For read with, I am having MC join me in reading, and even read on her own. The readings I choose for this portion are Mother Goose rhymes, simple poems & French comptines. Some come direct from the WTW book, but most I source. Here, I am focusing on modeling reading by pointing to each word as I say it – I track the words I say, and then MC will do the same. We read a passage a day usually, and it’s not more than a few lines. We will reread the same passage over and over until she reads it with accurate tracking and reading. Some of her “reading” is memorized right now, and that’s okay! She is learning that sounds come together to make words, and that words come together to make sentences. She is noting the punctuation within a sentence and asks about the “mystery” (question mark) when she sees it!

Write with

This is an opportunity to model the writing process. I am the one writing, and the focus is on the content, not on MC’s manuscript. We do a lot of dictated stories right now. I will ask MC a question to get her started, and then I write exactly what she says. Sometimes I help guide her back to topics as needed.

These stories are so valuable for helping her to read. Much like the first word she learned to read and write was her name, these stories are personal to her. The words in the story are from her vocabulary, helping her to recognize the same when I ask her to go back and read.

Eventually, I will do some daily recaps, or stories about our day to model the writing process.

For manuscript practice, she has a composition notebook she uses as like a doodle book – I will write one letter for focus in upper and lower case as well as script in various sizes on one page in pencil, and she will choose a marker to trace the same letters. I also still focus on just making markings, like circles, zig zag lines, loop-de-loos, etc. Straight, curved, and angled lines all work together to make letters, and instead of having her practice to make perfect letters in repetition, we work with lines in isolation and then bring them together later.

Word Study

I teach MC directly for the word study portion. For any new concept, I will start with direct instruction, which just means that I will do the sort, thinking out loud and sorting as I go. I will sound out the words and place emphasis where our focus is – beginning, ending, or medial sounds.

Other times when we are reviewing a concept or sort, we work together to discern between beginning and ending sounds, rhymes, and syllables. We sort pictures from WTW books that are specifically organized for those themes.

Last week we sorted pictures by their beginning sounds – M, S, B or R. MC already did this in preschool with me last year. So this time, we are sorting, and gluing pictures one beginning sound per page, and she is identifying and telling me the letter that makes the beginning and ending sound. She has also tried to identify the middle/vowel sound and has done fairly well at this! I have been modeling sounding out the words and writing the letters in each word.

You may recognize these sorts from your child’s homework – ever seen what sounds like gibberish – CVC, CVCE, CVVC, oddball ? Just what exactly could that mean you may have wondered? That’s word study, WTW style. I appreciate that instead of listing rules, there are concrete words to serve as examples. The child’s task is to read words and sort by spelling patterns (consonant/vowel patterns) and also by the sound. It gives space for those exceptions to the spelling/pronunciation rules. As I continue to explain…it seems like this is another post for another day.

Talk with (conversations!)

Girl can talk. And ask questions. Retell stories. And create new ones based on stories we’ve read. New vocabulary can come from conversations, and with the amount of questions she has just from daily life, along with questions, comments, or observations that she has while reading a book, it provides a window into her thinking and a springboard for continued conversation.

Randomly, driving down the road, she recently asked me, “What is “ambush”?” To which I responded, “It’s a surprise attack. Typically when we are talking about war. Where did you hear this word?” “Mulan.” “Okay!”

Two weeks later, she asked, “What is “wounded”?” “It means hurt, or injured. We usually use wounded though when we are talking about warriors getting hurt. Where did you hear this word?” “Mulan.” “Gotcha! (yes you guessed it already, but my memory is not what it was, and I needed a reminder that it came from that movie we watched a month ago.)”

A little hope

The first monarch butterfly I saw this summer was being devoured by a wasp. That was back in May, when we typically look for the caterpillars and welcome them as symbols of hope and rebirth. So much for that this year I told myself.

A couple of weeks ago we spotted a monarch butterfly, one of the only we’ve seen this season.

A week ago, Mon Cœur found a caterpillar.

Yesterday evening, among the bursting milkweed pods, we spotted no less than ten caterpillars varying in size- some who were probably days old and others that looked ready to make their chrysalis that evening.

It’s later than we expected, although still a welcome sign.

And timely, too. As summer cools down and a chill greets us in the morning, we’ve focused our reading theme on migration, and have a couple of short books about the monarchs’ migration to Mexico.

I told MC that I suppose when the caterpillars become butterflies they’ll journey to Mexico, too. She turned to me with incredulous eyes and a smile and said, “No way!”

I smiled back and said, “They absolutely will!”

Do you have any idea who the fuzzy friend is on this milkweed?

Homeschool so far…

Word study notebook and work

It’s September and I feel like it’s the new year. New planners, new composition notebooks, new materials…and I love it! How is your back to school going?

The idea for this post is inspired by the curiosity of friends and family who want to know more about our homeschooling experience. Homeschooling is like the distant cousin who rarely visits, but everyone has heard about and has questions, observations, and opinions!

I’m going to take a moment to compliment myself. Quite often, people tell me how intelligent Mon Cœur is…and she hasn’t ever stepped foot into a classroom. Not a brick and mortar one. The world has been her classroom, and Chouchou and I have been her teachers.

Parents are their child’s first teachers. I am sure someone famous with higher credentials than me has been quoted saying something very similar…I could search for a long time, but here’s a good one:

“The home is the child’s first school, the parent is the child’s first teacher, and reading is the child’s first subject.”

Barbara Bush

Now that MC is to begin formal education in a traditional school setting, and I have chosen to homeschool…some of these same people wonder…How’s it going??, Have you started yet??, What about Mon Amour (my 22 month old son)?? Read on for the answers to these questions and more.

How’s homeschool going?

Homeschool is going well! We read a lot. We do some workbooks when she feels like it (beginning letter sounds/letter formation, math, French), and we do a lot of activities and have conversations around her interests. She wanted to watch Mulan and Moana, so I let her check out the movies, and then I gathered our geography books, encyclopedia, and then gleaned the library stacks for children’s literature pertaining to China, Mulan (the historical person), Pacific Islands.

I take notes about what is interesting to her, the questions she asks me, and what we’ve done. I’m following her lead a lot right now because I love her curiosity, and she’s always asking questions!

She learned a new word – desire – just from reading the Mulan picture book and asking, “What does that mean?” She has asked about many other words too, that she encounters in readings and read alouds. It thrills me that she is listening, picking out new words, and asking about their meaning.

What curriculum are you using?

I looked at so many different curriculums at the homeschool conference, and I’ve decided that for this year, since MC is in kindergarten, we can have a year of grace and just get our feet wet figuring out what we’re doing.

Curriculums are not cheap. I have a real fear of buying one and it not working with our family. The curriculum that I prefer is expensive…it’s fabulous and expensive.

So this year, for kindergarten, I am focusing on the five essential literacy activities: RRWWT.

Read to (new/themed books and stories )

Read with (shared reading/rereads with MC)

Write with (model the writing process)

Word Study (direct instruction – discover and discern between beginning and ending sounds, rhymes, alliteration, etc)

Talk with (conversations!)

For math, I have a few different books that I am trying. I’ll keep you posted on this part. For now, we’ve been completing puzzles, telling time, playing dominoes, adding zero and adding one. We’ve estimated, categorized, and compared.

Our themes for September are apples and animal migration. I used the library’s online catalog and the help of librarians to pull books in these themes and we’ll read and write about these books and incorporate math, science, and history into these themes. We are so excited! MC is most excited to make applesauce, and I am looking forward to apple picking, apple stamp art, and an apple volcano science experiment.

Read more about the apple and pumpkin activities we’ve done in the past.

What’s your schedule?

We have lots of opportunities to learn throughout the day. I gauge MC’s temperament each day to see how much we want to pack into the hour I usually use while MA naps in the morning. Sometimes it’s a lot, other days it’s minimal. I don’t stress too much, because even though we do “homeschool” during that hour window, we are still doing a lot of real world work and learning throughout the day. We read every day, typically during meals, in the afternoon and at bedtime. We take the most random life events (harvesting figs) to pack in math. I have a routine I follow that helps keep things predictable for the kids and includes lots of wiggle room (literally!).

What about Mon Amour?

We do the bulk of our homeschool while MA takes his morning nap. Yes, he’s 22 months and still takes his nap. What luck! I will not rob him of his needed rest, nor MC of her special time with me learning. For the rest of the day, morning activities, sensory, and songs and reading, he’s right in the mix, wanting to do and learn and dance and play.

How do you keep track of what you do?

For now, I have four composition notebooks going: a learning log, a reading log, word study, and math. I may decide to combine and use less notebooks to keep notes in the future. For now, I like having a place to note all of the books we read every day (reading log), what we learn every day (a learning log – more like a checklist with a notes section), simple reading passages, sound sorts, and spelling (word study), and stories, pictures, and math word problems (math).

The idea for the reading log and learning log came to me from a mentor and fellow home school mom. I love how it’s simple and it’s concrete. I can always go back to see what we did on a day when I might feel like we didn’t accomplish much…We always do something noteworthy.

I love the word study and math books because it gives MC a springboard for conversation with Chouchou and also reminds her of what we did in a day. We note her successes, which helps guide me where to continue and also what we might want to focus on more. Occasionally, I note the letters and sounds she knows while we play a game or how high she can count and what numbers she recognizes.

Math with the book Blueberries for Sal

As a first year homeschooling mom, I feel confident in what MC has already learned and I’m looking forward to the continued adventure.

Tell me…what are your questions about homeschooling?

Of lemons and blueberries and birthday cakes

This year, on my birthday, I woke up early, got dressed up in a green and white striped dress, and headed into the kitchen. I put on my great grandmother’s half apron- black chintz cotton with pink flower print. I put on my happy music, and I began singing and dancing out loud to myself as I grated lemon peels, cracked eggs, sifted flour, and creamed sugar and butter together. I made myself the Barefoot Contessa’s Lemon Cake my way with three tiers and blueberries.

Mon Cœur has funfetti cake,

I make a blueberry pound cake for Millie every year,

Mon Amour has carrot cake, and

Chou Chou has marble cake.

Every year I wait silently, and I wonder why there’s no cake or celebration. I resolved to change my attitude and to celebrate my birthday this year by baking my own cake. I can’t be upset no one did anything when I didn’t make a big deal myself, and if I want my cake, I’ll make it.

For those of you who know me…you know this is a labor of love – I love to bake and I love to cook. It’s my love language. It is a joy to bake for others and it is a joy that I bestowed upon myself this year.

I chose a Lemon cake to make. Years ago, I had found this recipe and made it, using limoncello instead of water as part of the glaze. It’s a great summer cake, and it was even better drenched in that glaze. But since I don’t need any extra fun and I was sharing the cake with the family (read Mon Amour and Mon Cœur), I toned down the limoncello and tossed in some frozen blueberries instead. Blueberries are so fabulous with lemons anyway.

I was dancing away and then I heard pattering from my room. The littlest helper arrived to mix…we measured buttermilk together and began adding it alternating with the flour. Really, he just moved a kitchen chair and stood on it, marveling at the noise of the mixer and how it combined all of the ingredients.

Next I heard puttering from the other end of the house…another helper, still with sleep in her eyes and bed head hair, she stumbled into the kitchen wondering what was going on. Even though she has no idea – the smile she gives me every morning and the snugs I get when I first see her wake are my gift for the day. I smiled and said, “It’s my birthday – I’m baking a cake!” A huge smile lit her face up and she asked, “Can I help?” “Of course.” She has always loved to help me bake.

The recipe below was accessed online at (5/2010!), and adjusted by me. Enjoy!

Lemon cake

makes 1 three tier cake (9 inch diameter)

Cake Ingredients:

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp

granulated sugar- divided: 2 cups, ½ cup

4 large eggs, room temp

⅓ cup grated lemon zest (6-8 lemons)

3 cups flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon kosher salt

fresh lemon juice- divided: ¼ cup, ½ cup

¾ cup buttermilk, room temp

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 ½ cups frozen blueberries

Glaze Ingredients:

2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

¼ cup fresh lemon juice


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour pans. Drop ½ cup of frozen blueberries into each pan.

2. Cream butter and 2 cups sugar with an electric mixer, until light & fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, add lemon zest.

3. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine ¼ cup lemon juice, buttermilk and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mix alternately to batter – begin and end with flour. Did you remember those blueberries ? If you forgot, it’s not too late… plop them in here!

4. Divide batter evenly among pans. Smooth the tops, and bake for ~30 minutes, until tester comes out clean.

5. Allow cakes to cool 10 minutes on a wire rack.

6. Combine ½ cup granulated sugar with ½ cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until sugar dissolves.

7. Remove one cake from its pan and place on plate. Spoon lemon syrup over the cake. Repeat with next two cakes. Allow cake to cool completely.

8. Make the glaze by whisking together sifted confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice in a bowl until smooth. Pour over the top of the cake, allowing it to drizzle down the sides.

Can be enjoyed fresh or can be frozen for later!

This cake turned out so lovely, and only survived a couple of days (such is the destiny of any sweet in this household), so I decided to make it again for Mon Amour’s baptism luncheon. Also, I had an abundance of buttermilk even though I bought the smallest container. I made his cake and froze it until the day before, then added the lemon syrup and glaze.

Prep work and tips:

With little helpers I always try to prep as much as I can by pre-measuring and mixing what I can before I invite them into the kitchen. I also remind myself, “There will be messes (or bêtises as MC calls them), and they can be cleaned up.”

Lemons: I zest and juice the lemons the day before and store in the refrigerator. I store the juice divided for the cake, syrup, and glaze.

(Side note: I just read that warming lemons in warm water before juicing gets the most juice out – I wish I had read that before! Hopefully I’ll remember that trick next time.)

Flour: I measure the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and place into one ball jar for little hands to dump and sift.

Eggs: I crack them and place in a ball jar to make adding (pouring) one egg at a time easier and shell free.

Liquid: If it will fit into one of my measuring cups, I always measure and mix ingredients there. Less clean up, and easier pour for little hands (hello handle!). Alternatively, Ball jars usually have measurements on the side – I might measure in there if I need a different measuring space.

What is your birthday cake tradition?