Wednesday, December 8, 2010

2010 Christmas letter-writing time, already?

Janine: Alright, gang! We really need to write our Christmas letter tonight...since it needs to be sent out before Christmas. I would like us to increase our family unity by writing it together this year!

Natalie: I want to help!

Madeline: Me, too!

Janine: You can both help. I will certainly need your help....let's see, where is Max?

Madeline: He's playing Legos again.

Natalie: He's always playing Legos.

Madeline: What about Daddy, don't you want his help?

Janine: Hmmmm...let me think about that for a minute. :)

Abe: You can just put the same thing down for me as you put last year.

Janine: Well, you are still in school...but you did get a new job.

Abe: Actually, I am almost done with school. Don't mention that I got laid off, though. Just write in the letter that I got an even better job at Dolby, applying software engineering and statistics in video and audio research. Come to think of it, you also got a new job this year.

Janine: Right! I will say that in August, I started working for Connecting Waters Charter School as an Education Specialist--I love my job providing guidance and resources for local homeschooling families!

Abe: Now, time for some humor! I want our letter to be funny, not boring like last year's. Why don't we do a theme like the 'Twas The Night Before Christmas?

Janine: Taken. Another family did that last year.

Abe: Okay. No themed letters. If it is going to be funny, I want it to be totally different. Like, how we write a letter where the whole time we talk about how we really want to be funny, but we don't know what to say that is funny, so we tell about how if we knew something funny to write, we would write it!

Janine: That's not funny. Max, where are you? You need to come here right now! We need your help writing this letter!

Abe: That's the point. It's not funny. That's why it is funny.

Janine: Hilarious.

Natalie: I can tell one of the jokes I made up, like: What's a monster's favorite part of Christmas?

Madeline: What?

Natalie: Santa Claws!

Janine: Now that is funny. Max, there you are!

Max: Hey, Mom! Look--I built this Lego robot that's also a tree.

Janine: Fabulous, Max! What do you want us to say about you in the letter?

Max: Dad, the robot is using photosynthesis to power its laser cannon.

Abe: That's great, Max! I can see he is very powerful...

Janine: We should write something about the kids.

Abe: What kids? ...oh, yes, of course--the kids! Kids, why don't you each think of a few titles that best represent you for our Christmas letter.

Natalie: I'm ready! Artist. Singer. Lego Builder. Dog Lover. Can I go work on my Lego house now?

Janine: Sure.

Max: Hey, that's not fair...I want to put Legos on my list!

Abe: It's okay, Max. Other people can like Legos, too.

Madeline: Is it my turn? Swimmer. Chicken Trainer. Hiker. Legos.

Max: What? You can't train chickens!

Madeline: Sure I can! I trained the rooster to stop pecking the kids at Peace Village.

Max: Finally, it's my turn! Lego Fanatic. Dancer. Reader. Cat Lover.

Janine: See, you, Natalie and Madeline can all have Legos on your list!

Max: Mommy, I'm hungry...

Abe: So what do we have down for our letter so far?

Janine: Dear Friends and Family, This year the Westons are so grateful for all of the blessings that we have received from our Heavenly Father. We began the year by...

Abe: Is that supposed to be funny?

Janine: No. We are going to make it serious again this year. Now, where was I...too many interruptions! We began the year by...what are you wearing?

Abe: You mean this sweater?

Janine: It's a pink women's Christmas sweater...and it has bows on it! It's embarrassing when you wear that...

Abe: I'm trying to get some inspiration to write our holiday, it also just happens to be the winner of the "2010 Fremont Ugly Christmas Sweater Competition."

Janine: Very ugly. And I don't want to encourage this behavior by bragging about your winnings in our letter!

Abe: Okay, sounds like we have enough content--let's go to bed!

Janine: We should probably put in something about celebrating the birth of our Savior in the letter, as that's what Christmas is all about.

Abe: Good idea, then our friends and family will know that we love Jesus Christ and that we make an extra effort to focus on him during Christmas.

Janine: You mean, rather than trying to come up with a funny letter?

Madeline: Merry Christmas!

Max: Happy New Year!

Natalie: Happy Hanukkah!

Janine: Happy Kwanzaa!

Abe: Happy Holidays!


Abe, Janine, Natalie, Max, & Madeline
Rosie (dog), Sammy (dog), & Friday (cat)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Happy Halloween 2010!

It's Halloween here in Fremont and we're all geared up for a weekend of unhaunted houses, trunk-or-treating and family togetherness! This year, Natalie is Cleopatra...she really wanted to be Hatshepsut--the only woman pharaoh of Egypt--but she decided that not too many people would know who Hatshepsut was, so Cleopatra seemed like the next best costume! Max is a Fire Dragon Ninja complete with daggers (he plays the part so well). Madeline is a Renaissance Princess who curtsies and walks her pet dragon on a leash.

Natalie's Joke
Q: Why are skeletons so smart?
A: Because they go to skull!

Max's Halloween Joke
Q: Why aren't vampires afraid of the dark?
A: Because they sleep with a fright-light on!

Madeline's Joke
Q: What did the ghost say when it stubbed its toe?
A: Boo-hoo!

The proud parents: Harry Potter and Waldo Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Stuart's Great Adventure: Meeting King Tut by Natalie

Chapter 1: Bored
Once upon a time, there was a boy named Stuart. And Stuart had just moved down the street. Stuart was very bored on his new street. He was also very worried. What if he didn't make any friends at school? What if there were huge monsters in his new bedroom closet?

Stuart looked out the window. "Aw man, I am so bored. I have nothing to look forward to."

"School's tomorrow," mom said. "That's something to look forward to."

"No," Stuart said. "I want an adventure! If I were Power Tool Man, I would put on my cape and go on an adventure. And if I were Time Travel Man, I would get in my time machine and...Yes! That's it!" Stuart shouted. "I will make a cape and time machine and go on an adventure!"

Chapter 2: Time Machine
"Dad? Can I borrow your tools?" Stuart asked.

"Wait until you're older," dad said.

"But Dad, I'm making a time machine!" said Stuart.

"Tell you what," dad said. "Why don't you make a time machine out of your closet?"

"Okay. Thanks, Dad. Bye!" said Stuart.

Suddenly, the phone rang. "Stuart!" mom called. "It's for you!"

Stuart ran downstairs into the den.

"Hello?" Stuart said.

"Hello," said a deep voice back.

"Who are you?" Stuart asked.

"I am King Tutankhamen of Egypt," the deep voice answered. "Who are you?"

"My name is Stuart," Stuart said.

"Well, Stuart. Go into your time machine and press this stone on the wall of your time machine. Then, say 'Egypt.'"

A stone popped out of the phone. It was green and smooth. Stuart did exactly what Pharaoh Tutankhamen said and at once he was in Egypt. "Now, Stuart, turn right and you will be at my palace. I need to talk to you in person," the Pharaoh said.

When Stuart got to King Tut's palace, King Tut was waiting for him. Tut and Stuart talked for many hours. When Stuart got home it was dinner time. And Stuart lived happily ever after.

The End

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Un-Back-to-School Picture!

Here is the kiddos' un-back-to-school picture for our 2010-2011 homeschool year. Natalie is in 3rd grade this year, Max is in first and Madeline in "pre-school."
We take an "eclectic" approach to homeschooling through Connecting Waters Charter School where, this year, I hold a part-time position as an "Education Specialist." Essentially, I assist other homeschooling families in selecting and purchasing curriculums and classes based on the individual learning styles of each student and their family educational philosophy. Although it is plenty busy around the Weston household, I do what I love and love what I do!

4-H Heroes Rescue Four Kittens!

Today was our first Bayside 4-H Hiking project meeting at the Alameda Creek Trail and boy, what an adventure we had!

We were walking down the trail and all of a sudden, we spotted a small orange kitten sitting at the side of the trail. Then, we noticed there were three more kittens on the other side of the fence! There was 1 more orange kitten, 1 white and orange and 1 calico. They were mewing and did not have a mother cat with them.

One of our brave project members climbed over the fence alongside the trail and caught the kittens. We bundled the kittens in our sweaters and jackets and carried them across the concrete bridge toward some apartments.

Then we asked a man for a cardboard box to put the kittens in.

We finished our hike while taking turns carrying a box full of kittens.

When we got to the parkinglot, we took the kittens out of the box for some air.

The project members said goodbye to each kitten and then we took them to a neighbor who volunteers for Purrfect Cat Rescue.

Our neighbor examined the kittens and told us that they were not ferral, but must have been dumped at the park. She noticed that the kittens had fleas and would need baths. She said that because they had such cute markings, they would be easy to adopt.

The kittens were eager to get out of the temporary crate we put them in. They were pawing and biting at the door!

Our neighbor set up a larger crate and prepared food and water for the kittens. They must have been starving!

The kittens were so eager to eat and drink that they even climbed into the bowls.

We are glad that we helped to rescue these adorable kittens. We donated money to Purrfect Cat Rescue to pay for food and spaying/neutering. We hope that you will, too!

You can make a donation online to help these kittens at:
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Monday, August 16, 2010

Sammy and the Sewer by Natalie M. Weston

Chapter 1: The Hole
Once upon a time, there was a dog named Sammy. And Sammy loved to catch gophers. One day, Sammy found a mysterious round hole. The hole had no dirt around it, so Sammy put some there. On his third load, Sammy got too close and fell into the hole. "Help!" Sammy barked.

Chapter 2: The Rat
"Yuck!" Sammy said as he fell down the hole. "It stinks down here! And, oh, how will I get home?"
"Home?" asked a rat nearby.
"What are you?" asked Sammy. "A gopher from outer space?"
"No!" said the rat. "I'm a rat! And what are you?" asked the rat.
"Why, I am a dog," said Sammy. "Would you please show me a way out of here?"
"No!" snapped the rat. "Go and find your own way out."

Chapter 3: The Ocean
"Rats!" thought Sammy. "How will I ever get home now?"
Suddenly he spotted a female rat close by.
"Excuse me," he said. "Do you know the way out of here?"
"Of course I do," she said. "Every sewer rat knows that."
"Sewer?" asked Sammy. "Nobody ever told me this was the sewer!"
"Yes," said the female rat. "This is the sewer, and anyway, the exit is that way." She pointed to a small hole.
"Thank you," said Sammy.
"You're welcome," she said. "But you'll have to swim."
"Why?" asked Sammy.
"Because the ocean is on the other side," she explained.
"Oh," Sammy said.

Chapter 4: Home at Last
In the ocean, Sammy swam through the current, his breath held tight. At last he reached land. Then he climbed out of the water and shook himself. "Finally!" he thought, breathing fresh air. "Now all I have to do is sniff my way home." So he sniffed here and he sniffed there and soon he reached his home where he belonged. Then he raced through the doggie door into the living room and out the screen door and barked, "Home at last!" Then he caught all the gophers he wanted.

The End

Sammy--the inspiration behind the book.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Happily Married for 12 Years!

Dear Abe,

Today, August 15, 2010, is our 12-year wedding anniversary! Twelve years ago, we were sealed together for all eternity at the LDS Oakland temple. We were young, we were in love, we were enthusiastic about the life ahead of we are twelve years older, still in love and still enthusiastic about our future together. Only now, we have been through twelve years of adventures that have strengthened the bonds between us--the birth of each of our three beautiful children, purchasing our first home, graduate school, parenthood, new careers, and exploring the beauty of the San Francisco Bay Area have taken us to new levels as a married couple! Together, we have endured the stress and hardship while experiencing the success and blessings that come with living life to the fullest...and that, my friend, is something to be proud of!

There are many things I love about you. Here are just a few:

* I love watching you play with the kids. Hearing their laughter is like music to my soul!
* I love getting foot massages every night after a long day...helps me get up the next day to do it all over again!
* I love that you encourage our family members to follow their dreams, whatever they may be.
* I love that you like to save money as much as I like to spend helps to balance us out!
* I love that you take the time to teach our children, helping to answer their questions and build their knowledge base.
* I love that you are willing to listen to my suggestions, and implement my ideas into goals for our family.
* I love that you are an excellent provider, always learning more and moving forward.
* I love that you are always up for an adventure!
* I love that you wash the dishes, cleaning up after my cooking tornadoes in the kitchen.
* I love that you are concerned about your health, exercising and eating right.
* I love that you make your family a priority when you get home from work, setting aside the concerns of your day and focusing on the people you love.
* I love that you strive to grow spiritually, and that we can follow your example as a worthy family leader.

Happy Anniversary, Abe. I love you!

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Stream by Natalie Weston

Natalie M. Weston
May 2010
Age 8

The Stream

I sit by this stream, while it sprays & glows.
Flow little stream, oh flow.
I see you so fast & I see you so slow.
Flow little stream, oh flow.
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Sunday, July 4, 2010

A Present

In the early morning hours
our feline huntress
brought us a present.

A whole, fresh
May he rest in peace.
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Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Tree that Wouldn't Move...

Once upon a time, on a warm summer afternoon, a boy named Max was playing at the park with his sisters and friends from church. They were getting along exceptionally well and having a great time together.

Some time later, several more children arrived and they decided to play "war tag." Max was amazed that there were other kids that wanted to play the tough-guy types of games that he absolutely loves! There is actually nothing wrong with war tag, but when you're racing next to a boy who is your same age but twice your size and you suddenly find yourself in between that boy and a tree, sometimes you won't have enough clearance to get by...and, the tree won't move.

Max, hit that tree and fell down and came running to his mommy with tears in his eyes saying, "Ouch, Mom! My arm hurts!" Max's mommy declared it was time to go and she quickly gathered up his sisters and they departed for the short walk home. In route, she questioned Max about what happened and did some mobility tests to try to determine exactly which part of his arm was injured.

At home, Max's mommy used a pair of scissors to cut off his t-shirt and examine his arm more closely. A small bump along Max's right clavicle alterted her that there might be a broken bone, so she carefully used her fingers to first feel the uninjured bone and then make a comparrison along the injured side. She guessed that Max had broken his clavicle and explained to Max that they would need to go to the doctor for an x-ray and a sling.

"No!" shouted Max, "I'm not going anywhere! It doesn't even hurt anymore! I don't want an x-ray!" But the tears and the way Max held his arm against his side indicated otherwise.

Max's mommy gently explained, "Getting an x-ray is just like getting your picture taken. Does it hurt to get your picture taken?"

Max agreed that photographs were painless, but was still not convinced that he should make a trip to the doctor. Max's mommy packed up some snacks, a button-down shirt for Max, books to read, and his two sisters, and off to the Emergency Room they all went.

Fortunately, it was quiet in the ER that Thursday evening and Max had to wait merely 5-minutes before he was called back. Just as suspected, the ER doctor wanted to take an x-ray of Max's clavicle, but not before Max had had a powerful dose of pain medication.

Once in the x-ray room, the technician asked Max to lay down on the table and proceeded to raise the table up toward a huge machine on the ceiling. Max was not at all thrilled and proclaimed, "I want to get down!" as he started rolling toward the edge. The technician informed Max's mommy that Max would need to hold still for the x-ray. Max's mommy asked the technician what sort of approach they might need to take if Max didn't lay still. "A tranquilizer injection you say? With a big needle?" That's about all it took! Max decided he could lay still on the x-ray table after all. Max's mommy smiled. The x-ray pictured above turned out great!

Sure enough, Max's right clavicle was broken. About that time, Max's daddy arrived to admire the x-ray. A sling was ordered and fitted. Pain medication was prescribed. And the family went out to dinner and lived happily ever after.

Six days later, Max had a re-check with an orthopedist (bone doctor), who took the lovely x-ray below and reported, "Wow! His bone should be healed by the time you make it out to the car--kids' bodies repair themselves so quickly!" And Max was thrilled to learn that he didn't need to wear a sling anymore. The End.

Moral: Trees don't move. And if you're going to break a bone, do it while you're young. :)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Every Morning Granola

This recipe comes from the Green Smoothie Girl! I've included several additions that aren't in her original recipe.

Full of fiber, omega 3 fatty acids, and live sprouts--whole-foods nutrition perfect for children! You won’t get hungry before lunch, and kids won’t be nagging for snacks. I double this recipe and make it in a big broiler pan with a lid, where I keep it until it’s gone—a double batch lasts my four kids (big eaters!) about 10 days.

8 cups rolled oats

2 cups puffed millet

2 cups puffed quinoa

1 cup raw wheat germ

1 cup shredded organic coconut

½ cup freshly ground flax seed (I use my blender to grind the seed)

2 cups nuts (walnuts, pecans, cashews, almonds, pumpkin, sunflower seeds)

2 cups dried fruit (dates, golden raisins, cranberries, blueberries, banana chips, etc.)

¼ cup sesame seeds

2 Tbsp. cinnamon (I also use pumpkin pie spice)

Mix well.

Heat on stove until just melted, stir together, and pour over dry mixture:

½ cup honey

½ cup molasses or Grade B maple syrup

½ cup water

optional: ½ cup coconut oil

optional: 1 tsp. maple flavoring or vanilla

Mix liquid ingredients into dry ingredients until distributed evenly. Bake at 250 degrees,

stirring well halfway through the baking process, for 45 minutes. Keep in pantry for up to

2 weeks, or frig for up to 6 weeks.

Serve with: almond or rice milk, plus 2 Tbsp. sprouted raw sunflower seeds mixed in. To

sprout sunflower seeds: cover ½ pint of sunflower seeds with filtered water overnight, drain

in the morning—they are now living food with vastly more enzymes and nutrients. You may also sprout raw almonds or pumpkin seeds to add to your granola in the morning.
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Friday, May 28, 2010

Janine's Booklegger Graduation!

On Thursday, May 27th, I took my official Booklegger Oath as the culmination of 8, 3-hour training sessions plus the preparation and presentation of my first program to 6 second-grade classes at Parkmont Elementary. All of the training and rehearsing was worth every minute when the kids in the classes would light up after my program and tell me which books they were planning on checking out! I love being a booklegger!

Booklegger Oath
"On my honor as a Booklegger I promise never to reveal an ending and never to booktalk a book I have not read. As a Booklegger I will endeavor to invest those books with all of the interest and excitement which is inherent in them.

Furthermore, I promise to approach each class with enthusiasm, to read voraciously to enable myself to present fresh programs and to unfailingly carry the word of good books to the classrooms of the Fremont Unified School District.

I solemnly undertake this pledge in the firm expectation that children will lead happier, more interesting lives as a result of my efforts as a Booklegger."

The Alameda County Library Booklegger's Class of Spring 2010, "Reading Roundup Posse," Cindy, Tracy, Cora and I (Madeline really wanted to come up, too).
Gail Orwig and Dominique Hutches demonstrate ceremonial oath-taking.
Here are the girls and I with the officiating Book Fairy.
The beautiful book fairy, Gina!
Hmmmm...I might just have to borrow that outfit for Halloween...

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Finally...Robotic Beings Rule the World

Although we won't be taking the summer off of learning, here are the kiddos on Friday, May 14th, their last official day of "school" for the Connecting Waters Charter School year. We celebrated with many other CWCS families from the East Bay area at Val Vista Community Park in Pleasanton...the kids got so wet and had a blast navigating the sprinklers and streams together!
I just love Max's graphic-novel-style journal entries! "Finally, robotic beings rule the world." For a child who is just learning to master the fine-motor skills required for writing, his cartoons and speech bubbles that take so much effort for him to create, are so meaningful to me.
Without any prompting from me, Natalie documented our earthworm science experience complete with diagrams and her very own signature made out of earthworms. Natalie often uses her journal to create her own poems and songs accompanied by illustrations. It's delightful to see my kids excited about learning and communicating their newfound knowledge with others!
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Monday, May 17, 2010

Parent Panel Spotlight: Janine Weston On Homeschooling

In preparation for Thursday's (5/20/10) open-to-the-public Connecting Water's Charter School Information Session from 3-6pm at the Fremont Main Library, I've taken the time to answer questions that will be asked of the parent panel. For me, the process was enjoyable and self-reflective--I thought you might find the content informative if you've ever considered homeschooling your own children, or wonder how I have survived thus far. :) I'm looking forward to hearing responses from the other parents as well!

How many children do you have?
I have three children. Natalie is 8, Max is 6, and Madeline is 4.

How many children are you homeschooling and what grades are they in?
I homeschool all three of my children. In the fall of 2010, Natalie will be in third grade, Max in first grade, and Madeline is currently unschooling until she is legally old enough to begin Kindergarten (fall 2011). However, the content we are learning does not necessarily correspond to the grade my children are in--they work above the grade level designated for their age in most subjects.

What is your homeschooling style?
I am an eclectic homeschooler--I like to take the best of resources that match our needs and personalities and incorporate them into a style that suits my family. Core philosophies I draw from include Maria Montessori, Charlotte Mason, John Taylor Gatto (Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling), Howard Gardner (Multiple Intelligences), Jim Trelease (The Read-Aloud Handbook), Richard Louv (Nature Deficit Disorder), Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers), Unschooling (John Holt's Growing Without Schooling and Teach Your Own), Leadership Education (Van DeMille's Thomas Jefferson Education and The Phases of Learning), and Classical Education (Susan Wise Bauer's The Well-Trained Mind).

How long you have been with CWCS?
As a parent of CWCS students, 3 years; as an Educational Specialist, the 2010-2011 school year is my first--hurray!

What does a typical day of homeschooling look like in your home?
We try to start each weekday at 8am with 30-60 minutes of reading: scriptures, language lesson, read-aloud; followed by Math, handwriting, and journal. To the basic morning routine, on Mondays we add music, art, and gymnastics. Tuesdays we add science and/or fieldtrip. Wednesdays we add Spanish, swimming and library. Thursdays we add history and/or fieldtrip. Fridays we add gymnastics, fieldtrips, computer/test-taking skills and park days. Afternoons are usually free-play or special projects. Most evenings we have family/game night at home, sometimes 4-H meetings, and my husband also does math activities with the kids around the table after dinner. Then, we read again for 30-60 minutes before the kids go to bed. People often ask how we fit it all in...our secret? We don't watch TV. We do rent or check out videos from the library and probably watch 1 per weekend, only 2 hours per week of TV time, that's it!

How do you balance the state/high school requirements and still find time for the fun things like arts/crafts/fieldtrips?
Honestly, the baseline state content standards do not drive what we choose to learn as a homeschooling family. Our learning records show that we make tremendous progress, often levels beyond what is being covered in standards-based curriculums. For my family, the standards are a basic guideline that lets us know what our children are expected to know in their current grade level. I make sure my children are well-prepared for STAR testing in the spring by integrating consistent weekly practice throughout the year using a computer program called Study Island, an online standards-based learning tool. For high schoolers, Study Island can also be used to prepare for the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE = "CAY-see").

What do you do to get ready for the meeting with your ES?
I prepare for our meeting with the ES continually throughout each month so that I don't have to try to recall learning experiences we had weeks prior to our scheduled meeting. I use one Google Docs spreadsheet for both my kids, as much of our learning such as history, science, and physical education is done together. I record the pages, lessons, and topics we have completed to show progress in each our learning categories. The online format can be easily printed out or e-mailed to my ES and because it is stored online. Another advantage is that I can share editing privileges with my husband and I can also edit the document from an alternate location (i.e. while we're traveling). I also photograph, collect, and sort each child's work by subject so that I will have samples to give my ES for their portfolios. Additionally, I track all of the books that we read together or individually in our GoodReads account and I categorize each book according to who read it and its format and/or subject matter.

How/why did you decide to homeschool your child/children?
When my oldest child was about 2 years old, I attended an information session about homeschooling that really sparked my interest and dispelled many of the myths that tend to circulate about homeschooling. Then, I went to my local public library and read as many books as I could get my hands on about homeschooling. I talked to local homeschoolers, and attended Tri-City Homeschoolers, a local support network so that I could ask more questions and get answers from those in the trenches! For me, homeschooling seemed a natural fit. In college, I was trained as a credentialed teacher, but never felt that traditional public school was an ideal environment for learning. Upon realizing that our family could provide individualized education that would promote life-long learning for our children, we've never looked back--we are enjoying the homeschooling adventure tremendously!

What types of resources do you utilize to educate your child/ren?
First and foremost, we use the public library for much of our "input." We visit the library regularly on Wednesdays and load our bags with plenty of reading, listening, and watching material. Each of my children as well as my husband and I have a library card. It is not unusual for us to max-out the number of items we can check out...even with 5 library cards. We are heavy library users. In addition to the library, we use some curriculum, our local 4-H club, approved CWCS vendors, and the regional parks and museums of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Why did you choose CWCS over other charter school programs and/or filing a private school affidavit?
After looking into several options, we selected CWCS for our family because:
1. We are allotted instructional funds to spend on an individualized education for each student in our family AND
2. We have the freedom to homeschool our children using styles and materials of our choosing, while receiving as much or as little support and guidance from the charter school as we need and/or want.

How much freedom do you have in selecting learning services/tools for your child/children's education(s)?
We have as much freedom as we like...until we run out of instructional funds! :)

What has been one of your child/ren's top educational products/services from the CWCS vendor list?
We have enjoyed taking classes through Country Kids (Environmental Awareness), American Swim School (swim lessons), Teach Me Art (multi-media art classes), and PowerSpeak12 (Spanish Language). We have bought curriculum and learning tools through Rainbow Resource. In the near future, we are looking forward to utilizing the following services and suppliers: East Bay Homeschool Choir, Sienna Ranch, Let's Play in Spanish, and Resource Area for Teaching (RAFT).

Other interesting info:
What sort of training have you had to become an Education Specialist for CWCS?
I hold a Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Studies and elementary & secondary education credentials from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. In May of 2009, I completed my Master's Degree in Library and Information Science and Teacher Librarian Credential at San Jose State University. In addition to formal education, I have spent many years as a mother, homeschooler, professional photographer, and library volunteer. My educational background and years of hands-on experience with information literacy and students of all ages makes me a highly-qualified consultant for parents, grandparents, teachers, schools, librarians, and children.

Where do you live and what do you do for fun?
I currently reside in Fremont, with my husband, three children, Labrador Retriever, and Jack Russell Terrier. Besides reading great books aloud to my children, my hobbies include hiking, 4-H, gardening, art & design, photography, yoga, teaching, and cooking.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Passionate About Trader Joe's

In April, due to my enthusiasm for the venue, I had the honor of preparing several recipes and a brief presentation on Trader Joe's for my church's monthly "Test Kitchen." In fact, it is possible to do ALL of your grocery shopping exclusively at Trader Joe's...I've done it! If you've always wondered what, exactly, Trader Joe's has to offer and whether or not it is a grocery store that is worth your while, read on! However, nothing can prepare you better for your first trip to TJ's than this video by Carl's Fine Films, If I Made a Commercial for Trader Joe's.

What Trader Joe's IS:
  • Basic: Trader Joe's has all the basics and much more while keeping that small, "local" grocery store feel even though they move more products per square foot than stores like Home Depot!

  • Gourmet: Trader Joe's carries both basic products as well as many varieties of gourmet oils, breads, wines, cheeses, meats, etc.

  • Affordable: Trader Joe's purchases items in bulk from suppliers worldwide and then re-labels or packages the item with the Trader Joe's logo. Without having to pay for brand name labels, Trader Joe's is able to offer excellent price, with some of the lowest around on items like yogurt, cereal, frozen fruit, eggs, nuts, etc.). Don't forget their fresh cut flowers and potted herbs and plants at AMAZING prices!

  • Quality: Trader Joe's carries quality items that sell. If an item does not "move" off the floor, it is discontinued. If a customer tries an item and does not like it, or the item shows signs of spoilage, the item can be returned for a full refund.

  • Delicious: Trader Joe's products are delicious! If you don't believe me, stop by the booth in the back for a free-sample.

  • Unique: Trader Joe's offers many unique gourmet foods as well as a colorful assortment of ethnic foods (i.e. Thai, Italian, Indian, Greek, Middle Eastern, Hispanic, etc.).

  • Preservative-free: Trader Joes' products are preservative-free, giving you greater peace of mind while shopping. I save lots of time when I don't have to check every label as I'm tossing items into my cart.

  • Non-GMO: Trader Joe's items come from suppliers that do not use genetically modified ingredients.

  • Green: Trader Joe's promotes and sells vegan, vegetarian, cage-free, hormone-free, dolphin-safe, and sustainable products. They also carry Kosher and gluten-free products.

  • Friendly: Trader Joe's employees are friendly and helpful in answering questions or locating items for their customers. They will also schedule fieldtrips for school children! :)

  • Fast: Small store, lots of great items to choose from equals a potential one-stop grocery store to meet your needs. They've also got a fresh deli and frozen food section with many ready-made foods for busy lifestyles.

  • Informative: If you're looking for more information, take a look at the TJs Guides on the Trader Joe's website!

Trader Joe's is NOT:

  • Costco: You won't find bulk/wholesale/warehouse style at Trader Joe's. However, I find that if I buy bulk, I my family eats bulk, so we prefer the smaller packages to large ones.

  • Consistent: Due to their high-quality standards, each product must "stand on its own" to pay its way to stay on Trader Joe's shelves, resulting on the discontinuation of approximately 10-15 products per week. However, they do introduce 10-15 new products each week...gotta check that NEW products shelf or read the Fearless Flier to find out what they are!

For more about Trader Joe's as a highly-successful business, read The Trader Joe's Adventure: Turning a Unique Approach to Business into a Retail and Cultural Phenomenon by Len Lewis.

Cookbooks: I've tried recipes from both of these cookbooks. I highly recommend them.


Janine's Chili Cornbread Casserole

  • 1 box Trader Joes cornbread mix

  • 2 cans chili (regular or vegetarian)

  • 1 can black beans (drained)

  • 1 bag Fritos corn chips (optional)

  • 2 cups grated cheese (optional)

  • 1 4oz can sliced olives


  1. Start with 1 box Trader Joes cornbread mix.

  2. Mix according to directions on the box, pour in a lightly greased 9x13 casserole dish and bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes.

  3. While the cornbread is baking, stir together:
    2 cans chili
    1 can black beans (drained)

  4. Pour above mixture over cornbread and bake for another 15 minutes

  5. Finally, sprinkle the following on top and heat for 5 minutes:
    1 Fritos corn chips
    2 cups grated cheese
    1 4oz can sliced olives

  6. Let sit for 5 minutes and serve w/ guacamole!

Peanutty Sesame Noodles (Cooking with All Things Trader Joe's p.55)

  • 8oz spaghetti noodles (for gluten-free, use the brown rice spagetti noodles)

  • Easy Peanutty Sauce (recipe below)

  • 1 C shredded carrot

  • 1/2 C peeled and sliced cucumber

  • 2 green onions chopped

  • 1/4 C roasted peanuts, crushed


  1. Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain.

  2. Pour Easy Peanutty Sauce over noodles and toss until noodles are evenly coated. Add carrots and cucumber. Toss gently.

  3. Top with green onions and crushed peanuts.

Easy Peanutty Sauce

  • 1/4 C Trader Ming's Soyaki or Veri Veri Teriyaki

  • 1/4 C Creamy Salted Peanut Butter

  • 2 tsp Toasted Sesame Oil

  • 1/4 C water
  1. Whisk Soyaki, peanut butter, and sesame oil until blended.

  2. Add water and mix well.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Hands-off cooking time: 10 minutes
Serves: 4-6

Tortellini and Chicken Sausage Soup (Cooking with All Things Trader Joe's p.64)

  • 1 C dry Tortellini with Pesto or Mixed Cheese Filling

  • 2 pre-cooked Mushroom Asiago Gourmet Chicken Sausages, cut into 1/2-inch slices (or other variety)

  • 1 14.5oz can Organic Fire Roasted Whole Tomatoes, including juices, or regular canned tomatoes

  • 1 28oz can Rich Onion Soup (or vegetable stock)

  • 2 C water

  • 2 C frozen Greens with Envy, or other greens such as frozen spinach or green beans

  • Grated or shredded Parmesan cheese


  1. Cut tomatoes into bite-size pieces. Mix tomatoes (including juices), onion soup, and water in a large pot. Bring to a boil.

  2. Add tortellini, sausage, and greens. When mixture comes to a boil again, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 17 minutes.

  3. Sprinkle generously with Parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

Prep time: 5 minutes
Hands-off cooking time: 20 minutes
Serves: 6

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Nature's Gardeners: Earthworms

"Today, we went on an earthworm hunt. We used trowels and containers to collect the earthworms. We went into the garden to dig for them. We didn't need to dig very deep before we found some. I found 5 and Natalie found 6 or 7."

"Next, we brought them into the house and dumped them onto a wet paper towel so that they wouldn't dry out and then we used magnifiers to look at their body parts."

"We learned that earthworms are invertebrates and that adult earthworms have a clitellum so that they can reproduce and lay eggs that hatch into tiny worms. An earthworm's body is divided into lots of segments. The bristles on the segments help them to move in the dirt; earthworms can move both backwards and forwards."

"Earthworms eat decaying plant matter and turn it into rich soil with their waste, called castings."

"Then, we made a worm farm. To make the farm, we layered dirt, sand, oatmeal, and water inside a tall plastic bottle. We named it The Worms of Ordinary Farm."

"Last, we covered the bottle with black paper so that the earthworms would think they are under the ground. In a few days we will take off the paper to see if the worms pushed the soil around."

We got the idea and materials for this activity from Delta Education's Science-In-a-Nutshell Living Things Cluster that we ordered with our Connecting Waters Charter School educational funds.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Connecting Waters Charter School Information Session, Thursday, May 20, 3-6pm @ Fremont Main Library

What: Connecting Waters Charter School Information Session

When: Thursday, May 20, 2010, from 3-6 p.m.,
Session I: 3:00-4:30 p.m., Session II: 4:30-6 p.m. (session presentations are identical)

Where: Fremont Main Library
Fukaya Room A
2400 Stevenson Blvd.
Fremont, CA 94538
(510) 745-1424

Curious about homeschooling through a charter school? You're invited to attend an Information Session to learn more about parent-driven Connecting Waters Charter School and non-classroom based education for K-12 students through:

• Student Project Displays
• Informative Parent Panel Discussions
• Q&A with the Executive Director and Education Specialists

Current CWCS families are encouraged to attend. No registration is required. This is a FREE event open to the public. Children are always welcome.

Call or e-mail: Connecting Waters Charter School
1.800.808.9895 X 6

or call/e-mail me, Janine Weston (Volunteer Coordinator), 510-299-2586 ,

Please forward this message on to those who may be interested.


Janine Weston, MLIS
Connecting Waters Charter School Homeschooling Parent
Fremont Main Library Volunteer