Nature Study and Composition

20161027_111848It had been a busy weekend and I was tired.  The thought of a walk wearied me. So for Nature Study we ventured all ten steps into our backyard again!  We were refreshed by the beauty we so easily overlook when we are preoccupied with duties and thoughts that clutter our daily lives!

20161027_112316Brandon marveled at the brightly colored, velvet, lining of the Indian Wishbone flowers. Ria found a spider with her prized clutch of eggs and a white feathery caterpillar with its woolly and rather fastidious looking coat!


If you look closely, you’ll see why this is called the Indian Wishbone flower.

The morning air was cool and revived us, blowing away the remnants of deep Sunday night sleep and suddenly the blue sky, the clean air, the nodding flowers and waving greens were recalling us to the beauty of life and nature. Unconsciously we all laughed aloud and smiled at each other. Sweet happiness that the outdoors grants so freely!

Last year’s eggplant crop germinated on its own within the confines of the fruit! So Brandon and I carefully separated the teeny, shoots. Ria and Brandon did a great job weeding the bed. We spread some fresh mud and dirt, that Seema and Lii had helped me accumulate. (That is another story by itself!) We gently popped the seedlings into into the holes we poked. Then we sowed Spinach and Arugula, misted it over and did the best we could to protect our bed from dog and cat intrusion! Now we will wait and watch the miracle of germination unfold.

20161017_10540020161017_10545620161017_105329Also we will be monitoring our stylish caterpillar to see what gorgeous butterfly she will become!

Later, for Composition we wrote about our well spent hour and it was pleasant! Begone dry, dull, institutionalized lectures and red markings! Welcome creativity, imagination, and that highest form, unique to man; the ability to articulate and communicate thought in a beautiful ‘telling’. This is one of the reasons why homeschooling is such a joy! There is structure and freedom,  spontaneity and guidance; not rigid and meaningless requirements.

Charlotte Mason presents the subject of composition as the art of telling that culminates in a Homer or Scott but begins with toddlers who talk a great deal to each other and are surely engaged in telling. This natural ability, this pleasurable exercise, she says, is not to be ‘taught’. “Our failure as teachers is that we place too little dependence on the intellectual powers of our scholars…” Guidance and encouragement, yes; but plastic conformity, no! What she is saying is, trust them! “Composition comes by nature”, says Charlotte Mason.20161027_100924

So we literally combined the two and I will later share with you some their well composed excerpts. We always love reading out loud to each other what we have penned! There is no judgement, open appreciation, honest satisfaction and often in the reading aloud the editing is mentally noted without any condemnation or embarrassment. It’s how it should be!

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A touch of wild

Lii took great care of my garden in my absence.  She made sure that the plants that needed monsoon protection  would be placed undercover and that the already sheltered ones would get their due drink.  Once the annual deluge began, there was no need to water anything!  She also helped prune back the oleander, bougainvillea and the alamanda.  Still, when I returned the garden was akin to jungle! The monsoons seem to have an elixir like effect on vegetation.  You’d never believe anything was cut back!

I have been longing to be out and working in the yard but getting the house mold free was priority!  I finally was able to do a little when my mother came.

She showed up on my doorstep after conspiring with Adam and Renu!  She didn’t want me to go crazy cleaning for her visit so she didn’t tell me she was coming!!  It was lovely having her albeit for a measly ten days!(Can you see me pout?!)

The garden must have been in on the conspiracy too! It must have willed her intervention! Some form of civility returned after that initial help from the head gardener and I was able to get my yard-bearings.  “Be careful of snakes,” warned Adam when he saw me put  on my gardening gloves.  I did pay attention to the caution. ( I am also trying to get some beds ready for planting my arugula, zucchini and tomatoes)! So as I cleared sticks, leaves and weeds, I was wary.

20160911_15370420160910_191251Well, while pruning, I noticed a golden flash.  Upon closer inspection I found a gorgeous, metallic looking chrysalis, dangling under a bougainvillea leaf.  This has now been safely placed where we can watch it, (hopefully) morph before our eyes! There are now dark lines where there was nothing before so we believe our butterfly is in the making!

20160911_13291520160911_133318Then this afternoon, after we came back from church, while I fixed lunch, Adam called urgently! Trigger, our hunter par excellence cat, was cuffing away at something near the bird bath.  Two Bronzeback snakes were desperately playing dead to avoid our sleek Diana! Adam rescued them and our newly emptied recycle bin was the perfect stowing zone.

img-20160911-wa0004We quickly referred to our snake guide which Rahul Alvares had recommended.  And yes, the now-not-so-playing-dead-and-quite- frisky babies were Bronzeback snakes.  Probably male and female! Brandon was delighted!  “They’re beautiful!” he exclaimed while Ria smiled from a safe distance!

They are nonvenomous and fairly shy, but I think I may have to wear my boots in the garden from now on!  Well, at least when Trigger is not around!  Earlier in the year we did also find a deadly Russel Viper in our yard too but Cassie (the mama cat) chased it away! We decided to wait for R and B’s friends to see the Bronzebacks before releasing them.

So wild garden to wild chrysalis to wild snakes!  What next?!

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Just say it sweetly

How many times have you wished you could have said it differently!

It’s the way we say something that makes all the difference.

One book I enjoyed over the summer was Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. She made a list of her own personal twelve commandments. Two stood out for me:

Act the way I want to feel.

There is only love.

We always know when we are not behaving as we ought but we tend to forget that it is those we love most who get the backlash of our frustrations.

I made a commandment for myself.  Just say it sweetly.

I need to say what I must (not always what I feel).  As long as I can say it sweetly, I can’t go very wrong.  Of course, any amount of sweetness will not nullify the effect of, “If you get that sum wrong for the twentieth time I’m going to lay my head into the nearest wall!” So this does get tempered with a reasonable amount of common sense! That is, there are thoughts that simply mustn’t be said or indicated at all!

This was before the sweet restriction! And they remained happy even after!

This was before the sweet restriction! And they remained happy even after!

“Honey, you must make your bed before you come down,” genially, rather than,”For the hundredth time, make your darn bed before you show up!” makes me a happier person, which perpetuates a happier atmosphere.  It’s possible to say, “No, darling, you absolutely cannot have any more ice-cream.” I can pleasantly take that wanting bowl with a smile from my sugar-overloaded child and avert a tantrum (or at least be emotionally strengthened to weather the coming storm)!  In doing so, I have just established my responsibility as a caring parent. I’ve removed myself from the role of  whimsical indulgence or despotic authoritarianism and made room for my child to be more accepting of the needed boundaries.  (Naturally the boundary stays whether accepted or not, but at least I’m not part of the meltdown!) When I’m tired, I can become snappish, irritated and ineffective. That’s when I most need to stay on (sweet) guard!

I Corinthians 13 says,”Love is not rude…Love is kind.”  Truth does not have to be rude. It may need to be firm but can still be kind.  We are adjusting back to routine after three months of living on the fly!  This commandment is saving me!  For one, my voice is not as hoarse as it would normally be.  Secondly, I am not as stressed.  Thirdly, sweetness is much more effective!

By the way, if you haven’t read Gretchen Rubin’s book, you ought to! She is real, practical and inspiring.

This video of hers is beautiful and will only reinforce the necessity to “say it sweetly” because The days are long but the years are short.  Let life get sweeter!

Tmary-poppins-spoonful-of-sugar-490x382he children and I are working toward this goal and in the meantime this is one sugar overload we refuse to stint on!

If it can’t be said sweetly, it’s probably not worth voicing!

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Resolutions aside, I humbly admit to utter failure!  No matter how resolute I have endeavored to be, my blogging has…lagged!  The ‘better late than never’ adage, that I somewhat cringe to proclaim, is at least, (I hope), of some weak consequence and thus  return I to blog land!

We have also returned home.  Home to Goa!

We have had a wonderful summer with family and friends and it is not with a light heart that we have embraced, wept and parted.  We are truly blessed to have such supportive and loving families;  Adam and I never take that for granted.

One of the highlights of our trip were two visits to the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.  There is so much to see there!  Jules Breton, Returning From The Fields particularly stood out for me.  I know his works are more idyllic and not as realistic as Millet’s or Van Gogh’s peasant studies, but he captures the camaraderie, the labor,  the quiet gratitude for companionship and the hope of reward after hard labor.

Working, walking and waiting is easier with friends!

My Charlotte Mason journey has had the blessing of very faithful supporters and companions but two in particular have come alongside and enriched the walk! This painting made me think of the three of us!  Renu and Seema, whom I have known for 18 and 17 years respectively, are my very dear friends! I love that we have learned so much together and I’m deeply grateful for all their encouragement in my quest for excelsior as far as home school is concerned.

IMG-20160806-WA0001Our weekly class at The Coffee Stop, where we have been reading and discussing When Children Love to Learn, is a time we look forward to all week! What an eye-opener! This book is helping us to better grasp Charlotte Mason’s principles, giving us food for thought and plenty of room for meaningful discussion.  Besides, it’s always fun to hang out with each other especially over coffee and tea!

As homeschooling mothers, we must remember that the labors may be long but at the end of the day there is hope for a wonderful harvest.  Of course there are no guarantees in life; but at least we would have known we did our best and  that we have friends, true friends, who will speak the truth and lend their arm and shoulder without hesitation.

In 1871 when Jules Adolphe Aime Louis Breton completed this beautiful canvas, he could not have possibly foreseen  that a hundred and forty five years later, an Indian lady would travel to the US, look upon his art, feel a connection and be inspired.  Keats said it perfectly, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever”.

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Okefenokee Swamp Y’all!!

DSCN0936DSCN0918We are in Georgia escaping the cold, wet spell that has fallen upon Maryland,  visiting with Adam’s brother, Les, and his lovely southern belle-bride, Tammy.  They have been so hospitable and fun and we are sorry that we are leaving tomorrow.  They recently moved into a beautiful home. We are the privileged  first ‘company’ that they have hosted. ( I hope that we haven’t burned them out enough to be labeled the last)!IMG-20160514-WA0014

On Monday, Les and Tammy were busy and so we decided to burrow deep into southern heartland and visit the famous Okefenokee Swamp.  Years ago, Adam went there as a boy and still has vivid memories.  Since we were a mere 284 miles  (versus more than 8,400 miles), we thought it best not to forfeit the opportunity!

So at 6:30 a.m. we skirted nightmare Atlanta traffic and took the back roads to the swamp. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, the unabridged audio book, and the jazz radio station pleasurably helped pass the time.

Even before we could reach the swamp site Adam spotted turtles and allDSCN0910DSCN0913igators just hanging out by the highway!

It was a wonderful experience.  we took a little guided boat tour through the swamps.  Our tour guide’s accent was a winning feature and when he remarked, “Them yellow flies will be tormentin’ y’all”, it almost made the the nasty critter’s bites bearable! We walked  up to the high watch tower that looks out over the canopy of the almost 700 square miles of swamp! Pretty impressive!

DSCN0936 DSCN1034 IMG_20160516_155720 DSCN1056 DSCN1042 IMG_20160516_151024 IMG_20160516_121712 IMG_20160516_121731IMG_20160516_160703ok IMG_20160516_160533ok IMG_20160516_155447ok DSCN1031 DSCN1015IMG_20160516_155318The tannins DSCN0940from vegetative decay cause the water to look black and have a mirror effect, as you can see from the pictures.  The park provides a walkway so that you can venture right out into the swamp and experience it. The boardwalk sometimes runs as (dangerously) low as the swamp.  They do advise you to grab a rod just in case you come across some of the bulkier or slimier inhabitants!

We heard different bird calls and frogs and even baby gators calling for their mothers in their characteristic chirp. Ironically endearing!  We spotted (and caught) little lizards and (left alone) interesting spiders.

DSCN0955 DSCN1042 DSCN1048 IMG_20160516_155225 IMG_20160516_155234DSCN1003We saw a variety of plants. Old cyprus trees stretching up to the sky with spanish moss hanging from their limbs, spotlessly white water lillies demurely floating among water hyacinths, abundant ferns, yellow bonnets and swamp algae.  The park also houses two black bears.  The female bear was wisely taking a coveted nap while this dude was chilling in his trough!

There was also a small refreshment bar that served gator strips and frog legs.  Gator meat tastes like chicken!

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Melvin, who conducted a small show for the visitors let us touch the snakes and baby gators and the children were even comfortable with the rat snakes! I thought it best to not let go of the camera!

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The life-size model alligator, that the park encourages visitors to clamber upon, is actually smaller than the 13 foot 7 inch, Oscar, whom Adam saw when he had last come to the park. Oscar has since passed away and his massive skeleton graces the reception area. We were cautioned to watch our whereabouts.  The park likes us to remember that we are on gator turf after all!

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IMG_20160516_155249DSCN1028DSCN1044If you’re ever in the area, don’t miss out on Okefenokee, ya’ll!! (Just leave your pets at home)!

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It has been said of this city, that it is either loved or hated!  No middle ground!

‘Cal’, as we old timers refer to our stomping ground, is home to me.  I love this place!  It truly is my City of Joy.  There is always so much going on!






The children and I were so excited to escort my heart- repaired mother home!  On Sunday, on our way to church, we discovered that Kolkata has implemented “Happy Streets,” an event sponsored by the Times of India.  Main streets, like Russel Street and Park Street are cordoned off  and families, and young people are encouraged to hang out!  I thought it a marvelous idea that instead of staying home and watching TV, people were out laughing, talking, interacting, roller-blading, pushing babies in their strollers – it was lovely! Hardly anyone was on their phone…except for picture taking, of course! We would have certainly joined them had we not the excitement of joining Jeevan Jyoti Fellowship for church that morning!

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The small, compassionate work my parents pioneered 45 years ago has extended far beyond what was initially envisioned.  I always am inspired when I visit the various projects! Usually we spend most of our time in the children departments but this time I took Ria and Brandon to the Substance Abuse Detoxification Center and The Arunoday Midway Home, Residential Rehabilitation Center.

My father, in particular, had a tremendous burden for those struggling with addiction and alcoholism.  Ramadari and Biswajeet who now head up this particular department, remember my father’s mentoring and it is such a blessing to see them pass that on and bring healing and a new turn for these men, women and even children who are damaged by this bondage.

image image imageIn the back yard the children were afflicted with a delightful malady of true puppy love!

Ramadari and Biswajeet were so patient and facilitating of Ria and Brandon, who like little journalists, took notes as they were guided through the process of detox and recovery.





Midway Home is where my sister and I  accompanied my parents and spent many happy childhood days.  The grounds are beautiful and just entering the gates brings a sense of serenity!  The children loved it!  They played with Reggie and the goats and attempted fishing in the pond and sat in on a group session with these brave men.

When we returned to Goa the children poignantly remembered their visits to the various projects and in particular wrote about their visit to the Detox.

Brandon's essay

Brandon’s essay

Ria's essay - first page

Ria’s essay – first page

Ria's essay - second page

Ria’s essay – second page



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An added pleasure was (and I’m ashamed to admit it) my first time at the  Annual Kolkata Flower Show. William Carey established the Horticultural Gardens in 1820.

It was breathtaking!  Our dear friends, Ian and Anne, Shajan and Anita and Sarah also came along with my cousin Sushil.  The array of color was fantastic!  Ria loved the Bonsai display!  My mother, of course, was in her element!  Flowers do more for her than caffeine!

IMG_3191 roses IMG_3197 bonsai bougainvillea IMG_3198 bonsai R and B IMG_3210 gals IMG_3237guys IMG_3239 R and B

Two weeks flew by quickly and although we were terribly sad to say goodbye to ‘Cal’ , our close friends and my sweet mother, we were happy to come back home to Adam, the clean Goan air and our dear church family! It’s been busy since we got back and I hope to do some major blog catch-up over the next few weeks! Thanks for bearing with me!

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When crisis strikes…

In the course of life, the one thing we can always count on, is the unexpected!

And yet, whenever it comes calling, we are always taken unawares – at least almost always.  So it was with me.  I was to officially begin school August 21st; Ria to Eighth and Brandon to Fifth.  The excitement of a new school year was dawning bright.

With a few days to go, I heard from my sister, Kavita, that my mother who had been in the US was having chest pains.  Being an active 72 and suddenly being reduced to fatigue for very simple tasks was unnerving.  What was a check up, led to an angiogram which showed that she had three major blocks.  The aspect of possible bypass was always there but it was something, my mother in particular, and all of us wanted to avoid.  Her surgery was scheduled for the 1st of September.

An unexpected blessing was that an extremely close and dear friend of my parents, bought me a ticket so I could be with my mother for her surgery.  Adam very kindly encouraged me to go sans children for three weeks so I could care for my mother and help with her recuperation. IMG-20150901-WA0013 IMG-20150909-WA0017

She is so glad that the dreaded bypass is behind her now! We had some really close calls, when her life seemed so uncertain…it is hard to believe that four months have passed and she is now back here in Goa.  Next week the children and I will accompany her to Kolkata.  She is eager to be reunited with all her dear friends and colleagues who have shouldered her load in her absence.

My sister has had her own share of unexpected events and is also at the tail end of finishing up school and working part-time so it was a big help to have me on board.  I managed to catch the first glimpses of Fall, a season I miss very much.  Ripened apples, leaves beginning their colorful departure, acorn strewn sidewalks and the first tiniest crispness in the air was lovely to experience!  Being with my mother is always a soul-enriching time and the added bonus of caring for her and being with my sister and neice was very special.

One aspect in crisis that inevitably surfaces is the lifeline of true friends.  My mother’s, my sister’s and mine.  All seemed to link and form a circle of support that sustained, encouraged and helped us get through the storm.  It is impossible to name them all but I have to mention dear Dr. Tony, Ian and Anne, Shajan, Amit and Jill, the Mathews, Adam’s parents, Natalie, Tammy, Eva, Rita,  Treas, Renu, Seema and Lii!  My dear friends, Renu and Seema,  practically adopted Ria and Brandon while I was away!  I’m so very grateful to them! Adam’s support was crucial and I know it was tough on him but I love him all the more for being so behind me and demonstrating his love for my mother.

The children fell into line in my absence and kept up with chores and school.  The house was still standing, but my garden was all but obliterated!  It’s been a slow return but nature is for the most part, forgiving, and especially in my mother’s presence, is slowly perking up and beginning to return to a wholesome state.

Homeschool took a bit of a beating but thanks to Susan, my mentor, who has so kindly escorted me through the turbulence of this year, we have managed to stay on track.

We have had the most amazing books to live through and the children and I have learned so much together.   We have seen the divine hand of God prevail graciously through all the upheaval and we cannot be anything but deeply thankful for His mercies.  All the prayer, the calls, emails, letters, texts and hugs…all of it helped to sail me over into 2016…so thank you to all of you who made up that lifeline!

P.S.   I’m hoping to not be so blog-tardy this year!

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Making Time For A Walk

IMG_20150824_184027It was a gorgeous day.  The rain had stopped, the sun was out and a cool breeze blew.

It felt criminal to be indoors despite the call of never-ending chores and housework (there’s always so much that needs to be done)! So the children and I spontaneously decided to take a walk to the nearest paddy field, a little less than a mile away.

IMG_20150824_180512Ria, discovered that a little stream flowed through the field.  (Ria is drawn to water like a magnet!)  Being quiet and listening  helped us pick up the sounds of nature that we forfeit when we are talking or preoccupied.  It was magical.  The stirring of the grass, the rippling of the water, the call of frogs, the twitter of the birds were suddenly distinct and audible.IMG_20150824_182203

We were awed by the meticulous detail of flowers that appear only as splashes of color when we hurriedly drive by them.  We watched in wonder as a spider fell and rose in an invisible elevator spinning a web so intricate, it would shame the world’s greatest designer.  Brandon was filled with affection for his baby frog… (a sentiment that was not as warmly reciprocated in return)! Ria was sure that could she shrink herself into a Thumbelina, the Oriental Sesame flower would be the softest fabric for a gown.  We felt the sand-papery texture of huge teak leaves, the Velcro of giant pagodas, the velvet of musandas.  We were fascinated by a baby taro leaf scrolled perfectly into the stalk waiting to poke out and unfurl when mature.

IMG_20150824_182650IMG_20150824_183102 IMG_20150824_183747At first I was reluctant to let them venture in the field, contemplating muck, wetness, the possibility of snakes…Almost in the same instance, I could hear a “shame on me” for my thoughts.  Nature must be experienced as is.  Of course, a measure of caution and wisdom is absolutely essential but as much as we may want, risk simply cannot be omitted!   Fear only paralyzes wonder and denies us the thrill of discovery.  And all that beauty and amazement is so worth it!


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On having kittens…

image imageA year ago when a cat decided to choose our garden pump box to birth her litter, we had no idea how it would change our life!

We ended up adopting Cassie!

imageShe had another litter, in my pantry, this time.  All four little squirmies were darling but we decided 5 cats in the house were just TOO much!  We made arrangements to donate the four Cassie and the kittens 081kittens once they were old enough to be weaned.

When the time came, weeping, lamentation and ferventimage promises to be responsible pet owners caused our hardened parent hearts to relent…long story short, we have two kittens, along with Cassie!  Brandon claimed Trigger and Ria, Oliver.  (Hey, three is better than five, and honestly, how cruel did you think we could be?!)

image imageWe had Cassie undergo a planned parenthood regime and get updated with her shots.  This would be her last litter.

Two went for adoption and two stayed. They too got their shots and yup, no posterity prospects for them either!   Cassie came home from the doctor and went nuts looking for the kittens, filling us with a good amount of guilt but then she settled with the two.

The children have proved faithful.  Both Adam and I are still in a state of mild shock.  They faithfully take care of the litter box and make sure the cats areimage indoors before dark.  We are all terribly attached to them now.  Sometimes we crack up just watching them play!

Here are a few pictures of these adorable peskies caught in the act of pure, but irresistibly forgivable naughtiness! Cassie and the kittens 095 Cassie and the kittens 096 003

Two of my favorites shots…no need for words!
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IMG_20150625_091339Since the Geography program for the year looked so amazing, namely Mapping the World by Heart, it seemed rather selfish to not share it with Ria and Brandon’s friends.  Ria and Brandon thoroughly enjoyed having classmates other than themselves and it was wonderful to watch the children soak in so much information.

What a beautiful world is our earth, so varied and vivid and large!  We covered the North American continent and Central America. ( We hope to gradually traverse the world)! That children can immerse themselves in an atlas and actually find it interesting, that they can hear the name of a foreign country, a river, a mountain range, a city, and immediately place it correctly on a map, not just on paper but in their minds, has been fascinating.  Understanding physical features, building play dough look-a likes and drawing real bays and gulfs from maps, gave us a hands-on feel instead of distant-black-and-white(may I add, boring) text-book geographical diagrams.

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At the end of the class, the children formed teams and each presented one area we had studied.  The presentations were clear and articulate. It was obvious that they were eager to share what they had learned. They compiled their presentations by themselves, showing a lot of creativity and intelligence.  I only helped tweak their presentations ever so slightly.  To watch them present so confidently, so competently, the knowledge they had gained was incredibly rewarding.  The teeny, tiny glitches and omissions only made their presentations that much more endearing!  ( Thanks to Ria for splicing and editing the videos, and thanks to Lii, for uploading them since my internet couldn’t handle the job!!) Next time we hope the video quality will be better and clearer!

Pereira Team – Canada

Shew Team- USA

Bundela Team – Mexico and Central America

Down the road I hope to have a more in depth, concentrated, Indian geography class, but a world view and a sense of , “Yes, I live in India but the earth at large is my home” seemed to come to all of us so naturally.

I must say they have been a patient class, putting up with their teacher when she would spontaneously beak into song at irresistible geographical trigger points.  ‘Way down yonder on the Chattahoochee’  just had to drawled out when we looked closely at Florida; and Harry Belafonte’s ‘Day-O’ simply HAD to be sung when we got to Jamaica!  You can only imagine the range they had to put up with in New Orleans and Nashville! Poor things!

IMG-20150716-WA0004Ages ranged from 9 -13 but everyone did the best to their ability.  They worked congenially with a sense of camaraderie rather than competition.  I thoroughly enjoyed the class dynamic and I think so did they.  It was refreshing to learn all together.  I’m grateful to the parents and their beautiful children for letting this class happen. I am sending them all a big thank-you with this post! Last but by no means least, my Ambleside Schools International mentors, whose guidance made this class an actuality and  one of ease and enjoyment, I extend my deepest thanks.

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