A Quick Update

I wish I had posted every day for the last two months, telling you all the things we’ve been working on, and doing, and learning. I also wish I had more hours in the day, but who doesn’t? The fact is, we have been 100% immersed in our learning and lessons, and I haven’t been able to catch up on my blogging. IMG_1702

This morning, I have a couple of minutes, and rather than agonize over the quality of my writing, I will just update you on what we have been doing. Screen Shot 2018-11-07 at 6.48.24 AMFirst of all, this weekend is the beginning of the concert season! Monday Vegas performed out at Pacific University in a ‘preview’ concert. I wasn’t able to go, but there is a YouTube video available {for a while at least} of what was the live stream of the concert. {click the photo or the link above to watch it} This upcoming Saturday, November 10, is the fall concert for PYP, and I am looking forward to being there in person!

Elvis and Axel both have their first concert on November 18th. Unfortunately, I will be out-of-town, and to make matters more complicated, the concerts are at the same time, on the same day, on opposite sides of town. I will just have to put one of the kids in an Uber.  Just kidding. IMG_1703

Our fundraiser is still going! We are at just under 10% of our goal, which actually helped quite a bit with purchasing school supplies and math manipulatives. The bulk of the fundraiser will go toward ongoing education in music, and classes, as well as field trips, and {always!} books.

If you haven’t felt compelled to participate in the fundraiser, please just read through the description. I have a nice list of actual supplies that we use that I can send out if you wanted a specific item to go to the kids. Also, if you were interested in sponsoring one of their lessons or instrument rentals, those are wonderful options that would help us out a ton. IMG_1729Public school students on average cost about $10,000 per elementary student, per year. That money comes from all of our taxes, even homeschooling families. While homeschooling is still an option that the government allows, it does not give any funding towards it, nor do we get a break from paying for public school. So, every little bit of help actually helps us. I spend hours looking for the best books, the most economical supplies, and do my best to offer the wonders of the world to my kids on a small budget, which {for four kids} is not even close to $40,000. Not even $4,000.  IMG_1694

If you ever wondered why I do a fundraiser, those are some of the reasons. 🙂

The last two months we have been studying ancient history, grammar, mathematics, Latin, art, science, penmanship, map making, sense of place, and music.

Ancient history has taken us from Sumeria to Akkad, and now we are in Egypt. What perfect timing for OMSI to host the Discovery of King Tut! We will be going to that exhibit soon, and we are really quite excited about it. IMG_1740

Last night Elvis and I were able to attend a lecture given by Dr. Zahi Hawass, who is an archeologist, and Egyptologist, and the Egyptian Minister of Antiquities! He talked about different things he had discovered, answered the age-old question of ‘Did aliens build the Sphinx?’ and talked about different digs he is currently working on. It was fascinating! IMG_1743

In science we are learning about Atoms, Atomic Theory, and molecular structures. We are reading a wonderful book “Our Friend the Atom”, which tells the story of how the atom was discovered, and about many of the important discoveries, people, and events that took place along the way.  The illustrations are fantastic, which is definitely a plus!4780208213_25074f6779_b-763x1024

I am out of time, I can hear children stirring in their beds! Time to make breakfast!

I will try to fill you in on more academics next time!

Waking up, Shelley




The Anvil Chorus

8FF2180B-E512-40D8-938A-8779280185E1Axel will be performing this piece by Verdi at his first concert this November! If you are in the Portland area on 11/18, he would love to see you there. Here is a recording of the Anvil Chorus, if you haven’t heard it before.

Thank you so much to everyone who has participated in our school fundraiser this year! It has been such a huge help!

Shopping for geo boards, Shelley

Two Big Announcements!

I’m so excited, and at the same time I also think I need a permanent driver for my children. And maybe a housekeeper. 433E06E9-2C2B-4866-BDCA-C044ADA831A5

Axel will be playing double bass with the Metropolitan Youth Symphony this year! He was accepted into their Overture Strings ensemble, and we just found out today. His audition was a little different – we arrived at the MYS offices, only to discover his bow had been left at home. He agreed to do his best with an oversized cello bow {which, for you non-string players, is quite different from a German bass bow}, and bravely played in front of a director he had never met, all while being videotaped! I was so impressed with his fortitude. He played so well, and was so polite, my heart hurt a little.


Secondly, Elvis will be playing in the Portland Youth Philharmonic Percussion Ensemble this year! He has worked hard all year to prepare, and after threats of quitting, frustrating weeks of feeling like he was stuck in a rut, he played an excellent audition, and his dedication paid off.

I am so proud of both of them, and wanted to share!

The hard thing will be not tangling up all the calendar dates. Anyone want to be my personal assistant?

Ordering books, and enjoying the warmest evening we will have in a loooong while,


Themes, Not Subjects

975552AD-D106-46BC-9F52-D6868ADEB61BThis will be my tenth year teaching school at home. TEN YEARS. Honestly, I can’t even believe it. I recently went to a homeschooling conference, and realized that I was in the significant minority. Most of the moms were in their 20’s. Most of those moms had 2.5 kids under 5. Most of them had expensive hair. Only a handful of the moms had kids that were in middle school, let alone high school, and it seemed like many of them had less than 4 kids. I felt old, and tired, and very frumpy. 664B2311-88EC-4795-920B-1AE6FCB92A84But ten years was just barely enough time to hit my stride, and now my oldest is beyond me. I am still hoping to catch up. {although it’s not likely}8d65a1d1-f116-43b1-9433-eb5891043cb3.pngEvery summer, I go over what worked, and what didn’t work the previous year. I try to plan the following year in a way that makes sense with what we have already done, and what fits the best with each kid, and where our family is at. Let me tell you, it is never a perfect match. One thing that I always get annoyed by, is how to structure our areas of study. I have always done them by subject- most likely because I am a product of the school system. We learned in compartments, without any connection between history and math, science and art, geography and language arts. These were all separate subjects, taught by different teachers, who weren’t particularly interested in any subject other than the one they personally taught. AA855913-8241-452D-8124-E912EA0BD256This year, I am throwing subjects out the window, and we are structuring our learning in themes. Many of these themes overlap each other- as described in much of what I have been reading- like a piece of fabric, each area connected and supporting the others, to create “a tapestry of learning” {as Bernie Nebel puts it}.

DB695154-6BFA-4A04-AB1F-8424E7D328CDHere they are.

Communication: Phonics, Reading Fluency, Penmanship, Composition, Reading Comprehension, Vocabulary, Spelling, Grammar, Speech, Literature, Poetry, Notetaking

Values, Purpose, History, and Society: History, Ethics, Etiquette, Philosophy, Church History, Religion, Classics, Law and Politics

Discovering our Planet Earth: Sense of Place, Mapmaking, Earth and Space Sciences, Geography, Astronomy, outdoor skills, exploring

Living, Non-Living, and Human Made Things: Biology, Ecology, Physics, Anthropology, Archeology 

Water Wonders: Hydrology

Physical Forces and Properties: Physics 

Numerical Skills: Mathematics, Reasoning, and Logic

Humanities: Linguistics, Languages, Performing Arts, Musicology, and Visual Arts

323B8059-F323-4FA4-A0BA-788041BDEE14Whew. Basically, we are learning everything, this year.

Many of these areas of study can be easily combined, or done in parallel with each other, which makes the list seem less scary. There is pretty much a humanity for everything, which makes it fun.

139EBCBF-B664-4B32-BFEB-2F33AD5853A0Even as I was typing this list,  I was making changes and clarifying things. Undoubtedly there will be some variance in what actually happens,  from what you have just read. But setting the trajectory, that is important. We ‘have our work cut out for us’, so to speak.

Right now, I am trying to make sure I don’t forget any books in my orders over the next week! Also, I am avoiding the school supply sales, because I tend to go nuts with pencils. and markers, and especially notebooks. 

Enjoying these last golden weeks, Shelley

A New Year, A New Campaign

FA003508-A7DE-4A36-B077-291E3A876773Here it is, the yearly school fundraising campaign. Each summer I struggle with posting a fundraiser, but it has been so extremely {helpful seems like such a poor word} empowering for us, that I finally just post one and ‘see what will happen’. Every fall I am blown away by the support of my family and friends, who help us in this journey of educating and learning as whole persons, in the freedom and environment of home.

With our anchor deep in the security of family, and the familiarity these walls, each child can venture out at their own pace into the world, always returning to the ‘clearing in the woods’ that is home.

Without further ado, here is the link to our fundraiser. Thank you for even reading through it, you will get a look inside of what we are doing this year. In my next post, I will go into greater detail with each subject, so you can see specific books and materials that we are using.

2018-2019 Harmon Academy Fundraiser

Busy picking out the last of our books,


Professionally Good-Looking

Vegas is going into his second season with the Portland Youth Philharmonic, which is very exciting. Last season was wonderful, and the pieces that he was able to perform were wonderful, and truly memorable. PYP just released their ‘trailer’ for season 95, and what do you know? Vegas is in several of the shots. I’ve been telling him he is now a male model, mostly in jest, but I am actually very proud. Take a look, pass it on! We are working on building a Patreon account for him, to aid him in the purchase of his own bass by the time he graduates. The one he is currently using belongs to his high school.  Stay tuned for more details!

In the meantime, take a look at PYP’s YouTube channel, which features several of the pieces that Vegas was able to perform last year.

Putting my blinders on to the school displays at EVERY store, its still the MIDDLE OF SUMMER, people!




The End {not really!}

5059A4BA-5E46-4A32-86A8-68725065A233There are a few weeks left of the ‘school year’, although we have had a long pause for a myriad of reasons. One reason, is that the seasons are changing, and I have a hard time keeping the kids inside, when they could be outside, getting vitamin D and burning off all their winter energy. Another reason, is that we have had a hard spring, and I am having a hard time keeping myself on track. Out of all our books, there are some that I really want to ‘finish’, and some that I am not worried about at all.

8F57F2B7-1D0D-4073-97FD-E823247FF9BC{Axel read “Charlotte’s Web’ in a few days, watched the movie, and then re-read the book! I am so excited for him to transition into this stage of reading!}

One of my goals for the year was to really work on being tied to ‘finishing’ a certain amount of work, as opposed to knowing that the kids ‘understand’, and have actually learned a suitable body of work. I have residual learning habits that are leftover from my school days that I am still trying to break. Let me tell you, it’s not easy. {for anyone teaching or thinking of home educating, I recommend Sarah Mackenzie’s book “Teaching From Rest’, for encouragement, as well as John Taylor Gatto’s writings on school, particularly a compilation of speeches/essays entitled ‘Dumbing Us Down for a good kick in the pants.}BBCDF036-C973-4530-9FE5-15AB0FBA7EF3As the traditional school year draws to a close, there have been about a thousand events to attend. Everyone had end of year concerts, {although Axel’s was about a month ago} and of course we went to all of them. There are tests, and projects, and even Prom. I know. It’s hard to believe. But there are pictures to prove it. AFFE5189-1BFC-44B8-A8AC-BEE28EA02390Elvis joined the Metropolitan Youth Symphony this year, during the spring term, and jumped right in to difficult music, new instruments, and a whole different group of kids, and rose to the challenge with amazing determination. His final concert was on Sunday, and included Ballet music from Faust, which was his favorite piece. 97BFE8B4-7E50-43DA-8827-A3A387B26100A9DE3A33-8A64-4B6F-841A-F08F85365DE6The very next day, Elvis’s 5th grade band had it’s final performance at the middle school. Next year they will be the 6th grade advanced band, so it was really fun to hear the current advanced band, knowing that he will be working up to some really fun music next year. The 5th grade band program has been great for him, learning to play in a big group, and giving some context to all his practicing and learning at home and at his lessons. There is nothing quite as satisfying as playing music with other people, and hearing it all take shape in a concert! What a great year. AD1680AA-A495-4F82-9A71-48CDC4A1A35BVegas had his final orchestra concert last week as well, where he played the piece he performed for the state solo competition, along with one of his fellow bassists, who also happened to perform the same piece {the Dragonetti Bass Concerto}. They played the solo, while the rest of the orchestra backed them up. It was truly wonderful to watch. Vegas has such a fantastic stage presence! His last concert of the year will be Jazz Night, which is next week. EBC56772-3420-49DF-9C48-EA445363A25DLast weekend, Vegas also went to Prom. At the risk of him disowning me, I have to post a couple of pictures. It is still a little hard to take in the reality of him getting older, and more independent, but I have so enjoyed his whole person at each stage, that I can only expect the coming years to be just as wonderful. Bittersweet, but that’s to be expected. 3FA10F27-64E8-44D2-BB85-CFCA977266B5

8BCDF1EA-5C7B-49F5-B508-82169A66084BMeanwhile, the girls are playing, the boys are wrestling with their middle childhood, and I am running to catch up. {Meri was so wiped out by her cello lesson this week, that she literally just fell asleep in the car afterward. I feel like doing this every day, unfortunately, I can’t.} 81E98809-1213-40C5-93DA-E41C3690011FI’ve been reading a few fantastic books, my favorite right now is this book: Children’s Special Places’ by David Sobel. Naturally, fort building is a high priority right now! He also writes this book on map making , which is at the top of my shopping list! EB179E5D-6B7E-40D2-8703-164E422479E1D3D83EFD-7B45-49DB-A9A8-674366B534C6We have had a long winter. The advent of warm weather and new growth in the garden gives hope to me after a season of feeling like I have a thimbleful of energy and patience. Over a year after I started this project, the herb garden path is completed. Bea has been a huge helper, sweeping sand in the cracks, and gathering onions for scrambled eggs. She is very anxious to see the strawberries turn red. 0B892891-4BED-4D14-B94A-F3F0C4C881F2317EE23A-FC98-4BB1-91F7-9407EF8B2CF7This week, we are planting a whole bunch of little ‘sticks with roots’ that we purchased at a nursery stock sale last week. They are in a bucket of water in the back yard, and trying to figure out where they will all live is a fun challenge. Elvis picked out a plum tree, Meri picked out a spiky little juniper, and Bea just likes to help water. Axel was in Seattle when we went to the sale, so he didn’t get to pick out his own plant, but we got a honey crisp tree, which everyone will enjoy!

This morning, I need to water, before all the plants wither in the hot sun.

Also, I need to scrub the pool, which is still un-greening itself from winter algae. It is a long learning process. Summer in Portland is a trickster, because it is so hot and great, you almost forget how horrible winter is.

Next winter, we are going on vacation somewhere sunny.

Off to make a second pot of coffee, Shelley


What Margin?


5DB8C368-8F2F-4268-875A-94EE7B7D41F8This year has taken all of our energy.

We have worked so hard. There have been times that we have had to cancel everything and do nothing, just to get back up again the next day. Our schedules have been pushed to the absolute limit, but somehow, everyone has arrived to school music programs on time, no one has been forgotten on a sidewalk somewhere, and we are the closest to being ‘on track’ with our academic goals than any other year.

8A775084-E47F-4FB3-9D6D-A6F818838AB3I am tempted to call it good and close up shop for the summer though. This spring we have had a particularly intense period of high demands on our time, plus family losses, and some sickness. In the middle of it all we took a road trip. {road trip=fun+exhausting} When you have had a year of pushing, those seasons can push you over the edge. The edge of what? I don’t know, the edge of the road you are on?

We have been blazing a trail through unknowns.

Vegas has been a full-time student at our local high school.

Elvis has joined the band at our local middle school. 44F62D10-BAAE-45B2-9505-294D0899DF64

There are FIVE kids to bathe, and launder, and lunch. Five. Plus a house to keep up with. So, you know, we added a few more things. Naturally! Elvis auditioned in to the Metropolitan Youth Symphony as a percussionist for the spring term. He is enjoying it very much, however, it is really challenging. He had two concerts coming up! One is for 5th grade band at the middle school, and one is for MYS. I cannot wait!  America started cello lessons again with a new teacher, which has been good for her, and also very challenging. Who else has a 5-year-old in music lessons? Do they love to practice? Do they listen well to their teacher every lesson? I didn’t think so. Those are learning experiences too, I keep telling myself. The struggles for discipline and respectful/intelligent listening are valuable battles to be fought hard. I believe they will be a benefit to whole life learning.


In the moment-sometimes I doubt myself.

Are we doing too much? Not enough? The wrong things? Do other people have house where everything is sticky?


In more positive news, all stickiness aside, Axel finished his first year of the PYP bass class, playing a wonderful recital, and truly amazing us with his ability to learn a difficult instrument. He listened hard all year, was respectful and hardworking with his teacher, and rose to the challenge of it all. I am excited to see what he does next! We are just renting his bass, but I hope to find him one he can keep soon!

8756AE42-2954-447C-A461-B5533FCADD48Vegas just finished all his state competitions, placing both individually and with his symphonic orchestra through the high school. He will probably be horrified that I posted this screenshot, but what are parents for? I believe one of my primary jobs is to proclaim the wonders of my kids to whoever will listen. Oh, and to embarrass them in the process.

Not really, but I still can’t help it. 45BAEC68-F09F-4AAA-B9A4-75F1307E583E


Vegas is already working on next year’s solo pieces. I don’t think I have ever had to ask him to practice. I am amazed in every way.

Next year the plan is for Vegas to take his academic classes through a community college, and continue to participate in the high school music programs that he is a part of now. This was his first year playing in Jazz Band, and he has really loved it-even though he was doubtful going into it. Thankfully, he can play in both the jazz band and symphony orchestra next year, provided the college classes don’t overlap. The only problem with this plan is that we need to find a good calculus class for him to take over the summer so that he can take the math he wants in the fall. Alright, that isn’t really a problem, more of a good hurdle to overcome. There may be some scheduling hairiness in the fall, but hopefully he can do some of the driving by then!


Through it all, Beatrix has been astonishing us with her letter ‘reading’, recognition, and musical aptitude. She can sing an arpeggio, knows several songs, and loves to dance. I have no idea what she’ll be doing by next year, probably first grade.


This post is titled ‘what margin?’ Because I literally have had no margin all year. The things I mentioned briefly here are not even a drop in the bucket of all the kids have accomplished over the past several months. I finally figured out how to post here without being tied to my computer, which is in the music room, and so consequently unavailable to me if someone is practicing. Being able to post mobile-y will be a big help, and I am planning  to create more space in my schedule for writing, so you won’t spend six months in the dark again.

Our go fund me is still active for this year, which seems silly, because we have all our books, but we do still have ongoing lessons and opportunities that come up. If you are interested in helping out the kids with a lesson or two, or instrument rental/purchase, they would be forever grateful.

Enjoying a few moments of silence before all the kids roll down the stairs,



Looking Back

I had forgotten about this post that I had written a year or so ago, but these images of Meri are always in my mind as she practices her cello. Ever since she was very small, she has wanted to play the ‘violin’. How she played it was fascinating to me. She always held it upright, as if it were a cello. So, for that reason, I have always had it in my head that she would play the cello if she ever played a stringed instrument.

This year she is able to participate in a beginning strings class, and she is fortunate to play the cello every day. I think it is harder for her than she originally thought it would be. Her hands get sore, her arms are tired, she has to learn a whole new language – music – from a teacher who is new to her…but she is doing great.  We are so proud of how hard she works!

Happy that it is Friday today, Shelley

This is the End of the Beginning


Ursa Major, a vintage print that we are using in today’s Art and Science lesson.

Well folks, we have reached the end of our first almost full week of school. When I say almost full, I mean that there are still more classes starting up in the next few weeks, but we made it 5 days in a row THIS week. That is an accomplishment. Vegas is playing in the high school Jazz Band this year, a departure from classical music, but I think he is enjoying it so far. Don’t worry, he has plenty of classical music to play! Jazz Band meets at 0 period, which means we have to leave the house at 6:15am every day. My red bull needs are high right now.

Screen Shot 2017-09-15 at 8.19.02 AM

This week we also had two orchestra classes with Axel and America. They have been playing and learning their new instruments, which has been super fun. I am so excited to hear how they progress over the coming months.  Taking a cello, a bass, a baby, and three kids {plus lunches and books} singlehandedly to class in Oregon City twice a week is a bit of a challenge for me, but we are getting the hang of it. Elvis is a wonderful helper.

Screen Shot 2017-09-15 at 8.18.52 AMSpeaking of Elvis, he starts 5th Grade Band this coming Monday! We rented a ‘bells kit’ for him, since percussion starts on the bells in this particular band. He has been learning scales and how to choreograph his mallets…and all the other kids want to play them. All the time.

This is the last week of a partially full schedule. It is the end of the beginning, even though it has been jumping in the deep end in so many ways, there is still more to come.

Band, bass classes, Jazz Band, possibly more PYP involvement for Vegas, PSATs, and then….Christmas.

For now, I will take comfort in the fact that tomorrow is Saturday, and I can sleep in.

Listening to teaching lectures and drinking old coffee,