Summer and memories

In a few days I will mark 20 years (and half of my life) in the USA. Of course back in June of 2002 when I stepped off the plane in JFK, I had no idea it was about to become my home.

The first impression of the USA I got was of course New York City. Even though I grew up seeing it on TV, I had no idea it was that big. We took a cab from the airport and it took us a while to find a right address for the student program office. Me and my friends spent the night in the dorms on the campus of Columbia university and I will always remember the view of a tree-lined street from our corner window. The street was so quiet for such a big city with only an odd cry of a passerby here and there.

We were pretty exhausted and hungry, because we didn’t eat since we left Moscow the day before and we went to a little convenience store on the corner. My friends got pizza, but I was too tired and too excited for that, so I opted for a large cup of fruit salad. How different it tasted from what I was used to at home! We didn’t have cantaloupes or honey dew melon where I lived, and come to think of it, fruit salads were not a thing at all. I don’t think I could even finish the whole cup then, but nowadays, every time I have a fruit salad, I think about my first American meal.

The one I had then had watermelon and grapes instead of pineapple and blackberries

It will always be a taste of summer for me, and taste of the beginning of something yet unknown, but very exciting. It’s funny how taste can take one back, better than any picture I could have taken (but didn’t). I bite into a cantaloupe and I am back to New York, sitting criss cross on a dorm bed. And I remember this head spinning anticipation of a summer full of adventure (which it was).

11th and 7/8th grade ended.

I want to make this place my memory keeper again. Everyone is on Instagram right now, but I miss all this space for ramblings. I miss slow pace of blogging. I want to write things down somewhere.

Another school year has passed.

Last year around the same time we were on a crossroads about what to do about our school situation. A program we were relying on wasn’t working anymore, we were torn between several options. We ended up biting the bullet and withdrew both kids out of the program.

Here’s how it all turned out:

1) My Junior decided to only take his classes at the community college. It was not cheap even with a stipend from the county. But he appreciated the freedom of choosing his own classes, rather than seeking an approval from the school. He’s still trying to figure out if he wants to work on his Associate degree at the same time with his high school diploma, but in the meantime he’s getting all his High School AND transferable college credits in. He took 6 classes this school year: Japanese 1 and Japanese 2, College writing, College Algebra, Modern American History and College Algebra-based Physics. First semester was a bit of an adjustment, but he managed to finish it with an A and two Bs. He found his rhythm in the second semester and got all As!

He took a PSAT in the fall and SAT in the spring and did well on both. He is planning to take SAT again in the fall just to see if he can improve his score even more, and ACT later in his Senior year.

He produced a podcast and gathered an audience for it, his podcast now is in season 2.

He continued with his choir and karate (for which he got his 1st dan black belt in the fall).

Overall it was a very good year for him. He wasn’t as stressed. As I expected, being in the mixed ages/walks of life group benefited him enormously. He wants to do the same next year.

He has talked to an academic adviser at his college and has to figure out his fall schedule in the next week or so. He’s 3 credits away from fulfilling his minimum graduation requirements for High school. He has no idea yet which colleges he’ll apply to, we are encouraging him to take all the time he needs to feel comfortable about his decision.

2) For my daughter we did a mix of 7 and 8th grades this year. She was mistakenly taken to 2nd grade straight from Kindergarten in our former program, and this lost year was always kind of lost. We both feel that she should not accelerate towards High School. She is my social butterfly and I was worried she would hate being only at home, but she did really well. We started with quite a formal curriculum (Bookshark for language and science, Singapore for math etc.), but towards the end of the 1st semester we shifted to something I can only call “mindful unschooling”. She has taken over her lesson planning and followed through with all her goals. She has asked for math tutor and is now having those extra lessons. She became a wonderful baker, really gifted and meticulous. It’s amazing to see her passion blossom. She got a tour of a professional bakery in one of Denver’s luxury hotels and is now even more empowered to take on more complicated bakes.

In addition to all of the above she also had her choir and karate, and participated in our local homeschool group’s Roots and Shoots projects. We are both ok with her staying home for at least one more school year, but anything can happen of course. After so many years of being more or less in control of the majority of our life, I am forced to learn to let go, trust and go with the flow. It’s not easy at all.

In the midst of everything, life goes on.

It was not an easy spring. A lot of heartache due to the war, having family on both sides of it. Covid finally got us after 2 years, not badly but with lingering side effects…work kept us busy and we are doing our best to keep each other sane. We mine the mundane for small joys, counting our blessings even if the anguish never leaves us completely. I found an absolutely delightful book by Sophie Blackall, it is called “Things to Look Forward To” , it proved to be such a comfort, and I will be keeping it on my bedside for a while.

Summer holidays are officially here. It’s hard to believe that next school year our son will be Senior and on his way out into the wide world. I want to hold on to every moment we have with him.

As always commitments pile up – a choir tour, festivals, but I hope we can find pockets of time to just be.

10th and 7th grades ending soon

May is here, and not many weeks are left in the school year. This was a very difficult year for all of us, and not just for the obvious reason of there being a pandemic and everything being upside down for everyone on this planet.

The storm is passing over…

For us it was also because my eldest had switched to the full time program with the school my kids attended for many years for homeschool supplement. It is a hybrid program with rigorous homework expectations and 2 days a week classroom meetings. Nothing new really for him as he has taken many difficult classes there, he is an overachiever and likes to learn, and yet…

Without getting into too many details, I can say it was not the best fit for him. He comes out on the other side an overworked, extremely anxious and burnt out kid.

Now we must figure out what to do in the next school year.


A teenager that is burnt out and sleep deprived, extremely discouraged, will not have the best of grades finishing the school year and that is ok for me (not for him, he has been A+ student all 10 years). He passed Accuplacer test for local community college with flying colors and is accepted to attend. He wants to learn and wants to be good in what he’s learning. He is on track to graduate per county requirements even if he does NOTHING AT ALL next year.

Things he misses the most about homeschooling: 1. Time in Nature 2. Sleep 3. Time to read.

The choices:

Option A:

Current arrangement he has with his school for the next year:

He’s back to school for 3 subjects. 2 more subjects per semester are taken in a community college through school’s concurrent enrollment program

Pros: He receives school issued diploma (college classes are counted as 1 semester=1 year).

Cons: 2 of the classes to be taken in school he does not care about much. The remaining one he likes and wants to take it with this teacher. Parents can’t pay for additional college classes. Anything he learns at home doesn’t matter for his transcript. No time left for anything besides two extracurriculars between college and school homework.

Now to what we can choose instead:

Option B

Revert back to homeschool status, staying with current school.

He takes that 1 class he really cares about with school, 1 class in college through school program. Total 3 classes from them, the rest at home. It is not clear if we are allowed to pay for extra college classes ourselves, we need to find that out. He receives 2+ separate transcripts and I issue the HS diploma.

Pros: He takes the majority of his classes at home at his pace, more control over his time, more freedom, he can still borrow textbooks for other subjects from school. School pays for 2 of his college classes.

Cons: If school prohibits us paying for extra college classes ourselves, it can be a problem. He can’t go back to full time with that school. No reason to think he can’t do it with another one though. We don’t really consider public school at this time, but who knows.

Option C

We pivot to full time homeschooling.

If he wants to pursue his associate degree at the same time, or just collect transferrable credits for university, he can. If he doesn’t want to go to college this coming grade, he can. He can work. He can do whatever he wants.

Pros: Freedom!

Cons: Can’t borrow textbooks from the school. None of his college classes will be paid for by school program.

We have to make the decision pretty soon. It may look like a no brainer but there are nuances in each of the two options. So far we have talked about what he really wants his life to look like (more time outside, more time to explore his interests, more freedom of movement instead of hopping from activity to activity in the car…), time to read, time to just be…these are all valid.

For my youngest I am considering withdrawing her from the program completely for many reasons, but we haven’t made any decisions yet.

Postcards of Summer 2020

School year starts tomorrow and Summer 2020 is coming to a close for us.

There is no doubt 2020 is the year of confusion, fear and doubt and many face challenges that they don’t know how to deal with.

For our family, all the anxiety about work and schooling aside, was one full of wonderful memories and new discoveries.


My husband being on furlough with one of his employers and on shorter hours with another, despite the financial anxiety, turned out to be the best thing that happened for our family, as he was finally able to spend more time with us and de-stress in the nature. We all realized how wound up we were and how much stress we were carrying inside.

We were on a stricter budget, and due to everything being closed it was easy enough to maintain.

Our choice destinations were open spaces, state parks and, for the first time ever- camping.

Here is what we did this summer:

  1. Mt. Falcon Park


easy and moderate trails, incredible vistas

2. Staunton State Park, this is one of our absolute favorites to visit, it has both easier and harder trails, we love spending time by the creek, but this year we also strolled on the meadow trails.



3. Maxwell Falls trail. We parked on the lower trailhead and it took us well over 1,5 hours of intense hiking to get to the falls, which were beautiful and refreshing. It is a very busy trail and a popular local spot.Many thanks to my lovely friend Natalia at Raising Gen Eco for recommendation.



5. Roxborough State Park, another favorite of many many years. It’s very close to our house and its stunning beauty never fails to amaze us.



6. Genessee Park, lovely overlook for the bison herd and nearby mountains.


7. Deer Creek Trailhead in Bailey, CO. We chose that trail randomly, just to see if there’s something new to us and not too far away from our house. We were amazed by the beauty, lovely little waterfalls and pleasant hike.


8. Grand Lake, Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Lake Grandby. A lovely day trip that we had back in July.  We didn’t have any plans and just enjoyed time by the water.


9. Golden Gate Canyon State Park, another beautiful spot that we haven’t been to in a while. It was a funny day as we chose a trail that was mislabeled as moderate on the trail app and ended up being actually the hardest, and involved climbing over boulders. But the views were absolutely worth it.


10. Shrine Mountain Pass was one of the most beautiful places we visited this summer, incredible abundance of wildflowers, gorgeous views. A little challenging with the elevation.


11. One of our most favorite spots this summer was a little swimming hole near Lair O’ the Bear park. Kids loved the little pool of water and the stream.


12. The crown of our summer is no doubt three days we spent on Lake Grandby at Arapahoe Bay Roaring Fork campground. It was our very first time camping and we didn’t know what to expect and ended up having a wonderful time.



13. As a final hooray for the Summer 2020 was a boat excursion on Chatfield Lake with my husband’s friend from work. The sunset on the water is the whole different level of happiness.



Now we are ready to start our school year. It will be most interesting with D. being a sophomore, and taking all of his classes except Russian at our program. It’s strange not to be his main educator anymore. C. is going into 7th grade and is taking cores at the program with my extended support. Here’s to a good school year!


Our Bookshelf: Sleepy time books

My children are getting older now, the oldest is now in his last year of middle school, and the youngest in her last elementary grade, however we all still enjoy a good picture book. I, as an illustrator, especially relish them.

Over the years we collected some favoritesthat were a part of our bedtime ritual for many years. A couple of new ones joined the “sleepytime pile” lately. I want to share them today.

Sleepytime books

  1. The Man in the Moon by William Joyce– beautiful story, stunning artwork, this one is one of the longer books we have. Children always adored it and moved on to The Guardians of the Childhood series when they got older.
  2. When the Sky is Like Lace by Elinor Lander Horwitz and illustrated by Barbara Cooney, this book is absolutely magical, calm blues and grays and sandy yellows of whimsical illustrations always left an impression. We still are on the lookout for lacy sky and quote this book when it is.
  3. If Your Monster Won’t Go to Bed by Denise Vega, illustrated by Zachariah Ohora- this is the latest addition to our collection. It’s a playful and hilarious recipe for putting a monster to bed. It is not so much of a calming book, but definitely a favorite already.
  4. Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski– this is an absolutely brilliant book, especially for reluctant sleepers, illustrations are magical with delightful textures and details.
  5. Once upon a cloud by Claire Keane– this is not so much of a direct sleepytime book, but sweet color palette and calm dream-like text is a winning combination for a bedtime read
  6. Grandfather Twilight by Barbara Berger is another classic and is a huge favorite we followed the process of winding down and welcoming a good night’s rest along with Grandfather Twilight and his companions.
  7. A Poem for Every Night of the Year edited by Allie Esiri is a delightful collection the older kids would appreciate, we so enjoy completing our day with a poem and maybe even a short discussion.
  8. I Don’t Want to Go to Bed by Astrid Lindgren and illustrated by Ilon Wikland, this book is another longer read as we follow a little boy that doesn’t want to go to bed but has a chance to peek at  forest animals’ getting ready for bed through the neighbor lady’s magical glasses. Illustrations are absolutely adorable.
  9. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star by Jerry Pinkney– this is one of the most gorgeous books that we own. Little chipmunk has an adventure and finally settles in for the night.




Goodbye Summer- Hello New School Year!

We are saying goodbye to another summer. Last summer of my son’s tweens, as he’s turning 13 tomorrow. Last school year was incredibly busy, and quite stressful for us with intense extra curricular activities. But the summer was sweet (but short).
We hiked,played with friends and visited new places in our state. We made lovely memories.




Colorado National Monument



Rocky Mountain National Park


Golden Gate Canyon State Park

This week we have started school at home and at the homeschool program my kids attended for many years now. D. started grade 8 and C. started grade 5.

This school year at home will be different for us as D. will take all of his core subjects at the program and I will support and supplement at home, which is completely new, as it used to be the other way around. He wanted to take Algebra and Physical Science and I wanted to make sure that he gets the best possible instruction. I don’t mind these, but they are not my favorites. He also takes English there, US History and STEAM. His classes are twice a week.

C. still goes once a week to the program taking English, Colorado History, Science and Coding there, most of her school is done at home.

Both kids continue to sing with Young Voices of Colorado, D. is now in advanced male choir and considers Music Theory Exam in the end of the school year. C. is in second level of training choirs.

Both are still doing karate with D. being a junior black belt and C.- solid green.

At home my goal for this year is taking a calm approach (1st week was a failure in that term) . We are trying out Book Shark Curriculum for Language Arts and Science/History. Singapore math for C., D. is doing Saxon for the first time in the program (we used to do Singapore with him). We continue doing our Russian lessons, and D. is taking Spanish in addition to that. He is very excited.

My plate is full with my illustration work  and the commitments I made for volunteering at children’s choir.

It will be a very very busy year. I do miss the early grades and the lovely slow days we had.  But I also welcome the challenge of having a full schedule and measure our time to do both work and play. I hope we can spend enough time in nature, will have more read-alouds as a family.


Here’s to 2018-2019 school year, out 10th year of homeschooling.

BOOK REVIEW: The Little French Bistro by Nina George

I loved Nina George‘s previous The Little Paris Bookshop very much, so naturally I was excited for The Little Paris Bistro that just came out. George has a wonderful talent of creating an atmosphere that is almost magical, bringing reader into the heart of the story and location where it takes place.


The Little French Bistro is a story of a German housewife Marianne, who decides to end her life after 40 years of  unhappy marriage . Her attempt is unsuccessful and she is finding it is still possible to be happy through a series of magical coincidences. The author’s gift of storytelling brings life to a Breton village where Marianne finds herself and a chance to start over.

I was mesmerized by the story and writing alike. George joins the rank of my favorite authors, her stories are always warm and hope inspiring. I will definitely recommend this book to anyone who needs a sweet and charming page turner, I am sure I will revisit this book again one day.


I received this book via Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

BOOK REVIEW: Everyday Watercolor by Jenna Rainey

Watercolor is such a tricky medium to work with, but also so rewording. It takes a while to figure it out and a right instruction is invaluable. The new book by illustrator Jenna Rainey  –Everyday Watercolor is an excellent starter or a refresh course for anyone who wants to paint with watercolor.


The book is literally meant to be used every day, with lessons for 31 days of the month. It provides material for a consistent practice, introducing new skill every single day. Each activity builds on the previous one. The book starts with introduction and continues on to week 1 – Technique, where we learn how to handle watercolor , select colors and getting a feel of the brush. Week 2 is Form, Perspective and Light, followed by Complex Shapes in section 3. Value, volume and depth as well as application are discussed in Sections 4 and 5. Each day has an exercise that includes detailed steps and palettes for the proposed work. The book is very easy to follow and gradual buildup of skills helps with confidence.

I absolutely recommend this book to anyone who always wanted to try watercolor, but was afraid to do it. I definitely recommend it as a fun daily practice or a refresher course too. 5 stars.

I received this book via in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

BOOK REVIEW: Color Index XL by Jim Krause

What can be handier for traditional or digital artist than a set palette. I myself found limited palette exercises incredibly helpful both while working digitally and with traditional media.  Color Index XL– the new book by author and graphic designer Jim Krause is an invaluable source of just that- a collection of over 1000 color palettes.


The book begins with a quick introduction into color theory and proceeds to list the palettes. The book doesn’t require any specific method to use the palettes, but they are grouped into three sections (of about 360 some combinations). First section deals with warmer palettes that lean toward warm colors (orange, red and yellow), second section is all about color combinations with a variety of hues, and the third section is dedicated to combinations of cooler hues. Each color palette includes 5 colors and both RGB and CMYK formulae are provided.  Each page includes dark, light, muted and bright version. See a quick flip through on my instagram

This book is incredibly handy resource for anyone working with colors, I am deeply appreciative of all the hard work that went into it and will surely refer to this book on a daily basis. 5 stars and a must have.


I received this book vial Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Book Review: What We See in the Stars by Kelsey Oseid

Beautiful books are my weakness, space books too. These two weaknesses of mine are perfectly combined in a new book by Kelsey Oseid    –“What We See in the Stars: An illustrated tour of the night  sky”. Kelsey is an American illustrator and amateur naturalist.  The book talks about the space and is breathtakingly beautiful.

The book is split into a few sections-  the one talking about the Constellations by far is the largest. I love how the author talked about origins of Constellations names. The facts about the Milky Way, the moon, the sun, the planets and other celestial bodies follow. The artwork throughout the book is stunning.

Overall impression: 5 stars for beautifully presented facts on space. My children can’t put the book down, it definitely became a treasured past of our home library.

I received this book via in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.