CNC Mill for 8th-Grade Project

Couldn't be prouder of my son!

I have to take a moment to say I’m so proud of my amazing son. Lucas had a huge win earlier this month way back in December when he presented his eighth-grade project to his classmates, family, and our school community. He spent five months of 2015 fabricating a CNC mill, with two of our dearest friends, Thomas and Jeff, as mentors. He wrote a big paper, made a working milling machine, learned about electricity, circuits, and Arduinos, learned how to write G-code, and presented his 10-minute speech and his machine on December 3.

CNC machine moves in three axes!

A very happy moment in the 8th-grade project! Three axes move on the CNC machine!

This project was hard work. It required perseverance and investigation into lots of new territory for Lucas. During the course of this project Lucas and his mentors did something really amazing and unlike anything he had ever done before, but they also suffered delays and setbacks, and occasional back-to-the-drawing-board moments. What a gift it is to learn about failure with someone who will help you pick up the pieces, emphasize what you learned from the mistakes, and then begin again on a better path with you! It’s priceless!

They worked nearly every Tuesday evening for five months. Lucas had approximately 80 hours invested in this project. Furthermore, they had a great time doing it.

CNC mill demo, 8th-grade project presentation, Sacramento Waldorf School #waldorf #sacramentowaldorfschool

His paper deftly explained some pretty technical stuff, and his speech quickly walked his audience through what Computer Numeric Controlled machines are, how they work, and how he and his mentors made the machine. Then, for a grand finale, he turned it on and it cut a picture stand out of foam core, which was decided upon because the tool could accomplish the job in under two minutes. If they had demonstrated the CNC mill with a more complicated project, or with a denser material, it would have taken too long for his allotted speaking time. With flourish, he punched the picture stand out of the foam core, creased it along the center line, stood it up, and then placed upon it a wooden sign engraved (by the CNC mill) with “Questions?” The applause was wild and he beamed. I wish I had a good shot of that moment.

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Lucas got an A+ on his eighth-grade project. It was so wonderful to see his hard work rewarded! The best part perhaps is that he is still so interested in the project that he and his mentors continue to work on it, refining it, refining it. Recently Lucas learned how to solder. He’s expressed an interest in learning to code, and that’s terrific.

Over the four nights the eighth graders presented, we heard about so many wonderful topics: fly fishing, competitive road racing, cosmetology and hair cutting and styling, drones, a diesel ’68 school bus converted to run on vegetable oil, wood duck nests and conservation efforts on the Pacific Flyway, the effects of sleep deprivation on a young teen, rowing and crew, drumming, music therapy, natural horsemanship and horse training, building a computer, and many more. I’m so very impressed with these young people, and so grateful that their first major research project and paper was on topics of their own choosing, which I believe made the whole experience as reinforcing as possible.


May Day Music


On May 3, our Waldorf school celebrated May Day. It was a perfect day. Not to hot, not overcast and cool. The community turned out to celebrate the turning seasons, schoolwork in full blossom, and the soon-to-graduate eighth-grade class. It was marvelous and inspiring, as it is every year.


(Photo by Melissa Sam Rainsford)

This year, our second graders had a part to play. They played a song on their flutes and sang, standing all in a large ring around the may pole. They were the prelude to the eighth-grade may dancers. My sweet Asher has learned to play the pentatonic flute!

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I’ve said this before, but these children are breathtakingly beautiful to me.


(Photo by Melissa Sam Rainsford)


(Photo by Melissa Sam Rainsford)


Second graders

They played and sang beautifully with movements to go with their songs. I’m so proud of them. You can tell some are very happy to be performing, and others hang back a bit, a little shy to be in the spotlight with the school community watching them. They are growing so fast.


(Photo by Melissa Sam Rainsford)

Honestly, I cannot get enough of this gap-tastic smile Asher has right now. It slays me every time he flashes it. I kind of hope his new tooth never comes in.

My littlest love at May Day

I love a boy with flowers in his hair.


The seventh grade played the music for the eighth-grade may dancers. Most were on soprano, alto, or tenor recorders, with one boy on tambourine and another teacher accompanying them on guitar. Lucas was fond of saying they had to play the same difficult, quick song 86 times. I try to remind Lucas that he can do all kinds of things I never learned to do. (My son plays piano, flute, recorder, and violin!) These kids are more impressive with each passing month. Next year, it will be their turn to don white clothes and flower crowns and dance! Be still my heart!

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Alas, I had a major camera failure and didn’t get any pictures of the beautiful dancers this year. Something is wrong with my Canon, either in the battery charging process or else the camera is draining the battery rapidly. I suspect that perhaps it’s not really off when I flip the switch to turn the camera off. I need to take it to a shop to be cleaned, checked, and repaired, but that will have to wait. (I daydream often about getting a new, better camera.) My trusty phone ran out of available space too, so, these are the shots I got. C’est la vie!

Much love to these musicians of all ages, to the dancers, to their parents, and the school community, who together support this amazing festival every year. It fills me up and makes me hopeful and happy every time I see it.

Lime Kiln as 7th-Grade Chemistry

We said goodbye to Lucas this morning. He went off to school and won’t return from there until Wednesday evening. His class is in the middle of a chemistry block, and they are staying overnight on the farm to build and mind a lime kiln.

Yes, we totally had to look up “lime kiln.” Thank you, Wikipedia:

“A lime kiln is used to produce quicklime through the calcination of limestone (calcium carbonate). The chemical equation for this reaction is

CaCO3 + heat → CaO + CO2”

The experience is a recreation of lime plaster, as produced through a series of chemical transformations, known today as the lime cycle. Lime plaster has been used by humans a building material since 5000 BCE.

Lime Cycle diagram by Peter Bell

Lime Cycle diagram by Peter Bell

“Calcium oxide (CaO), commonly known as quicklime or burnt lime, is a widely used chemical compount. It is a white, caustic, alkaline, crystalline solid at room temperature. The broadly used term “lime” connotes calcium-containing inorganic materials, in which carbonates, oxides and hydroxides of calcium, silicon, magnesium, aluminium, and iron predominate. By contrast, “quicklime” specifically applies to the single chemical compound calcium oxide. Calcium oxide which survives processing without reacting in building products such as cement is called free lime.

Quicklime is relatively inexpensive. Both it and a chemical derivative (calcium hydroxide, of which quicklime is the base anhydride) are important commodity chemicals.”

The teacher informed us, “Today’s children have little opportunity to observe actual industrial processes. Almost everything comes magically ready-made and packaged. Nevertheless, the lime cycle studied in 7th Grade chemistry offers an opportunity for the students not only to observe an important industrial process, but to build and fire a kiln used in the process.”

So. SCIENCE! Chemistry. Construction. Fire. Campout at school. Social Arts. Collaboration. 28 seventh graders and three teachers tending a fire through the night in November. Plus a large support staff of parents. I am still amazed at the lengths to which these people will go to give our children a hands-on learning experience.

Now, Lucas is unenthusiastic about this experience. (The current phase of seventh grade seems to involve a lot less enthusiasm for everything. And lots of sighing and rolling of eyes.) He knows it will be cold and hard. He knows he will finish school on Wednesday and have to go straight into the first basketball practice of the season. He knows he will be tired. He won’t be home until dinnertime.

I know he’ll never forget it.


Boating Joy


Yesterday we had a rare and glorious opportunity to go out with Kathy and Nicole on Kathy’s pontoon boat on Folsom Lake. We had to squeeze it in between caring for other kids overnight and my work’s hot-and-heavy deadlines. We were on the water for two blissful hours. This was Asher’s first time on a boat and the law is that kids under 12 have to wear life vests. We called the vests “Boat Armor”; it seemed to help illustrate their purpose. They are a little uncomfortable. Swimming in one was a new experience too!


Maybe this is just me, but I doubt it: Sometimes you’re in a rut, and your thoughts and feelings get stuck in the same looping track. It can feel really hopeless, going around in circles. Then you say yes to something completely out of the ordinary—just one little yes. It busts open the track and you can zoom out and on your way.

I feel like this experience was just that for me. I said yes to this little opportunity, despite the reasons to say no, and we what we got out of it was special and joyful.

I am trying to hold on to this.

Perfect outing!

Here are my handsome devils. I suppose, they really are growing up—a little more every day.


Folsom Lake is quite low right now. It’s mid-August and the surrounding hills are yellow and brown; the oaks look twisted and dark. Everything everywhere looks hot.


Except for this beautiful water. (Oh that smile!)

Lucas's first opportunity to drive a boat!

And this is how our perfect outing ended, with Captain Lucas piloting us back to the boat launch at 2 p.m. so that we could get back to the real world and our real responsibilities. (Oh, it was so hard to leave!) This was his first opportunity to drive and Kathy said he did great! As I was lying in the sun on the back deck, relaxing with my shades on and my legs gripping my little guy like seatbelts, I didn’t watch this happen. I just closed my eyes and trusted.

Because sometimes boys need their mamas not to watch; to say yes and just trust.




Still Painting

Not sure what else to do... maybe if I mull it over a while I'll have a breakthrough moment.

Well, I managed to paint a painting in July. I wish I could carve out more time for this. I SHOULD carve out more time for this. But then again, I SHOULDN’T let painting—which I LOVE—become another Should in my life. Tricky balance there, see?


OK, anyway, I took this photo (above) of Wrights Lake in the El Dorado National Forest and I liked its simplicity and shapes. I liked its colors, too, and I thought it might translate nicely into a painting. You know, if I could paint it. So I tried.

It's coming along. Think I've corrected a couple of problems. I think I see some more.

This top photo is where it was after a couple of hours. I’ve put these phone snapshots into this post even though they are not good pics because I like to be able to see where I started and how the painting moved forward. Each stroke changes the whole. Each decision takes you farther along in the painting. I am usually making these decisions with my gut, and less with my head. But my head really wants to know WHY I’m deciding what I’m deciding as I paint. (I SHOULD go back to class.) I hope that I am improving the painting as I work on it. But sometimes I am not too sure.

I still struggle with putting in too many lights too early. I still struggle with translating a photo into a painting; I don’t really want the painting to be photorealistic but I do very much want what I’m painting to be recognizable, to look real. You might say that I don’t trust my ability to render my subject. I’m still learning about how light works and moves, so I try to replicate what I see faithfully. I don’t know if I know enough to invent. I want to learn to let the painting be my interpretation, to be my expression of a scene or a mood. I want to learn to use the paint to communicate emotion and not just “I was here.”


So. Here is where my painting stands now. I’m calling it finished. I signed it. I like certain things about it; parts of the water are working, I think. I dislike other things. All those qualities I want my paintings to have—well, I have to keep painting to get there.


And if I want to keep learning and getting better, I have to get this one off my easel so I can start something else.

Making art is hard.

Making art is scary.

Keep making art.


Zoo Day

Sacramento zoo

Yesterday we spent a little time at the Sacramento Zoo. We haven’t been in a while and I think the last few times the kids were there, they were with either just Ian or with their grandparents. It was a lovely hot day and we were grateful for all the beautiful shade. The zoo really is nice now—much more beautiful and comfortable for the animals than it used to be 30+ years ago when I was a child.

My monkeys and some chimps


The giraffe enclosure and viewing platform is really top-notch.


Improbable zebras

What can I say? I love the zebras.

I enjoyed the hornbills and the white handed gibbons. The snow leopard looked uncomfortably hot. I was sad to learn that the daddy tiger Castro has cancer and is undergoing treatment. The baby tiger that was born at the zoo earlier this year still has not made his debut to the public.

Spider and fly

Here is Spider Lucas attacking Asher Fly.

Zoo day with my fellas

The boys enjoyed the reptile house. Asher was delighted to see tree frogs and snakes with skin his favorite color—chartreuse!

We were all kind of enchanted by the burrowing owl, who had a mouse that he was snacking on and then hiding, then snacking on some more.

Frog on toadstool

My wee froggy on a toadstool.

Kissing cousins

I have some ambivalent feelings about zoos, in general. I think that personal encounters with wild creatures and nature is the only thing that can make a person really care about conservation and environmental protection. At 11, Lucas is now able to see some of the injustices in the world, take them in and form opinions, and react. It’s good to give him experiences like this, instead of me just telling him that people destroy ecosystems and wildlife.

We renewed our zoo membership. I hope to take the kids a few more times this year. Maybe we can meet friends there this summer for a day of hanging out. I am working hard on my list of things to do this summer, as school lets out this coming Friday!

Waldorf Homeschool Expo Giveaway


Expo Logo 250x175

I think it’s time for a giveaway, don’t you? Would you like to get some support in your Waldorf-inspired home or homeschool? Check out the Global Waldorf Expo website to learn how you can register to participate in this free online conference.

I’ve had the pleasure of listening to many Waldorf teachers and craftspeople in previous Expos, and I highly recommend it! This year’s lineup includes Rainbow Rosenbloom, Kristie Burns, Jennifer Tan, Janet Alison, Marsha Johnson, Reg Down, Sally Fallon Morell, and Eileen Straiton—just to name some of the presenters.

Here’s a bit from Donna Ashton, the Expo’s creator:

Join 14 of the Top Teachers & Experts in Waldorf Homeschooling for this No Cost Virtual Online Event presented by The Waldorf Connection.

Presenting: the 4th Global Waldorf  Homeschool Expo, an online conference to be held May 17th through May 19.

We are bringing the information to YOU and giving you a “backstage” pass to the world of WaldorfWe have chosen speakers who are thought leaders on the front lines of this movement that will teach you their techniques and inspire you.  These visionaries are here to help expand your thinking, deepen your perspective, with more ease and fun!

For FREE access to practical tips and inspiration, register today.

All who are registered receive a free mp3 recording of “Bringing Music to Your Day” by Waldorf teacher Anne Cleveland.

Here’s the link for more information and to register:

I’m delighted to host generous giveaway from Donna. The giveaway will be the Expo Option 1 package, which includes audio mp3 downloads and Call Highlights on PDF. To enter to win, please “Like” the Love in the Suburbs Facebook page and then leave a comment on this blog post! Spread the word! I’ll be choosing a winner on Monday, May 20, 2013.
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Fifth Grade Botany: Learning Outdoors


Back in the fall, Lucas’s fifth grade class at Waldorf school started a main lesson block on botany. They have revisited the subject since then and are enjoying another botany block now, but I just rediscovered these photos that Lucas took on a field trip to Big Trees State Park in Calaveras county.


They rode with parent chauffeurs the three-hour trip to Calaveras county. I think they stopped for a picnic lunch on the way.


This state park is one of the few giant old-growth redwood groves left. The trees are so big they don’t fit in the frame, and these are the little ones. These photos are some of the best shots that Lucas took with an old digital camera of mine that hadn’t worked in years. For some miraculous reason, it decided to operate for this trip. (It hasn’t worked since then, though. Go figure!)


Forest dogwood burning in the autumn light.



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It’s interesting to me to see what Lucas photographed. There are lots of too-blurry images and goofy pics of friends clowning around, of course. They spent some time in the visitors’ center as well as on the trail, listening to a tour guide tell them about the giant redwoods, and how the forest was exploited by loggers before it became protected.




I’m so grateful he has amazing learning opportunities like these.


In his current block he’s studying conifers and monocotyledon and dicotyledon plants. (These whopper words are on his spelling list for the week, along with cruciferous, anemophilous, sulphur, and taproot!) Last week his fifth-grade class visited the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory and looked at a huge collection of plants,  including carnivorous plants, cacti, tropical vines and their many pollinators. I’m told it was a wonderful field trip. At school they have the adjacent woods to explore and study, and the school farm and orchard as their classrooms.

I may have to pop in to see Lucas’s botany main lesson book. I’m totally curious.

Visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium


Last weekend we got to visit one of my favorite places on earth, the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We were invited to stay with Ian’s brother Danny in Capitola for the weekend and we jumped at the chance. Saturday, bright and early, we drove down to Monterey to show the kids the aquarium. If you’ve never been there, you really must put this place on your bucket list—especially if you never intend to become a certified scuba diver. After you see it and the glorious sea life it holds, you might just change your mind about that.


This was Asher’s first visit to the aquarium. Lucas was here once before, when he was three.

A Sense of Wonder

This time, both kids were into it.


The exhibits are outstanding, well lighted, and beautiful. There’s lots of wonderful interactive things for the kids to do, including a wall-size touch screen that taught us about plankton. It looked like something out of a sci-fi movie.


There are nooks and crannies where only children can go, like into a little cavelike space, where Asher was on the other side of a tank.


The places to touch creatures and feel their various textures are a delight. This time, none of the rays came close enough to touch. They may have gotten wise to all the eager hands.


We learned about the habitats that are created when human beings build at the water’s edge. We learned about the deep ocean fish, their endangered status, and got a card to show us what seafood to avoid and what seafood to buy because it’s sustainably raised or sustainably caught. I’m afraid the “good” list is shrinking. Our pocket guide list is specific to the west coast, but you can visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium website for a seafood watch pocket guide or app. They even have a substitutions list, in case your favorite recipes call for seafood that is on the “avoid” list. Since we got home, I’ve spent some time watching their webcam at the Outer Bay exhibit. It’s fun to see the turtles swimming past the camera.


The aquarium rescues sea birds and rehabilitates them for a lovely Sandy Shore and Aviary exhibit. This is a snowy plover.


Man, I miss diving!


A highlight for me this trip was seeing this Giant Pacific Octopus change from red to pale white when he moved over to the white wall. I’ve held small octopuses in my hands before on dives, but never anything this large. This fellow is magnificent!


My favorite by far are the jellies. (These are sea nettles.) Lovely spacy music plays in this exhibit and you can watch these creatures gently float around—I feel I could watch for hours, if little hands didn’t pull me away to the next amazing sight. The only thing I regret is missing the sea horses exhibit. I don’t know how we did that! The sea otters exhibit is temporarily closed, but we got to see some wild otters floating in the bay!

I’ve restrained myself to sharing only these few photos. It was tough to do because I truly love this place and I think it is the best, most educational zoo/aquarium I’ve ever been to. It sings to me in the way the kelp sways to and fro with the currents, in the way that the touch pools offer learning experiences that few people will ever get in the wild, and in the way that the public is gently encouraged to care about our oceans and the life within them.

It was a wonderful day. We rounded it out with Mediterranean lunch and a wander through the older part of Monterey. We went home and Ian cooked us a delicious dinner.

I’m so grateful to Danny and his family for letting us visit. It was such a treat!

Painting Is Wonderful

Magnolias Oil Painting

It’s been a little while since I posted about my experience of learning to paint with oils. I’m finishing my third set of studio classes now.

This is my biggest painting yet—a 16 by 20 canvas. I used my photograph of my neighbor’s magnolia blossoms as a reference. I am very pleased with how this came out. I tried to paint quickly and with emotion. I allowed the underpainting to show through for the first time in the hopes that it would lend a dreamy kind of atmosphere. I see a couple of things about this that I would like to fix, but I think it’s basically done. I think I’ll even sign this one.

Magnolia Painting in Studio

I’m really enjoying my teacher, Randy Blasquez, and my classmates. I’ve now been coming to class long enough that I’m getting to know other painters and see and learn from their processes, too. Everyone is different. Everyone struggles with different aspects of painting. Each subject we attempt has its own challenges. I love tackling new things, and I feel I’m learning with each painting I do.

Painting at Home

I’ve done a very little bit of work at home, which was very fun. My new easel, whom I named Anaïs, and my new “French Mistress,” whom I named Genevieve, are working out really well. Genevieve is a wood palette box that holds my glass palette and keeps paint from getting everywhere. These gizmos are beautiful and functional. I waited about six months before investing in these items. I think I had to prove to myself that this painting this wasn’t a fly-by-night whim.

Damaged Painting

This is a shot of my slightly damaged painting I did in class back in February. Some “helper” seems to have dragged a little finger from the dark center of the poppy down into the pot and the blue of the tablecloth. I’ve managed to take out most of the line with some very careful scrubbing, but I still have to repaint part of the poppy. I like this painting, too. I like the shadows especially. While working on this painting I was consciously trying to use more paint. That probably sounds funny, but I have a tendency to be conservative—oils are pricey. I wanted this painting to have more flow and texture.

Last Friday I got to go to a plein air workshop. It was my first experience painting landscapes outside. I’ll write about that another time. For now, I’ll say it was amazing and fun—and full of new challenges.


  • About Sara

    Thanks for visiting! I’m Sara, editor and writer, wife to Ian, and mother of two precious boys. I am living each day to the fullest and with as much grace, creativity, and patience as I can muster. This is where I write about living, loving, and engaging fully in family life and the world around me. I let my hair down here. I learn new skills here. I strive to be a better human being here. And I tell the truth.

    Our children attend Waldorf school and we are enriching our home and family life with plenty of Waldorf-inspired festivals, crafts, and stories.

    © 2003–2018 Please do not use my photographs or text without my permission.

    “Love doesn’t just sit there like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new.” —Ursula K. LeGuinn

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