Thursday, October 24, 2013

5 Ways Being a Runner Will Help You in the Zombie Apocalypse

All of you runners out there, I think you're going to have a pretty good chance when the zombie crisis arrives. Here are my top 5 reasons why:

1. Injuries

Anyone who has run for a length of time can attest to the fact that runners often continue running on minor troubles, twitches, aches, pains, ailments, and injuries. This will help them carry on when their zombie-bitten ankle has to be amputated.

2. Grossness Tolerance

Maybe the less said about this the better, but any experienced competitive runner knows that, when you're pushing your body to the limits, gross bodily things can happen. In the middle of races. And you don't stop.

You don't stare, either, when it happens to someone else. It's part of running life, in the long distances. Time is not wasted on shock or horror.

This will obviously come in handy amidst the gore and grime of a postapocalyptic society. You will remain alert while other poor sods are shell-shocked.

3. Endurance

This one falls in the "duh" category. But when the zombies show up, it will definitely come in handy to feel no fatigue after a mile or two of steady running (away). The highway traffic pile-ups and lack of gasoline won't really bother you. 40 miles to Atlanta? That's only slightly more than two days' worth of long runs.

4. The Smell

Mayhem is going to smell bad. Rotting is going to smell bad.

No big deal. Have you smelled your favorite running shoes lately? Yeah, that's a good approximation. You can even practice for the apocalypse. Put your face near your shoes (best if it's after a particularly rainy run) and breathe deeply, once a week or so.

5. Food Storage

In your pantry, you may have stocked an assortment of energy foods and drinks. Chances are, you have at least one once-upon-a-trend substance that now sits on a shelf, unused. Protein powder? Gu? Gatorade in a powder or liquid form? Whey? Chia seeds? Hey, super good news! You can use all of those up when the food runs out! They're pretty much nonperishable and they will give you zombie-outlasting energy.

If you have not taken up running yet, you might want to consider...

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Doctor's Running Advice

Here I am doing something which is most definitely NOT one of my hobbies. I decorate cakes out of necessity only; if a doctor ever told me to give up cake decorating, I would not miss a thing.

Three years ago, my son and I were in a car accident. It was raining, and a car to our left inexplicably skidded across in front of us. I couldn't think quickly enough to avoid it; in fact, in my shock, I went the absolute wrong way and we collided at about 60 mph.

The nightmare came about 10 to 20 seconds after impact. It took that long to figure out what had happened. Then I called my son's name. Those seconds between deciding to call his name and hearing his answer were the nightmare.

Luckily, he was fine. We got checked out at the hospital and he was fine other than a couple scratches. I had something along the lines of bleeding rug burn across my chest and a swelling knee, but was otherwise okay.

That was all great, except for the minor driving phobia I acquired. I almost couldn't stand it when I had to drive my children to school in the rain. Gradually, I got over the phobia part, but I still slow way down in the rain and try not to drive in bad weather unless it's absolutely necessary. Actually, I also try to avoid heavy hours of traffic. I have the luxury of being able to do so, for the most part, because we homeschool.

As kind of a sidenote, I went to a doctor to get my knee checked out. It hurt sometimes, and had a small swollen place underneath. She advised me to stop running until I didn't feel pain at all.

For various reasons, I stopped running for about a year. Whenever I tried slowly starting back up again, I would feel my knee, and I would stop. After a while, I gave up her advice as useless and ran when I could. Other family obligations came first, though, so I didn't get into really good shape.

Now I am ramping up my mileage, slowly. I'm definitely challenging myself more than I have in many, many years. Guess what feels stronger? My knee.

By the way, in the heavily researched Lore of Running, Dr. Tim Noakes says runners should always go to a doctor who runs himself or herself.

Each injury is or can be different from each other injury, and many factors play into its healing and the advice a doctor would give. If something different had happened to my knee, I might have had a different outcome. The jury is still not out. Maybe, in future, I will regret running on it again.

But I doubt it.

(Do I have to do the disclaimer? I'm not a doctor. Don't take my advice. :) )

Thursday, October 10, 2013

How Much?

back when I wasn't running again, yet, because there really is only so much you can do well

Is it possible for one person to run, I mean as in training hard, and keep house and make meals, and homeschool, and be a good parent, and delve into scholarly study herself, and be a good spouse, and get enough rest? This is the question I'm thinking about these days.

I'm not thinking about in an emergency way or a beating-myself-up way. Just thinking. And trying.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


I'm changing up the look of the blog again. What can I say, I get bored.

I noticed that I have on the sidebar lists of things the boys love "at this moment in time." "This moment in time" was about two years ago. Before I erase things like that, I preserve them. I want to remember "this moment in time!"

These lists need to be updated, but a remarkable chunk of both is still relevant.

So here's Xander's old one and then Nick's below:

For a moment in time, Xander loves:

  • his cousin Bailey
  • talking, especially describing Legos
  • inviting classmates over for playdates
  • Mrs. Griffin
  • Lego sets and more Lego sets
  • poring over Lego brochures
  • Lego videos and computer games
  • reading by himself
  • imagining and playing adventures
  • his Mythology book
  • saying he is starving TO DEATH, Mom!
  • play-fighting with Nick
  • pets and stuffed animals
  • learning, baking, doing activities
  • Nature specials, esp. dinosaur ones
  • singing, especially with Nick at the dinner table
  • reciting what he's learned at school
  • Cedarmont Kids' songs
  • doing "what he's supposed to" at school
  • holding and petting Sandy
  • school

Nick loves:

  • riding the tricycle
  • his new wagon
  • Teddy Bear and Pooh
  • touching my hair when it's down
  • being tickled or touching foreheads
  • talking on the phone
  • running "super fast"
  • reading ocean-related books to himself for hours a day
  • puppets - he's not scared anymore
  • balloons!
  • Xander
  • Daddy
  • Cheetos and Jello, unfortunately
  • singing or humming on any occasion
  • children's songs
  • animals in the ark
  • drawing
  • throwing balls
  • playing figures during playtime
  • loudly singing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star"
  • putting on a show whenever he can see himself (mirror, computer)

Monday, October 7, 2013

School Today...

School today:

Up, read magazines together on the couch. (The kids wake up too early, probably because I am up to go running.)

Breakfast. I help make some of it, the kids make some of their own food.

They watch an Adventures in Virtue video about honesty.

Morning tasks with Children's Miracle Music.

I recite the Pledge of Allegiance and the Texas state pledge. At least Nick was listening.

I play songs from our special Quiet Time playlist. It includes some of the kids' favorites, some of my favorite soothing songs, a few math songs, and some folk songs we like.

Kids do some chores.

I have leftover lasagna and salad for lunch. The kids have homemade gingerbread and milk and homemade crusty bread. Salad for snack, I promise.

Kids play Legos and Duplos together...for hours. We put on the Surprises According to Humphrey audiobook. The series of books about Humphrey, the classroom hamster, is fluff to me, but the kids adore every bit of it. I let them listen to audiobooks during lunchtime.

Meanwhile, I further my own education by participating in a couple of Facebook book/course discussions.

I also put together more formalized collections of our homeschool curricula and plans.

Nick has a snack of homemade yogurt (I've finally figured out a homemade yogurt recipe that even the kids like!), homemade refried beans, and, yes, salad.

Later, we will go grocery shopping and read aloud the pile of books I had planned to read to them today.

Yesterday included family time, bike riding time, and grammar/spelling/writing time in a couple of activity books the boys were excited about.

Off topic: Nick looks so much older to me as of yesterday!!

Friday, October 4, 2013

An I-Did List

One of the women on the Thomas Jefferson Education Facebook group recently shared her idea of a Victory List. Instead of a To-Do list, she focuses on writing down at the end of a day what she has accomplished. She said she likes to emphasize the people she wants to focus on rather the tasks she wants to accomplish.

My aunt also recommends this tactic of an I-Did list as healthier for our mindsets.

I love this idea because it is easy to look around us, whether on Facebook or Pinterest or blog posts or Instagram or real life, and choose to see what others excel at while discounting what we excel at. Then we heap recriminations on ourselves for not being fantastic at every single thing we see others doing fantastically well.

We may even become apologetic about our skills or self-doubting about the roles we fulfill. I see parents and homeschoolers in particular as two groups that constantly worry about whether they are doing the right things.

It is in this sense of a Victory List that I like to mention what we have done for homeschool on thus-and-such-a-day. The post is something to look back on, when necessary, to remind myself that we have done plenty of wonderful things. If it is a day to doubt what we have covered in math, I can look back at mathematical things we have done. If I start to wonder whether we do any art at all, I can remind myself of our art field trips, projects, or books.

Do you do a Victory List or an I-Did List? A daily To-Do list? Both? Neither?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Follow Through Friday: Organizing (Again)

Jean at So Not Organized hosts a Follow Through Friday link-up every week and sometimes I get organized enough to join in.

What are my top five things to do today? I say five because I don't want to overwhelm myself with all the things I am secretly hoping I will get done.

1. Put my photos in year-order in the new photo boxes I ordered and get them up on our closet shelf.

I don't have many print-out photos, but I do need to do something with the ones I have other than dump them in various plastic bags and boxes and put those on my closet floor. After doing this task, I will consider my photo work done. We upload our photos to iPhoto and I don't even organize them there. They are in date order, or at least upload order, already. I don't picture myself actually putting together albums or sweet little photo books for each year of our lives. Waste of my time and money, I think. It wouldn't be a waste of other people's time and money if they really loved doing it or had people who really wanted to have those books around, but I think we have enough albums to look at for now. If I ever change my mind, I can go back to our photo stream and make books.

2. Get our extra books up on our closet bookshelves.

By extra books, I mean the mostly non-fiction tomes that don't fit in our main bookcases anymore now that I've organized them. The method of arranging our books before was basically size. The books were put in groups according to where they could fit. That was fine, but then I came along and ACTUALLY DUSTED and flipped through each of our books and put them into categories.

We now have our fiction bookcase with a shelf of Dickens; a shelf of my favorites series, like The Chronicles of Narnia, Little House on the Prairie, Madeleine L'Engle's books, and the Anne of Green Gables books; a shelf of other small-sized fiction including science fiction and more classics, and a shelf of our larger fiction books, like the Game of Thrones series, a couple of Sherlock Holmes books, and the Harry Potter stuff. In our next bookcase, we have a shelf for spiritual/religious/worldview books from both my and my husband's perspectives, then a shelf of special magazines, a huge gorgeous unabridged dictionary, and two coffee table books, Italy Today: The Beautiful Cookbook and The Living Wild. Underneath are as many of our non-fiction books as I could fit (think parenting, woodworking, and writing) and underneath them are photo albums. Yes, we have plenty.

3. Volunteer at the Friends of the Library Book Sale set-up for a couple of hours.

This actually already happened this morning, but I list it because it was the major thing on my calendar today. My sweet neighbor watched the kids while I went to volunteer. We are so lucky to be able to swap services back and forth with people whom we trust who are right next door!

4. List more books for sale.

We sell used books, and I have to catch up on inventorying and listing.

5. Have the kids and me do some regular daily chores, including picking up all the toys that are out.

Self-explanatory? It is hard to get momentum going on these things sometimes, but I do want that to happen today.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

So Much Good Stuff - A Homeschooling Abundance

So much has been running through my head this late summer/fall! I want to stop and take a breath, and make notes.

And I've found some cool new resources for learning. The bane of any parent, especially a homeschooling parent...finding cool new resources and, ahem, buying them if you are impulsive like me. I didn't buy EVERYTHING I've found lately. That's what Pinterest is for: reminding me of the things I didn't do or didn't acquire that I might want to do or acquire later.

Math, and Some Spelling

First off, Xander is playing a free trial of Dreambox. This is an online math program full of games that look like they came straight from the RightStart Math curriculum. (RightStart is the curriculum I bought for this year. It uses a lot of hands-on learning tools and emphasizes problem-solving and understanding.) Xander is not super excited about textbooks or workbooks, so I try to get the information out there in many other ways. There are lots of games and manipulatives in RightStart. We are reading living math books that supplement the material. I found some great songs for memorizing skip counting and addition and subtraction facts, but I'll talk about those later. Back to Dreambox: He loves it. It is challenging math that approaches the subject from a RightStart perspective, especially the way it helps children to think about and visualize numbers in sets (say, of five or ten plus or minus whatever number is left over). I love RightStart. Xander drags his feet a little - or a lot - when he sees textbooks coming out. One solution right now is playing Dreambox. It is just a beautiful program. Their parent notifications and parent dashboard are wonderful: detailed, clear, positive. You can take a look at it here.

one of our recent activities

Life of Fred. The Life of Fred series is comprised of math books that tell you a story. The story is about Fred, a five-year-old college professor who draws terribly, who is always silly, who has a doll that draws wonderfully, and who comes across situations in real life that require him to use math. Readers learn about math from reading his adventures and looking at the illustrations. All kinds of math and other topics are sprinkled in everywhere - as in life. They are endearing, and silly, and marvelous. Each book costs about $16 (free shipping if you buy from the company directly) and you would do about two or three books a year to be "on grade level." At the upper levels, Life of Fred includes all math topics, like calculus, geometry, linear algebra, trigonometry, statistics... Our son was not thrilled initially, maybe because I was so excited myself. Now he smiles, laughs, enjoys, and asks for more when we finish a (very brief) chapter.

oh, you know, just another dragon
Skip counting songs: I figured the math memorization the kids need to do could be made easy with songs. These are the Have Fun Teaching math songs. You can play each song twice from the site and so far, I have experienced no limits on the amount of times you can play a song. There is also information on ordering the songs individually through iTunes or Amazon. I like these songs (they are aggressively cheerful and hip-hoppy, so you are forewarned) and just played the Counting by Fives song today. Both the kids got up from their snack and started dancing away to it. I don't anticipate any complaints when I play it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day... Well, maybe from my husband.

Addition and subtraction facts songs: I also found what sounds like a great album of songs of addition and subtraction facts up to 18. It is Sing a Sum...Or a Remainder by Alan Stern. I like his music, too, what I can hear of it, but I haven't ordered the album. Yet. Take a preview listen. There are linked titles that you can preview in the title list.

THUP Games has some nice-looking educational games apps and I bought two of them yesterday for the kids. Monkey Mathschool Sunshine is a math app that is maybe slightly over Nick's head but he can still play and learn. It is too easy for Xander, but he likes it. It cost $1.99. Monkey Wordschool Adventure is more on Xander's level and it has him begging to do spelling work. Not too shabby. However, he gets overly excited/enraged with timed on-screen games, and I don't think I like the attitude he has sometimes when the app freezes or whatnot. So I don't wholeheartedly recommend it.

I also found an interesting, free Montessori-type app that has a moveable alphabet and a limited number of words for kids to make by dragging letters up to the right spot. Ah, here it is. Montessori Words & Phonics for Kids Lite. I was intrigued because of its relation to Montessori materials. I like it for itself, but don't want either of our kids having too much screen time.

I do think Nick has learned a few things after one full day of having these apps. He's played maybe 15 minutes total. I'm not sure that Xander has learned anything new from them, though they are great fun in his opinion.


We finished Benjamin Franklin by the D'Aulaires. I've known for a year or so that we love the D'Aulaires' books. Benjamin Franklin was just fantastic.

I picked up a copy of How Ancient Americans Lived and Xander and I discovered they give instructions for all kinds of different handicraft projects within. He can learn to make a teepee, a headdress, and a soap carving, among other things. We are gathering together the materials to make a headdress currently.

oh, just another army

We are reading aloud Understood Betsy. I just finished it and thought it was the most fabulous parenting advice book ever. That's a joke, because it's a juvenile fiction book. Yet it's not a joke, because it has a few powerful ideas in it that I am trying to apply to my parenting. I decided to start reading it to Xander and he likes it a lot. He even read several pages of it to himself one night when I said I was just too tired to continue.

Oh, and we are reading aloud The Wind in the Willows. Our library had a beautiful edition of it, 8 x 10 with full-color pictures by Michael Hague. There are SO MANY editions of it with so many different types of interesting illustrations. I can't find the edition we've borrowed on Amazon at the moment.

One thing we have done a lot lately that is not new is telling stories. Our children love to make up stories and tell them aloud. This is not something I ever really prompted, although who knows... I did start by telling them a story about their pet one day that they liked. It's just that I've tried harder to introduce other things, if you know what I mean, things that did not necessarily start a fire in their little hearts or brains.

Life Skills

Oh, and something I really felt guilty about buying: Children's Miracle Music to help them get their morning tasks and evening tasks done. I felt bad because these are simple things, we just have to do them. And the program, which includes two CDs of music and positive instruction, a nice laminated chart, a wet-erase marker, a "manual" of sorts on the back side of the chart, and a sheet of star stickers, cost $30. But the kids really do love it. They have done almost 100% of their morning and evening tasks willingly and cheerfully in the last five days because of this program. And what is more, I have done almost 100% of those kinds of tasks myself, because I am also participating.

They are doing more things on their own and gaining confidence in their skills. I am being reminded to set up structures and systems in which they can do for themselves, rather than doing things for them. As part of this process, I bought two five-drawer plastic storage systems from Walmart and put them in the kids' closet. Most of their clothes came down from hangers where only I could easily reach them. They are now in clearly labeled drawers where even Nick can do all the clothing-getting and clothing-putting-away himself. This helps me with laundry, too. :)

Look at this nice picture of made beds after the morning CD finished playing:

One more pro of the program is that I love the music selections. They are high-energy or soothing songs, depending on what we are trying to do at the moment, whether it is waking up gradually or finishing eating breakfast or doing an act of kindness. Some songs are classical, some have a cajun feel, a couple have a Scottish feel, and one is a song from an opera.

As for the stuff I'm learning and trying to accomplish, well, that is part of the racings going on in my head. Lots of cooking, baking, and menu planning, some volunteer service, studies of Thomas Jefferson Education books, our fledgling business... Whew! Also watching Foyle's War on Netflix and knitting lots and lots.

To end on a funny note, Nick just put his paper crown on me, saying I was the prince. Then he stepped back, looked at me, and said, "Now you look like a girly-girl." I said, "I look like a girly-girl?" He said, "Yes. Because of your girly-girl hands."

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Our seven-year-old just blew my mind.

He has been acting pretty irritable lately, like he would if he wasn't getting enough sleep.

Then this evening he explains to his grandma what he's learning these days. A month ago, his response to someone's question about school was that he was still thinking about whether he wanted to homeschool this year. (News to me at the time.) Today, he told her we're mostly doing Paddington and United States and world history, that we were learning about the founding of the colonies, and that we had just begun to learn about medieval times. Then he told her two jokes in a row, starting with one that was relevant to the Middle Ages, that were actually funny.

(Why are the Middle Ages sometimes called the Dark Ages? Because of all the knights!)

He continued to explain things to her in a fashion that was very articulate and smooth compared to Xander in the past. He continued explaining things to me all throughout dinner.

At some point, he undid a bulky duct-tape fixing job I had done on one of their figures and fixed it with less tape so the toy was more usable.

I measured him again because I could see his mental capacity was growing and wondered if he had gotten taller, too. He was a bit taller than a few weeks ago.

He asked me what Greek myth I wanted him to read to his little brother. Coming out of my own reverie and trying to figure out where this was coming from, I said, "You mean, Thor?"

He said, "No, Mom, Greek myths."

Then he read one of the abridged Greek myths to me, about Perseus and Andromeda. He needed help pronouncing those two names, but the rest of the story flowed smoothly. He has always been good about reading with feeling, even when he was a more hesitant reader-aloud. The passage included words like "dazzled" and "writhing."

Then he re-read the rest of the book to himself.

I was called "the nicest mom in the galaxy - to me, at least. That I know of."

A note I wrote to him two years ago and put in his lunchbox had been saved near his bed. While cleaning up, we found it, and he said, "Oh! This note helps me sleep better!"

He proceeded to tell me how he decided to organize the hanging storage over the back of his bed and his reasons for what he had done, including two risks that he could have incurred by organizing things differently.

He remembered that he had forgotten to do a load of laundry today. I told him he could do it tomorrow. He said, "You should really let me do that job all by myself sometime." After I agreed, he planned to try to do it all by himself on the last day of this month, "in 20 days."

All of this stuff is probably normal for a seven-year-old, but it hasn't been quite like this around here! He has matured steadily. But tonight was off-the-charts growth.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Camping Trip

We went on another camping trip. This time went much better than the last time, although it was pretty hot where last time it was too cold. We went to a secluded place half an hour's drive away. Secluded except for the duck hunters. It does make me nervous to hear shots nearby...

We didn't get to start a fire because of the burn ban, but our portable grill made s'mores just fine.

Everybody eventually got to sleep at night. After harrassing ants with sticks, chasing bats and grasshoppers, and waving flashlights around to stir up said animals, that is.

I got to go running along the (mostly dry) riverbed.

The boys and Erik saw real live dinosaur tracks!!

Fun times.

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Smorgasbord

So I wasn't able to post our first-day-of-school photos right away, but here they come. Around here, we have a not-back-to-school day with the area homeschool group at a pool. We forgot to bring cash to the pool, left and came back, missed the big group photo, and ended up with one son who was therefore not in the mood to have his picture taken.

I got Nick in the car when we were leaving:

I got Xander later on playing a Lord of the Rings game with his dad:

Tonight we all worked together to make a couple of recipes from Cooking Wizardry for Kids. I highly recommend that book! One of our children is a born cook and taster, but the other one loved using the book and his imagination as well. The book gave us step-by-step instructions but also leeway to add in and "make our own" versions. The following two recipes are what we ended up with:

Cinnamon-Raisin Grilled Cheese
Serves 4


8 slices cinnamon-raisin bread
1 tablespoon butter plus a little more
large can of tuna
a small dollop of mayo
a squirt of lemon juice
1 green apple
8 slices Muenster cheese


1. Lay out the slices of bread. Butter one side of each slice.

2. Drain the tuna. Mix it with a small dollop of mayo, then squirt about a teaspoon of lemon juice on it. Stir to combine.

3. Slice the green apple. You'll want at least 4 large, thin slices.

4. Heat the tablespoon of butter in a pan over medium heat.

5. Turn over the slices of bread so they are butter-side down. Put 2 slices of Muenster cheese on 4 of the slices.

6. Put a small spread of tuna on top of the cheese slices. Top with a thin slice of apple. Put another slice of bread, butter side up, on top of everything.

7. Cook the sandwiches in the pan, turning over after one side is nicely brown and cooking the other side to the same brownness. (Whatever brownness you prefer.)

Crouton Fruit Salad
(Note that this is not a traditional fruit salad, but this is my son's name for it.)
Serves 4


2 cups fresh spinach leaves
1 cup croutons
1/2 cup shredded Colby-Jack cheese
1 small cucumber, peeled and sliced
1 small carrot, peeled and sliced
part of a green apple, sliced into matchsticks or small pieces


Add the ingredients to a large bowl. Toss together. Allow people to choose their own dressing. We had some that chose French dressing and some that chose Ranch. Delish!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

My Two Laughs From Nick Today

Two laughs from Nick:

I asked if he wanted to go to a pioneer homestead for a field trip this week. He said yes. Pause.

"Will we bring food?"

"Yes, we will probably bring food."

"Do they have food there?"

"Maybe; I'll find out."

That was all he wanted to know about the field trip.

Later, they wanted to listen to an audiobook. Xander told me he thought there was another disc already in.

Nick asked me, "Do you know how to reject?"

Yes, yes, I do. I ejected the disc for them and put in the one they wanted.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Artist Study

I've learned to keep faith in some of my homeschool materials for more than one year. Even when we haven't used something over the space of a year, sometimes opportunities pop up later.

I bought a deck of cards called Go Fish for Renaissance Artists last year. The intention was to have the kids view art from one particular artist per term and to be able to choose one of these cards as an art postcard to put in their Book of Masterpieces. (I had also bought nice photo albums, one for each, to store pictures of their favorite pieces of art. The Book of Masterpieces idea - and much of our curriculum - comes from Charlotte Mason Help.)

We did do this a few times, with Rafael Sanzio, Norman Rockwell, and Georgia O'Keeffe. Xander never really enjoyed it. In hindsight, maybe he just didn't like the newness of the experience or being required to do it. When we looked at art last week, he had insightful comments to make about the texture of the brushstrokes in the paintings.

Fast forward several months. I got hold of a cheap set of Carmen Sandiego DVDs and Nick proceeded to fall in love with them. Thanks to Carmen Sandiego, he loves talking about Egypt, the Sphinx, George Washington, and the Mona Lisa. He can pick out the Mona Lisa from a book of paintings.

Today, I realized I hadn't gotten out this deck of art cards in a long time. I went through them with Nick really briefly, who loved lots of them. I allowed him to pick his favorites to put in his Book of Masterpieces. Two were by Leonardo da Vinci. Nick and I were both equally excited to see (remember) that the Mona Lisa was one of the cards.

And on the couch, Xander sat looking at Visions of Camelot: Great Illustrations of King Arthur and His Court for his art study. I picked it up this summer thinking he would like it. We are studying medieval times this year, so it will fit in nicely. Now, looking at it again, I realize that N.C. Wyeth is one of the artists featured. I had also picked up a copy of N.C. Wyeth's Pilgrims for him for both art study and history study. We just read about the Pilgrims in our A Child's History of the World.

Now I see we can combine the two books for a more in-depth study of an artist. Serendipity is happening!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sandy's Adventures to the Castle

I tried again to get down one of Nick's stories.

He said, "I want to read a story about Sandy."

I said, "Okay," and got out my notebook. This is what I caught of it. The ellipses are where I didn't catch things.

"It's called, Sandy's Adventures to the Castle.

"Sometime, Sandy heard a song.


"Sandy walked to the castle, the drawbridge opened, and Sandy said, 'Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!' The guinea pigs marched to the castle to attack.


"But there was shooting cannons." [sounds of shooting noises and wheeks]

"Koa said, 'The new pyramids of the castle, we save this castle for Xander's attack of the castle.


"It's the newest apartment of the castle."

[Xander interrupts with, "Aw! I hate being a bad guy!"]

"Xander's going to be a good guy if Nick is going to be a bad guy."

[Xander: "Is Nick going to be a bad guy?"
Nick: "Yes."
Xander: "Yay! I'm a good guy!"
Xander again: "I want to see the pictures."
They both go to look at the Imaginext toys which are set up for a good ol' castle battle.]

"The castle defended Koa and Cadbury...

"The sea was made out of ice...then the pyramids dirt.


Later, there was a wheeking song that the guinea pigs sang. There was mention of guinea pigs liking or not liking hamsters. Xander joined in on the song later. Then there was more story I gave up on catching. Songs were interspersed.

I missed more than I got down. These treasures are ephemeral.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


random picture of some heart-shaped baked doughnuts we made
Nick said yesterday that his favorite day would be to go to Egypt. He wants to see the Sphinx.

Both kids are sick. Nick's had a low-grade fever for three days. Xander started with one today. They've been acting pretty chipper once I give them children's Advil, though. When I let them lounge around and watch TV and stuff like that, they get bored and whiny. When I let them do their chores as normal, with the promise of incentives, they are cheerful and hardworking. So chores it is. With me trying to be more patient than usual in deference to their illness, whatever it is.

I've started a new chore system using popsicle sticks. We all have an In pouch and an Out pouch for daily chores. I've written almost all of our household chores on popsicle sticks. I get out the sticks for the chores we need to do each day, and then the kids get to pick from those chores. Nick must do Morning Cards, Evening Cards, and two other easy chores each day. Xander must do Morning Cards, Evening Cards, and four other easy chores or two other hard chores each day. I help them as much as they need it.

In this way, Xander has begun to learn a lot about how to do the laundry. He's chosen "do a load of laundry" for the last three days. I wasn't planning to teach him this young, but I'm taking advantage of his choice.

Erik had him helping with the dinner dishes last night. There is just a lot of work going on around here, and I love it! (By the way, he didn't get anything out of doing the dishes but a chance to work with Dad.)

I think part of the motivation is the new, colorful chore system. Part of it is that I said we would stop giving them allowance but would start paying them for each chore they completed during the week. This is a controversial move. My rationale is this: Kids who live on farms generally learn all about hard work and responsibility in a natural way. They simply have to do a lot of work to help the family get everything done at the time it must be done. Because we don't live on a farm, I set up a more artificial system to give everyone plenty of responsibility in getting our total family work done. I figure paying them on the basis of work done is another way to show that the amount and quality of work you do makes a difference. They get a small bonus at the end of the week if they completed every single chore every day, to reward consistency.

(The major portion of this idea comes from "The Jeppson Plan" in A Thomas Jefferson Education Home Companion.)

They also get to earn their screen time this way. Screen time takes place at a designated time each day for each of them. But they only get as many minutes as they earned through chores and lessons and service or kindness to others. (Thanks to a couple of my friends for this idea!)

There are still things they have to do without earning incentives, but they don't complain about these things. Clearing their place at the table and cleaning up after themselves are part of this type of work.

In a year or so, I plan to ratchet up Xander's earnings per chore so that he ends up earning enough to pay for friends' birthday gifts, his own clothing, extra educational materials beyond our family budget, and any treats or toys he wants. Eventually, he will have to pay for any expenses associated with a car of his own and save up for college tuition. Those things will probably require him to get a job outside the family.

I am going to be keeping in mind the danger of supplying too much external motivation to the point that it diminishes their internal motivation. My kids have enormous internal motivation to learn, though they will resist activities that seem boring or hard to them. They also have internal motivation to be helpful. The problem is, this comes with a lot of whining and arguing and not a lot of getting household work or even hygiene work done. With this new system, they are working hard and getting their hygiene chores done easily and cheerfully.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Great Exercise for Changing Negative Connotations to Positive Ones

Take a look at this beautiful guest post at Chocolate on my Cranium: Stubborn or Determined? Defining Your Child's Attributes.

I made a list of descriptive attributes for each of my children and, for negative-sounding adjectives, came up with synonyms that had positive connotations. One side of my list now had the negative connotation and the other side had the positive connotation. Some of the adjectives I habitually use to describe my children were already positive, so I just repeated them.

Here is the positive side of the list for Xander:


Here is the positive side of the list for Nick:


This was a powerful exercise and I recommend it to any parent.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

August Break

I was trying to convince myself to make the rest of August our break from school.

"Quit pushing," I told myself.

This was good advice.

"Just do breakfast, Morning Cards, chores, lunch, dinner, taking care of Sandy, and free time," I told myself.

Some days that would be good advice.

Today, this happened:

I remembered to read a story from a children's Bible stories book while the kids ate breakfast. Xander wanted me to read more.

I made a picture of Thomas Jefferson Education, shown as a planet core with levels going outward. I labeled each phase and put its main lessons around the circle showing the appropriate level. On the back, I drew seven large old-fashioned key images and wrote the seven keys of learning in them. Xander asked what I was doing, so I told him I was drawing a model of Thomas Jefferson Education. Nick began talking about George Washington. From his watching of Carmen Sandiego, he knew that both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington are on Mount Rushmore. Xander added that Roosevelt and Lincoln were, too. I looked in our new Encyclopedia of the Presidents and Their Times so I could tell them Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States.

Though I felt I should know this off the top of my head, it was a good opportunity to show Xander that I was looking up information in an encyclopedia. This conversation prompted Nick to go get the Make Your Own President book we own.

Nick wanted me to help and watch while he "made his own president" from our Make Your Own President mix-up-pictures book. He had George Washington's eyes up front and wanted me to help him find George Washington's nose. The way to tell which president is on each strip is to read the quote and name on the back side of the strip. I helped him find the name that started with a G and showed him that it said George Washington. We worked with the book for a while longer and identified a few presidents.

Nick asked me where those robots were that we got from a Robots board game at a garage sale. I told him they were really flimsy and were all broken and thrown away. He got very upset. I got out the basket of figures I keep in our school-time cabinet and started playing with them. Eventually, he got interested and began playing with them too.

Xander came out of his room and told me he was getting bored with playing. I asked if he thought he was ready to play with the toys in the baskets that were up higher in our school-time cabinet. He said yes. These are all math toys and manipulatives from the RightStart math program. He began to make shapes on the geoboard and tell time on the telling-time clock.

Nick got interested in what he was doing and played with the abacus. Then he made some times on the telling-time clock and asked me what they were.

Now the kids are making shapes together on the geoboard.

It was not a day to ignore school time, apparently.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Thought on Perfection

For 20 or 30 years, I have been searching for perfection in an imperfect world. It may not have looked like that was what I was doing from the outside, but on the inside I was getting more and more disillusioned and discontented. It has taken me a lifetime so far to learn that imperfection is fine.

Examples of imperfect things: human beings, relationships, nights of sleep, children's behavior, parents, systems, big events, science experiments in progress...

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Vacation Pictures!

Grandma's house

beach time

game time

party time

bay time

bath time 

fishing and village history museum

vacations are tiring

dolphin tank

sea turtle

setting up the telescope

running around waiting to stargaze

it always comes down to this