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!