Friday, December 31, 2010

End of Year Planning

I suppose some people spend the last week of the year coming up with resolutions and goals, but I hate resolutions!  Goals are okay, but I've learned not to make too many of them.  For 2011 I have one main goal: to lose 25% of my body weight.  I really like writing it that way versus a number with a # sign after it.  After I lose 25% of my body weight in 2011 I will be pretty close to my goal weight and I will spend 2012 losing it very slowly.

But resolutions?  That's just making up rules for yourself that you'd rather not follow (because if you already did you wouldn't have to resolve to).  The older I get the less I like making rules for myself; there are already so many rules we have to follow that I don't see coming up with more.

Now plans? I like plans.  Already this week I have revised our budget for 2011, as paying off our cars and saving six months expenses in an emergency fund have been accomplished.  It changes our cash flow and we have new financial plans for 2011.  I also decided to buy and use You Need A Budget even though it isn't targeted at people who already live within their means.  Still, it does what I was doing on paper and makes it easier for me, so I'll give it a go.  I did a paper ledger for four months at the end of this year after not finding anything to replace my beloved Quicken 2006 (which Intuit decided not to support any longer).  I've decided not to download my information but to enter it by hand and just use the program versus sharing my login information with YNAB.  I've really started to worry about all the hacking and compromised databases I read about.

I've also planned our homeschooling for the next quarter, took a look at the rest of this school year, and started making plans for the fall.  Doing that always requires that I revise our daily and weekly flow, so I did that too.  I make up very nice charts with time blocks and everything.  I may only teach my own children but I would have been very good at planning for a classroom.

I like to know what we are doing each day of the week, and approximately when.  It's helpful to know that the library, natural foods market, and banking are done on Monday afternoons.  They're done close together, as well.  It also works well for the boys to know that each evening after supper we all work together to tidy the house before moving on to reading or playing a short game.  With a strong rhythm I can quickly determine if we can accept an invitation or join a field trip as I pretty much know it in my head.  Wake up, eat breakfast, dress, do morning chores, homeschooling, lunch, quiet time, free time, working the dogs, meal preparation, dinner, clean up and tidy, family time, dog walking (while boys read before bed), bed time for boys, my bath, time with Papa, reading, sleep.

I planned our winter meal rotation and really didn't change much from the fall.  Because we bought a side of beef it forms the base for most of our dinner meals, and by now we've found meals that we all like.  For winter it looks like this:

Monday: Chicken, Brown Rice, Sauteed Greens
Tuesday: Beef and Bean Tacos with Cabbage Salad
Wednesday: Hamburger Patties, Sweet Potatoes, Green Beans
Thursday: Soup (usually chicken, but sometimes a heartier soup such as split pea)
Friday: Pot Roast or Beef Stew, Brown Rice, Carrots
Saturday: Pinto Beans, Sauteed Greens, Whole Grain Cornbread or Corn Tortillas
Sunday: Steak or Roast Beef, Corn, Sauteed Green Cabbage

I'd like to get to the point where I make greens every night, but I won't make a resolution because we'd fail.  The boys don't love greens and eat them because they have to, not because they want to.   They do eat romaine lettuce almost everyday, so that's good.

And now it is New Year's Eve, and all the planning I can do has been done.  For the next couple of hours we'll simply be together, and dream a little, and then fall asleep with the prospect of an entire new year in front of us, unsullied and full of potential, and as always we'll enter into it hoping that it is a year of happiness and plenty.


I suppose some people spend the last week of the year coming up with resolutions and goals, but I hate resolutions!  Goals are okay, but I've learned not to make too many of them.

And now it is New Year's Eve, and all the planning I can do has been done.  For the next couple of hours we'll simply be together, and dream a little, and then fall asleep with the prospect of an entire new year in front of us, unsullied and full of potential, and as always we'll enter into it hoping that it is a year of happiness and plenty.

Monday, December 27, 2010

It's Never Too Early ...

Each year at the end of December I start our school planning for the next year.  Part of that is taking the temperature of our homeschool thus far and deciding what to tweak in January, but I also look ahead to the fall.  Now that we are knee deep in our grade 5 Waldorf year (we use the grade 5 story curriculum ~ I don't bother to keep track of what "grade" we are in for skills) and very happy to be back to using Waldorf methods I decided to take a look at what Live Education offers for grade 6, and wow, does it seem to be right up J-Baby's alley!  Astronomy, Physics, Mineralogy, The Middle Ages, Ancient Greek and Roman History, and more Geometry?  Sign us up!  Or rather, I'll be saving my pennies for the books.

For the near term, I have our books for our first North American Geography block checked out from the library and have placed them on hold with T-Guy's account so we can have them through the end of January.  I ordered the book that we need for February as it wasn't available from our city library or the county system.

J-Baby is excited to be starting lesson work again after our light month and holiday break.  He is just old enough now to be worrying that he is perhaps a bit behind other kids when it comes to some of his skills, but talking him through it he realized that he is far ahead in many areas, especially science and history, and he really understands the why of things rather than just the what.  The child is a deep thinker.

T-Guy, on the other hand, lives so much in the moment that he hasn't mentioned starting our lessons again. Right now his life revolves around playing with his new toys and trying to talk Papa (who is home all week) into playing Wii, or at the very least letting him and J-Baby play Wii.  He's also thinking about his birthday which is in just a couple of weeks, and baseball, which starts gearing up in January with a two day camp, evaluations, and catching school (that is still a surprise); perhaps that is why he isn't thinking about school work.

As for me, I still have to fine tune our schedule for January.  We are going to switch our "lite" day to Mondays, which seems counter-intuitive but we always struggle to get back in the groove on Mondays anyway, and that is when most of the homeschool group is able to meet.  So we will do skills work in the morning, go to park day, then to the library, and finally do any necessary errands (health food store and banking).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

In the Bleak Midwinter ...

Yesterday we had a lovely Solstice party to celebrate the return of the sun. Six families gathered together to share a potluck lunch, decorate sun cookies, roll beeswax candles, and a have very simple candle lighting ceremony.  We used this Waldorf verse:

The gift of light we thankfully take 
But not shall it be alone for our sake
The more we give light
The one to the other
It shines and it spreads and it glows still further
Until every spark by friends set aflame
Until every heart with joy to proclaim
In the depths of our souls a shining sun glows.
I loved how the kids were quiet for just a few minutes, passing the flame from person to person.  Of course, their reverence didn't last, but we couldn't expect it to.  It is enough to remember the 22 people gathered in a circle, faces illuminated with candlelight, welcoming the sun.
It has been rather bleak lately, with rain and cold, and the sun did not show its face to us yesterday (nor were we able to observe the total lunar eclipse that occurred on the same day as this solstice).  While I generally love the rain (as long as I can stay home) the boys and dogs are done with it, and I'm rather weary of taking dogs out to potty in the rain.  I do hope today is the last of it; I'm ready for a sunny Southern California Christmas.
Still, we have turned the corner back into the light.  I love Christmas as a family holiday and for the joy that it brings my boys, but the Solstice is my personal favorite winter holiday.  When it occurs in the middle of the night I will wake myself and light a candle in the darkness, alone with my thoughts and hopes.  I feel connected to all of humanity; solstices and equinoxes may have had various religious holidays spring up around them but they are scientific phenomena that all people have observed throughout the ages.  In part it is the these natural phenomena that brought about scientific inquiry, giving us a reason to ask Why? and to seek the answers.  The tilt of Earth's axis and the resultant seasons are the reason that life on this planet is possible as we know it.
The Winter Solstice brings hope.  We know that the days will lengthen, the crops will grow, and that we will be warm again.  As much as I enjoy Fall and the crisp, shortening days with the inward turning it brings I also look forward to the outwardness that is Spring in all its glory.  I love the turning of the earth and the cycle of seasons.  Winter is our pause; our coldest weather may be yet to come but the days will grow no shorter. Soon enough it will be time to plant; in the meantime we can plan our gardens.  The busyness of the holiday season passes and we come to a time of reflection and new beginnings.  In my own little family we start again our festival year with New Year celebrations and January birthdays.
So welcome back beloved friend, our dear sun!

Monday, December 20, 2010

What's {not} Cooking?

Oh, that would be me.  After performing admirably all day (It Baked!  It Broiled!) my beloved range started screaming at me just as I was about to put dinner in to cook, beeping loudly and flashing Contact an Authorized Service Center on its display.  Like most people I just turned it off, waited a minute, and turned it back on hoping for the best, but no, Contact an Authorized Service Center started flashing again, still accompanied by the constant loud beeping that the oven makes when it is unhappy (don't spill water close to the front panel or be prepared to unplug the unit to silence the beeping and then wait for the electronics to dry, which takes days).

I love my range.  It is a Jenn Air slide-in dual fuel range with convection.  That means it has natural gas burners for the control I insist on when I am using the cooktop (I hate electric burners) but has an electric oven which bakes more evenly than a gas oven.  I can set the oven temperature as low as 100 degrees for culturing dairy products.  I can dehydrate in it and proof bread dough in it.  I can bake three trays of cookies at once (if I want to, but I usually prefer not to dry them out with convection).  It has a nifty meat probe that helps me roast meats to perfection.  And have you ever had a convection-roasted turkey?  Nom!

And now I am oven-less.  I don't hold out much hope that a repair technician can get here this week.  It is nearly Christmas, after all.  I'll probably be lucky to get someone out here next Monday.  At least I'm not cooking Christmas dinner (I am hosting Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas breakfast, however).

I don't know if I should continue to use the cooktop or not use anything at all.  I think we'll use it to boil water for tea but otherwise shift our cooking to some of my other appliance friends: the slow cooker, the electric frying pan, and the electric Dutch oven.  I also bit the bullet and ordered the Breville Smart Oven that I have been looking at for more than a year, because chocolate chip cookies must be baked for Santa.  And because I wanted it and couldn't justify it to myself before tonight.

But dinner tonight?  Pad Thai for the adults, charbroiled chicken with steamed rice and broccoli for the children ~ thank goodness they are still cooking at our favorite Thai restaurant!

Friday, December 17, 2010

And In the End ...

I decided to spend the past several weeks taking it easy.  Not on break, but not doing a main lesson block or introducing new math material.  We did history (The Story of the World), science (The Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way), lots of reading, some math (applied math as well as review and story problems) and spelling, and of course health, PE, and lots of art/music.

And today was the last of it, and we are on break for three weeks (same as our local school district rather than what our charter school friends are doing).  Of course, we're never really on break and certainly we'll do history, science, reading, PE, and art/music over the next three weeks, but I won't be thinking about it or worrying how and when we'll do it.

So coming up in January: more Life of Fred, a North American Geography block, more science, spelling, reading, literature, grammar, writing, PE, health, art, music, and whatever else we come up with!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Gift Conundrum

I hate holiday gifting.

Each December I face the same issue, to give homemade gifts or to give purchased gifts to those members of my family who place a high importance on the gifts they receive and don't appreciate handmade items (those of you who have never received negative feedback on homemade gifts are very lucky).  I enjoy making gifts and doing so aligns with my personal values, but I worry that my insistence in doing so only causes me to come off as pretentious and holier-than-thou.

So I cycle between anger, despair, and stress when it comes to holiday gift giving.  It isn't about what I can afford based solely on my income, but on what my values are.  I like to give gifts that are beautiful, useful, or consumable.  If I can't make something homemade I like to purchase something homemade, but in either case the gift recipient can't return it if it isn't what they want.  Forget giving second hand gifts within my family; it is generally considered akin to giving someone a bag of your garbage.

What I want is to give homemade gifts and not worry that people won't like what I made or think that I make homemade gifts because I am "cheap".  I hate when others form expectations based on what they think your income is or what they think you should do (like go into debt for holiday gifts).  I kind of hate that my family hasn't joined the handmade revival (although I was giving handmade before handmade was hip) and still thinks that the best gifts come from factories and stores.

The truth is, I know I can't please people even if I shop for them.  We all know how hard it is to hit a home run in the gift department, even with those we know really well.  It's even harder when we are talking about adults that we see only a few times a year and when budgets are involved.  Is your brother still into punk rock, and if so, what is current in punk rock and does he already have it?  Does he have an iPod?  Would buying a CD be archaic?  Do you give an iTunes gift card instead?  Does he know how to download music?

It's not like everyone else out there is hitting home runs either.  I mean, really, how many popcorn tins can one person receive?  Are we supposed to feel carefully considered because we received a gift that was peddled as a fundraiser for someone's child's school?  Is the fact that someone spent real money on an impersonal gift supposed to make us believe that it is still better than something handcrafted, a gift of time or talent, or a gift of charity?  (Don't get me started on charity gifts, which my family derides as giving yourself a gift under the pretense of gifting someone else.  Honestly, they'd rather have presents.)

Some families resort to giving gift cards.  Gift cards are less stigmatized than giving cash (which really shouldn't be stigmatized but is because people know how much you "spent"), but really, all they do is allow the giver to choose where you get to spend the money they are giving you, thus potentially limiting you to shopping at Sephora when what you really need is at The Home Depot, or eating at The Cheesecake Factory when you prefer In 'N Out Burger.  Also, they shift funds to chain stores and restaurants rather than allowing you to patronize local businesses simply because it is difficult for family members who don't live in your town to buy a gift certificate from your favorite local store or restaurant (assuming they even know what those are).

I don't particularly enjoy receiving gifts as an adult.  Perhaps it is because the magic has worn off and I see past paper and bows to items which serve no purpose and deplete the earth's resources.  Perhaps I am jaded living in a society of (mostly) plenty and see no reason to receive things that I could buy for myself if I wanted to (but probably haven't, which tells you something right there).  But mostly it is probably because I stopped judging the value and happiness of my life based on the stuff I own, and thus giving me stuff doesn't bring me happiness, even at holiday time.  You can't prove you love me by giving me the best present ever and you can't make me think you don't love me by giving me a popcorn tin dud.

And that, I suppose, is the crux of it.  When did holiday gift giving to adults become about giving them exactly what they want?  When did adults start making holiday wish lists for themselves?  When did our worth as human beings become something judged by the holiday gifts we give?  Why is buying something valued over making something, and spending more valued over spending less?  Why the heck is going into debt valued over living within your means?

And so the cycle.  Decide to give handmade gifts.  Work on those.  Start to feel insecure about handmade gifts.  Decide that monetary gifts would be better received.  Get angry about that.  Throw hands in air.  Post rant on blog.  Decide that handmade is good enough.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

Disclaimer:  This rant only applies to certain branches of the family.  My father-in-law and stepmother-in-law love all things handmade as well as simple holidays with a focus on people, not presents. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Busy December

I don't mean to not be here.  I'm just in a weird place right now, at times incredibly busy, but also succumbing to complete inertia at other times. There was a funeral to plan and attend and now I have started the task of moving and sorting through what is left of my grandmother's possessions. Sometimes when I am procrastinating doing something in the house I will head out to the garage and spend hours with the boxes. Already I've sent 12 huge boxes of housewares to Goodwill.  I'm starting to think that I want to stay away from thrifting for awhile.

In the meantime, it's the Christmas season, which brings about a busyness of its own.  I made our advent calendar the night before I flew up north for my grandmother's funeral; I needed to know that it would be ready to go the day after I got home.  I was inspired by a couple of very simple envelope advent calendars that I saw online, but had to make it my own:

I used kraft coin envelopes, which I already had.  We purchased some rubber stamps and scrapbooking embellishments and I went to work decorating the envelopes with numbers, stamped images, and the embellishments.  I hung the envelopes on baker's twice using miniature clothes pins and then painted a slightly larger craft clothes pin bright red to mark the day.  I had originally thought we'd take each envelope off the garland when it was opened, but it really messed with the weight distribution so I came up with the idea for the red clothes pin.  The envelopes aren't sealed shut which means we can reuse them next year.  I don't put candy in our advent envelopes, just a slip of paper with an activity or craft on it.

(Since I took these pictures we've decorated the mantle with garlands, candles, and cut crystal and we've hung our stockings behind the garland.  It looks pretty plain in the picture.)

Here is a close up of a few envelopes:

And one with the red clothes pin:

So far we've watched Christmas specials and movies, done some crafts, decorated the house, gone to Disneyland, eaten at a favorite restaurant, and more.

I keep saying that life will get back to normal once we get past the holidays ~ maybe I should just accept this as normal for now.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Way back when we were just starting the homeschooling journey one of the many benefits of homeschooling commonly touted by the veterans was how flexible homeschooling could be when life pitched you curve balls.  Back then I couldn't imagine that I would need this flexibility, but in 2006 I faced a serious health crisis and a diagnosis of a chronic disease, in early 2007 my grandfather passed away, and in fall 2007 my mother died after a couple of months of hospitalization.

It was about that time that rhythmic homeschooling fell by the wayside in our home and we started to go with the flow of unschooling.  It certainly has its benefits but I have written time and time again about the importance of rhythm to my family.  We finally tamed all the chaos and got ourselves back into a solid homeschooling rhythm.

But last month another curve ball came our way.  My grandmother had a (second) massive stroke and we made the decision to move her to my sister's for hospice care.  Needless to say we weren't thinking about homeschooling.  My grandmother passed away peacefully eight days later, and then there were plans to make and a trip to her old hometown so that she could be buried with my grandfather.  Then I came home, but the work was only just starting.  Only today was I even able to contemplate getting back on track with focused lesson work.

It hasn't been all play and no work for the boys; they have kept up reading, had their science lessons with Papa, attended a performance of The Tempest, watched several episodes of The Cosmos, practiced singing Christmas carols, played geography board games, knit a little, listened to audiobooks, worked on baseball skills, drawn, done some writing, discussed the most recent findings about the building blocks of life, and more.  It is truly amazing how well unschooling works.  Indeed, I find that it works really well for just about everything, excepting math and that rock solid rhythm that I like for us to have.

It is true that the flexibility of homeschooling can be a benefit in these cases; I was able to take my boys with me out of town without worrying about them missing school or keeping up with homework.  But it also creates issues.  My boys lost their daily rhythm and I had a hard time choosing between my responsibilities to them, giving the necessary help needed to my sister, and caring for myself.  And as we all know, we tend to put ourselves last and that certainly happened with me.

So here I am with two weeks to go in what was planned as a short block to begin with.  We lost the last week of our November Ancient Cultures block (but that was a four week block so we managed fine), had a week that was planned off anyway, and lost the first week of our first North American Geography block.  I sat down today to do some planning and realized just how very depleted I am.  All weekend was spent catching up on housework that hadn't been done while I was away as well as driving to my grandmother's storage unit and moving all of that to my house (five hours in the car yesterday after very little sleep).  This morning I went for groceries, came home, and realized that I have nothing to go on.

For next couple of months I will be juggling being a full time homemaker, a homeschooling mother, a wife, and the executor of a living trust.  Not taking care of myself isn't going to be an option; what sort of works in the very short term won't work at all with the added responsibility and stress I will have until my job is finished.  I have to find a way to make it all work.

So now I have to decide what to do for the next two weeks.  Get back into a basic rhythm but give up on the first geography block for now, rearranging our schedule to add an extra three weeks to our school year?  Drop the Ancient Geometry block planned for January and move the geography block there?  We've done some of it already and geometry will be thoroughly covered using Life of Fred, but this block looked fun(!).  Keep Ancient Geometry but drop one Botany block since we did so much with it during the 2008-2009 school year?  Go on full holiday now and start everything again in January, or get this next month of mathematics in?

Reading all those choices (which I just came up with as I was typing) I think the best choice may be to condense Botany into one block (knowing we've done some of it and that it will come up again in biology), giving me space to move the first North American Geography block to January and the Ancient Geometry block into February.  We can spend the rest of this month reestablishing our morning rhythm with holiday crafting in place of the main lesson.  That gets us back on track with daily math and spelling.  I can breathe a bit and take my time planning the geography block rather than doing it by the seat of my pants, which is good because breath is what I need right now.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Finding Comfort

We've had a tough week.  I don't usually spill major details so let's just say it was a very tough week.  In the end, my grandmother passed away.

Sometimes I don't realize how important our rhythm is and how nurturing our environment is until we are away from home for an extended time.  It was difficult to be out of town with the boys, staying in a hotel and spending a lot of time at my sister's house.  Not only did I feel out of sorts but my boys started showing signs of real stress.  The first night we drove out (Saturday) they went home and I didn't and it was even harder for them; they love Papa but all is not right in the world if Mama isn't home.  I went home Sunday when I heard that both boys had cried themselves to sleep.  When I went back Tuesday I took them with me.  No matter what is going on Papa and my boys are still the most important things in my universe.

Whenever you are in someone else's house their differences are glaring.  Everyone has different values and habits and you find yourself trying to adapt as best you can.  Like many families, the TV is on almost constantly at my sister's house (it was only off when I turned it off and that would only last until my BIL entered the room).  There was a PS2 (game system) set up for the kids and having to choose between R-rated movies with foul language and the PS2 I had to choose the video games as the lesser of two evils, despite my misgivings.  At other times a more child-friendly show or movie would be put on (my sister doesn't let her children watch R-rated movies either).

The TV and video games made everything much worse when we were up there.  I tried to stay calm and centered but my boys were clearly overstimulated.  Unfamiliar surroundings, a less than peaceful environment, electronic media, and the magnitude of the situation were all too much.  In the end I had to make the decision to come home as it was clear that it was all too much for J-Baby.

(I want to say here that I in no way think that my children suffered any long-term damage from this week of chaos and excessive media.  Sometimes you have no choice but to be in the chaos for a little bit.  But there did come a point where I sensed that being there was more than he could bear.)

One of my goals is to have peace and warmth in my home, not only in our interactions with each other but also as a physical presence.  The physical peace comes from a strong rhythm and an environment that is tidy and uncluttered.  Knowing that each day will bring is comforting and allows us to be free of worry. Having clean and tidy spaces to live in eliminates mental chaos and frees us to relax fully.  It brings rest and calm.

For me, tidiness is also part of warmth.  A clean, tidy home is inviting, with both its physical presence and its mental calm.  A couch that is free of clothing waiting to be folded welcomes you to sit.  A dining room table with no more than a cloth and vase of flowers on it welcomes you to sit and eat.  So many people think that having a neat home is overrated, but it works for me.  I wouldn't want to have guests in my home if it wasn't tidy and I strongly feel that my family and I deserve the same consideration in our own home.  I grew up in a family that scrambled to clean things for visitors and it never made sense to me.

Here it is Monday and we are solidly back into rhythm.  Chores were done this morning.  The boys had quiet time and they did an afternoon project.  There was time for reading books and playing games.  They asked to knit and crochet so we got started on some holiday gifts.  Everything hasn't settled; a family member needed to stop by for some paperwork, there have been many phone calls making arrangements, and there is much to be done.  But I feel calm and peaceful.  The afternoon light is shining in the window.  The house is quiet (no TV, iPod, or radio).

This is where I find my comfort.  In the peaceful calm of home, in the warmth of my home and family, in the strong rhythms that guide my days.  Rather than being unmoored by my thoughts and grief I am grounded and sustained by our daily rhythm.  It brings me strength, and purpose, and the sure knowledge that life goes on.

Friday, November 12, 2010

It's Getting Better All the Time ...

Better, Better, Better.

(Yeah, we're Beatles geeks.)

We are three weeks into our customized method combining Waldorf with some traditional learning methods and a helping of unschooling and it is going exceedingly well.

Our days go like this: wake, breakfast, play (or computer for me), chores, lessons, lunch, quiet time, projects and free time, more play (while I make dinner), dinner, tidy, family walk, evening lesson with Papa, read in bed, lights out.

We're making even more of an effort to stay home.  I know many people think it isn't as important once a child is older than seven, but it's a habit that still works for us.  If I can at all help it we don't go anywhere by car Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday.  On Thursday afternoons we go to the library and the natural foods market and on Friday afternoons we have our park gathering.

It's different from what almost all of our other homeschool friends do, but as I said it works for us.  My children are grounded in their rhythm and nurtured by being home.  We aren't driving here and there for lessons and field trips and that means we can focus on lessons in the mornings and have a lot of free time for unscripted learning and even just being.  Imaginative play is so important for children; it allows the brain to relax and grow.

There is a quote (attributed to Yeats but that is widely debated) that goes along these lines:

Education is not the filling of a bucket,
but rather
the lighting of a fire.

Our entire American education system is about filling the bucket and it is easy for homeschoolers to get caught up in the same methods.  So even when I am teaching more traditional materials I try to remind myself what my goals are.  I want to expose my children to many different ideas and subjects, not so that they can recite facts back at me but so that we can find out what sparks their fire.

Wait, why did I bring up the bucket?  Oh yes, I was going to say that I am often dismayed at how busy some homeschoolering parents keep their children.  I guess it works for them and that is reason enough for me to stay out of it, but really, I do find it sad that even homeschooled children are so overscheduled.  Many homeschooling parents are desperately trying to fill the bucket.  Perhaps they were overscheduled as children and don't know anything different. Perhaps they are afraid that their children won't succeed if they aren't pushed as other American children are.

For me, this is no place for fear. I've already chosen something so very different for my children that trying to make them like other children doesn't make any sense to me.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

More Metlox!

A few weeks ago I found this Metlox Poppytrail Sculptured Grape teapot, which I blogged about over at The Thrift Collective.  I've only recently begun collecting Californian pottery in earnest and it is something I will only thrift for.

Yesterday I found an entire lot of the same pattern at my local Goodwill!  I grabbed it because it had the matching tea cups, creamer, and sugar, but there were some other pieces as well.

Here is the teapot in the china cabinet with the sugar bowl, creamer and a platter.

One of the tea cups (each had a saucer).

A stack of the other pieces.  There are seven bowls, seven luncheon/dessert plates, and four dinner plates.  The dinner plates have newer marks and two of them are pretty beat up.  I'm thinking they were added later or perhaps came in at the same time but from a different donor.

The pieces in the lot were pretty sad looking when I brought them home, but a date with some Barkeeper's Friend and a basin of hot soapy water (plus elbow grease) did wonders.  The outside of the bowls were nearly grey and now they look lovely.  I can hardly believe that I have gotten started collecting this pattern for so little; the teapot was $5 and the lot of everything else was $20.  Now I want to have a tea party!

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Successful Week

Wow.  We made it through a whole week of lessons, and no one melted down (I'm pretty proud of myself for that) and no one got bored or unmotivated.  That is my definition of success.

This seems to be a pretty good combination of Waldorf and other more traditional methods of teaching. We all love doing main lesson blocks and I guess it was a mistake to toss those when the boys asked for more math and science.  This week we learned the story of Divaali and the boys were entranced.

So far I really like our resources.  I am seeing regular improvement using Daily Grammar and Spelling City, especially with spelling.  It may be that the boys were just finally developmentally ready to learn spelling, but I think it also helps that there are games and that I am not the one giving a "test".  I removed myself from the equation completely and stopped being vested in whether or not they are good spellers.

Life of Fred is even better for our math than I thought it would be, and I love that it is so simple.  There aren't manipulatives to keep track of or separate worksheets, just the one book and our math notebooks.  I also think that it is teaching math in a way that is meaningful and long lasting.  We took our time this week, working all of the bridge exercises, and then today I separated them for their final bridge (test) and they were both less stressed.  We talked about why they felt stressed and how they don't have to do everything a book says they have to do.

It all feels so simple and right ~ basic academics mixed with humanities and the arts.  I feel more patient because I am more in tune with my purpose, which is to expose my children to new ideas and skills but not to force information into them.  We have good rhythm to the mornings and time in the afternoons to explore or just relax.  I'm not killing myself planning out every detail, either, since we are mostly just working in sequence.

Balance, that's what it is.  Simplicity and balance.  It feels good.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Happy Happy!

Okay, we're only two days into this new block and this new way of combining block learning with traditional lessons, but so far so good!

I've changed where we are learning, isn't that funny.  We have a huge desk set up in the family/learning room that we usually use for lessons, but this week we've been in the breakfast nook.  There is very little going on in the breakfast nook (fewer distractions) and it is always ready to go since we clear and wipe the table after every meal.  Plus we have to tidy up after morning lessons so that we can eat lunch.  So far it is working.

As the main lesson mostly consists of presenting new material this week we've had time for some baking and Halloween crafting, which we are all enjoying.  Once we get our projects completed I'll post photos.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

I Miss Waldorf

We're two months into the school year an I am kicking myself for having sold our copy of Live Education Grade 5.  I don't need all of it, but I have decided to add more Waldorf back into our learning and now I am scrambling for resources and having to put blocks together on my own.

What we were doing wasn't bad, and we'll still be doing most of it, including keeping the math as a daily lesson rather than teaching it in main lesson blocks.  Spelling City is still a hit.  Actually, there was nothing wrong with what we were doing so much as it was kind of boring and not nearly as experiential as we are accustomed to.

So, these are the blocks we are going to do this year:

Ancient Cultures: India and Persia (timed to coincide with Diwali)
North American Geography I
Geometry (a hands-on block using String, Straightedge, and Shadow)
Botany I (time to coincide with planting the early spring garden)
North American Geography II
Ancient Cultures: Mesopotamia and Egypt
Botany II

We're still going to read Newberry Honor books during each block and will incorporate some of those into our secondary lessons.  We're switching our foreign language from French to Spanish; I found it to hard to try to teach the boys a language I don't know, and it is looking like we won't go to Belgium next fall anyway.

Anyway, I am knee-deep in planning the next block because we are planning to start Monday!

Dogs, Trains, and Baseball

These are the things that dominate my weekends.  But for a few weeks we will be minus the dogs as they have been sent away for "boot camp" obedience training.  Here is a picture of them with the boys last weekend:

After we visited the dog training site (we didn't leave them that day) we drove to the Orange Empire Railway Museum in Perris, California.  We've been members ever since our first visit in 2001.  Trains are a big part of our lives, both model railroading and what some rail fans like to call 1:1 scale, a.k.a. the real thing.

We got a peak into one of the car barns; the ROTC kids tried to scare us off but a few volunteers welcomed us in.  We learned that the steam engine (VC-2) will be out of commission for a full year, but that SP 3100's restoration is coming along nicely.  Look at this paint job!

J-Baby has loved the signal garden since he could walk, and Wig-Wags are a favorite:

Every Sunday we have a baseball game.  This weekend we have two, as we played a game today in order to have Halloween off.

J-Baby was kind of lonely out there in left field.  He played right and left field today, had a couple of hits including an RBI, and scored a run.  He's doing fantastically for his first time ever.

T-Guy played right field, left field, and second base.  He loves playing in the infield and we are glad that winter ball gives him a chance to try different positions.  He played a pivotal role in a double play, had two hits, and also had the opportunity to score a run.

(He's the player in the middle.)

There was a wee amount of thrifting today, but I haven't taken any photos yet.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bike Weather Has Finally Arrived!

Wouldn't it be awesome to tool around town in one of these cool bikes?

Madsen Cycles Cargo Bikes

I am seriously in love.  I have an Electra Townie and a Burley Nomad trailer, but this is just so much cooler!

It's a sad truth that we can't bike year round; in summer it just gets too hot here for biking unless one is willing to go just as the sun is rising (and this one is not).  That's great for exercise, but even the bakery isn't open that early.  Why bike if you can't get a pastry?

Do you know what's the coolest?  Madson Cycles is giving away one of these bikes!  Click on the photo above to be taken to their website so you can learn all about their bikes and also this awesome giveaway.

Monday Musing ~ When Your Partner is Ill

Papa is sick.  Again.  He seems to pick up more viruses than the rest of us (probably because he is out in the world daily) and he is hit harder and the illnesses last longer.  It has been especially bad since he had the H1N1 virus summer 2009.  I'm rather worried.

I'll be honest ~ in the past my first response to Papa coming down with an illness was anger.  I got angry that he was sick again, that it was going to disrupt our day again, and that I would have to take on more than my regular share of child and home care again.  I think one reason I felt like this was that as a homemaker and mother I don't get sick days.  When I come down with an illness I have to manage by myself and often I would come down sick after Papa and still have to take care of everyone.

It isn't like this when one of my boys is ill.  I am immediately concerned and do my best as Dr. Mom.  I make warm herbal teas, homemade soups, and nourishing smoothies.  I draw warm baths and add essential oils.  I rub little chests with Winter Wonder Balm.  Of course, I try to enforce as much bed rest as possible.

A couple of years ago I realized that I was irrationally angry when Papa was sick.  He wasn't getting ill on purpose and he didn't enjoy being ill.  He wasn't trying to do anything to me at all.  Somehow I had picked up resentment and poor behavior toward an ill partner.   Growing up in my childhood home my mother was constantly ill with various chronic conditions and my dad was a bit of a martyr about the household tasks he had to take on, plus as the oldest girl child I had to care for my mom and my siblings.

Since I had my epiphany I have tried very hard to change my attitude and to give Papa all the concern and love that he deserves when he is ill.  I try to keep the boys quiet and will even take them out of the house to give Papa some true quiet for a restful nap.  I fix him nourishing foods and herbals teas.  I kiss his brow and tell him that I love him and want him to be well soon.  Because I really do, and I know he does too.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Waiting For Sunlight

I want to post all of the fun things we found this weekend, but so far today we have clouds and grey!  That doesn't make for very good photos, and right now I am still stuck with the camera phone.  Instead I will post some of my thrifted finds from August and September.

It's a 1 1/2 quart 474 round Cinderella casserole and I am pretty sure that it has the wrong lid, because I think it is the color of the Daisy 474.  So I will be keeping my eye out for a lid.

These are sweet little Vera cotton guest towels.  I found them online labelled as Vera napkins but the size seemed off to me so I took a chance and I was correct!

More guest towels ~ I love guest towels!  I have plans to find the right sized basket and put them in my front bathroom when we have guests.  Day in day out I don't put them in there because my boys would ruin them, but I do always have one hanging in my little bathroom.  With cold and flu season coming up I think they are a really great idea.  All but the His and Hers were found recently in a bundle for $1; the His and Hers were thrifted a couple of years ago.

A lovely leaf dish for our fall display!

Six dessert/salad plates from my favorite Mikasa Stoneware line, Natural Beauty.  There are several patterns within the line and I didn't have any of this one, which is Petit Fleur.  These are tucked away and I will bring them out in the spring/summer.

I had a terrible time getting a good shot of this pretty tin bowl.  I love the butterflies!  It was made in England!  Most tinware I find is made in China (but I did find a tray made in the USA ~ I'll post that one with the newer finds).

And finally, a Pyrex cheese server.  When the clerk wrapped this for me he made a big deal about how he had to tell me that it was very thin, fragile glass.  It cleaned up really well and I am looking forward to using it to serve cheese very soon.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Glass Confession #3 ~ Sometimes It Isn't Even Vintage

I came to collecting Pyrex (and later other brands of vintage glass) because of its safety and performance in the kitchen.  That's right, I bought fridgies because I wanted something to store leftovers in and I was tired of the way the plastic lids on my newer Pyrex storage containers would break.  I gave up storing food in plastic containers years ago, long before BPA was a dirty acronym.

I love glass and have always used it in my kitchen.  Indeed, I am a glass and cast iron kind of cook, with the occasional stainless steel piece here and there.  Glass performs beautifully whether you are baking brownies or chicken (not together please).  I have long used a covered glass casserole to cook frozen vegetables in the microwave (I tried giving up the microwave for almost a year; it just wasn't worth it).

These Anchor Hocking 12 oz. covered casseroles showed up at my Goodwill last weekend.  I knew they weren't vintage, but I also knew that I could find a way to use them.  I had just purchased the little Pyrex 080 dishes and had started thinking of the benefits of cooking in individual casseroles, especially as we are a household of food allergies and intolerances.  When I make a casserole I have to leave out pepper for one child, cheese for the other, etc.  Now not only can I customize for food allergies but I can take into account food preferences as well.

After washing them I did notice something:  they don't stack together neatly the way the vintage Pyrex does.  I can't figure out why it would have been hard to engineer that, especially since Pyrex already did, more than half a century ago.

Overall I'm not looking for newer glass pieces, but I wasn't going to turn these away just because they sold them very recently.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Glass Confession #2 ~ It Isn't Always Pyrex

True, Pyrex is my first glass love, but I've branching out just a tiny bit lately. It started when a few Glasbake pie plates came home with me, and then some sweet embossed custard cups, and then these Fire King bowls grabbed me at the glass museum parking lot sale:

What can I say?  They were yellow and only $1 a piece.  They've been well-loved and I will continue to use them.  I'm insisting that they not go into the dishwasher despite their less than pristine exteriors  (things were so much easier when we didn't have an automatic dishwasher!).  They are a lovely size and feel wonderful in the hand ~ they remind me of Japanese rice or soup bowls in their shape and heft.

Sunday another non-Pyrex piece of glass came home with me.  Really, who could leave home a Glasbake covered loaf dish?

It's in perfect condition, no chips at all, and with my coupon it was only $3.50! I don't need it for baking but I do think it will look great filled with vintage sewing notions.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Glass Confession #1 ~ I Like the Clear Stuff

I love pretty much all Pyrex.  Yes, that means I collect clear as well as colored/patterned Pyrex.  I found these two custard cups (425 and 426) this morning for 15¢ at a rummage sale.  I had to scrub a tiny bit of mauve paint off the smaller of the two, using a toothpick and Pampered Chef plastic scraper, but now they are clean are ready to add to the cupboard.

In August I came upon a mother load of clear Pyrex pieces at my favorite thrift; all were vintage and ranged from pie plates to covered casseroles to utility dishes.  It was a 50% off day as well!  Someday I will start photographing those pieces and post them to the blog.  There are all in the pantry waiting to be used; I do use just about all of my Pyrex (at least all that I can get to, as I have more than I need, of course).

Completely unrelated to glass, I collect vintage hand-embroidered linens.  These lovely birds and flowers were found at the Assistance League thrift shop here in town, which is where I have found most of my pieces.  My collection is still very small and I have decided not to troll online auction sites for more; I like to think I am rescuing these pieces from obscurity and giving them a good home.  As a person who does handwork I know the amount of work that goes into such pieces and I absolutely hate it when I see them at thrift stores, cast away by those who don't know their value (sentimental, not monetary).

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Little Friday Pick Me Up

We just got home from a week of vacation at the beach; however, it was a week with absolutely zero thrifting.  No consignment or thrift shops, no yard sales, and no antiques stores.  Oh, the shops were there, but this was a family vacation so we spent our time at the pool and beach.  I convinced myself that any Pyrex I might have found would have been ridiculously overpriced since we were in such a tony area.

After lunch today I told Papa I wanted to go to one antique mall and offered to drop him home first, but he came along with me.  I was determined to come home with something Pyrex and toward the end of my shopping I came across these two little babies.  They are lime green 080 individual casserole dishes and I found them in the same dealer booth where I found my 2.5 quart Daisy casserole dish.  I'm starting to know which dealers have Pyrex regularly.  These weren't a bargain at $4.95 each but they go for more than that online, so I feel okay about it.  I almost never see colored Pyrex at the thrift store.

These will be perfect for individual apple crisps or meat loaves.  The clerk wrapping my package suggested leftovers, but I had to laugh and tell her that I am past pretending that I will ever have enough leftovers to fill all the Pyrex I buy.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Uh oh!  When I joined The Pyrex Collective this week I had no idea that this blog was going to be linked to.  After all, I have lots of other blogs, LOL.  Anyway, today I was visiting all of the linked blogs and I saw one called Warm Bellies and I thought to myself, that's sounds awfully similar to one of my blogs and lo and behold, the link brought me here.  And now I feel like the person whose mother-in-law stopped by without calling first because I sure as heck wasn't expecting company!

So the blog is rather boring right now ~ the template, the colors, the dearth of pictures.  I can only promise to clean it up soon and be ready to go closer to the end of September.  Oh, I'll post before that because I love to blog (and I love when bloggers update daily), but I am terrible at getting photographs posted.  Really good photographs require dragging out a very large camera and then transferring the photos using a CF card reader.  It's too much trouble, really.  Someone should make a fantastic digital point-and-shoot with a pop out USB connector like the Flip video camera has ~ nothing to carry or lose.

That photo up there?  It's an iphone photo of my first piece of colored Pyrex.  At least, I think it was my first piece, or at least the first piece I purchased for myself.  I'm pretty sure I let a Spring Blossom Green loaf pan leave my home many years ago just because I didn't really know what I had, or I didn't care because I wasn't interested in colored Pyrex at the time.

I chose Daisy for my first piece because I happened upon it at Goodwill and it was yellow.  It is as simple as that.  This piece was my lone piece of colored Pyrex for at least a year, and then her big sister the 2.5 quart covered casserole joined her, and then I got caught up in collecting Pyrex refrigerator dishes (known as fridgies), but that is another story.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Grade 5/6, Fall Term, Week 2, Day 3

Academics: Assigned Reading, Literature, Math, Grammar, Spelling, Writing, US History, Free Reading

So far Spelling City seems like the best spelling program ever invented.  Daily my boys are jumping up and down excited to get their spelling time on the computer.  This is the first year we have ever not fought over "spelling", since early Waldorf-style "spelling" didn't require any testing.

The real test, of course, will be whether or not their spelling actually improves.  Right now they are breezing through easy Dolch word lists, but that is the only way I can evaluate where they are in their spelling, and eventually we will get to harder words.  I did sign up for the premium version so that I can see how they are doing.

I don't feel too badly that they are doing their spelling on the computer; a friend told me that her 3rd grader also types in spelling words during testing, and that their local school doesn't focus on penmanship at all.  It's a school with good funding, I surmise, as my MIL's school doesn't have these devices.  I still haven't found out exactly what they are called; they have no monitors only a small display that shows the words typed.  This Calcuscribe might be it, or maybe the Neo2 from AlphaSmart.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Grade 5/6, Fall Term, Week 2, Day 2

Acadmics:  Assigned Reading, Literature, California History, Grammar, Science, Spelling, Free Reading, US History

I am wiped out today, and my house is littered with books: books we own, books we are borrowing, school books, etc.  There are 9 books on the coffee table at present, and I have no energy to put them all where they belong.  I call this homeschool decorating, as there is little doubt that this is a home where education is happening.

We didn't manage our art lesson today as it turns out that I didn't have a bottle of black tempera paint up in the art cabinet.  Indeed, all I had was watercolor paints and those aren't going to adhere to aluminum foil.  We'll have to finish the art lesson later this week.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Grade 5/6, Fall Term, Week 2, Day 1

Academics: Assigned Reading, Literature, Grammar, Math, Spelling, Free Reading, History, Health

We are falling into rhythm very easily this school year.  It is still difficult for me to get myself up at 7 a.m. each morning, but not as difficult as it was two weeks ago.  Papa is getting up with me, which means I can make the bed while he takes a shower.  Then we wake the boys and eat breakfast together.  I'm not even as grumpy as I was at first (mornings have never been my best time of the day).

So, if you didn't deduce it from last week's blog posts, we were away for a long weekend.  We did abbreviated lesson work Thursday morning and headed to the coast; Papa and I actually left the boys with their grandparents and had an anniversary weekend away.  I am so thankful for grandparents who think that parents getting away is a great idea and who are more than willing to spend a weekend doing education activities with the boys.  Not only did they visit the coast and ocean, go on a long nature hike, and tour Mission San Juan Capistrano, they also went to Medieval Times for a dinner jousting show and they took a private tour of the local landfill.  That is the equivalent of five field trips right there!

There was still time left over for reading, singing, cooking, swimming, and more.  Clearly my in-laws are super grandparents!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Grade 5/6, Fall Term, Week 1, Day 5

Academics Today: Free Reading, California History, Spelling, Science

Since we are studying California History more in-depth this year we decided to take a field trip to Mission San Juan Capistrano today and also to explore some the other adobe buildings in SJC.  Mission history can be hard to teach now that we know how the native people were exploited and abused, often being forced to convert to Christianity just to provide food for their families, but it is a story worth telling and worth hearing because truth brings understanding.

Last year was technically J-Baby's 4th grade and year and that is when mission history is taught in the California public schools, but I knew that he was still too sensitive to explore it fully, so we waited.  This is our first mission field trip of the year but we hope to explore most of the missions in Southern California.  Who knows, maybe this year they will construct a model of a mission, just as I did in the 4th grade and the 4th grade students in California still do today.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Grade 5/6, Fall Term, Week 1, Day 4

Academics Today:  Assigned Reading, Literature, California History, Grammar, Spelling, Free Reading

We went light on the academics today so we could do a field trip and explore ocean and coastal habitats.   It has been so hot, and since Grandma and Grandpa live at the beach we thought we could escape the heat and do some hands-on learning.  We went on a hike, swam at the beach, and played in the sand.  We also practiced singing folk songs and playing instruments.

It does feel a bit odd to not be teaching in the block format of Waldorf and Enki this year, but our math program (Life of Fred) is meant to be used daily and Papa was already reading history with the boys daily, plus J-Baby requested that we do science more often, and so I have abandoned the block format of teaching as well as using long cultural blocks throughout the year.  We will be reading one work of literature each month and will bring in some of the culture of each book, but it won't be interdisciplinary.  This month we are reading The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate so we'll explore southern culture via songs, games, and food.  We've also decided to tack on going through the Little House books again so we'll be exploring pioneer culture ~ we even have a friend who is going to demonstrate making bullets for us!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Grade 5/6, Fall Term, Week 1, Day 3

Academic Work Today: Assigned Reading, Literature, Grammar, Math, Music, Science, Spelling, Free Reading, U.S. History

We had a smooth, successful morning, which reinforces my observation that J-Baby responds best to academic work in the morning.

Just how are we managing to get so much done in the mornings?  We're waking up early, which is new for us and somewhat unusual among the homeschoolers that we know.  I don't really love getting up early but I do love how I feel when I have accomplished so much by noon, and I enjoy my afternoon quiet time more when I don't have any major tasks pulling at me.

Our Focus Lesson/Project today was introducing the boys to their Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way Quest Guides and creating a science time line for our family/learning room.  Happily the time line started to draw J-Baby into what we are doing, as yesterday he expressed his disappointment that our science book isn't full of one experiment after the other.  We made the time line out of old dot matrix continuous feed printer paper (Grandma gave us a big box when she broke up housekeeping) and will add our events using small sticky notes.

I also took a quote from our book and made a poster from it, and we talked about what it means and how we might say the same thing today:

Yes, it's Waldorfy, but it doesn't really have a pink background ~ that was the lighting.  And I cut off the picture, lol.  I should have pulled out the real camera and not used a camera phone, but hey, it's better than nothing.

Both boys misspelled yellow on their spelling tests, despite our having had color name flip books in this house for years.  Go figure.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Grade 5/6, Fall Term, Week 1, Day 2

Academic Work Today: Assigned Reading, Literature, California History, Science, Spelling, Art, Free Reading, U.S. History.

I wasn't thinking ahead when I made the syllabus for our fall term and had us begin this week.  Today was the last day of our summer movies series, so I had to shift some of our lesson work to the afternoon.  I find that this doesn't work well for J-Baby, who generally wants to do his own thing in the afternoon.  We had more friction than I wanted, but muddled through.  Last year we didn't buy tickets for the final movie of the series to avoid this situation.

Our focus lesson/project today was completing a lesson out of the book Discovering Great Artists.  We read about Giotto and looked at several of his paintings on the iPad (it's a handy little homeschool tool ~ I'll give it its own post someday).  Our project was to finely crush chalk with round stones and mix them with egg yolk (beaten with water) to create egg tempera, which is the kind of paint Giotto used.  Then we painted pictures and J-Baby also painted a rock.  It was an easy project and I had all the materials on hand, although I must say I cringed just a little at sacrificing two egg yolks from our wonderful locally and humanely-produced eggs.  I did save the whites and will toss them into a scrambled egg breakfast Thursday.

Another lesson learned?  Put the paintings where the dogs can't get to them: the Brat Dog thought my egg tempera painting was a tasty snack.

Monday, August 23, 2010

And So It Begins ~ Grade 5/6, Fall Term, Week 1, Day 1

Academic Work Today: Assigned Reading, Literature, Grammar, Math, Health, Spelling, Free Reading, U.S. History

We had a wonderful first day of lessons!  This is our morning rhythm:

Awaken early and eat breakfast
Hygiene and chores
Assigned reading
Daily Grammar
Guided lesson work
Focus lesson or project
Computer lessons

We eat breakfast together as a family; this is our gathering circle after the separation of sleep.  In general this is a meal that I prepare and serve, although there are times that it is as simple as homemade granola and milk.  Today we had toast and fruit.

We begin our "school" day with assigned reading because it allows me an extra 45 minutes to devote to homekeeping chores such as vacuuming and laundry.  I find this very important as living in a clean and tidy home is nourishing to us.  If I had younger children I would begin the day with a more structured activity such as a formal circle time or nature adventure walk and would shift the homekeeping chores later in the day.  Indeed, we'll resume talking nature walks in the morning once it cools down around here, perhaps in October (we hope!)

Today the boys read the first two chapters in The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and also read the first two chapters in Life of Fred: Fractions.  The math reading takes very little time but I can see that we need another copy of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and have put one on reserve at the library.

Daily Grammar is an online resource that can be done completely free of charge, or you can order a hard copy or e-book copy.  I ordered the e-book and printed out our pages for the week.  Oddly, the answers for each lesson are right there at the bottom of the page, so I covered those with sticky notes.  Our plan is to spend 5 - 10 minutes on grammar daily.  Today the boys enjoyed it so much that we did lessons 1 - 3.

Our guided lesson time (which includes the above-mentioned grammar work) is the period of the morning that I spend working with the boys on their basic academics such as math and science.  Today we did the problems for Life of Fred: Fractions chapters 1 and 2.  We're still using grid paper lesson books from Paper Scissors Stone, which is good since we found ourselves reviewing long multiplication.  The grids really helps students keep their numbers in tidy columns.

Each day we will also have what I am referring to as a "Focus Project" or "Focus Lesson".  This could be weekly lessons such as health, music, or art, or it could be a project based on one of our academic subjects such as science or literature.  Today we began our study of human development and sexuality using It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health.  We could go through the book fairly quickly but my goal is to open a dialog about these topics and create an environment of honest communication about puberty and sexuality, free from embarrassment or shame.

This year we will be using the computer for spelling lessons and testing and also for French lessons.  I paid for a premium account at Spelling City; as a program it reminds me a lot of Phonetic Zoo except it removes the physical writing of words (spelling test answers are typed in) and it keeps records for me so I can see where the boys are excelling and where they need help.  For example, I know that today they both got 100% on their pretests and should be tested on the next list.  I can also see what games they played to help them learn their spelling words.  If they do miss words on a test I can see exactly what words they missed and whether or not they passed them on a retest.

Our goal is to spend about 3 hours homeschooling in the mornings, focusing on our state-required subjects: English/Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies/History, Health, Fine Arts, and Physical Education.  I wondered what exactly the state/school district would consider a "full time private day school" and I figured if the tutoring option requires 3 hours then that is what we would aim for.  This leaves our afternoons free for park day gatherings, free play, and other enrichments activities such as listening to audiobooks, going on field trips, etc.  U.S. History is done in the evenings with Papa.

When the boys were younger this would have been spread out more over the day, with perhaps only 90 minutes of "school" in the morning, and practice work and projects done after quiet time in the afternoon.

After eating lunch together as a family the boys and I headed over to the park for our annual Not Back to School Celebration with our homeschool friends.  It was 105°F (!) out there but supposedly only felt like 98°F.  Whatever, it was hot!  The moms sat in the shade and tried not to move while the kids created a fantastic tree limb fort.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Gearing Up For Grade 5/6

It's planning time here at the Living Oak Academy.  This year we aren't going to use any Waldorf or Enki resources (although we will still use some of their methods!) so I've been doing research, gathering materials, and making an outline for the year.  I'll be honest ~ I love the planning!  I love homeschooling and teaching and in a perfect world I'd probably open a small private school in my home.

This past year I learned a lot about my boys and myself.  T-Guy thrives on schedules, likes for me to plan what he is learning, and loves the output portion of learning.  J-Baby needs rhythm but fights against it, likes to follow his own interests, and wants nothing to do with output.  So this year the challenge is to find a middle ground where both of their needs are being met and I'm not going insane!

Things we have planned:

Literature:  Our plan is to read one Newberry Medal or Honor book each month/block, beginning with The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (which we did not manage to read over the summer, it having been abandoned for science fiction).  As always, I'll read this first book of the year to them (or we will listen on audio).  My hope is to be able to have some friends read the same books as us this year and have a book club for the children.

Language Arts:  We'll be using Daily Grammar and Spelling City (a computer website) and we will continue with expository and creative writing.

History/Social Studies: We've had a great time with A History of US so there is no need to change that.  This year our goal is to complete books 4 and 5.  If we finish those early we'll spend some time with Oh, California.  I'll also be looking for field trips and A/V materials to support our learning, and the boys are planning to listen to The Story of the World Volumes 1, 2, and 3 again.

Science:  We've loved A History of US so much that we are going to use Joy Hakim's The Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way as our science spine this year.  Add to that plenty of hands-on science led by Papa, science and nature-based field trips, numerous science books from the library, online science resources, and of course science videos such as Nature and NOVA.

Mathematics:  We will review and expand our knowledge of fractions with Life of Fred: Fractions and then we will study Life of Fred: Decimals and Percents.  The plan is to complete both of these in preparation for pre-algebra 1&2 next year.

Foreign Language:  We will be studying French in preparation for a trip to Belgium and France next year.  We can use a free online language program for French through the library, but we might choose to purchase the Rosetta Stone French language program.

Health:  In addition to the natural learning of health principles through family living we plan to tackle the subject of puberty using It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health.

Visual and Performing Arts:  I had thought we might use the Draw Write Now series since we already own books 1 - 8, but then I remembered how very long it took us to do even one lesson last year.  Instead I've borrowed Discovering Great Artists from the library and we're going to give it a try.  If we like the projects I'll purchase a copy.

Physical Education:  The boys will receive continuing instruction in mountain biking, baseball, basketball, yoga, and general physical fitness.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


It's June, which means we are officially on summer break (although that doesn't mean that we stop learning!).  The weather has been nice so far but is heating up rapidly.  Unlike some families who can spend all day out-of-doors in the summer, we find ourselves limited by the extreme heat, so I like to plan things for us to do indoors during the hot afternoons.  I also like to keep a rhythm to our days; they're more relaxed and somewhat fluid, but having place markers helps keep the days from stretching into an endless bore.

We generally try to get outside on all but the hottest mornings.  We walk the dogs, eat breakfast outside, and tend the garden.  The boys will play basketball or paint.

One thing I like to do each summer is read a novel to the boys.  This year we've chosen The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, a 2010 Newberry Honor Winner that looks to be smashing.  I like to bring T-Guy away from his rather narrow interest in fantasy novels and I think that a novel that has a science focus will be right up J-Baby's alley.

Each summer we bring a stronger focus on arts and crafts; I'll admit that I find it far easier to have the boys paint outside and deal with the mess out there.  We already have the easel set up under the porte-cochere and jars of diluted (1:1) Liquid Watercolors stand at the ready for painting inspiration, along with our makeshift drying line and a wash station.  This summer we're going to focus on hand-sewing skills as our craft, perhaps branching out to the machines by summer's end.  I now have a Singer Featherweight 221 for each boy, although they both needs some maintenance/repair (I have a Featherweight 222 for myself ~ how lucky am I?).

The boys are old enough now to really learn about maintaining a clean home so we'll be teaching them the basics of dusting, vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, etc.  It sounds boring but I think it is important to teach life skills to children and help them see the value of keeping a clean and tidy home.  We've decided as a family that we will no longer hire housecleaners for a job that we are capable of doing ourselves (and I am so grateful that my health has improved to a place where we can do this).

Both boys have a real interest in cooking, so once a week I'll be bringing one of them into the kitchen to learn the basics of cooking a healthy, delicious dinner.  They are definitely behind where I was at their age, as at age 10 I could put the entire meal on the table, but the way I cook now is far different than how I was taught (opening cans, boxes, and freezer containers).  Still I think they are ready for learning to cook simple meals such as baked chicken, brown rice, and sauteed zucchini.  They can also pitch in on my weekly big kitchen day.

The pool becomes a big focus for us in the summer, as we go for a couple of hours most afternoons, either before it is time to prepare dinner or after an early dinner so that Papa can come with us.

We have many activities to mark our week; farmers markets on Thursdays and Saturdays, the summer music series on Tuesdays and Fridays, weekly gathering with our homeschooled friends, play dates, a weekly kids' movie series, and our weekly library trips (including twice monthly board game days).  It sounds busy but none of these activities take long, they are spread out, and all of them are optional.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Reviewing the Year: 2009 - 2010 Edition

Long time no blog, eh?

We sort of had a learning meltdown near the end of April, and since then we have completely revamped.  We spent our final month of the "school year" back in a really relaxed manner, exploring Shakespeare and mostly just pursuing whatever interests the boys had.

2009 - 2010 was an interesting year for us.  We all learned a lot.  We did an impromptu 10 minute fraction lesson yesterday and I have no doubt that the basics of fractions have taken hold.  Common denominators and reducing fractions are no longer foreign concepts, and more importantly the boys have a strong sense of fractions being parts of wholes.

J-Baby moved from competent reader to someone who enjoys reading.  He still mostly chooses non-fiction for himself, but he does enjoy fiction.  I learned that the hardest part for him is choosing a work of fiction; it isn't as simple as knowing that you want to read about neutron stars or volcanoes.  He actually appreciates it when I am the one who does the weeding for him and find books that I think will appeal to him.  I mostly stick to the classic books for his developmental stage.

T-Guy really jumped ahead in his math skills, easily memorizing his multiplication facts and quickly getting a strong grasp on long division.  It's kind of funny that both of my boys find long division far simpler than long multiplication.  He read hundreds of books and easily listened to 50 more.  He's moved into creative writing and wanting to write more in general.

Last year I did a year in review and I really enjoyed looking back later and seeing how much we had done, so I am going to do it again.  It is impossible to cover everything we did/learned so I will list the more traditionally academic learning.

History/Social Studies:  This year our focus was on American History.  Using the A History of Us series by Joy Hakim we finished Vol. 2 Making Thirteen Colonies, did Vol. 3 From Colonies to Country, and got started on Vol. 4 The New Nation.  The boys viewed the entire Liberty's Kids series.  While American history was our focus we also studies some Viking/Norse history during our Norse Mythology block, and the boys watched various PBS programs on subjects that interest, such as ancient Egypt.  T-Guy says History is his favorite subject and we really love watching him and J-Baby make connections between historical and current events.

Reading:  I stopped trying to keep up with everything T-Guy read this year.  He reread many favorites, discovered some new books such as the Children of the Lamp series by P.B. Kerr, the Hardy Boys, and the new series by Percy Jackson author Rick Riordan, The Kane Chronicles, the first book out being The Red Pyramid.  J-Baby checked out and read hundreds of science books, some aimed at children and some aimed at adults.  Both boys enjoyed their assigned reading, including The Search For Delicious, Stuart Little, The Trumpet of the Swan, The Earth Dragon Awakes, and the many books I found to support our blocks studies on Norse mythology and Beowulf.  The boys did projects for Stuart Little and The Search For Delicious.  This year the boys both participated in their first book club at the library.  Part of the club was reading out loud at each session and both boys did really well with this; Thomas in particular improved his fluency and inflection when reading out loud (J-Baby is rather dramatic and already had this down).  They also participated in book-related discussion, games, quizzes, and art projects.

Language Arts:  This year we studied grammar with an emphasis on parts of speech.  The boys learned the basics about nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs; plus prepositional phrases, interjections, conjunctions, synonyms, antonyms, homonyms and homophones.  They learned verb tenses, sentence and paragraph construction, and creative writing.  Each boy wrote his own heroic epic and a short essay.  The boys developed spelling skills as I worked with them on their phonics skills and spelling rules.  Recently the boys have been watching The Electric Company and this has also helped with developing spelling skills.

Science:  J-Baby lives and breathes science!  There isn't a day that goes by that he doesn't have his nose in a science book or that he isn't explaining some sort of scientific theory to me.  We continued with science experiments this year, some simple exploration with books and some more elaborate experiments with kits.  There was a lot of work with electricity, including parallel and series circuits.  We grew crystals and explored basic chemistry.  We continued to spend time in nature learning our local flora and fauna and went deeper into research using books.  Each boy did research on a local animal, writing an essay and drawing pictures of the animal, it's habitat, home, and food.  We started a garden again this year and revisited our learning on seeds and plants.  One thing we focused on was recording observations and the boys took notes on their experiments, making predictions and recording outcomes.

Math:  Grade 4 was focused on two main subject areas in math, long division and fractions, and we made amazing progress in both.  We also practiced skills in addition and subtracting with regrouping, long multiplication, and multiplication facts.  We informally explored numbers systems and basic algebra.  We observed geometric shapes in nature and described objects in nature with both objective and subjective adjectives.

Foreign Language:  I'd love to be able to say that we moved forward with Spanish this year, but the boys still don't have any real interest in speaking another language.  Informally we spent time talking about word origins and I still use basic Spanish with them, which they understand more and more.  We also explored the culture of Mexico and Mexican-Americans through music, food, and holiday celebrations.

Health:  This was the big year for learning the basics of human reproduction.  We also continued to focus on nutrition, exercise, food chemicals, and more.  We talked about emotions in ourselves and others, personal safety, and exercise/sports safety.

Fine Arts:  Both boys improved in their drawing skills, in part due to natural developmental progress and also our work with drawing using OM4 and Draw Write Now.  We did a basic guitar course and worked on singing in parts.  Both boys really got the hang of knitting and they also did weaving work.  We also continued to attend plays and musical performances.

Physical Education:  This was the year of baseball skills!  Both boys worked on hitting, running, and catching, and T-Guy played his first year in Pony Baseball, which brought a deeper knowledge of baseball rules and strategy.  The boys also worked on learning new mountain biking skills.  Throughout the year we walked, hiked, and swam, with the boys learning three swim strokes (freestyle, butterfly, and breast) and also egg-beater style water treading.