Monday, December 19, 2011

More Keva

By request, here are several more shots of Keva structures done by the boys:
 A basic tower in a very messy bedroom.  I'm so glad we decluttered again!
Baseball stadium, which they had room to build because we got rid of so much junk in the bedroom.
 An earlier baseball stadium (2009).
 A locomotive (2007).
 Their earliest towers (2007).
 A Major Battlement (2008).
 Side View of Battlement (2008).
 Aerial Shot of Battlement (2008).
 Castle Towers and Entrance Gate (2008).
 Tall Tower (2008).
Other Buildings (2010)

Things I Learned in 2011

That my ability to forgive is stronger than I thought.
That I can have compassion toward people that I thought would never deserve it from me.
That knowing that someone loves you means something.
That good friends are a treasure.
That I need to stop holding everyone - including myself - to impossibly high standards.
That I need to let go and stop worrying about other people's problems.
That not only can I not change people, but wanting them to change won't make it happen either.
That I have the right to stop hearing about situations that people only want to complain about but refuse to change.
That I can change, that my husband can change, and that all the change is wonderful.
That my boys can take care of themselves pretty darn well.
That they still need me.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fun With Keva

I take photos of KEVA structures on a regular basis, but most of them stay on my phone until there isn't room or the boys say they can be deleted, as often we are just taking a photo to show Papa. However, since Shelley of Along the Crooked Path posted some KEVA photos I thought I'd look on my computer and see what I could find.
 This is a fairly recent structure as T-Guy is in his own (somewhat messy) bedroom. His face is so much leaner here than in the final photo; it isn't weight loss since he is perpetually skinny. It's just part of the process of becoming a young man.
 This is a coliseum of sorts, with a Lego Mini Figure battle taking place. I believe that is a homebuilt Lego dragon up top.
This is a tower that the homeschool group kids built; they were going for height. The photos was taken almost exactly one year ago, and wow, all three of these boys have grown since then. T-Guy is so much taller and is face is far more angular now.

Thanks for the inspiration, Shelley!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Popping In ...

I really didn't intend my blog silence to go on this long, but my laptop stopped working so I couldn't post.

We really haven't been doing much that is exciting in terms of lesson work. For math we are doing a fraction review block.  We've also started with the Vimala alphabet, and we're fitting in crafting when we can. We have one more week of PE before the winter break.

December is a great month for experiencing performing arts. So far we've seen The Nutcracker, a holiday choral concert, and a dramatic reading (with music and sound effects) of Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory.

Saturday I took the boys to the San Diego Natural History Museum; we watched a movie about prehistoric marine animals (Sea-Rex) and took in many of the permanent exhibits; however, our main focus was a limited time exhibition of All That Glitters: The Splendor and Science of Gems and Minerals. It was a wonderful exhibit of both cut gems and gems and minerals in their natural state, and touched on crystal forms, hardness, mining, and even semi-precious "gems" that come from living matter such as pearls, jet, amber, and coral. Some of the jewelry pieces were breathtaking!
J-Baby was beyond delighted to touch a real iron meteorite, something he said he never thought he'd ever do. I didn't realize he'd ever thought about it.

So mostly this month is pretty relaxed, which is often when the best learning occurs. We don't get to the math or handwriting everyday, but we do do something each day that brings learning.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Blog Silence

I'm giving myself a break, a real break. I don't plan to blog the rest of this block or through the holidays. I'm not saying that I won't post, but it won't be my focus. I'd like to slow down and turn inward as we approach the solstice and the return of the sun. I'm actually planning a bit of a computer break as well; there are a few books that I have been meaning/wanting to read that I haven't gotten to. So other than keeping up with people that I know via Facebook or email and moderating over at Homespun Waldorf I am going to make a real effort to turn off the computer.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

An End and a Beginning

So I did it, I blogged everyday this month. Honestly, I didn't love doing it and I'm glad that it's over. I much prefer posting when I feel like it.

We started the reboot of Waldorf homeschool grade 6 today. I'm not going to allow myself to assess how it's going until we finish this block. First days tend to go well for us with plenty of enthusiasm on both sides; it's one to two weeks into a block that I have a good sense of how it is going.

It went slowly, but after a simple circle (candle lighting, singing, and beginning to learn a new verse) we started with our basics: Daily Grammar and a math fact sheet from Making Math Meaningful. We spent some time reviewing parts of speech (as we'll soon be incorporating Waldorf grammar into our mornings), then we had our math main lesson. And that was it. We won't start independent lesson time until next week. Today was PE so we didn't have a traditional afternoon lesson.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

More on Math

Today I went through some of the skills charts to evaluate where the boys are in terms of their math learning. I decided to leave off the higher math learning that they have out of sequence, such as multiplying in other number bases or solving algebra word problems and to simply find out where they are in terms of the their solid (rather than Swiss cheese) math knowledge.

I'd put them squarely in grade 5; they have grade 4 down and are working on some grade 5 and grade 6 skills. It helps to know where they are; I suppose this is why teachers and schools assess students. It feels a little unfair to leave out their higher math skills/knowledge, but I need to focus on the basics.

So my goal is to get them completely solid in all Waldorf math through grade 6 by the end of our homeschool year.

I've written before about the boys' love of Life of Fred and how they seem to be gaining skills but can't demonstrate them when it comes time to do the bridge problems. I'm thinking now that moving away from Waldorf math main lessons took away their opportunity to really connect with the math and take it to a deeper level of understanding. They get the Life of Fred math when we do it, but it isn't grounded and so they've mostly forgotten it by the time we get to the bridge.

I'm kind of bummed; I really thought that Life of Fred was a great program and had planned to use it with them through high school. Maybe it will be something that we can return to when the boys have more skills. In the meantime, I am going to suggest that they continue with it on their own during independent lesson time and we'll see how that goes.

We're moving directly into a math block using A Little Garden Flower; we're going to do the a grade 5 main lesson block from Melisa's book, A Journey Through Waldorf Math. That's right, we are going back and doing a grade 5 fractions block. I actually find that it is material that we have previously covered with Life of Fred, but it needs grounding.

We'll have two more Waldorf math main lesson blocks this homeschool year: Geometrical Drawing (Using Nature, Number, and Geometry from Live Education) and Business Math/Decimals and Percents using Making Math Meaningful. We'll also have daily math practice as well as a weekly math lesson using Making Math Meaningful to review math concepts from grades 4 and 5 and to bring in a lot of the other grade 6 math concepts such as casting out nines, ratios, statistics, graphing, etc.

I am reminded of how simple my goals were for Enki grade 2: reading at a Frog and Toad level and understanding place value. Whenever we got off track I simply reminded myself that those were the big goals for the year. This year it will be catching up to grade level in Waldorf math and learning the steps to write a basic research paper (research, outlining, summarizing, introductory sentences, sentence structure, conclusions, paragraph structure). Everything else is just along for the ride ...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Still Planning

I woke up this morning still uncertain as to how to proceed with our homeschool year, and thus spent the morning pouring over all the resources I have trying to puzzle it out.

Here are some of our main issues:

Live Education is at times uninspiring and very geared to the classroom vs. homeschool. I thought the boys would love the Mineralogy block because they love rocks and the things that make rocks such as volcanoes. But the block was mostly drawing and writing and they've hated what we've done so far.

The boys know a lot of ancient Greek history, leaving me uncertain as to whether or not we should do the second half of the block.  Comparing a variety of Waldorf curricula it seems that Live Education is the only one that includes Greece in grade 6.

Roman History: my boys also know a lot of Roman History, having gone through When the World was Rome with Papa. I'm thinking of shortening the block and making it very experiential to help the seeds that have already been planted grow.

Math: how to proceed, how to fill in the holes in their math education, how to build math confidence.

Writing: same issues as with math.

So ... I think I have a new plan:

We won't finish Mineralogy as a block; we'll continue to explore the subject more organically. We have several great books and guides plus a plethora of rock samples.

We won't do the second block on Ancient Greece.

We will combine both Roman History blocks into one block, placing a focus on experiential learning vs. typical classroom learning.

We'll do a math main lesson block for the next 2 - 3 weeks (using Making Math Meaningful), then move new math learning to Thursday afternoons (taking the time slot previously allotted to completing any unfinished lesson work). Math practice will still happen daily, and the boys will use Life of Fred on their own. We'll keep the Geometrical Drawing block but will move it to February.

We'll keep the Physics, Astronomy, and Middle Ages blocks as planned. However, I need to evaluate what to do with the astronomy block as again, my boys (J-Baby in particular) have spent countless hours reading about astronomy, watching astronomy documentaries (okay, not countless hours there, but more than one or two), and looking at the night sky.

We'll add in a World Geography block as most of the other resources I have suggest this in grade 6, although Live Education doesn't.

Our Tuesday Literature lesson will have a stronger focus on writing; I will decrease the main lesson writing accordingly. In addition, the boys will resume daily journal writing (which I will not correct, but will use as a tool to help me see where more writing instruction is needed).

We'll see how it all goes. This is generally the time of year that they really want a more relaxed homeschooling / unschooling experience so I am going against their rhythm a bit, but I think I can draw them in.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

What To Do Tomorrow

Tonight I am pondering whether we should finish our Mineralogy block or start our second Ancient Greece block. I hate the idea of pushing everything back and am leaning toward starting Ancient Greece and weaving the rest of Mineralogy into the afternoons.

I'm also trying to figure out a new approach to math. I am thinking that Life of Fred is going to be something that the boys do on their own and I will bring math to them using Making Math Meaningful. They are so caught up on the importance of the bridges in Life of Fred and I can't tell if they make mistakes because it is a big scary test or if they truly don't know the material. Talking to them they can demonstrate that they do know it, so I am at a loss.

I don't want to abandon Life of Fred completely; it actually is the best math curriculum we've used in terms of holding the boys' attention and helping them want to do math. They love everything about it except those pesky bridges. I do think that in part it is test anxiety and in part it is that they do so much of their learning orally and they need to learn to do math from written exercises that they read rather than have read to them. I'm learning the there is a difference in terms of how they process the information. Since I have to assume that there won't always be someone there to read their word problems to them I need to help them learn to take in the information through reading it themselves.

I'm also going to bring in more Waldorf grammar using Earthschooling. I miss the grammar we did with Oak Meadow G4 (probably one of the best thing we did using that curriculum for those few months). Daily Grammar works, but it isn't that fun. The boys will continue with Daily Grammar on their own to increase their skills and understanding of grammar.

I think the biggest change may be that I will be giving the boys more work to do on their own; I am thinking of it as preparation for the high school years when I do expect them to take on more responsibility for their own learning. I am planning 45 - 60 minutes in the afternoon for them to do this work; it's kind of like homework for homeschooling. I'm not exactly for homework as it is given out now to publicly-schooled children, however, I do know that some basic study skills are needed for college. Anyway, we'll give it a try.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Gluten Free Thanksgiving

This year I decided to make our entire Thanksgiving meal gluten free; our entire family (Papa, the boys, and I) all eat gluten free and my SIL and BIL are amenable to it. I wasn't sure how my MIL and her boyfriend would take it, but she doesn't usually complain and since Papa didn't put up a fight I decided to do it my way. My SIL did bring a traditional pumpkin pie that the non-GF folks ate.

There are plenty of ways to have a gluten free Thanksgiving. Many dishes traditionally served at Thanksgiving are naturally gluten free; the turkey, the ham (unless you buy a Honey-Baked Ham in California), mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, salad, and vegetables are easy.  Gravy can be made gluten free by using potato or corn starch as a thickener instead of  wheat flour.  Cornbread stuffing can be made with gluten free cornbread, and depending where you live you might not have to make the cornbread from scratch (I chose to).

Rolls and desserts are the hardest; pie is the most traditional Thanksgiving dessert there is, and what is a feast without rolls?

For the rolls I went with Chebe rolls; they are a naturally gluten free roll that comes from Brazil. They aren't what you think of when you think of that quintessentially tender, yeasty dinner roll, but they worked. Other than the kids most of our family limits their carb intake anyway.

But the pie -- how to make pie? The easiest thing to do is to make a cookie crumb crust; gingersnap crust has been my go to for the past 5 years.  This year I went all out with a gluten free pastry crust and it was ... meh. I'll have to work more on a recipe as the one I pulled from the internet didn't work. It looked beautiful, was okay (not terrific) to work with, but only tasted so-so. The sweet potato pie with gingersnap crust was far superior.

Other desserts ideas are pumpkin or sweet potato custard without the crust, gluten free fruit crisps, and even gluten free cakes made with fall fruits; I made a pear cake as J-Baby doesn't like pie. In the end we had too much dessert, but that is a post for another day.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Buy Nothing Day

I try to observe Buy Nothing Day, I really do. I've done so since 1997 when it was first brought to the U.S. I plan for us to eat at home and spend time in nature, and mostly it works. Every now and then, however, Papa decides that shopping must be done. I've learned to go with it. Luckily this year nothing has grabbed his fancy.

I'd love to claim some higher ideal in not going shopping on Black Friday, but really, I'm lazy. There is no way that I'd wake up before dawn or wait in line to get into a store, just to buy something. I don't want to save money that badly. There is nothing that I need or want so much that I'd suffer the cold or a lack of sleep.

And really, I like to make gifts. They don't always go over as well as I'd like, but neither do store bought gifts. So the list of what I need to buy for the holidays each year is rather short.

My boys? There is nothing they need to buy either and luckily for my they don't like crowds either. They don't even really like shopping. However, if they have cash and if the comic book store is offering a store wide discount for Black Friday there isn't anything I can will do to stop them from buying something. I am the keeper of my own conscience only.

So today I am reading, walking, knitting, eating, and relaxing. On the best Buy Nothing Day my car never leaves the driveway, and that is exactly how I like it.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

A gremlin ate my Thanksgiving post ~ I swear I saw it here yesterday, complete with a photo of a cute gnome. Oh well, if you celebrate Thanksgiving I hope yours was fantastic.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Too Busy ..

... or really, just enough busy and I don't want to add anything more to my list.  So, the photos from yesterday won't be getting posted unless I find myself with some free time that I don't want to fill any other way. I'll get them up this weekend, I hope.

Today the boys are hanging out with a friend. They walked to their friend's house, walked to the comic book store, and then walked here. Right now they are playing Yu-Gi-Oh in T-Guy's room.

In the past I would have said that the day before Thanksgiving is far too busy and stressful to add in visiting with a friend, but I was wrong. The boys are happy and I have some space to get what I need to do done.

It was an easy morning; we took it slow and I even made time for a long hot bath. I made an unexpected run to the store for saline solution and it wasn't as crowded as I thought it might be. So now I have saline solution and I don't have to worry about going out this weekend.

So, today/tonight I baked and prepped. Tomorrow I cook and then we feast. If there is time after our meal (I don't want to rush anyone out of here) we'll pile into the car and drive to my dad's house for dessert. I'm not mentioning that to the boys though, because they'd be making not so subtle hints that people at our house my want to hit the road. Not that they don't like the people visiting here; it's just that there won't be any other children at our celebration (our nephews on this side of the family live in Belgium and are nearly adults, a mind boggling thing to contemplate). The boys are all about cousins and my sister and one of my brother's will be at my dad's house with their children.

I'm calm. It feels a little weird not to be stressed and worrying; I know I have accepted that things don't have to be perfect and I have paced what I am doing, but still, I'm not accustomed to the lack of cortisol coursing through my body the day before a big holiday. I hope the feeling of calm lasts!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thankful For Crafting

{picture fail ... which makes this post nearly worthless but I don't want to miss posting ... hopefully I can add them in tomorrow}

For me, part of keeping the focus on people at the holidays is taking the time to craft with the boys. I enjoy it, they enjoy it, and we end up with lovely things to gift to others and decorate our home. It's easy for me to get so busy with cooking, baking, and other prep that the craft projects that we've dreamed about fall by the wayside; slowing down and keeping my mind on the true meaning of the holidays (the true meaning for me, anyway) helps me remember that to these boys taking the time to craft with them is every bit as important as making green beans.

I found this printable banner at DimplePrints via MoneySavingMom. I was really excited because this year we purchased a color laser printer to use as our AirPrint printer (we still use the b/w laser printer for most of our printing). I grabbed a ream of high quality laser paper and was so impressed with how the pages printed.

To make the banner we cut out each triangle, mounted it to metallic card stock (really subtle sheen), and then cut it out again (we were able to use a paper cutter for some of the cutting). I used a repositionable glue dot runner to adhere the triangles to the card stock, which was a good thing as at some point the triangles got moved and we did a couple of them incorrectly and had to redo them.

J-Baby and I then used a hole punch in the corners and connected the triangles with brads. I had thought to maybe use clothes pins to clip them to twine, but this thing is long -- about 12 feet!

We also made a few signs and the boys cut out little thankful flags for our guests to write on and hang in the tree.

Overall I spent nothing to make the banner other than what I had already spent in the past (toner, card stock, glue runner, and brads). We'd actually bought the pack of card stock just to get the silver (for a robot J-Baby created), so that was a total bonus.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Lessons

Thinking about the lessons I learned growing up, Thanksgiving was definitely one with mixed messages. My parents were happy to open their home to friends and family; no one without someplace to go was ever turned away. My mother glowed with happiness to be surrounded by the people she loved.

Still, the days leading up to the holiday were fraught with stress, strife, and sniping. My dad would do the shopping; my mother would complain that he bought the wrong foods or spent too much money. We spent the morning of cleaning the house in a way that was reserved for those few times a year that we had a large crowd. As a child I didn't understand why all of a sudden things had to be better than they usually were.

I was inevitably ill on Thanksgiving day, before the first guest ever arrived.  How I managed to eat dinner every year I don't exactly know.  I do know that there was a running bet as to what time I would make it to before I tossed my cookies. I wasn't the only one not feeling my best; my dad was the one tasked with getting cup at 5 a.m. to put the turkey in the oven (I am so glad that I use a smaller bird and faster cooking method). He was usually near to falling over by the time we'd finished dessert.

It always seemed like so much work for so little reward. The first time I hosted a big, real Thanksgiving (including turkey) I came to understand the why behind it all. My mother had passed away that October and we were gathering for the first time without her. I wanted to shower my family with love and warmth; that is where the satisfaction lies.

I find it so easy to fall into the same patterns when the holidays arrive. I understand better the desire to clean the fingerprints off the doorways and sweep the front porch; they are things that we always want to do for ourselves but rarely make the time for. I can't, however, put my children through that crazy cleaning. We did our regular cleaning Saturday, after a thorough fall cleaning three weeks ago. We have daily chores and those are all that will be done on Thanksgiving Day.

We shopped today;  I made a list of every ingredient needed and formed the grocery list from that.

Tomorrow we'll work on a couple of crafts (more on that tomorrow). We'll choose our table linens and make sure that the dishes and flatware that we want to use are clean and ready to go (and likely we'll use our everyday dishes anyway).

Wednesday I begin food prep; I try to split the work between two days because I absolutely understand that it is work and that if I try to cram it all into Thursday I am the one who will be inviting stress, strife, and sniping into my home.

I have to be the one to make it simple. To mind my tongue when I feel like sniping, to do what I can to reduce the stress (for all of us), to understand that the strife does none of us any good. To change the lessons that my boys will learn as they go through life, emphasizing the warmth and love while reminding them that they are always good enough, that what we do is uniquely ours and that it is enough, whatever it is.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

On Being a Team

I have to admit that I never thought that this is how family life would be. I mean that in the very best way; the family we have created is very different that the family that I grew up in.

There is togetherness. A family movie night; the adults might not always be 100% interested in seeing a children's movie and yet we enjoy it. We sit together, four on the couch, and snuggle with our feet up on the ottoman. We pause to grab the homemade pizza from the kitchen and break the rules to eat the in the living room.

There are shared interests. We are all passionate about trains both big and small. We like to walk and hike together, especially in nature where we can enjoy the beauty and pick up acorns and pine cones. We're all crazy about German Shepherd dogs (and our own in particular). We play games together (especially games that involve trains).

There is shared work. I wrote last night about us cleaning house together. Growing up, once the children were old enough to clean the house the adults were excused from doing so. We simmered with resentment. Working together not only gets everything done more quickly but it creates a sense of shared satisfaction. We share big chores together as well; cleaning out the garage, doing yard work, etc.

There is shared learning. We are all involved in home learning; Papa is not excluded. We bring things to the boys, but they bring things to us as well. We are all learning new things everyday.

There is such a sense of us. Of us being together in this life, at this moment, as a team. Of supporting each other and cheering each other on. Of helping each other when things are hard and laughing together when things are funny. Of knowing that each of us has times when we are the weakest member, but also times when we are the strongest.

We Papa and I married our vows were not the typical in sickness and in health, etc. They were beautiful in their Scottish simplicity: I promise to be a loving, loyal, and faithful wife/husband to you, for as long as we both shall live. So few words, yet so encompassing. No matter the situation (sickness, health, richer, poorer, joy, sorrow) etc. we're covered. There are no loopholes; if we encounter an unknown foe we can't say that it wasn't in the vows. And without our ever saying so I know that we have extended these vows to our children. To be loving, even though we don't always feel it (but mostly we do). To be loyal (such a Scottish thing to have in vows!), unswerving in our dedication to them, our belief in them, and our support (emotional) of them. And to be faithful as parents, to see the bond with our children as unbreakable and our marriage worthy of constant tending so that we always provide these children with a family to grow in that includes both parents. I know that it is our goal to uphold these vows not only to each other but to our children. I can't predict the future, but I can know our true intent.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I'm Starting to Really *Like* Cleaning the House

There are parts of homekeeping that I love, some that I enjoy, and some that I tolerate. I generally love cooking and baking and enjoy the daily tasks of keeping a home: tidying, doing laundry, making the bed, etc. But I can't say that I have ever really enjoyed the weekly house cleaning. Either we did it quickly and I was unhappy with the results or we did it properly and it took a full day from our weekend.

That is beginning to change however, now that they boys are pitching in and we've done yet another round of decluttering and we changed the rooms around.

Now in 2 - 3 hours we can get the house really clean. It isn't a full spring or fall cleaning of course, but I do have time to tackle a few of the chores that used to get missed sometimes, such as cleaning ceiling fans, dusting baseboards, polishing furniture (vs. simply dusting it), etc.

I really didn't know that raising children could be like this. We are a real team (more on that tomorrow); we work together to the house clean and none of us has to feel that we are doing more than our fair share. Well, it's possible that a certain 11YO would still rather not clean, but he's getting better about it. The boys are learning skills and habits that will serve them well in their adult years. They may choose to live as total slobs as young adults, but they will know how to remedy the situation if they need too (like when Mama is coming over, lol).

Friday, November 18, 2011


(Something tells me that isn't the first post I've given this title to.)

I love our homeschool group. Like big pink puffy heart love everyone in it. These are relationships that go back a decade an more, since I first met one member online 11 years ago. It was a couple more years before we connected in real life and she is one of my best friends. It has been 8 years since I met the first family (not that first family) in person and I've known everyone for at least 3 years now. We're settled, we're comfortable with each other, and our kids are fantastic friends.

Today was our annual Thanksgiving potluck. I'll admit that I didn't take a single photo; I imagine if I had tried to get one of the kids it would have been a blur. My boys are going to sleep well tonight! I helped cooked, enjoyed my meal, and sat and gabbed with my friends for hours. Seriously, we were at the potluck for more than 6 hours!

I can't imagine homeschooling without this group of friends. My boys would be lonely and so would I!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Chasing Trains

This really isn't a post just about today; chasing trains is something we have done as a family for years. We go to train museums, go on train excursions, watch train videos, model trains, etc.

Today the Union Pacific was running their 4-8-4 steam locomotive, the 844. We waiting all morning for the tweet to tell us when she was getting close to our house. Papa came home and after lunch we headed out to watch her ... and waited. She had stopped somewhere near Palm Springs.

We got back into the car to drive Papa to work when another tweet came through; she was moving again! We had been following the tracks so we stopped at another good viewing point (with many other rail fans present). I got a really good video of her:
That wasn't all! Papa headed back to work and the boys and I drove to the location where the 844 is going to spend the night ... and we waited. She was stopped again, and then coming through the Colton Yard she had to wait for clearance before she could make her way to the siding. There was a very large crowd waiting to see her. It was rather anticlimactic, however, and the boys were ready to head home so we did. The railroad is supposed to have public display tomorrow so maybe we'll be able to fit that into our very busy day.

This kind of day is one reason we homeschool.  The railroad is such a huge part of the history and building of this country and these day it can be hard to see steam engines in motion. I didn't have to take my kids out of school for them to be able to witness this; we were able to devote the better part of the day to this particular field trip.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Relaxed Week

This time I really did forget! I started this post and then left it in the drafts folder, forgetting to come back and post it after adding a few more details about our day.)

Having lost the first two days of this week due to illness and helping out a friend, and knowing that Friday is the big Thanksgiving potluck with our homeschool group I decided to get creative for the next couple of days. In some cases, literally.

This morning the boys watched a public television drawing lesson and then spent some time doing drawing of their own. I loved how they each applied some of the lesson to what they drew even if it was very different.

We had lunch and then PE; it's  kickball this session, a new sport for my boys. They loved it!

I don't exactly recall our late afternoon. There was a lot of piano playing and some game playing.

After dinner we took the dogs on a long walk; it's been awhile since we've done that and it was really nice.

So there you go; it was rather calm and boring which is very much how I like things.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I Nearly Forgot!

We spent today visiting with friends and celebrating a birthday. There was game playing, impromptu math, typing, and more. At this point mineralogy is probably on hold until after Thanksgiving, but that's how it rolls sometimes. I'll bring back math and the other basics tomorrow.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mineralogy Day 7

We took a total break from focused lessons today. Mama wasn't feeling well and took a long nap this morning. The boys read and played games. This afternoon they watched the fencing company install our new ornamental ironwork and gate. They found out that drilling into a column that then pours out water means there is a leak in the recently repaired roof. They may have figured out that while they thought it was cool, Mama was not happy. They are going to watch football tonight. Go Pack Go!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Standing Firm

We are the only Waldorf home learners within our local homeschool community, and while I know a few people with younger children who are interested in Waldorf education I have never met someone locally who actively uses Waldorf.  I knew one local family that chose to buy and use Enki after seeing my materials, but they weren't really interested in creating a Waldorf home.

We know one other slow living homeschooling family.  It's interesting to me that we both came to this place organically, not because it started becoming trendy (a very small trend).  It is who we are.  Limited outside activities, lots of free time, placing a premium on being together as a family, and always asking if something we might want to do is integrating and supportive of our family goals if it is disintegrating and unsupportive.

Sometimes it is hard to be different.  At first there are people who have opinions about the decision not to hit hard academics at age 5.  There are family members who are worried when a child is reading fluently at 6 years old.  There are other homeschoolers who question your decision not to join outside academic classes.  There is the chiropractor who wonders (out loud, of course) if your children get enough socialization.  It goes on and on.

In the midst of this I imagine myself as a boulder in the river, the safe place for my children to rest and experience the world as the mainstream goes rushing past them at breakneck speed. They are in the spring of their lives and the waters are fast and furious. Ahead of us and behind us are more boulders, more people who have chosen to go against the mainstream (although we certainly dip our toes in from time to time). We offer each other support and safe harbor, affirmation that the lives we lead are not completely different from every other person we know.

The children will grow, the waters will slow, and there will come a time when they jump in feet first and give the mainstream a try (because they are ready). Perhaps that will work for them or perhaps they too will become boulders in the river, making the decision to stand firm in the face of family and societal pressures. Perhaps their children too will grow up wonderfully different, shining individuals in a river full of sameness. Perhaps I will still be a boulder in the river, offering support and safe shelter to that next generation, standing firm.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Opportunities All Around

Most of the homeschoolers I know choose to use a charter school to guide their homeschooling (thus participating in the public school system), in part because they receive government monies to pay for things such as classes, field trips, curricula, and other books. Some say they like having the guidance of a teacher to choose materials and to assess progress, some make this choice to receive special education services from the government, some have a spouse or ex-spouse who will only go along with homeschooling if they choose a charter, and some say they do it because they can't provide their children with the same opportunities otherwise. All are valid reasons and I've learned not to let my preferences lead me to judge others.

I do chafe, just a little, at the idea that only well-off families can afford to choose independent homeschooling. I know families who do it on incomes that are decidedly middle class (even bordering on working class, and just for the record, I hate the idea of a class system and am referring to economic class here, using the Gilbert system). Indeed, most of the people I know who fall into the capitalist class or upper middle class choose private schooling for their children, not homeschooling.

But I digress. My point is that in many areas there are resources available for low or no cost. Public libraries offer books, of course, but also music, movies, and computer programs that can be borrowed and computer workstations for use. Beyond this they offer story times and crafts for younger children, games and crafts for older children, book clubs, anime clubs, and often performances. For older teens some libraries offer classes on local history.

Universities are another resources, and not only public universities. There are often recitals given at no cost and concerts and plays priced very affordably. They may have art exhibits, cultural festivals, Earth Day celebrations, and more. Our local private college hosted a Harry Potter exhibit and offered classes including and absolutely fabulous one on "Potions" which of course was chemistry. My boys loved it. Some universities offer lending privileges for the public. We live close enough to our alma mater to take advantage of not only the library, but also free admission to sporting events (many universities offer some sporting events for free to anyone).

Small theaters often have special performances for children as well as group rates. An often over-looked resource for exposing children to plays and musicals are local high schools; most of what they perform will be suitable for older children and some offer theater festivals for young children. They also offer dance and music performances.

Many cities offer free concerts in the park during the summer (in Our Town we have the longest running outdoor summer music festival in the country). They may also sponsor art walks, art in the park, and more.  Our Town has musicians performing in the downtown area every Friday evening.

Independent coffee shops can't be left out! They may host live musical performances (singer-songwriters and jazz seem to be very popular) as well as poetry readings.

Bookstores are becoming harder to find, but even chain bookstores host many events such as story times, book readings, book clubs, musical performances, poetry readings, and more. Our local children's bookstore brings authors in regularly, to read and sign their books. They also bring in illustrators and the walls are decorated with drawings done by these illustrators.

County museums can be another resource; ours allows teachers (and homeschoolers) to check out educational materials. An annual membership is very reasonable (usually under $50) and most hold free days throughout the year.

We seek out little museums wherever we can find them, and they aren't hard to find, plus they are usually free. Along the same vein, many small businesses offer tours; you many be able to see how cheese is made or how olives are cured and packed.

There are many more things I can think of, but I think this post is full enough for now!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Mineralogy Day 6

(The post where I can't win for trying.)

I thought today would be better. I decided to start with main lesson work and save Life of Fred for after, however we never got to Life of Fred. While the boys were excited to talk about the Pangea and the Ring of Fire, J-Baby stumbled and stalled over copying the list of prominent volcanoes into his MLB. He didn't even finish his work, he just put it away when Papa came home from work.

I'm at a bit of a loss. He isn't globally unhappy or unhelpful. He did show me (very excitedly) that his twelve year molars are just starting to break through, and he has never been an easy teether; he was quite a bear when his six year molars came in.

So we'll take the weekend to regroup and I'll see what I can bring them on Monday.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mineralogy Day 5

Curse those darned bridges! The boys had a Life of Fred bridge and I asked each of them to do it on their own. Let's just say that neither of them crossed the bridge on this first try; there must have been a math troll hindering their progress.

I really don't know what it is. Test anxiety? Not paying close attention when we aren't working as a group? Whatever it is, I don't like it! We had tears from both boys; I understand that tears are good, that they are a release of tension, but I don't want so much tension to begin with.

Anyway, today they did the bridge, no grammar and no math facts. Then we did our main lesson (volcanoes), but honestly I had lost them by then. Luckily they know a lot about volcanos, especially Mt. Vesuvius and Mt. St. Helens. They drew a picture in their MLBs and we called it a morning.

Our afternoon lesson was cooking; the boys peeled 10 pounds of potatoes and we made mashed potatoes for dinner and also for the freezer (using a freezer recipe). We also mixed up a raw ice cream base and made a triple batch of tapioca pudding.

Papa and T-Guy spent part of the evening putting together their model trains for their monthly trip to volunteer at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. The boys take turns going with Papa; J-Baby went last month. Volunteering has been wonderful education for the boys; they've learned quite a bit about electricity (train layouts have lots of electrical components) and the San Diego area (they run on a layout that depicts San Diego), and also have learned manners and social skills working with the other members of the railroad club as well as talking to museum visitors. J-Baby often acts as an unofficial docent when he is there, taking visitors to see some of the other layouts in the museum.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mineralogy Day 4

Today we learned about glass, and the boys were surprised to find that glass has far more applications than even semiconductors and integrated circuit chips. They realized that almost everyone in the world probably uses glass in some form or another. Drinking glasses, window glass, cell phone glass, TV glass, computer glass, windshield glass, fiber optics, bottles and jars, eyeglasses, street lamps, signal lenses, etc. Of course we talked about Pyrex just a little bit, as it is one of my favorite kinds of glass.

We watched a couple of YouTube videos showing glass being made and they also watched a little segment on how eyeglasses are made. It's very un-Waldorf (we were instructed to look up glass making in the encyclopedia), but we don't have a glass factory nearby and seeing glass being made was much more informational than just reading about it.

We, as usual, did a Fast Fact sheet (J-Baby is getting faster!), Daily Grammar (subordinate conjunctions), and Life of Fred. The boys are making huge dents in Inheritance; they may finish before I get started. This afternoon we have PE.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Mineralogy Day 3

Today our study of rocks took us to the practical applications of quartz and silica. We talked about semi-conductors and integrated circuit chips; as is pretty common the boys were several steps ahead of me. There really is no reason to doubt natural learning in the slightest. Still, they happily helped me compile of list of some things that have integrated circuit chips in them and then copied it into their MLBs and drew a picture (one chose a television, the other chose an iPad).

We also did a Fast Fact sheet, Daily Grammar (comparative conjunctions), and another Life of Fred lesson. Our afternoon lesson for Tuesdays is Literature and the boys started a new book today: Inheritance by Christopher Paolini. They have been looking forward to the publication of this book for years. To avoid squabbling we bought it in hardcover (for T-Guy's collection) and on Kindle so that everyone can read it at once.

J-Baby was inspired by our lesson and pulled out his Snap Circuits to build a solar powered LED light.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Blogging Gratitude

On November first I carefully typed a long post for this blog ... on my iPad. What I didn't know was that I can't publish from my iPad; I lost the whole post! I tried again the next day for my homeschooling blog (copying the post to an email ahead of time just in case) and it failed in publishing that time too. Luckily my laptop is up and running again!

That post was on gratitude; I had intended to start a short series for the month of November, each day offering something different that I am thankful for. The post failure derailed me by here I am, finally getting my gratitude out there for the world to see.

This week I am very thankful for: community, a clean house, friends, rainy days, sweet dogs, teamwork, and local basketball.

Our homeschool community is fantastic! This year (as always) we got together for Halloween and had a great time. I especially loved the way the evening ended with singing and guitar playing; at one point we had five people playing guitar and every adult (and one child) singing .

In preparing for the Halloween party we did our fall cleaning and it feels fantastic! The windows are clean, the floors are clean, the cabinets are clean, the furniture is clean, the walls are clean ... everything is clean! With all of the home renovation/remodeling going on things had gotten a bit out of hand but now upkeep is once again a breeze.

Friday bought us a rainy day, but because the house was sparkling clean I offered to host our homeschool group here at the house. I enjoyed a lovely afternoon listening to the rain and chatting with friends.

Puppy Girl had been incredibly sweet lately! She loves to rub against me and give me little kisses. She and Big Dog are great dogs. Big Dog can be affectionate at times and I adore him, but I am so glad that Puppy Girl is becoming affectionate; it's something I have missed since we lost our Girl Dog.

Saturday morning we buckled down as a team and cleaned the house in a little over two hours. It is amazing how much the boys can do now; I do less housework now than I did before they were born. (Of course, there are all those years after they were born that I did more ...)

Sunday we went and saw our Coyotes (Division II) play basketball against 17th ranked UCLA, and we held our own. We lost, but it wasn't a blow out and they really had to work to beat us. It was a fun family afternoon and I am so glad that the basketball season has begun (especially since the NBA hasn't been able to get their season started).

Mineralogy Day 2

Sometimes I am reminded why I should use curricula as a guide, not a manual. Today I read an essay by Goethe to the boys, a lesson from Live Education's Mineralogy book. Um, no. They didn't love it and they didn't connect with it. I am finding that I am really going to have to tweak a lot of these lessons and create blocks that are fun and educational for my boys.

They did each do a drawing of mountains and copy a quote from the essay, one that I thought would resonate most deeply (the suggested excerpt was rather religious).

In such a mood I approach you, the most ancient, the most exalted monuments of the ages. Sitting on a high, bare summit and surveying the wide landscape, I may so to myself: Here you are resting directly on a foundation which reaches down to the deepest layers of the earth. (Goethe)

J-Baby offered no resistance to doing his copywork; I decided to allow him to use a graphite pencil with an eraser rather than the usual Lyra colored pencil. He just gets so discouraged when he makes a mistake and he hates cross outs. I have to admit that I completely understand; I was am the kind of person who will start an entire new sheet of paper if I make a mistake (or even if I don't like how my hand writing looks). It was a rather big hindrance when I was a student. Even now I have to work really hard not to allow myself to start over when I am making something like a list.

On the Homespun Waldorf forum I have read several posts that have encouraged me to stop holding the main lesson book as the end-all, be-all in Waldorf education.  Really, why I am following the main lesson book rules when they don't necessarily work for my children? And what purpose does the main lesson book serve? If it is simply output, there are many ways we can do that. If it is a record for the parent to see at the end of the term, that is completely unnecessary. If it is, as I have read, a record for the child, then I have to figure out if that is something my children need. My boys don't actually have a major problem with MLBs so much as I have ideas about how they should look, and I need to let that go (or make my own MLB, which I used to do when the boys were younger).

We also did grammar, a fast fact sheet, and a Life of Fred lesson. I was so happy to see that a two week sleep with our math work really worked well for the boys.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Family Fun ... on the Cheap

(Oops, I left this in my drafts instead of queuing it up for the weekend. I didn't really mean to miss a post for NaBloPoMo.)

This afternoon we went to see our beloved CSUSB Coyotes play basketball against UCLA.  We're Division II, they are Division I (and ranked 17th nationally). We lost, but it didn't matter; we gave them a game to remember. It wasn't a blow out, we held the lead several times, and they had to actually play against us.

Watching CSUSB basketball is one of the things we do as family each year; we are able to do so because we've chosen to live a slower life, keeping our weeknights open during basketball season. I love the ease of it; we eat dinner at home, drive to the arena, grab our seats on the bleachers, and watch. I always knit. Each year we get to know the new players and we say goodbye to the graduating seniors. There are giveaways, awards nights for local schools, staff appreciation nights, and more.

It's frugal too; as members of the alumni association Papa and I each receive one free admission for ourselves and one for a guest, so all we pay for is parking (some nights it is free). (The big UCLA game was an exception; we paid good money to see them play at a regional arena.) We take our own water bottles and snacks, too.

Come summer our boys go to basketball camp at CSUSB, learning skills from the same players they've watched play all season, deepening the connection they have with this team,

Let's go 'Yotes!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Life Skills: Housekeeping

(Oops, I left this in my drafts instead of queuing it up for the weekend. I didn't really mean to miss a post for NaBloPoMo.)

This morning we cleaned the house together. All of us, boys included, and the boys are now in a place where their contributions are extremely helpful. They cleaned two of the three bathrooms and vacuumed all of the wood floors plus the Persian rug (along with their own rooms). Papa cleaned the master bathroom and the kitchen (and mopped all the bathrooms). I dusted all the living areas and my bedroom, polished furniture and some of the wood trim, cleaned a door that had been missed last weekend, touched up the windows, wiped everything in the laundry room, and vacuumed my bedroom. We were done in a little over two hours.

Last weekend we did a fall cleaning and the boys were incredibly helpful. They helped with everything; in addition to their regular weekly housecleaning chores (see above) they deep cleaned the breakfast nook, helped scrub walls and baseboards, and helped me clean up outside, including scrubbing all the outdoor furniture.

I had to clean house when I was a child, and yet until the last year or so my boys did very few chores. Oh, when they were little they might follow along in imitation, dusting and wiping here and there, but it didn't lighten the work load for the adults in the household. Off and on we've hired house cleaners, depending on my health. When I started feeling better a couple of years ago (and got unhappy with yet another cleaning service) Papa and I decided that we would clean the house together as a family and that the boys would learn how to do it. At first they did little more than clean their own rooms, but over time they have learned a lot of new tasks and I am so proud of them for stepping up and doing a good job.

They also help with the daily house maintenance, doing quick wipe downs of two of the bathrooms each day and vacuuming all of the public areas of the house each day. They take turns with dinner dishes, wipe the table after each meal, set the table for dinner, take out the garbage, and do all of the dog chores. And really, they rarely grumble about any of it, which tells me that they understand that this is simply something that has to be done. The bigger lesson is that we do what we have to do and that having a cheerful attitude makes it more pleasant.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Mineralogy Day 1

We did it! The boys are feeling somewhat better and we managed to squeeze a main lesson into our rather busy day. I don't have pictures; we mostly looked at pieces of granite as well as mica and quartz and talked about the composition of granite and how it is formed.

Earlier this year I picked up a complete classroom sampler of 50 rocks and minerals at the thrift store. It seemed spendy at $15 (we later found it online at $29 + s/h so we did rather well), but my rock hound really wanted it and I thought it might come in handy for this block, and already on day one it has. After hearing that the Romans used mica (Muscovite) as window glass they boys held up our specimens to the light and were able to see that they definitely were transparent and would serve that purpose well. The piece of granite in the sampler also showed the mica, quartz, and feldspar components better than the pieces of granite we had chosen from our own collection.

I decided that the boys were feeling well enough to attend park day, however the weather wasn't cooperating so a few of our park day friends came to visit us at our home. All three families already had children with the same cold as the children were all together on Halloween. We had a really nice visit and could hardly believe that it was Friday already; the week flew by!

Thursday, November 3, 2011


I had planned for us to be take a break the week of Thanksgiving, but I certainly hadn't planned on losing nearly a week of lessons to Halloween and illness. This morning I still had one child in bed (awake, but not ready to get up) and both of them were still sniffling and coughing and generally not feeling well. This illness leaves them feeling heavy and lethargic and very much in their bodies; it isn't the time for head work.

The thing is, we were excited about this block, or at least J-Baby and I were excited and T-Guy was at least looking forward to the change of subject material. Trying to kick it off when the boys aren't feeling well will only lead to losing the block in the very beginning. I'm hoping we can start it tomorrow and I am planning to use the first two days of Thanksgiving week so that we have enough time for the block.

In the classroom lessons go on whether or not the student attends; the student must make it up at some point. But in the homeschool we must stop when the students aren't capable of being present; not that learning ceases to happen (for instance, today we had lessons in making herbal tea, the healing properties of various herbs, the benefits of local honey, how to cook scrambled eggs, why we have rain gutters, and few more), but the main lesson and heavy academic work has to wait. Thus we have to find a way to be flexible otherwise we'll never finish out the homeschool year having completed the lessons we intended.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


We had a sick day today, which means we took it easy and still haven't started our Mineralogy block. The boys mostly read, interspersed with sniffling, coughing, and moaning. We did spent a few minutes talking about palindromes (today is 11-02-2011, or 2011-11-02 if you prefer international standard notation). I have no pictures, however.

Still, it is National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) and I figure I can slam dunk it here on this blog (we won't talk about my other blogs), whereas I know NaNoWriMo simply isn't going to happen. Indeed, after completing NaNoWriMo in 2007 (after great tragedy) I seem to have invited mishap (or more) every timeIi say I'm going to do it. So I'm not doing it this year.

Hopefully this will post; last night I lost a post I had written for another blog. I'm using my iPad as my MacBookPro is currently undergoing experimental surgery; removal of old hard drive to be replaced with a solid state drive as well as starting completely over (we migrated my account to the iMac first). Which is another reason I can't post a photo – Blogger really should have an iPad app!

Hmm, I learned that can't post from an iPad at all.  Quick copy and paste here on the iMac and we are good to go. Thank goodness for iCloud and the syncing of email! I thought to copy to the post before I tried to publish it on the iPad so when it failed I didn't lose anything (see, I learn from my mistakes). I emailed it to myself and here we are, back in business.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Oh Wait, I Said I Would Come Back, Didn't I?

Busy busy busy. Well, I wasn't busy at the beginning of my blog break, I was at the beach. Every fall we head to the coast for a week to reconnect with nature. I'd like to think that we are always connected, and we are, but this is different: with a focus on relaxation as well as being away from our normal responsibilities we feel the connection more deeply. Plus there is just something about the ocean, a primal connection that grounds us

For us this is also our annual class trip, a time to have a week of science and nature learning that a week in the homeschool classroom simply can't give.
We went to Legoland; they have great prices for homeschoolers on Mondays during the school year. They've opened the new Star Wars area of Miniland which was a hit with this family.
This year there is a brand new Mindstorms class called Dr. Heartbeat which the boys really enjoyed.We decided to check out the SeaLife Aquarium for the first time. It was well worth the extra $1 per person we paid. J-Baby thought the jelly fish were exceedingly cool.

Tuesday the weather was mostly cloudy so we went to the Bolsa Chica Reserve. We hadn't been since the boys were much younger. To say that it was a wow experience would be understating it. This is a Great Egret (yellow bill, black feet) in flight.
We also got up close and personal with a California Brown Pelican. T-Guy has loved pelicans from his very first beach visit.
Bordering the Reserve is a fence and just on the other side were coyotes. They aren't fenced in and on display, but they are frequent visitors. Here you can see how close they get to civilization. We truly live with coyotes and other wildlife around us everyday.
Here is a close up of one coyote. We were literally 25 feet from her, shooting through the fence.
Wednesday we had sun! We spent an hour or so at the Environmental Nature Center in Newport Beach. We mostly enjoyed walking the trails, but J-Baby did ask to have his photo taken grinding acorns.
This being our beach vacation we spent a lot of time at the beach. With the new moon came several nice minus tides that occurred in the late afternoon which meant that tide-pooling was on our agenda.
 Hermit Crabs
 A Big Crab
 The first sea star we have seen in the wild in Southern California. We've seen them on exhibit many times and also in Northern California and Oregon, but never here before. Unfortunately it was impossible to get a full photo as the sea star was vertical on the tide pool rocks.

We came home and that is when the busy began. Every year we host a Halloween party for our homeschool group; it is one of the highlights of the year for us. Of course, between vacationing and home remodeling we were woefully unprepared to host a gathering and so we busted our tails off getting the house ready. Something about a freshly painted exterior made us decide to clean the windows inside and out. The loss of the family room (in the reshuffling) meant we needed a clean outdoor space so the boys and I cleaned the patio/carport and all the furniture (which is good as we are once again in the kind of weather that we enjoy eating outdoors in). For reasons completely unknown I decided that we should wash the walls in our hall (they were grungy both because of child fingerprints and dogs rubbing along them). We cleaned the house from top to bottom as we haven't had a good go at it for a couple of months. We shopped, we cooked, and in the end, we partied! Only this morning did I realize that we didn't take a single picture, which makes me kind of sad. I'll have to see if anyone else got a photo of my boys in costume.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Tiny Little Blog Break

I'm ready for the change of block.

I think it was back in grade 1 that Donna Simmons of Christopherus recommended short one week science blocks. While we now have longer science blocks as is appropriate to the boys' ages, I still like these short little science blocks, especially when I plan them as outdoors blocks. We let our academic practice work slide for a week and spend hours outside everyday. In southern California autumn is a glorious time to be outdoors.

We'll read, spend time outside interacting with nature, and do a little math review. That's it. Yet the block will incorporate language arts, math, science, social studies (geography), and physical education (hiking). I wouldn't be surprised if J-Baby decided to add in fine arts by drawing pictures.

I don't plan to blog our next block; the point is to be outside and to unplug. At least, I don't plan to write any words, although I may post a few photos. I can tell from this last week of blog posts that I definitely am feeling tired and stressed and I think a little blog break will be just what I need to return to this space renewed and refreshed.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ancient Greece I Day 18

We finished our first Ancient Greek History block today with a review of what we had learned thus far. I was unprepared for just how much my boys already knew about Greek history; this has happened to me before. They really like history and have listened to The Story of the World volumes 1, 2, and 3 multiple times, plus T-Guy chooses historical documentaries when they are allowed to watch educational programs (J-Baby chooses science documentaries so it balances out). I'm starting to feel a little nervous about the amount of time I have planned for Roman history as the spent close to a year reading the book When the World Was Rome with Papa.

Still, I know it isn't about learning facts. What they will take away from this first block on Ancient Greece are the activities, especially creating a labyrinth and "bull" jumping. Hopefully J-Baby will forget the writing fiasco. I think they enjoyed the work we did with Pythagorean mathematics. Most of all we settled back into the rhythm of focused lessons.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ancient Greece I Day 17

We had another very relaxed day. We spent some time talking about the Battle of Marathon. The boys built with LEGO, listened to their audiobook, practiced their instruments, helped with cooking (learning about grinding meat), watched the house painters, played Colosseum, and much more. They worked with numbers and did some more business math.

Tomorrow will likely be more of the same, plus PE. We're going to wrap up our Ancient Greece block as we prepare for a short block on Coastal Geography.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Ancient Greece I Day 16

We had an unstructured day today. I'm still working on revamping my approach to writing and we had a major issue with the house painters today. It was noon before I came up for air.

Luckily, a new book had arrived early this morning: The LEGO Ideas Book. The boys spent the morning sorting and categorizing LEGO bricks as well as trying to figure out how to build some of the models in the book (the book has ideas, not instructions, which is exactly what I wanted). LEGO is a great toy for teaching a lot of different skills. The boys have now asked for small plastic bins so they can sort into more categories of bricks.

They also read books, listened to an audiobook, played outside, drew pictures, and practiced their instruments. The LEGO catalog arrived and they wrote out wish lists for their grandfather (who does his LEGO holiday shopping in October to get double VIP points), so that was penmanship practice, and they totaled the prices of what they wanted for a little math. J-Baby played with numbers a bit as well; I heard him telling T-Guy that he was "casting out nines".

Losing the morning (in part because I wanted to think about teaching writing, but mostly because of the painting debacle) made me realize that I really need to get on the ball with the boys' lesson binders. Even with a break from the main lesson writing they could have done penmanship, grammar, math practice, and spelling. The lesson binders help the boys be a little more independent in the mornings. If I have time this evening I will plan out tomorrow for them just in case we have issues again. I really hope we don't; I'd rather teach my boys when things are rough than deal with the house painters anyday!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ancient Greece I Day 15

It has to be easier than this.

We began the morning with a grammar quiz on conjunctions, followed that with a math speed sheet, and worked in Life of Fred.

After that we worked on polishing the rough drafts the boys had written Wednesday. I could tell that J-Baby was upset with being edited, but didn't realize how upset he was. After all, I had told him how very well he had done and mostly corrected spelling and punctuation. However, he had lapsed into a Percy Jackson style of narration in one sentence and I told him it had to be changed as it didn't convey information relevant to the topic. We worked together to make the changes.

He went to his room and wrote one sentence for each paragraph he had previously written. He gave it to me knowing it wasn't enough and started crying.

Of course, I have no pictures of this morning. Of a boy lying in his bed sobbing and a mom curled up against him trying to make it alright and failing miserably. I wanted to cry too.

It makes me question the decision to hold back on writing when the boys were so resistant to it; maybe if I had always expected it I wouldn't be getting this. But forcing them to do things isn't who I am. Encouraging them, yes. Expecting it of them, yes. But not forcing.

I feel like I am back at square one trying to figure this out. How do I teach writing in a way that is engaging? How do I help them see how important it is to be able to express ideas in written form? How do I connect with something that I don't understand? I was a nature born writer. I would practice penmanship for fun (penmanship isn't writing of course). I journaled, I wrote stories, and I loved essay assignments. I even headed our high school writing team. I started college thinking I would pursue print journalism before changing schools and switching to and English Literature and Composition major.  Not literature alone; I wanted to write.

How do I reach deeper and see that this child felt attacked, felt that he wasn't good enough? How do I overcome the desire to only do things that he is naturally gifted in? How do I get all of those wonderful words and ideas out of his head and onto paper?

I have ideas and I will work at it. I don't see this as his failing, but as mine. I am the one who must do better. Still, it is a sad way to start a weekend.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ancient Greece I Day 14

Today we had a play date instead of a main lesson. Practicing social skills is just as important as any other skills we learn and we had the opportunity to help a friend.

The boys set to work designing their own Pokemon cards; that's unschooling in action.  We went to PE (a makeup session) and then came home and they worked on the cards again.

The boys sang, J-Baby did his piano practice, they played ball and frisbee outside, they listened to an audiobook, they helped cook, T-Guy poured over box scores, and we did a little freestyle math in the evening.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Cooking Ahead -- Caramelized Onions

Okay, so I usually cook ahead, planning leftovers for other meals, etc., but today I made something that isn't a meal in and of itself.

Inspired by Val's post on Collecting The Moments ... One By One about Mise en Place and Onion Jam I decided to make a batch of Slow Cooker Caramelized Onions. This is something I used to do more often; I think I stopped when I was having difficulties eating onions and never started again once I was able to eat onions again. Which is a shame, because caramelized onions add so much to so many dishes. You can use them as a sauce on sautéed chicken, stir them into a soup, use them to top pizza, etc. Never mind what they do for dishes such as mujadara! Just thinking about it makes me wish I was eating lentils.

I tried to find my recipe and where I got it from, but it seems to have been on of those internet things. I think perhaps original credit might be due to Beth Hensperger, but looking at her recipe it isn't the same as mine.

Anyway, I peel and slice 4 - 5 pounds of onions and put them in the slow cooker. I add one stick of unsalted butter, cubed, and turn the cooker on high. After a couple of hours I give it a stir and turn the heat to low, allowing the onions to caramelize slowly all day. Later, I add salt, pepper, and a sprinkle of sugar, turn the slow cooker back to high, leave the lid ajar, and continue to cook down the onions until most of the liquid evaporates and I am happy with how they look and taste. With patience they develop a deep brown caramel color and an amazing caramelized flavor.

 This is how they start out; look at the deep yellow Kerrygold butter!
This is the finished product. The onions cook down considerably.

Today, inspired by Val, I added a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar (because I use twice as many onions as she does) when I added the other seasonings.  So far I like what it is doing for the flavors.

There seems to be some debate on caramelizing onions on the stove versus using the slow cooker. The stove is faster and some think that the initial heat and contact with steel or cast iron adds to the flavor. The slow cooker is easy, takes less hands-on time, and makes it very difficult to burn the onions. I think next time I make them I will use my vintage Farberware Electric Dutch Oven and begin with medium heat before dropping the heat down and using it as a slow cooker. When I do I'll report on my findings here on the blog.

Ancient Greece I Day 13

We had an interesting morning - no singing, no grammar, no math.

I had assigned some reading to the boys yesterday, which they completed, and added one more section to read this morning. I had also told the boys what we would be doing for our main lesson this morning. Well, J-Baby did his reading and started in on his writing assignment right away. I decided not to interrupt his work and set T-Guy to his writing as well. These were rough drafts; we'll clean them up and rewrite them tomorrow afternoon.

I thought we'd get to our other subjects after the writing, however, our house was being pressure washed in preparation for exterior painting. We could hardly think with the noise! Then we found water had splashed in around several windows (after seeing it come in around the door and startle the big dog) so we had to grab towels and clean up the wet and at times muddy mess.

We did have PE, and the boys are going to do some more work this evening so that they can skip tomorrow's main lesson and share a project with a friend.

Ancient Greece I Day 12

We sang, we did grammar, we did math.

Math, math, math. I am realizing now how much we need to focus on math; it feels even more important than our main lesson material. We did a speed sheet and a Life of Fred lesson. I am seeing that J-Baby learns math concepts more rapidly than T-Guy and retains steps more easily, however T-Guy is faster with math facts and very good at memorizing them. I'm wondering if how we did math in the past was not the best way for T-guy; he loved the stories but he seems to be doing much better with me doing work on the big white board. He's more visual, whereas J-Baby is more auditory.

Our main lesson was about Athens and Sparta, and do my boys ever have a favorite. They detest the Spartans. But still we compared laws and culture and came away with a good discussion of the two societies.

Ancient Greece I Day 11 / The Pumpkin Patch

We made our annual trip to the pumpkin patch with our homeschool support group. This wonderful group of families has been together for seven years now and it has been wonderful to watch these children grow and also to grow in friendship with their mamas.

The funny thing about a field trip like this is that it is no longer about the field trip itself; it's about the ritual of the trip. The children already know all about bees, they've rolled countless beeswax candles, and they are much taller than the hay maze. The children are much bigger and the pumpkins seem smaller. But still we go.

 J-Baby feeding goats.
 T-Guy with our pumpkin haul.
 J-Baby with his warty pumpkin.
Most of the kids.  This is the "outtake", but I really like it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Still Working With This Injury

Well, I wanted to post today, but typing with this wrist brace is a tad difficult. I did get my pictures uploaded, so maybe tomorrow.

I actually don't know what is wrong with my wrist. A hairline fracture isn't evident but hasn't been ruled out. One doctor is leaning toward the idea that it is a fracture. The orthopedist thinks it more likely is some type of tendon or ligament injury as evidenced by a separation between the scaphoid and lunate bones in my right wrist. Either way, it hurts, and I am supposed to wear a brace for the next month. If it improves, great, if not, we move to an MRI.

In relation to homeschooling, my boys are going to be getting some serious cooking lessons. My favorite pots and pans are all heavy cast iron, and I'm not exactly wielding a chef's knife right now.

See, even my sauce pans are cast iron.  This vintage Descoware pot was my Grandfather's.

(BTW, I typed this without my brace.  Don't tell on me.)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sorry, No Post Tonight

Between a dead camera battery and adjusting to typing with my wrist in a brace (the jury is still out on whether I have a hairline fracture or a soft tissue injury, but at least it is unlikely that it is repetitive stress) I am going to give myself a reprieve on today's blog post. I'll see you tomorrow!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Honoring Our Rhythm

I've written before about my family's natural rhythm and how that clashes a bit with homeschooling in the morning.  So far we've found a routine that is working with our rhythm and I thought I would share it.

Here is a graphic that shows the routine; you can pretty much ignore the times listed as they give me a basic idea but we don't truly live by the clock.
We're waking a little later that we had been; putting the Puppy Girl in the living room to sleep stopped her from waking us way too early.  It isn't unkind to her; she has completely adjusted her waking and no longer whines for us to come take her out.  While I'd like to see us waking earlier I am aware that the time change is in six weeks so I'm not worrying about it.  The chart shows my early waking time which is an ideal and has fallen off recently.  My goal is to be back to it by the time daylight savings time ends.

Papa showers.  We wake the boys and get started on breakfast.  While the boys had been eager to play together on waking now that J-Baby has been bitten by the fiction bug he often wants to read instead. We have breakfast and the boys do their morning hygiene and chores.  Then they have a 30 minute break which is more time for them to reconnect.

We're getting started with homeschooling around 10 a.m.  Right now the boys are really into it; we'll have to see if that sticks once they want to be doing something other than lesson work.  We start with whatever constitutes our organic circle that morning, do grammar and math practice, and then have a math lesson before beginning our main lesson work for the day.  Around 11:30 - 11:45 we wrap up the main lesson work and the boys do their spelling.

We get two hours of homeschooling done in the morning.  My goal is a minimum of three hours daily; this isn't a strict requirement per our state's educational code, but we do operate as a full time day school.  Since the law allows the compulsory attendance requirements to be met by three hours of tutoring per weekday I figure it is a good minimum number for our homeschooling.

We plan an hour of homeschooling in the afternoon.  This might be our secondary lesson, our literature class, P.E., make-up time, or park day.  We also do other things throughout the week, month, or year that count toward homeschooling time, such as music lessons and practice, field trips, nature walks and hikes, attending concerts and plays, etc.  For example, in October we will visit an apple orchard and will take an educational class at Legoland.

After our morning lessons we have lunch and quiet time.  Quiet time used to be listening to audio books, but now that the boys are older they will most likely read or hang out quietly in their bedrooms (separate bedrooms is brand new in our home).  After quiet time is when we have our afternoon lessons, which takes about an hour (as I wrote above).  We then have a nice period of unplanned "free" time.

By late afternoon it is time for me to work on any final dinner preparations; this is when the boys do their music practice.  J-Baby is in the dining room playing the piano so I am able to hear him and make corrections and reminders as necessary.  T-Guy practices guitar in his bedroom at the back of the house.

Papa comes home from work and we eat dinner and then clean up.  Usually we have some free time in the evenings, although some evenings we work on physics with Papa (more homeschooling hours) and once a week we go to the farmer's market.  At 11 and 12 years of age the boys go to bed at 8:30 and are allowed to read quietly for 30 minutes.  It is pretty early compared to their peers but I believe it is what they need, and going into the teen years children often need more sleep, not less.

After that there is a little time for Papa and I to reconnect and decompress before heading to bed ourselves.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

How I Plan

The question of planning came up at the Homespun Waldorf forum and I decided to do a post here since I really don't know how to post photos there without using a hosting service such as Flickr.

Anyway, I sit down with my materials and a calendar and plan out the year. Not what we are going to do each day, but the block progression and how long each block will be. This is the chart I did for this year:

This gives me a basic plan to go from. You'll notice that we have a different lesson each afternoon; this is new for us this year.  Previously we had an afternoon/secondary lesson that we did four afternoons a week for two to four weeks; lessons such as cooking, knitting, painting, weaving, sewing, modeling, etc. While I love that format I've found that this year we need the afternoon time for other things such as our PE class.  So now we do a themed afternoon lesson on Mondays; I didn't want to lose handwork so we do that some evenings in a relaxed manner. We're trying it out; if it doesn't work we will go back to doing literature during our mornings and we will devote three days a week to the afternoon lesson.

I also outline each block at the beginning of the year. Since we are using Live Education I just refer to the lessons I have chosen from their materials. Here is the lesson block for Ancient Greece I:

These block outlines are really important for me. I mark days that we have special celebrations and days that Papa has off. Since we aren't doing every single lesson in the Live Education materials I can't just go in order without a plan. Also, if a lesson is taking less time than expected I can decide whether or not to move ahead, and if it takes longer I can decide which remaining lesson we can skip.

We do have to have some flexibility. For example, I planned the above block and since I did that our homeschool group planned our annual trip to the pumpkin patch for this coming Monday. Looking at the lessons I saw that I could combine Topic 5: Lessons 1 and 2 on Tuesday so that is how we will manage the field trip. Practice work, grammar, and new math learning can be skipped for one day; I won't be so rigid that we miss out on doing things.  But I can think like an unschooler as well, practicing math facts or grammar skills in the car on the way to the pumpkin patch, or even just singing seasonal songs.

Typically I sit down on the weekend and look over the week's lessons in-depth (using the outline shown above). I'd like to do this for the month but it hasn't worked out that way yet. I make a note of any supplies that I need to gather or purchase and decide which source books we'll use for each lesson, marking the passages I need to read. If I am going to do a chalkboard drawing for the block I try to get it started before the first day of the block. I also determine if I am going to do any crayon drawings ahead of time and whether I need to look for images or other sources on the computer so that I can print them out ahead of time.

For grammar I print out the sheets from the Daily Grammar ebook we are using; we just go in order so I print about one month's worth at a time. I have the Making Math Meaningful speed sheets printed already. We go through Life of Fred in order so that doesn't take much planning, and I don't write it out as I can't know how many times the boys will need to attempt a bridge before they are ready to move on. Sometimes they nail it with one bridge and sometimes they need to do all five.

For literature we choose one book per month; it doesn't follow our block schedule. I think I may have written before that I am working with the boys on developing a literature class to teach, and since most classes run monthly that is how we are doing it. This month the are reading Rick Riordan's The Son of Neptune. The idea is to teach classic literature, but I hadn't chosen a book to start with and this one arrived so we went with it.

Other than doing my chart and outlines on the computer I don't actually plan on the computer. Having it on paper works for me. I have a teacher's plan book and in it I keep track of what we are doing by subject. I enter planned lesson work as well as things that simply come up (the way an unschooler might record learning). If there is a project I would like us to do I put it on a sticky note and then I move it to the week that I will need to get supplies. Then I move it to the day I might need to do prep work, and finally to the day I expect to do the project. I use sticky notes to remind me of field trips we might want to do, etc.

I used to plan a formal circle, but the boys hated formal circle time.  So we switched to a more organic circle.  I asked myself, what is the heart of circle?  To me a large part of it is the coming together after the separation of sleep.  So we eat breakfast together as a family.  We send Papa off to work and do our chores.  Then as the three of us come together for lesson work we do a few more relaxed activities that bring us into the frame of mind for lessons. We might walk if the weather is good, working on verses we are memorizing as well as reviewing oral math facts.  Or we might stay in the house and sing, working on rounds and harmonies.

I do think that a huge benefit if homeschooling is adapting day-to-day.  If a lesson is falling flat I will improvise.  I've been known to jettison an entire block if it just isn't working for us. I also refuse to worry; it isn't the end of the world if we don't get something done.

My planning takes a lot less time than it looks like from this post. I put in a couple days before the homeschool year begins and then I prep for an hour or so each week.