Thursday, March 31, 2011

Oops, I Lied

I meant to come back and post our resources for Gilgamesh, but then I got busy.  It's really hard to be an at-home homeschooling parent, especially one who does things like bakes her own bread and makes her own chicken broth.  Kitchen tasks can be very time consuming.  Rewarding (chocolate frosted gluten-free yellow layer cake, anyone?), but time consuming.  Sometimes I think my life isn't all that busy because I don't generally run around everyday, but I tend to discount the time spent in the kitchen, doing chores, etc.

So, resources.  I'm a huge fan of picture books, even for older children.  In the beginning with Enki and Waldorf I was told how important it is for a child to hear a story before they see pictures, and I can see how wonderful that is, but picture books are great too, especially for children who read on their own.  What we do is read a book together and then move it to our fireplace mantel where the boys are free to pull it down and read it on their own.  Which they do, especially J-Baby, because they like looking at the pictures.

Gilgamesh the King, The Revenge of Ishtar, and The Last Quest of Gilgamesh, retold and illustrated by Ludmila Zeman.

Gilgamesh the Hero by Geraldine McCaughrean and David Parkins

I also reserved just about every children's book on ancient Mesopotamia that the county system had.  We haven't read them all so I will just list the outstanding books as we get to them.

The boys are already familiar with some of the Gilgamesh legend, but Gilgamesh the King was a little different from what they knew.  Good.  I like them to know that legends and history can be told in different ways.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Back in the Groove

This morning's lessons went really well.  Amazingly, we accomplished breakfast and our morning chores before starting lessons right on time at 10:00 a.m.  This is how the morning went:

Wake up
Morning Chores (including getting dressed and brushing teeth)
Assigned Reading (our Newberry Honor book this month is Justin Morgan Had a Horse)
Daily Grammar
Life of Fred Math
Technology (using iPads as slates)
Main Lesson: Mesopotamia/ Gilgamesh (today was an intake day)
Spelling City

We had lunch with Papa, then quiet time.  The boys did a couple more chores and then watched an episode of Cyberchase.  They played outside for awhile and just finished playing video games on the iPads.  They each have the opportunity to earn 30 minutes of game time based on their chores the day before.  So far this really works for us; chores get done, video games are allowed (a big thing for them at ages 12 and nearly 11), and the video game time is limited (still a big thing for me).

Monday is my kitchen day: I have chicken stock simmering on the stove, a crock pot full of pinto beans that will be tonight's dinner (and also will be part of two more lunch/dinner meals), a small loaf of artisan bread cooling (the last of the dough I made last Monday), I mixed up a double batch of artisan dough and now have a larger loaf doing a second rise.  Looking at the granola jar there isn't enough for the week, so I will get started on a batch of that as soon as I finish baking the bigger loaf of bread for sandwiches.

Staying home on Monday has always been important to us in terms of regrouping after the weekend and getting a good start to the week, and I can't say that I am disappointed that the park day switch to Monday didn't work out for the group.  I would have made it work so that we could see our friends, but being home on Monday is so much better for us.  A good Monday sets the tone for a good week.

T-Guy has baseball practice this evening, and I think J-Baby and I will work on paper crafting his robot character, Little Johnny.  J-Baby loves crafts and is often bored when T-Guy is gone, and he really enjoys having some alone time crafting with me.  We bought some silver metallic paper that he has been wanting to use.

Later this evening they will have a science lesson with Papa.  When we are in a focused lesson cycle we try to hit the main four subject areas (Language Arts, Mathematics, Social Studies/History, and Science) each weekday and then have weekly lessons in Technology, Spanish, Health, Physical Education (along with daily activity), Music, and Art.

Tomorrow I will list some of our resources for our Mesopotamia/Gilgamesh block.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Why I Love Betty Crocker

It's terribly uncouth to admit to using any product with the Betty Crocker label on it, at least in the circles I run in, both online and in the real world.  She represents big business and stands as the antithesis of the local, organic movement.  Good cooks shun her as all food is supposed to be homemade (although I've seen crazy discussion as to what exactly that means).

For me, Betty is the beacon of my childhood.  Each year I could choose my birthday cake, and aside from a couple of renegade years when I chose angel food cake, that birthday cake was a yellow layer cake baked from a Betty Crocker mix and frosted with Betty Crocker chocolate frosting in a tub.  A fancy plastic candle holder that spelled out Happy Birthday completed the cake.  In my world cakes didn't come from bakeries, nor did my mother bake cakes from scratch and frost them with decorator icing she tinted herself and piped out in fanciful designs.

It was, however, my birthday cake.  Cakes were never baked for any occasions other than birthdays.  We were not a family that ate dessert on a regular basis.  The birthday cake was special, and each child felt special choosing his or her cake.  My sister went through a period when cherry chip was requested, and the request was granted even though several of us didn't like it.  Eventually she came around to yellow cake with chocolate frosting, which was also my mom's favorite.  I don't recall what my brothers liked.  My dad liked chocolate cake with chocolate fudge frosting.

Betty facilitated my first forays into baking, first with her Big Batch cookie mixes and then with the Stir 'n Frost cake mix line, which came with the pan and frosting right in the box and could be baked in a small toaster oven.  That was much better than an Easy Bake Oven, which I had but abandoned as it was too much work to bake enough little cakes for six people using a light bulb.  Soon enough I was mixing up Pyrex pans of Betty Crocker brownies and baking the birthday layer cakes (from her mixes) on my own.

Of course, I grew up, became a health conscious adult, and stopped baking anything that came from a mix.  I started with Tollhouse cookies but soon tweaked a Kitchen Aid mixer cookie recipe that had my friends and family begging me to bake.  I learned to bake cakes from scratch and took a class in cake decorating.  I perfected my apple pie.  I wouldn't say that I became a foodie or anything ~ I am just a woman who loves to cook real food from scratch.

When we first started a gluten free journey (for the whole family at first while we learned to adjust to J-Baby's diagnosis of celiac disease) gluten free foods were no longer in the stone age, but they weren't mainstream either.  Most baked good mixes were incredibly expensive and turned out products that were mediocre at best.  I think the companies didn't have to try to make anything good because people who had to eat gluten free were desperate for anything.  I quickly came up with a great muffin recipe, a brownie recipe that my friends swoon over despite the fact that it is gluten free (and carob), and several gluten free cookie recipes.

Once again, however, I find myself loving Betty Crocker.  She put out a line of gluten free mixes in 2009; I happened upon them at my local grocery store.  They weren't cheap at $4.99 ($3.99 on sale) but they weren't $8.99 either.  I brought home a yellow cake mix and baked cupcakes for J-Baby, and he loved them.  We all thought they were good.  We tried the chocolate chip cookie mix and were impressed because they were so much better than the other gluten free cookies mixes we'd tried (they are quite delicate though).

These mixes aren't what people think of when they think of Betty.  There are no artificial flavors or colors in them, and no preservatives.  I understand what each ingredient is.  The ingredients are actually rather simple and are the pretty much the same ingredients I use to make cakes and cookies from scratch.

But I can pull down a box of Betty Crocker chocolate chip cookie mix, add palm shortening (no butter for T-Guy), an egg, and vanilla and have warm cookies ready to serve in 20 minutes.  My boys can make the cookies themselves if they want to.  It isn't dependent on pulling out the scale and mixing gluten free flours or on having chocolate chips in the house.  It simply requires a box, a box with Betty's familiar red spoon on it.

My family has a new favorite cake, one that uses a Betty Crocker gluten free cake mix and the Applesauce Lunchbox cake recipe from The Cake Mix Doctor Bakes Gluten Free.  I can't tell you if the original recipe is good or not because I tweaked it from day one, using pureed canned organic pears blended with cinnamon and a touch of maple syrup instead of applesauce, but I can tell you that my whole family loves this cake.  Amazingly (for a gluten free cake) it is even better on the second day.  I can't post the recipe here because it isn't uniquely mine, but I can suggest that you make a date with Betty Crocker and give her gluten free mixes a try.  She deserves the love.

What is the Hardest Thing For You?

In terms of homeschooling, that is.

I am not a morning person.  I can try, I can attempt to fake it, but it isn't who I am.  It has never been who I am ~ my own mother was annoyed to no end that I preferred not to speak or be spoken to in the morning.  I need a very gentle transition to the land of the waking.  I suspect that coffee might help, but I don't drink coffee, never have, and can't start now.

My boys wake at fairly normal times, somewhere between 7 and 8 although J-Baby has been known to sleep until 9.  If T-Guy wakes early he does his dog chores and then reads until someone else awakens, which is Papa 99% of the time.  T-Guy has always been a cheerful person, morning, noon, and night.  The words spin through his brain at a million miles a minute and he tends to share all of them with us.

The fact that I am not a morning person isn't the hardest thing for me.  It's the fact that not being a morning person leads me to hide in bed even after I awaken, desperate to prevent the barrage of words that I know will come flying at me the moment I show my face.  It is a battle between my essential nature and my child's, a battle I don't want to fight and don't know how how to wage.

Now, some people will simply say that they don't see the issue. Papa is up with the boys, so I could continue to sleep later and then stay in my room until I feel that I can face the day. That could be the beauty of homeschooling's famed flexibility. There are no rules that say we must start lessons by a certain time each day. But there is the reality of our rhythm.  The morning is ideal for lessons, the afternoon far less so.

(I am catching up on old posts that I had drafted and never posted. I almost deleted this as the biggest change between when I wrote it and now is that I AM most definitely a morning person after all, and have been for about a year and a half. I'm giggling thinking about the fact that I have been awake since 4:20 this morning, lol.)

Monday, March 14, 2011

We're Still Here ...

I haven't been writing because honestly, we've just been living and learning.  We haven't picked up a textbook or worksheet, logged into a spelling lesson, or done a block lesson since last December.  We've been seeing amazing results during this last unstructured period as the boys explore topics they are interested in and integrate that learning with all that has come before.

I love life learning.  I love watching my boys fill their days with what interests them and listening to them play wild games of imagination.  I trust life learning as an educational model because I believe that it is the environment we learn in naturally.  For those of us who go to school, life learning is what happens before that first day we are handed over to a teacher, what happens when we aren't at school or doing homework, and the main method we return to when we have finished with institutionalized schooling.  (Don't get your panties in a wad because I used the word institutionalized with schooling.  Schools are institutions.  Get over it).

However, just when I think that we have completely embraced life learning my boys start clamoring for more focused work.  This is the boomerang that is part of learning at the Living Oak Academy.  We start the year focused.  It trails off a little and the boys grab the freedom and start to run away from lesson work.  They speed farther away, flying.  And then, they turn back, and the start wanting a little more direction, and soon enough they are back at my side, asking for a Waldorf block and planned math lessons.

I have learned to just go with it.  I don't get to live with a definitive label hanging over us, such as Waldorf homeschoolers or unschoolers, or even the often used eclectic, which doesn't mean much of anything anyway, but I can handle the lack of definition.  We find that we don't fit in with specific groups of home learners either.  Waldorf homeschoolers will always be aghast at our periods of unstructured life learning (environment, rhythm, health!), and unschoolers will be more than aghast at our periods of structured learning (meaning that I may be ruining my children for life by choosing what they will learn for a given time period).

It doesn't matter to me.  If my boys want lessons, I will provide lessons.  Previous trips on this path have taught me that after two blocks they will start wandering again, so I will give them Ancient Mesopotamia in April (with Gilgamesh as the literature focus) and Ancient Geometry in May.  By then they will be ready for the expansiveness of summer.  Come September it will be time to draw back in and begin our boomerang cycle once again.