Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What I've Been Reading: Some Nice British Ladies and a rugged Wyoming Sheriff


I've been enjoying more good books in the last two weeks!

First, I read a book that was assigned for a Retreat I attended: Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer.  I love the way Palmer writes, and his whole message of living an authentic life resonated as well.  This is a short and highly accessible book of wisdom on that age old questions: how to live a life worth living?

Then I finally got a copy of one of the first Longmire Mystery: The Cold Dish.  I have really enjoyed watching Longmire on Netflix, so I wanted to read one of the books for my reading challenge category of "My Favorite Detectives".  But my local library system does not carry any of the Longmire books - a strange hole in their collection.  So I had to bite the bullet and buy the book.  But then it sat there and sat there, because I frequently have a book that is almost overdue from the library and then that gets the priority for my reading time ... and a book that I own can be read "anytime" so it falls to the bottom of the priority list.  Once again, I had to just choose to set other things aside and give this book my time, and I was so glad I did!  Although it is slow paced, and the ending did feel a bit anticlimactic, the charming character of Walt Longmire is just as human and lovable in the written version and the Wyoming setting is also a real character in the story, telling it's own tale as the action unfolds.

And then I fell in love with some very nice British ladies in Cranford.  I had never heard of this book, or its author Elizabeth Gaskell, but I found a reference to it in 1001 Books to Read Before You Die.  To be honest, I'm feeling the pressure at this point with my 14 x 14 in 2014 Reading Challenge, so I was perusing the 1001 Books looking for women authors so that a book could count as a "double dipper" between my "Books to Read Before You Die" and "Women's Studies" categories, and then I realized that this book could be a Triple Dipper.  It also served as my book for "E" in my "Around the World in Alphabetical Order" category.  The value of the book was not just in its versatility for my challenge, however - it's a genuinely charming and lovely book.  The genteel society of Cranford are almost all ladies - the book states at the beginning that men are all absent or dead - and the ladies like it that way.  They live quiet lives of poverty, glossed over by nice manners and a genteel refusal to acknowledge their own monetary state, liberally sprinkled with eccentricity, foolishness, and social niceties taken to their ridiculous conclusion.  Gaskell paints the characters with a mix of tongue-in-cheek sarcasm and deep love, which makes for a charming blend.  There is evidently a miniseries that I will have to watch now.

The "D" book for the "Around the World in Alphabetical Order" was also read this week: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry.  I'm basing that category on the Nancy Pearl book: Book Lust To Go, but for "D" she only lists books about Detroit.  I wasn't all that interested, so it was lucky that my mother came to my rescue and suggested Number the Stars for "Denmark". I hadn't ever read it before, and what a sweet and hopeful story it is!  Lowry looked for a story of the good and the bravery that humans are capable of, and tells a positive story of the Nazi Holocaust, with a happy ending!  Very nice.  I've had a run of holocaust books, lately, and this one struck nice harmonies with The Book Thief.  

I also listened to two more books of the Ranger's Apprentice series with my kids in the car.  Audiobooks in the car are still a wonderful thing for us, even though the kids are starting to want to listen to the pop music station more as they get older.  There's only so much pop music you can listen to on a long drive - but a good story will keep your attention and help cover those miles.

And that's what I've been reading!  My 14 x 14 in 2014 Reading Challenge can be viewed here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Not Back to School Blog Hop: School Rooms


Where my kids learn: all over the house (and out in the world too).

The theme of this week's blog hop is "School Room Week".  Ha!  We don't have a "school room" anymore, so I should be disqualified from this one, eh?

When we first moved into this house in 2011, the fact that it had an "extra" room meant we could finally have a school room.  Our school year started off in that room that year.  But then it became clear to me pretty fast that we didn't really like to be constrained to just one room, and that the kids distracted each other a lot when they had to work too close together.  Then I couldn't really multi-task my housework, either, when we were in that one room.  Oh, and the lighting wasn't great either.

So we started to drift out of the room.  Into the dining room.  Into the kitchen.  Into the living room.  Into the "music room".  We would set up a card table for art wherever the light was best for that time of the day.

It's not as picture-worthy or aesthetically pleasing but here's the truth of how we live as homeschoolers:

The "school room" is renamed "the den" and my husband and I are trying to find the perfect way to set that room up as our offices and my craft room.  It's also still great storage for all the stuff and books that just keeps accumulating.  But the stuff we are currently using has moved out of that room.


Milk crates for each child keep their books accessible and portable.  The crates live in the dining room, but get carried all over the place depending on where we feel like working.


Shelves in the living room house the library books (mine have overflowed onto the floor because I have too many!).


Clipboards for each child keep them organized with their daily assignments.


A file of photocopied worksheets also goes on that clipboard.

And that lets us stay organized and drag stuff all over the house at the same time.  It is a bit messy, but it works for us.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Curriculum for 2014-2015

2014-2015 Curriculum

This week has just plowed me down and under!  It's been good stuff, but it's still ... a lot.

So I wanted to take part in the 6th Annual "Not" Back-To-School Blog Hop, with the theme this week of "Curriculum Week".  I even found the time to drag all the books out and take a picture of them.  I even started this post a couple times, but then would be interrupted by a call from my Mom, or by an animal emergency on my homestead.

But now I have a bit of time, so better late then never.

For the 3rd Grader:

For Language Arts we will continue with Explode the Code and Language Lessons for Little Ones, as well as just reading lots of books from the library.

For Math she is doing both Dreambox Math and Math U See (Beta level).

For Science we are doing REAL Science Odyssey: Chemistry

For the 6th Grader:

In Language Arts he is doing Language Lessons for the Very Young, Word Roots, Easy Grammar Plus, and The Reader's Odyssey is the method we are using to go through recommended reading lists for literature.

For Math he is using Math U See (Delta Level) 

For Science he is also doing Chemistry, but for him it's Real Science 4 Kids

For the Combined 3rd and 6th Grades:

They are both using Story of the World for World History (although they are off from each other by about 25 chapters).

For other History we are also all reading aloud The History of US and The Story of Science.  

For foreign language we are finishing up Puertas Abiertas and then we will have to find another program since this one still hasn't come out with a Level 2.

We are drawing using Mark Kistler's Imagination Station.   

And for writing we are using Don't Forget to Write as well as just writing lots of essays, reports, lab reports, and book summaries, etc.

Add in music lessons, family PE class, field trips, and horse riding lessons and we are pretty much good to go!

Monday, July 28, 2014

What I'm Reading: Plath, The Book Thief, and All Joy, No Fun


A glimpse into my recent life as a Reader.

The Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath were interesting.  As the collection is organized chronologically, I wasn't sure whether I was just warming to her as I plowed through the collection or whether I was noticing her own maturation as a poet - but the beginning of the collection did not impress me and I had to read many poems before I started to warm to them.  Her reputation is so huge, but I've never read the actual poems before, so it was good to actually go to the source material.

Meanwhile, The Book Thief took me a ridiculously long time to finish because I bought it on my kindle ... which the kids keep "borrowing" and not bringing back to me.  When I did get a chance to read it, though, I loved it.  Narrated by Death and set in Nazi Germany, the book could have been one huge cliche.  It escaped that fate, however, and managed to both surprise me and bring me to tears.  So, so good.

And finally, I managed to finish All Joy, No Fun this week.  The author set out to write a book about parenting with a different question: instead of asking what effect it has on the kids, what effect does modern parenting have on the parents?  Riffing off a study that showed that parents had lowered rates of happiness and well-being compared to peers without children, the book explores many of the issues of modern parenting through both qualitative case studies and reviews of more quantitative data.  There are some very thought-provoking things in this book if you are a parent, especially a parent of the middle-class variety (which the author does state in a disclaimer was her primary focus).  I was left with some deep musings about the modern phenomenon of the "useless" child - the child who does not contribute to society or the family through labor of any kind but is instead the receiver of care, goods, resources, etc.  I might have more to say about that in another post.

The reading continues!

Friday, July 25, 2014

A New Family Fitness Plan

Family PE Class

I would really like for my kids to grow up fit and healthy, and I know that a big part of that is building habits.  My husband and I have very different fitness habits - he grew up without any exercise habit and never participated in sports while I grew up with heavy participation in dance and a daily home fitness routine.  Although we are both capable of falling into a slump of inactivity for months on end, I'm still about 300 times more likely to choose to exercise than he is.  The habits I built early on in my life are still pretty easy to pick back up again.

But despite knowing what did work for me, so far in my kids lives I've focused more on giving them what I didn't have in my childhood - team sports.  As a homeschooled child, I didn't have easy access to school sports, and my parents don't enjoy sports so they didn't go out of their way to find them for me as a child.  Dance, gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, and martial arts were all physically demanding activities that filled my time as a child, but I never had a team and I never was very good at the hand-eye coordination needed for ball sports (you'd think rhythmic gymnastics would have helped - it should have - I wasn't very good at it).  I felt like there was a lack in my own life, so for my own kids I've made sure they had a chance to try out team sports while they were young.

It may have been a good thing to get the early exposure, but it hasn't taken off with either of them.  My son has said flat out that he is "done with sports" as he enters middle school.  My daughter still has some sports on her (way too long) list of extracurriculars she wants to fit into her schedule (and out of my educational budget) but her interests are veering toward theater and arts and we all agree the money and time would be better spent giving her those opportunities.

Hence the need for fitness that doesn't cost anything and can be done on our own, or in other words we're going back to my roots.  Using my exercise habits and history as a model, we are getting up a bit earlier at least three mornings a week for a Family PE Class at 6:30 am.  This early hour lets my husband participate and still have time to shower and rush to work on time.  For 30 minutes we are doing a little cardio, a little calisthenics, maybe some yoga, and some stretching.  I'm making each morning a bit different by adding in things like:

  • Running laps around our house (opening all the gates made an awkward but adequate loop path)
  • trampoline jumping 
  • rotation stations with hand weights and resistance bands (I only own one set of equipment, so we had to rotate)
  • Videos
  • Grass Drills, army style
  • Crazy Dance Party
  • Playing the Fit Deck game 
The beauty of this is that not only is it free, but it's getting the whole family more fit at once.  It's time we spend together, we're modeling the good habits, and it's the sort of habit that the kids can carry on in their lives no matter where they live or what resources they have access to.  Going to a gym is very nice, and I've always enjoyed when I have a gym membership and when it has been convenient to find time to go there, but you can't top working out at home for convenience and likelihood that you'll actually do it.  

So now I'm adding fitness coach to my job description as a homeschooling mom!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Plastic Free Challenge: Week 3

plastic challenge week 3

For the month of July I signed on to the Plastic Free July challenge.  The idea is to avoid all single-use plastic that just goes straight into the trash, and what you can't avoid keep for a "dilemma bag" and display.

Here are the results of the third week of the challenge, minus the plastic trash that was generated by my family eating at the local summer fair this week.  I just didn't much care to keep the dirty forks and cups in my purse for hours just to bring home and wash later for display.  I think we used three disposable forks and two straws and plastic lids and one snow cone cup on that day, and the rest was paper (which was collected for compost at the fair).

So my family of four made this much plastic trash this week:

  1. The vacuum bag that we sealed one of our home-raised turkeys in last fall for freezing.  When we thawed out and ate the bird this week the bag became trash.
  2. One bag that held cotton candy (from that day at the fair).
  3. The plastic seal from a tub of salsa (I can get salsa in glass jars, but we really like this local salsa company that packages its fresh salsa in plastic tubs.  Local, fresh, and organic or packaged in glass?)
  4. The end of the plastic wrap on a brick of cheddar cheese (the rest of the wrapper will probably appear in next weeks photo).
  5. A package of mini-marshmallows that were used in a chemistry lab by my son, building molecules out of marshmallows and toothpicks.
  6. The packaging from a new set of headphones I bought this week.
  7. Two plastic lids from sodas.
  8. Four plastic coffee straws that I didn't notice my kids sticking into their reusable cups at the coffee shop.  They really like to drink out of straws, so I've started saving and washing out straws, but these little coffee ones are too small to really wash out.
  9. Four bags from pasta we cooked this week.

In the spirit of full confession, my trash this week also contained two styrofoam carry out containers and two of those weird foil/plastic/I don't know what this is bags that chips come in.

Overall, though, I do think we are reducing how much trash we put out, and it's definitely making us think about it more.  

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What I'm Reading: Finding Higher Ground


Climate change is a depressing topic, let's be honest.  Whenever I read another book about it, I typically feel guilty, sad, mad, fearful, and depressed.  And yet, I can't stick my head in the sand and pretend this isn't happening - it's real, it's here, it's happening, and what are we going to do about it?

Finding Higher Ground: Adaptation in the Age of Warming by Amy Seidl was a different kind of climate change book.  Here, there is very little doom and gloom and more tales of fascinating adaptations that are already taking place in the natural world, and the challenge for more adaptation in our cultural world.  Seidl tells us about drought resistance evolving in plants, about changing migration patterns for birds and butterflies, and about folks experimenting with rice farming in Vermont.  She looks at solar energy and local food sheds, and challenges the reader to think of their own higher ground.

A quote from the book:

But higher ground also lies in territory beyond these pragmatic actions.  it is in our determination to care about what we love, to protect life that is threatened, to grieve for what is lost, and to believe that we can endure the Age of Warming.  The biological and cultural environments that we have depended upon in the past will undoubtedly change.  But the adaptations we bring into existence will be the very makings of our persistence.

I highly recommend this book!