Friday, January 31, 2014

National Soup Month comes to an end


I had a lot of fun with soup this month.  I even bought myself a new cookbook: Soup of the Day: 365 Recipes for Every Day of the Year.  Although it is not an explicitly "eat with the seasons" book (which my other current soup cookbook, Love Soup, is), the recipes as they are arranged on the calendar pages are pretty seasonally appropriate.   And, as meat-eaters, we appreciate the meaty goodness of many (but not all) of these recipes.

However, the unfortunate circumstance of my falling at the skating rink and spraining my wrist (the family got to go to the Emergency Room and everything) left me unable to do much cooking for two weeks out of this month.  Many of the recipes I wanted to try had to wait.

So ... I'm going to claim February as a Month of Soup as well!  Or maybe this will just be a year of soup around here.  It's such good stuff, why not?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Nature Study - the Unplanned Subject Area

There are resources out there for doing Nature Study with your homeschool student.  We've tried some of them, and they were fun enough, useful enough.  But they didn't work out for us over the long-term, because the book/journal/websites invariably don't reflect what is actually happening in our backyards, on the trails we hike, or out our windows.

(We encountered a whole bunch of kinglets on a recent hike.  They almost seemed to want to keep pace with us as we walked.)

So now I don't really plan nature study in advance anymore.  The only "plan" we really need comes down to:

1.  Set up observation stations meant to attract something.  Mostly, this means bird-feeders.  It can also mean putting out bat boxes, etc.

2.  Get the kids set-up with: guidebooks, cameras, binoculars, magnifying glasses, a flower press.

3.  Regularly spend time outdoors.  In the yard.  In the park.  Hiking.  On the water.

4.  When you are out and about, be observant.

That's about it, and it's working for us. :)

(Outside my kitchen window I have five birdfeeders.)

That said, if you want to do something less casual than we do, I'm incredibly impressed with The Handbook of Nature Study.  Barb McCoy has some great ideas and resources, and you should check it out if you are a homeschooling parent.  Let's get all the kids outside more, and in touch with nature!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Drawing Lab


We've started a new art book for the new year, and so far it's another hit with the kids.

Drawing Lab for Mixed-Media Artists: 52 Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun! by Carla Sonheim is divided into seven units, each "inspired" by something different (animals, people, nature, famous artists, imagination).  We started with Unit 1: "Inspired by Animals", and the very first lesson was to draw 30 cats.  Just draw 30 cats, without stressing about the quality of each drawing - they were dubious "really mom, I have to draw thirty cats?".  By the time they were done they were giggling and cheerfully leaving less-than-perfect cats on their page.

And so far, the lessons are all like that -- meant to loosen the kids up, to just draw to just move the darn pencil and I really appreciate this loose approach.  Drawing can be scary, it can be intimidating, and this is the opposite of that.

Blind contour drawing was a hit as well.  This means they were looking at a picture of a giraffe and trying to draw a giraffe, but couldn't look down at their page as they drew.  I think there was a bit of cheating, though.



It makes life a lot easier and more fun when the kids are enjoying their Creative Writing and Art programs. Good stuff.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Weekly Book Post: Cinderella Ate My Daughter, What Money Can't Buy, The Burning Bridge, and The One and Only Ivan


This week I finished four more books, and started a few more as well.  The new additions to the currently reading pile: The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person, Gone Girl, and Growing Souls.  

And here are the books I finished this week:

Cinderalla Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein has caught my eye in many bookstores - how could it not with that great title and the frothy pink cover?  Now I finally found time to read it, and I'm glad I did.  The Disney Princesses, Barbie, Bratz, Wonder Woman, Twilight, and more are analyzed and critiqued by Orenstein, a feminist child of the 70's now trying to raise a young daughter.  She also looks to current research, interviews marketing executives, internet website designers, and more.  It's a fascinating discussion, but never preachy or too self-righteous.  Here the culture is critiqued, but not completely rejected, and the path she recommends for parents to take is very much a middle path.  I liked the book very much.

What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael Sandel encapsulated something that has been increasingly bothering me, namely that our lives have become too commercialized and the way we eat, the way we dress, the toys we buy our kids are all based on such heavy consumerism.  Sandel, a political philosopher and professor at Harvard, explains this as "market triumphalism":

"... without quite realizing it, without ever deciding to do so, we drifted from having a market economy to being a market society.  The difference is this: A market economy is a tool -- a valuable and effective tool -- for organizing productive activity.  A market society is a way of life in which market values seep into every aspect of human endeavor.  It's a place where social relations are made over in the image of the market."

Throughout the book, Sandel presents cases where the market is intruding into areas of life which were previously governed by a different norm: waiting in line, procreative rights, naming rights, access to medical care, and more.  His analysis makes the economic argument clear to me, as well as the moral, ethical, and social issues.  The only flaw with the book is that it gets repetitive, with the same conclusion about the over-reach of economic-thinking being written over and over again after each example.

Then the two children's literature books the kids and I listened to in the car this week:

The Burning Bridge by John Flanagan is the second book in his sprawling Ranger's Apprentice series, and it is my opinion that the first two books are the best.  This adventure finds young Will off on a diplomatic trip to neighboring Celtica, only to discover that the country has been invaded by their mutual enemy Molgarath and his mind-controled Wargols.  Will heroically foils the invasion plans, but subsequently gets captured by Skandian raiders and hauled away on a wolf ship, a true cliff-hanger ending meaning that we will have to listen to the next book in the series too.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate is the story of a silverback gorilla living in a mall.  The story is loosely based on true events that happened in our area.  My kids didn't want to listen to this one, because they were afraid it would be too sad, but I had heard so much good stuff about this book I insisted.  In the end, they loved the book - it's sweet and funny, and although there is some sadness it is handled lightly and deftly.  A truly lovely book.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Day in the Life of a Working Homeschool Mom

Every now and then I like to just log what a day in my life looks like.  This is not necessarily a "typical" day. (I'm not sure I have typical days). We do not have big church dinners every night - they happen about once a month.  I do have evening meetings at church at least 4 evenings every month, sometimes more.  And this day was unusual in that we skipped the kids' extracurriculars in order to make the day work, because they conflicted with the church dinner.

But this is what our life looked like yesterday, for what that is worth.


6am, my alarm goes off, but I push the snooze button.  I hear my husband up and heading out for his day, but sleep through that.

7am, I actually wake up, and realize I've missed my husband's departure for work and that my son (whose "computer day" it is) is up and on the computer already.  I get up and make some coffee, and take care of my morning routine, etc.

7:30, my daughter gets up and begins to watch some videos, my son heads out doors to take care of all our animals, and I call my mother to chat and to discuss the last four books of the Bible that we've been reading for Mother-Daughter Bible Study.

8:00, I break off my conversation with my mother so I can call and cancel a doctor's appointment.  Then I call the kids in to go over their school planner's together and decide what needed doing today.

8:15, we begin a bit of schoolwork: my son does some piano practice, then starts trying to catch up on physics lessons (we were behind because of some sick days last week).  My daughter wanted to work on an Animal Presentation we have coming up at the end of the month.  I read her a book about her animal of choice, then she began to copy out a bit she wanted to put on her poster board.

8:45, I threw a load of laundry in the washing machine, and then made some photocopies of school work to be done, and started to pack backpacks with other school work.  My kids finished their work and each took a bit of a break (one on the computer, one with an audio book to listen to).

9:00, I call them in to do one of their Drawing Labs, this one to sketch pets.

9:20, we pack the rest of our stuff up and head off to church (for work).

9:50, we arrive at church, the kids set themselves up in a classroom (building with blocks and watching a documentary about the space race on netflix) while I get to work at my desk, mostly cleaning up from Sunday and recording attendance numbers, also calling people back who left messages and sending reminder messages to my childcare team for the evening.

11:00, an appointment arrives to talk to me.

11:40, I am done with my appointment, gather up the kids, and head out to get some lunch.

11:50, we order our sandwiches at a local shop that uses gluten-free bread.  I spend the waiting time reading Growing Souls, a book I'm reading for work, while the kids occupy themselves drawing on napkins and chatting with each other about space travel.

12:15, we get our sandwiches and leave, also picking up my husband's drycleaning from the shop next door.

12:30, it's back to work, eating my sandwich at my desk while I work on writing up a report and a lesson plan, and the kids watch a DVD on the TV in the corner of my office while they ate their sandwiches.

1:15, my kids head off to a classroom (where they do some of the homework I packed in their backpacks and also just play with some wooden blocks and plastic animals), and I have a meeting with our minister.

1:30, I get back to my desk and get to work sending emails to prep all the teaching and volunteer teams for the coming Sunday and attend to other little admin tasks.

3:00, I gather up the kids again and head back home to let my dogs out of their crates.

3:15, we stop at the library to drop off books and pick up those that have come in on hold.

3:45, back home.  Quick care of animals, then my son got on the computer (it's his computer day, we alternate).  My daughter watched a science DVD I had assigned, then did violin practice.  While she was watching the DVD, I quickly wrote my weekly email to church parents from my home desk.

4:15, I called both kids in to do a spanish lesson (on DVD) while I folded laundry off the drying rack and hung up wet laundry to dry.

5:00, I supervised the kids doing some chores: washing dishes, taking out the trash, tidying up.

5:15, we left to head back to church.  We listen to our current audiobook, The One and Only Ivan, in the car.

5:45, arrived, I did some work at my desk (writing up a Parent Info sheet for our upcoming OWL class)

6:00, a community night dinner began at church.  The kids and I got food, they headed off to the nursery to eat in there and play with their friends, while I joined a table of congregants and chatted.

7:00, the educational program for the evening begins.  The Pastoral Care team arranged for a guest speaker on Disaster Preparedness, and two volunteers have also designed a kids program about it.  My kids got to do the kids program, but I unfortunately had to head into a Program Council meeting instead of learning all the things I should be doing at home for Disaster Prep.  The kids will have to tell me what we're doing wrong.

7:50, there is a break in the meeting I am attending, which fortuitously coincides with the end of the children's program so I am able to thank the two volunteers, check in with my nursery staff, and help my kids transition to independent hanging out time in my office.  They had my laptop from home, so they watched another episode of the NASA space race documentary series.  I also take some time to help someone who popped into church hoping to figure out how to use the church laptop for a presentation she is doing on Saturday.

9:15 The meeting runs late, so it's pretty late when I can finally tell the kids to pack up.  We listen to our current audiobook, The One and Only Ivan, in the car on the way home.

9:45 We get home.  My husband has spent the evening alone as a chance to catch up some work at his computer.  The kids say they are still hungry, so we feed them some leftover soup, then they have to do their evening chores and routine.

10:15 The kids are in bed, my husband and I chat a bit, then put on an episode of Dexter.  I set up my laptop on my lap and write up the draft of my Take Home email that goes out after the Sunday lessons with extension questions and suggestions.

11:15 My husband heads to bed.  I start writing this blog post, but give up and go to sleep about midnight.

And that's a wrap!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Don't Forget to Write


This is our new writing curriculum, which I am using for both kids: ages almost 8 and 10.5, 2nd and 5th grade.  Don't Forget to Write: for the Elementary Grades is 50 lesson plans, meant for classroom use, and focused on making writing workshops fun (or enthralling according to their website).

It is quite different from our last writing curriculum, which was Writing Strands.  Writing Strands had a good reputation, and I was impressed with some aspects of it.  I don't doubt that my son's writing was improved by the exercises in Writing Strands, and the method is very ... methodical.  That has much to recommend it.


And it's a big BUT ... my son really hated doing the exercises.  And they frequently seemed so completely divorced from the reality of our lives that I had to adapt them, change the subject matter, think of some way to make them relevant and fun.

Not so with Don't Forget to Write; this one my kids love and it is full of fun themes that seem to have been designed by someone who knew what they love.

It was a hit with the kids from Lesson One: Tragedies by Six Year Olds.  The workshops have some directions for teachers - a bit of introduction of the subject, maybe a recommendation to show a video clip or read an example of this type of writing.  Then there are reproducible pre-writing exercises, and then you could expand from there.


We've done "Tragedies" (my son wrote a great pithy little tragedy about a man who never felt full no matter how much he ate).

We've written "stories for your pets".

We had a "Fort Party Writing Workshop" which involved building a fort and then sitting in it and writing stories about forts and the exploring you could do from a fort.


And we've done "Paraficticious Science" and created whimsical science fiction.

They love these lessons, and they have created some fun and funny stories.  What this method may lack in technical skill building, it seems to more than make up for in creative fun.  We are doing other language arts programs (Language Lessons, Easy Grammar Plus, Explode the Code, Reading Detective, Root Words, and of course just reading literature together), so my priority here is that they love to write and they are being creative with it.  For that, I really really love this curriculum.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Weekly Book Post: Superior Wives, Talking to Teens, Serving with Grace, and Squire


Another week in to the year, and I've finished another four books.  (I'm still on track with my 14 x 14 in 2014 Reading Challenge!)

The first was a disappointment, and I'm sorry I made myself keep reading it, just hoping it would get better: The Superior Wife Syndrome: Why Women Do Everything So Well and Why - For the Sake of Our Marriages - We've Got to Stop by Carin Rubenstein was a series of anecdotes gleaned from responses to one single internet survey mixed with personal opinion and a snarky tone.  The final advice basically boiled down to "stop doing that" but lacked any really helpful tips or practical solutions.  I thought the sarcastic title would just be to catch the attention of bookstore browsers ... but no, not so much.

A much better book was How to Talk so Teens Will Listen by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.  Faber and Mazlish were required reading in graduate school, and I hand out copies of their books to volunteer teachers and parents at my church.  This book updates their work to include teenagers and some of the special concerns (sex, drugs, etc) that parents have with teens.

Serving with Grace: Lay Leadership as a Spiritual Practice by Erik Walker Wikstrom is a new group read for the leadership at my congregation, and it is a lovely book.  This is a different way of looking at the work that needs to be done ... that the journey is the point of it, the growth and the relationships along the way, not the outcomes.

And then we finished our family read-aloud: Squire by Tamora Pierce.  We all love Pierce's wonderful heroines and the magical medieval world she created in Tortall.  I grew up on the Lioness Quartet, and loved Alanna.  But, much as I love Alanna, I think Keladry (the heroine of Squire) may actually be my favorite.  She is just so darn real ... just a real honest to gosh, good-hearted, brave, solid character.  And I love that my kids love her too.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

In My Kitchen: National Soup Month


My husband and I have arrived at a way of sharing the duties of cooking dinner - he cooks the dinner twice a week, always the same thing (Taco Tuesday and Spaghetti Thursday).  It's predictable, easy, and the kids like it.

We also have a regular weekly family dinner at my in-law's, which is also predictable, tasty, and my kids like it.

So I'm left with only four dinners a week to figure out (and breakfast is when I use processed foods - cereal and toast - and lunch is usually left over dinners), which feels like a big reduction in my food planning job.  And yet, I get easily bored with the same food over and over again, so I still need to work out a varied plan of different foods.

This month I hit upon a theme, and so far having a theme is making the whole dinner thing even more fun.  January is National Soup Month, so my theme is just that - Soup! My goal is to cook a different soup recipe for each of my dinners.  So far I've done Rustic Potato Leek (from here), turkey (I made that one up and used our own turkey we raised), Squash and Apple (I had that recipe in an old magazine), and slowcooker Hungarian Beef Stew (from here).

It makes cooking dinner a project, and an experiment, and maybe we love some of the recipes and don't like some of the others, but we just move on to the next one and I don't need to stress any one dinner too much.  I like this.

But February isn't looking as easy.  National Canned Food month?  Or Cherry month?  Or Grapefruit month?  Obviously we can't eat cherries or grapefruit for dinner all month.  And Canned Food all month sounds gross.  So .... ideas for a dinner theme in February?

Friday, January 3, 2014

Weekly Book Post: American Nations, Back to Normal, and Great Gatsby


This week was marked by holiday break and a couple days of illness, so I had plenty of time to just sit and read.

American Nations was featured on NPR recently, and the story piqued my interest.  The book was just as interesting, with a very high-level/abstract sort of storytelling that stuck with themes and the big-picture so it was an easy and fast read.  My favorite part, however, was the different perspective on the Founding stories, with Spanish America and French America given more explanation here than we usually here when we read an anglo-centric history of the U.S.

Back to Normal is a publication of Beacon Press, so I saw it when I got my catalog from them.  The author is a clinical psychologist, and this book is his argument against what he sees as the over-diagnosis and over-medicating of today's children.  While acknowledging that there can be real conditions of the brain - a biological issue - he also upholds the need to look to context and environment.  This is Nature AND Nurture, and a moderate voice that I appreciate hearing in the debate.


I've wanted to read The Great Gatsby by a long time, but haven't got past the first chapter any of the times I've picked up the book.  This time I plowed through it, and found the tragic beauty in this "masterpiece".  Although none of the characters are very likeable, and it reveals no great truths about life, it has a simple and stark tragic arc that I found deeply compelling.  And now I need to watch the two movie versions!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Plunging in to 2014


Today we repeated our New Year's plunge into the Sound.  (Well, I don't jump in myself, but the kids and their dad did it).




She gives it a (reluctant) two thumbs up.  A bracing way to begin a new year.