Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Comments are Open!

It's official--I still haven't learned everything there is to know about being a blogger!

Apparently I had things set up so that only other bloggers could post comments on this site. We'll, now that has changed! One of my friends told me recently that blogging felt like talking in an empty room. I don't want this blog to be that way, so please, leave your comments!

To test whether or not my comment feature is now working, would you please post a quick comment for me? To make it simple, you can answer do one of the following...

  • Tell me your favorite thing about being a homeschool family,
  • If you're not homeschooling, ask a question about homeschooling that you're dying to know the answer to. If I don't have the answer, I'm pretty sure one of my readers will...or...
  • Post a link to your favorite blog for Christian families, and let me know why you think I should be reading it!
  • Asher wants a puppy. Should I get him one? If so, what kind?
Let the discussion commence!!!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Whispering Orchards

A trip to the apple orchard feels less like a "field trip" and more like real life. We've been frequenting Whispering Orchards long before we officially started homeschooling. I love being able to have experiences like this with my whole family. Typical "school" field trips are generally short and heavily scheduled. The children all have to stay together as a group, very few parents are present, and everyone is herded back onto a bus so as to make it back to school before lunchtime. With these little family field trips, we can stay all day (or not), write our own schedule (and change it if we need to), and we can simply enjoy the time together as a family.

We were able to pick our own apples. Many orchards offer this option during the height of the harvest season. The best part about this is that it usually costs less to pick your own! Here the children are posing with their freshly picked half-peck of apples. We chose large MacIntosh and Honey Crisp apples. Yummy!

Many apple orchards also keep bees to pollinate the trees. For us, this means delicious, raw local honey. The flavor and texture of honey that hasn't been boiled to death just cannot be duplicated! We bring our own mason jar so we  can buy the honey at bulk rates. This makes our apple orchard an inexpensive source of fabulous honey! Raw, local honey has also been known to reduce symptoms for those who suffer from hay fever and seasonal allergies. It certainly works wonders for me!
Whispering Orchards keeps part of their hive visible behind a glass case. This allowed us to take a good look at the bees, busy at their work.

Behind the orchard there is a corn field with a corn maze cut into it. Here are some pictures of our little ones--looking littler than ever--as they navigate their way through corn stalks that are taller than they are!

Then, we took some time to feed and pet the sheep and the goats. Whispering Orchards keeps these animals, as well as llamas, rabbits, turkeys, chickens, peacocks, and a cow.

We also had a chance to meet some smaller, cuddlier creatures.

Even Micah joined in the fun!!

This puppy just ate up all the attention he received from my little animal lovers!

Before we said good-bye, we spent some time in the pumpkin patch. Some of these beauties were as big as the kids!!

Isn't he handsome?
Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Little Bit of Spontaneity

Sometimes, the best projects aren't planned.

Yesterday, we had a less-than-perfect school day. We had an early appointment that ate up most of the morning. Then, since we were in town, we decided to have lunch with Grandma and Grandpa. By the time we got home, the kids were exhausted...and so was I!

Dinnertime snuck up on me quickly, so I rewarmed a pot of soup from earlier in the week, just to be done with it. As my husband headed out the door for a gathering of homeschooling dads at church, I started to feel guilty. What exactly had I done for school today? I determined that, before bed, we would do reading and math, and maybe some copywork.

Yeah, right.

We did manage to complete our reading lessons, but I knew that I didn't have enough mental energy left to teach math. I was so tired!

So, when Asher said, "Mom, could we do some art?"

I said, absentmindedly, "Yeah, sure...go ahead".

"I'm going to need some scissors and tape, too."

"Sure, fine...just get them from the drawer."

With the older children situated at the table with their paper, crayons, and other various art materials, I plunked myself down in my office chair and carelessly read emails while nursing the baby to sleep. I felt like a lousy mom at that moment, and worse, I was too tired to care.

An undetermined amount of time passed, and then, into my office waltzed Asher.

He was beaming from ear to ear, as he presented me with his creation:

"It's a boat, mom!!", he exclaimed excitedly. It certainly is.

"Wow, Asher! It's a wonderful boat!!"

"I started out trying to make an airplane, but it didn't work, so I turned it into a boat.."

"You did a fantastic job! This is really cool!"

At that moment, a cloud lifted from my spirit. I suddenly felt a lot better about my world. I've always known it intellectually, but here was tangible evidence that I don't have to orchestrate every activity for learning to occur. My son had taken to opportunity for some self-directed creativity, and turned it into a masterpiece.

Why do we beat ourselves up so much? Why do so many homeschooling families quit after just a year or two? I've wondered a lot about this, and I think I know at least one answer:

We've bought the lie, taught to us by the conventional educational establishment, that sitting in a classroom, listening to a teacher talk, is the only legitimate way to learn anything.

Obviously, we don't really believe this--at least not completely--or we wouldn't be homeschooling to begin with. Nevertheless, I find the thought patterns drilled into me over 12 years of public education begin to creep over me when I'm having an "off" day.

I need to actively silence the little voice that says things like:

"It's not a complete school day unless you've done some work in every subject."

"If it didn't come from a book published by someone other than yourself, it's not really curriculum."

"If it's too fun, it can't possibly be educational."

"Teaching life skills, such as cooking, laundry, and scrubbing the toilet, isn't really school at all."

"If you read it as a bedtime story, it doesn't count."

"If you didn't plan it, it doesn't count."

"Free time is wasted time."

No wonder we're so hard on ourselves! Who wouldn't feel inferior with this tape playing in the background?

So, how do you stop the tape and get your head back in the game?

I think, the next time I start to allow my thoughts to turn negative, I will remember the day Asher turned a plane into a boat...

...and I will go and do likewise.
Monday, September 21, 2009

Disorganized? Take a Look at This!

I'm a creative type.

I can have fifteen important things to do today, and still "waste" half the morning thinking about a cool new project I want to try. I absolutely love the learning process with my children--choosing quality books and activities, watching them get excited as their minds grow and their world expands. However, when it comes to tracking progress and record keeping, I need a little help. Thanks to FlyLady, my home is becoming less chaotic and more orderly everyday. I'm even finally using a control journal!

That being said, I was in need of a few pages to help me with my homeschool. Other than a basic attendance record, I felt at a loss. I knew what I wanted--sort of--but being a SHE (that is, Struggling Home Executive, for those who don't speak flybaby), I didn't really know how to make it on my own. Then today, low and behold, I found it on the Homeschool Classifieds website. A free resource for creating your own homeschool planner. If you're organizationally challenged (like me) you really need to check it out! PLANNER FORM

It has several different pages. The one I was most interested in allows you to keep track of assignments and activities for each subject for every day of the week. You simply input your subjects, and it creates a table for you. You can print out as many as you want, or if you want to be less wasteful, you can slip the page inside a page protector. Then, you can write on it with a dry erase marker and reuse it each week. The other forms on the page include a yearly and monthly calendar, and a Bible reading record.

To all my Born Organized friends out there, yes, I could probably have come up with all this stuff by myself using Word or Excel. However, this saved me a lot of time and a lot of brainpower. Now, I have a little more free time to have fun with my kids.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Walk Through History at the Wade House

"Mom, what was life like a long time the 1980s???"

Young children have an amusing lack of perspective when it comes to time!

This is one of the reasons we enjoy giving our children historical immersion experiences. One of the beauties of being home educators is that we can take opportunities to visit historical sites as they come up and incorporate them into our homeschool.

On Monday, we had the chance to visit the Wade House Historic Site in Greenbush, WI with our homeschool co-op. It was not our first visit there this year, nor is it likely to be our last. My husband and I often think we were born 100 years too late, and that the pioneer life might have been more well-suited to our personalities than the modern day rat race. Our children, too, enjoy imagining what it would have been like to live "back in the old days". Our eldest told his grandmother this evening that the best thing about the Wade House was learning, "how things used to work".

It's no wonder. History come alive for children (and grown-ups!) when we focus on activity. What did people do back then? How did they cook? Travel? Earn a living? How much did things cost? What did children play at?

During our time at the Wade House, we had the chance to learn about the working man's life in mid-nineteenth century Wisconsin by visiting a saw mill and a blacksmith's shop. Asher, of course, had a million questions. He's always ready to engage anyone who will teach him something interesting.

In this picture, he is watching the sawyer demonstrate a tool called a "snitzelbaum" (I have been unable to learn the correct spelling of this German tool. If anyone can correct my spelling, please let me know!). A precursor to the vice, this tool allowed the sawyer to hold the wood in place using a foot pedal, so that he could use a saw that required two hands.

We were struck by how long it took for the blacksmith to forge a simple "S-hook"--a piece of hardware used to hang cooking pots over the fire. If it takes fifteen minutes to make one small piece of hardware, imagine the long hard days the blacksmiths of old must have worked to make larger and more complicated tools!

The Children were fascinated by how the bellows made the fire burn higher and hotter... the blacksmith's hammer and anvil shaped the red-hot metal this way and that...
...and how he carefully curled the hook around the end of the anvil to form the "S" shape.
When the piece was completed, it received a water bath to cool it down.

S-hooks were not the only things being made at The Wade House that day. The children also had a chance to try their hand at old-fashioned candle making. Using sticks, string, and an iron pot of hot beef tallow, the children watched their candles grow thicker and stronger with every dip in the pot.

The candles needed a walk around the smokehouse before they were dry enough to be dipped into the pot again.
When the candles were done, the sticks were balanced between two chairs to allow the candles to cool and dry completely.
Children during pioneer days would have been kept quite busy with this kind of chore, but there was still time for fun! The boys had a grand time trying their hand (or should I say, feet?) at stilts.
And this game, which involved balancing a ribbon-decorated hoop between two sticks and attempting to launch the hoop into the air. I think my kids were a little young for this one...
...but they enjoyed trying anyway!
There was so much more to see, including the Carriage Museum and the Wade House itself, which was an inn for travelers as they headed north toward the big woods. We had a wonderful time, and hope to be back next weekend to see a real game of vintage baseball!
Saturday, September 12, 2009

Little Bear's Birthday Soup

"The pot is by the fire.
The water in the pot is hot.
If I put something in the water,
I can make Birthday Soup.
All my friends like soup.
Let me see what we have..."
~excerpt from Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik

My baby boy celebrated his first birthday this week. I can hardly wrap my mind around the reality that he is a whole year old. His tiny-babyhood passed by in what seemed to be a nanosecond, and now he is a strong, rambunctious, almost-toddler, who tries to unplug every power cord in the house, splashes in the toilet at any given opportunity, and climbs upstairs faster than you can say, "Hey! Baby boy! Where do you think you're going???" He truly is a remarkable boy!

My husband's family has a tradition of making a special dinner whenever someone has a birthday. This tradition has been a blessing to me. I'd rather have a homemade family meal than a technicolor party with the cheeseburger clown or the hyperactive pizza rodent any day! At any rate, my husband and I have started our own little tradition-within-a-tradition--
Little Bear's Birthday Soup.

We adore the Little Bear early readers by Else Holmelund Minarik, with pictures by Maurice Sendak. We have read them out loud ever since our eldest was a toddler. So, when he turned two, and we asked him, "What would you like for your birthday dinner?", he gave us a look that said why would you have to ask that question and said, emphatically, "Soup!"

Of course!!

Soup makes a fantastic toddler meal, while at the same time being enjoyable for the whole family. It is hearty and nutritious, with vegetables that are tender enough for little teeth to chew. It is also an economical way to feed an ever-growing family of aunts, uncles, and cousins. Little Bear made his soup using only carrots, potatoes, peas, and tomatoes. Our version is more substantial, and extremely delicious!

I hesitate to write a "recipe" for soup...after all, soup is more of an art than a science. It can be adjusted to suit your family's tastes, dietary restrictions, or the contents of your pantry. I don't think we have made this soup the exact same way twice.

Nevertheless, I can tell you the basics of how this is done. What you make of it is up to you!

We start with 1-3lbs of venison steak, cut into small chunks. Beef works well too, of course, but there is something about the complex flavor and lean nutrition of venison that is hard to duplicate. Besides, we're pretty sure that when Father Bear went hunting, he was more likely to come home with a deer than a steer!

In a large soup pot, bring eight cups of water to a boil. Add meat and simmer over medium low heat for about twenty minutes. Skim fat off the broth if necessary--if you're using venison, you probably will not have to do this, because it is so lean. Add one large (46-48oz) can of tomato juice. Season to taste with salt, pepper, thyme and a bay leaf. Our "secret ingredient" that really adds a lot of flavor is worchestishire sauce. I never measure any of this stuff. I just use my best judgement and do a lot of tasting before the soup gets to the table.

Return to a simmer and add any and all of the following:

1/2 cup lentils
1/2 cup barley
1/2 cup brown rice
4 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
3 large celery stalks, chopped

Simmer until the lentils and grains are tender and the vegetables are desired consistency, about 30-45 minutes. I find that the potatoes are a good indicator--if the potatoes are done, the soup is probably done. At this point, I like to add a bag of frozen mixed veggies and simmer just a little longer. This adds peas, corn, green beans, lima beans, and a few more carrots. Of course, if you have any of these veggies fresh on hand, by all means, add them with the rest of the fresh veggies earlier in the recipe.

If your little bear happens to be a vegetarian, you can start with your favorite vegetable soup base and increase the lentils or add other beans or legumes to increase the amount of protein per serving.

We like to serve birthday soup with Dutch Oven bread from the January/February 2008 issue of Cook's Illustrated. This is a fabulous recipe! It requires almost no kneading, and is the only way I've been able to obtain the taste of brick-oven artisan bread from my own kitchen. It does take a lot of time (I mix the dough the night before), but other than that, it is super-easy. I wanted to link to this recipe on the Cooks Illustrated website, but alas, the recipe is only available to paying subscribers. I guess it will have to remain my little secret...

Did our littlest bear enjoy his birthday soup? Absolutely! I think yours will too!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


One of the little pleasantries we enjoy now that we live out in the country is the sound of crickets serenading us to sleep at night. I've always loved cricket songs in the moonlight. I could sit around a campfire, gazing at the stars and listening to crickets all night long.

It seems that, in our neighborhood, crickets are so plentiful that many see them as a nuisance. Apparently, they can overrun a house if left unchecked. We, too, have found a lonely lost cricket or two in our basement, but the children are always careful to set them free. To be sure, they love the crickets even more than I do, and have found hours of delight in chasing them, catching them, and examining them in our backyard.

We've decided to make cricketology (that would be, of course, the study of crickets) our first nature study of this school year. So far, we have learned that crickets are insects. They are omnivores, and will eat almost anything you give them, but if you are going to keep them as pets, you need to be sure to make sure they get enough greens or they will become malnourished. They also need plenty of water. I haven't yet decided if I will allow a pet cricket in the house, so for now we are limiting any hands-on study to the back yard.

We found a lot of fascinating information at the Minnesota Polution Control Agency Website. Apparently, crickets are the Creature of the Month for September. Other than a passing reference to evolution, the information is factual and kid friendly. It even includes a PDF coloring page. Asher will probably not use it as a coloring page--coloring inside the lines is truly boring to him--but he will likely study it and use it to teach himself how to draw his own cricket.

Of course, the most fun part of cricketology is allowing a cricket to crawl all over you! I am amazed by how easy my children are with God's creepy crawly creatures. I don't think I would have done this as a child. The cricket in these pictures was named "Cricka" by my daughter. Cute!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Welcome Back, Dick and Jane

I have a confession to make. My five-year-old son is reading Dick and Jane stories as part of his reading curriculum. Not only is he reading them, he likes them.

How is this possible? I thought the world of Dick and Jane was dull, poorly written, and unimaginative? Well, first off, we are not reading, "See Spot Run". Thanks to an excellent beginning reading program, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, my kindergartener is reading at a second grade level. He surprises me daily with his ability to sound out new words, even long ones! We are well beyond the early readers that bore children (and their parents!) to tears.

Back to Dick and Jane. Don't they fit into this category? Actually, no. The stories we are reading are quite interesting and entertaining to my son (and his three-year-old sister who likes to listen along). They are delightful stories about putting together a new grill with dad, building a play house out of a cardboard box, and a backyard parade. Yes, the wardrobe is dated, and the male lead has an unfortunate moniker, but otherwise, Dick and Jane stories are good, clean fun. I can't think of a good reason for the educational establishment to have abandoned them.

Except for one.

The world of Dick and Jane is a world of traditional family values. Dick and Jane live with a happily married mother and father, a baby sister, a dog and a cat. They are obedient to their parents, respectful of their elders, and kind to each other. They play well with the neighbor kid, and even invite him over for dinner--but he needs to ask his mother's permission, of course! Perhaps, with so much attention being paid to being inclusive and multicultural, there is no room for the simple innocence of Dick and Jane.

There's room in our house.

Welcome Back, Dick and Jane.

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About Me

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I'm a Stay-at-Home, Christian, "crunchy" mama. I have been blessed with the calling to be a godly wife and mother. I am passionate about bringing up my children in the discipline and instruction of the LORD, through home education and discipleship. Helpmeet to my best friend and soulmate, Christopher since 1/29/2000, and mama to four little blessings, including a tiny, precious, newborn baby girl.

My Writing Elsewhere...

Fixing Your Heart on Titus 2

Did you pray for your
husband today?
Monday--His Work
Tuesday--His Integrity
Wednesday--His Mind
Thursday--His Purpose
Friday--His Health
Saturday--His Protection
Sunday--His Faith

Carnival of Homeschooling

Carnival of Homeschooling
Features God Made, Home Grown

Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival

2009 Nominee!

2010 Nominee!

My Wired Style

My Wired Style
Success is not learned. It is discovered and nurtured. What was your child born to do?

Our Curriculum 2010-2011

Bible--Child's Story Bible by Catherine Vos, Apologia Biblical World View Book 1, "Who is God and Can I Really Know Him?"
Catechism-- "Training Hearts, Teaching Minds" by Starr Meade
Phonics--Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons
(Kindergarten), Year 1 Booklist (1st Grade)
Handwriting--Bible Copywork, made using Educational Fontware
Spelling-- All About Spelling Level 1 (1st grade)
Math--Math-U-See Primer (Kindergarten) , Math-U-See Alpha (1st grade)
World History--Simply Charlotte Mason's Genesis Through Deuteronomy and Ancient Egypt
American History--The Light and The Glory For Children Series
Art--Interest-led projects and handicrafts
Geography and Missions-- "Hero Tales" by Dave and Neta Jackson, as well as various other missionary biographies, incorporating globe and map study
*We will be studying music and phy-ed., participating in a writing club and nature club, as well as attending various field trips, with our church's homeschool group.*

Disciple Like Jesus

Disciple Like Jesus

Raising Homemakers

Raising Homemakers

Quiverfull Family

The Modest Mom


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