Monday, August 29, 2011

Cake, Not Pie-in-the-Sky

This had to be one of our best First Days of School ever, and I think I know why.....I didn't set the bar too high this year.

I didn't expect to have everything planned out perfect for myself.  That way, I wasn't disappointed in my own performace.
I didn't expect everyone to be happy about starting our school year.
I didn't expect to complete work in every subject.
I didn't expect perfect retention of math facts and other skills from last year.

By God's grace, we:

  1. Started our day with smiles because we had chocolate cake and candles for breakfast.  You read that right. Mama's off her rocker.
  2. Started with God first.  We're using Sword Fighting to memorize scripture this year.  Everyone participated.
  3. Watched a documentary about the White House for history today.  Movies always get a thumbs up from my crowd.
  4. Did a little math -- just a little.  Ben said the first part of his math (he took a Math U See placement test so we know what to do this year) was hard but it got easier as we went along.  He agreed to the analogy that he was like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz who needed some oil to get his limbs moving. "Oil Can!" Luke and Levi practiced place value with Math U See blocks, then Luke did a practice page of math.
  5. All three boys helped me to create our new chore chart for the year.  I think they appreciated having input into the plan, and then when I had to make a few executive decisions, there was no unrest or revolting from the masses. 
  6. Everybody read to me, and I did a read-aloud to the boys.  We all love the read-alouds, and I am making intentional efforts to re-introduce that again this year.
In year's past, we've taken the gradual approach to starting school -- we start with a few subjects the first week and gradually add in more as the weeks pass. I'm sort of doing that this year, minus the pie-in-the-sky dreams that will inevitably come crashing down and leave me in a puddle of first day tears.

No tears today.

God is good.

Crew Review: Apologia's How to Have a H.E.A.R.T. For Your Kids

I've finished reading How to Have a H.E.A.R.T. for Your Kids by Rachel Carman -- just in time for the beginning of our school year...and I'm so glad I did!

Each letter of the word 'heart' is an acrostic:

H = Have a heart for the things of God
E = Enrich your marriag
A = Accept your kids
R = Release them to God
T = Teach them the truth

Here's a description from the Apologia website:
How well do you really know your kids? What has God shown you about who they are and who they will become? He has sent these children into your home at this specific time for His glorious purposes. Indeed, you have been invited on the adventure of a lifetime, a journey on which you will see walls fall, seas parted, and giants slain. You don't need special skills or training for this journey—you need only to seek God and hold tight to His mighty hand! As with so many things, the first step to having a heart for your children is knowing your heavenly Father. As you seek daily to share His heart for your children, keep this inspirational book close at hand.

Rachel does a wonderful job weaving anecdotes from her own homeschooling journey teaching her seven children with scripture and familiar Bible stories. Her style of writing was so friendly that I often imagined Rachel was sitting across a table from me and sharing her own heart.You can go to the Apologia website to read a sample chapter from the book, which is selling for $13.

I have to admit, I didn't read anything here that was brand-spankin' new to me, but what I did get was a wonderfully encouraging and inspiring reminder of the God-honoring job I'm about to restart. The book's compactness (in size and chapter length) made for convenient reading in between and around our late summer obligations and activities. A wonderful feature of the book is the thinking questions at the end of each chapter;  this is the rubber-hits-the-road part of the book that I can use to make this book's material my own. 

Reading this book (as well as the work God has been doing on my heart recently) has helped me to realign my goals and priorities for this year.  I'm really taking Matthew 16:26 to heart:
And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?
I have to admit that I sometimes get so caught up in the academics of homeschooling that I forget to see the big picture -- honoring God and leading my children into lifelong worshipers. This book was a gentle reminder to get back on track and run the race to win (1 Cor. 9:24).  I know without a doubt that it I will continue to re-read it throughout the year.

If you'd like to read what other reviewers thought, head on over to The Old Schoolhouse's Review Crew Blog to read more.

FCC disclaimer: Thank you to Apologia Press for a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion about the book. If I like it, I'll tell you. If I don't, I'll explain why it didn't work for my family. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog Hop!

Crew Blog Hop

I'm joining in on the first evah (as they say it here in New England) Blog Hop.  This gives me (and you) an opportunity to visit other homeschooling blogs.  As the school year progresses, many of these bloggers will be reviewing homeschooling products, so you might choose to follow them with Google Friend Connect.

If you have a blog and would like to participate, you can click on the picture/ button (above), and it will take you to a McLinky tool.  Sign up your blog there, and you're in!  You can view other blogs from that webpage, too.  Follow blogs via Google Friend Connect.  And if you follow me and leave a comment, I'll follow you!

Have fun, and enjoy these last days of summer!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cooking and Staying Sane -- a great {free} online tool!

This is what the web app looks like on a smart phone
My BIL designed this web app that I've been using for a year or so, and am loving it even more because I'm starting to collect my recipes for my fall meal planning.  You can use it from any smartphone browser (just bookmark it) and you can access it from any computer.  Plus, it doesn't require you to part with lots of personal information -- I think only your email address.  Oh, and it's ad free!

It preserves recipes in great form from traditional recipe sites yet still saves the webpage for a recipe, say, from someone's blog.  Very simple, very easy to use, very convenient -- especially when you are in the grocery store and realize you forgot to write down a couple ingredients -- as long as you can get a couple bars, you can look it up right there on your phone (ask me how I know this!)

This is a screen shot from my laptop.
Oh, and another thing -- you can edit the title of the recipe.  See that little pencil to the right of the recipe name?  Click that, and you can change the title!

Simple and super convenient.  Love it. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Gettin' Ready for School: Breakfast!

In preparation for school starting in a couple weeks (I really should nail down a start date...), I made Refrigerator Molasses Muffins to try this week. I've loved the idea of refrigerator muffins (which basically means you can make up the batter and store it safely in the frige for up to six weeks, depending on the recipe). In searching recipes online, I found many recipes which called for a bran cereal. Those would've been fine to try.....except I didn't have any bran cereal to use. But, I have had a jar of molasses in my cupboard for far too long, so I decided to offer it up.

  • 4 c Unbleached Flour, Sifted
  • 2 ts Baking Soda
  • 1 ts Salt
  • 1 ts Ground Cinnamon
  • 1 ts Ground Ginger
  • 1/4 ts Ground Cloves
  • 1/4 ts Ground Allspice
  • 1/4 ts Ground Nutmeg
  • 1 1/3 c Vegetable Shortening
  • 1 c Sugar
  • 4 ea Large Eggs, Slightly Beaten
  • 1 c Molasses
  • 1 c Butter/Sour Milk
  • 1 c Raisins
  1. Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice and nutmeg; set aside.
  2. Cream together shortening and sugar in mixing bowl until light anf fluffy, using electric mixer at medium speed. Add eggs beat well.
  3. Blend in molasses and butter/sour milk. Add dry ingredients all at once, stirring just enough to moisten. Stir in raisins.
  4. Spoon into greased 3-inch muffin-pan cups, filling 1/2full. 
  5. Bake in 350 degree oven 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve hot with butter and jam.  
NOTE:    Batter can be stored in refrigerator in covered container for up to 3 weeks.
Yield: 12 servings

Conclusion:  delish!  All the boys loved the muffins for breakfast. They were moist and flavorful.  Ben said they had a banana bread taste to them, but I could imagine pumpkin bread! (neither of these tastes are disliked in this house.)

Oh, yes, the boys are not that keen on cooked raisins, so I substituted chocolate chips instead.

Yes, I fed my kids chocolate chips for breakfast, OK?

I'm thinking that one batch of muffins is going to give us about 4 breakfasts;  I'l probably make 2 meals worth right away, and save the batter for a week or so before using the rest.  I'm also going to experiment by adding in dried apples instead of the chocolate chips, as well as substituting applesauce in for the sugar. And, I'll definitely give the bran cereal-based muffin mixes a chance, depending on the cost of molasses vs. cereal.

Now, to figure out a way to get the kids to eat hot oatmeal and ignore the fact that I hate it........any ideas are appreciated!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

2011 Not Back to School Blog Hop Week 3: Student Photo Week

Not Back to School Blog Hop

Dave and I were just discussing the need to have a new formal picture taken of the boys -- the last was about two years ago when we had a wonderful group portrait of the boys taken at Picture People.  I'm going to need to re-sign up for coupons to have a new one soon!

In absence of some formal picture, here's a grainy group picture of the boys from our summer trip:

We've got 7th grade, 3rd grade and (officially!) a Kindergartener this year.  You can read my descriptions of them here.

Monday, August 15, 2011

2011 Not Back to School Blog Hop Week 2: Our School Space

Not Back to School Blog Hop

I spent the past two weeks getting our school room back into shape.  After school ended in June, it became The Official Family Dumping Ground for a few months.

Our room has definitely changed a lot since the last time I blogged specifically about our room here. We still have highlighter yellow walls and two white bookcases, but that is about it:

This picture (above) is what you see directly across from the door when you walk into our room.    .  On top ofthe unit is our in-box (one lot per kid) and pencil sharpener.  The top three cubbies are (from L to R):  Ben's books and notebooks, markers/ colored pencils etc. in a Sterile drawer set, and art pencils/ makers in a basket.  The middle two cubbies hold math manipulatives and library books.  The bottom two cubbies will hold our current unit's TOG resources. Dave built this cubby bookshelf two years ago.He's going to add more shelves above this. 

To the right of this unit is the former dry erase board wall:
Now it is just a blank yellow (not green) wall.  Ah.  I like it.  The blue and red pocket holders mark the kids' progress through their daily assignments.

On the far wall from the door is the space formerly used by my desk:

I got this wonderful lateral filing cabinet last spring off Craigslist.  The printer and school supplies live here.

Next to it is my newest bookshelf, which now holds mostly my teaching guides, books we haven't used yet, a reference shelf for the kids and some crates of kid stuff.  The bottom two shelves are still a work in progress.

To the left of the new bookshelf is a reading chair, which I love having in the school room. Dave actually took a nap on this chair this weekend.  I think that is the most time he's ever spent in here!

 And, finally, our same-old bookshelves.  They've been reorganized but are still pretty full.  The small drawer set to the left of the bookcases hold items for mailing, note cards, the label maker and blank DVDs.  Behind the blue curtain (I took the closet door off a long time ago) is another filing cabinet, blocks, the microsope.... hands-on things we use for learning and fun.

I forgot to take a specific picture of it, but you can see that the little school desks are gone.  We are going to just use this drop leaf table for working at.  Honestly, we learning in all corners of the house, so having a table in here is just one of the many spots one kid or another will use during the day.  I tend to spend a lot of time at the kitchen table teaching reading and spelling, but maybe this year, I'll teach from this room.

I'm planning on cutting down our huge shower-panel-turned-dry-erase-board ($12 from Home Depot) into a smaller board that we may use in here.

Next up in the Not-Back-to-School hop is My Monsters!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

2011 Not Back to School Blog Hop Week 1: Better Late Than Never

Not Back to School Blog Hop

It has been years since I participated in this blog hop, but since I have about 10 blog post ideas running around in my head yet am having a difficult time putting ideas to paper (or screen), I thought I'd go the easy way this weekend and back up to participate in this blog hop.  Life With My 3 Boybarians started this hop, and just this year I found out Heart of the Matter is managing it these days --that's how long it's been since I did this!

So week 1 is/ was curriculum week.  If you'd like to know what we're using this year, click on over to my 2011-12 Curriculum page to see my plans. 

I've had a laid-back, wonderful summer and am not stressing about school this year for like the first time ever.  We've been homeschooling now for 8 (official) years and I have a pretty good idea of where I want to go this year academically.  The academics isn't the hard part of homeschooling.  It is the heart.

Character. God. Faith.  Standing in line at the grocery store and resisting the urge to kick your brother for the heck of it.  These are the issues that I'm praying about for this school year. For us all.**

**Please note that I don't want to kick my brother.  I've been there, done that a million times decades and decades ago.  Not that I stood in the check out line and kicked him.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Getting My Ducks in a Row: Planning TOG

Many (if not all) Tapestry of Grace (TOG) Moms are familiar with The Fog that rolls in shortly after a purchase of one of Tapestry of Grace's year plans. It is a non-meteorological event that all new TOGgers are warned about.  Me included.

This fall marks our third full year with TOG as our main curriculum.  Each year, I get a little bit better at planning for our school year and using TOG.  Not perfect, mind you, just better.

With 12 more years to use it, I think I'll get the hang of it at some point.

So, in my offering to help lift The Fog of TOG, I thought I'd share how I begin to plan a year.

Step 1. I purchase the DE only package (DE = digital edition; a secured PDF product that I download to my computer), and after I've installed it to my computer, I begin the process of printing only the parts I'm going to use for immediate planning:  the threads pages (purple pages), the reading assignment charts (yellow), and the writing assignments (red).  I do this for the whole year plan during the early part of the summer.  These pages help me to understand the topics that are covered in each year plan and the books and resources I'll need to acquire for the year.

[Note:  this part of the preparation is only done once per year plan.  For example, I'm using Year 3 this school year, but I only had to print up the first semester of material, because we used the second semester a few years ago to learn about the Civil War and Reconstruction.]

Step 2. After I've got the reading assignment charts (yellow pages), I begin to look at the resources (books) I'll need to use this year. I will admit that TOG can get pricey with all the books to purchase, especially at the onset.  That's why I acquire books from a variety of sources:  used sites,, our library, and borrowing from friends who are using different year plans.  I usually download a list of TOG books and put them in a spreadsheet so that I can make marks and notes on where I'm getting the resources.  I *heart* my library's list making function, which allows me to make a reading list of books I'll need to borrow for the year.

After I figure out where I'm getting books (purchasing or borrowing from library), I mark on the reading assignment sheets either an "h" for "I have this book" or an "L" for "borrowing from library."  I'll also mark "ILL" if I need to get an inter-library loan book, but I've shied off from doing this over the past couple years because I hadn't been giving myself the leeway necessary to get the book on time.

Oh, another thought when deciding which books to purchase vs. borrow:  If I'm going to need a book for longer than 3 or 4 weeks, I usually purchase the book.  My library system allows you to check out a book for 3 weeks and renew once for a total of  6 weeks.  Some of the arts and crafts books for grammar-aged students are used periodically throughout a whole unit.  Sometimes I'll purchase the book (if I find it really cheap!) other times I'll just check it out periodically from the library and copy a couple activities that I think we'll use for the next few weeks.  I'll do this several times during the year.

Step 2.5. When I'm deciding which books I need, I also have to factor into the equation which levels I'm going to have my students work at:
  • lower grammar (typically k-3rd), 
  • upper grammar (3rd-6th), 
  • dialectic (6th-9th),
  • rhetoric (9th-12th)
As you can see there is some planned overlap which is lovely.  Let me show you how this works:  When Ben was in 5th grade, he read upper grammar history books and dialectic level literature books. I knew he wasn't ready for the themes and threads of the dialectic history books (although he certainly had the reading skills to pull it off) and wanted him to have a solid understanding of the facts and events of the time period.  However, the literature books at the upper grammar level were not at all challenging for him (a few were picture-bookish), so I bumped him up to dialetic books . However, we didn't use the literature worksheets to begin to learn about literary analysis because he was in, uh, 5th grade. See how we flexed between upper grammar and dialect? 

For this year, because Luke has made huge strides in his reading this summer (!!!!) he's now at the point that he can read some of his history and literature books by himself.  So this year instead of bumping him up to the upper grammar-level materials (which are for a proficient reader who's reading at a 5-6th grade level), I'm going to keep him in lower grammar books.  This way, the exercise of reading won't be so challenging that he cannot focus on the content of the information he's learning.  I'll pre-skim all the books for difficult vocabulary and we'll practice breaking those words about syllable by syllable; then he should be good to go!

One of the things I really like about TOG is that you are given a whole years' worth of plans for every grade level, yet you can move your students up and down in each subject as you see fit. 

Step 3. This is when I do my second round of printing.  I print off the SAPs (blue Student Activity Pages) and the Teacher Notes.  If I had only grammar level students, I would probably not print off the Teacher Notes to save on time and money (for ink and paper) and just read them on my computer.  Also, I only print the SAPs for the levels I'm teaching.  I'm not teaching a rhetoric (high school) student, so I don't need to clutter up my mind and school room with unnecessary information.  I usually print off these SAPs unit-by-unit.

Step 4. Honestly, the previous step are easy compared to this step -- The Foggy one.  This is when you really need to focus.  If you have students at many different levels, this is when you take one level at a time and focus on each unit for that student.  Which books will you have the student read himself?  Which will be read-alouds?  Will you use the geography assignment this week?  Will you use the SAPs for literature this week?  How about the Thinking and Accountability questions? What will you do with the vocabulary and people for the week -- have the student write them out or go through them orally with you? Will you do a craft?  Will you have your student take one of TOGs weekly assessments?

You know all those sweet little check-boxes on your year plan?  Well, if you have DE, do NOT be afraid to check-off what you'll want to do; remember, you can always print off another copy later.

In the past, I've also gone through and made weekly lesson plans with Homeschool Tracker Plus.  I've made TOG-only spread sheets as well.  This year, I'll just be putting (pencil) check marks on the items I'm planning on using.  This way, I'll always be referencing all the great information I've printed off and (I think) I'll be more accountable to myself and the curriculum.

Now, each week, I'll pull out my binder, look to see what needs to be read, assign it on my student's log book, pull out the SAPs we'll need for the week and read the teacher notes so I have a clue about what we're learning.  I try to do all this work (maybe 30 min. of concentrated work) on the Friday or Saturday before we need it.  I hate having busy Sunday nights.

I cannot say that my system is flawless, but it works for me and our lifestyle now.  How do other TOGgers plan the basics of your years?   If you've written about it, paste a link in the comments so I can glean some awesome ideas and inspiration from you!


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Peace in the Puzzle (Blog link)

Do you live with a child who has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder?  Perhaps this  blog will be a blessing to you.  It is a new community lead by a dear friend's sister.

It has a Christian ministry focus and is for Christian families who live with a child with autism spectrum disorders. Claiming this verse from Jeremiah:

"For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil,
to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11 (NKJV)