Thursday, March 31, 2011

Weekly Recap 3/28-4/1/11

I'm setting up an early posting for this week because we will be leaving early, early for the Midwest Homeschool Conference tomorrow morning.  I'm excited about the conference because I don't have any needs or expectations to be met.  I may just hang out in the hotel room and read while the kids play in the children's program.  Truly, I probably won't do that but it's fun to think that I could.

Anyway, this week has been a mixed bag.  We finished reading King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.  I have to admit that we all kind of breathed a sigh of relief with that one.  We liked the stories at the beginning of the book but from the beginning of the quest for the Holy Grail through the final chapter we were almost buried in betrayal and disaster.  We prefer our stories of knights and chivalry to come in smaller doses.

We began reading The Door in the Wall and find that, even with it's beginning in dissertion and plague, it's engaging and not as nearly anxiety provoking as our last selection.  We will have to see how the story of Robin progresses but for right now life in a monastery is a peaceful place for us. 

I decided to scrap the binders this week.  I bought 70 page spiral notebooks for everyone and we are going to see if this works better for us.  I was begining to feel as if I was drowning in paper and that nothing was finding it's rightful place.  With the spiral notebook we have the date, copywork/dictation, our five-a-day and any other written work all in one place.  It's easier for me to check and easier for the kids to keep up with.  So far, so good.

Much of our time this week has been spent reading the piles of books on Aztecs, explorers and rulers of the middle ages.  We didn't start any new history or science work because I was wanting to spend more time reading. 

Another issue that raised it's ugly head is the difference between memorizing and understanding.  M6 reached lesson 191 in First Language Lessons.  In this lesson the student is suppose to parse a paragraph.  Personally, I think that's a pretty ambitious activity for anyone in the six to eight age range.  The focus to now has been mostly in identifying one part of speech at a time after repeating the definition for that part of speech at least three times.  To me it seems to me that the jump from identifying a single part of speech to parsing a paragraph is a large jump to make.  M6 certainly felt overwhelmed by all of it. 

As a result, I made a card game with the parts of speech and types of sentences with their definitions on one set of cards and a group of words on another set of cards.  The purpose of the game was to give practice remembering the definitions for the various parts of speech and then matching the individual words to their appropriate part of speech.  In my mind, it was going to be a fun activity for all of us.  Reality wasn't quite as lovely but I think it was worthwhile.  We won't be playing again for a few days but I do think it will be an activity we do at least once a week for awhile.

A final accomplishment for the week is that M6 learned to ride her two wheel bike.  No more training wheels at our house!

Homeschool Conference 2011

This year I'm not sure why I'm going to the Midwest Homeschool Conference.  I've reached a place that feels good and comfortable.  I've found a groove and I'm not looking to make any major changes next year.  I have most of my curriculum.  I probably wouldn't be going except that I registered before Christmas and it sounds fun to go spend the night in a hotel.

The past two years I've gone to the conference with a sense of mission, armed with a list of questions to answer and curriculum to view.  This year I haven't even looked at the entire conference schedule.  I did sit down and make a list of books I'd like to see or to find but there's no sense of urgency or purpose.  It's a strange feeling.  Thinking that I've got this feels really good and really scary at the same time.  I might get to the conference and find out that I'm just kidding myself.  But for right now, it feels wonderful not to be the beginner and to feel like I'm doing the right things and doing them fairly well.  Of course, not every day goes perfectly but I don't really need it to. 

Since I have no mission at the conference, my plan is to go and explore, to attend sessions that interest me and to spend time looking at lots of stuff.  I might even find a quiet corner and read for awhile.  I have paid for two days of childcare.  I should really take advantage of every moment.  Perhaps I'll discover that by not feeling driven I'll enjoy the scenery and the experience that much more.

Expect the Unexpected

You would think after almost twenty-two years of marriage, four children, and twelve moves I would have learned that nothing can be planned.  You would think that I would be an expert at anticipating what could go wrong and working to see all the angles.  My husband is a maintenance and reliability engineer.  His job is all about predicting what could go wrong and working to keep things running smoothly.  We both have the skills and the inclination but at home, the unexpected keeps happening.

On Sunday we brought home a potbelly pig for H12's birthday.  Paxton was part of our family for just over a week.  On the following Monday, we got a leash and harness for him and he, almost immediately, slipped the leash and headed for the hills.  We haven't seen any sign of Paxton since our manhunt for more than an hour on Monday.  We could have prevented that heartache by not letting him out of the house or by making sure that the harness was too tight to be comfortable.  We could have walked with H12 and the pig to keep an eye on things.  We could have...  You know that list.  It's endless and futile.

Even before Paxton jumped ship we had an unexpected guest.  The farmer down the road gave us a baby goat that had been abandoned by it's mother.  Since last Sunday, we've been playing mother goat to an absolutely adorable kid.  I've given daily talks about how fragile baby animals are and about how we can't be sure that she's going to survive.  All the while, I've been praying and working to make sure she does stay alive.

At church last week, the minister spoke about the meaning of "Give us this day our daily bread."  He talked about the Israelites depending on manna as they wandered in the desert.  He talked about how having too much can encourage us to rely on the bounty rather than on God.  I've found myself returning to this thought again and again this week. 

Even though things happen that I don't expect, Lord, continue to give me exactly what I need exactly when I need it.  Whether it's a goat, a sermon or a moment of clarity help me pay attention to what You have for me.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Weekly Recap 3/21-3/25/11

We began this week with a birthday and ended it with a trip to visit friends so it was a short but busy week.  We focused, as always, on the basics. 

Our basics centered around the new addition to our family, Paxton.  He's a minature potbelly pig and the only thing H12 asked for on her birthday.  While he's extremely cute and often amusing, he's also very standoffish.  This is a real disappointment for H12 who had visions of a companion pig.    We are all hoping that continued contact and tender loving care will enable Paxton to become the pig of H12's dreams.
In addition to figuring out how to incorporate Paxton into a homeschool day, we completed five full days of all our subjects.  We are still limping along in Latin for H12 and S9.  Our history lessons were about Mayans, Aztecs and Incas and the exploration and settlement of the Americas by Spain and Portugal.  In conjunction with our Mayan lesson H12 and S9 we enjoyed chocolate cake for H12's birthday and did Mayan math.  H12 and S9 both enjoyed the challenge of figuring out the pattern but agree that our 10 base system seems easier.  M6 spent her math time reviewing numbers and practicing addition and subtraction with her princess flash cards.

On Friday afternoon we drove back to our old neighborhood and friends for a short weekend visit.  On the way we listened to Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren.  We all enjoyed Pippi's adventures and decided she was a pretty resourceful child.  S9 was envious of her super strength and M6 was envious of her monkey.  I'm hoping we don't add one of those to our growing menagerie.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Birthday Surprise!

There are few things I enjoy as much as I enjoy orchestrating a birthday surprise.  This year we surprised our nine year old son with his long dreamed of pet piranha.  Our daughter, turning twelve today, has been requesting a potbelly pig for more than six months.  Her birthday strategy is simple and usually successful, ask for only one thing and you are sure to receive it.

Unfortunately and maybe surprisingly, it was much harder for us to be joyful about a pig than about a piranha.  A piranha requires an aquarium and minimal attention.  A potbelly pig is, well, a pig.  And our daughter intended it to be a house pig.  She did hours of research and continually reassured us that a potbelly pig makes a wonderful pet.  My own research turned up very mixed reviews.  She promised that she'd take total care of her pet.  I've seen her room. I know her inclination to let things slide.  I was skeptical.

Still, after much discussion and prayer, we found a seven week old potbelly piglet for a reasonable price within easy driving distance.  Plans were made and yesterday afternoon we took H-almost 12 to meet, by surprise, her new pet.  Even to the moment when the black bundle wrapped in a dirty white towel was presented to H she had no idea that she was truly getting her pig.  Her face lit up, her feet danced, her hands clapped.  Her reaction was all we could hope for.  Now, we shall see how our amazing birthday surprise becomes part of everyday life.  My prayer is that this pig exceeds all expectations. 
Paxton, the potbelly pig, born February 4, brought home March 20.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Weekly Recap 3/14-3/18/11

My highlight this week was receiving the letter stating that we are now excused from compulsory attendance laws for the remainder of the school year (2010-2011).  I'm so relieved! 

M6 finished reading the Dick and Jane reader from the library and was ready to start it over from the beginning.  I'll have to ask for something similar when we return the book.  She's moving right along in grammar and reading.  It's amazing to see the progress she's made this year.  In Latin and in science we've been talking about season so that's been a fun crossover.  Math is another area that she continues to surprise me.  We've been working on adding columns of numbers.  She's getting to be a pro at it. 

S9 still prefers history over all else.  He's preparing to do an oral report on Amerigo Vespucci.  He prefers warriors to explorers but he enjoys learning about new lands.  He began Unit 5 in his grammar book this week.  Like M6, he's going to be done with grammar before the school year is over.  He had the humbling experience today of asking M6 to remind him of the be verbs.  She can rattle off the list with no problem.  His grammar program doesn't emphasize memorization.  In math, I've started working though Lial Basic College Math with S9 and H11.  They both have the basics down so it's fun for them to see how much they already know in a college math book.  We spent this week reading charts and maps and interpreting the data and working word problems.

H11 has been working on writing another book.  This one is a futuristic adventure.  I am acting as her editor through e-mail.  Getting my suggestions and ideas without my voice in her ear has been a good thing for both of us.  We also worked this week on improving her outlining from non-fiction.  We are going to work on an outline for her book next week.

During history this week we focused on the explorers.  We spent a lot of time mapping routes on the globe.  It even worked out to have sweet potato fries for lunch one day.  Next week, both S9 and H11 will be giving oral reports on the explorer of their choice. 

Our astronomy study is still going slowly forward.  We did an experiment this week and plan to spend this evening star gazing.

The weather has been beautiful for the last few days so we've spent a lot of our afternoon time enjoying the sunshine.

Yahtzee for math on Thursday

Sweet potato fries on the day we learned about Christopher Columbus and other explorers.

Not quite Fancy Nancy

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Farm Life

Yesterday was the first day that we've had warm weather and time to enjoy it as a family since we moved into our new house.  It was the first day that we felt like a farm family.  We spent much of the morning clearing flowerbeds and cutting down volunteer trees that had grown around our outbuildings.  We moved cinder blocks and cleared a junk heap behind one of the storage sheds.  We filled a trash can with broken glass, plastic and old shingles.  We took stock of the chicken house and made note of the jobs that need to be done in order for that space to be made ready to use. 

After lunch, we took a walk around the farm.  Again, this is the first time we've all been outside together and had the time to walk the property.  The creek was up because of recent heavy rain.  It was still fun to imagine canoeing and swimming in the summer.  The children were done exploring about half way around the property line and opted to cut across the field and head back to the house.  R and I continued to walk the property and found a stream and rock formation we didn't know we had.  We spent time in the sunshine dreaming.  We reminded each other of the dream that led to chosing this property.

We have so many plans for this farm and stepping out into the unknown is a daunting prospect.  Goats, grapes, a garden, chickens, turkeys, and bees.  Can we do any of it successfully?  Are we really ready for this?  We've almost completed our small farm class.  We have enough money and more than enough ideas to make a start.  The only way to find out if farming is really for us is to do it.  There is only so much you can read in books. 

Today we spent some time working on a business plan and a vision for our farm.  Our plan is to spend this year trying things on a small scale to see what works and what doesn't.  Next year we'll move to a larger scale with an intention of being profitable within the next five years.  It's a big step, putting things down on paper, making a plan, beginning. 

At our small farm college class, we've repeatedly heard how we need to be marketing our farm and making sure that people know our story.  In an effort to get a head start on that, we've decided to tell our story from the beginning.  Here's our new farm blog so that you can follow what we are doing and, hopefully, so will others in our area as we get growing.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Weekly Recap 3/7-3/11/11

This week we loved school and everything seemed to flow.  It's good to have a week when everything comes together.  Our highlights were in history and math.  We found the stories about Mansa Musa and Henry the Navigator to be especially interesting.  H11 is doing some more learning about Joan of Arc.

Our read aloud this week is not so popular.  We are reading King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green.  H11 is frustrated and irritated by the women in these stories.  They are, in her opinion, either evil or stupid.  S9 is finding the knights to be much the same.  Maybe we need to spend some time talking about chivalry and what that meant at the time.  It's a hard concept to relate to with our current values.

Math this week totally rocked.  M6 has a great grasp of subtracting and borrowing.  I was nervous about introducing the concept for no reason.  S9 and H11 are both working on square roots and exponents.  They got the concepts with no sweat.  Next week we'll work on adding and subtracting money and order of operations.

We rounded out the week by attending our first 4H meeting.  We were all feeling a little desperate for new friends.  Hopefully, this group, made of homeschoolers, will be a good fit for us.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Season of Sacrifice

As we enter this season of Lent the weather matches my attitude.  Rain pours down, the sky is gray.  It's easy to feel that sacrifice is forced.  It's not a big step to feeling as if I'm being intentionally robbed of joy and all that is beautiful.  Rather than approaching Lent as a time of freeing myself to worship God and focus on the gift that I've been given, human nature encourages me to view sacrifice as loss and deprivation.  Perhaps this Lenten season I will finally be able to focus on the sacrificial giving from which I've found eternal benefit rather than on my personal sacrifice. 

In the past, I had decided that rather than depriving myself of something that didn't really give me a connection to God, I'd try to find a way to strengthen my spiritual walk by adding something of direct benefit, time in prayer, an additional Bible study or reading.  In a sense, by doing that I was sacrificing time.  I was making a choice about the best use of my time and sacrificing time spent in pursuit of things that were less godly.  This year, I'm not sure how to proceed.

The 40 days of Lent are commonly related to the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness after his baptism.  Jesus gave no thought for himself in the journey.  No plans for food, comfort, or good reading material.  Jesus was driven to seek God.  Jesus' quest was successful enough to draw the attention of the entire Universe.  Even Satan tried to distract Jesus from his purpose and because Jesus was successful in his quest we all may benefit.  I can not even begin to understand such perserverance and passion.

Even in Lent, I rarely have pure reasons for most of my spiritual actions.  My spiritual life, on most days, has more to do with me and less to do with God.  I am too comfortable and content to understand what being driven into the wilderness means.  Honestly, I'm fairly certain that I don't aspire to that kind of passion.  The wilderness sounds frightening and uncomfortable.  It sounds like it would demand sacrifice.  I'm just fine with praying for God's will when I'm warm, dry and well fed.

I suppose the questions I'm struggling with are these: How do I participate in a season of sacrifice without actually being required to sacrifice something?  Does sacrifice have to come with pain or can it come with joy?  Is destruction and surrender an requirement?  What would be required of me if I were truly listening to God?  Would I be willing?

Again, sadly, it's all come down to me again.  Perhaps, during this Lent, I'll find a place where there is less of me and more of God.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

In Celebration of Fat Tuesday!

I should have posted this yesterday but I was too busy celebrating to put effort into details here. So, maybe next year this will come in handy to those who celebrate Mardi Gras.

H11 loved making this super easy recipe for dessert.

Mardi Gras King Cake
Recipe courtesy Sandra Lee
Prep Time: 15 min Inactive Prep Time: -- Cook Time: 20 min
Level: Easy Serves: 8 servings

1 (13.9-ounce) can bread sticks (recommended: Pillsbury)
1 (1-inch) heat proof plastic baby
1 (12-ounce) can whipped cream cheese frosting (recommended: Pillsbury)
1/4 cup heavy cream
Green sanding sugar
Purple sanding sugar
Gold (yellow) sanding sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
Open bread sticks. Press together the ends of 2 of the sticks to make 1 long stick. Repeat with the remaining bread sticks giving you 6 long sticks. Taking 3 at a time, loosely braid together. Repeat with remaining dough. Pinch the braids together end to end.
Leaving a 3-inch hole in the middle, loosely coil braids around one another on prepared baking sheet. Press ends together.
Bake in preheated oven for 16 to 20 minutes or until completely golden brown. Remove from oven and cool completely. Carefully insert the baby into the cake in between the seams of the braid.
In a medium pot combine the cream cheese frosting and heavy cream. Heat over low heat until warm and smooth, stirring constantly. Pour glaze over cake and sprinkle with sanding sugars.

The main dishes were fun and easy as well. K14 and a friend prepared the dressing for the muffulettas.

Recipe courtesy Giada De Laurentiis
Prep Time: 30 min Inactive Prep Time: -- Cook Time: --
Level: Easy Serves: 6 to 8 servings

1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/3 cup olive oil
10 large pitted green olives, chopped
1/3 cup pitted, chopped kalamata olives
1/4 cup chopped roasted red bell peppers
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (1-pound) round bread loaf (about 7 inches in diameter and 3 inches high)
4 ounces thinly sliced ham
4 ounces thinly sliced mortadella
4 ounces thinly sliced salami
4 ounces sliced provolone
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 1/2 ounces arugula leaves

Whisk the first 3 ingredients in a large bowl to blend. Gradually blend in the oil. Stir in the olives and roasted peppers. Season the vinaigrette, to taste, with salt and pepper.
Cut the top 1-inch of the bread loaf. Set the top aside. Hollow out the bottom and top halves of the bread. Spread some of the olive and roasted pepper mix over the bread bottom and cut side of the bread top. Layer the meats and cheeses in the bread bottom. Top with the onions, then the arugula. Spread the remaining olive and roasted pepper mix on top of the sandwich and carefully cover with the bread top. You can serve the sandwich immediately or you can wrap the entire sandwich tightly in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator a day before serving.
Cut the sandwich into wedges and serve.

Boudreaux's Zydeco Stomp Gumbo
Submitted By: Lupe Boudreaux & Jason Parks
Prep Time: 1 Hour
Cook Time: 1 Hour Ready In: 2 Hours
Servings: 10

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup skinless, boneless chicken breast halves - chopped
1/2 pound pork sausage links, thinly sliced
1 cup olive oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons minced garlic
3 quarts chicken broth
1 (12 fluid ounce) can or bottle beer
6 stalks celery, diced
4 roma (plum) tomatoes, diced
1 sweet onion, sliced
1 (10 ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chile peppers, with liquid
2 tablespoons chopped fresh red chile peppers
1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup Cajun seasoning
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined

1. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium high heat, and cook chicken until no longer pink and juices run clear. Stir in sausage, and cook until evenly browned. Drain chicken and sausage, and set aside.
2. In a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat, blend olive oil and flour to create a roux. Stir constantly until browned and bubbly. Mix in garlic, and cook about 1 minute.
3. Gradually stir chicken broth and beer into the roux mixture. Bring to a boil, and mix in celery, tomatoes, sweet onion, diced tomatoes with green chile peppers, red chile peppers, parsley, and Cajun seasoning. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer about 40 minutes, stirring often.
4. Mix chicken, sausage, and shrimp into the broth mixture. Cook, stirring frequently, about 20 minutes.

Maybe next year when Mardi Gras rolls around I'll be able to find the recipes quickly and easily.  Since I'm incapable of following recipes to the letter, I'm sure there will be some changes but that's what keeps life interesting, right?!  Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Wordless Wednesday - Aunts are Moms Without the No

Friday, March 4, 2011

Weekly Recap 2/21-3/4

I'm doing a two for one recap because we were on a sort of vacation for part of last week and part of this.  We traveled to my parents home in Florida on Tuesday, February 22 and returned on Wednesday, March 2.

Our traveling school time included several books on CD.  We finished The Adventures of Pinnochio and were relieved to be done.  H11 and I felt there were a lot of similarities between The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly and Pinnochio.  We would like to know if the stories are similar because the author was intentional in adopting the style we saw evident in Pinnochio.  On the whole, we decided that we prefer our main characters to be a little more obedient and thoughtful of others and a little less stupid.

The second book we listened too was a hit for M6 but not so much for the rest of us.  H11 did enjoy some of the sarcastic humor but S9 said it wasn't the type of story that he prefers.

  I agree with S9.

Our final listening selection was a hit for all of us, even though M6 said it was boring at first and H11 said that she didn't enjoy stories that used animals as people.  That gave us a perfect opportunity to discuss the meaning of anthropomorphism.  At the end of the book she decided that anthropomorphism can be a good thing and that the book was engaging and well written, even if it was about mice and rats.  We all give two thumbs way up to Redwall by Brian Jacques.

In addition to listening to a lot of books, we got to see the space shuttle Discovery take off on it's last mission.  We also went to Blue Springs in an effort to see the manatees.  The manatees were enjoying the warm weather as much as we were so they'd ventured out into the St. John River.  We missed seeing them but were happy to enjoy the sunshine.  We also realized that the old farm house at the park was probably built about the same time as our new home.  Weird to think about but in a cool way.  Our final field trip was an afternoon at the beach. We also logged in several hours of p.e. with a nature walk, tag and swimming.

Since arriving home, we've resumed school as normal and have managed to catch up.  The favorite activity of the week was writing friendly letters.  Everyone happily wrote their own and even addressed their own envelopes.  It's nice to see growth and a maturing of skills through such a simple activity. 

And the Oscar Goes to...

While visiting Florida we celebrated our time together with an Oscar Party.  Here is our interpretation of several of the films nominated for Best Picture.

The King's Speech meets True Grit

The Fighter

Black Swan

Toy Story 3

The Social Network and The Kids are All Right

Coming Home

Last week, H11, S9, M6 and I traveled from our house to my parents home in Florida to visit with sisters and cousins.  It was a mini-reunion and birthday celebration.  The only downside to the trip was the fourteen hour drive each direction.  Thankfully, my children are excellent car travelers and made the trip as painless as possible.  We listened to books, they watched movies, did a little school work and stayed cheerful, even when I wasn't.

During the visit with family, I heard my children asked several times what they thought of their new house.  Over and over again, I heard them, individually and collectively, talk about how much they loved where we live now and why they love it.  It did my heart good to step into warm weather and relax a little.  It also did my heart good to know that when we returned to real life we would be returning to a place my children wanted to go.

Admittedly, saying goodbye on the last day of our visit was difficult.  Goodbyes are never easy.  The drive home was long and boring.  We felt every one of those fourteen hours.  The trip was broken by a stay in a lovely Marriott Courtyard in Rock Hill, South Carolina with an indoor pool.  We all enjoyed the swimming time.  The best part of the trip was knowing that we were coming home and that all of us were happy to be returning to a place that, even after only a month, we'd truly missed.