Thursday, November 20, 2014

Pregnancy Cravings

I want cheese!

Soren was made out of Papa John's pizza with lots of extra marinara sauce.

Carl was made out of sushi.  Mostly, the cheap stuff at the grocery store but often enough it was from Shogun, our favorite downtown sushi place.

Sven was made out of Kraft macaroni (three cheese, baby!) and homemade jalepeno poppers.

This baby should be made out of KFC cheese curds.  Except that KFC is closed right now!  What's a crazy pregnant woman to do?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Homeschool in October

I knew that there would be bad weeks for homeschooling.  I thought that they would be later.  Like Christmastime, around the baby's birth, or during the February doldrums.  But they hit us this October and now we are already behind on all my beautiful plans.  Some of the behind I plan to catch up on in November and some of it I have just accepted as permanent.  It's been liberating to realize that I am accountable to no one's schedule and that the kids are doing well regardless.

In Kindergarten

The Fisherman and the Jinni - For the first unit of the month, Megan told a story from One Thousand and One Nights that I am not familiar with.  She really enjoys doing ethnic fairy tales and usually ends her units with exotic cooking projects.  I was really grateful that she was responsible for Kindergarten during the most harried weeks of October, allowing the kids to have continuity while I was otherwise occupied.

The Teeny Tiny Woman- For the unit that ended with Halloween, I chose the story of The Teeny Tiny Woman, a ghost story from England.  I actually told this story two years ago, in our very first Kindergarten year, and it really freaked Soren out.  But it's so very fun that I decided to revisit it and none of our current Kindergarteners were too scared.  I was interested to notice that Soren would hang over the back of the couch and listen; now that he is older, he thinks the story is amusing and not terrifying.  To accompany the story (and the season!) I shared a couple of nursery rhymes about pumpkins: Five Little Pumpkins and Peter, Peter, Pumpkin-eater.  I also taught the children to sing "Lead Kindly Light" (Hymn No. 97).  Our walks were pleasant but increasingly chilly so I seized what may be my last opportunity to teach the kids a few outdoor games: Ring Around the Rosy (which Sven loved); London Bridge; Button, Button, Who's got the button?; and The Farmer in the Dell.

In First Grade

This month, I wanted to write about our 1st grade read alouds, which are taken from the Ambleside Online curriculum.  I love them!  Doing our read alouds is probably my favorite part of our homeschooling day; they are interesting and nourishing to the soul.  These are the books that we are reading from this term:

Fifty Famous Stories - So far we have only read stories about Greek philosophers and Roman heroes from this book but next month we will start in on some British stories as well.  I have been most inspired by the Roman virtues of honor and courage demonstrated by the characters in these stories.  Soren's favorite story was "Horatius at the Bridge" (he suggested we name our new baby Horatius Clo'cles).  Mine was "The Story of Cincinnatis".

The Burgess Bird Book - This delightful book is about Peter Rabbit's adventures in ornithology.  Each chapter introduces a couple of birds, describing their plumage and commenting on their habits.  Information about the birds is given in the voice of Peter's sassy friend Jenny Wren.  Soren struggles to give meaningful narrations from these stories and I have some ideas about how to improve our interaction with this clever volume next month.

Parables from Nature - Most of the time, our nature hour reading is taken from The Burgess Bird Book.  But we have completed two readings from Margaret Gatty's Parables from Nature: "A Lesson of Faith" and "Law of Authority and Obedience".  The first used the life cycle of a butterfly to teach about resurrection while the second talked about the organization of a beehive to give a very British take on good governance.  I think that this is the book that is most difficult for Soren to understand but it's good for him and I enjoy it immensely.

Our Island Story - This is a fascinating children's history of Great Britain.  The tone for the book was set in the first chapter, which describes how the islands were given as a gift to Albion, Neptune's son.  It mixes myth and legend with characters and events that are larger than life.  We have read a chapter every week rather than following the Ambleside schedule because I like it so much and want desperately to know "what happened next".  We have read up to the Saxon invasion and will perhaps get to King Arthur before the end of next month.

Paddle to the Sea - Our geography read aloud for this year is called Paddle to the Sea.  It's about a little toy canoe that makes a journey through the Great Lakes and out the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Atlantic Ocean.  The chapters are short but packed with details about the natural and man-made features along Paddle's route.  This is one of the only books that we are reading in hard copy instead of on my kindle as the illustrations are an important part of the story.

The Bible - Each week, we read one story from the KJV Bible.  It is rewarding to see Soren working with the scriptural language and to have a plan for getting these stories into him.  Right now, we are reading stories exclusively from the Old Testament.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Boys Speak

Carl and Sven are playing with play sand at the table.  Soren is writing a novel "in handwriting".  Carl is pushing his sand into a mason jar, which Soren thinks is a bad idea.

SOREN: If you smoosh the play sand into the jar then it will be harder to get out.

CARL:  Soren, look.  [Carl turns the jar upsidedown and the sand falls easily out.]

SOREN: Oops.  My hypothesis was wrong.

CARL:  It was falsified.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Best Things About Carl (at 5)

1. He enjoys fantasy literature.  He and I have been reading lots of great chapter books recently; we are currently halfway through The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for the second time.  Reading together is something we both enjoy a lot.
2. He is verbally affectionate.
3. The verbal affection is related to his eagerness to please adults.  I can usually trust him to follow rules and interact pleasantly with authority figures.
4. He is excited about Soren's schoolwork and copies a lot of it.  He wants me to know that he is always doing his "best work".
5. He "reads" to Sven, reciting Sven's favorite books from memory.
6. He has lots of energy!
7. But he can also sit still and play with legos for hours.
8. He does not nap but will look at books quietly in his bed for an hour every afternoon.  I was worried what would happen if he stopped napping before he learned to read but it has turned out ok.  I still get my quiet time.
9. He is a great storyteller.  He remembers all the important details and relates them dramatically.
10. Being brave is very important to him.  I enjoy the pep talks he gives himself when working on something scary or difficult.
11. He rocked his swimming lessons this summer.
12. I enjoy hearing him sing.
13. He is learning negotiating skills through daily vehicle swaps with the neighborhood kids.  They trade bikes and scooters, determine appropriate lengths for turns, and set rules for playtime behavior.
14. He can help a lot with work around the house.  He can independently dry a load of dishes, clean the sink, dust the living room, and pick up after Sven.
15. He gets an allowance now that he is 5 and he dove right into experimenting with it.  He mostly wants to buy legos, which requires him to save instead of buying Oreos.
16. He loves to play board games.
17. He is very cued into the frustration level in the home.  This encourages me to take better care of my own emotional health.
18. He still enjoys Kindergarten.  He really lives into the stories, plays outside with gusto, and expresses himself with great care in his artwork.
19. He gives great hugs.
20. He is a good looking kid.  His ready smile and thick, blonde hair help a lot.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Homeschool in September

It's back to school and this year, unlike last year, none of the young children in our neighborhood are going to public school.  They are all homeschooling!  (This is not as weird as it sounds, the truth of the matter is that there are only two other families with young children.  But of the two families that moved out, even one of them is homeschooling!)  I realize that we are living in a dream world, where homeschool is the norm; we will just enjoy it while it lasts.

This is my first year doing two different grades and I am also juggling a very busy toddler so laying down a workable schedule has been my number one priority this month.  This is how it has been working:

7:30 am - The kids get up, begin their housework, have breakfast, finish their housework, and then have as much free time as is left before school starts (which they spend playing with legos).
9:00 am - Sven goes to play in his room and the older boys clean up their toys.  We begin school with Morning Exercises, which I think is really the most productive and fun part of our routine.  Morning Exercises starts with a song ("Calling Me Away" from Fraggle Rock!).  We say a prayer and light a candle then Soren and Carl each recite a verse, Waldorf-style.  I read a poem from A Child's Garden of Verses.  Then we do some yoga to warm up our bodies and some rhythmical counting to warm up our minds.  Sometimes we play a math game.  Then we talk about the way our day will go and practice the hymn we are learning.  After Morning Exercises, Carl goes to play with Sven and Soren practices piano for 15 minutes.  After Soren's piano practice, we do his main lesson.
10:00 am - Kindergarten begins.  Sven goes to play at my neighbors house.  If I am teaching Kindergarten, Soren does seat work at the table.  If Megan is teaching Kindergarten, I send Carl down and then have more time for Soren's main lesson.
10:20 am - We all go on the Kindergarten walk and eat a snack.  Then the mom that is teaching Kindergarten does an art project with all the older kids and the mom that is not will corral the younger kids (Sven and Oliver).  
11:00 am - Recess!  All the kids go to play outside.  For the first 10 minutes of recess, Soren does a read aloud, chosen from the Ambleside Online curriculum.  On Mondays, Carl also has a read aloud from The Enchanter's Daughter, a Waldorf-inspired introduction to the alphabet.
12:00 pm - Back inside, Soren does a page of copywork, Sven begins to eat, and Carl helps me make lunch.  After lunch, Sven takes a nap while the older boys do "One More Thing".  This is a time for whatever else I want to do with Soren: handwork, composer study, picture study, or Mandarin.  Then someone blows out our candle and school is over for the day.

But that's not really it.  On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, Scott has "Science Night" with Soren, a half-hour block after Carl goes to bed for whatever Scott wants to teach about.  And on Saturday, they go to lego club with two other boys and their dad is the coach.  On Tuesday, instead of Kindergarten, we do nature study at a park or on a hike and on Thursday (also instead of Kindergarten), we walk to the library.  And all the interstitial moments of the day are taken up by more books and more legos.  

This routine is working great for now but it will, of course, not work forever.  For starters, the weather will get colder and all our outside activities will have to be reconsidered.  And we have several short vacations planned this fall.  And then I will have a baby!  Who knows what that will be like?  I am a little stressed about maintaining positive homeschooling habits.  But for now, I think we've got something good going.

In Kindergarten

The Rain Maiden - Megan took the first unit and shared an end of summer story that coincided very nicely with our weather (alternating hot and rainy).  It is, apparently, a German story with a female protagonist.  Soren, who was happy to stay home, was nevertheless curious about the story and so asked Carl to tell it to him after the unit was over.  We all got a rather lively rendition of a charming tale about a young girl who must wake up the slumbering rain maiden in order to win the hand of her true love.  

The Strong Boy - My unit was over Michaelmas so I told a story about the true meaning of strength and courage.  It was inspired by a story found in the comments on this blog.  I told that story each day of our first week.  Then on the first day of the next week, I told the story that goes along with making dragon bread.  On the second day, the Kindergarteners took turns retelling The Strong Boy and on the third day, I read St. George and the Dragon.  I was really surprised that all the children were absolutely still and quiet for the entirety of that very long book, even our 3-year-old.  Also in our circle, I shared nursery rhymes about nuts and we learned to sing "We Are All Enlisted".  For the outdoor part of Kindergarten, Carl lead us all in the Michaelmas circle from years past and we enjoyed playing with our homemade shooting stars.  We painted with yellow and blue (to make green dragons), shaped dragon bread, and made figurines to act out the story out of beeswax.  That last activity was successful for the first time in Kindergarten history because I found a tip suggesting that you warm your beeswax in water before modeling with it.  Worked like a charm!

In First Grade

In our main lesson this month, we began The Story of Sunshine, a container story I will be using to introduce Grimm's Fairy Tales and the math concepts I want to discuss this year.  The story was inspired by this lovely story, which I was actually planning to copy word for word.  But in the end, I decided to make it special to Soren by incorporating the theme of sunshine, which was my nickname for him as a baby and has become symbolically important to him in the last year.  My story begins with a baby born of a drop of sunlight who is adopted by a beekeeper and his wife.  Because he was born of the sun, he has the special power to draw rays of sunlight by tracing his finger through the air.  I used this part of the story to introduce form drawing with straight lines and curves.  Soren's favorite part of the story was when Sunshine was traveling over the mountain, carrying his family's honey to market, and spilled it over a cliffside.  The honey spills all over a little mountain gnome, who thinks that it is actually liquid sunlight!  Soren thought it was hilarious.  

So the first week was our container story, introducing Sunshine, and the second week began the Land of Numeria container story, where Sunshine goes looking for inspiration for his sun-pictures and stumbles upon a mysterious door that can only be opened by answering 12 riddles.  We discussed the first three riddles for the other three weeks of this month:  What is 1?  What is 2?  and What is 3?  Each riddle is accompanied by a "hint", which is actually a Grimm's fairy tale, and the "answer" is a rhyme about the quality of that number.  

For ONE, I told the story of "The Goose Girl".  We talked about the one sun in the sky and about the one and only real princess in the story.  We talked about the uniqueness of each person, especially about the uniqueness of Sunshine and of Soren.  The answer to the riddle was: "One is the sun.  One is the sky.  /  One is the world and one am I."

For TWO, I told the story of "The Two Brothers."  We talked about the first two brothers, who are opposite, and the second two brothers, who are a reflection of each other.  We talked about duality and drew yin yings on the sidewalk.  We also talked about odd and even numbers.  The answer to the riddle was: "Two sides of a coin.  Two halves of a heart.  /  Should two be friends or should two be apart?"

For THREE, I told the story of "The Three Little Men in the Woods".  We talked about how three is a magic number and watched the school house rocks video about three.  We talked about the family in the story: the beautiful young girl, the King, and their baby.  Three really is a special number and I could tell that Soren got that feeling.  The answer to the riddle was: "Mom and Dad made me.  /  That's the magic of three."

On the first week of school, Soren and I made a main lesson book as per these instructions.  Each week, I made a drawing for Soren to copy into the book, which he calls The Story of Sunshine.  

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Michaelmas 2014

More than in years past, I have been feeling very keenly the need to gird up my loins and take courage this Michaelmas.  Starting with the official onset of homeschool, I have been feeling intimidated by my own life choices and uncertain about my abilities.  Or, perhaps more accurately, I have been feeling weary of the work and wary of the knowledge that there is only more to come.

It's not just the 18+ years of homeschooling ahead that I need to face with courage.  It is also the impending winter and cabin fever, the rest of this pregnancy, the addition of child #4, and the necessary but uncertain relocation of our family.  And so this season, I have been personally edified more than usual by the stories of courage, endurance, and divine assistance that I tell my children.  They have led me to acknowledge my weariness without abandoning my cause.  They have inspired me to lengthen my stride in preparation for the future.  And they have given me hope that God's grace will carry me through it all.

Here are some of the outwardly festive things we did that instructed and accompanied my musings:

1. The week before, Scott taught our family home evening lesson about Michael the archangel.  It was preceded by about a month's worth of lessons on scriptural symbolism from both of us so both Carl and Soren were ready to tackle even more of the metaphors in Revelations this year.  Soren even identified Michael as a type of Christ.

2. We made a week-long calendar that night, too, planning the things we would do to prepare for and celebrate the holiday.

3. Preparations for Michaelmas were accompanied by a new story for Kindergarten.  The story is called The Strong Boy; I found it down in the comments on this blog post.  Although I have enjoyed telling the story of St. Michael and the Star Children in years past, I felt that this new story really met Carl's developmental needs this year.  It teaches about appropriately channeling strength to worthy causes, rather than using it as a tool to get our way.

4. Although I thought that the kids were a little old for it this year, Carl requested the Michaelmas circle and so we performed that during our outdoor time each Kindergarten day.  I also pulled out the shooting stars, which were received with all the love and excitement I initially imagined for them.

5. We went on a new hike to appreciate the crispness of autumn and practice perseverance.  Soren and Carl looked for goldenrod and Michaelmas daisies, which grew in abundance on the roadside but were completely absent along the route of our hike.

6. On Saturday, we went to pick apples and peaches at the Farnsworth Orchard.  It was a rainy morning and the trees were mostly bare.  However, we did manage to gather enough apples for our feast and enough peaches for our freezer.  Sven did a taste test for us.  Seeing as how he ate even the core, I'm guessing he liked it.

7. Scott and I tried to carve wooden swords for Soren and Carl over the weekend.  We got pretty far but I was too slow to finish in time and Scott cut his thumb pretty badly.  The boys are still excited for us to finish the swords ... whenever that happens.

8. I spent three hours Sunday night cleaning my house from top to bottom.  Getting rid of the cobwebs, changing the sheets, scrubbing all the floors, and dejunking my space left me feeling calm and in control.  When I was finished, I felt capable of courage and ready to face the next day.

9. On the big day itself: I hung a giant banner over the table to surprise the kids when they woke up in the morning.  Scott went into work half an hour late so that he could have breakfast with us: donuts, sausage, and hot apple cider.

10. There was a lot of cooking to be done in preparation for our feast.  We made dragon bread in Kindergarten.  I let Soren "slay" his dragon for lunch then saved mine and Carl's for dinner.  And after lunch, the boys sliced apples, processing about two dozen into little chunks for applesauce and apple pie.  That was probably my favorite part of the day: working with my kids on those apples.  And later, I made mashed potatoes and carrots, stuffed peppers, and a harvest salad while the kids read the books I had gotten from the library (St. George and the Dragon; George, the Dragon, and the Princess; and The Knight and the Dragon).

11. We shared our feast with the Jacksons and--my oh my!--it was a loud feast!  The kids pulled out all our knight-related costumes and cavorted around, more often fighting with each other over the only helmet than fighting any dragons.  But nothing could dampen my spirits so I found the noise to be usually cheering.

12. Before bed, we pulled out the lava lamp for a new season of use and read aloud the story of St. George and the Dragon.  I was really struck this year by how exhausting it must be to fight a dragon.  George keeps at it because it is the right thing to do.  Or, perhaps, because once engaged, he has no other choice.  Either way, it is not his overwhelming strength but his unyielding persistence that wins the day.

May it be the same for me.

Saturday, September 6, 2014


My first week of homeschooling has been surprisingly draining.

Before the big first day, I felt mostly excitement.  My research was done and my choices were made.  My plans were in place and I was confident in them.  My son was eager and ready to learn.

I thought that homeschooling would be either a) a blast or b) not that different from normal life.

It was both of those things.  But it was neither.

That makes no sense and yet it is true.  My first week homeschooling was both fun and terrifying.  And while it was not that different from normal parenting, I felt different and not in entirely positive ways.  All of a sudden, I felt afraid.  Afraid of falling short, of messing up, of unforeseeable complications and very real impending complications, of missing things, of going too fast or too slow, of getting bored, of being isolated, of everything.

And while I have plenty of good coping mechanisms for dealing with these issues, they have still been draining a lot of my mental resources.  The wheels in my head have been spinning along the same non-productive paths all week and by the end, my brain felt like an exhausted hamster.  It wasn't the schoolwork or the kids that zapped me dry.  It was the worrying.

But this post isn't about what took it out of me.  It's about what gave it all back (and more).

I went to a church meeting tonight.  It was just what I needed.  I had been looking for refreshment all day and couldn't find it anywhere else.  There, at the meeting, I found it in spades.  I am so grateful for that tender mercy.

The best things about the meeting, though, weren't exclusive to that environment.  I realized that I don't need to wait for a great church meeting to be refueled.  I can carry this feeling with me through my worrying and my working if I bring the best of that meeting into my home.

These are the parts that really touched me:

1. The music.  The singing of hymns has a very powerful effect on me.  More than any other part of the meeting, it was while we sang that I felt my mind and heart being healed.  And I can sing anytime I like!  I feel certain that if I fill my time with singing and my home with good music, that will go a long way toward lifting me up.  I used to sing a lot more to go with the rhythm of my days.  I had songs for waking up the kids, songs for doing our chores, songs for going out to play, songs for taking a walk, and songs for snuggling up at bedtime.  I was always actively memorizing a song.  I want to be that way again.

2. The stories.  There was good doctrine taught but--ah!--the stories!  Good stories are so nourishing for the soul!  In my homeschool, I know how important it is to feed my children good stories from the best books.  I need to take that same care with myself.  Rather than surfing the internet and reading what often amounts to poorly written drivel, I want to spend more of my time in good books.  And in The Good Book.  Any recommendations would be welcome.

3. The praying.  There's really nothing better for the soul than really talking to God.  When I lay my concerns at his feet, I feel that I can finally lay them to rest.  He helps to make my thoughts about them productive rather than circuitous.  And He reminds me about what's really important.  Those reminders fill me with hope.  Because God has a plan for what is really important.  And it's a plan that has provided generous accommodations for my weakness.  This reminds me of a lesson from the Lorenzo Snow manual which said, "When we seek God's will, we follow a course in which there will be no failure."  I feel that confidence when I pray.

These three things are going to make a big difference in my second homeschooling week.  I am grateful that I was able to go to my church meeting this evening; it revitalized me when I desperately needed it.  But it also taught me how to revitalize myself.

That's one less thing I have to worry about.