Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Coffee Buddy

Coffee tastes better with a friend, even if it's powdered Cafe Au Lait or roasted barley coffee substitute. Do you have a coffee buddy or a tea buddy, or maybe a diet coke (heaven forbid) buddy? I've mentioned before that I have moved and moved and moved (if only that applied to my exercise routine)... will we ever stop moving? Yesterday I received just a blip of an email from one of my true heart friends. I haven't lived near her in almost eight years, but I still get sad sometimes that we no longer get to have our coffee together. True, good, crying on your shoulder, sitting comfortably in silence, baring all your sins and shortcomings, honest with you, not afraid to challenge you, friends can be hard to come by, especially if you move every three years! In Alabama I had a true friend. Our kids played together beautifully, and at the end of a long day I would often go over to her house, we would sip our coffee in the kitchen (or her favorite spot, the back porch), and we would unload our woes, and then I could go home refreshed and ready to tackle dinner and not have to unload on sweet hubby.

After we moved from there, I felt her loss immediately. There was no unloading of woes and no friendly commiseration. For many years after, when things were really bad, I would think of her and cry because I missed her. She was also a great spiritual mentor to me and always reminded me to turn back to Him and stop looking at myself. Before moving there, I had left a good friend in North Carolina who's loss was not as keenly felt because of the immediate friendship I had found when moving to Alabama. She too was an end of the day coffee buddy.

After I moved here, I was bemoaning the fact that God had not sent me a mentoring friend (to another friend), and she said, "Maybe it's your turn to be the mentor." Well, I'm still hoping for a mentoring friend, but I'm mulling the whole maybe-it's-my-turn thing over!

At any rate, I was just thinking about how important it is to be in touch with people who have affected our lives and that when we think of them we ought to let them know, because maybe our words today will be just the words of encouragement they need for the day. Shoot them an email or send them a hand-written card (another lost art--the hand-written letter). And if you are remembering all the ways you were blessed by that far-off friend, maybe you can bless someone else in one of those ways today!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Teaching the Next Generation...

I have a terrible memory. I really think that the part of my brain that controls memory is either very tiny or broken. My husband can remember all kinds of crazy details from when he was very small. He can remember the names of his elementary school teachers and what he received for various childhood birthdays. He can remember what he ate for snacks at the daycare he attended before school! I, on the other hand, can remember very little of my childhood. Snippets of places I lived, but no memories of friends until at least Jr. high, some slightly traumatic events, and some adventurous and happy events. Why is this? I don't know, vitamin deficiency? As a a child I moved all over with the Air Force, and as a married adult I have moved all over with corporate America. Each time we move we leave behind familiar places and acquaintances. After a couple of years my husband will ask, "Do you remember so and so from..." And I will say, "Not really." He will look at me, astonished at my lack of memory. And I will look at him, astonished that after this many years of marriage he should expect my memory to improve! Of course I remember those with whom I stay in touch, my heart friends. And now my point: I also remember those who have taken the time to teach me something.

I love to teach girly things to girls, because I have all boys of course! Over the years I have had the pleasure of teaching girls all kinds of things: cake baking and decorating, paper quilling, quilting, sewing, knitting, and now dyeing yarn. In reference to the previous paragraph, I don't teach to be remembered, I teach because I hope that others will find joy in their knowledge of the things I teach them. Think about how wonderful it is to know how to do something yourself that before you only wondered about or maybe paid someone else to do for you!

As I was hand-painting a hank of yarn a while back I realized how much fun I was having and that it was just the kind of artsy-craftsy thing girls would enjoy. Since I knew there were girls in the local homeschooling community who were interested in knitting and crocheting, I thought this might be right up their alley. I was right. I had a great response to the ad for my class and actually ended up scheduling two classes (and now I have requests for more).

Our Supplies
I decided to teach them hand-painting wool yarn. It is sort of fool-proof because you can paint it however you want. I used food-safe dyes, Wilton colors and Kool-aid, because I wanted to be able to use our household microwave to steam their yarn during class (which you shouldn't do with acid dyes). I was worried that I wouldn't have enough glass jars for all the colors, but then I remembered the big stack of #5 plastic containers (which we can't recycle in our county) cluttering the corner of one cabinet. In each container I put a tablespoon of vinegar, 1 cup of water and the coloring.

I prepped our workspace by covering my dining table as well as a long folding table with plastic drop cloths (to protect the tables), and then a layer of newspaper (to absorb drips), and then sheets of plastic wrap on which to lay the yarn.

I prepped the yarn before my students arrived by winding the wool into 50g hanks on my niddy noddy. I did 50g hanks because I knew from experience that the students would be able to paint the yarn more easily with less bulk to deal with. Then I presoaked the hanks in the usual vinegar and warm water bath.

When the students arrived I told them what we were going to be doing and how we ought to treat our wool yarn to prevent felting. Because I only work with wool, sometimes I forget that the properties and pitfalls of wool are not common knowledge. I allowed the students to squeeze out the water and spin their wool in the salad spinner. My salad spinner is a $1 Goodwill version that sometimes goes a little crazy and gives a little comic relief.

Then the students laid their yarn out on the prepped surfaces. I had purchased a bag of 25 1-inch sponge brushes at Joann's with my 40% off coupon (around $3).  These work pretty well for this project, although they want to grab the yarn. I personally like to use a natural hair pastry brush to do my yarn painting.

I told them they could lay their yarn out in any way they liked and paint it in any way they chose. I explained how longer sections and shorter sections of color would affect the way their knitted item would look. And then I told them just to have fun. For the first class my OS had mixed the dyes for me and I had not tested some of the Wilton colors for yarn-dyeing, so we had some weird unpleasant colors. What was supposed to be purple went on the yarn as denim blue and came out from steaming as purple! This was a surprise to us. For the second class, I left out the unpleasant colors and tried another food dye for purple, but got the same blue to purple color change effect. In my experience with both cake decorating and yarn dyeing is that purple is a difficult color!

After painting their yarn, we rolled them up in the plastic wrap jelly roll style and steamed them in the microwave. Everyone's yarn looked different and it was so much fun! When the yarn was cool we gave them a little soapy bath and rinse and spun them damp dry in the salad spinner again. They took them home in bags. Before they left I showed them how to wind a centerpull ball on a wooden spoon and also demonstrated my homemade yarn swift.

All in all, I think everyone had fun, including me. Here is a link to blog of one family who attended, and I'm pretty sure they enjoyed themselves!

Do you know how to do something that others don't? You wouldn't believe how many grown-ups tell me they want to learn to knit or crochet or some of the many other things we know how to do that we might take for granted. The rewards for sharing your knowledge, whether with children or adults, are many. I do not consider myself a gifted teacher. I get nervous, flustered, overheated, and sometimes even stressed, but I keep doing it because I am compelled to share the knowledge of so many wonderful things others have taught me. In today's computer age, so much knowledge is available with the click of a mouse, but there really is no substitute for a real person beside you showing you the ropes. What can you teach someone today?

After my students left yesterday's class I had any extra hank of yarn prepped and Middle Son had been asking to try it out, so he had his chance. Then little guy woke up and saw colored water and sponge brushes and was so excited. I repressed my usual tendency to say, "No, too messy," and let him go to town on the newspaper covered table. He got a little rambunctious at one point and still has a green stain on his forehead!

A Project Made with Finished Yarn

Monday, April 16, 2012

Just a Thought...

Tonight I was thinking how we people really are unique. We are not born with a great number of instincts like our animal friends (and I use the term friends loosely because our choice of household pets has never been what you would call successful). Why, we don't even know when to come in out of the rain!

I was thinking about this because I was realizing that the number of things we teach our children in the short time they are under our care and guidance must be beyond counting. Everything must be taught and learned. A current lesson in our household is that there are certain things that can and cannot be thrown.

As sane adults, we know that the only things that ought to be thrown are balls, Frisbees, javelins...and the occasional hissy fit--oh wait, I said sane. At any rate, we never have to wonder if we ought to throw the sharp jagged, or heavy, or precious object in our hands. We know that we should not because we have been taught by our parents that we should not.

In the hands of my sweet, precious, miracle of a boy 2-year-old, anything is a projectile! He will be sitting quietly and contentedly and then, whizz--an object flies across the room! So we teach him, "The only toys we throw are balls, not people toys, not expensive electronic toys, not heavy wooden toys, not coins, not food, not...well you get it.

Sometimes we laugh behind our hands right before we tell him, "No, we only throw balls," in our most serious voice. I realized we laugh because this is the easy stuff. The millions of things we teach them in early childhood by example, and by the natural course of conversation, and by play, and by a look or a touch, these things are easy (but only because our parents taught us first). It's later on when we have to teach the hard, thought-provoking, grown-up things that our skills as parents are really put to work.

So my thought was just this, I am SO thankful for the early childhood times of teaching and learning. God gives us all those years of practice to get prepared for the hard stuff of adolescence and beyond. I really am thankful for that blessing.

So my last little thought is this, if the early stuff is so easy, why do I still fail at being the perfect parent to my toddler? For now I will just keep being thankful for my first thought!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Homeschool Co-ops--To Do or Not to Do?

While I am on a roll of writing about homeschool stuff I was thinking I should bring up co-ops. You may be wondering what a co-op is, if it's necessary, or if it's something you even want to try to tackle if you are just beginning your homeschool journey.

A homeschool co-op is basically a place you take your children one day a week to attend classes with other homeschool students, and they usually have homework to complete over the week.

Sometimes co-ops can be located with an Internet search, and other times co-ops are only by word of mouth. Ask other homeschoolers if they are aware of local co-ops.

There are different kinds of co-ops.

Parent-led co-ops are exactly what they sound like. The parents do the teaching, planning, and organizing. These co-ops are generally less expensive to participate it because you are not paying anyone to do anything. Parents are usually required to stay for the duration of the co-op day.

There are also co-ops with professional paid instructors. These co-ops offer the flexibility of dropping off your children and having a little less teaching to worry about for the week. These co-ops can be quite expensive.

Some co-ops offer core classes and science labs. Some only offer arts programs, and some offer a little of both. A co-op might be a good place for your child to get P.E. or a high school science lab.

How do you decide if you should join one?

Well, first you have to find out if there are any in your area. It is much better to find one closer to home than to drive a long way because you are more likely to spend time with friends made who live closer to you, plus it's just easier on co-op day not to have to trek across the state!

Find out what classes they are offering. Do they match up with what you have planned for the school year? In other words, is there any benefit to being a part or are you just adding to your students' work load?

Do the co-op fees fit into your homeschool budget?

What are the benefits?

--Forming good friendships (for you and your children)
--Opportunities for classes you might not teach at home
--Opportunities for your child to be taught by someone who is passionate about a subject you don't like
--A chance to get out of the house and have a change from the normal school day once a week
--An opportunity to bless others with skills you may have to share

When we first heard about co-ops we were frightened off by the descriptions of sign-up day and the frenzy to get your students in the classes you wanted. I'm not up to that kind of competition. Not all co-ops are like that.

When my OS started high school I knew we needed to join one so that I could avoid science labs at all cost! We were in a new place and we just took the plunge with most advertised co-op around. It was big, a little expensive, and overwhelming, but they were offering classes we could use so we took the plunge. We made it through the year, despite a horrible pregnancy for most of it, and came out blessed.

The following year we heard about a smaller co-op which met very close to where we live. Having mingled with area homeschoolers, we knew some of the families already. It turned out to be a good fit for us as well as providing classes we needed. As I mentioned in a previous post, if it weren't for co-op we would never have had the opportunity to use the IEW writing course which has made a big difference in my boys' writing. We have been blessed with friendships, opportunities to serve and be served, connections that got us involved in other things we may have missed out on otherwise.

Maybe a co-op isn't what you need. Maybe you just need a support network of moms or a group that meets for field trips. My advice to new homeschoolers is to get connected with other homeschoolers. Even if you want to spend your first year focused on getting things in order and getting into a routine, making homeschool friends is beneficial in so many ways--play days for the little ones, a comfort zone for older ones, a time for you to receive encouragement to help you continue on your homeschool journey.

I hope this and my other homeschooling posts will help you in thinking about what should and shouldn't be a part of your homeschooling plans for the coming years.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Your Homeschool Curriculum Discovery Path

This is a continuation of another post in which I discussed my path of curriculum choices (and how I became a curriculum junkie). For some people, starting out in homeschooling is overwhelming by the sheer number of curriculum choices available, never mind the matter of taking on your children's education! For me the thrill of the hunt made it a little less so, and I was young and enthusiastic. Today I want to give some of you who may be thinking about or just starting out with homeschooling some ideas for finding a good curriculum fit.

These are some questions to ask about yourself:
--Are you energetic or more low key?
--Are you self-driven and motivated to stay on task, or do you require accountability?
--Do you like to have things orderly and scheduled or do you enjoy spontaneity?
--What is your curriculum budget?
--How many children and at what stages will you be homeschooling?
--Is your focus the type of education they will receive or the lifestyle of learning in the home?
--How will your family dynamic affect your homeschool experience, schedules, activities, etc?
--Do you have a lot of time and the desire for planning?
--Does your religious affiliation play a part in what you will choose?

Some questions to ask about your children:
--Are they high energy or content to be still for long periods of time?
--Do they remember things better by hearing or seeing?
--Do they welcome the chance to do arts and crafts or would they rather skip the glue and scissors?
--Are they self-driven and focused or do they require continuous reminders to complete tasks?

Some of these questions you will be able to answer about yourself and your children before you look for curriculum, and others you may not be able to answer until you have begun your homeschooling journey. But it's a place to start.

If you like things be to organized and scheduled, but do not have the time or desire to do planning yourself, then you will want to look for a curricula or companies that do the planning for you with laid out weekly schedules for the entire year. This certainly makes life easier for the homeschooling mom, but does not offer as much flexibility. These curricula can also be cost prohibitive because of their all-inclusiveness. They are good at keeping you on task, especially if you choose a computer-based or on-line curriculum. These planned out curricula might be by individual grade level and they might be for multi-age teaching.

Do you like the idea of traditional workbooks and textbooks, or do you want to use the whole book approach where learning is done by discovering the world through well written pieces of literature on the subjects at hand? There are many companies that sell complete curricula based on their textbooks, and others who plan entire year's studies based on novels and non-fiction works of science and nature.

Do you want to spend time discovering and learning with your child or do you prefer to walk along side as a support as he learns? If you are into learning and discovering, you may enjoy the Charlotte Mason style of learning or the unit study approach. These are very laid back, hand-on, and discovery oriented. I think this is a wonderful style of learning to try out when they are young because you will quickly see the things that they enjoy because they are exposed to such a wide variety of subjects. You may find that you son dislikes coloring but loves to learn about the things found in nature. You may discover that your daughter is not interested in knowing how something works, but she would paint all day if you let her. There are many preplanned curricula available in these styles of learning, but they can also be accomplished by your own creative planning.

Begin your hunt by asking yourself these questions, and giving yourself realistic answers.The first year is not the year to be overly ambitious, whether you are starting in Kindergarten or 5th Grade. Make a list of must-haves, wants, and maybes.


Must Haves
Biblical Worldview
Preplanned Lessons
Multi-Age Teaching

Printable Worksheets
Chronological History Study
Hand-on Science

Includes Art and Music
Computer Based

You see where I am going. So start with your list. Go on-line or to a curriculum store or convention, or raid another homeschool family's book library. You can quickly eliminate some by your must-haves list. Remember to make your list as realistic as possible, considering your personality (and your children's), your lifestyle, and your budget. This list may change after your first year of homeschooling. You may discover that you are more or less organized than you thought, or maybe your child's learning style does not mesh with what you chose. And there are several books out there on discovering your child's learning style.

After your initial eliminations, make a list of the curricula that appeal to you. Make pros and cons charts based on your other lists. Which of the ones you like meets the most number of your criteria?Being systematic about this may save you a great deal of frustration and money. If you dive into it with nothing but passion and the recommendations of a few friends, you may find yourself quickly worn out and doubting yourself.

Now you have scoured the Internet for the best deals on the curriculum you think you want and the last criteria will be the budget test. Maybe you have gone a little crazy and forgotten about the budget. Prepare your list in Excel or with a pen and paper or calculator. Make it neat if you are submitting it to the Principal! You may have to trim the fat, so to speak, and let go of a few maybe and wants. You may decide to start over and maybe find something better!

Now I will tell you about some of the curricula we have used and how they worked for our family.

Unit Studies:

Weaver: Very teacher intensive, I did not like the grammar or spelling part of this program.

KONOS Wonderful! Great for large families and mulit-age teaching. Utilizes whole books and timelines. Includes a whole lot of project ideas. History is not taught chronologically, but really the sequence is up to you. Using this does require access to a library and some amount of discipline to get your planning done and follow through on projects.

Lapbooks: Lapbooks can be utilized for any subject studied and are great for students who love to cut and paste. For students who do not, it is a time-waster and a drudgery! Free and For purchase lapbooking materials can be found all over the Internet!


Veritas Press: Classical, Chronological, Too labor intensive for us, and not interesting enough for younger ages, expensive.

Story of the World: Classical, Chronological, Casual reading together learning style with worksheet activities available and audio available (great for audible learners). We enjoyed this for many years, but eventually decided to look for a history with more of a Biblical worldview.

Mystery of History: Chronological, Conversational style learning, built-in activities, audio lessons available, nice recommendations for altering lesson plans for your school week, Biblical worldview.
This is what I continue to use with my middle son and he loves it.

Ray Notgrass Exploring World History: High school, a combination of history, literature, and Bible. Well-written, easy to follow self study. I like it as a parent, my son would have liked a deeper study into subjects (but you can only go so deep when covering world history in one year).

Starting Points Cornerstone Curriculum: An excellent curriculum for Jr./Sr. high includes history, literature and worldview, very pricey unless you can find the books used. This is a deep thinking curriculum.


Modern Curriculum Press: Standard workbook graded curriculum, just plain ole math, works fine!

Saxon: Very thorough, repetitious, many people swear by it. We used Saxon successfully, but not happily for about 5 years with my OS. Then we began hunting for other math curricula and it was a battle. MS's learning style did not mesh with Saxon, and we eventually abandoned it altogether.

Mastering Mathematics: A systematic approach covering math subjects one at a time rather than bits and pieces over the years. I enjoyed using this with MS because the daily lessons are short and good for short attention spans. Hands-on manipulatives are included. Some teacher prep and organization is required to include extra learning not taught in the main worksheets, like time, money, etc.

Life of Fred: Another systematic subject approach, inexpensive textbook style, written as a story, all life application of learning concepts. We have enjoyed these books for the past few years for both ages. They are a little better suited to self-learners (in the upper levels), but very much worth looking at!

Science: All from a Christian Worldview

Christian Kids Explore Series An easy to utilize curriculum that includes memory reinforcement and easy to do activities, also written in a conversational tone, black and white paper bound.

Apologia Elementary Series: We really enjoy these and are still using them. Well-written in a conversational tone with hands-on experiments to do with mostly household items, full color, hardcover textbooks. Also available are lapbooking kits and spiral-bound notebook journals to go along with them.

Apologia High School Series: Advanced Science courses including experiments for lab (but lab supplies must be purchased separately), well-written, will prepare your students for college, CD and CD-Rom companions are available.

Language Arts:
Language arts is a big subject because it include spelling, reading and writing, which can all be taught separately or together. I will only list a few we have use here, because we have tried ALOT!

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons: It either works or it doesn't, it worked for my OS but not for MS.

Veritas Phonics: We used this expensive phonics program because we were able to buy it used from a friend. MS did learn to read, but I wouldn't choose it again. It utilizes, songs, games, readers that are included, flashcards, the whole shebang. Some people love it--as with all curricula.

Complete Programs:

LLATL:We only did this for one year, but enjoyed it. Literature based study which included spelling, grammar, writing, and lesson plans to go with several works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry as well as studies in journalism.

Total Language Plus:Similar to LLATL but done in a workbook style for one book at a time. An advantage of these is that you can choose the individual books at your student's levels, and I really prefer the format of these over LLATL. We still use these to cover 3-4 novels per year. One disadvantage, not a lot of grammar. You may want to do a formal grammar study before (or during) utilizing these.

I've used too many spelling programs to mention, and I discovered that I prefer spelling to be integrated into the language arts. We tried all of these and never saw a marked improvement in a subject that continues to be difficult for my boys.

Spelling Workout
Sequential Spelling
The Natural Speller
Spelling Power

Shurley Grammar: The only grammar program I enjoyed using, utilizes jingles to learn rules, and works! Very structured.

Writing has always been a sore subject for my boys and I. It wasn't until we joined a co-op and experience IEW that writing became less burdensome. It is very structured and expensive. We are thankful to have the opportunity to experience this class in a co-op setting.

Zaner Bloser: An adequate, classic hand-writing workbook approach.

Teaching Cursive: An effective program that is completed in 50 or so days, worked well with my MS.

The Homeschool Curriculum Journey...

When we first started homeschooling with real curriculum it was the year 2000. I was on the hunt for a Kindergarten curriculum. My brother-in-law's family was homeschooling at the time and they were using a curriculum package that was sold by a company affiliated with our denomination. Even though it was quite expensive for us at the time, we decided we would try that one. I was so excited to get that box in the mail, only to be quickly disappointed by what I found inside. Reading over the materials I could see that my son was ahead in some things and not ready for others. What I also realized was that all the company had done was piece together a graded curriculum by pulling subjects from various companies. Well, I could do that, right? So, we took a financial loss and returned the boxed set. Then I purchased some of the individual components at the appropriate learning level. It wasn't a big deal, I mean it's just Kindergarten. You finish by lunch and have the rest of the day to play!

By chance my husband ordered a book from Amazon that he thought looked interesting. You may have heard of it, The Well Trained Mind? I read this book from cover to cover (those were the days when I still had the concentration to read whole books). I was quickly convinced that this was they way to go, this was the education I wanted for my children! I was still young back then and had the occasional burst of physical and mental energy, so the monumental task of a classical education seemed do-able.

After the first year of cobbling together our classical education and making a pretty good go of the first grade year, we discovered Veritas Press. They have beautiful color catalogues with all the grades planned out and organized for you to give your children an excellent classical education. There was no way financially that we could do the whole shebang, so we picked and chose, hunted for used books, and still spent too much money. Something we learned in this phase: You DO NOT have to purchase every little book recommended by your favorite curriculum. I can't tell you how many books I ordered and afterwards wondered "why?"-- borrow books, utilize your library (many of the books recommended in curriculum packages will only be read once!), look at books ahead of time at bookstores and homeschool conventions.

It took us about four years of muddling through our attempt at a classical education to realize it just wasn't for us. It wasn't that I was being lazy, it just wasn't working. Every day was equal parts frustrated race to complete the parts that we were actually attempting to complete and feeling guilty for the parts we weren't even attempting (Latin). Preschool with MS was easy enough, but I was beginning to see that soon I would be doing two levels of classical education when we could barely get through one! By God's grace I was able to see that I was not a failure as a homeschooler because I couldn't make it work, I was just failing to consider the other possibilities.

About that time we were required by my husband's company to move, so we were already in a lot of upheaval. At that year's homeschool convention I discovered the Multi-age Unit Study approach. Our first unit study curriculum was Weaver Curriculum. This was a pricey all-inclusive package. It was a very thorough, well done, but teacher intensive curriculum. At first this labor of love was a welcome distraction from the sadness we were all feeling over our move, but before the year's end I was already modifying and looking for other unit studies. But we did love the unit study approach! Despite the fact that we were generally unhappy in our new place of residence, it was a most precious time of homeschooling. All of us sitting together, learning together (even with the five year gap between OS and MS), encouraging and helping one another.

The next unit study we discovered was KONOS. We used this for several years. This curriculum is excellent for multi-age homeschooling families, especially larger ones. This curriculum does require access to a library or the funds to buy books. However, the longer I used the curriculum the more I found myself taking the topics and just putting together my own studies. And there are even books out there on making your own unit studies, but you don't really need them.There are also tutorials all over the Internet on this subject. But I think the best way to understand unit studies is just to do a few. After doing one or two unit studies, you will see what it's all about and should be able to come up with your own. A good place to try one is Currclick (they even have some free stuff), which sells e-book curricula and has a lot of unit studies on every subject imaginable. Try a short one out over the summer, like a fun one about baseball or chocolate, and maybe you will try unit studies next school year.

While I thought KONOS and unit studies would take us through the rest of our homeschooling journey, when we approached high school for OS I couldn't see it working out the same. It was time to get serious about grades and transcripts and I wanted something structured for high school. He has always been an amazing self-learner, so I could picture having a lot more time with MS. The next year was also a whole new experience as we joined a homeschooling co-op. And then I was pregnant with a difficult and exhausting pregnancy and homeschool occurred mostly at Mom's bedside.

We have continued our homeschool journey with our separate curriculum paths and OS is graduating next year with MS not far down the road. We have discovered and used many curricula that we love and others that we wanted to burn (but we sold them instead). In my next post on this topic I will suggest some ways to look for and narrow down curriculum choices for your family. I rarely like to make a recommendation for curriculum because all families function differently and have children with different needs--kind of like cloth diapering! But I am always happy to share our experiences with the curricula we have used.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Blessings in a Basket

We recently joined a produce co-op where we receive a laundry basket of fruit and vegetables every week. I have been excited about this because even though I always intend to work more veggies into the meal plan, somehow on busy nights the veggies are the first to get bumped. I have challenged myself to not only use all the veggies (even the mushrooms) in the weekly basket, but plan meals around them. Since I get them on Thursdays and paydays are Fridays, it works out well.

We got our first basket today. The boys were particularly excited about the fruits because I tend to buy fresh fruits only on a really good sale, and now we will have some every week. I know, I know, I have to be doing better than that. Budget just rules the meal plan these days, but that's why I'm doing the co-op. So please don't judge me too harshly. The apples we got were crisp and delicious just like we prefer them.

Tonight after dinner, I began to pull all the produce out to put it away and I thought of a little book we have in which Dora the Explorer counts fruits in English and Spanish. I said to Little Guy, "Look, one pineapple, Una pina." And because he is in the phase of learning and repeating new words every day, he repeated after me. Then we took everything out of the basket together counting each group of items one by one. When we were all finished I carried the laundry basket to the back of the pantry to return next week. I went to clean up a few more things (I did finish cleaning the kitchen tonight), and when I turned around Little Guy was standing behind me with the basket in his hands saying, "more, more." He wanted to count with me. Those are the moments that should always make us kind of weepy, even if we are in the midst of crazy busyness.  Our children love interaction and want to be with us, even if it's counting vegetables.

So our Noisy Rabbit produce basket was a nourishing blessing both to body and spirit. Thank you Noisy Rabbit! We have our meals planned and can't wait to grill pineapple. We're already excited about next week.

Things That Distract...

I saw this on Facebook and had to share it because I had just had a friend stop by yesterday and really wished there was an excuse for the what looked like a cyclone had blown through my house! As I led her into the kitchen to send her home with some birthday cake I wondered, "Why does my kitchen look this way?" through my dentist-imposed haze. I remembered getting half-way through dinner clean-up last night and then deciding there was something else to do.

Ah, yes. NOW I remember. It has begun again, my quest for THE home school curriculum. Okay, I've got to figure this out right now, what is the plural for curriculum? Pause for discovery...Curricula. Well, I was wrong; I was thinking possibly curriculi, now I know. Anyway, I am a self-admitted curriculum junkie. The problem is, for a homeschooler there are way too many choices out there! Yes, it's true that one of the benefits of homeschooling is that you have the freedom to choose what works for your family as well as your child's learning styles and abilities. That being said, when do you know you've found that one? Maybe this one works pretty well, but there might be another that has the few elements that seem to be missing from your current one that would make everything complete! Do you see where I am going? I have known many homeschool families that have chosen and stuck with the same boxed curricula for as long as they have homeschooled, but not me! In our 13 years of homeschooling I have probably changed core curricula 4-5 times and other minor changes every year. And it doesn't help that the kids like the change as well, or that there is always something new coming out.

So about my messy house, I had stopped cleaning my kitchen to look at a curriculum catalogue! I really thought I was off that roller coaster with one almost graduated and the other in a nice steady curriculum rut, oh excuse me, on a stable curriculum path. And then along came little guy. With him turning two this week I realized that Kindergarten is just 3 years around the corner! It's never to soon to start thinking about curriculum. In fact, I had already made some decisions while he was in the womb! Then a couple weeks ago this catalogue came in the mail and it was a curriculum that I had seen at conferences before and never gave it a second look for whatever reason. Then this week I picked it up and glanced through it. One little sentence had me pouring over it. "Combining the best of Charlotte Mason's ideas, classical education, and unit studies with a Biblical worldview." Well," I thought to myself, "that's exactly what I want." I've done all of them but Charlotte Mason, and that's what I was planning to do this time, so all of them together would be perfect.

If you don't know anything about homeschool curriculum there are so many ways to choose. You can choose by learning style and philosophy. You can choose by religious affiliation or denomination. You can choose by cost. Some learning philosophies are Classical, Hebraic model, Charlotte Mason, Unit Studies, Unschooling, World View...and I'm no expert. You might also want a curriculum particular to your catholic, baptist, reformed protestant, Mennonite, Latterday Saints, or secular background. There are also the questions of how many children you are schooling at once and do you want them all to be learning together. It's a miracle anyone is able to decide anything! Obviously you can use these categories to narrow it all down and then still have an abundance to choose from. You can choose whole curricula or piece subjects together, color or black and white textbooks, workbooks or printouts, hands-on or computer education. The options are seemingly endless--what a blessing we have! And I mean that.

I am joking about my curriculum addiction, but knowing that I have the freedom not to use curricula that don't work well for my children is a wonderful thing. Sometimes you keep trying new things and finally realize that a particular child is just not great at spelling. Don't we all have something we aren't great at (like keeping my kitchen spotless)? What we have to do is nurture the things we are great at. So if your child loves to cut and paste (mine did not) you can do a million lapbooks. If your child has wiggly pants all the time,  you can do a lot of nature studies. There comes a point--high school--when you have to hunker down and make planning for the future decisions. I know because I'm at the tail end of one with another not far off, and it isn't quite as fun as the younger years of homeschooling. There are blessings there, like seeing the maturity increase daily before your eyes and watching adult principles be applied independently.

But truly, I am so glad that God has given me the blessing of starting another homeschooling journey from the beginning. For some reason it is more fun to teach colors and words of things in nature than grown-up math and science. Yes, I will become a whirlwind curricula tester, but it's all part of the fun. I need to print some sort of funny sign to put over my kitchen sink to remind me to just keep washing and look at curricula later!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Sunday

Until we moved here, really far from all of our extended family, we usually spent Easter weekend with grandparents and indulged in and brought home way too much chocolate. Most families we know would still have some really old chocolate left over by the time the next chocolate holiday rolls around, but not us! If it's chocolate, it gets eaten in this house. Anyway, being so far from family and not having established Easter traditions of our own (other than attending worship), it's been a strange couple of years. Hubby decided Easter morning would not go by without baskets of sorts and went out shopping around 7:30pm last night. He found some great stuff for not that much money and everyone had a smile this morning. Because Little Guy is so into Toy Story these days, he got a Buzz Lightyear Pez dispenser. He LOVES the dispenser, but I guess he doesn't like the PEZ candies because he pulls them out and tries to give them to someone else. Then he gets mad when you don't want them!

I actually got up in time to paint my toenails AND make a nice breakfast. I wanted to try another make ahead pancake batter this morning, but I stayed up too late working on other stuff to mix up batter. I was feeling a little nostalgic so I decided on French Toast this morning. One thing I always remember from my childhood is my dad making us French Toast for breakfast. And we didn't have a piece of French Toast, we each had a stack of French Toast--plus eggs and bacon or whatever else we had. In our house my teenager is the only one who could actually eat a stack of French Toast. French Toast was also one of the few things I actually knew how to cook when I got married!

Anyway, I had some sour dough bread in the house (only because it was BOGO at Publix) and plenty of eggs, so French Toast it was. I'm sure everyone knows how to make French Toast, but maybe it wasn't a staple in your house--so here's how I do it, no recipe. First I beat some eggs in a dish large enough to lay my bread slices in. I also add in a little milk or half&half, a splash of vanilla, and some cinnamon.
 I heat my cast iron griddle pan over medium (and later turn it down to medium low) and melt some butter on the pan. I lay my bread pieces in the egg mixture and then turn them over to coat both sides. If you are using a sturdy bread like french or sour dough, you can let it soak up more of the egg mixture for an eggier bread, but if you are using regular sandwich bread, don't let it soak too long or it will tear apart. Then I lay it on the hot pan and sprinkle the tops with more cinnamon or a cinnamon sugar mix.

When they are nice and brown on the first side, turn them over. The second side will brown more quickly. My little one likes French Toast plain dusted with confectioners' sugar, but the big boys like syrup. We all prefer real Maple, but it doesn't usually make the grocery budget cut. This week we happened to have a bottle of blueberry syrup which I bought on closeout at the grocery store, which is also very nostalgic for me because as a child it was something special that we would get on occasion and I loved it so much. As a grown up it's not my favorite, but the boys really like it.

For both of my big boys, having food prepared for them is a "love language." To make this special, I drizzled their plates with blueberry syrup and served their French Toast up restaurant style. They did love it. In hind sight, sugary sweet French Toast probably wasn't the best choice for Easter morning right after they opened their Easter chocolate!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Further Notes on Sewing up Daddy Flats...

Earlier this week I was in Joann's Fabric (yet again) and I was perusing the flannel aisle (yet again) when out of the corner of my eye I saw this gorgeous green color beckoning me. If you are wondering if I get paid to mention Joann's--I do not! I really have a love/hate relationship with the place. Everything there is so overpriced that you have to either buy on sale or use a coupon. I buy most of my diaper materials online from small mama-run businesses, but there is something to be said for touching and feeling a fabric before you buy it and getting to take it right home and use it. I digress...

To say I'm not a fan of green, other than the natural kind you find outside, is an understatement. After yellow, green is my least favorite color for almost anything. However, I try to participate in Etsy Cloth Diaper Team's monthly themes for shop items and I had already bought some green doggy flannel to make up some Daddy Flats. I was going to line them with plain diaper flannel, but then I saw this apple green cotton terry. At $9.99/yard, it was no steal, but I had a 50% off coupon (of course). I decided to try it out because I had read several blog posts about using cotton terry for fitted diapers, so why not Daddy Flats?

BUYING FABRIC I bought 1 1/2 yards of the green terry. I was able to get six Medium Daddy Flat cuts out of that piece (which is 3 diapers if using two layers, or 6 diapers if layering with another fabric as I was doing). It is good to know the dimensions of your pattern before you go to the fabric store, just in case you make a spur of the moment fabric purchase, so that you buy no more or no less than you can use. Once you have your Daddy Flat pattern printed in the size you want, take a measurement of the general rectangular shape. Then at the fabric store you can figure out how many DFs can fit across the width of your fabric and how much length you need for the number you want.

MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME-- And this was after I was all grown up...ALWAYS prewash your fabrics. I just said how fun it was to be able to rush home and use your fabric. Well, really I rush home and throw it in the washer. For cloth diaper fabrics I run a really short hot wash cycle to preshrink and a short hot dry cycle. Ready in 1 hour! OH, and then you should give it a little press so the pattern can lay flat when you pin it to cut out your diapers.

COTTON TERRY has a few benefits for these diapers. One--it is "snappiable." Someone had commented on a blog post about snappiable fabrics for these diapers. If you use terry on the outside, you can use a Snappi with it. Another advantage is that it is a slightly thicker fabric to use for absorbency that isn't super stretchy like velour or other knits (and as I mentioned in my previous post these diapers do better with stable fabrics). One last advantage I saw was that the flannel and terry sewed up very nicely together. Oh, and I almost forgot, terry (like true diaper flannel) is double sided, so it won't matter which direction you cut out your Daytime Daddy Flat--big bonus for forgetful gals like me!

ABOUT PINNING, If your pins don't want to poke through the fabric, or they are all bent, or they catch and pull, it's time for new ones! I'm preaching to myself here. As soon as the "notions" wall goes on sale again, I'm getting some new pins. It's often the little things that can make sewing projects more enjoyable.

PINNING LAYERS--If you didn't lay your two fabrics together to cut, they probably won't be exactly the same size. I mentioned before how important it is to get the edges of this pattern lined up because you only get 1/4" seam allowance. If you make it bigger you are taking away from your diaper. So line your fabric up as best you can, smooth the layers as much as possible (without stretching the fabric if you are using a stretchy fabric) and pin, pin, pin. Then flip it over and see how the back looks. Sometimes you can smooth the back fabric more, which means unpinning and repinning. You MUST get the edges lined up because if they are off and you sew 1/4" seam you may not catch the underside fabric at all! This may sound tedious for a pattern that I boast is easy to sew, but really I am just being tedious! My advice to new sewers--use two layers of non-stretchy fabric to start, it will be easy!

CORNER TIP-- I like to backstitch at the corners where I will be clipping to make it less likely they will come undone, especially since you don't top-stitch these diapers.

I decided to pair the last two green terry cuts with this red mushroom knit print for the shop--kinda bright, huh?

Wiggly bodies DO NOT take good pictures!
I forgot to mention something about choosing prints for cloth diapers. Try to choose prints that run both ways. Uni-directional prints only run in one direction, which means that when you fold the diaper up, either the front or the back will be upside down. If you choose a pattern that runs either way it won't matter. If you accidentally choose a unidirectional print (and it bothers you) you can always piece the diaper with a solid so that the print is not upside down. I may blog about that later.

Awesome Cloth Diaper Giveaway for New Mothers

Etsy Cloth Diaper Team has put together another great giveaway for April! This one is full of cloth diapering gifts in Newborn and Small sizes.Check it out! You have to click the read more button at the bottom to get to the part where you enter the giveaway. Even if you aren't about to have a baby, you probably know someone who is-- so pass it along!

When life gives you flat pancakes...

Last night I mixed up a batch of pancake batter from a recipe I saw on a blog. It appealed to me because you make it the night before and it's all ready in the morning, you just add an egg and some baking powder. I told my teenager he could go ahead and make them if he wanted to eat before I got up. Of course little guy slept late, so I did too. I awoke to the clang of dishes and the smell of something cooking. When I came into the kitchen there was no batter to be seen and he told me he had already made all the pancakes and they were warming in the toaster oven. As I moved to open it up he said, "They came out a little flat..."

You know it's all in the recipe. I don't know how long I have been searching for a perfect pancake recipe, but they are either too thick, too eggy, too cakey...what I want is a recipe for Cracker Barrel pancakes! They have that perfect blend of tenderness with a crisp and buttery outside. So, of course it's not just the recipe, but the method of cooking makes a difference too. I make mine on a cast iron griddle pan, but even that does not yield the results I want. You might be asking why I don't just use a mix. To me a pancake mix is like cake mix. It only has one purpose and it sits on the shelf (like a single purpose appliance) and is only used when needed. You can always make pancakes with pantry ingredients and you never have to buy anything special.

About those flat pancakes...they certainly were flat. I don't know what went wrong. It could've been that we used white flour because we didn't have any wheat. It could've been the baking soda or the fact that we used powdered milk instead of real because we ran out last night and no one wanted to go to the store that late! I was about to turn my nose up at them (in my head so as not to hurt feelings), when my brilliant teenager said, "They aren't too bad with Nutella on them!"

There is this amazing little French bakery called Baguette & Co. in a tiny little pass through town not far from here where, aside from the most delicious breads and pastries, you can get crepes with Nutella in them. A friend of ours just gave us a giant jar of Nutella, which was a real treat because I had looked at it in the grocery store the day before and decided it was too expensive--and she didn't even know about it!

These pancakes were that thin, so I slathered them each with a healthy tablespoon of Nutella, rolled them up, dusted them with confectioners sugar and WHA-LA! Talk about yum--maybe not Baguette & Company yum, but certainly delicious and very easy to eat with your hands!

What's the moral of this story? When life give you flat pancakes, fill them up with something...Or is it that Nutella makes everything better?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Eradicating that Mystery Odor!

My husband will tell you that I do not have the best sense of smell. I am always the last one to notice a stinky diaper (hmmm) and have often failed to notice the tell-tale scent of something burning. SO, if I can smell something odd, it must really be something. Something terrible, like when you find oozing rotten potatoes at the bottom of your pantry (one of the absolute worst smells in the whole world), or when veggies (or worse--leftovers) have been shoved repeatedly to the back of the fridge for so long that they are unrecognizable as food, or (eew) a dead mouse in a little used closet, or...well I'm sure you can think of your own.

Last night my olfactory receptors were offended by something in Little Guy's bedroom. I picked up the litter of toys and clothes and vacuumed the carpet. I thought maybe I would find an unobserved accident from an earlier "airing out" session. I found nothing, so I spritzed the room with the odor neutralizer we keep for the diaper bin, removed the diaper bin from the room, and hoped for the best.

This morning the offending odor remained! Because I found myself with unexpected extra time on my hands today, I decided I would rearrange Little Guy's bedroom like I was planning and eradicate the odor. I started by moving all the furniture and vacuuming along the baseboards and smelling the carpet as I went. Nothing there. I smelled the crib bedding and stuffed animals. Nothing there. I stuck my head in the giant tub of stuffed animals. Nothing there. I cleaned and polished all of the wood furniture in the room to freshen those up. As I began sifting through the collection of tubes of various rash ointments, baby meds, and other nursery paraphernalia on the changing table, I smelled it again. I stuck my nose in the stacks of cloth wipes and cloth diaper liners. All I could smell there was the scent of the heavy duty Desitin that never goes away. WHAT was it? Maybe the changing table itself was smelling from too many sloshes of wipe water...the wipe water.

I opened the lid of that container and gagged a little. Normally it just smells faintly of baby shampoo because all I use is water mixed with a little baby shampoo. I quickly ran the container to the bathroom and poured out the offending liquid and scoured the container with hot water. What in the world caused that? I am thinking several factors could be involved. One--because we do not have regularly scheduled poopies, sometimes the water isn't used very often and maybe it sat longer than it should have. Two--something got into the wipe water during the process of changing a diaper, this one I think unlikely because I always wet my wipes in prep and then begin changing. Three-- and the one I am leaning towards, the baby shampoo which I bought stinkified my wipe water. I recently bought some J&J's Baby Oil Baby Wash at the grocery store because we had been out of baby wash for several days and had been using regular soap to bathe his very dry skin. I normally try to by a natural baby wash, but the budget was particularly tight that week. This baby wash was on sale, and a baby wash with baby oil seemed like it might be good for his skin. I don't like this product for a couple reasons, mainly the design of the bottle. It comes in one of those bottles that looks upside down, where the lid and opening are at the bottom. From the first time I used it, there had been a puddle of goo underneath the bottle, it leaks terribly. Because of the shape of the bottle it cannot be turned upside down. It even leaks when lying on its side. Then, when you open it to use it it just blobs out. I guess the good thing is that it will be used up quickly and I will have to buy something else--a silver lining.

I don't usually rant about a poor purchase, but I really think that shampoo stinkified my wipe water! I had just refilled it using that shampoo a day or so before, well who knows? A lesson learned--beware the wipe water!

On a side note, as I am sitting here enjoying this blissfully quite couple of hours while the big boys are away and Little Guy is asleep, I am suddenly serenaded by the stereo in the other room. Yous see we have a haunted stereo, well really it has some personal electrical issues! It is a very old, mostly broken, bulky, hand-me-down CD player/stereo that we connected to the television a few months ago to try and get better sound (why?). The first time we came home and found the stereo playing we thought it must have been the cat bumping into it with her shenanigans. Later we witnessed it spontaneously turning on in the middle of the day! It only happens occasionally, and hasn't yet happened at night, but I think we have plans to remove it. Today I was serenaded with what sounded like the Christian music station and then maybe and 80's station? I turned it off, I like the quiet.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Where is my head?

This afternoon hubby tells me he is taking the boys to a movie tonight, and I say "Okay!" At 5:45 I wander into the kitchen and start baking a lasagna thinking it would be a great night for a later dinner because my teenager had made homemade brownies for an afternoon snack and we would all be able to wait. At 6:10 hubby says, "Will that be done before we leave?" "Leave," I say in an astonished voice, "Where are we going?"

So as they head out the door hubby is making disappointed sounds that the lasagna is still in the oven and it is smelling very good. To be honest, I can't say how good it will be. I really hate boiling lasagna noodles the old fashioned way and I absolutely LOVE everything about no-boil lasagna noodles. Sadly, ALDI does not carry no-boil noodles and I do the bulk of my shopping there and sometimes do not make it to the other grocery stores. So tonight I cheated. I was thinking that I had made a lasagna before where I just soaked the noodles in really hot water before layering, but there is a good chance I completely imagined that. So anyway, that's what I did tonight. I cooked the lasagna a lot longer than it said, but I still won't know if the noodles are completely done until we eat it. Little Guy and I will eat in about 30 minutes when it's cooler, and all my big boys will be starving when they get home from the movie. I hope their expectations aren't too high! It looks and smells good anyway.

Kitty loves to sit in the window with the attic fan running.
Now I will go watch Toy Story for the bagillionth time this month and enjoy the sounds and smells of the attic fan running after a rain storm.

I don't want to be a spoiler, but Etsy Cloth Diaper Team is giving away another amazing prize package in April--this one is for new mamas. Look for it on Wednesday!